Matthew seems to have been intrigued by links between the events of Jesus' life and the events of Israel's history. Just as God called Israel his 'son', so Matthew sees Jesus as the true Son of God, confirmed as such by God himself in Matthew 3:17. Just as Jeremiah gave a prophecy of hope to the weeping mothers of Israel ('Rachel's children' in Jeremiah 31:15) as the nation goes to exile, so Matthew notes the tears of the mothers of Bethlehem - the implication perhaps is there would be hope for them too.
The 'massacre of the innocents' is not spoken of outside these verses. However, in those days it would have been a minor incident, entirely in keeping with Herod's nature - he did not tolerate rivals, and had arranged several other massacres, as well as the murder of his mother and mother-in-law and three of his sons. Bethlehem had a population of no more than about 1,000, maybe much less, so the number of children murdered would have been at the most twenty to thirty.
Revelation 12:1-6 can be seen as a commentary on these verses. The devil stopped at nothing to thwart God's plans. Yet God would not be hindered, and the holy family became asylum seekers in Egypt - as had many other Jews in those days. In 4BC Herod died, and the way was open for them to return.
ISSUES AND QUESTIONS
1. What should be our attitude to 'man's inhumanity to man'?
2. How should we treat asylum seekers? (See Leviticus 19:34.)
IDEAS FOR MEETINGS
Welcome question: If you had to suddenly flee to another country, what would one thing would you most want to take with you, and what would you be most glad to leave behind?
Worship: Spend time in intercession for those who are suffering bereavement or loneliness, for those who are stateless or homeless, those who are experiencing persecution, and others who find it difficult to celebrate.