The Nature of Herod (Matthew 2:2-3)

Photo by Harri Kuokkanen on Unsplash

Herod’s father was a Jewish man named Antipater II. He was an Edomite Semite who gained influence under Rome and was influential in Herod’s appointment to powerful positions over Galilee. According to the historian Josephus, in the year of the consulship of Calvinus and Pollio (40BCE), Herod was appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate. This gave him the license needed to wage war against the ruler of Jersualem. Three years later, Herod and the Romans overtook the city, and Herod assumed the title of King. He reigned in Jerusalem for 34 more years.  

Herod was raised as a Jew, Antipater having converted to Judasim some time prior.  But the fact that Herod was a descendant of Esau and not of David was more than a slight to those he ruled over in Judea. For these reasons Herod – who was fond of huge building projects – chose to rebuild the Jewish temple. The result was what many refer to as “Herod’s Temple” and is the reason he earned the nickname, ‘Herod the Great’.”  But “great” doesn’t necessarily mean “good”! Herod was great because of his building projects. But anyone who looks into the history of the time can know that Herod was a tyrannical despot, given to heavy taxation and lavish spending and not a small degree of narcissism. Every Christian would recognize him as an evil man, even though he built ‘great’ things. 

Scripture bears testimony to this. In Matthew 2, we read of Magi from the east coming to Herod and asking him, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”  The next statement tells us all we need to know about Herod’s character, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”  

If we follow Josephus’s timeline, we can know that this would’ve been late in Herod’s reign, for it is well established that he died in 4BCE (this is also how we know that Jesus was born earlier than the commonly understood 1BCE). So when the Magi arrived, Herod had already survived for over 30 years in power. Unfortunately, he did not last so long through just and fair rule. He had many enemies and had good reason to be paranoid, so the announcement of someone else with his title was a cause of great concern. Not only to him, but to the populace under him. The whole city was disturbed because everyone knew that when Herod was disturbed, they would suffer whatever action he chose to take to satisfy his paranoia.

A greater contrast to the Magi could not be made! 

To the Magi, news of Messiah’s birth was cause for worship. They saw the sacrifice of their time in travel and the costly gifts they brought as most worthwhile – Christ’s birth being good news for the whole world. But to Herod, the very same news was the realization of his own worst fear, and he would soon spend whatever he needed to keep himself and his own personal kingdom from a rival. 

Good news is only good to those who recognize it as good because of the witness of their souls. It is flat out offensive to those who have set their souls to work for the opposing king.

Marcus Verbrugge

APPLICATION: Intentionality

What are you rejoicing over?  What are you troubled about?  

Is your satisfaction in worship of God or in self-protection?

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