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KING HEROD, THE GREAT?
74 BC – 4BC
By what standard shall King Herod be called great?
He built pagan temples, amphitheaters, vast building enterprises, he rebuilt ancient cities, new cities, temples, hippodromes, a beautiful tower, a large artificial harbor, settlements and strongholds, a royal palace, the Antonia Fortress, and the Holy Temple in Jerusalem which was world renowned for its magnificence. Certainly by worldly standards many consider these accomplishments great.
He lived in wealth and splendor, ruled for a generation, was loved by many of the cultural elites, though hated by the religious Jews. Yet with all his acclaim, wealth, power and luxury, he was still troubled when he heard from some eastern astrologers that in their opinion, according to their star observations, the “King of the Jews” was born.
Herod was troubled? And all Jerusalem with him? Troubled about the birth of a baby? Herod the great King? He had all a man could want. What could be added to his fortunate existence, what satisfaction was he being robbed of? Herod was in his old age at this time, most likely near 70. He knew enough of Hebrew scripture to understand that there was a promise of a Messiah, a Savior to come, who would rule on the throne of David. So he calls a large meeting with all of the great bible scholars of the day, and asks them, “where the Messiah was to be born?” They accurately told him Bethlehem according to the prophet Micah. Wasn’t this good news to him? It was wonderful news to these rulers from the East, they were quite excited about it. They’re earthly authority was not threatened. But Herod’s fearful, clutching grip on power was. His own rule would not suffer, but possibly those of his heritage who would rule after him. He won’t be there when this new Messianic king is old enough to rule, but he doesn’t want anything to harm his legacy. He hasn’t gotten enough satisfaction in this life, he is now lusting for pseudo-immortality in the rule of his dynasty.
Is there any reflection in Herod’s mind? The prophets accurately predict that this child is the promised One, and the foreign kingly star interpreters are a sign and wonder of Divine confirmation. Doesn’t this point to a miraculous birth? Wouldn’t you think that if you opposed this birth, you would be opposing God? Evidently Herod thought, that he was greater than God Himself, and could prevent this child from growing into his Divine destiny, and thus preserve his own grip on kingly power through the generations that followed after him. His pride was so great that he tried to kill the Messiah, and his bloodthirsty lust for power was also willing to kill every baby boy in the entire area.
King Herod I who was called "the great" certainly did think of himself as great. It wasn't long after this confrontation with God’s authority, that he became extremely sick and died.
With all that Herod accomplished and experienced in his lavish and powerful life, he was still a pitifully empty fearful man, who died a miserable death, and entered eternity as the man who tried to kill the Son of God. Was he great?
Rather than being numbered with this sick soul who was threatened by God’s authority and tried to kill it, let us join with the wise men who gave up time, money, and traveled a great distance across an unforgiving desert by camel caravan, because they have seen “His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” The wise men knew what Herod refused to admit; that God alone is worthy, beautiful, the creator, and redeemer who wants only our best. They knew that the foretold Child was somehow willing to travel a great distance Himself on humanity’s behalf. Indeed Jesus, lived out a longsuffering life for us at great cost, and died upon the cross that we might be liberated from a nature that craves and is never satisfied, to a nature that is only at rest in Him. May we also do whatever it takes to clutch and cleave to Him throughout our trials and victories, pursuing His riches and the peace which surpasses all understanding. We still have a choice, to pursue greatness that the world will acknowledge, just like Herod, or to pursue a humility demonstrated by the wise men who knew that true greatness was in the humility of the baby in the manger, Deity Incarnate, come to seek and to save that which was lost.
Eccl. 2:11 "Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun."
Mark 8:36 "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?"
Matt 11:25-30 "At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight." All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."