Christmas celebrates God’s great love to the world.
The gift of Bethlehem’s Morning was a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Jesus, Immanuel. God with Us. The King of the Universe stepped down to save his subjects. Jesus would win his way into our imaginations and hearts and give birth to a better understanding of God’s servant love and of leadership in general.
Those who follow him in truth and spirit are still singing “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.”
But not everyone would experience that song of Bethlehem at Jesus birth.
Another song would soon arise. A real Bethlehem Mourning, a gift of another false Jewish King: King Herod the Great.
Matthew 2 sets the context:
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed…..”
Who is this disturbed King Herod the Great?
Wiki tells us he was appointed in his 20s as a ruler over Galilee by his father, a Edomite of Jewish faith, who had secured a political leadership role in the Roman government. Several skirmishes later and Herod was appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate. He then used threats, abuse, lies and murder to stay in power and become “sole ruler of Judea and the title of basileus (Βασιλεύς, “king”) for himself, ushering in the Herodian Dynasty.”
“Herod’s family were converts to Judaism” but throughout his reign his faith was obviously questioned by many for a very good reason: he didn’t embrace the best of Judiasm.
So Herod was a religio-political leader but one who would more and more come to demonstrate the worst in beastly power.
We pick up the story again in Matthew 2. “Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
Herod played the deceptive role well. He had not intention of worship the new baby of the Jews. We see that from the rest of Matthew 2 and from the New Testament as a whole.
Herod is our focus in this 11th of 12 part posts on beastly leadership because he is a stunning example of what beastly powers do. As we have posted in the past 10 blogs about beastly leadership, this form of leadership grows in proportion to the inability of leaders to listen to the needs of others, to deny truth, to avoid transparency and ends with the desire to gain control using two main strategies: lying and murdering.
Back to Matthew 2:
“After they [the magi] had heard the king [Herod], they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”
The Magi worshiped Jesus as God and Savior. But sadly, they were still deceived by Herod.
God HAD to warn his faithful Magi in a dream not to return to the false King of the Jews.
Then he had to protect his young Joseph-Mary-Christ family.
“When they [the magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”[d]
King Herod, King of the Jews, was no Abrahamic faith. He did not know what Peace on Earth was, like the Magi and shepherds had learned. He sought power, lies, murder and abuse.
How did the Jewish nation deteriorate so badly that it would see King Herod as exemplifying either Roman or Jewish rule.
Even historians seem to have been deceived by Herod. Back to Wiki:
“The study of Herod’s reign includes polarizing opinions on the man himself. His critics have described him as “a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis“, “the evil genius of the Judean nation”, and as one who would be “prepared to commit any crime in order to gratify his unbounded ambition.” His extraordinary spending spree is cited as one of the causes of the serious impoverishment of the people he ruled, adding to the opinion that his reign was exclusively negative. Herod’s religious policies gained a mixed response from the Jewish populace…..”
“However, he was also praised for his work, being called “the greatest builder in Jewish history,” and one who “knew his place and followed [the] rules.” In fact, what is left of his building ventures are now popular tourist attractions in the Middle East, which many have come to cherish as both a historical and religious area.
Despite the opinions historians have on Herod, the New Testament is clear. Herod was not the King of the Jews. Jesus was.
The contrast couldn’t have been more stunning. But still, deceived and deceiver have worked to portray Herod as Great and Jesus as a failure. Only the true followers of Christ would know otherwise.
In our next and last post on beastly leadership, we use King Herod’s Jewish -Roman amalgamation to discuss Adventist prophetic teaching about beastly powers. We see King Herod as a type for the religio-political power that will rise in the USA and resist both the best in our democratic republic and in our Christian heritage, once again, forming a beastly image of leadership.
Prayer: God help us see as the Magi and hear the call of Peace on Earth, Good Will to Humans. Help us not to be deceived by those who operate like King Herod the Not-So Great. Greatness is service not Lording it over others! Greatness is following the Lamb wherever he leads.