My Good Name “Herod the Great”
Based on Matthew 2:1-18
(Presented from the perspective of Herod)
I am here this morning for one reason and one reason only and that’s to clear my good name. Actually, it was a great name. In my day they called me Herod the Great, King of the Jews.
It was a title well deserved I assure you. My building projects put Jerusalem on the map. Visitors from all over marveled at the Temple I built which sat gloriously upon Mt. Zion.
Its outer walls were covered with pure gold. During the day the sun reflecting on its surface was so bright one could barely look at it with the naked eye. Now I’ve seen your structures today, none could compare. Put pure gold on your buildings today and it would be stolen the first night if it lasted that long.
I was known for generosity during my reign as well. When hard times hit I suspended the taxes of my subjects to make their burden lighter. I bet none of your leaders would dare such a thing today.
The year that the terrible famine hit, 25 B.C. by your calendars, I again displayed my charity and care by melting down my own gold plates to buy corn for the starving people. I am absolutely positive none of your elected kings would make that kind of sacrifice.
But I believe the main reason they termed me Herod the Great was my outstanding leadership ability. I alone was able to bring order and maintain peace in the land of Judea. Who in your day has ever succeeded in quieting the hostilities in Israel?
Those are just a few of the accomplishments that prompted people to call me Great, but in your time my name remains tarnished because of one tiny incident. It was so insignificant that I can hardly believe people still point to it as the defining act of my life. It’s totally unfair that such a minor an order could soil such a great name. But I won’t distance myself from that command. Neither will I deny or apologize for it. It was my decree that brought death to Bethlehem. See for yourself:
[Video clip of the slaughter in Bethlehem from the movie, Jesus of Nazareth]
Women weeping for their children and refusing to be comforted, because their children are no more … Blah, blah, blah. The word of the prophets, what rubbish! How could anyone believe that superstitious dribble? Certainly not me! If I had my way they’d all be …….Pardon me. I digress.
I know what you’re thinking. That killing in Bethlehem was just terrible. Oh what an awful tragedy. I’m sure your little hearts just bleed and you snarl your lips and shake your grimy little fists at me. But we’re not so different. Certainly, I’m more intelligent and handsome, but still a human being just like you. We have the same needs and drives and desires. If you were in my place you’d have done the very same thing. Once you know my story you’ll understand and you’ll restore the rightful dignity to my name, Herod the Great.
Now As I understand it, the people of your day have this habit of blaming all their problems on their childhood, so that’s where I’ll start. Life was difficult for me as a young boy mainly because of my lineage. My father was an Edomite. We trace our ancestry back to Esau, the eldest son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. The Edomites were conquered by the Jews about a century before I was born. My grandfather and all his descendants were all circumcised and forced to be Jews. Although we were not full-blooded Israelites, we were still considered Jews by the people of Palestine.
The biggest problem I faced as a child was my mixed lineage. My mother was an Arab. For a short time my mother and I lived in the fortress city of Petra. The population there was made up of both Jews and Arabs. The Jewish boys taunted me for being an Arab. The Arab boys ridiculed me for being a Jew. Both Arab and Jew hated me for my Greek name, Herod. I found acceptance from none of my peers. But no matter. Life as an outcast only made me stronger.
I felt certain that destiny had greater things in store for me than those schoolyard ruffians could even imagine in their sluggish, peasant brains. A rather remarkable encounter occurred one day that confirmed my feelings. While on my way to school a notoriously crazy old man named Menahem approached me and patted my head. He was a religious kook, but some people in town considered him a prophet. Mother pulled me to her side, but the old man bent down, held out his hand and said that he was glad to meet the future King of the Jews. His breath stank from rotted teeth, but I took his filthy hand so that I could hear more about my destiny.
He went on to say, “Your most reasonable course of action, which will bring you a good reputation, will be to practice justice and piety toward God.” Then he added, “But I know you will not be such a person.”I didn’t understand that last part, but I full well understood the phrase, King of the Jews. I made the title my life’s ambition from that point on.
It was only a few years later that I began to actually step into my destiny. My father, the exceptional statesman that he was, developed a friendly relationship with Julius Caesar, the first Emperor of Rome. Soon Caesar appointed my father ruler of Palestine and he, in turn, made me the governor of Galilee. Not a bad promotion for a 26 year old!
Three years later Julius Caesar was assassinated, stabbed to death by one of his closest friends.
Between the time that I was appointed governor of Galilee and the murder of the Roman Emperor, I had developed a close friendship with Mark Antony. Yes, THE Mark Antony of Cleopatra fame. It was rumored that he was next in line for the throne, but at that point the rule of Rome was divided between Antony, the boy Octavian and a nobody named Lepidus.
At first, Antony proved to be a valuable ally. He named me tetrarch of Judea. I ruled 1/4th of the province. But ruling the Jews was no easy task. They hated me because I wasn’t one of them. I decided to divorce my first wife Doris. She was an Edomite just as I. I then began to pursue the lovely Mariamne. Not only was she exquisitely beautiful, she was the granddaughter of a war hero and high priest. I believed that such a marriage would put me in the good graces of the Jews.
Of course, I was right. By age of 36 I was the King of the Jews. After appointment to the position by the Roman Senate I had to clear Jerusalem of some rebels. But after five months, I was firmly in control and married to the most influential and beautiful Jew in the land. I had everything I’d ever dreamed of … well … almost everything.
I quickly realized that although I controlled the government of the Jews, their religion was another matter. Absolute power required the loyalty of the priests. They held the hearts of you commoners. The religious leaders could incite them to revolt or preach peace. If I controlled them, they could persuade the people to love me.
So I installed my own high priest, a loyal young man named Ananel. In return for the position he would do all my bidding. The arrangement couldn’t fail.But then the problems started cropping up. When one becomes a person of power and fame they must take great care against the envy of underlings. I learned a lesson from the murder of Caesar, trust no one, not even those closest to you. As I would soon learn, sometimes sacrifices must be made.
The first challenge to my rule came from the most unlikely source, my wife. She disagreed with the high priest I had installed and began a campaign to appoint her younger brother.
I absolutely refused. He was too young at 17. He was also exceedingly handsome. My wife was tenacious, but my resolve was stronger. In a fit of anger she threatened to go over my head to Mark Antony. I knew that she would make good on her threats if I refused. And if old Antony laid eyes my wife’s brother, he’d appoint him anyway. So I relented and made her brother the new high priest.
All of my fears came true. The people loved him. I despised the sight of that boy prancing through the streets of Jerusalem in his glittering robes, the crowds hanging on his every word and gesture. When I, their King, traveled the streets in my royal chariot I could hear their insults and catcalls. I was still a half-breed in their eyes. I made up my mind to remedy the situation.
That boy, what a fool. On a particularly hot summer day I invited him to take a cool swim near one of my palaces in Jericho. He had a most unfortunate accident. The poor boy drowned. What a tragedy. But I guess that’s what happens when someone holds your head under water too long. No one saw what actually happened, but my wife was inconsolable at the loss of her brother. She blamed me and would not forgive me though there was not the least shred of evidence. It was then that I realized how great a threat my pretty wife could be.
Something had to be done. As much as it grieved me to do it I formally accused her of adultery. She was put on trial and was executed. Nothing has ever hurt me as much as the death of my beloved wife. At times after her passing I wanted to die too. On more than one occasion my hand was held back by friends from slitting my own throat. That’s the high price that comes with power. Sacrifices must be made. My destiny was at stake. Surely you can understand why I did what I did.
It wasn’t long before other traitors threatened my rule. My former mother-in-law, Alexandra, began making waves, so she had to go. I lost no sleep over her departure I can assure you.
At about the same time 45 members of the Sanhedrin, the Jew’s supreme court, opposed me. I relieved them of their positions and then of their heads. I took their property as my own as reparation for their treason. Then I nominated 45 new members, upstanding men, who would support their king.
It was then that I caught wind of a plot to make one of my own sons the new king. The public was against me, so I took the only option I had left. I ordered him strangled. Yes, my own flesh and blood. But I had no choice in the matter. A man in my position, with my destiny, has to make sacrifices. I can see by the way you look at me that you don’t understand, no one understands. No one did then either. Word reached me from Rome that the new emperor, Augustus, was having a little fun at my expense. He circulated a little new saying, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son.”
Let them all laugh. The ends justify the means. I secured my rule and enjoyed peace and prosperity. I achieved my destiny, Herod the Great, King of the Jews. For forty years I ruled that land and no one, absolutely no one ever crossed swords with the old man again.
Never again did I hear rumor or threat of insurrection … until that one night that you’ve learned of so well. It was in my 69th year. I was awakened in the early hours by one of my eunuchs , a particularly well-built and affectionate young fellow, but that’s beside the point.
There were visitors at the palace doors — magicians from the eastern lands of Persia, from their appearance. Oh, they were in quite a festive mood at such an ungodly hour. My translator informed me that they need some information that they thought only I could provide them as King of the Jews.
Their request stunned me. They said that signs in the sky had led them to Jerusalem where they were looking for the new King of the Jews. Fear tingled down my spine at their words, but I kept my composure. They insisted that I tell them where the child was so that they could go and worship him. They even brought expensive gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. I had no idea what they were talking about, but I certainly determined to get to the bottom of it. I promised that I’d give them the information they desired the next day.
I was troubled by their words. I knew that I wouldn’t live too many more years, but I had taken pains to ensure of another of my sons would rule after my death. A new King of the Jews … this could not be. This was not part of the plan. Again I knew that sacrifices must be made. I could see from the looks on the faces of my servants and associates that they were troubled too. In fact, all of Jerusalem seemed in a somber, apprehensive mood.
After a sleepless night I called on some of the religious leaders for help in figuring out where this new king was to be born. I interviewed scribes and priests and they each turned immediately to the scroll of the prophet Micah. Bethlehem was designated the town where this ruler would be born. But the prophecy suggested more than a king. The religious leaders told me that such was the sign of the long awaited Messiah, Savior of the Jews. Of course, they dismissed it all. I guess they concluded that if God was bringing his Messiah to earth they’d be first to know.
I was never a religious man, but I did consider the possibilities. If the Magicians were right, I too should find this new king and pay homage to him. Maybe God was calling me. I’d achieved everything I’d ever dreamed, but on those lonely nights with neither wife nor eunuch I had to admit that I sometimes felt a void, like a deep dark canyon in my soul.
Maybe I should take a chance and … But no! I came to my senses. Could you imagine Herod the Great bowing down and teary-eyed in front of a baby? The thought repulsed me. This was just another threat that had to be dealt with.
I called the magicians back into my throne room and told them that the new king was to be born in Bethlehem. With all the sincerity and sweetness I could muster I asked them to kindly return and tell me exactly where the little boy king could be found, so that I could worship him too. They left and I waited. I had my most trusted assassin ready to descend on Bethlehem and take care of this “little job” on my command. I waited a full day, but those deceitful magicians never returned.
Had they chosen to do so it would have taken less than a day because Bethlehem was only five miles south of Jerusalem. They thought that they had outmaneuvered me, but Herod the Great always has the last laugh. I ordered all the male children in Jerusalem up to two years old to be executed immediately. The rest, as you well know, is history. Go ahead. Glare at me and hate me. You hypocrites! Would you not have done the same thing in my position?
You of all people have no right to stand in judgment of me. You live in a day and in a country where relationships are disposable and marriage has no meaning. When your spouse’s get in the way of your destiny of complete happiness don’t you have ways of getting rid of them, don’t you call it divorce? The only difference between the two of us is that you lack the power to eliminate them completely.
Oh, but what about the children? What do you do with them when they get in the way of your plans, your precious careers, or your reputations? My sources tell me that in your world it’s legal to dispose of those who are inconvenient, this abortion. Hypocrites. You slander and gossip and hate. The only difference between the two of us is that you lack the power or the guts to kill those that get in your way yourself.
And what of this King of the Jews? Of course, I know the whole story now. I know my error. Who can fight destiny? He was King of all, but not my King at all. Ask yourself, is He your King of all? Aren’t there times when following this Messiah of yours is inconvenient? Haven’t you desired to throw off his rule and seize control of your own fate? Aren’t there times when you want to indulge in a little excitement and you wish you could snuff him out briefly, but then bring him back again so you can keep your ticket to heaven?
How much time do you spend with this risen King of yours? Do you follow His lead? Obey His Commands? Hypocrites. Fools. Don’t you understand that he’s either King of all or not your King at all? At least I have the integrity to admit it. We’re not so different, the two of us.
How can you possibly call me guilty if his blood is on your hands too? He’s either King of all or not your King at all.
I hope you saw in this message how Herod wasn’t any different towards God than a lot of people we come in contact with in our daily lives.
- People are out for themselves
- People are Hungry for power, not for Christ
- People place blame on others, never excepting responsibility for their own sins
- People point out our faults as equal or greater than their own as a defense against their actions
But you know those Herod types in our lives all have something in common with Herod. That’s their need for Jesus Christ. It’s our calling to show and lead the way to Christ. Some won’t follow Him at all, some will follow later and some will follow now and cling to the arms of our Savior Jesus Christ.