Eyewitness to Christmas: King Herod was Troubled

We’ve had an eyewitness to Christmas the last few years as we look at the Christmas story from the perspectives of Mary, Joseph, the angels, the shepherds and the Wise Men. This year we wrap up the series with a look from  a completely different view point, that of the king. Herod the Great was king of Judea, part of the Herodian Kingdom and part of the Roman empire. The historical record provides a lot of additional information on King Herod than can be found in scripture. Herod and his son, Herod Antipas, play significant roles in the nativity and crucifixion stories.

“This man was born at Ascalon, b.c. 71, and died at Jericho, a.d. 4. His father was an Edomite, and his mother an Ishmaelite. He was a man of fine executive ability and dauntless courage, but was full of suspicion and duplicity, and his reign was stained by acts of inhuman cruelty. He enlarged and beautified the temple at Jerusalem, and blessed his kingdom by many other important public works… The life of Herod will be found in Josephus’ Antiquities, Books 14-17.”  {The Fourfold Gospel: or A Harmony of the Four Gospels}

So how did Herod react when men came in search of the star and child they had come to worship?

“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”  {Matthew 2:3}

Herod became greatly concerned or had great mental anguish over the news. The Wise Men {or Magi} came to him asking for the King of the Jews. Herod became afraid this king would overthrow his kingdom and take his throne from him. Even though the Magi make it clear the child had just been born. It seemed logical to these wise men to check with the current king. After all, wouldn’t you expect to find a king born in a palace?

Bust of Herod the Great

“Though Herod was very old, and never had shown affection for his family, and was not himself likely to live till a new-born infant had grown up to manhood, he began to be troubled with the dread of a rival. He understood not the spiritual nature of the Messiah’s kingdom.”   {Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary}

Notice we’re told “and Jerusalem with him” as being troubled. Why were the people of Jerusalem so concerned?

“His evil heart, full of suspicions of all kinds, caused him to keep Jerusalem full of spies; so that knowledge of the magi soon reached his ears”  {The Fourfold Gospel: or A Harmony of the Four Gospels}

So what did Herod do?  

“When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.”  {Matthew 2:3}

He called all of the teachers and priest of the law. If anyone knew where the Messiah was to be born, they would know.

Model of Herod the Great’s temple

“The “scribes” were the successors of Ezra, the official copyists of the Scripture, who naturally became its expounders, and were the theologians of the time of Christ. The priests, as the head of the Jewish religion, and the scribes, as the chief expounders of the Scriptures, were the proper persons to answer Herod’s question. Where Christ should be born. This demand concedes: 1. That the Jews expected a Messiah; 2. That the Scriptures had foretold his coming; 3. That the very place of his birth had been pointed out.”   {Johnson’s Notes on the New Testament}

The birth of a baby is good news usually, but for Herod it caused deep despair and even possibly paranoia. Next time we’ll delve into what the prophecies said.

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