There was once a king.
Not born a king, but appointed.
A very paranoid king, he wiped out all opposition to his throne, real or perceived: at least one wife, one son, a few other relations. He was known as the butcher in some circles. His name?
image from the Nativity Story
Not to be confused with his son & namesake, Herod Antipas, this Herod was called ‘the Great’ historically. But I am going to call him Herod for the post today. For he too was just a man.
When our Advent story took place, Herod was in power, established on the throne of Israel by Rome.
Rome had a way of collecting taxes and constantly being on the look out for rebellion, two things Herod too took part in regularly. The Jews were heavily taxed, not only for their usual temple tax, but Herod’s expensive building fund (Masada, and several more landmarks) and Rome’s demands on top. Many in Israel were struggling to make ends meet, especially in the smaller towns with less industry.
Now Herod ruled by keeping a very close eye on the pulse of Israel. He knew the Jews (of which he had become one in order to rule, but was not born to it) were waiting for the Messiah, and like the rest of Israel, they all expected a man to announce himself, one who will free Israel by force from Rome’s grip.
It is most likely Herod was keeping an eye on any perceived Messiah contenders, and would have had a plan in place to swiftly deal with any who would appear. Remember, Herod killed his own flesh & blood, so there is not a lot of compassion going on within this ruler.
Enter the wise men into this already powder keg situation.
They arrive in Jerusalem, and announce themselves to the palace to meet King Herod.
Not to offer platitudes or humble themselves before him, but to ask assistance to locate the baby King of the Jews who is about to be or has been recently born!
I believe this set off a fury in Herod that has only been matched a few times in history, and cemented his rule as blood thirsty for all time, but not immediately set into action.
First, he asked the wise men to return and let him know where they found the child so He too could worship him, the new King of the Jews. Sneaky strategy to ask genuine seekers to help betray the one they seek.
When they were warned not to return to Herod, I believe the full impact of what they had accidentally done must have weighed heavy on the wise men’s hearts.
When they failed to return to Herod within the expected timeline, his rage exploded, and he decided to kill every male infant from birth to 2 years in a set targeted area. And swiftly set his troops out to do his bidding.
How this must have echoed the murder of the Jewish baby boys in Egypt to the Israelites. A second targeted annihilation attempting to foil God’s plans for deliverance, at great cost to His people.
We know how this story ends, but in that moment, Herod’s plan would have looked like it was a success, and the mourning wail that arose? The sound of hair raising grief at such loss.
When heavengriefearth collide, God is not surprised.
He never is when evil raises its head to strike.
He made a way….
More on that tomorrow!