When the Romans subdued Israel in 70 B.C., local administrators clambered for power in the new world order; the world order of Pax Romana. It is at this time that a soldier by the name of Herod (Herod’s name means “sprung from a hero” and was hewn from Greek stock) rose in the ranks and governed for 20 years until he was slain. This first Herod calculatedly placed his two sons in government when he realised he was on his last. When he gasped his last, one son sat on the throne. He ruled between 37 and 4 B.C. and became known as Herod the Great.
Herod – The Great – wooed Roman approval so well that he was granted the right to be called “king of the Jews.” His Jewish supporters—Herodians— could have reasoned that embracing Rome was in their self-interest and preservation.
Herod was a great real estate guy. He added substantial changes on Jerusalem Temple, turning it into one of the exceptional marvels of the ancient world. He built a reliquary over Abraham’s tomb and constructed sumptuous palace-fortresses in Jericho, Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Masada.
Notwithstanding his high hype and hoopla, Herod was also nefarious and especially when it came to self-interests. It is reported that he executed one of his wives and two of his sons because he thought they might imperil his rule. It is not a wonder that the Roman emperor Augustus once joked, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son.” (The old chestnut was that because Jews did not eat pork, their pigs were safer than Herod’s sons.) Herod was a confirmed Jekyll and Hide.
While quoting from Flavius Josephus, William Barclay (1907-1978), the famous Scottish scholar states that Herod left diabolical orders that, when he died, his soldiers were to round up a group of eminent men, fix them, then kill them. In this way, Herod was sure that somebody would shed tears upon his passing—even if the tears weren’t for him. Luckily, when Herod came to a sticky end, in the spring of 4 B.C., no one took up his barbarous order.
It appears that Herod was a man with a split soul. He had the soul of a smart ruler, experienced in Greek graciousness and yearning to retreat in the wilderness to contemplate (each palace-fortress he constructed was on the tip of the desert). He also exhibited the soul of a totalitarian ruler with messianic ambitions; a man who was completely cold to anyone he regarded as a menace to his reign.
Josephus tells us that Herod the Great’s (It should be ‘Herod the Grubby’) twilight days were terrifying. He most likely suffered from Fournier’s gangrene.
Jesus and Herod were referred to as King of the Jews, yet the distinction between them is as far as heaven and earth. Herod rode into Jerusalem with a militia of 36,000, while Jesus mounted a donkey into Jerusalem with a group of twelve disciples – mostly of low estate.
Herod constructed extensive structures, hallowed in his name, but Jesus established an eternal kingdom.
Herod killed so that he could live and maintain a firm grip on his power. Jesus, on the other hand, gave up His power and died so that we could live.
Today, amid conflicts and news of conflicts, with despots and tyrants in power, terrorists and incendiaries on the loose, take comfort in these words. The truth will overwhelm the lie, love will beat hatred and the light will drink the darkness.
Such was the life of Herod the Grubby, and such is the history of the human race; any time we battle to preserve our petty material kingdoms from infringement, any time we let our egotistical concerns mutiny against God’s kingdom, we are following in the footprints of Herod the Grubby.