Matthew 2:2-3, “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.”
When I read this verse what troubled me was what would cause Herod and all Jerusalem with him to be troubled? To answer that we have to look at a few aspects including who Herod was, how he came to rule, and how the Magi were connected to all of this all during the perfect timing of the birth of God’s Son.
Let us start with the Magi. What the magi likely did not know was that Herod ruled not in greatness of kingship but with great paranoia and deadly tactics of power and destruction. He is described as a madman who put to death many of his own family members, including two of his sons out of fear of their disloyalty and rise to power. The IVP Bible Backgrounds New Testament states, “King Herod, who was aware of broad currents of thought in the Roman Empire and sponsored pagan temples among Gentile cities in his realm, might have been especially apt to consider the Magi’s mission significant.” Needless to say, when Herod learned of the magi’s journey to behold the birth of a new king, he was angry and threatened by the news. Matthew reports, “[Herod] was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.” The people of Jerusalem were well acquainted with Herod’s murderous tactics when fear and paranoia reigned in his kingdom.
When Herod discovered that the magi had tricked him, leaving town without reporting where they found the child king, what did he do? He did not sit idle, no not at all. The character of Herod was one of rule by the iron fist, and he would certainly implore more deadly tactics of power and destruction because that is what he did. John MacArthur shares, “Now let me set the stage. Politically speaking, Rome was scared of the eastern Empire. Now if you’ll just focus in your mind a little map of Europe and that was the Roman Empire, this massive chunk of Europe. And technically it swept to the east. But by virtue of distance cross the Mediterranean, across the blazing desert to get to the east, there was a certain isolation in the east which caused Rome a lot of anxiety. And they were always fearful that what then became known as the Parthean Empire, the eastern empire made up of the Medes and the Persians and the old Babylonian territory, that Parthean Empire was always kind of an anxiety for Rome. Rome, you know, had stretched its tentacles out as it were to rule the world but they never really felt very secure about the Parthean Empire. And they had become violent enemies, violent enemies. And they fought. In 55 B.C. they fought. In 40 B.C. they fought. And what’s fascinating is, you know where they always fought? The great empire in the west, the great empire in the east came together and guess where they always fought? Right along the coast of the Mediterranean, Syria, Jordan, Palestine. Israel was a little no-man’s land between the powers of the east and the powers of the west”.
Furthermore MacArthur states, “Herod got panicky. When suddenly these Persian king makers appeared in Jerusalem no doubt traveling in full force with all their oriental pomp and they use to wear conical hats with points on the top and big deals clear down to the bottom of their chin and they rode Persian steeds not camels. And when they came in they didn’t come alone, the estimates of history are they came with Persian cavalry. When they came charging into the city of Jerusalem and Herod peeked out his little palace window he flipped.
These are powerful men and to make it worse his army was out of the country on a mission. And the Bible says Herod was troubled. I guess he was. The word in the Greek is he was agitated like your washing machine, he was shaking. You see, Herod had a title. Do you know what Herod’s title was? King of the Jews. He got it from Caesar Augustus. Caesar Augustus crowned him king of the Jews. And he realized the great dream of his life was to get that little buffer state under his power and here he was in the middle of two huge contending empires. And all of a sudden this massive coterie of Persians arrive in the city and he is panicked and they say we’re coming to find the new king.”. Herod is thinking, “I’m the King of the Jews, and all the people better know it, and know and respect me in that role. Any threat to my rule will be met with death as I did with others, no one is exempt from my wrathful, vengeful, hand of power.” It is important to note, that “at the time Herod was close to death. And Caesar Augustus was really old and hanging by a thread. And since the retirement of Tiberius the Roman army didn’t even have a commander-in-chief. And they knew that this would be the time to bring about an eastern war against the west. It was right. And so Herod was shaking (MacArthur).”
Therefore, he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under. At this decree, Matthew recalls what was said through the prophet Jeremiah long ago, now sadly fulfilled: “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” (Matthew 2:16-18). Herod’s violent reaction to the news of a newborn king casts a very sad shadow on a beautiful story. We remember with delight the magi outsmarting Herod by leaving for their country on another road. We remember with triumph that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are able to escape to safety despite the murderous arm of a powerful ruler. But at what despairing cost? For the little town of Bethlehem, Herod’s command brought about excruciating sorrow. In fact, the inclusion of this frightful story at all is a grim and curious addition in an otherwise joyful telling of the beginnings of Christmas. It is no wonder we seldom reflect on it (Jill Carattini, RZIM).
Christ was born during the slaughter of the innocence, but God protected His Son, but allowed a multitude of other children, from other parents to still die. If it is a much more serious offense to murder the US President than a homeless man in the eyes of the law, then how much more to murder the Son of God over those God merely created? Yes, God allowed the deaths of many children, but in His Master Plan, he guided His Son from the cradle to the cross where His own Son, “…came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45),” that we might be saved and redeemed by the blood of the real innocent, spotless Lamb of God, who came into the world to save sinners. He came to save His people from their sins and His is still saving them. God honored His Son with gifts from a foreign Magi, protected His Son by warning Mary and Joseph, and glorified His Son by seating Him back on His right hand. May we honor the Son, proclaim His name, and glorify the one that was born to die for my sin and yours!
Until the nets are filled…
Phil Sessa, Soulfishing Ministries Evangelist <><
- The Magi: History & Meaning (2/2) (qdvf.wordpress.com)
- Epiphany: Wise Men Come to Worship Jesus (Mt 2: 1-12) (shalommysticwind.wordpress.com)
- GOD’S PROMISE – JESUS CHRIST – Slaughter of children (ptl2010.com)
- The Magi: History & Meaning (1/2) (qdvf.wordpress.com)