Summary: The Holy Spirit passed Herod by - why?
Epiphany is the time when we celebrate the coming to the three Wise Men to meet Jesus and their encounter with King Herod
Story: But have you ever stopped to think what would have happened if it had been the three Wise Women instead of three Wise Men?
1. They would have asked directions in Bethlehem rather than feeling that they needed to stop off at the Palace in Jerusalem,
2. They would have arrived on time,
3. They would have helped deliver the baby; they would have cleaned the stable and given practical gifts – like bringing a casserole and
4. There would be Peace on Earth.
Last Epiphany I spoke in detail about the Wise Men – who they were and why God spoke to them.
This year I would like to focus on why God didn’t speak to Herod and in particular on Mt 2: 12
12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, (the Magi) returned to their country by another route.
So who was King Herod and what do we know about him?
Herod was known as Herod the Great and lived from 73 to 4 BC.
Herod was the second son of Antipater the Id-um-aean, founder of the Herodian dynasty, and his wife Cypros, a princess from Petra in Nabatea (now part of Jordan).
The family rubbed shoulders with the greats in Rome, such as Pompey, Cassius, and in 47 BC Herod’s father was appointed Procurator over Judea. And Antipater appointed his son Herod - governor of Galilee at the age of 25.
In 40BC the Parthians went to war with the Romans and the Jewish populace – who hated Herod, sided with the Parthians.
At first the Parthians were successful and put their own king Antigonos on the Jewish throne, but in 37 BC the Roman Senate was Herod king of Judea and gave him the forces to regain the throne. And he held that throne for about 37 years until his death.
As ’friend and ally of the Romans’ he was not allowed to be a truly independent king. However, Rome allowed him to run his own domestic policy.
Herod was a magnificent builder.
Maddy and I have just returned from Israel, where we saw Herod’s magnificent palace in Masada. It is an incredible feat of engineering. He built two other similar fortresses at Herodion and Machaereus.
And we also visited Herod’s crowning achievement - the building of Caesarea Maritima (to distinguish it from Caesarea Philippi) - a magnificent seaport which Herod named “Caesarea” in honour of the then Roman emperor Augustus Caesar.
Indeed the harbour was called Sebastos, the Greek translation of ’Augustus’.
Herod also rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and more famously the Temple in Jerusalem (the building was started in 20 BC).
Just looking at what is left of the foundations of the Temple in Jerusalem – where the Dome of the Rock now is – gives one a picture what the Temple must have looked like.
And we see reference to the magnificence of the Temple in Matt 24:1
1Jesus then left the Temple. As he walked away, his disciples pointed out how very impressive the Temple architecture was. 2Jesus said, "You’re not impressed by all this sheer size, are you? The truth of the matter is that there’s not a stone in that building that is not going to end up in a pile of rubble." (Mt 24:1 & 2 – The Message)
And of course you will recall that the Temple was destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans.
In the world’s eyes, Herod was quite successful as a king – at least politically – and he extended the territories of his kingdom to include Trachonitis, Batanea and Auranitis – areas in Southern Syria today
But his reign was marred as a reign of terror.
He married 10 times, and all his marriages were unhappy.
He was also paranoiac – so much so that he executed his favourite wife the Hasmonaean princess Mariamme I, because he thought she was having an affair (though she wasn’t).
He executed his brother in law Kostobar and his mother in law Alexandra - as well as his uncle Joseph.
He also executed three of his 14 children.
When the Roman Emperor Augustus heard of the execution of Herod’s eldest son Antipater in 4 BC, he made his famous comment - that it would be preferable to be Herod’s pig (Hus) than his son (huios).
When Herod fell ill, two popular teachers, Judas
and Matthias, incited their pupils to remove the
golden eagle from the entrance of the Temple because this contravened the Ten Commandments.
Herod had both the teachers and the pupils burnt alive.
Just before his death, Herod, realising that when he died there would be no great mourning, sent letters to the principal heads of every family in Judaism. He demanded their presence in Jerusalem on pain of death.