As you begin to read Luke’s gospel, you can easily fail to notice the words that innocently begin the fifth verse: “In the days of Herod, king of Judea . . .” How many times have I heard the familiar Christmas story? The wise men are told by King Herod to report back to him so he can have this new Baby King killed. But somehow, over the years I never realized just who or what Herod was the king of! Here is another instance where crawling through the Bible, bit by bit, has its advantages.
Judea . . .? “Land of the Jews” – most of the exiles returning from Babylon captivity were from the tribe of Judah, therefore, their homeland became known as Judea. The area included both Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Herod . . .? Some references I have say Herod was a descendant of Esau, Jacob’s older twin brother. Since it is Jacob’s 12 sons who become the Nation of Israel, this means Herod is a non-Jew. And thus, an outsider is ruling over the Jews. Other sources say he is a “half-Jew”. Either way, his actions while ruler speak loudly that he gave little regard to God’s Law. He had 10 wives, he was directly involved in or ordered the murder of several individuals, and he demanded a loyalty oath from his subjects. His own political career was Herod’s primary concern. Even while rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem; he was really seeking political favors and power by placing an eagle over the entrance – the symbol of the Roman Empire.
Note -- there are at least 8 different Herod’s in the New Testament. This one, in Luke’s first chapter, is called “Herod the Great” and is the same one in Matthew 2:1-17 who had the baby boys in Bethlehem killed. Different Herod’s had John the Baptist be-headed, put Jesus and then Paul on trial, killed James, and imprisoned Peter. Maybe that’s not important here, but I didn’t realize they weren’t the same person. Anyway, the Herod who ordered the killing of the baby boys was gravely ill at the time and actually died just a short time later. This was his way of ensuring the throne would pass to one of his heirs and not the baby Jesus.
So why the history lesson, why does any of this matter today? Well, I think we should realize that this man was not king of some distant land that the wise men happened to be traveling through, but he was king of the Nation of Israel. Herod was not following the ways of Israel’s faith and he blatantly ruled over God’s people without any thoughts of God! Herod’s many murderous rampages were all political power plays. He would do anything to keep his throne and he refused to quietly step aside so some Jewish baby could take his throne.
Why didn’t the Jewish people object? According to Baker’s Bible Encyclopedia, some did object, particularly when it came to the loyalty oath. But for the most part, Herod’s rule was peaceful because he passed laws cutting taxes. Were the Jews really pacified by tax cuts? Could Herod disregard God’s Law because of tax cuts? I’ve always wondered why they let their baby boys be killed. Why wasn’t this the start of some massive political upheaval or an all out bloody war? I mean really, they were OK with this murderer being their king because of tax cuts . . . ?
In America today, there is a host of political and corporate office holders who have no regard for God or His Law. Most of the people running this nation, both politically and economically, are the very people warned about in Psalm 1. The wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers we are meant to avoid are, in fact, our overseers. We are a nation unequally yoked! As a result we are bound up with them and making sinful compromises on a daily basis. Many of our heads of state are in open rebellion against our God and His ways. And just like Herod, their singular objective is to stay in control, at all costs. But it seems, most of the time, we do little or nothing to interrupt their sinful plans.
However, we have more to fear than just political or corporate leaders. Today there is a dark ruler of this world who will also hold nothing back if it means staying in control. And just like Herod, Satan refuses to quietly step aside when Christians threaten his authority. Anyone walking strong in their faith, following the Lord Jesus, has a target on their forehead. We are ridiculed and maligned, called misinformed and hate-mongers. And our children are being taught to despise the “intolerance” of our Christian faith that boldly claims to be the ONLY way, the ONLY truth, and the ONLY path to eternal life. The people in Judea handed over their baby boys to Herod’s men, and in many ways we are doing the same with our young people today. We allow Satan to take control of their lives when we refuse to take a stand for biblical truths and our Christian values.
Yes, we have sunk low; we are living in dark, perilous times. But all is not lost, keep the faith. Pray for our nation, our leaders, and our youth. Pray that the Church's apathy will be turned into boldness. Jesus will soon return and the current “Herods” of this world will be forever unseated and eternally judged by the Righteous King. In the meantime, this darkness is necessary so we will learn to CRAVE the Light more.
John 15:19 “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”
What compromises have you made with your faith as a result of yoking yourself to an unbelieving friend or employer?
Recall a time when taking a stand brought you ridicule or worse.