On this eve of such a significant election, an unlikely name has been on my mind. It’s neither Trump, nor Biden, but rather Herod. Lest we think that we are the first group of people caught in the crosshairs of a highly contended governmental shift, a quick recap of history will serve us well.
After Caesar’s assassination on the Ides of March (Et tu, brute?), a fight for the seat of power ensued. Seats of power were up for grabs, and there were vastly different opinions on who should fill them. The Parthians came into Jerusalem attempting to prop up their desired Senate representative for the region of Jerusalem; however, Octavius and Antony, Caesar’s nephew and adopted heir, succeeded in appointing Herod, their pick for the role of “King of the Jews.”
The selection was deeply contested by the opposing side and resulted in physical fighting and bloody battles in Jerusalem. At the end of a three-month siege, Caesar’s side had their way. Herod remained in his tenuous position of power on the Judean throne for 33 years (see Thomas Cahill’s The Desire of the Everlasting Hills).
Understanding the bloody path to his seat of power sheds light on Herod’s bloody attempts to retain his power. Positions that are gained by blood and human conniving are often protected and held in like manner.
In the beginnings of Matthew’s gospel, the stage is being set for the entrance of the one true King in the most unexpected manner.
Even those not familiar with the Scriptures likely recognize the following verses from the Christmas story.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:1-2).
Wise men traveling with gifts from far away lands. This is the kind of stuff politicians salivate over; however, these visitors were not coming to see him. They proclaimed the birth of a new king. The potential threat to his power left both him and the people in his jurisdiction worried about more bloody battles for power (Matthew 2:3).
You likely know what happens next from Christmas plays.
Herod has the mysterious seekers vow to tell him when they find their newborn king. He says he wants to worship him, but he really wants to wipe out the threat to his position, power, and prestige. Thankfully, angels intervene to protect the vulnerable baby and his family. They warn the wisemen to head home without visiting the murderous Herod. Angels also warn Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt as family of three.
“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wisemen, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16).
The people of Judea had been right to be troubled. They knew too well the civil unrest that resulted from power grabs. They were weary of such things. They longed for a ruler who would rule justly and with equity, who would use his position to advantage his people rather than himself. Little did they know that he had been born. Hiding in Egypt as a political refugee was the One who was the true King of the Jews.
Herod’s murderous rage, while horrific, did not thwart God’s good plans for the better kingdom. In fact, the true King that the angels had protected would stand watching while he was cruelly murdered. Though Christ might have called down legions of angels to protect him, he willingly endured death on a cross (Matthew 26:52-54). He did so to usher in the perfect kingdom.
While it has been initiated, it is not yet consummated. We live in this already/not yet kingdom of God. Just as the people of Jerusalem were troubled with dangerous political unrest, we remain troubled when positions of power are up for grabs. However, as those who stand on the other side of the cross, we know the living one in whom all our hope lies. We know that the one who worked the ultimate evil of the cross for our good can work all things to his glorious ends (Romans 8:28).
That Herod was threatened
By a newborn laid in hay
The vulnerability of power
And position does betray.
The most coveted seats
On this spinning sphere
Are subject to shuffling
And protected by fear.
Oligarchies may appoint,
Crowds elevate a name.
A fickle fiefdom offers
A highly unstable fame.
If on reputation or rank
One’s security does rest,
Then surely moth and rust
One’s hope will soon infest.
Murderous ends stem
From misshapen means.
Yet our God works good
Even from earthly schemes.
Our hope is wrapped in
The Son of His appointing.
Our stability stems from
The king of His anointing.
On this election eve, I pray that we would have our identities and our hopes hidden in Christ, the Everlasting King.