The Gospel of Matthew introduces us to Herod the Great and his family. Herod’s family is prominent in the Gospels because of their cruel and barbaric rule. To get a real understanding of the times of Jesus’ birth and ministry, you have to know about Herod and his progeny.
Who was Herod the Great?
Herod the Great became the king of Israel in 40 BC when Herod traveled to Rome and persuaded the Roman Senate to proclaim him king of Israel. Herod’s persuasion came mainly in the form of a bribe. This decision affected Israel greatly. He reigned until his death in 4 BC. Jesus was born sometime shortly before the death of Herod.
Herod was a violent, jealous, and paranoid man. He had at least nine wives and numerous children. He killed his favorite wife, several children, and a number of people in the royal family.
We know him best as the king at the birth of Jesus and as the murderer of the children of Bethlehem. He reigned from 40-4 B.C. When he died an angel told Joseph to return to Israel because those who wanted to kill the child had died.
Herod was a great builder. He restored the temple in Jerusalem and left a number of building projects that remain to this day. Students of the New Testament are well acquainted with the port city of Caesarea and the fortress of Masada. He also built the massive Herodium south of Jerusalem.
His relationship with the Jews was always strained. Herod was half-Jew and half-Idumean. He was an Edomite who came from the line of Esau. While Herod knew of the Jewish faith and gave public assent to worship in the temple, he was not in any sense a religious man. The Jews knew this.
Herod the Great left an elaborate will for his kingdom. He divided it into fourths. Archelaus received Jerusalem and Judea while Herod Antipas received Galilee and Peraea. His son Philip received the area north and east of the Sea of Galilee. All of these sons are mentioned in the Gospels. His sister Salome I received several cities, including the city of Ashdod.
Herod is best known for Christians as the cruel leader who sought to kill the Christ Child. He ruled with cruelty and exhibited the worst in human behavior.
The coming of Jesus showed a new way. He was the “born king of the Jews” whose reign was not earthly and whose law was the law of love. Instead of hating his enemies, He came to love them.
This king calls us to love one another and to live in obedience to the Lord of the universe.