First Glance: Matthew 2:1-18

A village, about the size of Bethlehem in Jesus' day, as seen from the top of the Herodium. Photo by Olga Shaffer.
A village, about the size of Bethlehem in Jesus’ day, as seen from the top of the Herodium. Photo by Olga Shaffer.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him. (Matthew 2:1-3)

Herod the Great, or King Herod, was one of (if not the) most wealthy men to ever live. Along with that wealth came a deep-seated paranoia. He was constantly in fear of conspiracy, thinking others were out to take his throne from him. This led him to murder many of his sons, and even his favourite wife Mariamne. Herod lived in fear, and his fear often had violent consequences. For, when Herod was afraid, bad things happened. His people had to fear for their own lives when something frightened their king.

These wise men from the East visited King Herod. They asked after a child who had been born king of the Jews, and Herod was frightened. I wonder what went through the minds of those living in the vicinity of Jerusalem… Who would die next? What evil deed would Herod come up with, now that this conspiracy had come to his ears? This line of thinking was not unfamiliar.

Although not unfamiliar, it is interesting to realize that Herod took this threat to his throne seriously. He believed the prophecy Micah foretold:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:6)

Herod was an Edomite. Initially this may not seem like a big deal. However, there’s a history between Israel and Edom that goes back to the patriarchs. Isaac and his wife Rebekah had two children: Esau and Jacob. Esau, the elder twin, would become father of the Edomites. Jacob, the younger twin, would become father of the Israelites. Before they were born, the Lord said to their mother Rebekah:

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the elder shall serve the younger.”

Herod had wealth, power, strength. But he feared the younger, weaker, poor. He believed God’s word to be true, and did not like what that meant for him. He took action, killing all the babies of Bethlehem two years and under. But God rescued his son, sending him to Egypt until Herod had died. God used what Herod intended for evil, to benefit himself, for good. This part of the story still ends in sorrow, in deep grief and lamentation, but also ends in hope. The coming ruler, the Christ, the Messiah has come.

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