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…; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. Matthew 2:1-4
Last week as I was reflecting on the Epiphany, I was intrigued by King Herod as the villain in the story. The wise men were given unlimited access to the Christ Child, and Herod was denied access.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Matthew 2:12
King Herod was created by God just like everybody else in the story. So what went wrong? Most of us know King Herod is the ultimate biblical villain, a baby killer. However, there is more to the story.
Herod was born in Palestine. His father was a soldier who ousted the king and took the throne for himself. His father appointed Herod Governor of Galilee. When civil war broke out in Rome, Herod first sided with Mark Antony who made him a tetrarch (which is governor of a quadrant of Rome). When Octavian defeated Mark Antony, and Cleopatra Herod switched his loyalties. Herod was loyal to Rome and having proven this under Octavian-now Caesar Augustus-, he secured his position as King of the Jews. Being a distrustful, paranoid, jealous, and brutal man. He eliminated any opposition or threat to his place of power. This included killing his wife and two of his sons.
But Herod wasn’t all bad.
There was economic prosperity during his reign of 33 years. Herod presented himself as the protector of Judaism and hoped to win the favor of the Jews. He encouraged synagogue community development, and in difficult times he suspended taxes and supplied free grain to the people. He earned his title Herod the Great because of all the building he was responsible for including the rebuilding and beautification of the temple in Jerusalem.
But he was a fearful and paranoid man, and he made a choice to let his fears guide his decisions.
There have been times in my life when I too have made a choice to follow my fears and insecurities. Recently, as I was listening to a song in my car, a vivid recollection of such a time came flooding back. The song was “A Pirates look at 40” by Jimmy Buffett. A friend of mine, a Buffett fan, listened to his music often and so that time in my life is marked by his music.
It was a sad moment as I heard this song and remembered being 18 and how insecure and afraid I was. I didn’t trust the friendships I had because I didn’t believe I was worthy of such good people. As a result, I hurt those who were actually in my corner. By thinking that they had something I didn’t, and not understanding that I had an abundance of my own to offer the relationship, I tried to take what they had for myself.
As I listened to the song, I didn’t stay in the sad moment long. There has been a great deal of change for me as I grew in confidence and strength of character. And looking back I am grateful for the time and the memory that had such an impact on my life. Losing the friendships of those I hurt was a valuable consequence. In the future, I made better choices. I began looking at people of strong character and instead of attempting to take what they had I sought to emulate their integrity and fortitude. In time my desire to read scripture grew. I studied and learned about love and the genuine character of Christ. He might have been a threat to Herod, but he also could have healed him.
In the song, Buffett claims to be a victim of fate, but I believe we make choices daily that impact the present and the future as well as how we will remember the past.
Will you recognize the value of past choices as moments of growth?
Will you recognize your value and that you are right now exactly where you should be?
Will you offer that to this day?