Even if you’re not a history buff, you’ve likely heard of Herod the Great. More accurately, Herod the Not-So-Great. An average power-grabbing sociopath who would stop at nothing to secure his throne.
He’s the one who tried to murder baby Jesus when the wise men came to him to ask where they could find the newborn King. Herod felt threatened by the idea of a new king in town. He told the wise men that he, too, wanted to worship the Child. But instead of worshipping, Herod's real plan was to shorten life life of this Child. When the wise men did not return, Herod had one big adult-sized temper tantrum! The whole story is found in the second chapter of Matthew:
Then Herod secretly called the wise men, and learned from them exactly what time the star appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and search diligently for the young child. When you have found him, bring me word, so that I also may come and worship him.”
Being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country another way.
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked by the wise men, was exceedingly angry, and sent out and killed all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding countryside, from two years old and under, according to the exact time which he had learned from the wise men.
All this because wanted to destroy Jesus. Of course Jesus was not a threat to Herod’s kingdom. And Herod could never actually kill Jesus because Jesus is God and came here to complete His mission - to give His life so that people may be saved. (You can read more about that in an earlier blog here.)
I’ve read this story many times in my life. But one day I was listening to my Bible, and my heart sank when I heard these verses. The reality of what Herod did to all of those children and their families hit me hard. I had recently become a mother, and the mama bear rage tore out of me as I was brought to tears for these parents that lost their babies.
It’s history. It actually happened. But why? Could the wise men have done something else to make Herod “happy?” Why did those families have to go through such suffering? I spent time thinking and praying over my questions and sadness.
Then it hit me. I was expecting the wise men to disobey God. It was an embarrassing realization, actually. (And one of the reasons I’ve taken over a year to write this post.) The wise men had specific directions not to go back to Herod. They listened to the warning in their dream and went home another way. It was what they were supposed to do. And there would have been no way for them to know what Herod was planning to do anyway.
I learned two lessons from this realization.
1. Following God and doing what is right is the only option, no matter the consequence.
If you tend to be a guilty person, this is actually a relief. Why? Because we are not responsible for other people’s actions if we are doing what God wants us to do.
We are only responsible for our actions, not anyone else’s. Each person has the choice to follow Jesus or not. Herod had the opportunity to worship Jesus. He likely knew all about the Messiah. Herod actually even had a beautiful temple built for the Jewish people. The advice and questions coming from the wise men should have been a sign to Herod that he should truly go to worship this newborn King. But he didn’t. He choose an illusion of power, wealth, and security. He didn’t want anyone, even God, to interfere with his plans. Unfortunately for Herod, this didn’t work well for him. He died a couple years later.
And it is the same for everyone alive today. We alone are responsible for how we respond to God. We can choose to believe and obey Him or choose to worship something else.
Romans 2:8-11 gives us a strong warning and reassurance that following God is the only way to go:
“but to those who are self-seeking, and don’t obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, will be wrath, indignation, oppression, and anguish on every soul of man who does evil, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. But glory, honor, and peace go to every man who does good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.” Romans 2:8-11
2. God takes care of those who are following Him.
Yahweh is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who have a crushed spirit. Psalm 34:18
The babies that Herod murdered were not forgotten by God. Their lives mattered and had value. Those babies had their lives stolen from them, and although it did not seem that they had immediate justice, God will make all things right.
Romans 12:19 quotes from Deuteronomy 32:35:
Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.”
God didn’t forget those children, and He doesn’t forget us. It takes faith to believe this as we read the Bible and experience life. Those precious children were given a memorial in the Bible. And their seemingly short lives fulfilled a prophecy and announced the birth of Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah.
In Matthew 2:17-18, the prophecy was repeated:
Then that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying,
“A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; she wouldn’t be comforted, because they are no more.”
You can find the original prophecy in Jeremiah 31:15. This was written about 600 years before Jesus was born.
From the moment He was born, Jesus was either worshipped or hated. He lived His entire life on earth serving people - even His enemies. He gave everything for you, and for me. He loves us and asks that we choose Him no matter what!
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life? Matthew 16:24-26
Have you ever been punished for doing the right thing? How has God shown His love for you even when you were going through a really rough time?