Chapter II / Three wise guys and a bad dude
The hierarchy went like this:
Augustus Caesar, ruler of the Roman Empire, which included Judea, and then:
King Herod the Great, ruler of Judea
Sometimes the worst leaders are those with a little power, because they know there’s somebody more powerful and they’re terrified of losing the amount of power they do have. So they’re sandwiched in the middle, with someone more powerful above, and a bunch of people less powerful below. Since they can’t really demonstrate their power to the person above them with more power, they demonstrate it to those underneath them to remind them (or more likely, themself) that they are, in fact, super-powerful.
King Herod the Great’s name is a beautiful example of irony. Irony is when something is said or done that is contrary to what is actually meant. So his name was “the Great,” and the irony is that he was actually a pretty terrible king. Around the time we’re speaking of, he would have been around 70, which you might think meant he was thinking about retirement, but...no. The opposite. He grew more and more concerned about this Messiah figure he kept hearing about. He was terrified that he would be displaced by this supposed King of the Jews.
One day, he was in his palace and a messenger arrived and informed him that three Persian wise men known as Magi had come to see him. They had been wondering about the city asking where to find the child who would become the Messiah.
His interest was piqued. He met with them to find out more. He learned that they had been following a purple star in the East and had been following it ever since. They saw it as a sign.
Crafty King Herod told them to continue searching for this baby Messiah, and to inform him after they found him so that he too could honor the child.
Why didn’t he send men to follow the purple star as well? I don’t know. Did he believe that the Magi would actually return to let him know after they found him? Did the Magi really think that King Herod would be excited to hear of a Messiah come to displace him? I don’t know. Questions I have no answers to. Sorry.
Anyway. The Wise Men continue following the Star. They track it from Jerusalem and finally to Bethlehem. Finally, it stops over the house of a carpenter by the name of Joseph. He lives there with his wife Mary and...their newborn son, a cute fellow named Jesus.
They give him baby gifts, including gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gifts that any baby would be so excited about. They hold him, and kiss his cheeks, and tell Mom she did great, and honor the child-Messiah, and then leave and head back to Herod to tell him the good news.
...or do they? The Wise Men are not called ‘wise’ for no reason. In their wisdom, they realise Herod’s nefarious intentions and do not return to tell him. Instead, they go home to Persia.
Again, was the Star visible to the Wise Men? Why did Herod not follow them? Why did others not follow the Star? As with many of history’s great questions, there is no good answer. But good questions to query nonetheless.
Most of us have bad dreams of some sort. But when you’ve already had experiences such as having your virgin wife give birth to a son, and then strange men from a far-off land randomly bring presents, then you pay a little more attention to the possible meaning of a bad dream. So when Joseph has a bad dream about Herod coming to kill his baby son, he doesn’t write it off as night terrors. He grabs Mary, he grabs Jesus, he grabs some clothes and frankincense and they hightail it to Egypt to move beyond the clutches of evil Herod.
Meanwhile, King Herod is waiting for the Wise Men to return. They don’t. Does he accept their non-return with stoicism and acceptance?
This is Herod. So no. Full of fury, he devises a plan that seems like loosely based on a certain Egyptian pharaoh centuries before. This plan is simple: he knows the Messiah is a newborn baby boy, but he doesn’t know which one. So he’ll simply play it safe and have all the boys in the city under the age of two...killed.
Tiny note: we remember this event from the perspective of Joseph and Mary and our happiness that the baby Jesus escaped the infanticide ordered by King Herod.
But perhaps a reflective moment for all the parents and families of those babies who did not escape this targeted holocaust.
Jesus and parents don’t stay in Egypt long. On the one hand, I don’t like rejoicing over someone’s death. On the other, hand, this is Herod. So, super-good news: Herod dies and finally they can safely return home.
Home they return, to the land of Joseph’s birth. The town of Nazareth, in the province of Galilee.
Irony, King Herod, Persia, Iran, Magi, Nazareth, province, Galilee