THE HERODS AND THE PROMISES
Nehemiah was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem with a weapon of war in one hand and a building tool in the other, but the king and cornerstone of Israel was to come in peace and ride on a donkey, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). Before that day, when the Lord would set his feet on the Mount of Olives and living water would flow from Jerusalem, the false shepherds would lead their people into war and destruction. Politics rather than religion would become the prevalent agenda for the people of the Promise (Zechariah 11-14).
Herod claimed he was a Jew, not from the tribe of Judah but from their common father Isaac, son of Abraham. It is almost certain that he was a descendant of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother and also called Edom for his red complexion. Under the domain of the priests, Edom was incorporated into Judea and from then on the Edomites were regarded as being Jews. Herod also strengthened his position by marrying Mariamne, a Hasmonean. He also married nine other women and some had to pay with their lives. Josephus depicted Herod as physically strong, mentally superior, militarily and politically extremely clever and handsome enough to have had an affair with Cleopatra. Herod fled to Rome, befriended Anthony and became “King of the Jews.” Rome assisted Herod in driving out the Parthians, and he ruled as king from 37 BC to 4 BC. To remain in power, he murdered his own sons, in-laws, wives and trusted servants. This is the Herod who feared the legitimate birth of “The King of the Jews.” It was he who had all the male children under two murdered in Bethlehem. This was the man who raised his hand against the “Lord’s Anointed.” He was also the man who rebuilt the Temple. It became one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It is of him that Caesar Augustus was to have said, “I’d rather be Herod’s hog (hus) than his son (huios)” (Pf. pp. 103-110). He was a Hellenist with an emphasis on Caesar worship, of course for political reasons Herod could be anyone.
The tragic thing about this period was that the people of the Promises had learned nothing from the past. In every way, they repeated the same sins that drove Israel and Judah into captivity. For one reason or another, these people could not come to terms with each other. Their enemies were not their neighboring nations but they themselves. Perhaps that is why it has become a period in Jewish history that should best be forgotten. Even Christendom, especially that segment that wants prophecy to fall in place, wants to be strangely silent about this time. Yet, it was this time that had become a field ripe for harvest; except, the harvest was not what the priestly prophets had anticipated. Instead, they heard the Lord say, “Pasture the flock marked for slaughter. Their buyers slaughter them and go unpunished. Those who sell them say, ‘Praise the Lord, I am rich!’ Their own shepherds do not spare them. For I will no longer have pity on the people of the land,” declares the Lord. “I will hand everyone over to his neighbor and his king. hey will oppress the land, and I will not rescue them from their hands” (Zechariah 11:4-6). The prophet continued with the message from the Lord, “Oh, that one of you should shut the Temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offerings from your hands. My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty (Malachi 1:10-11).
The abomination was that the priests were no longer Levites, their knowledge was no longer of God, their tears were not of repentance, their marriages were no longer holy, their justice was no longer impartial and their sacrifices were defiled. When the “One” came for whom they were waiting, He did not fit their lifestyle or thinking (Malachi 2). They could not hear when He spoke: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his Temple; the messenger of the Covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap” (Malachi 3:1-2). “I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my Decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty (Malachi 3: 6-7). “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord. He will turn of the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else, I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4: 5-6).
The Herods had a short Dynasty. To begin with, they were merely puppets of Rome and they could not agree among themselves that caused the country to be divided among them. They became a third party to the Sadducees and Pharisees vying for supremacy over Judea. They also mark the beginning of a new hope that was emerging in apocalyptic circles. By the time of the Herods, an earthly domain like a Davidic or even a Mosaic Israel was not very likely. The Herods had replaced David’s successors and were determined to void any pretender, even baby boys. Because of Archelaus, first son of Herod the Great, Jesus’ parents settled in Nazareth. Herod Antipas killed John the Baptist and befriended Pilate over Jesus being sentenced to be crucified. Agrippa I killed James Zebedee and scattered the apostles and Agrippa II listened to Paul’s conversion. According to Josephus, the Herods were assisting the Romans while they were destroying Jerusalem. It must have been kept from them that their kingship would also end with the fall of Judea’s capital. They had their way in Judea for one hundred and seven years, 37 BC to AD 70.
God had to have something in mind that man could not create or maintain. The apocalyptic Daniel had this vision: “While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands; but the rock that struck the statute became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth” (Daniel 2:34-35). The Apostle Paul put his finger on the pulse with this introduction: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might have the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:4-7). It was a fulfillment of Hosea: “I will call them my people who were not my people; and I will call her my loved one who is not my loved one,” (2:23). “It will happen that the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God,’” (Hosea 1:10). Isaiah added these words: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only a remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality” (Isaiah 10:22-23). God’s special sign shall be: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
Back to our original question, “How did the priestly hope and management turn out?” They began too legalistic and ended up too nationalistic and political. It became a religion and state for Jews only that led to internal conflicts with Hellenizers. The system lacked mercy and justice (Hosea 6:6). According to their sages and that included Moses, they were given a failing grade (Luke 16:29-31; John 5:45). The good news was and still is that human failures to obey the conditions do not and did not void the Promises. It only voided and still does the people that do not comply with God’s conditions. The biggest mistake the priests, the kings and other religious and political leaders made was to tie the Promises to a nation or a state rather than to a God that wanted the human heart to change. The first to see this need were the Apocalyptists. The reign of God was perceived as being heavenly, spiritual and supernatural and it had to be God himself that could change the world and restore Judah. It was their political and religious enmity that moved Rome to end that small nation’s existence in A.D. 70. The tragedy of tragedies was that the Jews and people with similar attitudes and views did not learn from the mistakes of others and their own. Cause and effect were as certain as day and night. At the end, it was friendly Rome that stabbed the Jewish nation in the back.