Matthew 2:3-6

Last Sunday we continued our study in Matthew 2.

Herod the Great: Pretender “King of the Jews”

Matthew 2:3-6 HCSB

When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. So he assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the people and asked them where the Messiah would be born.

“In Bethlehem of Judea,” they told him, “because this is what was written by the prophet:”

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the leaders of Judah:
because out of you will come a leader
who will shepherd My people Israel.

Remember the question that the magi asked was: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” It doesn’t take long for reports, rumors, and gossip to pass around, especially with something as incendiary as “King of the Jews.” With Herod’s past record, it would be fool-hardy for anyone to seek a king independent of Herod. And yet, that is exactly what the magi did.

Thus, the concern finally reaches Herod. But instead of concern, it becomes disturbing, troubling for Herod. Herod expected usurpers to arise within his family, usurpers whom he eliminated as necessity demanded. But now, this report comes from foreigners, yet who seek the “King of the Jews.” For Herod this is a double slap, because he had been awarded the title “King of the Jews” from the Roman Emperor.

A disturbed Herod means a disturbed people of Jerusalem. They were all too familiar with his fits of anger and retribution on anyone who crossed paths with him. And now this one “born King of the Jews.”

Herod is very cunning; he knows the way to handle this. First, he separates the parties (Jewish authorities and magi). He first speaks to the chief priests and scribes. He wants the facts. Not being a Jew (but Idumean, from a region attached by John Hyrcanus in ~110 BC, along with Samaria and Galilee), Herod is not familiar with everything Jewish, especially the Scriptures. The stories and promises of the Jewish Scriptures were of little concern to him—until now!

So he consults the experts (chief priests—past and present high priests, temple leaders; scribes, experts in the written Law), the ones who will give him the straight story. He asks the question that the magi asked: “where the Messiah would be born.” Unfortunately, TLSB, p. 1579 (The Lutheran Study Bible, CPH) notes “Herod’s question indicated his awareness of OT promises of a Messiah.” Not really, it only indicates that Herod takes seriously the question asked by the magi. Micah’s specific prophecy about the origins of the King also includes the reference to God’s commissioning of David (2 Samuel 5:2) and further the promise of a descendant who would be on this throne forever ruling (2 Samuel 7:8-15).

Once this is determined to Herod’s satisfaction, he will then turn to the second party, the magi. And he has this meeting with them secretly. The sign of a “wise” ruler is to keep all pieces of information available, but not necessarily everything is revealed to each party. While this practice served Herod well within the Roman intrigues of leadership, and even in his relationship to Jewish leaders, his wisdom fails here. We are reminded of Paul’s writing to the Corinthians:

For it is written:
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and I will set aside the understanding of the experts. (1 Cor. 1:19 HCSB)

Herod the Great acts as neither great nor wise. His cunning appears to lead him to satisfactory disposal of this usurper newborn king. But it all catches up with him. Within two years he will be dead; within 100 years his entirely family line disappears from history. The self-appointed and Roman-confirmed “King of the Jews” is no match for the one born “King of the Jews.”

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About exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian
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3 Responses to Matthew 2:3-6

  1. Emily says:

    If Herod was not familiar with OT prophesies, why did he use the term “Messiah?”

    • exegete77 says:

      Good question. My take is that the people heard the questioning of the magi (about the King), and assumed that the magi were referring to the Messiah (Christ) who was prophesied. Thus, Herod based his question on the “interpreted rumors,” referring to the Messiah.

  2. Emily says:

    I love that last paragraph. I did not know that bit of history.

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