The Magi’s Provocation of King Herod
Arriving in Jerusalem, the Magi had been traveling on a month’s long quest to find the newborn King of the Jews. All that they knew was to start searching somewhere in Judea. It made perfect sense to start in Jerusalem with the King of Judea – Herod.
Immediately the Magi gained direct access to the King, their reputation as Magi making that possible. The first words spoken by the Magi to Herod in Matthew’s Nativity account set the stage in the palace:
MT 2:2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” (NASB, NKJV)
No doubt, it was shocking news to the reigning king who knew nothing about this royal birth. After all, this child certainly was not Herod’s son. The question assumes two facts – the child is predestined to be the King of the Jews and he has already been born. Qualifying their revelation, the Magi explained how they knew this to be true saying:
MT 2:2 “For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship him.” (NKJV)
Now the second shock wave – not the star; no, it was the fact that they came to worship this newborn King of the Jews! No one worshiped the great Herod, yet these Magi traveled hundreds of miles from a foreign land emphasizing their personal conviction of what they had observed – what child would be worthy of such worship? The Magi left the palace without getting an answer.
Stirring the pot tends to cause people to act in peculiar ways. The Magi certainly shook things up with their declaration undoubtedly getting the attention of everyone else in the palace. Herod and all of Jerusalem were “troubled” by the news, translated from Matthew’s Greek text word tarasso meaning “to stir or agitate (roil water).”
A newborn king of the Jews – who was his father if not from the House of Herod? A child worthy of worship by the reputed king-makers? Now this was newsworthy! It must have been the hottest topic of conversation in Jerusalem.
Servants came from among the general population where they still had family and friends. Throughout history palaces of kings and queens have been notoriously unable to hold their secrets.
Many times it was the royal family members who could not keep things to themselves – good gossip is just too hard to keep a secret. Herod’s family was scandalously known for their loose lips.
Herod was widely hated so the news undoubtedly raised hopes, yet at the same time, it was just as troubling – would the new king be worse than Herod or hopefully a good king? Either way, it would be years before this new king would begin his reign. Or, could he even be the promised Messiah?
For any king, especially with the personality profile of Herod, this whole affair, whether true or not, would be an embarrassment and no king should ever be embarrassed, especially Herod. As the story unfolds, the King came to quickly view this child’s birth as a real threat that must be dealt with such as Herod had done many times before using whatever means necessary.
Processing in his mind the Magi’s alarming news, after they left the palace the King immediately assembled “all the chief priests and scribes of the people.” Not just a select few, but all of the Jewish religious experts – the King was leaving no stone unturned.
Making it clear he believed the Magi’s proclamation, he asked the Jewish religious experts chief priests and scribes to determine “where the Christ (Messiah) was to be born.” It was not a question of if rather where Christos, the Greek word for Messiah, was to be born. Their consensus response: “In Bethlehem of Judea” citing the prophecy of Micah.
Up to this point, the actual appearance of the star witnessed by the Magi astronomers had been only incidental information. Had the star been the most attention-getting news from the Magi, a cynical Herod would have been expected to question it, even scoff at it – he didn’t. It was a detail; however, that did not pass his attention.
Matthew does not say Herod was unaware of the star event – it can only be said that he did not know when it had occurred. Events in the sky would likely have been a relatively petty matter to the King prior the Magi’s visit, especially considering his bigger political problems in the kingdom, with Rome, and his scheming family affairs.
Upon hearing of Micah’s prophecy from the Jewish religious experts, his focus changed. No star was mentioned in Micah’s prophecy nor recorded in the response by the chief priests and scribes although, as religious experts, they were likely fully aware of Balaam’s prophecy of a star coming forth from Jacob signifying a ruler of Israel. Maybe they mentioned this to Herod, maybe not.
One thing is for certain, Herod had a new fixation: when did this star appear? There could be only one reason why it was now important – knowing when the star appeared would establish a timeline.
Summoning the Magi back to the palace, Herod wanted this second meeting to be in secret. Since the word was all over Jerusalem about the Magi’s initial visit to the palace, why did Herod want their next meeting to be secret? It strongly suggests the King had something to hide.
Herod now possessed two details of interest to the Magi – Micah’s prophecy corroborating the birth of a Jewish ruler and the general location of Bethlehem where he could be found. This information would serve as leverage to learn when the star had appeared. During this second meeting, Herod got the information he wanted and the Magi got the information they were seeking.
One other thing Herod wanted… the Magi were to report back to him with the exact location of the child under the pretense that he, too, of course could worship the new king. But Herod worshiped no one or thing.
In Bethlehem, the Magi found Jesus and worshiped him offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Magi may have intended to inform Herod of the child’s whereabouts until they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod.
Returning home by another route the Magi avoided Jerusalem. Enraged, Herod then ordered all the children 2 years and younger to be killed in the district of Bethlehem based on the timing of the star’s first appearance ascertained from the Magi.
Hard to believe anyone could be capable of this act? This same King, among many other murders, had killed a chief priest, his second wife, her grandfather, her two sons and would soon execute his firstborn son by his first wife. Moreover, from his death bed he would summon all the principal men of his kingdom to Jericho, lock them in the hippodrome, and give orders to have them killed just to deny them the opportunity to gloat over his death.
Does Herod’s reactions ring true to the Magi’s declaration that the Messiah, King of the Jews, had been born in Bethlehem?
Updated October 8, 2021
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