One Dysfunctional Political Family, Part 2: Judgment

The Herodian Dynasty was, for the most part, historically evil.

Client-kings for Rome who crossed over the end of BC and the beginning of AD in their rule of Judea, the Herods were infamous for their cruelty to the people they conquered and their own subjects.

Their history of cruelty ran in the family, as they were directly descended from Alexander Jannaeus, who had ruled Judea before the Romans came along. Around 84 BC, Alexander Jannaeus had 800 ‘rebels’ crucified in one day. Their wives and children were killed in front of them as they died. These men, who were from the ‘conservative’ party (the Pharisees), had formerly fought with him but he turned against them as soon as his victory was assured. The event served as entertainment for the king and his courtiers.

Just like God withheld judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah for years, allowing their residents time to turn back to Him, so He did with the dysfunctional political Herodian family. God is merciful, and patient (longsuffering). 2 Peter 3:8-9 says,

But, beloved, do not forget this one thing: that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great, the one who’d had Bethlehem’s babies killed trying to get to the infant Jesus. If that had been Herod the Great’s one big chance to be saved, he blew it. However, someone must have been praying for his son, Herod Antipas, because he had several chances.

After his father’s death, Herod Antipas ruled a fourth of the territory. He was married to a Nabatean princess but fell in love with his niece, Herodias, during a visit to his half-brother’s palace in Rome. Herodias wasn’t that particular half-brother’s daughter; she was his wife. She was the daughter of one of their other brothers, one whom dear old dad, Herod the Great, had executed, thinking he was plotting a takeover.

Antipas asked Herodias to marry him, but wanting an exclusive, she insisted he divorce his wife first. Their plan was to marry after she had divorced her first husband/uncle. Herod’s wife, Phasaelis (the Nabatean princess), found out about the plan before he could tell her and ran home to tell her father.

Phasaelis’ father was not at all happy that Herod Antipas had spurned his daughter. King Aretus began to look for an opportunity to attack militarily. King Herod’s Jewish subjects did not like the situation either. Divorce and incest were both condemned in Leviticus.

Despite what anyone thought or said, Antipas and Herodias married and moved to the beautiful mountaintop palace of Machaerus, a fortress that overlooked the Dead Sea and the Jordan River. Although beautiful, Machaerus’ sunset silhouette earned it the nickname, ‘The Black Fortress.’ The fortress’ situation, with steep slopes that would make an enemy attack very difficult, was considered impregnable. Hence, Machaerus’ threatening nickname became a double entendre.

Over at the Jordan River, the forerunner of Jesus Christ had just begun his preaching ministry. This prophesied ‘Elijah who was to come first’ (Matthew 17) preached repentance for all of Israel. He baptized those who wanted the public to know their hearts were prepared for the Messiah’s arrival.

John the Baptist’s message of repentance was for everyone: Publican and Pharisee, Harlot and Herod. Herod didn’t like John’s message and Herodias hated John for it; she wanted him killed. At her insistence, Herod had John arrested, chained, and thrown into a pit-like prison cell in Machaerus’ dungeon.

But, curious about the man and “knowing that he was a just and holy man,” Herod visited John in prison. He protected John from Herodias’ wrath: “And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly” (Mark 6:20).

Unfortunately, repenting was NOT one of the many things Herod did. He ultimately caved to Herodias’ hatred and his own lust. After his stepdaughter’s/grand-niece’s erotic dance, Herod offered to give the girl whatever she wanted—and her mother Herodias told her to demand John the Baptist’s head.

We’d think that with John the Baptist out of the picture, Herod’s chance to be saved was, too. Not so! God was ‘longsuffering’ with him. He gave him another chance, an opportunity to meet with the Savior personally.

When the Savior was going through His series of bogus trials prior to giving Himself as the sacrificial Lamb, the One Whom John the Baptist had said would, “Take away the sins of the world” (John 1:29), Pilate found out that Herod Antipas was in town. As a Galilean, Jesus was in Herod’s jurisdiction, so Pilate sent Jesus over to be tried by him.

Herod had heard about Jesus’ miracles and wanted to see one. He quickly found out that Jesus was not going to perform for him on demand. In fact, Jesus would not even speak to him; He didn’t answer Herod’s questions even though Herod (thought he) had the power to free Him. As the sacrificial lamb, Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah 53:7,

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.

Thinking Jesus was no threat, the tetrarch sent Him back to Pilate. Jesus then gave His Life to take away the sins of the world, just as John the Baptist had likely told Herod during his visits to Machaerus’ dungeon. With this official rejection of the Savior, Herod Antipas had just blown his last chance at an eternity in Heaven. He now faced God’s judgment.

In addition to eternal judgment, there was earthly judgment still to come for Herod Antipas. His first wife’s father, King Aretas, came after him, his nephew/brother-in-law tried to wrest the kingdom from him, and he fell into disfavor with Caesar. He and Herodias were humiliated and died in exile.

Machaerus the Impregnable, the Black Fortress where John the Baptist was beheaded, was leveled—and forgotten for 2000 years. Edersheim (1825-1889), a Jewish convert to Christianity, said of the pile of rubble that was once Machaerus:

 . . . descending a steep slope about 150 yards towards the west, we reach the oblong flat plateau that formed the fortress, containing Herod’s magnificent palace. Here, carefully collected, are piled up the stones of which the citadel was built. These immense heaps look like a terrible monument of judgment.

Judgment is something we all want to avoid. God, in His merciful patience, gave Herod Antipas many opportunities to be saved and avoid His judgment. Herod preferred to stay in his sin and wound up dying in it. As he had no children, Herod’s terrible legacy died with him.

Let’s continue to pray for today’s leaders. And let’s pray for their successors—maybe they’ll come from among the young staffers who attend the Bible studies that ASI holds in our ministry center in Washington DC!

One Dysfunctional Political Family, Part 1: A Father’s Influence

It’s bad enough to harbor a dysfunctional family behind closed doors at home, but it’s much worse when it is on the newspaper’s front page for the entire world to see.

Every day, we read about the escapades of wealthy, high-profile individuals who seem to think they’re above the law, and we react with either eye rolls, snorts of disgust, rants to our friends, or Tweets. If we wait to read the news until after our daily devotions, we may pray for the person and his family. Regardless of our reactions, we wonder why God continues to let them get away with their sins.

Some political leaders have been unable to hide their dysfunctionality for generations. The Herodian family is one example.

Roman-appointed rulers of Judea who spanned the Gospels from Matthew 1 to Acts 26, the Herod family was universally hated by their subjects. And for good reason. Besides their incest, power grabs, inter-family murders, and carefully orchestrated ‘suicides’ of political opponents, they were cruel to their subjects who were mostly Jews. They put down any dissension—or even rumors of dissension—with swift imprisonment which usually led to death without the benefit of a trial.

Their people hated them, but God loved them.

Not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), the Lord began reaching out to the Herod family as far back as the Magi’s visit, and probably before that.

When the Magi followed the star they knew would lead them to the ‘King of the Jews’, naturally, they went straight to Jerusalem, where the king of Judea lived. There, they met with Herod the Great, the patriarch of the Herodian political family. He shrewdly told them to look for the baby and come back and tell him so that he could also worship him. We know what happened next: Having been divinely warned in a dream, the Wise Men didn’t report back to Herod after finding baby Jesus but instead went home a different way.

Herod the Great, himself a Jew, could have had his own Bible scholars/advisers/wise men investigate further about the prophesied king — other than just where he was to be born. If he had thoroughly searched the Scriptures, he’d have discovered that this baby, born King of the Jews, would pose no threat to him but would, instead, make a way for him—despite his wicked past—to go to Heaven for Eternity instead of to Hell, a destination he was on the fast-track to. Whereas people today get saved by looking back to Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, Herod could have gotten saved just as the people in the Old Testament did: by looking ahead in faith.

The New Testament book of Hebrews explains how people were saved thousands of years before Jesus was born. Chapter 11:4-7 lists the examples of Abel, Enoch, and Noah, for starters:

By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.

By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. 6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

The writer of Hebrews sums up his examples of the ancients’ faith in Hebrews 11:13-16:

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

Even if Herod had read the Old Testament Scriptures examples, he may have dismissed them as not applying to him; after all, he already HAD a city of his own—in fact, he had a country! Furious at having had one put over on him by the Magi, Herod the Great ordered all the toddlers and babies, aged two and under, in the Bethlehem region killed. With that terrible act, King Herod the Great blew his big chance of meeting the King of the Universe and being saved by Him.

Herod the Great, who practiced a convenient Judaism, died at 70. Before he went, Herod had several family members killed for one suspected plot or another; three were his own sons. The fact that, as a Jew, Herod did not eat pork was famously alluded to by Caesar Augustus at the (sham) trial of two of his (Herod’s) sons. Caesar joked in Greek, “It is better to be Herod’s hua (pig) than it is to be huia (son).” The cruel truth was that Herod wouldn’t butcher his pig, but he wouldn’t hesitate to butcher his son.

All we can do is shake our heads sadly for the descendants of this powerful ruler. How different things would have been for them had Herod the Great done what he told the Magi he would do! How wonderful could the children’s lives have been had their father kept his promise, looked ahead in faith, and worshipped the King?

Instead, the evil in the Herodian Dynasty continued for four generations. And God, in His mercy and unfailing love, continued to reach out to each generation.

What if God’s people had prayed for these influencers? The Bible gives us specifics of some who did just that. Daniel 4:26-27, & 37, and Acts 26:19-32 are two examples.

ASI prays for America’s influencers and political leaders. We pray and ask God for opportunities to get in front of them—to be agents of Hope—just as the Magi were given an audience with Herod the Great. When they submit their hearts to God, we know what a positive difference it makes to their families—and what a positive difference it will make to their descendants. And since every congressperson represents around 708,000 people, what a positive difference we’ll see in our country when they submit their lives and votes to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Thank you for praying with us.

A Night of Truth

Join us for ASI’s Night of Truth on November 9, 2023. As always, Steve will bring a word to help us navigate cultural chaos with a Biblical worldview.

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