He was the Saddam Hussein of Judea, ruling by appointment of the Roman Senate from 37–4 BC. He wasn’t even a Jew! King Herod the Great was a byword for ruthlessness, warming up for his slaughter of the Bethlehem Under-Two’s by murdering his wife, three sons, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle and quite a few other unfortunates who were under even the slightest suspicion of being a threat to the throne. Among the Jews, all this was forgiven since Herod had been largely responsible for building the most impressive version of the Jerusalem Temple the Jews had ever seen. After that, he could surely do no wrong!
The Magi were probably astrologers from Persia or Arabia and had tracked a fascinating UFO-like light across the night skies into Israel. God used their stargazing hobby to draw them closer to himself. What the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ really was, no-one knows except Him. Speculation that it might have been a conjunction between the planets Jupiter and Saturn is probably wide of the mark, since the ‘star’ seemed to move quicker the closer these Magi got to it. But they also somehow knew instinctively that it preluded the entrance of the True King of the Jews – something that the earthly king, the chief priests and the teachers of the law failed to comprehend. In total innocence they rolled up at Herod’s court and asked for directions!
Herod ‘Googled’ ‘Messiah’ and discovered that he was prophesied to be born in Bethlehem (at least according to Micah 5:2,4). Keeping the Magi well apart from the excitable teachers of the law, he then sent them off, secretly, to locate this new-born Messiah, with the strict instructions to return and let Herod know so that he too might worship him (he didn’t mention that his worship involved swords!). Herod knew exactly what he was doing and almost certainly kept this part of the plan secret from the Jewish authorities, who would have been incandescent about their king potentially destroying their Messiah.
Well, the Magi worshiped Jesus and left for home by another route – knowing from God that Herod was NOT the kind of worshiper that God sought. Joseph was also warned to take his family to safety in Egypt – since God knew that Herod would stop at nothing to destroy such a huge threat to his throne. And, of course, Herod did stop at nothing. Jesus was no longer a new-born baby at that point and the family had been living in a rented house for a while. But Herod realised that your average Roman soldier knew nothing about child development, therefore, to avoid the child Jesus being overlooked, he ordered them to kill every Bethlehem boy aged two or under.
In this sense, Herod is graphically represented by the Dragon of Revelation 12:4, although I doubt that Herod was the ultimate fulfilment of this picture! God certainly had his work cut out to protect his own Son, nevertheless! It is also interesting that the quote in Matthew 2v18 is from Jeremiah 31:15, the same chapter that introduced the New Covenant!
Herod eventually died – mourned by very few! His son Archelaus proved to be worse than his father, however, and was eventually deposed by Rome for being rather too efficient in keeping the peace! In the meantime, God sent Joseph and Mary, with Jesus, to live in the relatively quiet and safe North – in Nazareth. Matthew, in his aim of proving the strong ties between Jesus, David and Bethlehem, completely fails to mention that this is the hometown of both Joseph and Mary (as revealed in Luke 2).
What is also highly significant about Matthew chapters 1 and 2 is the number of dreams (no less than five!) that the key players received as direct communications from God. We too should invite the Lord into our dreams and expect him to speak to us in this way. For an excellent book on the biblical nature of dreams and dream interpretation, I strongly recommend ‘Go Dream’ by my good friend, Mark Birch-Machin, founder of the Speakers of Life prophetic network: https://speakersoflife.org/go-dream-book-isbn-9781908154545/ .
GENESIS 2:18-25, 3, and 4:1-16
After the creation of man, God found the first problem with his creation: Adam was lonely and needed a suitable companion and helper. Nothing else in all creation was suitable, so God created a woman from out of Adam’s physical body – by a divine surgical operation. By definition, Adam is now even more incomplete! When the man and the woman come together in marriage, they are again united as ‘one flesh’.
In the first seven verses of the next chapter, it all comes crashing down! Genesis 3 is probably the most important single chapter in the Bible – without it, the whole story of redemption and restoration would be incomprehensible. It also explains why our beautiful world is ‘broken’ and terrible disasters occur along with human atrocities. Several points strike me:
1. Trying to be happy and fulfilled is not ‘sin’ – it is when we try to achieve these goals by the wrong method that we offend the Lord. He created us, loves us, and knows our strengths and weaknesses; He knows best! When we buy a new household appliance, it comes with a manufacturer’s instruction book; similarly, the Bible instructs us on how best to live in harmony with our Creator and with each other. ‘Life’ is one of those ‘appliances’ that we cannot just switch on and use intuitively – we need to study the User Manual up front!
2. A key part of the story is missed out: how the Devil came to be evil. Created, apparently, as a powerful angelic being by God, he became corrupted by his own power and a pride in his own high position. There was a war in Heaven long before this ‘war’ on earth that begins in Genesis 3. The prophecies in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 seem to allude to Satan’s earlier ‘fall’. The word ‘Satan’ means ‘Adversary’ and ‘Devil’ means ‘Accuser’ or ‘Slanderer’. In the secular West, he hides behind our reasonable unwillingness to believe in a cartoon-like creature with horns, red tights, and a pitchfork! But, as a formless spirit, he exists and is very real indeed! The purpose of Jesus’ life and work was to destroy the works of the Devil.
3. The Devil tries to persuade us that God is selfish and does not care for us; he also undermines God’s scriptures and makes them out to be unreliable and untrue. As a result, we believe in the Devil’s lies instead! For us today, there are many sources of temptation that only indirectly come from the Devil himself; mankind now has a ‘bias’ towards selfish, sinful behaviour. Only a genuine relationship with God, through his Son Jesus Christ, will tip that bias back in the right direction.
4. The result of mankind’s rebellion against God was also that the whole of creation became ‘broken’. Tsunamis, floods, wars, family breakdown, sickness, famine, and death, for example. Through Adam and Eve’s original sin, we – mankind – caused all this. So, if you want to find who is responsible for the latest world disaster – just look in the mirror!
At the end of Genesis chapter 3, God sets out the consequences of man’s sin against him: unfruitful labour and ultimately physical death being just two of the things. For women in particular it was pain in childbirth and a distorted relationship with their husbands – the New Living Translation puts it succinctly: “You will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you” (a recipe for certain marital strife!).
For Satan, it was a promise of ultimate defeat: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (3:15). This ‘Offspring’ (singular) of the woman was Christ himself, who dealt Satan a crushing blow as a result of the Crucifixion and Resurrection and will finish the job on the Day of his Return (see Galatians 4:4).
The fact that the Lord clothed Adam and Eve with the skins of animals is the first hint of animal sacrifices in God’s world, since animals would have needed to be killed to provide this clothing. We see further references to this in the next chapter.
Genesis 4 moves forward rapidly in time. Eve gives birth to two boys, and they are very soon fully grown men. Cain is stubborn and half-hearted in his relationship with the Lord. He also has what we would now call “anger management issues”, bottling up his resentment until one day he explodes with jealousy and rage, causing him to murder his brother (the first example of physical death, as promised by God). God had previously warned Cain that sin wanted to control him and that he should resist these impulses and do what was right (the second example of evil control, since 4:7 uses the same Hebrew word that 3:16 uses). Cain rejects this advice and gives full vent to his anger! Again, there is reference to animal sacrifices and offerings to the Lord – from Abel – which must have been in response to a command from the Lord for this to be done. Cain’s alternative offering of some plants were obviously not acceptable and must have represented would he wanted to give, rather than what God wanted to receive. How many times in our lives do we attempt to give to God what He hasn’t asked for and to deny Him what He has?