“He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also’ ” (Matthew 2:8).
Over the centuries many rulers have appended “the Great” to their name. Some believe that Cyrus II of Persia was one of the first to use the title when he conquered the Persian Empire. It appears that Alexander III of Macedon never referred to himself as Alexander the Great, but that it was a title given him after his death. There is really no objective criterion for calling any monarch “the Great.”
Herod the Great probably earned his title, in part, as the eldest son of Antipater. Herod was a Roman client king of Judea at the time of the birth of Jesus. His legacy has no doubt earned him the suffix because of the colossal building projects he undertook, including his expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the construction of the port at Caesarea Maritima, the fortress at Masada, and the Herodium.
Scholars are polarized over Herod’s greatness. Some believe he had unusual abilities as a cunning negotiator and subtle diplomat. The Romans liked the way he subdued the Jews. But there is a dark side to this famous ruler. Herod often used force and cruelty to implement his policies. He grew increasingly anxious about a Jewish revolt and suppressed any op- position. Personal problems in his life led him to murder his wife and some of his sons, whom he feared would take over his rule.
When wise men from the East came to Jerusalem in search of the newborn Messiah, who was to be “King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2), a title Herod proudly coveted when Rome made him ruler in Judea, the insecure monarch was determined to squash this potential rival. This is what led to the horrific massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem.
Herod was great in being a tyrannical ruler. If only he had truly worshiped the One who alone can be called Great.
Lord, You alone are great and worthy of my worship and adoration.
For Further Study: Matthew 2; Exodus 18:11; Psalm 48:1