Hark! the Herod's Angry Scheme

Bible Book: Matthew  2 : 1-23
Subject: Christmas; Herod; Jesus, Escape of

Imagine a little fellow singing at the top of his lungs, “Hark! The Herod angels sing glory to the newborn king.”  Blending that thought with an intentional variation of title of the well-known Christmas Carol, the title of our message is “Hark! The Herod’s Angry Scheme”.

Titus Flavius Josephus (37-100), the famous Jewish historian, shares great detail about Herod’s Place known as “Herodium” in his Antiquities.  Herod built a fantastic palace-fortress to commemorate his victory over the Hasmonean and Parthian enemies.

Dr. C. Weldon Gaddy shares the following in Geography of the Soul: “Herod’s majestic palace towered over all of the other buildings in Bethlehem—by far the most impressive structure in the region.  Its size communicated authority and its grandiose beauty intimated the power of its owner and the significance of his decisions.  For years, people had looked for God’s Messiah to take the government upon His shoulders, implement a major shift in power, and elevate the nation of Israel to a new plateau of political sovereignty.  Herod’s palace seemed to be the only place in town worthy of the Messiah’s entrance into history.”[1]

In his book titled, Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus, Dr. Wayne Stiles writes, “Leaving Jericho, Jesus began His ascent into the hill country of Judea by starting up the Wadi Qelt, a long gorge that drains the hills around Jerusalem eastward into the Jordan Rift Valley.  Here Jesus would have passed between Herod the Great’s palace buildings, which the late monarch built for himself in Jericho so that he had a place to escape Jerusalem’s winters.  The huge complex boasted large bathhouses, accessible through a vast reception hall, complete with mosaics, frescos, and gold and marble columns.  The opulent palace straddled the ancient road Jesus traveled and connected to itself across a bridge that spanned the road.  The buildings must have seemed striking to all who passed below—especially to disciples impressed with Herod’s handiwork.”

Mark 13:1-2 reads, “Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!’  And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.’” Dr. Wayne Stiles comments, “When Jesus passed beneath the bridge between the buildings of Herod the Great He must have considered this paranoid king who tried to kill Him as a boy—but who instead succeeded in slaughtering all baby boys in Bethlehem.  Ironically, King Herod died in this palace while the true King of Israel lived to pass between its walls on His way to lay down His life.”[2]

In a message based on Matthew 2, titled, “The Persecuting Kings”, Rev. Richard Harold Boytim (1930-1986) focuses on Herod the Great, “. . . the villain of the Christmas story and his family.  [Remember the descendants of Herod the Great, namely, Herod Antipas and his son, Herod Agrippa I.  The legacy of Herod is not a good one.]  They opposed all that the name of Christ graced; hence, I call them the persecuting kings.”  Rev. Boytim explains, “[They were] one of the vilest royal families ever to sit on a throne—the Herods of Judea.”[3]

Remember the deeds of Herod the Great.  While he began rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem, he opposed the birth of Christ with an angry scheme.  Herod Antipas opposed the burden of Christ in His public ministry (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 3:19-20; Luke23:6-12) and his son, Herod Agrippa I, opposed the body of Christ as it began in Jerusalem (Acts 12).  Jesus cautioned His disciples, “Beware . . . of the leaven of Herod” (Mark 6:15) which was a mixture of politics and religion to achieve personal goals.

Remember the death of Herod the Great.  According to secular historians he died of an incurable loathsome disease of the stomach and his lustful son died in exile in Gaul.  Dr. Luke records that his vainglorious grandson was eaten by worms (Acts 12:21-23).

Notice how the story recorded in Matthew 2:1-18 unfolds in three acts.

I. First, there is the plight caused by Herod’s annoyance.

Matthew 2:1-12 reads, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  So they said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’’ Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared.  And 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.’ When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.  And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.”

In a message titled, “Where is the King?” Dr. Sundar Krishnan explains, “Herod was a puppet king whose reign was tenuous.  His only task, as far as Rome was concerned, was to keep the peace.  The Jews hated Herod because he was an Edomite.  He reasoned that if the Jews began hearing stories of the Messiah’s birth, they might rebel against his rule.”[4]

Another king is a threat to the one sitting on the throne as we read in Acts 17:7b, “. . . these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.”  A king can accept no rivals to his reign.  No doubt, Herod was annoyed at the possibility of another monarch laying claim to his domain.  Initially, it was just a distraction to be addressed with a deceptive plan.  Likely, Herod thought he could remove this rival with little difficulty.

Herod’s annoyance soon became Herod’s anxiety.

II. Second, there is the flight caused by Herod’s anxiety.

Matthew 2:13-15 reads, “Now when they [the wise men] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.’  When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son.’”

It is interesting to remember the gifts of the wise men (Magi) to Jesus.  No doubt the gold provided for the travel and accommodations to Egypt to heed the warning of the angel.  Here, we see a great picture of the providence of God.  God not only warned Joseph He provided the wealth to accomplish their deliverance.  Dr. Vance Havner (1901-1986) explains, “Where God guides he provides. He is responsible for our upkeep if we follow his directions. He is not responsible for expenses not on his schedule.”[5]

Matthew 2:19-23 reads, “Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.’ Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.  But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’”  Not just once, not just twice, but three times, Joseph was divinely directed by dreams (Matthew 2:13, 19, and 22).

Herod’s anxiety finally became Herod’s anger.

III. Third, there is the blight caused by Herod’s anger.

Matthew 2:16-18 reads, “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.  Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.’” Rev. Walter Jerry Clark shares the following on Matthew 2:18: “‘In Rama was there a voice heard, . . . Rachael weeping for her children’ (the people of Ephraim) at the time of their captivity and deportation (cf. Jer. 31:9, 18).  The death of Rachael’s children at Bethlehem (Matt. 2:16-18) is a mirror of the suffering of God’s people at the hands of the Gentiles (Herod ruling over Israel, was by birth an Edomite, not a Jew!), and it foreshadowed the suffering in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.”[6]

Herod’s anger was a destructive force.  Proverbs 16:14b reads, “As messengers of death is the king’s wrath.”  Proverbs 20:2 reads, “The wrath of a king is like the roaring of a lion; Whoever provokes him to anger sins against his own life.”

 Dr. W. W. (William Wilberforce) Rand (1816-1909) shares the following on “Herod” in A Dictionary of the Holy Bible, “The cruelty of his disposition also was such as ever to render him odious. He put to death his own wife Mariamne, with her two sons Alexander and Aristobulus; and when he himself was at the point of death, he caused a number of the most illustrious of his subjects to be thrown into prison at Jericho, and exacted from his sister a promise that they should be murdered the moment he expired, in order, as he said, that tears should be shed at the death of Herod. This promise, however, was not fulfilled. His son Antipater was executed for conspiring to poison his father; and five days after, Herod died, A. D. 2, aged sixty-eight, having reigned as king about thirty-seven years. It was during his reign that Jesus was born at Bethlehem; and Herod, in consequence of his suspicious temper, and in order to destroy Jesus, gave orders for the destruction of all the children of two years old and under in the place, Matt. 2.”[7] Hark! the Herod’s Angry Scheme.


History is replete with examples of those who wittingly or unwittingly carry out schemes to undermine the plans and purposes of God.  In fact, we first find it recorded in Genesis 3:14-15, “So the Lord God said to the serpent: ‘Because you have done this, [deceived Eve] You are cursed more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you shall go, And you shall eat dust All the days of your life. And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” (Emphasis mine)

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer, senior pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago, Illinois, shares the following in his book titled, Hitler’s Cross: “The rebellious can take no comfort in the fact that nothing happens in the world without divine permission.  But to the ones who can call God our Father, it is of great comfort to know that all things that come our way do so because of God’s providential leading.  Not only the great events of history, but even the most minute occurrences are subject to God’s direction.  And He knows how to turn evil to good.

John Calvin’s words would have given comfort to Christians who withstood the Nazi regime.  ‘Let them recall that the devil and the whole cohort of the wicked are completely restrained by God’s hand as by a bridle, so that they are unable either to hatch any plot against us or, having hatched it, to make preparations or, if they have fully planned it, to stir a finger towards carrying it out, except so far as he had permitted, indeed commanded them.’  [Dr. Lutzer adds,] ‘The atrocities of Nazism only gave unbelievers more reasons to disbelieve; the faith of believers who clung to God’s promises were sustained.”[8]  Whether through a Herod or a Hitler there have been those who operate in opposition to God’s holy plans and purposes. King David writes in Psalm 37:7, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.” (Emphasis mine)

 Judges 5:20b reads, “The stars from their courses fought against Sisera.”  Dr. Adrian Rogers (1931-2015) confessed, “I love this, it’s one of my favorite verses in all of the Bible.”  He explains, “It means, friend, that the fight was fixed.  Sisera [the commander-in-chief of the Canaanite Army] did not have a chance because God gave the victory. . ..  The whole universe is against the man who is against God. The whole universe is against the man who’s against God.  God has programmed every molecule to the highest heavens against sin.  Don’t ever get the idea that you can sin successfully.  Don't ever get the idea that you can trust in God in vain.  Sin can’t win and faith can’t fail.  Do you know what God did?  God lined the stars up behind Barak [the army commander of the Israelites].  God lined the whole universe behind him.  The whole universe is against the man who is against God.  The whole universe is behind the man who’s for God.”[9]

Remember the instances of divine intervention in Matthew’s account.  God directed the wise men by the wonder of the star (Matthew 2:2, 9-10) and by a warning in a dream (Matthew 2:12).  Three times Joseph was divinely directed by dreams (Matthew 2:13, 19, and 22).  God does not leave us to ourselves to do His will!

Dr. Ray Pritchard refers to Herod as “The Man Who Tried to Kill Christmas” in his message on Matthew 2.  In his message titled, “The Grinch That Almost Stole Christmas”, Rev. Steve Wagers explains, “Many are just as ‘troubled’ as Herod when it comes to the Kingship of Jesus, because they realize if Jesus is King, it means they AREN’T.”[10]

Hark! the Herod’s Angry Scheme

[1]C. Weldon Gaddy, Geography of the Soul (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 14.

[2]Wayne Stiles, Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus (Ventura, CA: Regal from Gospel Light Publications), 105.

[3]Richard H. Boytim, “The Persecuting King” Sermon Notes (Matthew 2).

[4]Sundar Krishnan, “Where is the King?” Sermon Notes (Matthew 2:1-2).

[5]John Blanchard, The Complete Gathered Gold (Darlington, UK: Evangelical Press, 2006), 280. Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.

[6]Walter Jerry Clark, “The King and The Kings” Sermon Notes (Matthew 2).

[7]W. W. Rand, A Dictionary of the Holy Bible (New York, NY: American Bible Society, 1859), 191.

[8]Erwin W. Lutzer, Hitler’s Cross (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995), 56-57.

[9]Adrian Rogers, “Sin Cannot Win and Faith Cannot Fail” Sermon Notes (Judges 4:1-3).

[10]Steve Wagers, “The Grinch That Almost Stole Christmas” Sermon Notes (Matthew 2:1-16).

Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort 30775 Jay Drive Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527

Author of Don’t Miss the Revival! Messages for Revival and Spiritual Awakening from Isaiah and

Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice [Both available on Amazon.com in hardcover, paperback and eBook]

http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Miss-Revival-Spiritual-Awakening/dp/1462735428 &  http://www.amazon.com/Sound-Biblical-Preaching-Giving-Bible/dp/1594577684 / fkirksey@bellsouth.net   / (251) 626-6210

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