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  19th March, 2000


Herod, That Fox!
     
Luke 13:31-35


The arrival in Australia this weekend of Queen Elizabeth 11, Queen of Australia, has raised for many again the role of the monarchy in our era. In bygone centuries, kings and queens were the focal point of unity in a country, the main defenders of territory and faith, and the persons in whom international alliances were made through marriages. Hence kings, from Solomon to Henry V111, frequently had many wives to seal the alliances and ensure peace with neighboring countries. The king who reigned throughout the life of Jesus was typical. Fortunately, discoveries in recent times have expanded our knowledge of the king who was one of those who judged Jesus.

The royal family of the Herods had a history as convoluted as that of the house of Windsor. They came to power about 200 years before the birth of Jesus with Antipater being made Governor by the Romans, then rulers of the world. He was succeeded by his son, Antipater 11 who also curried favour with the Romans. In 47BC Antipater 11 brought troops to support Julius Caesar against Pompey, and Caesar made him and his family Roman citizens. He was poisoned soon afterwards and his son, Herod took over. Rome made Herod King, and for thirtythree years he ruled Israel. He consolidated his power by executing scores of opponents and began massive building projects, including cities with Roman temples, the huge Caesarea Maritimae, the huge artificial harbor on the Mediterranean and great fortresses at Masada, Herodium, Hyrcania, and Machaerus. His loyalty to Rome pleased the Romans.

He pleased the Jews by rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple. Near the end of his reign, Herod was paranoid about losing power. He had several sons and several wives murdered. It was then, about 4 BC that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Hearing from Wise Men from the East that a child had been born who was to be King of the Jews, Herod ordered the massacre of all baby boys in Bethlehem. Jesus miraculously escaped as Joseph was warned in a dream to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. So Jesus survived. Soon afterwards, Herod the Great died. His kingdom was divided between three surviving sons and one sister.

1. Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee

One of those sons was Herod Antipas who was to rule from 4BC to 39AD. He was not allowed the title "King", by the Romans, but was known as "Tetrarch" of Galilee and Perea. Mark 6:14; Luke 23:6-12 His reign covered the lives of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth whose ministries took place mostly in Galilee and Perea. The other part of the country, Judea, was under the rule of Roman Procurators. The arrest, crucifixion and death of Jesus took place in Jerusalem in Judea while Pontius Pilate ruled. As Bishop Paul Barnett writes in his brilliant book "Jesus And The Rise Of Early Christianity", "We cannot overemphasize the importance, historically, of Herod the tetrarch of Galilee-Perea." Herod Antipas was deposed in 39AD and the Tetrachy was given to his brother-in-law Herod Agrippa who was responsible for executing James, the brother of John, the imprisonment of Peter, Acts 12:1-5 and the interrogation of Paul.

2. Herod Antipas and John the Baptist

Herod Antipas was responsible in part for the deaths of both John the Baptist and Jesus. Antipas was tetrarch of Galilee-Perea for forty-three years. According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, he "loved his tranquility". His fortress Machaerus was critical to his defense against the fierce desert people, the Naba-taeans. He had made peace by marrying the daughter of their king Aretas. But then he wanted to make his sister-in-law Herodias his chief wife. The Nabataean wife fled back to her father to avoid being murdered. This enraged both the desert kingdom and Jews.

Herod Antipas had heard of John the Baptist and the religious revival under his ministry. Perhaps he thought he could get John's blessing on the immorality. He sent for John, but John bluntly said: "It is not lawful for you to have her." Matt 14:4 He ordered John to be taken to the cells of the dungeon at Machaerus in Perea overlooking the Dead Sea. Then at the birthday dinner, an vengeful woman, Herodias, got her daughter Salome to dance to please the Tetrarch. When Herod Antipas offered to reward her with whatever she wanted, the girl whispered, "Give me here, on a platter, the head of John the Baptist." Mark 6:1-29 So John died. Later the desert tribes led by Aretas, invaded Perea and defeated Antipas's forces. Devout Jews saw this as divine retribution for Antipas's treatment of John the Baptist. In December 1999 edition of "Archaeological Diggings" there is an article on the recent excavation of this fortress and in particular the dungeons.

According to the Gospels, present at Herod's birthday banquet were the three elite groups of his establishment: administrators, army commanders and wealthy estate owners and civic leaders. The same groups of people will be at the dinner for Queen Elizabeth tomorrow. Mark calls them "Herodians". They wanted the Romans to make Herod Antipas, King.

3. Herod Antipas and Jesus of Nazareth

We have extensive information about the man whom Jesus called "that fox" Lk 13:32 Jesus once asked the crowds concerning John the Baptist, "What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? What did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings' palaces." Mt 11:7-9 Jesus was referring to Herod Antipas living in his palace in the new city of Tiberias built just ten years earlier by the lake. Jesus never visited Tiberias during His ministry. Jesus identified with the common people loyal to the covenant, against the corruption of Herod Antipas's court by Lake Galilee.

Various people connected with the Herod Antipas were helped by Jesus' ministry in Galilee. The "royal official" who approached Jesus in Cana about his sick son was probably a military or civil administrator of the tetrarch in Capernaum. Jn 4:46-54 Also from Capernaum came a centurion, serving in Antipas's military, who sought healing for his attendant. Mt 8:5-13;Lk 7:1-10. A customs official employed by Herod Antipas in Capernaum became Matthew the disciple. Mt 9:9; Lk 5:27-28.

Then there was Joanna, the wife of Antipas's domestic steward Chusa, who with other women followed Jesus and his disciples and provided food for them. Jesus had healed Joanna and Mary from Magdala, a town on the lakeside a few miles north of Tiberias. Lk 8:3. Joanna and Mary were also in Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion, among the women who came to anoint the body of Jesus but found the tomb empty. Lk 24: 10 One of Herod Antipas's entourage was a close friend, Manaen, who became within ten years, one of the prophets and teachers of the church in Syrian Antioch Acts13:1 He may have been present at the fateful banquet in the fortress when John the Baptist was beheaded.

There are five passages in the Gospels and Acts that concern Herod "that fox" and Jesus. The first concerns the agreement between that elite group of supporters of the "Herod For King" movement called the "Herodians" and some Pharisees Mark 3:6; Mark 12:13. Each for their own reasons, wanted Jesus killed. The Pharisees hated Jesus for violating their strict Sabbath laws by healing a man with a withered hand in the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath. Mk 2:6- 1 0, 16-17, 24-27 The Pharisees, knowing the Herod's concern about a populist troublemaker like John the Baptist, had a ready-made point. Herod was responsible to Rome for the keeping of the peace. A popular leader like Jesus threatened the peace and was therefore a challenge to Antipas's claims to be an effective ruler. Jesus warned his disciples against "the leaven of the Pharisees and the Ieaven of Herod," the unholy alliance trying to kill him. Mk 8:15.

The second followed Jesus sending the disciples to the towns of Galilee. Mark 6:14 As Bishop Barnett describes it. "The charismatic preacher had multiplied his labours twelvefold!" When Herod heard, he thought Jesus was John the Baptist somehow alive again! His conscience troubled him. Now Jesus troubled him. The third point of contact came soon after the Mission of the Disciples into the 204 towns of Galilee. Jesus was so popular thousands wanted to make Jesus King. John 6:1-15; Mark 6:30-46. This was a threat to political stability which called for the liquidation of Jesus, the cause.

The fourth incident concerned the last journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. Jesus was forced to travel though Perea, Antipas's other territory, Lk 9:51-56 because His normal route through Samaria was blocked. As He traveled into Perea some Pharisees tested Him: "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" This was a trick question to get Jesus to condemn Herod's marriage with Herodias, which condemnation cost John the Baptist his head. Jesus' reply was as blunt as that of John the Baptist. His bravery evidently touched some Pharisees because they warned Him: "Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you." Lk 13:31 Jesus replied bravely: "Go tell that fox I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal." Jesus had previously described Herod Antipas as a weak "reed swayed
by the wind...a man dressed in fine clothes...in a king's palace." Mt 11:7-8 Now He calls him "that fox" an animal Israel thought of as small, cunning, troublesome, and noted for killing harmless creatures.

The fifth connection between Jesus and Herod was shortly afterwards in Jerusalem. Luke 23:6-12 Temple auth-orities brought Jesus before the Roman governor Pilate wanting a death sentence. But when Pilate heard that Jesus was from Galilee, and knowing Herod was in town, he sent Jesus to be judged by Herod Antipas who was responsible for keeping the peace in Galilee. Herod had heard so much about Jesus of Nazareth and had "long desired to see Jesus." Herod was superstitious and wanted to see Jesus work a miracle like the ones about which he had heard such as the healing of his steward Chusa's, wife.Lk 8:3 So Jesus stands before Herod the Tetrarch who had murdered in cold blood His friend John the Baptist.

Herod knew the crowds had wanted to make Jesus King so "he plied him with many questions. ..The Chief Priests and the teachers of the Law were standing there vehemently accusing Him." But Jesus kept silent. Herod became angry and tried to break the silence. "Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked Jesus.. dressing Him in an elegant robe." The tetrarch knew it was he who was being judged in the steely eyes of Jesus. Herod could stand no more and sent Jesus back to the Roman Governor. A lustful, spineless, murdering, sycophantic, weak man cannot stand the gaze of a truly good man. Foxes have not been exterminated in 2000 years. They still stand judged! Are you like Herod? Are you aloof from these Christians? Don't judge Jesus from your imperious position. Jesus judges you! Seek His forgiveness now! Repent of your sin. Seek forgiveness now!


  ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIGGINGS D Down Ed. Dec 1999.
JESUS AND THE RISE OF EARLY CHRISTIANITY P. Barnett IVP 1999.

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes



Send an e-mail to Gordon Moyes - gkmoyes@wesleymission.org.au

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