Wise Men HeaderMagi, or Wise Men.

By Rev. Phil Greetham. © Copyright 1996. This Version, 2012.

10: The Magi meet King Herod
The Magi must have known that Herod was the current King of the Jews but obviously believed the message of the star that a new king was born. Notice that the Magi do not say, 'Where is the one born, who will be King of the Jews', but 'Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews'. They might have gone into Jerusalem believing that Herod was dead or at least not now the king. It was Herod who heard of the Magi's enquiring; they did not go to him. We are told that he was 'troubled', the Greek word here, tarach‚, means 'stirred up.' As someone who has been fighting off rivals both real and imaginary ever since he had been made king, he would not have taken kindly to this rumour of a rival. Being an Idumaean left him vulnerable to a prior claim for kingship from a descendant of previous Jewish kings as his dealing with the descendants of Hyrcanus shows. We are also told that all of Jerusalem was troubled with him. This would have been for a different reason, perhaps realising that, real or not, this rumour of a rival was going to cause yet more trouble. The idea of a leader of the Jewish people, or Messiah, prophesied in Jewish scriptures and marked by the appearance of a star seems to have come out of the blue to Herod. His lip service to the Jewish religion would mean that he would not have been aware of the details concerning the birth of such a king. He must have heard of the Messiah but had never, up until now, taken it seriously. He assembled together the priests and the scribes of the people in order that he might learn more about the subject. This was unlikely to be an official meeting of the Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin, since Herod had no powers to convene it. It is more likely to have been an ad hoc meeting to discuss the subject of the Messiah generally; a subject now made topical by the arrival and questioning of the Magi. Having learnt particularly that Bethlehem was the supposed origin of the Messiah, he called the Magi to a secret meeting with him. He secured from them the time that the star had first appeared and then he sent them to Bethlehem to continue their search. He requested that having found the child that they would return to him and report its whereabouts so had he might also worship him. It is sometimes said that Herod would have sent spies after the Magi but he obviously had no reason to doubt the integrity of the Magi. Indeed as far as anyone knew they would have returned to Jerusalem and told Herod the information he required. If he could use the Magi to get precise information about the child, that would make killing him much more certain. However if the Magi discovered that they were being followed they would do everything they could to keep the whereabouts of the child a secret, perhaps alerting the parents of the child to the danger. If by any chance they did not find the child or did not tell him the precise information, he could still get the child by killing every baby in the village. Nothing would be gained by sending spies to follow the Magi.
I sometimes wonder what the Magi thought of Herod and his request. They would have been aware of Herod and his known brutality towards his family and others. Wouldn't they have thought it strange that he would be happy to give up his own dynasty and switch his allegiance to a new Jewish king? If they did suspect Herod they would have been wise to keep their doubts to themselves. Notice that Herod met them secretly. If the Magi had protested, no doubt there were a few soldiers ready and waiting nearby. The apparent robbing and murder of a few Magi carrying expensive gifts would have been diplomatic incident, but he had already got away with killing his brother in law, Aristobulus. Besides since the meeting was secret, who would know that it was at Herod's orders that they were killed?
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