Herod's Magnificent Palace
The Herodion, third largest palace of its day, stood as a magnificent monument to Herod's wealth and power.
The Herodion, third largest palace of its day, was built in the wilderness near Bethlehem. The huge structure was a monument to Herod's wealth and engineering skill. Its buildings covered forty-five acres of land and were surrounded by nearly two hundred acres of palace grounds.
Herod, who was paranoid about threats to his power, feared that Cleopatra of Egypt would invade his land. He built the Herodion as one of several fortress-palaces lining the escape route to Moab, Herod's home country. In case of attack, he could flee Jerusalem and head to one of his fortress retreats.
The Herodion's circular upper palace could be seen for miles and literally overshadowed surrounding villages. Built on a high hill, the palace stood about ninety feet tall, with steep earthen ramparts built around it. Four huge towers extended above the fortress' double walls.
The upper rooms of these towers caught the cool Mediterranean breezes and served as homes for the royal family and other government powers. The inner circle of the palace was open to the sky and featured a garden, reception hall, and various baths.
Herod also built a lower palace, a huge swimming pool, and exotic gardens at the base of the Herodion. Like his other building projects, the Herodion convincingly demonstrated his tremendous power.
Jesus' Humble Manger
About three miles from the Herodion, Jesus was born in the small town of Bethlehem, a village that stood, literally, in the shadow of Herod's greatness.
The Herodion stood on land rich with biblical history. In the nearby area, Jacob buried his wife, Ruth gleaned in Boaz's fields, and Samuel anointed David as king of Israel.
About three miles away, the most significant event of all took place. Jesus was born in the small town of Bethleham, a village that stood, literally, in the shadow of Herod's greatness.
Next to the massive Herodion, the quiet place of Jesus' birth must have seemed insignificant to people of his day. Bethlehem was not a place of extravagant palaces or mighty power: It was a home for farmers and shepherds.
In fact, Jesus wasn't even born in the comfort of a home, much less a lavish palace. Mary gave birth amidst animals, probably in a cave where goats and sheep slept through the night. The Messiah—king of the whole world—slept in a manger that was used to feed animals.
Nations in Conflict
Israel and Edom were long-time enemies; it was difficult for first-century Jews to accept Jesus as Messiah when an impressive Edomite, Herod the Great, dominated their world.
While Rebekah was pregnant with Jacob and Esau, the Lord told her, "Two nations are in your womb; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger" (Genesis 25:23).
Esau, the older son, eventually founded the nation of Edom. And Jacob, who was younger and managed to steal his brother's birthright, founded the nation of Israel. These nations were in conflict with each other throughout the Old Testament.
But prophets proclaimed that Edom would one day be overcome by Israel. Balaam prophesied that "A star will come out of Jacob, Edom will be conquered" (Numbers 24:17-18). And Malachi spoke God's words, "I have loved [Jacob], but Esau I have hated, and I have "left his inheritance to the desert jackals" (Malachi 1:2-3).
These prophecies gave Jews hope that the Messiah would someday assume power over Edom. Most first-century Jews could not imagine that the Messiah was with them. Herod, an Edomite, dominated Israel's politics and culture, and he overshadowed the very village where Jesus was born.
Two Kings, Two Legacies
The contrast between Herod's power and Jesus' humble beginnings could not have been greater. But in the end, Jesus became a greater king.
The contrast between Herod and Jesus could not have been greater. From outward appearances, Herod had everything and Jesus had nothing. But from God's perspective, the opposite was true.
Herod the Great had tremendous power and strength. Scholars estimate that his wealth was more than 100 times the GDP of the entire country! But his power corrupted. Herod became paranoid and killed many innocent people in an effort to maintain his power.
By contrast, Jesus had little power or wealth to demonstrate his position as king of heaven and earth. It took great faith for the Jewish people to believe that he was the promised Messiah—one who would deliver them from the powerful forces of evil.
Today, Herod's magnificent buildings stand in ruins and most people remember him as the man who killed babies in Bethlehem. Herod made a big mark on the world while he lived, but it has vanished.
Jesus didn't leave any palaces as a legacy, and we don't even know exactly where he lived or died. But his humble life changed the world forever, and he brought the best kind of freedom to the world: freedom from sin. Today, nearly every person has heard of the tiny baby born in Bethlehem.
The unbelievable really happened. Jesus ended up being a greater king than Herod the Great!
God's People in the Shadows
No matter how powerful evil seems to be in our world today, Christians are asked to believe that Jesus is still the king.
Christians today do not live in the shadow of the Herodion as Jesus did. But there are many contemporary "Herods"—shadows of sin that seem to overpower the good in our world.
Pornography, terrorism, abortion, cancer—these are just a few of the overwhelming shadows we face. But no matter how powerful evil seems to be, Christians are asked to believe that Jesus is still the king.
It is often easier to avoid evil than to confront it, but Christians should not be afraid to step out in faith. We have access to the power of Jesus—a power that may not come with earthly comforts, but a power that is stronger than any evil in our world.
When walking near the Herodion—a mountain that Herod literally moved—Jesus once told his disciples that faith as small as a mustard seed could move mountains. He wanted his followers to know that our faith can accomplish far more than the most amazing earthly feats.