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Mothers of the Bible — Mary, Mother of Jesus (Part 9)

After they were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up! Take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called my Son.
Matthew 2:13-15

Dear God, other than Simeon’s prophecy at the temple, I think this might be Mary’s first inkling that there could be scary parts of being Jesus’s mother. What was that conversation between her and Joseph like?

Joseph: Mary! Mary, wake up!

Mary: What? What is it?

Joseph: We have to go.

Mary: What do you mean, “We have to go”? Go where?

Joseph: Egypt.

Mary: Egypt?!? What are you talking about? Can’t we talking about this in the morning?

Joseph: No. The angel said we have to go immediately.

Mary: You saw an angel?

Joseph: Yes, the angel came to me like he did before and told me, “Get up! Take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to kill him.”

Mary: What?!? Are you sure that’s what he said?

Joseph: As sure as I was when he visited me last time and told me to marry you.

Mary: Okay, let’s go!

What was that trip like? Was it frantic? Did they finance it with the gold from the wise men? I wonder what plans they had for their lives that they now had to scrap to follow the angel’s instructions. Had she made friends? Had he hit his stride with his work? Were they planning on raising Jesus in Bethlehem?

Your call to them to raise Jesus was a call to a difficult life. I like to joke that I think Noah got one of the worst deals in the Bible because of the work he had to go through and it would probably have been easier to just die in the flood, but Mary and Joseph had some real obstacles of their own. It feels like their lives were all about sacrificing to fulfill this call.

Then they probably heard about this after they arrived in Egypt:

Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance.
Matthew 2:16

Survivors remorse? Guilt over their son’s existence having incited Herod into murdering those children? The anguish on behalf of all of those parents? Relief that they were safe in Egypt? I’m sure Mary had all of these things. I wonder how this whole event changed how protective she was of Jesus for the rest of his life.

Father, parenting can be scary. You can call us to sacrifice everything for the good of our children. Even when they are adults, their good can outweigh our own. And as we age into the end of our years, we need to consider our our own ending lives will impact them and die to ourselves for their benefit. So show me at any given moment what you are calling me to do for my children. Give me great discernment between what you need them to have from me and what you don’t need them to have from me. And everything you do for them or for me, make it something that is really for you and your glory, whatever it might cost me (and help me to be willing and ready to live up to those last words I just prayed).

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
 

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Fathers of the Bible — Joseph, Jesus’s Earthly Father (Part 6)

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star at its rising and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. So he assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the people and asked them where the Christ would be born. “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they told him, “because this is what was written by the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah: Because out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel. ” Then Herod secretly summoned the wise men and asked them the exact time the star appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you find him, report back to me so that I too can go and worship him.” After hearing the king, they went on their way. And there it was—the star they had seen at its rising. It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overwhelmed with joy. Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their own country by another route. After they were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up! Take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called my Son.
Matthew 2:1-15

Dear God, here’s a question that I think isn’t asked enough, but has a simple answer. Why did you pick someone like Joseph? Why not a Person of prominence to be Jesus’s dad? Why not a religious leader? Why not a king? Why was the Messiah born to a carpenter and his fiancé?

I think there are actually several answers. The obvious ones are that those fathers would have been a bad influence on him. We’ve seen how the sons of kings turn out (well, maybe except for Jonathan). We’ve seen how the sons of religious leaders like Eli and Samuel turn out. We’ve seen how Abraham’s, Isaac’s and Jacob’s sons turned out. No, there is certainly no guarantee that someone will turn out well based on who their parents are. All of us are fallible.

In this case, I think you 1.) picked the parents based on their character, regardless of what their status was. But 2,) I think it actually did matter because a person of position would have had much more to lose than Joseph did I think it was probably easier to obey you to take Mary and then do all of this moving around because he didn’t have a lot of encumbrances from his position in life. He had less to lose by going ahead and taking her as his wife. He had less to lose by waking up and deciding to obey and take Mary and Jesus to Egypt.

To relate this to myself, I’ve often wondered how much I’ve allowed myself to not obey something you’ve called me to do because of the things I’ve achieved and/or acquired. I have a lovely wife. Do I want to drag her just anywhere? I have a nice home in a safe town. Am I ready to trade that security in for physical insecurity? I have a job that pays me a nice middle class wage. Am I ready to jeopardize that for uncertainty and a life of truly living on my daily bread? No, I would never have made a good father for Jesus for a lot of reasons, but the biggest one is that I wouldn’t have been prepared to pay the price that Joseph had to pay. I wonder what it would look like if I were ready to pay that kind of price now, and what would you possibly call me to do if I were willing to completely open myself up to any possibilities?

Father, even now, I want to pray and tell you that I am willing to go wherever you want me to go and do whatever you want me to do, but I’m scared. I’m scared what you might call me to do. But I’m going to say it anyway. Father, I am willing to go, I am willing to do whatever you are calling me to do. I’m just going to tell you that you are going to have to make it very obvious because my natural inclination will be to miss anything you call me to do that is out of my comfort zone. So make your plan for me John-proof. Help me to make each decision correctly in the moment and then have this decisions and choices add up to your will.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
 

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Parents of the Bible — Herod & Herodias

When Herod heard about Jesus, he said, “John, the man I beheaded, has come back from the dead.” For Herod had sent soldiers to arrest and imprison John as a favor to Herodias. She had been his brother Philip’s wife, but Herod had married her. John had been telling Herod, “It is against God’s law for you to marry your brother’s wife.” So Herodias bore a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But without Herod’s approval she was powerless, for Herod respected John; and knowing that he was a good and holy man, he protected him. Herod was greatly disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him. Herodias’s chance finally came on Herod’s birthday. He gave a party for his high government officials, army officers, and the leading citizens of Galilee. Then his daughter, also named Herodias, came in and performed a dance that greatly pleased Herod and his guests. “Ask me for anything you like,” the king said to the girl, “and I will give it to you.” He even vowed, “I will give you whatever you ask, up to half my kingdom!” She went out and asked her mother, “What should I ask for?” Her mother told her, “Ask for the head of John the Baptist!” So the girl hurried back to the king and told him, “I want the head of John the Baptist, right now, on a tray!” Then the king deeply regretted what he had said; but because of the vows he had made in front of his guests, he couldn’t refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner to the prison to cut off John’s head and bring it to him. The soldier beheaded John in the prison, brought his head on a tray, and gave it to the girl, who took it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard what had happened, they came to get his body and buried it in a tomb.
Mark 6:16-29

Dear God, for a short time I debated whether or not to include Herod and Herodias in my “Parents of the Bible” series, but I decided that we see them interacting with their daughter and making decisions with her as their parent so I guess they count. You put them and their story in here for us so let’s see what we can learn from them.

Herod

Here is a list of what we see Herod do in this story:

  • He takes his brother’s wife.
  • He didn’t necessarily want to arrest John the Baptist (JTB), but he did it at the behest of his wife.
  • JTB made him uncomfortable by presenting Herod’s sin to Heron any chance he got, but he “respected John; and knowing that he was a good and holy man, he protected him.”
  • This part is interesting. I saw a movie about Jesus one time that showed this story. It had an adult daughter dancing seductively for her father, him getting turned on, and then making a foolish, drunken vow to her. While that could be an interpretation, that’s not what the story says. It just says his daughter “came in and performed a dance that greatly pleased Herod and his guests.” That’s it. She could have been a 10-year-old that he was proud of. His vow was stupid, but it wasn’t necessarily made out of lust for his daughter. It could have been simple pride in her.
  • He makes a foolish vow, but “because of the vows he had made in front of his guests, he couldn’t refuse her.” We’ll come back to that.
  • He had JTB’s head given to the girl.

I guess my big thing for Herod is that he simply allowed his pride to impact his parenting. What will others think? That was a teachable moment for him with his daughter. We can’t ask for illegal and immoral things and expect to get them. But to say that to her in front of his guests would have been too much for him to swallow. In relating this to my own life, I can see where I might allow what others will say/think to influence my parenting decisions. Yes, this is part of Herod’s cautionary tale.

Herodias

Ah, Herodias. Her actions all come back to a very familiar motive: Shame. I won’t speculate as to what her role was in being Herod’s wife instead of Philip’s. But JTB’s rebukes obviously bothered her more than they did Herod so I’ll assume (and it’s a fairly big assumption) she felt some responsibility and guilt over it.

Then her daughter, perhaps unwittingly, gets involved. She does something that pleases her father, she is granted a huge favor and she doesn’t know how to respond. “Mom, what should I ask for?!? Servants? A city? Gold? Jewelry?” Then Herodias (the mother) sees an opportunity. She’s been trying to get Herod to get rid of JTB for a long time, but he’s refused. She didn’t have that much leverage over him. But now her daughter did so she used her daughter for her own gain. All to deal with her own shame.

I’d like to think I’m above ever doing anything like that, but am I? Have I ever used my children to get my way with my spouse? Just this week, I saw a divorced couple using their children to get back at each other. I’d love to judge Herodias ruthlessly for thinking of herself and her own wants/needs before her child’s, but I know I’ve done it and I’ve seen nearly every other parent do it as well.

Father, I’m glad I didn’t skip over these two parents I could seem myself in them as much as I have seen myself in any of these other biblical parents. I am sorry for the times when I put my own needs ahead of my child’s. Maybe it’s even as simple as a need to be liked by them instead of making a hard decision that will be for their best but cause them to be angry with me. Maybe it’s doing something mean out of revenge for a hurt they did to me. Guilty, guilty, guilty. I am guilty and I am sorry. Help me to be better.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Peter & John — Acts 12:1-5

Acts 12:1-5 [NLT]
About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. 2 He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. 3 When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) 4 Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. 5 But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him.

Dear God, this had to have been a terrifying time for the original 11 disciples who witnessed Jesus’ resurrection. As far as I can tell, James was the first one of them to be martyred, and he was one of the “big three.” It’s sad that the new church had to experience so much fear, but I think you used that to refine them, make them stronger, and spread them out into the world.

My wife and I have had up and down years since 2010. Well, 2009 really. Okay, there were years of unemployment scattered in before that. Then there was the miscarriage in the 90s. Yes, we’ve had some hard times. But we were talking yesterday morning about how many positive things happened to us in 2018. I had some hard things to deal with at work, but in the end things worked out very well and we enter 2019 in a stronger position than we did in 2018. Things with our family are as good as they have been in almost 10 years. But even as we sat and talked together this morning, we were able to see some of the lessons we learned during some really hard years and even some things that happened to us this year.

I was at a family Christmas event last night with mostly people I don’t know or only tangentially know because they are very distant relatives. One of the families experienced a terrible tragedy this year with the loss of an adult son in his 20s (maybe 30s). I was talking with the wife and I had forgotten about their loss and we talked about how things were going with my wife and me. I was able to tell her that we have had a remarkably good year and she said, “I’m so glad this year could be good for someone. I’m just ready to get to 2019.” I immediately felt terrible for being so thoughtless and insensitive to what she has been through this year. I don’t know that there is any redemption in this process for her as she and her husband move forward into 2019, but I pray that you will use this tragedy and redeem it to make it something that counts.

Father, I don’t know what today holds, much less tomorrow. But I know that challenges will come. Please use each one to grow me and to bring you glory through me. Help me to not be distracted by my own “wisdom,” but to hear your still, small voice and follow your leading. Peter, John, and the rest of the apostles had some decisions to make after James’ death. They now knew that their earthly lives were not untouchable. Help me to face my path with the same faith that Peter, John, and the others had.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2018 in Acts, Peter and John, Uncategorized

 

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Emails to God – Ignorance is Bliss (Matthew 14:1-12)

1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, 2 and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

3 Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

6 On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much 7 that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” 9 The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

Dear God, I wonder how much of this Jesus expected. Was this a blow to him? Obviously, I am sure it caused him grief, but did it make him have any doubt about his tack? Did it give him a little fear about his own eventual fate? Certainly it had to have crossed his mind, but it didn’t change his path.

There are times when I want so badly to know the future, but the truth is that I am a chicken, and if you told me about some of the suffering coming my way I would likely not be up to it and try to avoid it. I go back to my decision to leave my stable job at the beginning of 2003. That started a three-year, painful journey, but the fruit of that journey was more than I could have imagined. In this case, Jesus knew the journey and he knew the end, and yet he continued on his path. I am so grateful that you keep that kind of information from me even though it can really frustrate me sometimes.

Father, I know that the rest of this year has some pain in it regarding the situation with our building. The fixing of the building alone will bring pain. It is going to require all that I know how to do and even more to get this job done. But I trust you. I trust that you will help me to know what to do at any given moment. Please help me to represent you well in every instance and to lean on you and let you work through me in every instance. Help me to find peace in every trial and to not expect any ease of life for myself, but only glory for you.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in Matthew

 

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Emails to God – Jesus in Egypt (Matthew 2:19-23)

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

Dear God, it is interesting that Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth totally skips Egypt, the death of the babies, and Herod. I wonder why. Luke’s account is supposed to be from Mary, so I wonder why Luke would have left this out. Did he not think it was important to the narrative he was trying to tell? He obviously goes into more detail about a lot of other things regarding the birth, including John the Baptist, Mary’s angel visit, etc.

I can’t imagine the strain of this period for Joseph and Mary. They had to have been thinking, Okay, when I signed up for this I never imagined I would have to move to Egypt in order to save the child’s life. Now they are left with moving here and there trying to keep the kid safe, eventually ending up in their hometown after a few years.

I wonder what the Egyptian years were like. I wish we had some kind of account of them here. I just read some Wikipedia explanations of the time in Egypt, and they sound interesting, if not a little fantastical. There is apparently a lot of apocrypha about Jesus’ family in Egypt, and the Coptic church in Egypt uses them extensively as they describe Jesus’ time in their land. Some of the miracles include palm trees bowing to him, idols falling before him, springs of water suddenly appearing out of the ground, etc.

I guess my point in all of this is that there is sooooo much that I do not know. There is sooooo much that I do not understand. Are these stories true? I don’t know. I wasn’t there. But, in the end, there is certainly an indication that this man made an impression, even when he was a baby. There was certainly something heavenly and divine about him. His arrival changed the course of time wherever he went. It’s amazing.

Father, I read this story and I simply worship you for it. I can only try to appreciate what Joseph and Mary suffered through this time, but it is more than I can imagine. But through it all I see that I owe you my complete submission. I give myself to you. All that I am for all that you are—that is the exchange I make with you.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2011 in Matthew

 

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Emails to God – Helpless Parents (Matthew 2:13-18)

 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

 18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
   weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
   and refusing to be comforted,
   because they are no more.”

Dear God, I cannot imagine feeling this helpless as a parent. I have spent some time in the past talking about Joseph and his faithfulness/obedience to you here. His responsiveness to your word was impressive. But I don’t want to focus on that today. I want to focus on the idea of the powerless parents who saw the government come through and kill their children. They had absolutely no power to stop it. All they could do was watch in horror. And why did it happen? Because an insecure man couldn’t stand the idea of his successor having been born. If only he had known how the plan could work out.

So there are a few things here:

  1. The obedience of Joseph:
  2. The horror the Bethlehem parents experienced
  3. Herod’s insecurity over invalid presumptions he made

I have heard stories about the Sudan and the atrocities there. Women and girls being raped and killed. Men being beaten and killed. And there is nothing the fathers can do to protect their families. They are helpless. They are impotent in the worst way.

I think that there are similar forces at work against my family, but they are harder to see because they infiltrate the mind. Media is the worst. Television. Internet. Music. They are all working against my family, and while I can make some draconian rules against allowing such things in the house (and we do have limits), there is simply no way I can completely shield my children, wife, or myself from them.

Father, protect families in a way that only you can. Protect the families of the Sudan and everywhere else where atrocities are occurring, including human trafficking. Bless those who have suffered and give them peace. Free the captives. Ease the souls of those who were charged with protecting them but were unable to. And protect my family. I feel the attacks. I feel the insidiousness. Please help me to navigate my way through parenting my children so that our family might be a place where we feel your presence and love despite my sin.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2011 in Matthew

 

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