When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.” Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod died. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: I have called my son out of Egypt. When Herod knew the magi had fooled him, he grew very angry. He sent soldiers to kill all the children in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding territory who were two years old and younger, according to the time that he had learned from the magi. This fulfilled the word spoken through Jeremiah the prophet:
A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and much grieving. Rachel weeping for her children, and she did not want to be comforted, because they were no more (Matthew 2:13-18, Common English Bible).
It’s happened again and again throughout history. Herod was by no means the first. He also, certainly was not the last. In our lesson today, when Herod gets tricked by the magi and he can’t seem to find his way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and the object of his fear and scorn, a tiny baby escapes to Egypt, he takes his anger out on innocent children. He took the lives of baby boys in hopes of eliminating the child he perceived to be the treat to his power.
Some thirty odd years later there was another tyrant. Caligula came to rule the Roman Empire. He, by his own admission, ruled from a model of fear. His motto was said to be, “Let them hate, so long as they fear.” Caligula took wives from husbands. He had incestuous relationships with his sisters and even went so far as to prostitute them. His sexual appetite was never ending. He wanted so much luxury in his life he had a barn made of marble for his horse. In the end, his need to be surrounded by the best of the best brought not only burned through the sizable inheritance left by his predecessor, it also brought crippling taxes and more. Caligula’s mismanagement and policies brought on numerous conspiracies and tensions. He was assassinated after only four years in office.
Fast forward 1200 years and you find Genghis Khan. By 1206, because of his military genius he was the ruler of Mongolia. Khan and his armies swept through China and all Asia from the Pacific to the Black Sea. He also occupied most of eastern Europe. Kahn makes this list because of the cruel and inhumane treatment of the vanquished. Much of the time, under his orders, the defeated was slaughtered, across the board.
Ivan (IV) the Terrible was the first Czar of Russia. He pronounced his first death sentence when he was only 13 years old. As Czar, under the guise of hunting down traitors among the Russian nobility, Ivan went on a killing spree. Not only did he kill the “guilty” without trial and without proving guilt, he often killed their families and friends. He would dream up the cruelest and most painful ways to die possible. Ivan was married seven times. It is believed he personally killed two of his wives as well as his oldest son.
Then there were two in the 1930s a 1940s, Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler. Without counting those who died as a direct result of combat in World War II, Stalin and Hitler were responsible for the deaths of millions. Most all of us know that Hitler was responsible for the deaths of six million in Nazi concentration camps. Stalin was even worse. Estimates are, in Stalin’s Gulag system between 14 and 40 million Russians died essentially at Stalin’s hand.
There are more I could have included. Names like Henry VIII of England, Maximilien Robespierre of France, Augusto Pinochet of Chile, Pol Pot of Cambodia and Kim Jong Il of North Korea also fall into this category. I could go on but I think you get the idea.
In the story that is our lesson today, Herod feared that he would lose his power to this tiny baby people were already calling the King of the Jews. Even had it been Jesus’ mission to militarily remove Israel from Roman control, it would be decades before Jesus would have been old enough to lead Israel in this work. Herod had nothing to worry about, but fear was left in front of him. He feared the loss of his power and reacted out of that fear.
Writer John Steinbeck said, “Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts… Perhaps the fear of loss of power.” That was Herod’s reaction. It might well be the reason for the others too.
Most of these tyrants had absolute power. Lord Acton said, “All power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.”
We have heard a great deal of the past couple of months about the “peaceful transfer of power.” Tomorrow that process will again come to its fruition. Seeing this process completed many times in my life, it causes me to be thankful to live in a country where no one person has absolute power.
Over history the world has seen many tyrants come to power. At least one still is. It is my hope and prayer for the world that when he is no longer in power, there will never be another. That is my idealist side talking. In reality, we can look at history and see, at least in this way, history has repeated itself several times. The realist side of me knows, until Jesus’ return, there will be tyrants and those who suffer at their hands.
Are there other tyrants who come to your mind?
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Joy and Peace,
Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved