Before you read this encounter, I want to tell you this is not your normal pleasant Christmas tale. This is a piece of the Christmas story we don't hear often. But as I read Matthew 2:18, I was moved by the horror that accompanied Christ's birth and childhood. As Isaiah foretold, the bright and shining light would come into gross darkness. Christ's world was a world of darkness which He penetrated with unmatched brilliance.
A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH,
WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING,
RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN;
AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED,
BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.
Captain of the King’s Secret Police
Herod is a cruel man. I’ve never thought of myself that way. I just do as I’m told. But these days—I can’t look in the mirror—he has turned me into a monster.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done my share of killing in the king service. I’ve turned a blind eye to indiscretions. More than once I’ve lied for him before the temple authorities. They love Herod’s results, but just don’t have the stomach for his methods. When it comes to tactics, Herod figures the less they know the better.
About eight years ago, Ovidius, the king’s right hand, recruited me out of the Roman garrison here in Jerusalem. He had heard of my reputation as a brawler among the ranks. In the past my foul temper cost me many a promotion, but in Herod’s service, my brutality is rewarded handsomely.
I moved through the ranks of the kings secret service, until about a year ago I was placed at the head of his primary unit. Ovidius gives us the dirty jobs, where silence is required and conscience forbidden.
About six weeks ago some foreigners came through Jerusalem asking about a child born nearby they thought might be the king of the Jews. They started asking around at the temple, but soon ended up in King Herod’s court.
My station, when the king receives visitors in his Jerusalem palace, is behind him and slightly to his left. I’m alway armed and ready to deal with any threat to the king’s life.
Three of these strangers in there garish costumes were admitted to the throne room. There were probably twenty more in their party. By the look of them, they had been traveling for some time. They looked road worn and tired. They traveled with more than a dozen camels and other live stock as well. It made a spectacle on the streets of Jerusalem.
The spokesman for this band of travelers told a fantastic tale about following a star, and their search for this special child—this king of the Jews. They had apparently read some ancient prophecies about a Jewish deliverer coming to set His people free from oppression.
At the words “king of the Jews” I saw Herod twitch. I knew even without seeing his face that he was formulating a plan.
These visitors asked the king if he had heard of such a child.
Herod sent a runner and summoned the temple scribes. The scribes spent their days in the ancient writings. They transcribed them letter for letter and them proofed them repetedly to ensure their accuracy. If anyone would know the details of those Hebrew fairy tales it would be those scroll lovers.
As soon as the spokesman for the Babylonian star-gazer posed his question, the scribes huddled together and started muttering about this scripture and that. One turned to the runner and instructed him to bring back a few volumes from the archives.
In short order they were pouring over the writings four or five of the old prophets from centuries gone by. They spread these scrolls over the kings tables and pour through passage after passage.
After most of the afternoon had passed they seemed to come to a consensus. The chief scribe looked up and announced, “Bethlehem.” The one to his left read:
“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.”
When Herod heard this he said,
“That’s it, Bethlehem. I must go and worship this king too.” Turning to me he continued, “When these men have found their king, bring them back to me. We’ll see to it that all Jerusalem worships this young Messiah.”
He had no intention of worshiping a child. He had no intention of giving up his throne to anyone. I heard his voice slide into the tone he used so his words would lull the listener into trust as he prepared his betrayal. These wisemen were about to learn a lesson they would not forget. We would let them find this baby king and then kill the lot of them, and that was just fine with me. I had no use for these outsiders.
That was ten days ago, and they never returned. The next thing I knew the king called me into this private chamber.
“Why didn’t you have them followed?” Herod’s tone was threatening. “We’ve lost them, and the baby king lives on.”
I knew the look in his eye, and the tone of his voice. He was about to kill, and for the first time, I thought it might be me. “How are you going to fix this? How will you find this king? I want the body of this child in my chamber tonight.”
“How can I know who this king is? If I brought you the body of every boy in Bethlehem you still couldn’t be sure you killed the right boy!”
“Perfect—do it—do it today!” he screamed.
“Do what?” I asked, but I was afraid I knew.
“Kill them all! How long did they say they were following that star? Was it two years? Kill every boy, two and under, in Bethlehem—in the whole county. Take whomever you need. I want it done today. If you miss one of them it will be your head.”
I can’t even tell you how much threatening it took to get my men to carry out this atrocity. Many men deserted, and a I had to kill two of them just to get the others to follow my orders. I took three units, and we surrounded the area. We blocked every road leading in or out of the region. Then we invaded, house by house. No explanations were giving—no reason for our presence. In every house where we found a male child we left a weeping mother. These Jews believe in big families. Hardly a home was without one sacrifice to the kings wrath, and in many there were two and even three. Soon the sound of the wailing filled the streets as the blood ran and the horror spread.
While we did it, while we—I killed these untainted little ones, I felt like I was not in my own body. I couldn’t kill like this. I wouldn’t do it. My own code would never allow for such action. And yet, here I was, not only doing it, but demanding that my men carry out this horrific campaign against a peaceable nations children.
I can no longer sleep. My hands are covered in the blood of hundreds of innocents . When I reported to Herod what we had done, he actually chuckled. That was when I realized he had turned me into a monster. I can’t live with this any longer. I must find a way to get away from this guilt—this shame.
To read the original story, see Matthew 2:13-18 and Micah 5:2.
I pray you have a great advent season and that you allow the light that Herod tried to extinguish to shine in and through your life.