The Bible loves irony—especially poetic justice. Think of Joseph’s brothers, hat in hand before the brother they betrayed. Or Haman—hanged on his own gallows. But one of my favorites has to do with the geographic ironies surrounding the death of Herod the Great.
Like an ugly cover on a great book, the places of Herod’s death bookend the life of Jesus.
We remember this time of year the magi who came and told the paranoid king that the “King of the Jews” had been born. Herod tried to slay Jesus by killing the boys of Bethlehem. But instead, God told Joseph in a dream to take Jesus and Mary and flee to Egypt.
I remember standing in the Shepherds’ Field just outside of Bethlehem. As I glanced to the southeast, I spied the Herodium—the flat-topped, man-made mountain fortress Herod the Great had built for himself (see picture at left, taken from Bethlehem).
In a wonderful twist of poetic irony, the raving King Herod died and was buried in the Herodium—overlooking Bethlehem, the birthplace of the true King of Israel.
At the end of Jesus’ life, just a week before His death, He began His ascent to Jerusalem by leaving Jericho. Jesus would have passed between the palace buildings, which Herod had built for himself as a place to escape Jerusalem’s winters. The huge complex boasted large bathhouses, accessible through a vast reception hall, complete with mosaics, frescos, and gold and marble columns. The opulent palace straddled the ancient road Jesus traveled and connected to itself across a bridge that spanned the road. The buildings must have seemed striking to all who saw them.
When Jesus passed beneath the bridge between the buildings of Herod the Great, He must have considered this paranoid king who tried to kill Him as a boy in Bethlehem. Ironically, King Herod died in this Jericho palace while the true King of Israel lived to pass between its walls on His way to lay down His life.
The opulent palace of Herod the Great, as well as the Herodium fortress, today lie in ruins—testimonies to all earthly glory. (See picture at left of the ruins of Herod’s Jericho palace.)
Their testimonies still speak to us, don’t they? The irony of these places reminds me that the luxury, the comfort, the power and pride we often chase has futility as its results. The ruins remind us that we should pursue the example of the One who gave up His life for others—and in so doing, brought glory to the Father.
Easy to do? Not at all. But in the end—worth it.
Note: Herod has enjoyed a surge of publicity since archaeologists recently discovered his tomb at the Herodium—as recorded by the ancient historian Josephus (War I, 33, 8; Antiquities XVII, 196-199). Read about “New Discoveries at Herod’s Tomb” as well as a plethora of trustworthy archaeological information from my friend, Todd Bolen, on his BiblePlaces.com Blog.