Seven or eight miles south of Jerusalem (ten miles by car), atop a rounded hill stands Herodium (or Herodion), the fortress of King Herod the Great. (Herod the Great is not to be confused with other Herods that appear in the Bible during the ministry of Christ and His apostles.) Herodium was a splendid place, with gardens and a huge pool on the grounds below, and a stately palace enclosed by the fortress above.
Though Herod the Great constructed beautiful buildings, such as the temple and Herodium, he was not a beautiful person. The 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia says, “He was prepared to commit any crime in order to gratify his unbounded ambition.” This included murdering one of his wives, three of his sons, and two rabbis. In his final days, he ordered that when he died a number of prominent Jewish leaders should also be murdered so that there would be national mourning at Herod’s death—but this order was not carried out.
In the Bible, Herod the Great is particularly known for his response to the visit of the wise men from the east (Matt. 2:1–18). The account is a striking contrast between two kings. On the one side is King Herod, an old man living in pomp and power, yet paranoid about his kingdom. He is not of the house of Israel, but a foreigner with no rights to the throne. When the wise men appeared asking about the birth of the promised King of Israel, Herod first responded with trickery to try to locate the boy, and when that failed he murdered all the male children age two and under of the region of Bethlehem—given the size of the town, perhaps twenty or thirty precious children. He was a liar and a murderer, like the devil (John 8:44).
On the other hand is the true King of the Jews. He is the Son of Abraham, the greater Isaac, born miraculously not of an old woman but of a virgin (Matt. 1:1, 18, 20). He is the Son of David, the rightful and promised King (Matt. 1:1). His birth fulfills God’s promises (Matt. 2:6). He is no mere man, but Immanuel, God with us in the flesh (Matt. 1:23). Wise men worship Him and bring Him costly offerings with great joy (Matt. 2:10–11). He is no murderer, but He saves His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). He did not come in pomp and power, but in humility, forced to flee for His life at an early age, and one day was nailed to the cross for our sins. What a King! What a Savior! Yet today He reigns in a palace a million times more beautiful than Herodium ever was, and if we serve Him we shall reign with Him there forever.