According to some traditions, it was on this day in 4 B. C. that the infamous Herod the Great died. He was called “great” because of his political power and, perhaps more importantly, his building projects. He was the one who expanded and updated the Second Temple. He built Caesarea by the Sea, the desert fortress, Masada, and his preferred residence and burial site, Herodion.
Though his construction projects are hailed as great achievements, he wasn’t considered great because he was loved or respected. To the contrary, he was an awful man. He was egotistical, maniacal, paranoid, murderous and hateful. He murdered family members, many notable rabbis and, according to the gospels, he attempted to murder the infant Messiah.
It was soon after that incident that Herod died a very excruciating death as he was resting in Jericho. The historian Josephus records that Herod, realizing he was soon to die and knowing that he was hated and no one would mourn for him, ordered that dozens of distinguished people be gathered in Jericho and, upon his death, be killed. His warped logic believed that their death would elicit a great response of wailing and mourning giving the illusion that the nation was mourning for Herod. That is the legacy of Herod the Great.
Most of us will never build great temples or cities and probably won’t wield great power. Frankly, if you’re a follower of Messiah, that is probably not the legacy you wish to leave anyway. No, our legacy should be that we are remembered as faithful husband and wives, loving fathers and mothers, as good people who loved God and tried to instill a love and respect for God in everybody with whom we came in contact with. This is the mission for every believer and what we should aspire to be: to do His will in our life, whether or not anyone knows who we are.
“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than silver and gold. The rich and the poor have this in common, the Lord is the maker of them all.” (Proverbs 22:1-2)
So what does it truly mean to be great? Is greatness determined by how men may esteem you because you have done things that satisfy them? Or is it because you have submitted your life to God and, therefore, He exalts you? If God exalts someone, it is because that person has first humbled themselves.
We should point out that Herod the Great wasn’t Jewish, Israeli or Roman for that matter. He was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau. The man Esau is emblematic of the nature that seeks to satisfy it’s appetites and evil inclinations and, yet, still be exalted. In short, Esau’s nature is one that desires reward without responsibility. Unfortunately, each and every one of us are born with that inclination and it must, therefore, be suppressed and starved out if we are to have a good name.
The legacy of the believer is that they follow the Messiah’s example and live a life that says, “Not my will, but Your will be done.” That must be our prayer today and every day.