by Leslie Crouse
Herod sat and mused to himself how far he had come. Born a servant, he knew what it was to be a powerless puppet. Yet, through his political brilliance, he had risen to become Herod the Great. They called him a madman for murdering his favorite wife and step children. But she had been of the Hasmonean dynasty and he would not tolerate any claim to his throne.
It’s true. He was a violent man but would leave a different legacy through his building projects. Recently, he had completed his masterpiece. Jerusalem’s new temple. Named Herod’s Temple in his honor. It was a veritable circus in the court of the Gentiles, but he had appointed Annas as High Priest of Jerusalem and the oily priest made sure the temple was a lucrative business.
And just this morning, Annas had reported the Shekinah Glory of God was dwelling over Jerusalem! It had not happened since Solomon’s day. Herod finished another large glass of wine and leaned back giving a satisfied sigh. I am Herod the Great King. Even the God of Abraham recognizes my rightful place on the throne with the presence of His Shekinah glory.
The journey from the Parthian Empire had taken about 4 months. Belteshazzar led the entourage of Magi, soldiers, servants and beasts as they traveled. In total there were about 700 of them and the journey had gone slower than he liked.
But, the sword-shaped Shekinah had led them steadily. By day it looked much like a cloud sparkling with golden flakes. At night, it appeared as a pillar of living fire. It was a fearsome sight to behold and any who got too close died.
Belteshazzar was excited. He was witnessing history being made. There were bad relations between the Parthian Empire and Herod. Herod was an Edomite who hated the Jews and stolen the Hasmonean throne with Roman assistance. He was deceitful at best. A maniacal murderer at worst.
Belteshazzar knew Phraates IV was all too eager to recognize a new king and rebuild the bridge with Judea. They were there to be ambassadors as much as to celebrate the birth of the new “King of the Jews.” And Phraates IV was adamant they use that very title, “King of the Jews” when referring to the new king.
He could see the walls of Jerusalem. Soon, the watchmen upon the walls would cry out their arrival and he would face the unpredictable Herod.
“Your Majesty, I have an urgent message from your Captain at the wall.” Breaking his musings, Herod set his wine down and extended his scepter allowing the man to continue his report. “There is a great entourage approaching Jerusalem. Our scouts are reporting it is of Parthian origin.”
Herod froze, wine halfway to his wet lips. The Parthians? They have opposed my every decision. Were they here to bring war for the executed Hasmonean heir, the princess and her children? Herod wondered what political intrigues were afoot. “How many?”
The man bowed and continued, “Between 600-800, Great King. There are many soldiers and Magi.”
Herod thought for a moment. How can he maneuver this to his advantage? His armies were away, reinforcing a Roman battle. Now was not the time for teaching the Parthians a lesson in submission. Perhaps they have seen the Shekinah Glory of the LORD and come to recognize me as the rightful king.
Herod replied, “Prepare a feast for them. I want all the best entertainment present. We will welcome them as friends and find out what their purpose is.”
That evening the Parthian entourage marched through Jerusalem with much fanfare. The people were terrified it meant another war. Given the number in this entourage, Herod too, was nervous. What is their intent? He wondered.
At Herod’s invitation to speak, the Chief Magus, Belteshazzar, approached his throne and bowed low. “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw his star,” pointing toward the Shekinah Glory of the LORD, “when it rose and have come to worship him.” For a moment, Herod simply stared.
Belial slithered up the throne and whispered, “Who dares make a claim to the Jewish throne when you are the one who has conquered this country?” White hot fury filled Herod.
Master of political diplomacy, Herod smiled, “My friends, how my heart rejoices at your arrival! I welcome you at this time of celebration. Please, before we discuss this further, I insist you rest from your great journey. Come, my servants will show you to your rooms.”
Belteshazzar bowed and said, “You are gracious, Sire.” He noted that while Herod, appeared joyful at this news, the wily king had avoided revealing any information. Belteshazzar looked into Herod’s jubilant eyes and reminded himself that this was a madman not to be trusted. Used to being put off by kings, he bowed low again and allowed Herod’s servants to usher him and the other Magi to their prepared rooms.
Herod called for an immediate assembly of all the chief priests and scribes of the people. He inquired where exactly the Christ was to be born and all information about him. Annas reported “In Bethlehem of Judea,” and went into a long Jewish prophecy.
Herod paced in his chambers. He hated the Jews. This hope for a messiah they held on to was foolishness. It fueled rebellions and had been the cause of several false messiahs. He was ready to squash this Jewish hope once and for all. But the Parthians were a new dynamic that sparked a fear he did not like to recognize. Why are they involved? The Shekinah led them here? The LORD’s manifest glory is for another king? Again, rage consumed him.
Several hours later, Herod summoned Belteshazzar and the other Magi to his private quarters where they discussed the Shekinah and the time it first appeared. Then he shared the information about the Messiah. Who he was and how they all had waited so long for the Eternal King. Herod finished saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word that I too may come and worship him.”
Belteshazzar sensed something did not equate. If Herod had been waiting for this king, why did the Shekinah come to them and not Jerusalem? Why would Herod not search for the long-awaited king himself? Did the king expect the Parthian Empire to do the work for him? And what would they find? This journey was turning out to be very interesting indeed. Dangerous even.