South of Jerusalem there is an impressive fortress that was built by Herod the Great. He had built several fortresses in his lifetime. He built an incredibly impressive amount, really, and the Herodium is actually the location in which it is believed that he was buried.
There were many Herods named in the New Testament, and it can certainly be difficult to keep them all straight. In this case, I am referring to Herod the Great, or, the first Herod. Herod was racially an Arab from Edom. Religiously he was a Jew. Culturally he was Greco-Roman. Politically he was Roman. Financially, was filthy rich.
He developed sea ports and roads which enabled him to transport goods back and forth with Rome. He had developed a perfume from the trees of Jericho that even the famous Egyptian, Cleopatra wanted. An ounce of Herod’s perfume was worth more than an ounce of pure gold.
Legend has it that Herod even won a gold medal in the Olympics. He had power, prestige, and more. He was a brilliant builder, but also a brutal butcher.
Caesar Augustus once said, “I would rather be Herod’s pig than his son.” He murdered many members of his own family, and many people period.
Herod was politically effective. He was respected by Rome, and was recognized as the king of the Jews.
Jesus was born during the last years of Herod the Great. You can imagine how upsetting it was for Herod to hear the wise men come into Jerusalem asking, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (see Matthew 2:2)
Herod was king of the Jews. If he was willing to murder his own sons at the possible threat over his throne, of course he wanted to murder some outsider who was born in Bethlehem.
Bethlehem is easily viewable from the Herodium. Perhaps Herod saw the star for himself while looking out from his impressive fortress.
The contrast was enormous between the two kings. One lived in a 5-star fortress, the other was born in a 1-star manger (the one star being the one that God provided in the sky). One ruled by might, the other would rule by right.
It is staggering to consider how close Herod was to the true King of the Jews, and yet he completely missed him.
The Herodium itself is a pretty neat archeological site. I remember being there in 2014 and write about it before.