Flaming Dictionaries, and What It Meant for the Magi to Call Jesus the King of the Jews – The Garrett Ashley Mullet Show
Cambridge Dictionary may have just recently updated definitions for both man and woman to include, essentially, whoever just wants to be one or the other, regardless of when they decide they want to change jerseys. But with Christmas less than a week away now, let’s focus more on the historical context of the nativity, before circling back to the real-world implications of assigning different meanings to words and phrases.
For starters, remember God’s covenant with Israel. The Promised Land was given by Yahweh God to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the Jews were to be Yahweh’s people, and Yahweh would be their God. And this would be one of the ways that both they and the nations knew it, that they possessed Canaan just as God had said they would.
Remember also, however, that Israel was disobedient, and worshipped other gods, and did many other wicked things besides, so that God handed first the northern kingdom of Judah, then the southern kingdom of Israel, over to their enemies.
The Assyrians captured the northern kingdom of Judah in 721 BC; the Babylonians conquered Israel in 597 BC; and both of these events came to pass just as God had sent the prophets to forewarn and promise the people. Subsequently, with these two successive conquests, of both Judah and Israel, many Jews were killed, or carried into foreign lands, or else fled, or else were ruled over in their ancestral homeland by foreigners.
In due time, both the Babylonians and Assyrians were themselves conquered, and subsumed by the Achaemenid Persian empire. In due time, Persia also was subsequently conquered, by Alexander the Great of Macedon defeat of the Persians.
After the passing of Alexander, his four most powerful generals divided the empire, as his death bed answer to the question of who would succeed him to the throne was “To the strongest!” The part containing what had formerly been Israel and Judah was initially under the sway of the Ptolemies, but then was ruled by the Seleucids starting in 281 BC.
A Seleucid king, Antiochus Epiphanes, ruling from 175-164 BC, persecuted the Jews, desecrating the temple in Jerusalem, and forcing the high priest and other devout Jews to eat pork, which they were forbidden to do.
This led to what was known as the Maccabean revolt in 167-160 BC, drawing its name from the warrior group called the Maccabees, who drove the Seleucids out, and re-established nominal Jewish self-government in the region again from about 110-63 BC.
A characteristic of this government, called the Hasmonean dynasty, was a reduction in the influence of both Hellenism and Hellenistic Judaism. But, alas, the Hasmoneans were conquered by the Roman general Pompeius in 63 BC, thus ending, until modern times, meaningful Jewish self-rule.
Now, as a client kingdom of the Roman empire, particularly under Herod the Great after the Roman Senate declared him “King of the Jews” in 37 BC, Judea was effectively under Roman rule. And as a vassal of the Roman empire, Herod got his position because of his father’s close relationship with the Roman general and dictator Julius Caesar.
To give you an idea of how ruthless he was, Herod’s mother-in-law was a part of the Hasmonean dynasty, and plotted at one point to restore her family to power by installing Aristobulus III, a member of the Hasmonean line, as the high priest, then sending him off to meet with Mark Antony, who was then in the midst of fighting a civil war with Octavian over who would be the Roman emperor after the assassination of Julius Caesar. Herod was just so sure Aristobulus III would replace him as King of the Jews, if he met with Antony, and if Antony prevailed as it looked like he might, that Herod arranged for the assassination of Aristobulus, thus eliminating a potential rival three moves ahead.
Thus we come to what it meant when this same Herod met with the Magi from the East, and heard them say they were looking for the baby boy who had been born “King of the Jews,” connecting as he would the fact that such was his title, and such a baby boy would supplant and replace him if he was allowed to live and come of age. Both far-sighted and ruthless, Herod dispatched soldiers to Bethlehem to kill every boy under two years of age.
Yet the story did not stop there, as we know. If it had, we would not be celebrating Christmas over 2,000 years later.
The critical difference between the “King of the Jews” named Herod and the one the Magi were seeking was who had declared whom, and from whence their power and authority was derived. On the one hand, you had a ruthless vassal of Rome, propped up and maintained through military might and the cleverness of man. On the other hand, you had an innocent baby boy, who would lead a sinless life and willingly submit himself to death, even death on a cross, in obedience to God the Father, to ransom those who were otherwise at enmity with the righteous Judge of all mankind, separated from Him by their trespasses and sin.
Against all expectations which the wider world to that point had by hard experience developed, and which much of the world even today still holds to despite the evidence, for how power is both obtained and held, we know that Jesus Christ prevailed, and remains not just the rightful King of the Jews, but the King above all kings, and the Lord above all lords, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, and every tongue confess, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.
And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
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