Something which I had not sufficiently considered about Herod is that he believes. He is not merely responding to a political threat; he is a panic over God. At some point, I may wish to develop this idea: there are two interesting themes here: (1) the irrationality of sin and suppression; (2) the effect of God intruding into human conscious such knowledge has been previously suppressed.
A good parallel here would be Judas & Peter. Anyway, to Herod:
Matthew 2:1–2 (ESV)
2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “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.”
The Magi approach Herod and speak of the one born the King of Israel. Herod knows about this child. He has heard about the Messiah & he believes this to be true:
Matthew 2:3–6 (ESV)
3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”
Despite this knowledge, Herod has apparently put the thought out of his head. Herod is not a decedent of David. To the extent he has taken thought concerning the Messiah, he has realized that the Messiah will replace him.
He goes to the religious authorities and asks them for more information on this child: specifically where will this child be born.
Consider this for a moment: Herod has successfully kept God at a distance from his conscious thought. He knows these things are true, but they are not Herod’s concern.
When God does intrude into Herod’s thought, Herod becomes “troubled.” He has been successfully suppressing the knowledge of God. But when God forces his way into Herod’s conscious life, Herod can only be troubled.
He seeks to figure out how to manage God, by managing the situation. Thus, he needs some information upon which to act: Where is this Messiah. The religious leaders can give him a city, but not a house. For that information, he turns to the Magi:
Matthew 2:7–8 (ESV)
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, 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.”
Before we go on, consider the irrationality of Herod. Yes, he was a famously dangerous and vicious man. But this even portrays a peculiar kind of irrationality. He knows God is doing something right here, right now. God has intruded into his world. God has so controlled history that a child is being born at a particular moment in history and this known even by Magi from the Parthian Empire.
But he thinks he has a play. If he gets to the right house, he will be to kill the child.
This is the bizarre calculation of sin: Paul begins his argument in Romans with the proposition that God in fact knows, and we humans know that God knows and yet delude ourselves into thinking that God won’t know this time.
More consciously this stunt is attempted, the more bizarre it becomes in practice. Herod knowingly wants to kill the promised Messiah. Why does he believe that he’ll be able to outsmart God? How does he think God will let him get away with this?