In the Christmas story, Herod the Great is best known for his attempt to assassinate the newborn Messiah. After a visit from the Magi, Herod orders all the infant boys under two to be massacred. It’s gruesome, and a result of his extreme paranoia. But one thing we don’t often discuss regarding Herod was that he was also an obsessive builder. During his reign, he was responsible for constructing an impressive artificial harbor at Caesarea Maritima and oversaw the building of Temple Mount as well as Masada. But the building feat I find most interesting is a fortress he constructed in the middle of the desert.
Around 37 BC, Herod started constructing a fortress-palace that could be seen from Jerusalem to remind everyone of his influence and power. The only problem was, in the spot where he wanted to build the fortress, there weren’t any mountains high enough. So, using forced labor, he essentially moved a mountain to the spot he wanted to build on.
Once the mountain was moved, Herod built a lavish fortress filled with theaters, gardens, and stunning domed ceilings. There were bathing pools and even a swimming pool which was large enough to sail small boats, In the middle of a desert, where there isn’t any water. To make the pools possible, he created waddies that were essentially trenches that redirected rainwater into huge cisterns that would pipe water into the fortress from miles away. It was an engineering marvel. At the time, this edifice was one of the largest building complexes in the world. Not surprisingly, Herod named the palace after himself. He called it Herodium and loved it so much that he left orders to be buried there.
One last note about Herod. The historian Josephus stated that Herod was so concerned that no one would mourn his death that he commanded a large group of distinguished men to come to Jericho, and he gave an order that they should be killed at the time of his death so that the displays of grief that he craved would take place.
Now, here is what makes this whole thing so fascinating. In the Bible, we read how Jesus regularly took his followers to the Mount of Olives. What we don’t realize, though, is that the view from the Mount of Olives overlooks (you guessed it) Herodium.
In Matthew 17, we read about how Jesus’ followers are asking him why they couldn’t heal a boy who was demon-possessed, and Jesus says, “Because you have so little faith. Truly, I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
It seems like Jesus is saying, yes, Herod moved a mountain, but your King is even more powerful. And God’s mountain-moving power is available with only the smallest amount of faith.
Additionally, looking down from Herodium to the northwest stands a tiny village just four miles away. A place that once was the birthplace of the greatest king of Israel. Bethlehem. Such a stunning contrast cannot be ignored.
King Herod was installed by the Empire through his own manipulation and cunning and created a luxurious palace to show off his power.
Our King, to whom all authority in heaven and earth belonged, set aside His power and
position to be born in a stable to peasant parents who had traveled days because of the oppression of that same Roman Empire and was laid in a feeding trough because there was nowhere else available for him.
The paradox urges us to redefine the essence of power and also faith.
Today, the question is, what are you going to say to the mountain?
Daily Reading: Matthew 17