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December 27, 2023

Herod’s Formula For Success

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged.

–Matthew 2:16

Matthew’s purpose in his Gospel was to show that Jesus is the Messiah, and one evidence is Herod’s response to the birth of Christ: “When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi” (2:16). Why would a powerful king like Herod get so upset about the birth of a baby in Bethlehem? Herod’s unusual response to the birth of Christ authenticates the gospel.

Herod’s response also illustrates the world’s philosophy of how you obtain success in life. There are three phrases that sum up Herod’s philosophy of success.

Philosophy number one: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” King Herod–called Herod the Great–was not a Jew; He was an Edomite. For that reason, he felt like an outsider. So he did things to try to curry favor with people. For example, to gain Caesar’s favor, Herod built a beautiful portside city called Caesarea by the Sea. He tried to gain favor with the citizens by building racetracks and theaters. He even tried to gain the favor of the Jews by rebuilding their temple. Yet his purpose in doing those things was his own glorification.

Herod had another philosophy that guided his life: “Don’t get mad; get even.” Herod’s father had been killed by his political enemies, so Herod knew he had to stamp out rebellion quickly. One evening, Herod invited his political enemies to dinner. When they arrived, they were greeted by Herod’s hit men, who killed them immediately. Historians tell us that night the king slept well.

Herod realized that sometimes he had to be on the offensive. That led to his third philosophy: “Do unto others before they do unto you.” Herod was always looking to stamp out any opposition. For example, he thought his brother-in-law was plotting against him, so he had him killed. Then he had one of his wives killed. Then he had his mother-in-law killed. When Herod suspected that his two elder sons were plotting against him, he had them executed as well. But perhaps his most monstrous act was his slaughter of all those Hebrew children in order to exterminate the Messiah.

Even though Herod’s evil was extreme, if we are honest, we have to admit there is something of the spirit of King Herod in all of us. We think the way to be successful is to rule over other people, to put our desires before other people. That was the spirit of Herod.


Today’s devotion is excerpted from “A Portrait of Two Kings” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2014.

Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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