In my last post (What Does The Fox Say? Who is the Fox Anyway?) I wrote about Herod Antipas. As I was writing, I realized that a lot of people get confused about who “Herod” is in the Bible. This isn’t surprising since there are actually six different (!) “Herods” in the New Testament, and they are all somehow related to each other. Here are thumbnail sketches to help you keep track of who’s who:
1. Herod the Great (ruled 37-4 B.C.) He’s the guy in the Christmas story. Super powerful client king answerable to Rome. Tried to trick the wise men. Killed the babies in Bethlehem (not to mention some of his own sons and wives). Not cuddly at all. Actually, you wouldn’t invite any of these Herods to become your “bosom friend,” but especially not “the Great.”
2. Herod Archelaus (ruled 4 B.C.-A.D. 6) He was one of Herod the Great’s three sons mentioned in the Bible. He received one-half of his father’s territory, the area surrounding and near Jerusalem (Judea and Samaria). Joseph was unwilling to move Mary and toddler Jesus to Bethlehem after fleeing to Egypt because Bethlehem was in this Herod’s territory and, like his father “the Great,” Herod Archelaus wasn’t known to be very cuddly either. He got replaced by a Roman procurator less than ten years into his reign; that’s why Pontius Pilate is the man in charge at Jesus’ crucifixion rather than one of the “Herods.”
3. Herod Antipas (ruled 4 B.C.-A.D. 39) Jesus called him “the Fox” (Luke 13:32). Received a quarter of his father’s territory (Galilee and Perea). Divorced his first wife and married Herodias, the wife of his brother (who was yet a different “Herod”). Killed John the Baptist. Pontius Pilate sent Jesus to see this Herod as part of Jesus’ trial, since this Herod was visiting Jerusalem at the time Jesus was sentenced to death. Did you know that Pilate and Herod Antipas became friends that day (Luke 23:12)?
4. Herod Philip the Tetrarch (ruled 4 B.C.-A.D. 34) Got the remaining quarter of his father’s territory (north and east of Galilee—mostly ruled over Syrians and Greeks). Married his niece, Salome, the daughter of Herodias (Herod Antipas’s wife-of-sin).
5. Herod Agrippa I (ruled A.D. 37-44 [41-44 in Judea]) Grandson of Herod the Great and nephew of Herodias, Herod Antipas’s wife. Eventually ended up ruling over even more territory than did his grandfather, Herod the Great. In the book of Acts he is known as the one who put Peter in prison (Acts 12:1–5)… although he couldn’t keep him there (12:6–19)! Also… “He did not give God the glory” when referred to as a god by the people of Tyre and Sidon and was thus struck by an angel and “eaten by worms” (Acts 12:20–23). Yes… I know… TMI… but it’s an easy way to remember which “Herod” he is.
6. Herod Agrippa II (ruled A.D. 50s until long after the end of the Jewish war; died around A.D. 93) Like his father Herod Agrippa I and great-grandfather Herod the Great, he ruled over a large territory. He’s the one who interviewed Paul along with the Roman procurator Porcius Festus when Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea (in Palestine) after Paul’s third missionary journey (Acts 25–26). Agrippa exclaimed to Paul (literal translation): “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:28). Or was his statement ironic? Either way, Paul ended up appealing directly to Caesar and so had no more contact after this with the final powerful “Herod.”
After this last Herod, we don’t hear anything more of the dynasty of Herods (until, of course, they named a luxury department store after them… oops, wrong spelling).
An even briefer summary:
Herod the Great: Christmas story
Herod Archelaus: Joseph to Nazareth instead of Bethlehem because of him
Herod Antipas: Killed John the Baptist
Herod Philip: Ruled area north and east of Galilee
Herod Agrippa I: Eaten by worms
Herod Agrippa II: Trial of Paul in Caesarea
Baby boys are frequently named “Paul.” I’ve never heard of any couple naming a newborn baby “Herod.” It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to reverse this trend.
 And there are even more “Herods” (the dynastic name) in history; but I’m only mentioning the ones who get mentioned in the Bible.
The Bible claims to be our supremely authoritative guide to life. But isn’t it irrational, oppressive, or even dangerous to base our lives on an ancient book—any book—rather than to “think for ourselves”? My claim in this short series is that basing our lives on the Bible is exactly what thinking for ourselves leads us to do—if we’re thinking well.
A crucial first step in thinking well about the authority of the Bible is to get clear on what authority is, more generally. Let’s continue to follow Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:24–28 (see Part One for the full quotation) as our starting point. He wraps up a lengthy discussion of how to live well by telling a parable about a wise man, who built his house on solid ground, and a foolish man, who built his house on sand. When floods came, only the wise man’s house was left standing. The point of the parable is that if one’s life has an inadequate basis it will fall apart under the pressure of hard times, but with a good foundation one will be able to stand strong in the midst of difficulties and struggles.
And what is it that makes the difference? Jesus is clear that what determines the quality of our life’s foundation is our response to him and his teaching. The wise person, says Jesus, “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” (Matthew 7:24).
This is a striking claim—and as vivid a picture of how authority works as we may find.
The Nature of Authority
What is authority? What does it mean to be an authority? Obviously there is such a thing as “card” authority, as I described it in Part One, where someone demands compliance solely on the basis of their position or power. Like the neighborhood bully or the guy with the card that says he’s in charge.
But not all authority is like that. In fact, quite often those people we consider authorities don’t have a position of power—or if they do, that’s not why we respect them and are glad to follow them. It’s because they also have something else, such as knowledge, expertise, and character. Those are the kinds of things we look for we look for in a true authority. I suggest, for our purposes, a definition of true or legitimate authority along those lines. Speaking generally, an authority is a trusted source of important truth in a particular area.
Let’s unpack this. Here are a few examples of authority, representing different areas:
In each, very different case (and we could think of many more), whether it is a person or an artifact like a map or textbook, the authority is regarded as a trusted source of truth in a particular area, and treated as such.
There is an important difference between these two kinds of authorities, however. The authority of maps and textbooks is not as basic as that of persons. We trust artifacts as sources of important truth in a particular area because of their source: they were authored or designed by a person or persons we consider to be authorities. Texts gain their authority from their authors (notice the linguistic connection between ‘author’ and ‘authority’). This distinction will be important when we consider the Bible’s authority. For now, let’s focus primarily on the more basic form of authority, that of persons
What makes someone an authority? What do true, legitimate authorities have in common, that marks them out as such? As I briefly suggested earlier, at least three things: knowledge, skill, and character.
INGREDIENTS OF AUTHORITY
An authority on a subject has unique, specific, and important knowledge about it. We look to Einstein, and not, say, to Jay Leno, for insight into physics. This is because of Einstein’s unique intelligence and lifetime of study in physics. Leno may be a nice guy, but he doesn’t have these credentials. Einstein knows special, important truths about physics, so we listen to him.
But it’s not mere “book knowledge” that marks out an authority. A true authority employs that knowledge skillfully in a wide variety of situations, including unique or unusual cases. Their knowledge and experience gives them special insight in diagnosing situations and being able to address them.
My friend, Pat, is one of those people. He is an automobile mechanic. Pat understands cars and is highly skilled at diagnosing and correcting what may be wrong with them. In fact, he often knows what’s wrong just by hearing the car drive into the shop. Pat is an authority on automobiles, which is why people come to him for help.
Character (“Moral Authority”)
A third important component of authority is character. In fact, we sometimes talk about “moral authority.” A certain level of appropriate character is required for any person to be an authority—we must be able to trust them to tell the truth. A surgeon who tends to work drunk or lies to you is not an authority, no matter how much knowledge and expertise he has. Word gets around, and we avoid those people like the plague, especially when our life is at stake.
But in some areas of life this third element, moral authority, is everything. It’s especially important when we’re looking for guidance in to how to live. What qualifies someone to be a trustworthy source of truth in that area? Here, again, we don’t look for mere “book-learning”; plenty of people are intelligent and well educated, but not wise. Indeed, some are “educated fools” whose lives we would never want to emulate. For deepest insights into how to live, we look for someone who actually lives that way—someone with integrity, moral authority. Character.
Response to Authority
A true authority is marked by knowledge, skill, and character.
Now, how do we respond to such an authority? What should we do when we find someone like that? Well, if they’re an authority in an area where we need to discover the truth, truth that’s important to us, then surely the reasonable thing is to find out what the authority says and put it into practice!
My wife, Debbie, went through some very difficult and mysterious health struggles for several years. We went to several specialists, but no one could figure out what was going on. Then we were referred to a specialist who was particularly qualified in these matters—the “doctor the doctors go to,” we were told. It took us nearly a month to get in to see him, by which time we were pretty desperate. But that first appointment changed our lives, and we both remember it vividly.
Within the first half hour, the doctor diagnosed the problem and set out a program of treatment. Although what he said was new to us, it rang true; it made sense of what Debbie was experiencing. We also had the evidence of the doctor’s knowledge, skill, and experience reflected both in his credentials and in his track record with other patients.
So we trusted him: we listened carefully to what he said, and we put it into practice.
And the difference it made was remarkable. That appointment was the turning point in Debbie’s condition and her return to health.
Now I suggest that, when we listened to what that doctor said and put it into practice, we were doing the most reasonable thing we could do. It’s not that we weren’t thinking for ourselves. We were thinking for ourselves; that’s why we were in his office! We desperately needed to know the truth about Debbie’s health, and we had good reason to believe that this doctor had the knowledge and expertise to help us find it.
We didn’t just consult the first guy we met on the street. We investigated; we looked for someone who had the solid credentials of an authority in the field. We certainly didn’t surrender our minds or stop thinking. What we did is open our minds to crucial information that we needed. We were thinking well for ourselves.
If a true authority is a trusted source of truth in a particular area, then the appropriate, reasonable response to that authority is to trust them—to listen to what they say and follow it.
And this is just what Jesus calls for in response to his words about how to live our life: the wise person, he said, “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” (Matthew 7:24). Jesus is calling us to view him and his words as our authority.
Is that reasonable? It depends on who Jesus is, and whether he has the knowledge, skill, and character to speak authoritatively on how we should build our lives.
One of the temptations that we as Christian leaders regularly face is to not pray when we pray. We say prayers before meals, with our children before bed, before we teach Sunday school classes, and when we stand during worship services. And if your life is anything like mine, you are the designated pray-er for family functions. But there is a significant risk when we bow for prayer but don’t actually pray.
The Apostle Paul writes: “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18). Paul would agree that when we pray, we need to actually pray.
I’m convinced that every time we take a posture of prayer and don’t actually talk to the Lord, our hearts harden just a little to prayer; whereas every time we actually talk to God during a time of prayer, our hearts are just a bit softer the next time around. This is why in our household there has always been one rule—and only one rule—when we pray together. We don’t care whether you stand, sit, kneel, close your eyes, or lift your hands. The rule is this: When you pray, actually talk to the Lord.
Admittedly, it can sometimes be difficult to actually pray each and every time you pray. Sometimes we feel forced into prayer postures. One of my daughters during her middle school years expressed it this way: “But if I don’t pray when everyone else is praying, what will people think?”
In any prayer situation in which your heart is not turned upward, my recommendation is that you pause, perhaps open your eyes for a moment, recalibrate, remind yourself Who it is you are talking to, and then offer a short prayer to the Lord. The result of such patterning will be an ever increasing openness to the Lord and a softness toward prayer.
Genealogies rarely contain interesting tidbits about our ancestors, especially the more unacceptable ones. But Jesus’ genealogy does. In fact, it even seems to highlight several rather shady characters.
And they are women.
There are five women in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. In a time when genealogies didn’t normally contain even a single female name, why are these women included? And what does their presence imply?
In the book of Matthew, the author gives us the list of Jesus’ ancestors in the first chapter. The list begins prestigiously enough with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But then the genealogy begins to falter. Wait a minute, what is Tamar doing here? Didn’t she solicit sex with her father-in-law (shudder) and wasn’t that how Perez, her son, was conceived? Tamar was a woman of unidentified origin (many scholars think she was a Canaanite) who had been widowed by two of Judah’s sons, and had been promised to the third and youngest son, Shelah. Judah, fearing for the life of his third son since the Lord had struck the other two dead, delayed giving him to Tamar. In fact, he probably didn’t intend to ever allow Shelah to marry Tamar.
Tamar was stuck in a very hard place; because she had been returned to her father’s house to wait for Shelah, she had no status, no inheritance, no Social Security would ever come her way because her only route to the future was through children and she was not a mother. And she was not eligible to remarry since she was ‘waiting’ for Shelah.
So she took matters into her own hands. Much of what follows is difficult for the modern reader to understand. After Judah’s wife died, she posed as a prostitute, though she was not. She wanted a Judah offspring—Shelah was preferable, but denied that, she would have a child through the tribal chief himself (Gen. 38:1-25).
Judah’s role is incriminating. He readily propositions a ‘prostitute,’ little dreaming she is his daughter-in-law. He soundly condemns Tamar when her pregnancy is revealed, and even intends to have her burned to death in a shocking case of a double standard. But Tamar has cleverly protected herself and the identity of her child’s father by holding Judah’s personal belongings—cords and a seal and staff.
Finally, we see some good action from Judah when he acknowledges his paternity and proclaims that she is more righteous than he is (Gen. 38:26). He was seeking an irresponsible sexual encounter; she was seeking to responsibly protect her future and even his, by providing a child who would live and produce offspring. She was indeed more righteous than he. In a culture when women had few rights, Tamar thoughtfully invested in the future (Gen. 38:27-29).
Matthew acknowledges Tamar’s rights by including her in the Messiah’s genealogy. The Lion of the tribe of Judah needed this determined woman to form his earthly genealogy.
A second surprising inclusion is Rahab. Rahab clearly was a prostitute, and a Gentile, living in Jericho (Josh. 2:1). Despite her occupation, she seems to be a woman with kindness in her. She provides financially for her parents and siblings and she is quite willing to hide the Israelite spies who have come to search out a way to attack and defeat Jericho. She has a compassionate heart and hides the spies on her roof.
Rahab wants a way out of the life she is living. She believes that the people of God will take her city because the fear of the Lord and what he is doing has fallen on her and the people in her land. She has heard the stories of how the Israelites came out of Egypt and how the Red Sea dried up to allow them passage across. She has heard of the defeat of her powerful neighbors across the Jordan River, King Sihon and King Og. She realizes that Jericho is the gate to Canaan and she wants to survive the attack she knows is coming. She, like Tamar, has cords that signify belonging. “Hang this scarlet cord in this window where you let us down, and we will spare you and all in your house,” the spies instruct her.
It happened as planned. Rahab and her family were saved during the compete defeat of Jericho by Joshua’s army. Later, Rahab marries Salmon, a Jew whom tradition says was one of the spies she hid. They have a son, Boaz, who grows up to become a righteous and godly man (Ruth 2:1).
The third woman is Ruth, also a Gentile, and like Tamar, a widow, but this woman’s sexual purity has not been compromised. In fact, the highest words of praise are spoken by Boaz in identifying her as a woman of virtue, a woman of noble character (Ruth 3:11). She is a woman who from the time she heard the name ‘Yahweh’ has been an earnest follower, thanks to the instruction of her mother-in-law, Naomi. Following Naomi’s sound advice, Ruth entreats Boaz to marry her and to provide for her and Naomi in their old age, provision which will come in the form of a precious son, Obed. And little did Naomi and Ruth know, but this tiny son of theirs would be grandfather to King David (Ruth 4:16-22) and therefore, in the lineage of Jesus Christ.
The fourth woman is not named, but she is identified as Uriah’s wife. She married David, but she did not properly belong to him. She had been seduced by Israel’s greatest king, and to some extent, she was complicit, though as the powerful one in the ‘relationship’ David clearly carries the blame. He instigated the adultery with the beautiful wife of one of his finest generals. Later, to protect himself, David has General Uriah placed in battle where he is sure to be killed. The story is full of death, for the child from the adulterous union dies, too.
Eventually, by God’s mercy, David repents. And God grants a son, Solomon, to him and his now legitimate wife, Bathsheba. And through Solomon, the line to the Messiah flowed.
The fifth and final woman in the genealogy is Mary, officially married to Joseph, and mother of Jesus who is called the Christ (Matt. 1:16). Mary is Jewish; Mary is a virgin to whom no taint of sexual scandal had come. Mary is a devout believer in Yahweh. To him she entrusts herself: her reputation, her future, and her entire hope. When the angel tells her she will be pregnant by the Holy Spirit, she believes (Luke 1:35-38) and accepts what has never happened before. Where did this slip of a girl, just recently come into womanhood, get this kind of faith and trust? “I am the Lord’s servant,” were her amazing words. She comprehended in an instant, what generations of Jewish women had never understood: the Messiah would be born of a virgin. She wasn’t sinless, but she was a godly, virtuous, and young Jewish girl.
And so the genealogy concludes. Five women are included, mostly poor, mostly misfits, widows, unimportant, unknown, sinful women who changed the course of history by their simple, obedient lives. One might suppose that the women in Jesus the Messiah’s genealogy should have all been the finest Jewish women, but they weren’t. Most weren’t even Jewish at all. And except for Ruth and Mary, they had tarnished sexual histories. They were ordinary women, trying to get life right, but missing the goal.
In other words, they were women just like us: ordinary, tarnished by sin, unlikely to shape the course of history. They are in the Savior’s genealogy to give us hope, and to foreshadow the kind of people Jesus the Messiah came to save.
He came from a lineage of sinners to save sinners.
But He remained sinless.
And we will be like the women from Jesus’ genealogy as we put our whole future into the hands of our God, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He offers to give our simple lives great significance as we follow him. Like the women of the genealogy who put their hope in the coming Messiah, following him is worth far more than we will know until eternity.
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