Sitting on Herod's Throne
Background: This is an excerpt from an unpublished book by Brad Berglund. It explores the Christian adage: Wise men still seek him. What would it be like if modern seekers were with the wise men when they worshiped Jesus?
Higher-Status was the young adult son of a nobleman. He represented the next generation of leaders. He had heard the three magi speak of a coming king to whom all would one day answer. Higher-Status was moved to join them in their worship of this future monarch. Rather than fight Him, he dreamed of strategically placing himself so that he might be the obvious successor to the present monarch.
The halls of power impressed him. When Herod consulted with the three Wise Men, Higher-Status was inexplicably excluded from the meeting. He professed admiration of Herod to the guards, but this did nothing. He was not permitted into the throne room to have an audience with the king. However, when the matter was settled, the hallways cleared quickly. Curiosity led him to the empty throne room of the king of the Jews.
Lessons from the Current King of the Jews
As chance would have it, Higher-Status found the royal throne room of King Herod. It was vacant. He was impressed by the displays of wealth in such an impoverished part of the world.
He spied Herod’s throne and wondered what it was like to be seated in this high place. Higher-Status looked all ways to see if any was watching. When he was sure that he was quite alone, he did the unthinkable. He positioned himself on Herod’s throne. Within a few minutes, his mind was filled with the daydreams of what it meant to be a ruler.
He was so absorbed in his fantasy that he did not see the older man dressed in Roman clothing, who quietly entered alone. When the elder spied what was happening, the he stopped and stared in amazement. In a few moments of time his amazement turned into amusement. He spoke to the young man, “You look like a king upon the throne.”
Higher-Status leaped to his feet. “I mean no harm.”
“No, no! Be seated. You need not fear me. After what I have been through, you are a source of comic relief.”
Higher-Status slowly returned to the seat. “I am from far away. The thrones we have are not nearly so beautiful.” His fingers traced the ornate impressions on the golden arms of the throne. “Nor do they represent such power. King Herod is to be admired for how he directs this land with both firmness and charity. It is an honor to sit upon his throne.”
“Would you like to wear his crown as well?”
“Oh, no! It is presumptuous enough for me to sit here. Tell me, good sir; are you one of his royal advisors?”
“No, young man, I am King Herod.”
Terror immediately filled the soul of Higher-Status. He leaped from the chair and dropped at the feet of the king. But instead of being angry, the king was so amused that he burst out into a roar of laughter.
“Oh, sire, forgive me for my foolishness!”
“You do not need forgiveness. You have brought merriment to a heart that has been filled with sorrow. Now I order you to get back up on that chair.”
“Do it, or I will have you arrested immediately,” Herod shouted in a dictatorial voice.
The young man jumped up and immediately sat on the throne. A look of terror and bewilderment filled his face. Herod laughed with all of his being at the spectacle.
“Would you like to wear my crown, too?”
“No,” replied Higher-Status.
“Good answer. Ha, ha. You bring me more merriment than any jester.”
“Yes, your majesty.”
“As you occupy that chair, how does it feel to become king of the Jews?”
“Sitting in this chair does not make me a king.” stammered Higher-Status. “That title rightly belongs to one greater than the unworthy worm who presently occupies the seat.”
“Ha, ha. Again, good answer.”
“Yes, your majesty.”
Herod’s voice and demeanor changed. No longer did he sound like the dictator. He almost sounded fatherly as he spoke. “I have been quite cruel. I do so not because I hate you; it is because I see something different in you. Had I hated you, you would be in Antonia waiting for me to decide how to make you pay for crossing me. But from the start, I sensed a wisdom within you that is not shared by your comrades.”
“Oh, sir! They are indeed supremely wise.”
“And yet they pursue and errand fit for fools. They follow a star that had abandoned them in search for a king.”
“Indeed they do, Sire.”
“Well, they have found the King of the Jews.” Herod stretched out his arms. “He stands before you this day. The title was conferred upon me by Caesar himself. Why should there be another?”
“I do not know, Sire.”
“Neither do I. Their quest is to be mastered by prophecies and signs. I say that is foolishness. Yet, I sense a difference in your quest. They are looking for a mysterious person, but you are looking for promotion.”
“I – I am sorry …”
“You need not deny it. In a sense, you remind me of myself at your age. It was my father who taught me how to keep a low profile when you are not in power. If the throne rightfully belongs to another, it is in your best interest to express unreserved loyalty. But when your opportunity comes to grasp the power, then seize the day and do not look back.”
“Is this how you came to power?”
“Yes, my father played his political cards well. Some 45 years ago, uncertainty ruled this region. A dynasty of independent thinking Jews was coming to a close. My father was considered a friend of both Rome and these radicals. A meek and mild man named Hyrcanus was thrust into power by virtue of heredity and birth order. A meek and mild ruler is always appealing the hoi polloi, but it never brings stability to a society in turmoil. His younger brother, who was better suited to be the king, seized the reigns in a bloodless coup. To the outside world, all appeared to be well and good, but my father saw opportunity.
“He played upon the wounded pride of Hyrcanus and convinced him to take back his rightful place. This made the political situation unbearable. Rome’s general, Pompey, swept in and put Hyrcanus back on the throne. Without realizing it, the people had ceded power to Rome and Hyrcanus was the puppet of it Caesar. Whenever Rome needed advice, they called upon my father.
“When Pompey tried to become Caesar, my father wisely chose the reigning Caesar. He risked his life, and his loyalty was rewarded. Meek and mild Hyrcanus was reassigned as the priest of the Jews, and my dad essentially became the King of the Jews. Now Hyrcanus became my father’s puppet. Hyrcanus never understood this until after my father’s death. He thought he was still in charge. What a fool!
“At the ripe age of 25, my father placed me in charge of the region of Galilee. My father taught me to humor the people, but to be ruthless against any that would threaten my power. My successes made me the successor to my father. My rise to power and maintenance for all these years is due to wisely applying the principle of leadership my father left me. If you do not threaten me, I will humor you; but if you cross me once, fear my wrath.”
“Have you ever had any serious threats to your monarchy?”
“Hyrcanus was my first serious threat; but I made him pay dearly for his actions. I have saved the lives of some, only to have them later try to assassinate me. It seems such a foolish waste to rescue one only for the purpose of later executing him for treason. Even my own flesh and blood have come to an untimely demise at the hand of my executioner. The crown is both an amazing source of power and prestige and contemporaneously the target of every fool who would challenge that power. My friend, when you rise to greatness, heed this warning: do not apologize for using the executioner. You will, on occasions, condemn the wrong man to death, but a wrongly silenced voice of a righteous man is less tragic than the living tongue of a true schemer.”
“I will remember your words of wisdom.”
“Good! And when it is possible, you need to forsake this band of fools. I realize that it may be politically expedient for you to remain with them, but they will eventually bring you down to their level. They sound so much like Hyrcanus did.”
“What do you mean?”
“They look for a king who is meek and mild. They are prepared to pour out their expensive presents to him. I assure you, if they are looking for humility and meekness, they will find it in Bethlehem. Were you planning on wasting a fortune on this ‘king’?”
“Well, yes. I thought that if this king would one day rule over all, it would be wise to befriend him as my fellow seekers do.”
“Your plan for promotion is wise, but it lacks one feature. How can you be sure that this object of humility is not just a Hyrcanus type leader who is going no where?”
“I don’t know. Can anyone be certain?”
“Certain? No! I have been on the wrong side a few times. The one whom I thought was strong was defeated. I went to Caesar begging for forgiveness and pledging absolute loyalty. He bought it, and I was spared. While one might be wrong in his choice of which of two giants will be champion, he can always be certain that the weak will never inherit the earth.”
“So you are saying that this child is not king.”
“Judge for yourself! Look at this wealth and beauty, the jewels set into the very seat of power upon which you sit. This did not come by wishful thinking. It came by a passionate pursuit of the dreams of my father and me. If you see anything that in any way resembles this in Bethlehem, then pursue it with every last part of your being. If your friends were to drop their treasures before me as king, the presents would be modest tokens compared to the wealth and power that surrounds this throne. But if those treasures are deposited at the feet of a child in Bethlehem, I suspect that their value would exceed not only that of the place where this ‘king’ dwells, but also the houses that surround this dwelling. Are you, too, going to enrich the poor with the hopes that it will buy you future riches?”
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?”
“No it doesn’t. This is why I see hope in you.”
“What should I do?”
“Think before you give. If there is no possibility of promotion, don’t throw your life away. In fact, I would like to hear what you find.”
“Why do my friends tell me you intend to worship this king if you do not believe in Him?”
“I do not intend to worship him. I merely said that to those fools because that was all that their feeble minds could understand. You need to humor those who are not your enemies. No, I intend to make a fact-finding mission. I would like to visit this ‘king’ in order to determine for myself if there is any validity to his claim. If there is, I will bow and surrender to the greater. But if there is no legitimate right, I will simply encourage those around Bethlehem to cease from their foolish talk. I mean them no harm; that is, unless these rumors are maliciously aimed at me.”
“Then, sir, when I return I will tell you what I find.”
“I knew you were truly wise. I expect to hear great thing about you in the future. Now, will you please remove yourself from my throne before I call the guards to carry you away.”
Higher-Status sprang to his feet, and Herod received one last parting laugh at his expense.