It is the Christmas after an election year and we read Isaiah’s prophesy knowing that Isaiah’s audience heard it as a political statement. The people of the Bible actually were looking for someone to make their nation great again. They heard Isaiah and imagined a ruler with such wisdom that there would be; “endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (9:7)
King Herod wasn’t called the Great for nothing. He was a scrappy outsider who came into his throne by subtly playing the political game more ruthlessly than his rivals. He was a builder, a maker of high fortress towers and the developer of entertainment properties (note he built a Greek style stadium in Jerusalem). His most famous project was the Temple. He demolished the humble structure that had stood on the temple mount — the one that had been constructed by the prayers and sacrifices of the Babylonian refugees under Nehemiah and made pure by the miracle of Hanukah under the Maccabees — Yes, that is the temple that Herod tore down. He built a lavish monument to his own name in its place. The temple that Herod spent forty years building felt so worldly that the Romans couldn’t understand why they couldn’t use it for sacrifices to their emperor. Forty years after Jesus, the Romans grew tired of Herod’s people and destroyed both the temple and the nation. Even though Herod had established a great dynasty and left his descendants in charge of his empire, he didn’t establish a nation built on justice with peace and prosperity for all. Under the Herodians the rich became very rich, but the poor had no friend in high places except Jesus.
Like Herod, Jesus was an outsider. His parentage was uncertain. He grew up in the projects, far from the courts and the Temple. He never built anything. He never published a royal decree, let alone a book. All of his teachings were recorded by others. He told stories that involved shepherds and farmers and dealt with everyday life. He never tweeted or took pot-shots at his rivals. He reasoned with his detractors. He healed and answered the prayers of all who came to him, whether they be high born or poor, Romans or Jews, friends or foes.
One key difference between Jesus and Herod the Great was that Jesus had a succession plan. Herod the Great seemed oblivious to the fact that he would die. Jesus came into the world in order to die for sinners. Herod considered anyone who challenged him to be disloyal and a threat. Jesus forgave his enemies and invited them into his kingdom. Herod expected his kingdom to pass to his sons, but he kept murdering family members as soon as they showed any interest in reigning. A few years after Herod the Great died the Romans had to step in and rescue the nation from what remained of the Herodians. They divided the kingdom up and put their Syrian governor (little irony here) in charge of things. The Herodian family continued to wear crowns and rule on thrones in Galilee and Perea, but the Temple and Jerusalem were in foreign hands and run as a commercial enterprise funneling money to Rome.
Jesus had a better plan. From before the creation of the world he planned for his succession. He enlisted the Holy Spirit to rule in the hearts of those would accept his kingdom. We then, are responsible for fulfilling the promises of Isaiah. Through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit we bring peace and mercy to those around us. We continue Jesus’ rule of compassion and justice. We are a distributed network of righteousness. We are the Davidic rule that will go on forever.