Herod the Great was a man of many contradictions. He was king of Judea, yet he himself was an Idumean (that is, an Edomite).
He gained favor with the Jewish leaders by completely renovating the temple of the Lord and making it rival any pagan temple of its day, yet he also built many pagan gymnasiums and other Hellenistic buildings throughout Judea and Samaria.
He was often particular to maintain at least the appearance of conformity to Jewish customs, yet he freely broke the sixth commandment by mercilessly killing any who threatened his rule—including his own wife and sons.
This contradiction led one ancient writer to comment that he would rather be Herod’s hus (“pig,” considered unfit to eat for Jews) than his huios (“son”).
Herod’s actions regarding Jesus’ birth, then, should come as no surprise to us.
When wise men came from the East seeking to worship the newborn King Jesus, they first asked Herod where the child was. Herod led them to believe that he wanted to worship the child, too, all the while planning to kill Him.
When the wise men left without telling Herod exactly where the baby was, he became furious and ordered all the baby boys two years and younger to be killed. Jesus’ family escaped to Egypt until Herod had died, then returned to Nazareth, where His parents had lived before He was born.
Several people were named Herod in the Bible. Herod the Great had several sons, including Antipas (who ruled over Galilee and Perea), Archelaus (who ruled over Judea and Samaria), and Philip (who ruled over the northeast corner of Palestine). Much later, Herod’s grandson Agrippa ruled over much of Judea and Samaria, and still later Agrippa II ruled over portions of Palestine and Lebanon.