Part of understanding the birth of Jesus and his times has to do with recognizing the place of Herod the Great in Scriptures. Herod was a common man of no quality stock, a vulgar man who bought his kingship from Mark Antony.[i] It would be odd, indeed, considering his place in Jewish history, if Scripture did not mention this man who made himself such a great enemy of God and his people. Consider what is said of him in Daniel:
Daniel 11:36-39 KJV And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done. (37) Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all. (38) But in his estate shall he honour the god of forces: and a god whom his fathers knew not shall he honour with gold, and silver, and with precious stones, and pleasant things. (39) Thus shall he do in the most strong holds with a strange god, whom he shall acknowledge and increase with glory: and he shall cause them to rule over many, and shall divide the land for gain. [emphasis mine]
Most folks who study Daniel 11 assume this prophecy loses its accuracy at the time of Antiochus Epiphanies in verse-35. He desecrated the Temple, and it is because of how the Jews responded to this that Hanukkah is celebrated today. Usually it is assumed by those who trust the Scriptures are the word of God that verse-36 onward points to the last days. This is not true, or at least the last days are not those days just before the 2nd coming of Jesus! The last days in Scripture are those days in which Jesus lived and concluded with the apostles’ ministry and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. There is actually good reason to conclude that Daniel’s prophecy in Daniel 11 & 12 continues without a break—that is, without a break in the succession of the foreign kings who ruled over the Jews. There is a break between Antiochus Epiphanies and Herod of a little over 100 years, during which time the Hasmonean kings ruled. They were of Jewish stock and represented home rule, not foreign rule, as was the case of the kings of the north (Syria) and the south (Egypt).
Daniel 11:35 ended with the cruel king, Antiochus Epiphanies, but Daniel 11:36 begins by describing Herod, a man who also ruled with cruelty. He was always afraid of who might come and take the government from him. He had the last Hasmonean high priest killed by Antony. This way, the Roman government couldn’t change its mind and restore the kingdom to that family. Whenever he thought his throne was threatened, he had those killed who were suspect. Whether they were Pharisees, priests, rabbis, zealous religious students, or members of his own family, no one that Herod presumed a threat to his throne was permitted to live very long.
He magnified himself against all that are God’s (the Jews)—he, himself, promised wonderful works beside the God of gods (he rebuilt the Temple [Herod’s Temple] and made Aristobulus high priest taking it from Ananelus the lawful high priest. He built cities and amphitheaters. He built Caesarea[ii] to honor Caesar Augustus, who was declared god by the Roman senate (Daniel 11:37-38). Herod prospered until the wrath of God consumed him, nevertheless the will of God could not be thwarted no matter how willful or cruel he became (Daniel 11:36).
Herod was never wise concerning matters pertaining to the God of his fathers (Jehovah – the God of Isaac and Esau). Herod was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau, but claimed to be part Jew. Neither was he wise when he heard the Messiah was born. Rather than receive him, he tried to kill him. The only ‘god’ that Herod regarded was Caesar (Daniel 11:37). He honored him with presents of gold and precious stones on a number of occasions, one as Caesar was celebrating his silver jubilee. It was through honoring Caesar that he secured his own monarchy.[iii]
Thus, in the most fortified of strongholds (the Temple in Jerusalem) Herod the Great, in conjunction with honoring this strange god (Caesar) by building Caesarea with its modern seaport, set up a golden eagle over the east gate of the Temple. The eagle was the symbol of Rome.
In addition to all this, Herod re-introduced the games, picking up where Antiochus Epiphanes left off:
“On this account it was that Herod revolted from the laws of his country, and corrupted their ancient constitution, by the introduction of foreign practices, which constitution yet ought to have been preserved inviolable; by which means we became guilty of great wickedness afterward, while those religious observances which used to lead the multitude to piety were now neglected; for, in the first place, he appointed solemn games to be celebrated every fifth year, in honor of Caesar, and built a theater at Jerusalem, as also a very great amphitheater in the plain. Both of them were indeed costly works, but opposite to the Jewish customs.”[iv]
Thus, when God took away their self-government, he placed a very cruel king over the Jews, a king who thought only of himself. He put himself before God, before the promised Messiah, before the Temple and before the people. He exalted only Caesar and in doing so secured his own government and increased Caesar’s power over the Jews.
[i] Josephus: “Antiquities of the Jews” – Book XIV; chapter 14, paragraph-4 & chapter 16, paragraph-4
[ii] Josephus: “Antiquities of the Jews” – Book XV; chapter 9, paragraph-5
[iii] Josephus: “Antiquities of the Jews” – Book XV; chapter 8, paragraph-7
[iv] Josephus: “Antiquities of the Jews” – Book XV; chapter 8, paragraph-1a – read 8:1-3