3 min read

The Christmas season is filled with quaint cultural and traditional narratives about angels, elves, and reindeer. The historical facts behind the tradition, however, are both terrifying and wonderful to contemplate. They also contain a profound lesson in leadership.

The drama revolves, in part, around a character named Herod the Great. Appointed King of the Jews by the Romans in 40 BC, Herod the Great ruled until 4 BC.[1]

An Astute Political Leader

In many ways, Herod the Great had all the signs of a “great” leader. He brought 37 years of relative peace to an otherwise violent area of the world; consolidated support among his Jewish subjects; fostered good relations with Rome; refurbished and expanded the temple in Jerusalem; enlarged the boundaries of Judea; and demonstrated great splendor. His works were marked by Greek culture, a building program unrivaled in Jewish history, and the construction of a series of massive fortresses, cities, towers, theaters, and stadia.

Herod was not the legitimate king of the Jews. The Roman emperor selected him for this role both as a way to assuage the Jews and as a way to keep all authority under Roman oversight. Herod was one of those leaders who occupy the position but whose sole motivation was self-aggrandizement. An astute political figure, he knew what to do to cement his power over people.

His personal life and internal palace culture were rampant with violence and intrigue. His reign was characterized by scores of assassinations and executions, including that of his wife Miriam, the Jewish High Priest, Hyrcanus II, Miriam’s brother Aristobulus, and three of Herod’s own sons!

Herod died of arteriosclerosis in 4 BC shortly after murdering his son Antipater and unsuccessfully ordering the execution of several leading Jews in the hippodrome at Jericho, supposedly to guarantee there would be mourning over his own death.

A Fundamental Leadership Flaw

Herod the Great suffered from a fundamental flaw that plagues many individuals in leadership positions. He was a hardcore narcissist. As with most narcissists, he deeply feared potential competition, especially legitimate competition.

Even before Christ was born, the word was spreading through Judea of the miracles and prophecies surrounding this child.[2] Herod must have thought to himself, “This is a direct affront to my kingdom!”

The visit of three foreign dignitaries looking for this new king was the straw that broke the camel’s back.[3] Herod immediately ordered his thugs to go to the town of Bethlehem where the child king had been born and to murder all the children two years old or younger.[4]

As the knives slashed and blood splattered the bedroom walls of countless children that night, mothers wailed with a lament so horrific that Matthew compared it to another time in Jewish history when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and made them all slaves.

Servant Leadership

Compare this kind of “leadership” with the leadership of Christ. Herod enjoyed the respect of the powerful; Jesus was rejected by those in positions of power from the very start of his life and throughout his ministry even to death. Herod built a temple that was destroyed 74 years later; Jesus transformed the lives of people and continues to do so to this day.

What kind of leader are you on the path to becoming? Do you seek leadership as a position, to be recognized and rewarded by the world? Or do you seek leadership that blesses and serves people, a leadership that may be rewarded in this life, but often is not?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Sources Cited

[1]Yes, this means that Jesus was probably born in the year 3 B.C. The Christian calendar is off by about 4 years due to a mathematical error by the monk who created it.

[2]Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:8-15

[3]Matthew 2:1-12

[3]Matthew 2:16-18


Photo: The Adoration of the Shepherds by Certosa di San Martino, 1600s. Public domain.

Portrait of Dr. Waddell

Dr. Greg Waddell is passionate about helping church leaders equip their people for ministry. He believes there is wild potential in every believer that begs to be released. He can help you develop and implement practical strategies for increasing the ministry capacity of your congregation.