Greed, vengeance, murder, suicide,
Enough to fill an epic Hollywood style drama.
Tragic sites, we headed for two more of Herod the Great’s building marvels.
We snaked out of Jerusalem toward the desert as side by side hills rose up in front of us. One was oddly flat as if brutally decapitated while the other rose regal. The flatness of the lower peak seemed peculiar and rightly so. Herod wanted to be able to see Jerusalem in the vista below his future palace-fortress.
Of course he did.
When disappointed, he commanded them to cut off the top of the other mount and add it to this one.
Oh to be king…
Like an anthill bubbling up from the desolate plain, with the added height he could now see Jerusalem AND Bethlehem.
Jewish historian Josephus Flavius (AD 37-100) had these comments:
“…Nearby is a hill, raised to a (greater) height by the hand of man and rounded off in the shape of a breast.”
“…He did not neglect to leave memorials of himself…And artificial rounded hill, sixty furlongs from Jerusalem was given the same name (Herodium) but more elaborate embellishment. The crest he crowned with a ring of round towers; the enclosure was filled with gorgeous palaces, the magnificent appearance of which was not confined to the interior of the apartments but outer walls, battlements and roofs, all had wealth lavished upon them in profusion.” From Jewish War 1
Bent on flaunting his wealth, the palace-fortress design was unique to Herod and the largest in the ancient world.
In 2007 what is believed to be his tomb was found on the mount. The control-freak-dictator was so fearful of being forgotten, that he built his own fabulous tomb, a monument to himself for the ages. Perched like a vulture over his meal, it overlooked his kingdom.
But in an ironic plot twist, his grand monument to self was reduced to rubble just sixty-six years after his death and was hidden from sight for over two thousand years.
The tomb was looted and razed by rebels in the Great Revolt (AD 66-73) and his elaborate pink stone sarcophagus smashed into pieces. The other grand but plainer sarcophagus’ were tossed out but not smashed. To be so hated even in death, that vengeance oozed in the form of total desecration and destruction, is a chilling thought.
But tragedy on the mount was not just reserved for the first century. Dr Ehud Netzer, the archaeologist who had searched for years and worked on many “Herod” sites was seventy years old when he fell to his death the site.
Two mountains, two different viewpoints,
Both of great heights, the previous one flaunted riches to the world, and the following one sheltered refugees with a desire to hide from the world.
Rising sheer, Masada towered above the surrounding desert.
True to form, Herod wanted a palatial fortress and not one, but two palaces built on this massive mesa. The western palace had a swimming pool, but a few hundred feet away, the northern palace had two guest houses and entertaining space carved into the side of the mountain for a spectacular demonstration of his architectural genius.
I remember, as a starry-eyed kid, seeing commercials for a mini series about Masada. It sounded fascinating and promised romance with images of the handsome protagonist and his beautiful lady love. And I was all in to watch until I found out the shocking ending.
The tragic Masada story exemplifies determination to be free to the end. After the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, it became the last rebel stronghold in the Jew’s fight against Rome.
According to Josephus, Eleazar the leader said, “Since we, long ago, my generous friends, resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to another than to God himself, who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice.”
Death was preferable to slavery.
After holding off the Roman invaders, around AD 74 they realized the siege ramp was nearly complete. Built of massive amounts of dirt it created an earthen path for the troops and battering rams to advance upon,
It was their last night.
The day of evil had come.
The Romans broke through the wall victorious, only to behold all 960 dead by suicide except two women and some children hiding in a well.
I can’t imagine the anguish these two souls and tender ears endured. As the wails and bitter sounds of death from friends and family echoed eerie in the cistern walls they huddled frantic to survive.
I stood rooted as I felt an overwhelming sadness at their desperate end.
Where is your mountaintop of safety?
How do you safeguard your soul from the enemy so that you are not wrested into captivity?
We can hole up in prosperity behind our “castle” walls like King Herod, or hide from conflict like the doomed rebels, but there is one guarantee— life will upend you.
Satan’s battle plan never varies—devastate and destroy.
Survivor of battles, uprisings, and plots of overthrow, for all his riches, trouble still knocked on Herod’s door. His final destruction came as his atrocities escalated and he slid into madness slow and steady like the drip of a leaky faucet.
With slavery or death staring them in the eyes, the rebels refused to bow low. Rather than accepting the agonizing burden of a future in captivity, the rebels’ demise came at their own hand.
We begin the slow self-destruction when we pile everything on our backs like a packhorse in the Sierras. Bowing low under the relentless assault and flaming arrows, we stumble and fail painful again and again.
God tells us to be prepared, doing all that we can to gird ourselves against attack.
And lean hard on him.
You can run but you can’t hide for long from trouble in this busted world.
“Finally, be strong in the LORD and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devils’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of their dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground and after you have done everything, to stand.” Ephesians 6:10-13
He equips us to stand our ground.
But for pete’s sake, we’ve got to pull up our bootstraps and put on the armor!
I love me some Captain America and his heroic crew, but
Who needs The Avengers…
When we live strong in the Lord.
Mighty is the power he gives us
We can withstand any storm.