The Idumeans

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"King Herod the Great was one of the last of the Idumeans. So who were the Idumeans?

We need to go all the back 4-5 millenniums to the story of Jacob and Esau.

Genesis 25:21-34 And Isaac entreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was entreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD. And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them. And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob. And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.

Jacob was civilized and lived an agrarian life, but Esau was a hunter who got what he wanted with cunning or violence.

To this day, our world is divided between those who worship and honor God and seek his blessings, and those who are mere brute natural beasts who despise God and his blessings. And they have been and always will be at war with each other until the Day of judgment. Edom will not be satisfied until the Jews are completely annihilated!

The descendants of Esau (Edomites, later Idumeans) defeated the Horites who lived in Mount Seir, a mountainous region stretching between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqabah. In Deuteronomy 2:1-12, Moses was warned by God not to meddle with Edom, Moab or Ammon because he had given them territories just as he gave Israel a territory. Moses led Israel around these lands without incident but when the Amorite king refused to let Israel pass through, Moses declared war and soundly defeated them.

King Balak of Moab now began to fear Israel and decided to wage war, but he was superstitious. He called a Chaldean prophet named Baalam to curse Israel. This was when Baalam prophesied that a special star would signal the birth of a Messiah. (1400 BC)

On Sunday, Pastor Shuler preached from II Chronicles about Jehoshaphat's war against the Edomites, Ammonites and men from Mt. Seir (territory of Edom) who threatened Judah and wound up annihilating each other!

The Amalekites were descendants of Amalek, the son of Eliphaz and grandson of Esau. God commanded that Israel wipe the Amalekites off the face of the earth (Exodus 17:8–13). 1 Samuel 15:2; Deuteronomy 25:17. The Amalekites’ unrelenting brutality toward the Israelites began with an attack at Rephidim (Exodus 17:8–13). This is recounted in Deuteronomy 25:17–19 with this admonition: “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind [typically women and children]: they had no fear of God. When the LORD your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”

The Amalekites later joined with the Canaanites and attacked the Israelites at Hormah (Numbers 14:45). In Judges they banded with the Moabites (Judges 3:13) and the Midianites (Judges 6:3) to wage war on the Israelites. They were responsible for the repeated destruction of the Israelites’ land and food supply.

Saul's "Little bit of Disobedience"
In 1 Samuel 15:2–3, God tells King Saul, “I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them, put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”

In response, King Saul first warns the Kenites, friends of Israel, to leave the area. He then attacks the Amalekites but does not complete the task. He allows the Amalekite King Agag to live, takes plunder for himself and his army, and lies about the reason for doing so. Saul’s rebellion against God and His commands is so serious that he is rejected by God as king (1 Samuel 15:23).

The escaped Amalekites continued to harass and plunder the Israelites in successive generations that spanned hundreds of years. First Samuel 30 reports an Amalekite raid on Ziklag, a Judean village where David held property. The Amalekites burned the village and took captive all the women and children, including two of David’s wives. David and his men defeated the Amalekites and rescued all the hostages. A few hundred Amalekites escaped, however. Much later, during the reign of King Hezekiah, a group of Simeonites “killed the remaining Amalekites” who had been living in the hill country of Seir (1 Chronicles 4:42–43).

The last mention of the Amalekites is found in the book of Esther where Haman the Agagite, a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag, connives to have all the Jews in Persia annihilated by order of King Xerxes.

Saul’s Servant, Doeg is mentioned in I Samuel 21:8 u. 22:8-19.
David became afraid that King Saul would kill him and fled to Gath – of all places! Gath is where Goliath was from! Angry that David had escaped, Saul accused his subordinates of having a secret loyalty to David and helping him to flee. The Edomite Doeg saw his golden opportunity to get rich and receive power. He revealed what he had observed in Nob, when David was talking to the priest, Ahimalech. He must certainly have known that this information would cost the priest his life. Saul demanded that not only Ahimalech, but all the priests of God be killed. The soldiers refused to carry out the order of their king, but Doeg did not hesitate. Not only 85 priests, but all the people of Nob. were slaughtered that day. Josephus gives the number as 385 men, women and children.

There is a second biblical account of Saul and a trusted servant. It is quite possible that these may refer to the same person. I will briefly outline the incidents here and analyze them afterwards.

Before Saul became king, an incident involving him and a trusted servant is reported in I Samuel 9 and 10. A number of donkeys belonging to Saul’s father, Kish, had strayed and were nowhere to be found. Kish sent Saul and the servant to search for them. There are many reasons why I believe that the unnamed servant in chapter nine is Doeg of chapters 21-22.

As a rule, Jews kept non-Jewish servants and Doeg was an Edomite.

Kisch must have had a high opinion of his servant, for Saul said that his Father would be concerned for them both if they delayed their return (I Samuel 9:5; compare with 10:2).

The unnamed servant was also held in high esteem by Saul, who chose this servant to go with him. Samuel gave both Saul and his servant seats of honor at the head of the table. Except when Saul was anointed, the servant was always present (about 5 days). He was witness when Saul joined with the prophets in prophesying. Saul’s uncle (Ner? See I Samuel 14:50-51) not only asked to see Saul, but the servant as well (10:14).

It is quite possible, that this servant was among those sent out into all Israel by Saul in I Samuel 11:7-11.

The Servant seemed to follow the Jewish faith, for it was he who suggested that they consult the prophet of God regarding the whereabouts of the missing donkeys. We know that the same was true of Doeg, for he was in Nob when David received the sword of Goliath and provision from Ahimalech (I Sam. 21:7).

Saul had respect for his servant’s opinions and advice. The servant was intelligent and showed a capacity for thinking ahead. Saul was embarrassed because he had no gift for Samuel, but the servant had money.

Saul’s most valuable possessions during the first part of his reign would have been his herds. Doeg was made the chief herdsman. Certainly, the trusted and faithful servant mentioned in chapter 9 would have been the prime candidate for such a position.

David was being pursued by King Saul. Upon discovering that David had passed through the town and had been fed and sheltered by the priests of Nob King Saul flew into a rage. He ordered his army officers to slaughter of all the priests of Nob immediately. These were his own countrymen, his own priests! None of Saul's men in the army of Israel would obey this murderous order. It was a call to slaughter all the holy priests of Israel that were in that town. But King Saul's terrible wrath did draw a certain man named Doeg. Doeg drew his sword and killed all the priests there at Nob. None of them were shown any mercy whatsoever. But he was not finished. He then proceeded to kill all the women and children in the city as well. But his genocidal fury was still unabated. He then proceeded to kill every animal in Nob. By the time the Edomite had finished slaughtering there was not a living human soul or animal left in the city. - 1 Sam. 22:16-19. Such is the murderous wrath of Edom. And it was unleashed by a Jewish king in a fit of jealous rage, a king who once was spirit filled and sang praises to God along with the prophets of Israel, a king who should have known better.

We don’t know what happened to Doeg, but if he was not killed in battle or had not yet died when David became king, he would certainly have had him put to death. We do learn that David defeated the Edomites after the death of Saul, killing 18,000 men (II Samuel 8:14). According to I Kings 11:14-22, nearly all Edomite men were wiped out by Joab in a period of about six months. Only Hadad and a few others were able to flee for their lives to Egypt. Following the death of David, Hadad returned from Egypt and fought against King Solomon, hoping to regain power. We do not know much about the war, but Solomon took an Edomite woman as one of his many wives.

In Psalm 137:7-9, Edom is called a “daughter of Babylon” who longs for the destruction of Jerusalem. The Psalmist blesses those who would smash Edom’s children against the rocks! Nine centuries before Christ, a remnant of Edomites attempted to free themselves from the yoke of Israel, but King Amaziah slaughtered 10,000 in battle and tossed 10,000 others (probably including children) over a precipice. Their bodies were smashed on the rocks (II Chronicles 25:11-12). The judgment of God against Edom is also described in Jeremiah 49:15-22; Amos 1:6-12 and by the prophet Obadiah. The last prophet of the Old Testament, Malachi, reports that Edom had once again aspired to power and glory, but he also prophesied that God would destroy all their works (Malachi 1:4). That prophecy was fulfilled in New Testament times.

Nomadic Nabateans migrated out of Arabia into Edom and drove the Edomites westward. Directly west of Edom were established routes of passage. Land there was historically more prosperous and resourceful than the land of Edom, which consisted of infertile deserts and jagged mountains. Further-more, the land bore a family association: after all, Esau was Jacob’s brother.

Hebron, 19 miles south of Jerusalem and 3400 ft. above sea level, became their new capital: established 1500 years earlier, unlike Jerusalem, it was left intact as prime real estate after the Babylonian deportation under Nebuchadnezzar.

As the Babylonians took Judah into captivity, and angry soldiers wrecked the walls, slew the people, and burned the city, we could have observed their neighboring citizens—the Edomites—encourage the Babylonians to ruin the city: “Raze it! Raze it!” they were calling. “Dash their little children against the stones and wipe out the Jews!”

Hebron remained under Edomite control until Judas Maccabeus retook the city under Jewish control in 164 B.C. Thirty-eight years later, in 126 B.C., they had to be reconquered by the Jewish Army under prince and high priest John Hyrcanus. A pivotal event then took place in which Idumeans were forced to be proselytized into Judaism or flee or die. This resulted in many Idumeans pretending to become Jews, yet really were not.

In 47 B.C. Julius Caesar promoted the Idumean Antipater as procurator over Judea, Samaria and Galilee. In 37 B.C., the Romans named Herod, son of Antipater, as King over Israel. (His mother was Nabatean). Thus, the Herods of the New Testament were Edomites.

These “almost Jews” were—to the Roman mind—more comfortable than the true Jews. The Idumeans had five centuries of prior history in Israel by the time of the arrival of the Messiah Jesus.11 The struggle between the Israelis and the Arabs today is but a continuation of this same hatred that began in Genesis 25:21-26.

Although the Edomites were severely decimated by wars, a remnant, called “Idumeans,” fought in battles against the Maccabean Kings (II Maccabees 10:15-23). Some 40,000 were killed, but soldiers serving under the Maccabean, Simon, accepted a bribe of 70,000 drachma for the release of several prisoners. King Herod the Great was apparently a descendant of one of those Idomeans who were allowed to escape.

The Herod's were Edomites. They ruled over the Jewish nation in Judea with an iron fist. One of them killed the Jewish babies in his attempt to destroy Christ; another Herod murdered John the Baptist; a third Herod killed James the brother of John. The Romans found the Edomites very useful in executing their Macchiavellian rule. The Edomites had no scruples. They performed the wishes of Rome without any twinges of conscience. Brutal Roman ways were never a problem for the Edomites. They were always eager to oblige their Roman masters. They would spill Jewish blood whenever the occasion or the opportunity presented itself. Herod butchered his own children when he feared they might be a threat to his rule. And Herod's barbarous massacre of the children of Bethlehem is a well known part of the Christmas story. After their visit with King Herod the wise men from the lost tribes out in the Parthian Empire must have seen something in the man that disturbed them. After finding the Christ child they were not inclined to return to Herod as he had requested. Instead they returned to their own country by another way.

Herod the Great
Herod the Great was born in 73 BC, the son of Antipater. His mother was an Arabian named Kypros and he had at least one brother, Phasael, who committed suicide during a Maccabean imprisonment in 40 BC. Antipater named Herod Governor of Gallilee in 47 BC, and with Roman support, Herod waged wars against the Maccabeans. He captured Jerusalem after a five month siege in 37 BC, an event which marks the beginning of his reign as King of Judah. Antipater was murdered 43 BC. Both Herod and Antipater, like Saul’s servant, Doeg, claimed adherence to the Jewish religion. Although Herod was already married, he also took a Jewish woman of Hasmonian descent, Marianne, to be his wife - probably to gain support of the Jews.

Herod was a ruthless and unscrupulous man whose only aim in life was to gain power and make a name for himself. In order to assure himself an eternal monument, he built magnificent architectural masterpieces including several palaces. The Temple was intended to be his greatest achievement. His first act as king was to execute 45 followers of the Maccabean, Antigonus. Eventually, nearly all Maccabeans were killed under his rule. As Herod grew older, he began to distrust everyone and believed that “all were out to get him.”

He brutally executed anyone he distrusted. He had his Hasmonean wife, Marianne, executed in 7 BC (altogether, he had ten wives) and murdered three of his seven sons. He banned two other sons, and the two who survived lived in incest with their own sisters. One of them (see “Herod Antipas” below) murdered John the Baptist.

Just five days before his own death in 4 BC (our calendar is erroneous), Herod executed his oldest son Antipater II and ordered all prominent personalities of his kingdom to come to Jericho. When they arrived, soldiers herded them into the hippodrome and locked the gates. Herod gave instructions to kill them all so that after his own death, there would be a great mourning! Fortunately, the soldiers didn’t carry out the order.

It is likely that leading Scribes, Pharisees and High Priests were among those gathered into the hippodrome, which would have included Hillel and Simeon and perhaps Gamaliel.

Herod had to overcome two obstacles in gaining favor of the Jews. First of all, the Hasmonean family which had previously governed the people, was still present and many of the people showed affection and loyalty to them. As long as these remained, his kingdom would not be secure.

Secondly, Jewish law allowed that only a Jew should rule over them, and Herod was an Edomite.

Herod systematically killed all those Rabbis who opposed his kingship. Two sons of Betira escaped and held leading positions in the Sanhedrin after the death of Shemaiah and Abtalion. According to Josephus, Shammai escaped as did Hillel and Menahem. The Gemara relates that a certain Baba Ben Buta also escaped and later persuaded Herod to rebuild the Temple.

Herod’s Temple
Herod began construction on the temple around 21 B.C. and it was completed in 64 A.D., an 80-year construction project. Between 10,000 and 18,000 workmen were employed constantly, and 1,000 wagons were needed to transport materials.

Gamaliel was probably a teenager when construction commenced, and he witnessed the construction process throughout his entire lifetime. It was not quite completed when he died around 50 A.D.. As Rabbi, son of a Rabbi and grandson of a Rabbi, Gamaliel must have spent a considerable amount of time in this magnificent edifice.

When Jesus cleansed the temple during his first year of ministry, the Jewish leaders asked him by what authority he did this. Jesus replied that if they would destroy the temple, he would raise it up again in three days. The Jews replied, Forty and six years is this temple in building, and wilt thou raise it up in three days? (John 2:20). Jesus was of course referring to the temple of his body, but his statement was brought as an accusation against him at the trial which led to his crucifixion.

The magnificent temple was totally destroyed by Titus only six years after its completion. Just as Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24:2, not one stone remained on top of another.

John the Baptist and Herod Antipas
Herod Antipas (4 BC - AD 39) had a half brother named Philip who enjoyed wealth and acclaim but was not made one of the four regents. Philip had a beautiful and intelligent niece, Herodias, the daughter of his brother, Aristobuls, who was executed by Herod. He took her to be his wife, and they had an equally attractive daughter, Salome. Herodias, however, laid her lustful eyes on King Herod Antipas and enticed him to commit adultery with her. Antipas took her into his palace and lived in open adultery with her. In order to marry her (perhaps to appease Herodias), Antipas divorced his first wife, the daughter of Arabian King Aretas IV. In retaliation, Aretas declared war and brought Antipas a great defeat.

Many pious Jews secretly condemned the wickedness of Herod Antipas, but the Scribes and Jewish leaders, who should have been outspoken about his behavior, feared Herod and remained silent. John the Baptist did not remain silent, telling Herod both privately and publicly what God’s Word had to say about his promiscuity (Leviticus 18:16; 20:21). Herod Antipas was not prepared to change his ways, but feared to have John put to death because the people believed him to be a prophet.

Herodias was furious, however, and sought opportunity to have John killed. The king had John imprisoned and the sly Herodias eventually found her opportunity. Salome (the name is supplied by Josephus) danced before the king and his cohorts. They were delighted and the king offered her a wish as her reward. According to Herodias’ instructions, Salome requested the head of John the Baptist. Reluctantly, Herod granted the wish. The head of John was served to Herodias as food would be served on a platter (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29 and Luke 9:7-9).

Herod was apparently distraught by this event and even had nightmares afterward. When he heard of Jesus’ miracles and preaching, he believed that John had been resurrected from the dead. Luke 23:8-9 tells us that Herod Antipas spoke face to face with Jesus before the crucifixion and hoped to see him perform a miracle, but Jesus refused to answer him. Antipas is also mentioned in Luke 3:1-20; 13:31-32; 23:8-15; Acts 4:28 and 13:1

Herod Agrippa I (AD 37-44)
At the time when Herod the Great executed Marianne and her two sons, another of his sons, Aristobul, with his wife Bernice (a niece of Herod), had a three-year-old son, Herod Agrippa I (other children were Herod of Chalkis and Herodias). Agrippa was sent to Rome where he received his training along with Drusus, son of Emperor Tiberius (mentioned in Luke 3:1; 20:22; Matt. 22:17; Mark 12:14; John 19:12). Agrippa returned to Palestine in 23 AD.

In 36 AD, Agrippa again traveled to Rome where he made friends with Gaius, son of Emperor Caligula. In 37, Caligula named Agrippa ruler over the kingdoms of his recently deceased Uncle Philip. Agrippa was not content with that honor and filed complaints against his uncle, Herod Antipas. Caligula banned Antipas in 39 AD, and Agrippa assumed control over his territories.

After Caligula was murdered, Claudius, son of Drusus was made Emperor and Agrippa received control of Judea and Samaria. He now ruled over the same territories as his grandfather, Herod the Great. Herod Agrippa I is mentioned in Acts 12:1-23. His children were Agrippa II, Marianne, Bernice, Drusilla and another son, Drusus.

Herod Agrippa II (AD 50-70)
Herod Agrippa II was the son of Agrippa I and definitely not well loved. His open sexual relationship with his sister Bernice caused many to despise him. Agrippa II is mentioned in Acts 25:13-26:32.

After Titus destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, Agrippa II was deported to Rome, where he died. The life work of Herod the Great was thus destroyed, and the remaining Edomites (Idumeans) were systematically exterminated during the following three years. Although nothing more is mentioned of the Edomites, their last chief city, Hebron, the second oldest city of Palestine after Jerusalem, is still the subject of heated disputes between Jews and Palestinians.

Concluding Comments About Herod the Great
When Herod received the news of a newborn king, he was troubled (Gr.= shocked, frightened).

Herod believed in Christ
He desired to know more of God’s Word
He publicly professed a desire to worship him

Herod the Great and a number of his descendants heard the clear presentation of the gospel. Paul spoke with Felix and Drusila and with Agrippa II, but as far as we know, no descendant of Herod became a Christian. Herod and his descendants paid dearly for their wickedness. They lost their kingdoms, their reputations, their lives and their posterity. Humanly speaking, Herod the Great accomplished much, but today, the name of Herod is associated immediately with the slaughter of the infants in Bethlehem.

Ralph V Harvey