Tales of Tyranny
As we reflect on the birth of our Saviour, we focus so much on the marvellous news of His birth that we often forget that there was a man who ruthlessly sought His death when He was just a child. Of course, I am referring to Herod. Now, there were several men in the New Testament referred to as “Herod”, so for the benefit of context, let us ensure we are speaking of the right one. All of the Herods were part of a dynasty – partly hereditary and partly as an appointed line of Idumean rulers over Israel during the days of the Roman Empire. Unlike the kings of Israel past, the Herods were appointed by the Roman emperors and the senate. The first of the Herods is often known as “Herod the Great” and he is the man we speak of.
When the wise men asked him “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2), this was an unintentional challenge to Herod’s reign. Jesus was born King in the sense that He was from David’s line and thus King by birthright. Herod, however, was neither a full Jew nor a descendant of David and therefore was not genuinely qualified to reign as a king. Herod was troubled by reports of the birth of a legitimate claimant to his throne and, since he was a paranoid man who was prone to delusional fits of rage, the people of Jerusalem were afraid of his reaction to the proclamation of a newborn king.
To enact his plan to rid the land of this challenge to his throne, he tried to enlist the wise men to reveal the whereabouts of Jesus. When they were divinely warned in a dream not to return to Herod, Herod became exceedingly angry and ordered the death of all male children from two years and under in Bethlehem and all its districts. Jewish historians would argue that Herod had moments of genuine concern for the country, but his actions in opposing the promised Messiah demonstrate he was a man of terror, murder and evil, particularly when his authority was challenged. This view is supported by the fact that Herod had his wife’s brother Aristobulus (the high priest) drowned in a swimming pool; he put to death 46 members of the Sanhedrin; he killed his mother-in-law; he killed his wife Mariamne and he killed two of his sons. Augustus Caesar is reported to have said, “It is better to be Herod’s dog than one of his children”. Yes, tyrants who have their power challenged often resort to evil means in order to preserve their position, power and prosperity.
In our modern day, we have seen leaders arise in various countries who have displayed a concerning thirst for the centralisation of power and the oppression of people. The obvious example is China. But in Victoria, Australia, we have also seen the period of the COVID-pandemic give rise to a man who showed no respect for dissenting views and cruelly crushed opposition from peaceful protestors. That man is the Premier of Victoria: Daniel Andrews. While Daniel Andrews is not yet fully on par with Chinese dictator Xi Jinping, the similarities are too obvious to ignore. Both have been utterly callous and dismissive of the very basics of humanity, such as freedom and human rights. Both have ruled over the harshest and longest lockdowns in the world. Both have a deep-rooted contempt for Christianity and both are power-hungry.
To the surprise of many throughout Australia, Victorians recently re-elected Daniel Andrews. It showed that they prefer tyranny over liberty, corruption over integrity and dystopian nightmares over an efficient and productive society. Coincidentally, on the same weekend, large crowds in China were moving in the opposite direction. The immediate cause of their anger and willingness to lose their lives while taking to the streets was a foolish Covid restriction that prevented a fire from being extinguished in an apartment building in Urumqi (the regional capital of Xinjiang Provence in western China) where at least ten people died and nine others were injured. Not since the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989 have we seen such large-scale protests like this, and we all remember the brutal and bloody suppression of that freedom movement.
The tragedy has fanned broader calls to ease China’s harsh regimen of Covid tests, urban lockdowns and limits on movement nearly three years into the pandemic. For much of that time many accepted such controls as the price for avoiding the widespread illness and deaths that the United States, India and other countries endured, but public patience has eroded this year as other nations returned to something akin to normal even as Covid infections continued. The biggest protest appeared to be in Shanghai where hundreds of people, mostly in their twenties, gathered at an intersection to grieve the dead with candles and signs. Many there and elsewhere held sheets of blank white paper over their heads or faces in mournful defiance (note: in China, white is associated with death).
The main thing being chanted by the protesters was, “we want freedom.” Meanwhile, in Victoria, it appeared the opposite was true – Victorians were more than happy to accept more state control, more corruption and more unaccountable Big Government. In recognising the danger of losing their freedom for good, it seems the Chinese were waking up at precisely the same time Victorians were going back to sleep! But although the people of these two examples are now looking at things differently in their respective regions, it appears the issue of religious freedom remains the same at a leadership level – neither leader wants Christianity to be freely practiced under them. For example, in Victoria, any parent or pastor who simply discusses with or prays for someone unhappy with their sexual attraction can be imprisoned for up to ten years!
Of course, many of us have been sounding the alarm about these things for years. We have not just warned about ugly and diabolical tyrannies that we find in places like Communist China, we have also warned about how the West is quickly following suit, and leading the way is Victoria. Can there be any greater contrast? Victorians are pleased to vote back in their Communist sympathising leader while liberty-loving Chinese protesters are facing certain arrest, imprisonment, torture and death to be rid of theirs as they stand up for freedom.