Herod stepped into the office of Procurator of Judea (under Roman rule) in 43 B.C. after his father Antipater was poisoned. Herod was slick and ambitious, and he soon traveled to Rome with a request for Roman rulers Octavian and Mark Antony. He would give them 1,000 talents and 500 women if they would make him King of the Jews. Antony and Octavian, recalling the past service of Herod's family to the Roman regime, agreed. Herod, who was an Edomite by birth and lacked Jewish blood, returned to Judea as a proud ruler, the King of the Jews (Carroll 254, 272, 278).
He was determined to keep that position at any cost. Listen to what Henry Alford, author of a commentary on the Greek text of the Bible, has to say about Herod: “[Herod] sought to strengthen his throne by a series of cruelties and slaughters, putting to death even his wife Mariamne, and his sons Alexander and Aristobulus. His cruelties, and his affectation of Gentile customs, gained for him a hatred among the Jews, which neither his magnificent rebuilding of the temple, nor his liberality in other public works, nor his provident care of the people during a severe famine, could mitigate.”
Herod was just plain brutal. He tried to win the Jews' esteem through favors and programs, but most of them saw through his outward show and identified the king as the paranoid bully and murderer that he really was.
Then one day magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem. “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” they asked. “For we observed His star at its rising, and have come to pay Him homage” (Matthew 2:2).
Herod hackles must have raised immediately. What was going on? A new king of the Jews?
The NSRV-CE translation of Scripture tells us that Herod was “frightened” by the magi's question. Other translations read “troubled” or “disturbed.” The Greek word, however, is actually stronger than any of these; tarassō means “to stir up, to agitate, as water in a pool; of the mind, to stir up, trouble, disturb with various emotions.” Herod was all stirred up...agitated. He was experiencing “internal commotion” that made him restless and robbed him of whatever peace he may have had, which probably wasn't much to begin with (www.greattreasures.org).
But Herod knew one thing for sure. He would never relinquish his kingship. He would cut off this threat at its root...immediately.
Herod found out from the scribes that the Messiah, the much-prophesied King of the Jews, would be born in Bethlehem, and he sent the magi to search diligently for Him. He must have smiled as he told the magi to report back to him so that he, too, could go and pay his homage to this new ruler.
Could the magi sense the danger behind Herod's smooth words? God made sure they did, for He sent His angel to warn them in a dream not to return to the treacherous king.
Herod's rage must have been terrible to behold when he discovered that the magi had disobeyed him and would not return. Very soon the people of Bethlehem would be immersed in grief beyond telling as Herod sought to eliminate his competition by resuming his bloody reign of terror.
But the new King lived.
Despite his best efforts, Herod lost his beloved kingship when death caught up with him. He died in April of 4 B.C., but before he left this world, he ordered that hundreds of prisoners, many of whom were prominent citizens, be killed so that “mourning would accompany his funeral, since he knew there would be no mourning for him.” Luckily for those condemned, Herod's relatives refused to carry out the order (Carroll 306).
Herod's one goal was to be king and to remain king. He never realized that the One he had tried to kill in order to protect his kingship could have made him a king in ways he never could never have imagined, a king who would have been remembered for far more than his ambition, brutality, and fear.
Source: Carroll, Warren H. The Founding of Christendom. Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 1985.