You can get what you want and still be disappointed.

Herod had ambitious plans for Judea, but they required Rome’s resources. He needed military policing and protection. He needed money. He needed trade. He needed access to materials. Rome supplied all this (and much more) in abundance.

Herod sought to make his name great, and his region, through impressive building projects, political maneuvering, and peace.

He accomplished this too.

Herod made a deal with Rome, and was promised progress in return. Rome upheld her end of the bargain. Judea did, in fact, progress under Herod’s rule.

So why is Herod’s moniker (“The Great”) still spoken with scorn?

Because of everything else he did in service to progress. It wasn’t Rome’s part of the bargain that was flawed (not here, anyway), but Herod’s.

Yes–he built things.
Yes–he kept peace.
Yes–he made people rich (himself and his Roman masters included).

But he also murdered three of his wives, six of his sons, and two High Priests.
But he also scheduled the infanticide of approximately two dozen infants in Bethlehem.
But he also stayed so focused on forward momentum that everything collapsed once he died.

Here is the myth of progress exposed.

You can’t keep blowing and growing forever.
It’s not always the next one, and the next one, and the one after that.
Because when you work so hard for one thing–at the exclusion of all others–you’re left with a very fragile life indeed.

This is the lesson the greedy businessman learns at the end, when his money evaporates in his will.
This is the lesson the ambitious preacher learns when his children abandon God.
This is the lesson the zealous protestor learns when his friends abandon him because he’s impossible to be around.

Progress is a pale reward. It’s good, but not good enough to warrant all that.