“Glory to God in the Highest; and on earth, peace to those on whom His favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)
When the angels appeared to the shepherds, they proclaimed a message of peace - but not peace to the whole world. This is very specific: peace to those who have God’s favor. So what is this favor? And what is this peace?
The shepherds were probably watching a temple flock as they watched them from a tower called the Midgal Eder, the 'watchtower of the flock,' a lookout and a place of refuge close to Bethlehem for their flocks in case of attack. The priests maintained ceremonially clean stalls, and they carefully oversaw the birth of each lamb. The shepherds probably thought this angelic 'favor' was connected to their observance of the Law. Unfortunately, being ‘favored’ had not brought them the peace they were expecting. There was hardly a more obvious reminder than the palace that cast a shadow over their tower.
Herod’s mountain fortress, the Herodian, overlooked the town of Bethlehem. According to Josephus, there were originally two hills standing next to each other. Herod paid thousands of workers to demolish one of the hills and level off the other. He dug his palace into the top of the remaining hill. It contained a garden, reception hall, Roman baths, countless apartments, an enormous pool, and a 600-foot-long terrace. Its buildings covered forty-five acres of land and were surrounded by nearly two hundred acres of palace grounds. The Herodion literally overshadowed the surrounding villages.
Keep in mind what this represented to the Jewish people. Herod made his name when he smoked out Jewish refugees hiding in cliffside caves, pulled them out with long, hooked poles and dropped them down a cliff. When he laid siege to Jerusalem, his soldiers raped and slaughtered the women and children and chopped the soldiers to pieces. When he saw that his death was near, he commanded his troops to execute other public figures when he died so people would mourn even if they did not mourn for him.
It’s in this context that the angels proclaimed peace on earth to those on whom God’s favor rests. So the Jewish people were certain they were favored, but they sure hadn’t found peace. So what is this favor? Where is the promised peace?