“He [Herod] also swore to her [Herodias' daughter], 'Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.' So she went out and said to her mother, 'What shall I ask?' And she said, 'The head of John the Baptist!' Immediately she came in with haste to the king and asked, saying, 'I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.' And the king was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought. And he went and beheaded him in prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. (Mark 6.23-28).
With no other context, the story above raises many questions. Perhaps the first and most important, is this: Why would any woman be filled with such hatred (or whatever the motives were) so as to prompt her own daughter to request such a barbaric and loathsome reward? Our study today will look at this question and seek to find answers – answers not only for then, but also for now.
There were several Herods just as there were several Pharaohs; it was a family name of a group of kings who reigned in and around Israel for about one hundred years. The rule of the Herod's extended significantly before and after the earthly life of Jesus Christ. As one might deduce for the passage quoted above, the Herods were powerful! Their lives were filled with power, opulence, debauchery and just plain evil! The John in this story is commonly known as John the Baptist (Baptist not being a church denomination, but a descriptor of the work of John). John became enemy to the royal family due to his stern denunciation of the sinful state that prevailed within it. Antipas had taken Herodias, his own half brother's wife. John minced no words! “It is not lawful for you to have her.” (See Mark 6.18).
It was this pronouncement that drove the wedge between Herodias and John. Mark records that this was the deed which caused Herodias to have a quarrel with John; perhaps a better word would be grudge! She covenanted from that day forward to get even with John. In her twisted and depraved mind, she probably thought, “What better way is there than to show my power than by demanding John's head in this public forum?” It is doubtful that such thoughts simply occurred to her on the spur of the moment; they seem like premeditated thoughts which had germinated in a heart filled with hatred and lust.
Now we turn to Herod himself. He made a rash promise, one with no stipulations. The promise was to give to his stepdaughter and niece what ever her heart desired – even up to the half of his kingdom! No right thinking person would make such a promise. It is highly likely that Herod's mind was clouded by the effects of alcohol at the time as a result of the drunken partying that had occurred coincident with his birthday celebration. What ever the reason, he made the promise and in order to save face, he delivered even when it involved such a brutal and senseless act.
These are a few of the facts behind the scene of the beheading of John the Baptist. These events occurred in the stronghold of the Jewish nation and also at the height of Roman Civilization. Though we see them as inhumane and unthinkable acts, they likely did not even raise an eyebrow to John's contemporaries. One lesson that ought to be learned is the necessity of seeing ourselves through objective eyes and measuring ourselves by standards outside ourselves. Otherwise, any and all things become acceptable when viewed through eyes biased by self-serving desires (see 2 Corinthians 10.12).
1. Why might John have declared the arrangement between Herod Antipas and his brother's wife to be illegal?
2. Why would a right thinking man make such a promise (up to half my kingdom)?
3. What do these events say about the character of Herod, his stepdaughter and Herodias?
4. What “standard” ought we to use in measuring ourselves?
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