THEME: John’s Trust
In this week’s study we see a contrast in character.
But when Herod’s dbirthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.”
The story does not only tell us about John, however. It also tells us about Herod, and what it tells us is that he was the exact opposite of John at every point.
1. Herod was wicked. John was righteous, but Herod was an evil man, even though he was not a particularly bad king as kings go. He betrayed his corrupt nature not only by his own evil acts but by his guilty conscience. Herod had seduced his brother Philip’s wife, had wrongly imprisoned John, and now consented to John’s murder without any kind of a trial or defense in what was clearly a weak and drunken moment. The execution was an outrage by Roman as well as by Jewish laws. Moreover, it was Herod’s knowledge of this wrong that caused him to suspect that John had somehow come back to life after his unmerited execution. Herod was a Sadducee, Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. But Herod’s guilty conscience reduced his skeptical creed to dust, and he trembled at the thought of God’s final judgment of him for this and for what had certainly been many other evil actions.
2. Herod was sly. John was outspoken, but Herod was crafty, shrewd, deceptive, hypocritical and devious, wanting to kill John but afraid to do it for fear of the people.
Mark tells us that Herod “liked to listen” to John (Mark 6:20). So we can suppose they talked often and imagine what some of those sessions may have been like. John would have spoken on “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come,” as Paul did in a similar setting before Felix (Acts 24-25). Herod would have trembled, as Felix did. He might even have agreed with John partway: “I see what you are getting at, John, you certainly have a point. I would probably think as you do if I were in your shoes. You are a good man. I admire you.” But Matthew says that Herod actually wanted to kill John and would have done it earlier except for the fact that he was afraid of the people who considered John a prophet.
3. Herod was weak. John was courageous, but Herod was feeble, as many are who are more concerned for their reputations than for what is just or right. Herod knew that John was a righteous man. He knew that ordering his execution was an evil act. He knew that he had blundered in promising Salome anything she wanted because he had been infatuated with her dancing. But he was too weak to admit his mistake and too frightened of his wife’s tantrums to uphold the moral law, which was his duty as the tetrarch. Herod could take a firm stand on wrong things, but he was weak on right things. Even his stand for the wrong betrayed his weakness.
4. Herod was superstitious. Many people who reject God’s truth but nevertheless retain a natural common grace or awareness of right and wrong become superstitious when they do wrong, because they sense that this is a moral universe and things cannot possibly go well for evildoers. Many will follow horoscopes and believe almost any bizarre “spiritual” idea that comes their way. This is sad, but it always happens when people reject God and his written revelation in the Bible. G. K. Chesterton said, “When people stop believing in God, they do not believe in nothing. They believe everything.” So they do, we see it everywhere.
Give four characteristics of Herod.
What did Herod’s guilty conscience lead him to believe?
Talk to a non-Christian about his or her belief system. Watch the news for what is important to people. In light of this, evaluate the truthfulness of Chesterton’s comment.