Summary: Herodias thought she won the day when John the Baptist was beheaded.
John the Baptist had been thrown into prison not long after he had identified Jesus as the Messiah. Having been given the great privilege by God to introduce the bridegroom to God’s people, the bride, John’s role was essentially done. He realized this and said as much in John 3. Jesus had to increase and John the Baptist had to decrease. Yet it seems tragic what had happened to John. He had pointed out to Herod that he had no right to marry the divorced wife of his brother Phillip. And he was loud about it. For this he had been arrested and thrown in prison. Herod’s wife, Herodias wanted John dead, but Herod was somewhat superstitious and afraid to kill the holy man. There seems to be more than the political repercussions of what his subjects would do if he executed John. It says that he heard him gladly. This superstitious fear could be seen in that when he had heard about Jesus and his work that he thought it was John the Baptist who had risen from the dead. Mark also said that others thought Jesus was Elijah who had come to prepare the way. It is interesting that Herod saw something supernatural at play. Either John had risen from the dead or Elijah had returned from heaven to which he had been carried there in a fiery chariot.
Herod was wrong on both points though. Someone greater than Elijah or John the Baptist was doing these works. Jesus said that John the Baptist was the prophesied Elijah to come. He was dressed in a tunic of camel hair just like Elijah. The connection should have been obvious. And Jesus was the promised LORD of the covenant. He was the one that Israel a=should have taken delight in.
After Herod’s remorseful statement that Jesus was John the Baptist who had returned from the dead we get the detail as to why Herod Antipas felt that way. He had let Herodias compel him to arrest John the Baptist against his will. Herod Antipas seemed weak in comparison to his father Herod the Great who was a political opportunist and schemer of the first magnitude. Herod the Great was a violent and jealous man. He even had his Jewish wife and two of her sons executed because he felt them to be threats to his throne. So killing the baby boys in Bethlehem in the attempt to get rid of a rival for the throne was perfectly in accord. Herodias, on the other hand, was much lie her grandfather Herod the Great and held no scruple about what it might take to advance herself. She was able to manipulate her weak husband. She could be compared to Delilah who had worn down the weak willed Samson to divulge the secret of his strength. Herod did not want to kill him and resisted her constant pleading for him to get rid of John the Baptist.
The opportunity arose when Herod had a large birthday banquet with many invited guests. Herod had to man up for this event as he was the king of the region. If there were Romans there, he dared not seem weak in front of them. The Romans despised client kings as it was. If they proved un-useful to them, it was easy for the Romans to replace them. There would have also been drinking, rich food, and entertainment. I am sure Herodias made sure her husband was prepared.
But Herodias had something else prepared as well. Her daughter must have been young an beautiful. She was the daughter of her brother Philip. This means that this young woman was Herod’s niece. As his wife was also his niece, she was also the girl’s great uncle. Her mother sent her to do a sensual dance in front of him to entice him. She got him so entangled that her offered her up to half the kingdom. As her mother had put her up to it, she asked her. Herodias did not hesitate. She wanted John the Baptist’s head on a silver plate. The text said that Herod was remorseful but gave orders to cut off John’s head and bring it to the girl. She then brought the head on a silver serving plate to her mother. The very thought of this at a dinner banquet seems bizarre to say the least. Usually tasty dishes were brought in silver chargers. But she wanted to feed her revenge on the bloody head of John the Baptist.
The text finishes by saying that John’s disciples took the body and buried it. It was a small bit of honor in a totally dishonorable death.
The story itself is self-explanatory on this part. So we need to ask the question about how we should apply this text. What lesson does it teach? Some would say it shows the danger of hanging with the wrong crowd. Herod had put himself in position to do this heinous sin and became ensnared. Well it is true enough that bad companions corrupt good manners, but Herod was no saint. He might have been comparatively better than all his rotten family. As John had mentioned, he had married the divorced wife of his brother. We might also add that it was an incestuous relationship. He should not have let his niece run around and dance like that. She was part of the royal family and causing her to disgrace herself and her family in such a way shows Heor’s heart was far from God. So using this as an illustration for Christians to avoid sinful banquets and partying like this might be true, but is missing the point here.