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Matthew

A Mother's Tale of Sex and Murder

Matthew 14:1-12

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Whenever the word “Herod” pops up in the New Testament, it produces a search for the genealogy chart. There were plenty of them at this time. Here’s what one reference[1] says about it:

This was Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, by Malthace, and tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, which produced a revenue of 200 talents a year. He married the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia, whom he divorced in order to marry Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, who was still living. Aretas, to revenge the affront which Herod had offered his daughter, declared war against him, and vanquished him after an obstinate engagement. This defeat, Josephus assures us, the Jews considered as a punishment for the death of John the Baptist. Having gone to Rome to solicit the title of king, he was accused by Agrippa of carrying on a correspondence with Artabanus king of Parthia, against the Romans, and was banished by the emperor Caius to Lyons, and thence to Spain, where he and Herodias died in exile.

Thus the players. Here, then, is the account of his most noted deed:

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the news about Jesus, and said to his servants, "This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him." For when Herod had John arrested, he bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. For John had been saying to him, "It is not lawful for you to have her." Although Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded John as a prophet. But when Herod's birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod, so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Having been prompted by her mother, she *said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist." Although he was grieved, the king commanded it to be given because of his oaths, and because of his dinner guests. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. His disciples came and took away the body and buried it; and they went and reported to Jesus.

(Mat 14:1-12 NASB)

Herod

It is instructive to study the character of Herod. You will find him to be quite a modern man, in fact. The story of his murder of John the Baptist would make a good one for our modern crime shows. What kind of a man would do such a thing?

A man of fear

And just what is Herod afraid of?

  • He’s afraid of John the Baptist. You would think this would not be so, as he’s got the man in prison. But John is a righteous man – and Herod’s usual methods have no influence on him.
  • Interestingly, he’s afraid of those sycophants at the party. How do we know this? He feared to violate his oath. If a ruler is a snake in disguise, those around him don’t trust him (hence the oath). They are always watching him. He must appear, then, to be a man of his word.
  • As stated, he fears the crowd – uneasy is the head under the crown. They know John to be a prophet. And they know Herod to be a Herod.

The man is sorry for what he has done. But no one confuses this with repentance.

A captive of his desires

“If it feels good, do it.” It is the motto of my generation, and Herod would have been right at home with it. Virtue is admired. So are dead heroes. Herod’s desire shows up quickly:

  • This is, after all, a man who seduced his brother’s wife. This brings new meaning to “family ties.” Even if Philip were dead, this would be contrary to the Jewish law.[2]
  • Remember Queen Vashti?[3] This is a similar performance; in this instance the girl is quite willing. Herod enjoys showing off the sweet young thing to a party with the boys.
  • Turnabout is fair play, however. Herod seduces Herodias; now Salome seduces Herod. His lust drives his decisions.
A man of “convenient religion”

What do we mean by “convenient religion?” Just this: Herod (and now the rest of us) pick and choose among the various religious beliefs of the time, selecting the parts we find convenient – or expedient. That’s why he thinks Jesus is John the Baptist, risen from the dead.

But I would point out to you the arrogance of this point of view. It says, simply, that all religions are open as a smorgasbord and I, man the great, will select my spiritual meal from among them. It is, in fact, the elevation of man to the status of God.

But it’s a fearful selection too. Herod in his choices simply follows the crowd – when expedient.

Salome

A little background first: she is the daughter of Herodias by her first husband, Philip. That puts her in a position which is rather tenuous; her life pretty much depends upon her mother’s position, as she is not the daughter of Herod. She was probably thirteen or fourteen years old, the common age of marriage in that society. Her name is not in the Scriptures, but is given to us by Josephus.

And, she was one hot babe. The word translated as “dance before” actually means that she was in the middle of the men. The kid was a runway dancer and stripper.

What every girl wants…

Is power over men. The easiest way to get it is with sex – promised, implied and or delivered. But may we point out:

  • First, this is a sinful desire. From Eden woman has known that man is to rule over her;[4] this is crude manipulation with the object of murder.
  • Second, that every girl practices exactly this skill from infancy. It’s a shock to dear old dad to discover that his two year old daughter gives a great imitation of mom’s “come hither” look.
  • If you let it run its course, this results in incest and pedophilia. If it feels good, do it.
The head of John the Baptist on a platter

Why the head on the platter?

  • First, it means he is certainly dead, and dead now. Herod is given no room to weasel his way out of it by promising to do it later.
  • There is a practical reason as well: this way, she won’t have to listen to John’s final sermon.
  • Finally, the main reason: so that Herod won’t hear John’s last sermon – and be dissuaded from beheading him. She’s keeping the situation under control – her control.

"He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

(Mat 10:37 NASB)

Herodias

We have little to say about Herodias – and none of it is good.

  • She is first an adulteress. Her society would have equated this with prostitution; sex had rules in those days. At the very least, she’s a woman who cannot be trusted, even on oath.
  • This is a conspiracy to commit murder – with her own daughter as the co-conspirator. And what grievance had she against John? Only this: he is a righteous man.
  • Not content with her own depravity, she teaches her young daughter how to do the same.

The villainy of the crime is all the evidence needed.

A world like our own

May I point out a few of the obvious parallels to our own time?

  • First, that the innocent still suffer for righteousness’ sake. Chastity is considered an affliction, not a virtue. And in accord with modern virtues, those so afflicted are mocked and despised.
  • Our fears are much the same, too. We fear the crowd; we particularly fear being seen as “different.” Even the leaders take popularity polls.
  • Our passions – and lack of control – are very similar. In our society, a woman is valued for her appearance (and her willingness to have sex with one and all). This gives some women power over men; it gives others a bitter hopelessness.
  • We still work in “convenient religion,” even those professing to be Christians. All those passages relating to marriage which seem inconvenient – whether for feminism’s sake, or for adultery – are now “cultural.”
  • We still have the same reaction to those who proclaim the truth in public. In 2000 Jerry Falwell sued the FBI to obtain files which were used to slander and threaten him. Fact based or not, isn’t the reaction now one of, “he deserved it”? When you read this section, you weren’t shocked; you considered it normal government behavior.
  • The tumble of our morality continues. Incest is quietly brushed aside (despite the damage done by it); pedophilia is still condemned – for a while.

What then, should we do? May I give you the words of a wiser man than I?

… let us weep for Herodias, and for them that imitate her. For many such revels now also take place, and though John be not slain, yet the members of Christ are, and in a far more grievous way. For it is not a head in a charger that the dancers of our time ask, but the souls of them that sit at the feast. For in making them slaves, and leading them to unlawful loves, and besetting them with harlots, they do not take off the head, but slay the soul, making them adulterers, and effeminate, and whoremongers.

Consider this: we are members of the body of Christ. When we have sex outside marriage, we unite the members of the body of Christ with the body of a prostitute[5]. Even to do in thought is sin.[6]

So why should the children of God weep for such? The saints must weep for sin, and the sinners. Our task is not just to reject the sin; our task is to bring the sinners home. It is a daunting task; but do not forget in whose power you walk.


[1] I have absolutely no idea how to footnote this reference. It’s from the Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge, as distributed by e-Sword, found at www.e-Sword.net. If you are looking for the best in Bible study software, this is it. And it’s free, too. Oh, and TSK is copyright expired, thus public domain.

[2] Leviticus 18:16. The exception was to take a dead brother’s wife who had no son. See Deuteronomy 25:5.

[3] Esther 1:10-12

[4] Genesis 3:16. Space does not allow me to say why this works; but just in case you think I’m from another planet, yes, I know, my society considers this a horrible idea.

[5] 1 Corinthians 6:15-18

[6] Matthew 5:27-28

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