Oh, What a Tangled Web
One day Herod Antipas was called to Rome. On the way he visited his half-brother Philip and fell in love with Philip’s wife Herodias, vowing to come back for her when he returned from Rome. As promised, he divorced his own wife, then took Herodias from Philip and married her. Herodias also happened to be Herod’s first cousin, so they were guilty not only of adultery, but also of incest.
Mark tells us in his gospel that Herod heard John the Baptist gladly, inviting him to the palace to preach the gospel. What a shame that although John’s message delighted Herod’s ears, it never changed his heart. Nevertheless, John the Baptist was not afraid to confront Herod face to face and tell him that what he did with regard to Herodias was wrong in the sight of both God and men. Naturally, Herod did not like being confronted with his sin, so he had John put in prison to shut him up. Herodias was furious and wanted to have John killed, but Herod was afraid of John. To be honest, John was very popular with the people, and having him killed would have made Herod unpopular with the people.
A New Plan
So Herodias set about to contrive a new plan. If she could not convince her unlawful husband to have this troublemaker put to death, then she would trick him into it. One way or another, she would have her way.
The royal family threw a big party in honor of Herod’s birthday. There was feasting, drinking, and dancing. Herodias’s daughter Salome* (by Philip, her first husband) came out to dance for Herod. She was an attractive young woman, skilled at dancing, and she pleased him well. In fact, she pleased him so well that Herod said, “I’ll give you anything you want, up to the half of my kingdom.”
In an earlier time, another king said this to another woman. Do you remember? King Ahasuerus asked Queen Esther, “What is your petition? It shall be granted you, even to the half of the kingdom.” And how did she respond? She petitioned him for the life of her people.
Salome had been instructed by her mother how to answer her stepfather, and her request was not for the good of the people, but was selfish in the extreme. Knowing that Herod must be true to his word, she asked to have the head of John the Baptist in a charger.
Sin Begets Sin
Herodias may or may not have had an opportunity to hear the Word of God preached when she was married to Philip. I don’t know. One thing is certain, when she came to live with Herod Antipas, she came into the audience of John the Baptist. If only she had been convicted of her sin and repented in faith. If only she had trusted in Christ as her Redeemer! But she loved her sin, and she hated the man who exposed it. So she compounded her sins of adultery and incest with that of murder. Sure, John did not die by her hand, but he died by her order, which makes her guilty.
And what of her daughter Salome? Did she carry her mother’s torch? Did she also hate John the Baptist simply because her mother hated him? When her stepfather asked her what gift she wanted, she went to her mother for counsel. Her mother told her what to ask, and she did not hesitate. According to Mark, she “came in straightway with haste” and said she wanted John the Baptist’s head “by and by” in a charger. Now, being from the South, I understand “by and by” to mean “when you get around to it.” But Herod had John killed immediately. Why be in such a hurry to keep his promise if she only meant for him to be killed “sooner or later”? Why not wait until he died of natural causes and then take his head off? Because that’s not what this word means at all. The Greek word translated “by and by” actually means “immediately.” So when Herod had John killed immediately, it was because Salome asked for it to be done right away. This sounds like a young woman who wanted John dead as much as her mother did. And how sad, for she had no personal quarrel with him. From all appearances, Herodias had infected her daughter with a hatred for God and God’s man.
So you see that Herodias’s sin begot more sin in her own heart, but it also affected those around her. She led her daughter to make wrong choices, and she influenced her husband for wrong, even against his own conscience, for he feared her more than he feared the people.
When the executioners led John the Baptist to the chopping block, do you think he regretted having spoken up for what was right? Not for a minute. They could take his life, but they could not touch his soul. His eternity was settled forever in heaven. And I dare say John’s end was better than the end of these three. Herod Antipas was later accused of treason and exiled. Herodias and Salome joined him so as not to be alone. I am not sure how or when Herod and Herodias met their end, but according to Josephus, as the three exiles were crossing a frozen river, the ice broke under Salome, and she sank in up to her neck and died.
What Good Can I Say?
In an attempt to see some good in everyone, I have tried to look at these two women with an open mind.
Salome obeyed her mother. Sounds good, right? But all of us know that what her mother asked her to do was wrong. The Bible says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph. 6:1). There is a qualifier. I am not going to split hairs—and families—by drawing a line and telling you when children should or should not obey their parents. In Salome’s case, it was obvious; but in some others, it may not be so clear. My point is that sometimes good can be done with evil intentions, so the attitude of the heart is much more important than outward behavior.
And let me just say right here: Mothers, please be cautious, not only of the advice you give to your daughters, but also of the example you set before them. If you are a mother, then you are a teacher, whether or not you have ever spent a day of your life in front of a classroom. That little one for whom you care in the home is watching you and patterning her life after yours. If she turns out to be just like you, will the world be better for it—or worse? Just a thought…
Finding something good about Herodias is a little harder, but I found a characteristic that some folks would call good—She followed her heart. The world is constantly telling us, “Follow your heart.” Don’t they know that our hearts can deceive us and be deceived?
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
Angels do not know the heart of man, and Satan cannot know it. Even the natural man does not know the plagues of his own heart. A spiritual man knows the condition of his heart, yet he does not know it all. Only God knows in full what is in the heart of man.
Jeremiah 17:10 I the LORD search the heart….
So if you follow your heart, how can you be sure that it will lead you in the way you should go? The truth is, you can’t. And if you are truly honest, most of the time it won’t. The natural heart is selfish, and following your heart usually means looking out for Number One.
A Better Motto
Here is a better motto: Jesus said, “Follow Me” (Matt. 9:9). The path of following Christ is not easy. In fact, suffering is a given when you walk this way.
1 Peter 2:21 For even unto this were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.
But although following Christ will sometimes be uncomfortable, it will never be lonely, not really lonely, not when you realize that Jesus Himself is with you every step of the way.
Hebrews 13:5 …for He has said, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”
He gives us the strength to choose His way.
2 Samuel 22:33 God is my strength and power: and He makes my way perfect.
You don’t know how to follow Christ? Get into His Word, and He will teach you.
Psalm 86:11 Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth: unite my heart to fear Your name.
Psalm 143:8 Cause me to hear Your loving-kindness in the morning; for in You do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto You.
So what will it be for you today? Will you follow your heart? Or will you follow Christ? ❧
*The daughter of Herodias is not named in the Bible, but we know her name from the Jewish historian Josephus. There is a Salome named in the Bible. She is the mother of James and John, the wife of Zebedee. (Compare Mt. 27:56; Mr. 15:40; 16:1.)
Next week: Jezebel
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