The Danger Zone

For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.

Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. (Mark 6:21-28)

Finally, Herodias can be rid of John! She sees an opportunity and sets into motion a murderous scheme. The occasion for the diabolical deed is Herod’s birthday. A luxurious celebration, attended by all the high officials and prominent citizens, is held in his honor. The finest of wines and fare are set forth for all to imbibe and feast upon. As the party participants quickly escalate to fevered high spirits, Herodias deliberately ushers into the room her daughter to “grace” the party with her dancing–alluring them as she wins their favor. She charms everyone, and Herod, himself in high spirits, recklessly and extravagantly promises her on oath anything she desires up to half his kingdom. Oaths–unfortunately for Herod–were binding. What kind of glassy eyed promise was that? Up to half his kingdom for a shimmy! Seriously, what was he thinking? Obviously, he wasn’t!

Herodias was quick on the scene to advise her clueless daughter what to ask for–the head of John the Baptist on a platter–probably replete with parsley! Satan surely was patting himself on the back. Herodias’ hateful vendetta was reaching its fulfillment. Finally, she was getting her dream come true. No more would she be reminded of her indiscretions. She foolishly believed ridding herself of John the Baptist would cleanse her. But as we all know, killing the messenger doesn’t change the truth of the message.

This request had to have quickly sobered Herod who, Scripture tells us, was distressed over her entreat. Loose lips sink ships and words hastily and flippantly promised are often regretted. Being careful and wise about our words keeps us from much trouble indeed. We would do well to take heed of what Scripture tells us:

When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. (Proverbs 10:19)

He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity. (Proverbs 21:23)

Now that he has opened his mouth and promised the world–or at least half of it–before his subjects, Herod is obliged to oblige even if he is in great distress. Leaders make themselves slaves by coveting the respect of their constituents. Herod immediately, therefore, sends his executioners to do the dirty deed and John the Baptist’s brief yet powerful ministry comes to an abrupt end.

Take It to Heart

Sadly for Herod, the Bible tells us he knew that John the Baptist was a righteous and holy man, yet he was too weak in his character to stand up for John’s support. He lacked the courage to embrace the hard right and opted instead for the easy wrong. He feared man more than he feared God. Those who strive for man’s approval often miss God’s grace. Remember Jonah’s earnest prayer from the belly of the great fish:

“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” (Jonah 2:8)

“To the one who fears God, there is no reason to fear anything or anyone else.” (Beth Moore)