Wednesday, August 3, 2016
Worse than Jezebel
This week we are studying Herodias - a truly wicked person. What can we learn from her? She came from a family with LOTS of problems, but that can be overcome. Her problem was a heart full of ambition and sin.
Let's dive in again!
We saw last time that Herodias had dumped her husband and gone off with his half-brother. Marrying Herod Antipas was a scandalous thing, but probably no one was courageous enough to say that to their faces when Antipas, Herodias, and Salome arrived at their palace.
Except for John. John was recognized as God's prophet and his words carried a great deal of weight. Not legally, of course, but morally and spiritually. John was outspoken in his criticism of the marriage and the fact that it was not permitted. He spoke God's words to the newlyweds.
We must admire the courage of John the Baptist. He must have known the fate that could be his, for calling out these two and exposing their sin to all. He spoke boldly, and he spoke the truth.
Needless to say, these words were not well-received. Herodias hated John and all that he stood for. She was determined to shut him up! I'm sure that she pushed Herod Antipas to throw John in jail. We can read between the lines where it talks about Herod being interested in what John said -- it was probably Antipas who prevented John from being killed right then. "Let's just throw him in the palace dungeon, you know, the one with the most rats," is probably what he told his angry wife. (Grin)
So, here you have John in prison, Antipas puzzled but drawn to John's message, and Herodias breathing fire and wanting John dead. Wonder if John began to look more and more like a martyr to those outside the palace? It wasn't making the problem go away; in fact, it was drawing attention to it. After all, if John's words had not been true, why get upset about them? His words must have been bothering their consciences.
Now it's time to make party plans . . . as she played the part of loving wife, Herodias probably chose the party guests very carefully, and arranged the seating of the revelers herself. She paid special attention to the ambience and lighting, and may even have suggested topics of conversation to the guests, who would have been only too happy to cooperate with this powerful woman. I expect that she chose the wines and made certain that they flowed very freely, too. And then she thought about how to spring the trap. She knew that Herod would be flattered by all of this attention, and she also knew that he would drink deeply and too much . . .
Salome, her daughter, must have been a beautiful girl, and we know from historians' accounts of the time that dancing girls were routinely included in entertainment. When the crowd appreciated their efforts, they would be tossed flowers or coins, or chosen to be part of the household (kind of like a promotion). Apparently, Salome's dance was provacative, perhaps even what we would call a "striptease." Her drunken step-dad was so taken with it that he vowed to give her whatever she wanted for her prize -- all the way up to half of what he owned! Yep, he fell for Herodias' plan, hook-line-and-sinker.
(Personal note here: as a mom, I can't fathom allowing a daughter to dance in front of drunken, leering men. Herodias is as vile and wicked as they come, no? Not just ambitious, not just jumping into her brother-in-law's bed, not just wanting to kill John the Baptist, but encouraging men to view and lust after her daughter, too. Ugggh.)
Salome ran to her mom, and asked her "what shall I say?" Herodias told her to ask for the head of John the Baptist. Salome rushed back to the banquet hall and made her demand -- she embellished it somewhat, adding that it should be placed on a silver platter.
Wonder what Herod's thoughts were, then. The Bible passage noted that Herod had protected John. He realized on some level that John was God's man. He was intrigued by his sermons. Now he had been tricked into killing him. John wouldn't get a trial this way. If Herod backed away from his drunken promise, he would "lose face." His birthday party guests would all ridicule him, and reject him.
Herod Antipas gave the order, knowing it was wrong. John was beheaded, and the gory trophy was presented to Salome, who took it to her mother. No justice here. Just the vengeance of a wicked woman. And possibly a change in the way Herod was viewed by others -- no doubt some saw him as a puppet of his wife after this incident.
When he sobered up, he regretted what he'd done. And later, Mark tells us, he was haunted by the thoughts of John -- when he heard of Jesus and His miracles, he thought that John had come back from the dead. If he'd not been drunk, perhaps things would have been different. But Herodias manipulated him expertly -- he dropped his guard, since he was in his own home and drinking, he was relaxed. He not only dropped his guard and was vulnerable, but he was surrounded by his peers, too. And she gave him no opportunity to wait or reconsider. He had to make his decision then, or face the mocking and ridicule of his wealthy, powerful friends.
Does the devil use these tricks on Christians? You bet he does! He puts temptations in front of us, sometimes when we are in our own homes, or somewhere else that we feel safe. We've let our guard down, and we're relaxed. The devil points us toward the temptation and reminds us that the people around us may not accept us, in fact they may ridicule us, if we don't say or do this thing. Why be a "straight-laced" person? Why be perceived as "traditional" or as a "stick in the mud"? We humans are so desirous of other people's respect . . .
Maybe we need to be more like John. John the Baptist did not want to die, but he was more afraid of defying God, or letting Him down, than he was of defying man. Isn't this what Jesus wants from all of us? Total allegiance to Him, and living our lives without compromising Him or His Word?
We'll finish our study of Herodias tomorrow.