What a gruesome picture to start the day with. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and this one is no different. The events behind it are ones of superstition, lust, wantonness, revenge, cowardness, and evil in excess. Sadly, the characters of this record could be pulled from today's society as well.
Matthew 14:1 "At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus,"
"At that time" refers to the time we read about in chapter 13 when Jesus was rejected at Nazareth. "Herod the tetrarch" who was also known as Antipas, was one of the sons of Herod the Great who was king when Jesus was born. He was the one who ordered the male children of Bethlehem to be slaughtered in an attempt to kill the Messiah. Herod the Great appointed his sons to be "tetrarch" which means one of 4 rulers in the land. He proved to be as superstitious and evil as his father. The news of Jesus' "fame" gave him an acute sense of foreboding.
Matthew 14:2 "And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him. 3 For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife. 4 For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. "
Matthew first tells us of the death of John the Baptist at Herod's hand, then gives us the reason why Herod was so unnerved.
Herod had "laid hold on John" and thrown him in prison for being outspoken against his "wife" Herodias, who by all intents and purposes was not his wife at all. Herodias was actually one of the granddaughters of Herod the Great, who then married her own uncle, Herod Philip I. And if that isn't enough to make your head spin; she later found a way to be married to a tetrarch and married her step-uncle Antipas. (I had the hardest time getting all this straight, and to tell the truth, I don't know if I ever did.) It is sufficient to say this was one mixed up family! No wonder John the Baptist proclaimed their sin from the rooftops.
Matthew 14:5 "And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet."
Herod "feared the multitude" and what they would do if he had John executed; so he remained in jail. I do not imagine "the voice of one crying in the wilderness" would have been silent in his prison cell either. The echo of his voice would have carried far from his prison cell to resound in Herod's guilty ears.
Matthew 14:6 "But when Herod's birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. 7 Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. 8 And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist's head in a charger."
Herodias was the undoing of Herod Antipas. She chose an opportune time to have John the Baptist silenced forever. Little did she know that he would still be proclaiming her wanton ways 2,000 years later in the pages of the Bible! John's voice is still crying out for righteousness.
Herodias knew the man she claimed as her husband well. He was a lustful man who likely already had an eye for his step-daughter. Before she danced for him for his "birthday", he had promised he would give her anything she wanted. This was the opportunity Herodias had waited for. Now was her chance to get her revenge on the Baptist and to stop the voice that accused her night and day. She "instructed" her daughter as to what to ask for; not great riches, but the "head" of John the Baptist served at the birthday feast on a "charger" or platter.
Matthew 14:9 "And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. 10 And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. 11 And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother."
"The king was sorry" indeed, but I do not believe for a moment that he was filled with remorse. One who was so twisted and wicked would not feel the weight of his own actions. He was merely afraid of what would happen next. "Nevertheless" or in spite of his hesitancy, for whatever reason, he had John beheaded and displayed as his step-daughter requested in order to save face in front of his guests. Herodias had played him like a fiddle to get what she wanted. Imagine someone bringing a severed head on a platter to a feast!
Matthew 14:12 "And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus."
John's disciples were always close by, and when they heard, they "took up the body, and buried it." Notice that Matthew does not say that John was buried, but only his body. Jesus had said of John: "Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist:" (Luke 7:28) His body was given a proper burial, but the spirit of John the Baptist lives on!
Jesus is given the news, but this was all part of the plan. John knew his ministry would fade as Jesus' increased, and that is just how it should be.
Have a great weekend, and be safe. Monday we will read of Jesus' great compassion and the miracle He does in response.