At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus,…
Herod Antipas is a character not quite easy to understand, but possibly on that account all the more worth understanding. Weak men are always difficult to understand, no principle you can calculate on guiding their conduct. Herod was not a bloody man like his father, but, like Ahab, his irresolution was used by the resolution of his wife. Before his doubly unlawful marriage much hope might have been entertained for him, with men like the apostles among his peasantry, not without good influences in his own palace and family, and even himself showing an interest in the spiritual movements of his time. But this miserable woman spoilt his life. What could he do in compliance with John's requirements when he understood her fierce, unscrupulous, vindictive temper so well as to feel quite helpless in her hands? What we learn from this act of Herod's is:
1. That wherever a person forms connection with one less scrupulous than himself, he puts himself at a great disadvantage for living righteously. This pressure becomes extreme when the connection is so close as that of marriage. And many a marriage of this kind involves the parties in difficulties as trying if not as tragic as those which now involved Herod.
2. Again, we see the tendency of sin to spread and injure many. The sensualist often lays the flattering unction to his soul that, however vile his sin may be, he at least injures only himself. When Herod laid aside his self-respect and allowed his passions to be inflamed by the dancing of a wanton, he was not conscious of injuring any one. But before the sun was set his coarse profligacy had suddenly thrust itself into the most sacred life, and carried ruin with it. And in a thousand ways do sins of the flesh, which we flatter ourselves shall hurt nobody but ourselves, make us much wickeder than we wish, and carry us to consequences disastrous to others as well as to ourselves.
3. It is in our Lord's treatment of Herod that we see the full result of this passage in his history. When brought before his judgment seat he would not vouchsafe a word to his judge. By his treatment of John, Herod had forfeited his right to judge our Lord. Any interest he now professed in Jesus was false. He played round the margin of higher things, and flattered himself he would one day take the plunge; but this trifling only hardened his heart, and had made him incapable of understanding the gravity and importance of the matters that were brought before him. This is no unusual experience. Many men deal so shiftily with conscience, and constantly make enjoyment their real end in life, that there is left in them no capacity for earnest spiritual thought and feeling. Had Herod saved John's life and braved the anger of Herodias, he would probably have saved the life of Jesus also. But since that first opportunity of playing the man, he had steadily fallen, till he not only sacrificed a greater than John, but was unconscious of the enormity of his guilt. To such a man what could our Lord have to say? Here we may discern the reason why many men who seem to be inquirers after truth are left in darkness. They omit the preliminaries. Like Herod, who said nothing about John's death, they neglect to do the obvious duties that daily call them. They do not act on the light they have, and therefore they get no more. By trifling with former convictions and dealing insincerely with conscience, they reach that molt appalling of human conditions, in which they cannot receive help even from him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Turning now to the heroic figure in this tragedy, we are struck first with the completeness given to John's character both by his rebuke of Herod and by his death. All Jews were more or less scandalized by the conduct of the king; but, so far as history informs us, none were honest enough or bold enough to tell him how his conduct stood related to the Law. (Compare conduct of courtiers of Henry VIII. when asked if his divorce were lawful.) Such freedom from fear and favour as John's is rarely attained, and attained only by those whom the truth makes free - by those who are themselves living so true a life that all personal interests are eclipsed by the steady shining of the truth. That must shine whatever else goes out. We may be tempted to ask - What good did John do by his boldness? He did not make Herod repent, and he only made things look more hopeless for the righteous. And so with ourselves, the good we attempt is not done, and we ourselves are permanently injured. Were it not better for us to turn forever away from those unattainable heights which only heroes can climb? But:
1. John could not have helped rebuking Herod. He was sent to turn people to repentance. Herod invited him, and he must speak.
2. Are we sure John's conduct was fruitless? It is by admiration of such heroic acts that men are practically brought within sight of a spiritual world, in presence of which all earthly glory and gain seem poor and tarnished. It is through such acts that we are enabled to believe in the righteousness of God. Righteousness becomes a new thing when it assumes a visible form upon earth, and condemns our unrighteousness with irresistible force. Lastly, it is true direct success did not attend John's efforts; and if we are to act righteously and courageously, we must not do so in expectation that such conduct will always bring us in this life outward comfort and personal safety. But let no one think of his own life as so commonplace, so padded round with social safeguards and comforts, that no act of heroism can ever be required of him. Acts requiring true moral courage and absolute self-sacrifice are called forevery day, and your day and opportunity will no doubt also come. And out of very feeble and commonplace material heroes are made by John's fundamental quality, fidelity to Christ. It is knowledge of Christ and sympathy with him, loyalty to him and genuine love for him, which carry the soul forward to greater things than otherwise it could dare. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus,