A Single Indiscretion

Written by Drew on December 6th, 2006

Herod Antipas was the ruthless tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, who presided over one of Jesus’ civil trials in Jerusalem. The hearing, of course, was a joke. Herod only granted it because he wanted to see Jesus perform signs for his entertainment. The sham ended with mockery (Lk. 23:6-12).

Before this incident, Herod had committed what he might have deemed a “small indiscretion”–he married a woman named Herodias, who had also been married to his brother Philip. Not only that, Herodias was the daughter of another one of Herod’s brothers, Aristobulus, making this union an incestuous one from several different directions. Doubtless, Herod considered the rules he had broken to be an insignificant footnote in the story of his life. He was wrong. Herod’s marriage to Herodias reveals how a life can be ruined by a single indiscretion.

The threads of Herod’s life began to unravel when he rejected John’s counsel: “It is not lawful for you to have her” (Mt. 14:4). First, John was sent to prison. But later, because of a rash promise made to Herodias’ daughter, Herod had John beheaded. Matthew tells us Herod was “sorry” over this (Mt. 14:9). Little did he know that this was only the beginning.

Herod may have avoided his infamous role in the crucifixion of Christ if he had only spared John. As it has been already noted, the ruler was glad Pilate sent Jesus to him; he wanted to see the accused man do some “sign” (Lk. 23:8). Luke tells us Herod “had long desired to see him.” The seeds of this desire were probably planted by a rumor that was circulating around the time that Jesus began His ministry in Galilee. Some were saying He was John risen from the dead, and Herod became “perplexed.” He said, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” (Lk. 9:7-9). His paranoia grew until he came to believe that John had, in fact, returned in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (Mt. 14:1-2).

This is how this suspicion led to Herod’s participation in the crucifixion: When Jesus came to Herod, the ruler was glad. Finally, he could put to rest the question of Jesus’ identity. “If Jesus did in fact work miracles,” Herod thought, “John is risen from the dead, and I have much to fear.” “If He did not,” his thoughts continued, “I can set my mind at ease.”

When Jesus refused to work a miracle, Herod, in his relief, resorted to mockery and ridicule. It was not that he had found flaws in Jesus’ record (Lk. 23:13-15). He derided the Lord as exercise of confidence that John’s ghost was no longer haunting him.

Herod’s troubles, however, had only just begun. The father of his first wife, a Nabatean king named Aretas, felt insulted after Herod left his daughter for Herodias. This man attacked Herod’s rag-tag army and defeated it, bringing about Herod’s political downfall. Eventually the disgraced ruler was banished by the Roman emperor to an obscure section of France.

One little indiscretion. Herod never guessed it would ruin his life. But sin always works that way. It starts small and festers until it consumes the body with fever. Eventually, if it is left unchecked, it leads to death (Jas. 1:14-15).

Preachers like John the Baptist are still being rejected. But when they speak the truth, they are only trying to save our souls. Herod turned a deaf ear to John. May we learn from his mistake, lest we be doomed to repeat it.

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