We’ve had several months of feel-good stories, of women in desperate situations who were redeemed by the love and mercy of Jesus. Today’s story is not so pretty. We look at Herodias, a vile woman consumed with power and prestige, willing to go down whatever slippery slope it took to get what she wanted.
We find Herodias mentioned in Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 3. The gospel writers spent as little time as possible on her story, only mentioning her as a flashback or side note to explain what happened to John the Baptist.
So who was Herodias? She was the granddaughter of Herod the Great. He was the Herod who had all the baby boys killed when he heard from the wise men that a king had been born in Bethlehem. As he aged, he grew more crazed and murdered his wife and three of his sons.
This was the family she was born into.
Herodias married Herod’s son Philip, her uncle. They had a daughter named Salome. One day Philip’s half brother, Herod Antipas came for a visit. Antipas and Herodias fell in lust with each other, ended up divorcing their spouses and marrying each other.
John the Baptist called out Herod Antipas, saying that his marriage to Herodias was unlawful. This angered Antipas, but he didn’t do anything about it because he feared the multitude. Not to mention, he considered John a just man, and he enjoyed hearing what he had to say. Nevertheless, he did put John in prison.
Herodias, on the other hand, was not a fan of John. She bided her time until she could see John put to death. Her opportunity came at her husband’s birthday celebration.
As part of the birthday entertainment for his feast with the nobles, high officers, and chief men of Galilee, Herodias’ daughter Salome did a dance for the men. Though the scripture doesn’t provide details on the dance, tradition has it that she did a scarf dance where she slowly removed scarves from her costume. Regardless of the details, we can assume the dance was a suggestive one.
Caught up in the moment, Herod offered Salome anything she wanted up to half the kingdom. Not knowing what to ask for, she turned to her mother. Herodias was ready. She told Salome to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
This was not the response he was wanting, but he felt trapped since anyone who was anyone had heard his promise. Reluctantly, he ordered John’s execution and presented John’s head to Salome who gave it to Herodias.
That’s the end of Herodias in the Bible, although historian Josephus records that as a result of Herodias’ obsession with power, the couple ended up banished in exile.
The Rest of the Story
The Bible is filled with parallel stories. Herodias is the New Testament equivalent of Jezebel. Both came from royal families. Both were married to rulers. Both were far more ambitious than their husbands. Both were willing to do whatever it took to get what they wanted.
No matter what Herodias had, it was never enough. She came from a powerful family. She was married to a tetrarch, (Which in case you’re wondering what that means, a tetrarch was a subordinate ruler with four tetrarchs each ruling their own quarter of a country.) but then she met his brother who was ruling over a larger province. She was willing to leave her husband and destroy another marriage just so she could have a little more power.
When John called out her marriage, all she could think of was getting rid of him since he was interfering with her position. She couldn’t stand anyone who was strong enough to stand up to her or her husband. She probably resented, too, that her husband listened to John and respected him.
Herodias was willing to let her young daughter parade herself in front of her stepdad and all the leading men of the province. At a time when a mother should be watching out for her daughter and protecting her, she flaunted her daughter’s sensuality. And when her daughter came to her seeking advice, rather than looking out for her daughter’s interests, she used it for her own vile obsession. What kind of example was she setting?
I surely hope that this is not a story that resonates with you. And yet, if we’re honest with ourselves, we may find a bit of Herodias within ourselves. Though we may not act quite so brazenly, do we not sometimes act our of selfish pursuit?
Our society encourages us to dream big, and to go after those dreams, doing whatever it takes to reach them. So what if it means stepping over other people along the way.
But as Christian women, we should be more concerned with God’s will than our own selfish desires. If we thought we would be in a more powerful position, but find ourselves in a lesser position, perhaps we can focus on being our best where we’re at. What if, instead of dumping Philip and marrying Antipas, Herodias had instead been a great helpmeet to Philip, encouraging him as a ruler and allowing him to thrive in his role? What might have happened if she’d taken John’s words to heart and repented and started a new life as a godly woman?
You may be at a point in your life that’s not where you thought you’d be. Things haven’t turned out the way you expected, and you’re disappointed. Rather than letting your spurned ambition smolder, what if you evaluate where you’re at and figure out why God has you here, and what He wants you to be doing.
If you’re living in sin right now, please listen to those who are calling you out. Yes, it hurts. None of us want to face the shame and guilt that comes with someone pointing out our sin. But what a gift it can be. We may be so caught up in our life of sin that we’ve lost track of where we’re supposed to be. What a blessing it is when God sends someone our way to get us back on track to the better life He has in store for us.
It’s never too late to do the right thing. Though we will have to deal with the consequences of our past failures, we serve a God of second chances who will meet us right where we’re at and show us the way to a brand new life. Please don’t be like Herodias, constantly traveling down the slippery slope of sin that only leads to death.
Lord God, thank You for this powerful reminder of how important it is that we not allow worldly ambition to cloud our judgement. Thank You for John the Baptist and others who are not afraid to speak the truth regardless of the consequences. Give us ears that hear the truth. Open our hearts so that we will always be receptive to Your word rather than the lies that the world tries to spread. Forgive us those times we get caught up in sin. Help us to find out way out of sin’s trappings. Deliver us into a new life. Fill us with Your overwhelming mercy and grace. We love You. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Tune in next week when we look at a Syro-Phoenician mother who begged for the healing of her daughter.
Her Story: Matthew 14. Mark 6, Luke 3
Bible Study Review
- Who was Herodias’ grandfather?
- What is a tetrarch?
- What did Herodias want for Herod’s birthday?
Thoughts to Ponder
- Why did John the Baptist call out Herod Antipas and Herodias?
- Why didn’t Antipas want John killed?
- What could Herodias have done differently?
- Do you ever get consumed with your personal goals and ambition?
- How do you react when someone calls you out?
- Have you ever used other people to get what you wanted?
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