Women of the Bible - Monday, October 14, 2013

Herodias

Her name means: "Heroic" (the female form of "Herod")

Her character: A proud woman, she used her daughter to manipulate her husband into doing her will. She acted arrogantly, from beginning to end, in complete disregard for the laws of the land.
Her shame: To be rebuked by an upstart prophet for leaving her husband Philip in order to marry his half brother Herod Antipas.
Her triumph: That her scheme to murder her enemy, John the Baptist, worked.
Key Scriptures: Matthew 14:3-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 3:19-20; 9:7-9

Her Story

Her grandfather, Herod the Great, had ruled Judea for thirty-four years. Herod had brought prosperity to a troubled region of the Roman Empire, building theaters, amphitheaters, and race courses, as well as a palace and a magnificent temple in Jerusalem. In addition to such ambitious endeavors, he had even contrived to lower taxes on two occasions.

But Herod's reign contained shadows that darkened as the years went on. Herodias knew the stories well—how her grandfather had slaughtered a passel of Jewish brats in Bethlehem, how he had murdered his favorite wife (her own grandmother) and three of his sons for real or imagined intrigues. Advancing age and illness did nothing to improve his character. Herod was determined, in fact, that his own death would produce a time of universal mourning rather than celebration. So, in a final, malevolent act, he commanded all the leading Jews to gather in Jericho. Then he imprisoned them in a stadium and ordered them to be executed at the moment of his death. But the king was cheated of his last wish: His prisoners were set free as soon as he died in the spring of 4 bc.

Not a nice man, her grandfather.

Herodias's husband and his half brother Antipas had been lucky survivors of Herod the Great's bloody family, but Antipas had proved the luckier of the two. For while Philip and Herodias languished in Rome with no territory to rule, Antipas was appointed tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. She could sense the man's power the first time he visited them in Rome. And power, she mused, was her favorite aphrodisiac.

Though Herod Antipas was married to the daughter of King Aretas IV, ruler of Nabatea, to the east, he quickly divorced her in favor of Herodias. In one dicey move, Antipas had stolen his brother's wife, compromised his eastern border, and alienated his Jewish subjects, whose law forbade wife-swapping, especially among brothers. But with Herodias beside him, Herod Antipas must have thought himself powerful enough to manage the consequences.

But neither Herod Antipas nor Herodias had expected their transgression to become a matter of public agitation. After all, who was there to agitate, except the usual ragtag band of upstarts? A real prophet had not troubled Israel for more than four hundred years.

But trouble was edging toward them in the form of a new Elijah, whom God had been nurturing with locusts and honey in the wilderness that bordered their realm. This prophet, John the Baptist, cared nothing for diplomacy. He could not be bought or bullied, and was preaching a message of repentance to all who would listen: "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' "

John the Baptist spared no one, not the ordinary people who flocked to him in the desert, not the self-righteous Pharisees or the privileged Sadducees, and certainly not Herod Antipas or Herodias, whom he chided for their unlawful marriage. Herodias wanted Antipas to kill John, yet even he had to step carefully, lest he ignite an uprising among John's ever-growing number of followers. That would be all the excuse his former father-in-law, Aretas, would need in order to attack Antipas's eastern flank. So, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, Antipas imprisoned John in Machaerus, a fortress just east of the Dead Sea.

On Herod Antipas's birthday a feast was held in his honor and attended by a "who's who" list of dignitaries. During the evening, Herodias's young daughter, Salome, performed a dance for Herod Antipas and his guests, which so pleased him that he promised his stepdaughter anything she desired, up to half his kingdom.

Ever the good daughter, Salome hastened to her mother for advice. Should she request a splendid palace or a portion of the royal treasury? But Herodias had one thing only in mind. When Salome returned to the banquet hall, Salome surprised Antipas with a gruesome demand: "I want you to give me, right now, the head of John the Baptist on a platter."

Though Herod Antipas was distressed by her request, he was even more distressed at the prospect of breaking an oath he had so publicly made. Therefore, in complete disregard for Jewish law, which prohibited both execution without trial and decapitation as a form of execution, he immediately ordered John's death.

That night, Herodias must have savored her triumph over the man whom Jesus referred to as the greatest of those who had yet lived. John had been sent as the last of the prophets, a new Elijah, whose preaching was to prepare the way for Jesus. Had Herodias heeded John's call to repentance, her heart might have welcomed the gospel. Rather than being remembered as just one more member of a bloody dynasty, she could have become a true child of God. Instead of casting her lot with the great women of the Bible, however, she chose to model herself on one of the worst—Jezebel, her spiritual mother. By so doing, she sealed her heart against the truth and all the transforming possibilities of grace.

Her Promise

As negative as it sounds, the lesson or promise learned from Herodias can only be that sin will devour us. If sin always has its way in our lives, it will eventually consume us. There is only one way out: If we abandon our sin and repent, we will find forgiveness and a new life in Christ. He promises to forgive even the most horrific sins, the most depraved lifestyles, the most abandoned behaviors. We may still face the consequences of our sin, but we will no longer have to fear its judgment. With Christ as our mediator, we become as clean as if we had never sinned.

This devotional is drawn from Women of the Bible: A One-Year Devotional Study of Women in Scripture by Ann Spangler and Jean Syswerda. Used with permission.

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