Herod had sent soldiers to arrest and imprison John as a favor to Herodias. She had been his brother Philip’s wife, but Herod had married her. John had been telling Herod, “It is against God’s law for you to marry your brother’s wife.” So Herodias bore a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But without Herod’s approval she was powerless, for Herod respected John; and knowing that he was a good and holy man, he protected him. Herod was greatly disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him.
Herodias’s chance finally came on Herod’s birthday. He gave a party for his high government officials, army officers, and the leading citizens of Galilee. Then his daughter, also named Herodias, came in and performed a dance that greatly pleased Herod and his guests. “Ask me for anything you like,” the king said to the girl, “and I will give it to you.” He even vowed, “I will give you whatever you ask, up to half my kingdom!”
Palestine was divided into four territories, each with a different ruler. Herod Antipas, called Herod in the Gospels, was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip ruled over Traconitis and Idumea. Philip’s wife was Herodias, but she left him to marry Herod Antipas. When John confronted the two for committing adultery, Herodias formulated a plot to kill him. Instead of trying to get rid of her sin, Herodias tried to get rid of the one who brought it to public attention. This is exactly what the religious leaders were trying to do to Jesus.
Herod arrested John the Baptist under pressure from his wife and advisers. Though Herod respected John’s integrity, in the end Herod had John killed because of pressure from his peers and family.
As a ruler under Roman authority, Herod had no kingdom to give. The offer of half his kingdom was Herod’s way to say that he would give Herodias’s daughter almost anything she wanted. When Herodias asked for John’s head, Herod would have been greatly embarrassed in front of his guests if he had denied her request.
Words are powerful. Because they can lead to great sin, we should use them with great care. What you do under pressure often shows what you are really like. Pray for self-control in your speech. Consider the advice of Ephesians 4:29-32. Consider also Jesus’ admonition against making rash vows in Matthew 5:33-37.