Mark 6:17
For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold on John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her.
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(17) For Herod himself had sent forth.—See Notes on Matthew 14:3-12.



Mark 6:17 - Mark 6:28

This Herod was a son of the grim old tiger who slew the infants of Bethlehem. He was a true cub of a bad litter, with his father’s ferocity, but without his force. He was sensual, cruel, cunning, and infirm of purpose. Rome allowed him to play at being a king, but kept him well in hand. No doubt his anomalous position as a subject prince helped to make him the bad man he was. Herodias, the Jezebel to this Ahab, was his brother’s wife, and niece to both her husband and Herod. Elijah was not far off; John’s daring outspokenness, of course, made the indignant woman his implacable enemy.

I. This story gives an example of the waking of conscience.

When Christ’s name reached even the court, where such tidings would have no ready entrance, what was only an occasion of more or less languid gossip and curiosity to others stirred the sleeping accuser in Herod’s breast. He had no doubt as to who this new Teacher, armed with mightier powers than John who ‘did no miracles’ had ever possessed, was. His conviction that he was John, come back with increased power, was immediate, and was held fast, in spite of the buzz of other opinions.

Note the unusual order of the sentence in Mark 6:16 : ‘John whom I beheaded, he is,’ etc. The terrified king blurts out the name of his dread first, then tremblingly takes the guilt of the deed to himself, and last speaks the terrifying thought that he is risen. A man who has a sin in his memory can never be sure that its ghost will not suddenly start up. Trivial incidents will rouse the sleeping conscience. Some nothing, a chance word, a scent, a sound, the look on a face, the glow of an evening sky, may bring all the foul past up again. A puff of wind clears away the mist of oblivion, and the old sin starts into vividness as if done yesterday. You touch a secret spring, and there yawns in the floor a gap leading down to a dungeon.

Conscience thus wakened is free from all illusions as to guilt. ‘I beheaded.’ There are no excuses now about Herodias’ urgency, or Salome’s beauty, or the rash oath, or the need of keeping it, before his guests. The deed stands clear of all these, as his own act. It is ever so. When conscience speaks, sophistications about temptations or companions, or necessity, or the more learned excuses which philosophers make about environment and heredity as weakening responsibility and diminishing guilt, shrivel to nothing. The present operations of conscience distinctly predict future still more complete remembrance of, and sense of responsibility for, long past sins. There will be a resurrection of men’s evil deeds, as well as of their bodies, and each of them will shake its gory locks at its author, and say, ‘Thou didst it.’

There is no proof that Herod was a Sadducee, disbelieving in a resurrection; but, whether he was or not, the terrors of conscience made short work of the difficulties in the way of his supposition. He was right in believing that evil deeds are gifted with an awful immortality, and will certainly rise again to shake their doer’s soul with terrors.

II. The narrative harks back to tell the story of John’s martyrdom.

It sets vividly forth the inner discord and misery of half-and-half convictions. Herodias was strong enough to get John put in prison, and apparently she tried with all the tenacity of a malignant woman to have him assassinated, by contrived accident or open sentence; but that she could not manage.

Mark’s analysis of the play of contending feeling in the weak king is barely intelligible in the Authorised Version, but is clearly shown in the Revised Version. He ‘feared John,’-the jailer afraid of his prisoner,-’knowing that he was a righteous man and an holy.’ Goodness is awful. The worst men know it when they see it, and pay it the homage of dread, if not of love. ‘And kept him safe’ {not ob- but pre-served him}; that is, from Herodias’ revenge. ‘And when he heard him, he was much perplexed.’ The reading thus translated differs from that in the Authorised Version by two letters only, and obviously is preferable. Herod was a weak-willed man, drawn by two stronger natures pulling in opposite directions.

So he alternated between lust and purity, between the foul kisses of the temptress at his side and the warnings of the prophet in his dungeon. But in all his vacillation he could not help listening to John, but ‘heard him gladly,’ and mind and conscience approved the nobler voice. Thus he staggered along, with religion enough to spoil some of his sinful delights, but not enough to make him give them up.

Such a state of partial conviction is not unusual. Many of us know quite well that, if we would drop some habit, which may not be very grave, we should be less encumbered in some effort which it is our interest or duty to make; but the conviction has not gone deeper than the understanding. Like a shot which has only got half way through the armoured skin of a man-of-war, it has done no execution, nor reached the engine-room where the power that drives the life is. In more important matters such imperfect convictions are widespread. The majority of slaves to vice know perfectly well that they should give it up. And in regard to the salvation which is in Christ, there are multitudes who know in their inmost consciousness that they ought to be Christians.

Such a condition is one liable to unrest and frequent inner conflict. Truly, he is ‘much perplexed’ whose conscience pulls him one way, and his inclinations another. There is no more miserable condition than that of the man whose will is cleft in twain, and who has a continual battle raging within. Conscience may be bound and thrust down into a dungeon, like John, and lust and pride may be carousing overhead, but their mirth is hollow, and every now and then the stern voice comes up through the gratings, and the noisy revelry is hushed, while it speaks doom.

Such a state of inner strife comes often from unwillingness to give up one special evil. If Herod could have plucked up resolve to pack Herodias about her business, other things might have come right. Many of us are ruined by being unwilling to let some dear delight go. ‘If thine eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out.’

We do not make up for such cowardly shrinking from doing right by pleasure in the divine word which we are not obeying. Herod no doubt thought that his delight in listening to John went some way to atone for his refusal to get rid of Herodias. Some of us think ourselves good Christians because we assent to truth, and even like to hear it, provided the speaker suit our tastes. Glad hearing only aggravates the guilt of not doing. It is useless to admire John if you keep Herodias.

III. The end of the story gives an example of the final powerlessness of such half-convictions.

One need not repeat the grim narrative of the murder. We all know it. One knows not which is the more repugnant-the degradation of the poor child Salome to the level of a dancing-girl, the fell malignity of the mother who would shame her daughter for such an end, the maudlin generosity of Herod, flushed with wine and excited passion, the hideous request from lips so young, the ineffectual sorrow of Herod, his fantastic sense of obligation, which scrupled to break a wicked promise and did not scruple to murder a prophet, or the ghastly picture of the girl hurrying to her mother with the freshly severed head, dripping on to the platter and staining her fair young hands.

This was what all the convictions of John’s righteousness had come to. So had ended the half yielding to his brave rebukes and the ineffectual aspirations after cleaner living. That chaos of lust and blood teaches that partial reformation is apt to end in a deeper plunge into fouler mire. If a man is false to his feeblest conviction, he makes himself a worse man all through. A partial thaw is generally followed by keener frost than before. A soul half melted and cooled again is harder to melt than before. An abortive slave-rising rivets the chains.

The incident teaches that simple weakness may come to be the parent of great sin. In a world like this, where there are always more voices soliciting to wrong than to right, to be weak is in the long run to be wicked. Fatal facility of disposition ruins hundreds of unthinking men. Nothing is more needful than that young people should learn to say ‘No,’ and should cultivate a wholesome obstinacy which is afraid of nothing but of sinning against God.

If we look onwards to this Herod’s last appearance in Scripture, we get further lessons. He desired to see Jesus that he might see a miracle done to amuse him, like a conjuring trick. Convictions and terrors had faded from his frivolous soul. He has forgotten that he once thought Jesus to be John come again. He sees Christ, and sees nothing in Him; and Christ says nothing to Herod, because He knew it would be useless.

It is an awful thing to put one’s self beyond the hearing of that voice, which ‘all that are in the graves shall hear.’ The most effectual stopping for our ears is neglect of what we know to be His will. If we will not listen to Him, we shall gradually lose the power of hearing Him, and then He will lock His lips, and answer nothing. We dare not say that Jesus is dumb to any man while life lasts, but we dare not refrain from saying that that condition of utter insensibility to His voice may be indefinitely approached by us, and that neglected convictions bring us terribly far on the way towards it.Mark 6:17-26. For Herod had laid hold on John, &c. — See the note on Matthew 14:3-7. Herodias had a quarrel against him — This princess was the granddaughter of Herod the Great, by his son Aristobulus, and had formerly been married to her uncle Philip, the son of her grandfather, by Mariamne, and brother to Herod the tetrarch. Some time after that marriage this Herod, happening in his way to Rome to lodge at his brother’s house, fell passionately in love with Herodias, and on his return made offers to her; which she accepted, deserting her husband, who was only a private person, that she might share with the tetrarch in the honours of a crown. On the other hand, he, to make way for her, divorced his wife, the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia. Wherefore both parties being guilty of incest as well as adultery, they were reproved by the Baptist, with a courage highly becoming the messenger of God. For though he had experienced the advantage of the tetrarch’s friendship, he was not afraid to displease him when his duty required it. This freedom Herod resented to such a degree, that he laid his monitor in irons. But if Herod’s resentment of the liberty which John took with him was great, that of Herodias was much greater. The crime she was guilty of being odious, she could not bear to have it named, and far less reproved. She was, therefore, enraged to the highest pitch, and nothing less than the Baptist’s head would satisfy her: and ever since he had offended her, she had been plotting against his life, but had not yet been able to get her purpose accomplished. For Herod feared John — Great and powerful as the king was, he stood in awe of John, though in low life, and for a while durst not attempt any thing against him; knowing that he was a just man and holy — Such force has virtue sometimes upon the minds of the highest offenders! And observed him — Or rather, preserved, or protected him, (as συνετηρει, it seems, should rather be rendered) namely, against all the malice and contrivances of Herodias. And when he heard him — Probably sending for him occasionally; he did many things — Recommended by him; and heard him gladly — Delusive pleasure, while he continued in the practice of known sin! Thus it often happens that they who do not truly fear God and turn to him, will go certain lengths in obedience to his commandments, provided something be remitted to them by way of indulgence. But when they are more straitly pressed, throwing off the yoke, they not only become obstinate but furious, which shows us, that no man has any reason to be satisfied with his conduct because he obeys many of the divine laws, unless he has learned to subject himself to God in every respect, and without exception. When a convenient day was come — Convenient for her purpose; that Herod made a supper for his lords, high captains, and chief estates — Greek, τοις χιλιαρχοις και τοις πρωτοις, the tribunes (or commanders of one thousand men each) and principal men of Galilee: that is, to the great men of the court, the army, and the province. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced — See notes on Matthew 14:6-12. For his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her — Herod’s honour was like the conscience of the chief priests, Matthew 27:6. To shed innocent blood wounded neither the one nor the other!6:14-29 Herod feared John while he lived, and feared him still more when he was dead. Herod did many of those things which John in his preaching taught him; but it is not enough to do many things, we must have respect to all the commandments. Herod respected John, till he touched him in his Herodias. Thus many love good preaching, if it keep far away from their beloved sin. But it is better that sinners persecute ministers now for faithfulness, than curse them eternally for unfaithfulness. The ways of God are unsearchable; but we may be sure he never can be at a loss to repay his servants for what they endure or lose for his sake. Death could not come so as to surprise this holy man; and the triumph of the wicked was short.See this account of the death of John the Baptist fully explained in the notes at Matthew 14:1-12.17. For Herod himself had sent forth, and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison—in the castle of Machærus, near the southern extremity of Herod's dominions, and adjoining the Dead Sea [Josephus, Antiquities, 18.5,2].

for Herodias' sake—She was the granddaughter of Herod the Great.

his brother Philip's wife—and therefore the niece of both brothers. This Philip, however, was not the tetrarch of that name mentioned in Lu 3:1 (see on [1443]Lu 3:1), but one whose distinctive name was "Herod Philip," another son of Herod the Great—who was disinherited by his father. Herod Antipas' own wife was the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia; but he prevailed on Herodias, his half-brother Philip's wife, to forsake her husband and live with him, on condition, says Josephus [Antiquities, 18.5,1], that he should put away his own wife. This involved him afterwards in war with Aretas, who totally defeated him and destroyed his army, from the effects of which he was never able to recover himself.

See Poole on "Mark 6:14" For Herod himself had sent forth,.... Some of his guard, a detachment of soldiers,

and laid hold upon John; who seized upon him, and took him up:

and bound him in prison; in the castle of Machaerus:

for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife, for he had married her; whilst his brother was living, and who had had children by her; See Gill on Matthew 14:3.

For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her.
Mark 6:17-29. See on Matthew 14:3-12. Mark narrates more circumstantially[98] and with more peculiar originality; see especially Mark 6:20, the contents of which, indeed, are held by Baur to rest on a deduction from Matthew 14:9.

αὐτός] is a commentary upon the ἘΓΏ of Mark 6:16. Herod himself, namely, etc.

ἐν φυλακῇ] in a prison, without the article. At Mark 6:28, on the other hand, with the article. Comp. 1Ma 9:53; Thuc. iii. 34; Plut. Mor. p. 162 B; Plat. Leg. ix. 864 E: ἐν δημοσίῳ δεσμῷ δεθείς.

Mark 6:19-20. The ΘΈΛΕΙΝ ΑὐΤῸΝ ἈΠΟΚΤΕῖΝΑΙ is here, in variation from Matthew, denied in the case of Herod. It is not merely an apparent variation (Ebrard, p. 384; Lange), but a real one, wherein Mark’s narrative betrays a later shape of the tradition (in opposition to Schneckenburger, erst. kan. Ev. p. 86 f.); while with Matthew Josephus also, Antt. xviii. 5. 2, attributes to Herod the intention of putting to death. Comp. Strauss, I. p. 396 f. As to ἐνεῖχεν (she gave close heed to him), see on Luke 11:53.

ἐφοβεῖτο] he feared him; he was afraid that this holy man, if he suffered him to be put to death, would bring misfortune upon him. From this fear arose also the utterance contained in Mark 6:14; Mark 6:16 : “Herodem non timuit Johannes,” Bengel.

συνετήρει] not; magni eum faciebat (Erasmus, Grotius, Fritzsche, de Wette), which the word does not mean, but he guarded him (Matthew 9:17; Luke 5:38; Tob 3:15; 2Ma 12:42; Polyb. iv. 60. 10; Herodian, ii. 1.11), i.e. he did not abandon him, but took care that no harm happened to him: “custodiebat eum,” Vulg. Comp. Jansen, Hammond, Bengel, who pertinently adds by way of explanation: “contra Herodiadem;” and also Bleek. According to Ewald, it is: “he gave heed to him.” Comp. Sir 4:20; Sir 27:12. But this thought is contained already in what precedes and in what follows. The compound strengthens the idea of the simple verb, designating its action as entire and undivided.

ἀκούσας] when he had heard him. Observe afterwards the emphasis of ἩΔΈΩς (and gladly he heard him).

πολλὰ ἐποίει] namely, which he had heard from John. Very characteristic is the reading: Π. ἨΠΌΡΕΙ, which has the strongest internal probability of being genuine, although only attested by B L א, Copt.[99]

We may add that all the imperfects apply to the time of the imprisonment, and are not to be taken as pluperfects (Grotius, Bolten). The ἤκουε took place when Herod was actually present (as was now the case; see on Matthew 14:10 f.) in Machaerus; it is possible also that he had him sent for now and then to his seat at Tiberias. But in any case the expressions of Mark point to a longer period of imprisonment than Wieseler, p. 297, assumes.

Mark 6:21. ἩΜΈΡΑς ΕὔΚΑΙΡΟΥ] ΕὐΚΑΊΡΟς, in reference to time, means nothing else than at the right time, hence: a rightly-timed, fitting, appropriate day (Beza, Grotius, Jansen, Fritzsche, de Wette, Ewald, Bleek, and many others). Comp. Hebrews 4:16; Psalm 104:27; 2Ma 14:29; Soph. O. C. 32; Herodian, i. 4. 7, i. 9. 15, v. 8. 16; and see Plat. Def. p. 413 C. Mark makes use of this predicate, having before his mind the purpose of Herodias, Mark 6:19, which hitherto had not been able to find any fitting point of time for its execution on account of the tetrarch’s relation to John.[100] Grotius well says: “opportuna insidiatrici, quae vino, amore et adulatorum conspiratione facile sperabat impelli posse nutantem mariti animum.” Others (Hammond, “Wolf, Paulus, Kuinoel) have explained it contrary to linguistic usage as: dies festivus (יוֹם טוֹב). At the most, according to a later use of ΕὐΚΑΙΡΕῖΝ (Phrynich. p. 125; comp. below, Mark 6:31), ἩΜΈΡΑ ΕὔΚΑΙΡΟς might mean: a day, on which one has convenient time, i.e. a leisure day (comp. εὐκαίρως ἔχειν, to be at leisure, Polyb. v. 26. 10, al., ΕὐΚΑΙΡΊΑ, leisure), which, however, in the connection would be inappropriate, and very different from the idea of a dies festivus.

On μεγιστᾶνες, magnates, a word in current use from the Macedonian period, see Kypke, I. p. 167; Sturz, Dial. Mac. p. 182; Lobeck, ad Phryn. p. 197.

ΚΑῚ ΤΟῖς ΠΡΏΤΟΙς Τῆς ΓΑΛ.] The first two were the chief men of the civil and military service of the tetrarch. Moreover, the principal men of Galilee, people who were not in his service (“status provinciales,” Bengel), were called in.

Mark 6:22. ΑὐΤῆς Τῆς ἩΡΩΔ.] of Herodias herself. The king was to be captivated with all the greater certainty by Herodias’ own daughter; another dancer would not have made the same impression upon him.

Mark 6:23. ἝΩς ἩΜΊΣΟΥς Κ.Τ.Λ.] in accordance with Esther 5:3. See in general, Köster, Erläut. p. 194. It is thus that the unprincipled man, carried away by feeling, promises. The contracted form of the genitive belongs to the later manner of writing. Lobeck, ad Phryn. p. 347. The article was not requisite. Heindorf, ad Phaed. p. 176.

Mark 6:25. Observe the pertness of the wanton damsel. As to θέλω ἵνα (Mark 10:35 : I will that thou shouldst, etc.), see on Luke 6:31.

Mark 6:26. περίλυπος] on account of what was observed at Mark 6:20.

διὰ τοὺς ὅρκους κ. τ. συνανακ.] emphatically put first, as the determining motive.

αὐτὴν ἀθετῆσαι] eam repmdiare. Examples of ἈΘΕΤΕῖΝ, referred to persons (comp. Heliod. vii. 26: ΕἸς ὍΡΚΟΥς ἈΘΕΤΟῦΜΑΙ), may be seen in Kypke, I. p. 167 f. The use of the word in general belongs to the later Greek. Frequent in Polybius.

Mark 6:27. ΣΠΕΚΟΥΛΆΤΩΡΑ] a watcher, i.e. one of his body-guard. On them also devolved the execution of capital punishment (Seneca, de ira, i. 16, benef. iii. 25, al.; Wetstein in loc.) The Latin word (not spiculator, from their being armed with the spiculum, as Beza and many others hold) is also adopted into the Hebrew ספקלטור. See Lightfoot and Schoettgen, also Buxtorf, Lex. Talm. p. 1533. The spelling σπεκουλάτορα (Lachm. Tisch.) has decisive attestation.

[98] Mentioning even the name of Philip. Josephus, Antt. xviii. 5. 4, names him by the family name Herodes, which does not necessitate the supposition of a confusion as to the name on the part of Mark (Ewald, Gesch. Chr. p. 51). Only we may not understand Philip the tetrarch, but a half-brother of his, bearing a similar name. See on Matthew 14:3.

[99] Comp. Buttmann in the Stud. u. Krit. 1860, p. 349. It is to be explained: he was perplexed about many things; what he heard from John was so heart-searching and so closely touched him. On ἀπορεῖν τι as equivalent to περί τινος, see Krüger on Thuc. v. 40. 3; Heindorf, ad Plat. Crat. p. 409 D.

[100] The appropriateness of the day is then stated in detail by ὅτε Ἡρώδης κ.τ.λ. Hence I do not deem it fitting to write, with Lachmann (comp. his Prolegom. p. xliii.), , τε.Mark 6:17-29. Story of Herod and the Baptist (Matthew 14:3-12). Herod’s endorsement of the theory that Jesus is John redivivus gives a convenient opportunity for reporting here post eventum the Baptist’s fate. The report is given in aorists which need not be translated as pluperfects (as in A. V[45] and R. V[46]).

[45] Authorised Version.

[46] Revised Version.17. For Herod] St Mark now proceeds more fully than the first Evangelist to relate the circumstances of the murder of the Baptist.

for Herodias’ sake] During one of his journeys to Rome, Herod Antipas had fallen in with Herodias the wife of his brother Herod Philip, a son of Herod the Great and Mariamne, who was living there as a private person. Herodias was not only the sister-in-law, but the niece of Antipas, and already had a daughter who was grown up. Herod himself had long been married to the daughter of Aretas, Emîr of Arabia Petræa, but this did not prevent him from courting an adulterous alliance with Herodias, and she consented to become his wife, on condition that the daughter of the Arabian prince was divorced. But the latter, suspecting her husband’s guilty passion, did not wait to be divorced, and indignantly fled to the castle of Machærus, and thence to her father’s rocky fortress at Petra, who forthwith assembled an army to avenge her wrongs, and defeated Herod in a decisive battle (Jos. Ant. Mark 6:1).Verse 17. - In prison. Josephus ('Antiq.,' 18:5, 2) informs us that this prison was the fort of Machaerus, on the confines of Galilee and Arabia, and that there John was beheaded. Herod's father had built a magnificent palace within that fort; and so he may have been keeping the anniversary of his birthday there,
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