And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)He sent, and beheaded John in the prison.—Measured by the standard of earthly greatness, it seems almost like a paradox to say of one who had only been for a few short months a preacher of righteousness in the wilderness of Judæa, as men have said of the kings and conquerors of the world, “So passed from the earth one of the greatest of her sons;” and yet this, and nothing less than this, if we accept our Lord’s words, must be our estimate of the Baptist’s character. Intensity of purpose, dauntless courage, profound humility, self-denial carried to its highest point, a burning love that passed beyond the limits of race and nation, tenderness of sympathy for the toilers of the world, for the fallen and the outcast, all these were there; and what elements of moral greatness can go beyond them? And the consciousness of Christendom has recognised that greatness. Art and poetry have symbolised it in outward form, and the work of the Forerunner, the conviction that the preaching of repentance must precede that of forgiveness, has been reproduced in every great revival of religious life which has brought the kingdom of heaven nearer to men’s hearts and hopes.Matthew 14:10-11. And he sent and beheaded John in the prison — How mysterious is the providence of God, which left the life of so holy a man in such infamous hands! which permitted it to be sacrificed to the malice of an abandoned harlot, the petulancy of a vain girl, and the rashness of a foolish, perhaps drunken prince, who made a prophet’s head the reward of a dance! But we are sure the Almighty will repay his servants in another world, for whatever they suffer in this. And his head was brought and given to the damsel. The head of the prophet, whose rebukes had awed the king in his loosest moments, and whose exhortations had often excited him to virtuous actions, was immediately brought, pale and bloody, in a charger, and given to the daughter of Herodias, in the presence of the guests; and she brought it to her mother — The young lady gladly received the bloody present, and carried it to her mother, who enjoyed the whole pleasure of revenge, and feasted her eyes with the sight of her enemy’s head, now rendered silent and harmless. But the Baptist’s voice became the louder for his being murdered, filling the earth, reaching up to heaven, and publishing the woman’s adultery to all ages and to all people! St. Jerome tells us that Herodias treated the head in a very disdainful manner, pulling out the tongue, which she imagined had injured her, and piercing it with a needle. Thus they gratified themselves in the indulgence of their lusts, and triumphed in the murder of this holy prophet, till the righteous judgment of God overtook them all. For, as Dr. Whitby, with many others, observes, Providence interested itself very remarkably in the revenge of this murder on all concerned; Herod’s army was defeated in a war occasioned by his marrying Herodias, which even many Jews thought a judgment sent upon him for the murder of John. Both he and Herodias, whose ambition occasioned his ruin, were afterward driven from their kingdom in great disgrace, and died in banishment at Lyons in Gaul: and, if any credit may be given to Nicephorus, Salome, the young lady who made this cruel request, fell into the ice, as she was walking over it, which closing suddenly cut off her head. See Macknight and Doddridge.
1. Herod had a high respect for John, and feared him. He knew that he was a holy man, and had "observed him," Mark 6:20. In the margin (Mark) this is "kept him," or "saved him." In fact he had interposed and saved John from being put to death by Herodias, who had had a quarrel with John, and would have killed him but for Herod, Mark 6:19. Herod, though a bad man, had a respect and veneration for John as a holy and just man, as wicked people often will have.
2. John was in high repute among the people, and Herod might have been afraid that his murder might excite commotion.
3. Herod, though a wicked man, does not appear to have been insensible to some of the common principles of human nature. Here was a great and most manifest crime proposed - no less than the murder of an acknowledged prophet of the Lord. It was deliberate. It was to gratify the malice of a wicked woman. It was the price of a few moments' entertainment. His conscience, though in feeble and dying accents, checked him. He would have preferred a request not so manifestly wicked, and that would not have involved him in so much difficulty.
For the oath's sake - Herod felt that he was bound by this oath; but he was not. The oath should not have been taken: but, being taken, he could not be bound by it. No oath could justify a man in committing murder. The true principle is, that Herod was bound by a prior obligation - by the law of God - not to commit murder; and no act of his, be it an oath or anything else, could free him from that obligation.
And them which sat with him at meat - This was the strongest reason why Herod murdered John. He had not firmness enough to obey the law of God and to follow the dictates of conscience against the opinions of wicked people. He was afraid of the charge of cowardice and want of spirit; afraid of ridicule and the contempt of the wicked. This is the principle of the laws of honor; this the foundation of dwelling. It is not so much for his own sake that one man murders another in a duel, for the offence is often a mere trifle - it is a word, or look, that never would injure him. It is because the "men of honor," as they call themselves, his companions, would consider him a coward and would laugh at him. Those companions may be unprincipled contemners of the laws of God and man; and yet the duellist, against his own conscience, against the laws of God, against the good opinion of the virtuous part of the world, and against the laws of his country, seeks by deadly aim to murder another merely to gratify his dissolute companions. And this is the law of honor! This is the secret of duelling! This the source of that remorse that settles in awful blackness, and that thunders damnation around the duellist in his dying hours! It should be added, this is the course of all youthful guilt. Young men are led along by others. They have not firmness enough to follow the teachings of a father and of the law of God. They are afraid of being called mean and cowardly by the wicked; and they often sink low in vice and crime, never to rise again.
This is John the Baptist: he is risen from the dead, &c.—The murdered prophet haunted his guilty breast like a specter and seemed to him alive again and clothed with unearthly powers in the person of Jesus.
Account of the Baptist's Imprisonment and Death (Mt 14:3-12). For the exposition of this portion, see on Mr 6:17-29.See Poole on "Matthew 14:11". Mark 6:27 where the Latin word "speculator", or as it is sometimes written "spiculator", is used; and is the name of an officer concerned in executions, and particularly in beheading of persons; and so is used by Latin writers.
"In a civil war (says (x) Seneca), a servant hid his master that was proscribed; and when he had fitted his rings for himself, and put on his clothes, he met "speculatoribus", the "speculators"; he told them he desired nothing, but that they would perform their orders, and immediately stretched out his neck.''
And the same writer elsewhere (y) speaks of a soldier that was condemned by Piso, on suspicion of murdering his fellow soldier;
"Who was had without the camp, and as soon as he stretched out his neck, he, who was thought to be killed, suddenly appeared; upon which the centurion that had the management of the execution, ordered "speculatorem", the "speculator", to put up his sword, and returned the condemned person to Piso.''
The word is also used by the Jewish doctors, and in the same sense: take the following instance among many (z).
"R. Ishmael said to R. Simeon ben Gamaliel (when they were both apprehended, in order to be executed), brother, there was a man ready to receive his blow, and they entreated "the speculator": one said, I am a priest, the son of an high priest, slay me first, that I may not see the death of my companion; and the other said to him, I am a prince, the son of a prince, slay me first, that I may not see the death of my companion: he replied unto them, cast lots; and they cast lots, and the lot fell on R. Simeon ben Gamaliel; immediately he took a sword, "and cut off his head".''
And as this word is often used by them (a) for an executioner, so "specula" is often made mention of by them (b), as a sort of punishment by death: and such an officer was sent by Herod, to inflict this punishment upon John; who accordingly executed it,
and beheaded John in the prison; that is, of Machoeras, where he lay, without giving him a hearing, or allowing him to speak for himself, or with his friends: and which was done in this private manner, partly for dispatch, and partly on account of the people; who it might have been feared, had the execution been public and known, would have rose and rescued him.
(x) De beneficiis, 1. 3. c. 25. (y) De ira, l. 1. c. 16. Vid. Julium Firmicum, l. 8. c. 26. & Florum, l. 4. c. 7. & Suetonium in vit. Caligul. c. 52. Octav. August. c. 74. & Claud. c. 35. Tertullian. de Corona, c. 1.((z) Abot R. Nathan, c. 38. fol. 9. 1.((a) Vid Targum Jon. in Genesis 37.36. & xxxix. 1. & Targ. Sheni in Esth. v. 2. Jarchi in Exod. iv. 11. T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 108. 1. & Gloss. in ib. (b) Bereshit Rab. sect. 79. fol. 69. 3. Vajikra Rab. sect. 24. fol. 165. 2. & Bemidbar Rab. sect. 7. fol. 187. 4.And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Matthew 14:10-11 f. Considering that it would require rather more than two days to return from Machaerus (see note on Matthew 14:3), the fortress on the southern frontier between Peraea and the dominion of Aretas, to Tiberias (where Antipas was residing), Fritzsche thinks that it is out of the question to suppose that the head can have been actually delivered at the feast; comp. Lightfoot. But this circumstance, helping as it does to lend a tragic air to the whole proceeding, is just one which the reader naturally takes for granted, and one which is found to be necessary in order to give unity and completeness to the scene (Strauss, I. p. 397); so that, with Maldonatus, Grotius, Baumgarten-Crusius, Gerlach, Keim, we must suppose the festival to have taken place in Machaerus, and not in Tiberias. Not even Wieseler’s view, that the feast was held in Julias in Peraea, and that the head was brought thither by messengers travelling post-haste, can be said to be in sufficient accord with the tragic scenery of the simple narrative. The account in Mark (Matthew 6:25, ἐξαυτῆς; Matthew 14:27, ἐνεχθῆναι) is unfavourable to such a view, as is also the ὧδε in Matthew 14:8 and Matthew 14:11, which plainly implies that the thing was done there and then.
ἐν τῇ φυλακῇ] therefore in private by the hand of an assassin. “Trucidatur vir sanctus ne judiciorum quidem ordine servato; nam sontes populo omni inspectanti plecti lex Mosis jubet,” Grotius.
καὶ ἐδόθη τ. κ. καὶ ἤνεγκε τ. μ. ἀ.] the horrible scene in a few simple words.
Matthew 14:12. The disciples, to be near their master, had remained somewhere in the neighbourhood of the prison, probably in the town of Machaerus itself. For πτῶμα, a corpse, see Phrynichus, ed. Lobeck, p. 375.Matthew 14:10. ἀπεκεφάλισε: expressive word, all too clear in meaning, though not found in Attic usage, or apparently much used at all; a plebeian word, according to Salmasius cited by Kypke, who gives instances from late authors.Matthew 14:10. Ἀπεκεφάλισε, he beheaded) Even this kind of death was a proof that John was not the Messiah: cf. John 19:36.—Ἰωάννην, John) a sudden and violent death, even by decapitation, is not always miserable.
 It was not fitting, to wit, that even a bone of Christ’s body should be broken, much less His head taken off.—V. g.Verses 10, 11. - And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison, and his head was brought in a charger (ver. 8, note), and given (the fourth time that the word "give" has come in five verses; the head of the herald of the kingdom becomes a royal gift) to the damsel - (τῷ κορασίῳ, ver. 6, note) - and she brought it to her mother. But a few minutes after she had first spoken her request (ver. 8, note).
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