And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead…
I. CONJECTURES ABOUT CHRIST. The name of Jesus had now attained great celebrity; it was fast becoming a household word; the cures he had effected, the demons he had ejected from human bodies, the dead he had raised - his wonderful works were on every tongue. Some detracted, others wondered, but most applauded. The missionary tour of the apostles, brief as it was, had given fresh currency and wider diffusion to reports already circulated far and near. His fame had made its way into the court of the tetrarch, and thus reached the ears of royalty itself. The personality of the great Wonder-worker was keenly canvassed; conjectures were rife on the subject. Some affirmed he was Elias, who had come as the forerunner of Messiah; others, not seeing their way to go so far as to accept him for the Prophet long expected, or even the precursor of that great Prophet, simply asserted he was a prophet; while some fancied that, after a long and dreary interval, a new era of prophetic activity was commencing, and so that a person like one of the old prophets had appeared.
II. CONSCIENCE STRONGER THAN CREED. Such were the conjectures afloat, and such the conflicting opinions of the people. Not so Herod; other thoughts stirred within him; something more than mere curiosity Was at work in his case; he was startled - thoroughly perplexed, and quite at a loss (διηπόρει, St. Luke) to know what to think of the matter. in his extreme perplexity and agitation he expressed his opinion in a very surprising manner, and in the following very striking and abrupt words: - "Whom I myself beheaded - John: he is risen from the dead;" adding, "And on this account mighty powers operate in him." What a wonderful evidence of the power of conscience we have here! Herod, we have good reason to believe, was a Sadducee, for "the leaven of Herod," mentioned by St. Mark (Mark 8:15), is identified with "the leaven of the Sadducees" spoken of in the Gospel of St. Matthew (Matthew 16:6). The Sadducees denied the existence of angel or spirit, and also the resurrection of the dead; and yet this loose-living, unbelieving Sadducee fell back at once on an article of belief which he had all his life denied. The power of conscience had overmastered his creed. His guilty conscience had conjured up before him the murdered man as restored to life, and returning, as it were, with power from the spirit-world.
III. A PARALLEL CASE. A somewhat similar instance of the mighty power of that monitor within occurs in an instructive narrative in the forty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis. When Joseph, before making himself known to his brethren, had put them in ward three days, and subsequently released them on condition of retaining one as a hostage till the rest returned with their youngest brother, in proof of their good faith and of their being true men and no spies, "they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us." There was nothing apparently in the circumstances of the case, unpleasant as those circumstances were, nor in the condition imposed on them, hard as it seemed, to remind them of their cruel treatment of their long-lost brother - nothing to recall his memory, absolutely nothing, save the still, small voice within; in other words, the power of a guilty conscience.
IV. THE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT OCCASIONED THE BAPTIST'S DEATH. The evangelist now turns aside to narrate the circumstances that led up to the death of John the Baptist. Herod Antipas, ethnarch of Galilee and Peraea, called "tetrarch" by St. Matthew, as inheriting only a fourth part of the dominions of his father, Herod the Great, and styled "king" by St. Mark, had seduced his brother Philip's wife, with whom he was now living in an adulterous connection. The Baptist boldly but faithfully lifted up his voice against this sin. addressing earnest and repeated remonstrances to Herod; for, as we read, he kept saying (ἔλεγε being imperfect), "It is not lawful for thee to have her," The vindictive spirit of Herodias was roused in consequence; she resolved to have her revenge, but was unable to prevail on her husband to gratify her fully in this particular. He arrested the Baptist and imprisoned him, putting him in chains. He still, however, retained some respect for him, as a good and holy man whom he had heard often, and by whom he had been influenced to do many things; though συνετήρει rather means that Herod kept him in safety, or preserved him from Herodias's machinations, than that he esteemed him highly. Besides, state policy stood in the way of further violence. Herod shrank from the unpopularity which he was certain to incur by such a course; perhaps even worse consequences might ensue. To deprive i the people of their favourite might lead to insurrection. Josephus, however, attributes the murder of John by Herod to Herod's "fear lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion." This wicked woman bided her time, harbouring her secret grudge and ill-concealed resentment (ἐνεῖχεν, equivalent to "she held fast within or cherished inward wrath," or "set herself against," Revised Version); while ἤθελεν implies "she had a settled desire" ); but the favorable opportunity at last arrived. The king was celebrating his birthday festival by an entertainment to the magnates of his realm - high officers of the army, military tribunes, or chiliarchs, and other functionaries, civil or ecclesiastical, of distinguished rank. But besides this great assemblage of Galilean nobles and the splendor of the feast itself, a new feature was added to the entertainment. Salome, daughter of Hero-dins, in forgetfulness of the due decorum of her rank and the natural modesty of her sex, volunteered to play a part little better than that of ballet-girl before the assembled grandees of Galilee, and thus to heighten the enjoyment of the king's guests. The king looked on in rapture, immensely pleased by the easy condescension, and charmed with the agility and graceful movements of the fair danseuse. He was sensible of the sacrifice she had made in compliment to his majesty; for a Persian queen once lost her crown, and was willing to submit to the loss, rather than, at the sacrifice of her queenly or womanly modesty, to appear, even by the king's express command, in the presence of his banqueters. Being, in consequence, in a grateful, generous mood, he determined not to be outdone in magnanimity. There and then, of his own motion, he promised Salome whatever she asked, if it should amount to half his kingdom: he backed his promise by an oath, yea, by more than one, for we read of oaths (ὅρκους), as confirmatory of that promise. The girl was somewhat nonplussed by the largeness of the king's bounteous offer. She hesitated; but a prompter was not far to seek. She repaired to her mother, no doubt expecting direction in the matter of gold, or jewels, or diamonds, or girlish ornaments of some sort. But no; that wicked woman had set her heart on what no gold could purchase, and no gems procure. It was no less than the Baptist's head.
V. REFLECTIONS ON ALL THIS.
1. Surely the maiden, bold as she was, must have been shocked at the proposal; surely she must have recoiled from such a cruelty; surely she must have required strong and powerful urgency to bring herself to present such a bloody petition. And this we think is implied in the word προβιβασθεῖσα employed by St. Matthew, and signifying "made to go forward," and so instigated. She soon, however, recovered her sprightliness. Once her scruples were overcome, she returned in haste, and with eagerness preferred the ghastly request for John the Baptist's head to be given her immediately - lest time might cool the royal ardor - and in a charger, one of the platters used in the feast, and thus one of those just at hand, to make sure of the execution on the spot. The terms are expressive of the utmost eagerness and haste: "Give me here - immediately in a charger," is the demand after she had "come in straightway with haste."
2. The king at once repented, but too late; he was excessively sorry (περίλυπος). This word is only used twice again in the New Testament - of the Saviour in his agony, and of the rich ruler in parting, perhaps for ever, from the Saviour. But then there was the false shame consequent on repeated oaths, and because of the presence of so many persons of quality. How could he break the former? How could he insult, by withdrawal of his kingly promise or breach of faith, the latter? How could he set aside (ἀθετῆσαι) a promise made before so many, and confirmed by so many oaths?
3. At once a guardsman (σπεκουλάτωρ, either equal to δορυφόρος, a satellite or body-guard, or equal to κατάσκοπος, a spy, or scout; at all events, a guardsman of Herod now at war with Aretas) is despatched. The head is brought, dripping with blood. Oh, horrid sight! It is handed on a platter to the maiden; and she, maiden though she was, received it, and, maiden though she was, bore it away to her mother. The word "maiden" (κοράσιον, equivalent to little or young maiden) is repeated, as if to stigmatize the untender, unfeeling, and beyond expression unmaidenly, conduct of this princess.
4. So ended the last act of this bloody tragedy. It now remained for the sorrowing disciples of the Baptist tearfully and tenderly to take up the corpse (πτῶμα, equivalent to cadaver) of their beloved master, and consign it to its last resting-place in the tomb.
VI. ADDITIONAL REMARKS.
1. A nearly parallel case, or a crime somewhat similar to that of Herod, is referred to in strongest terms of condemnation by Cicero, in the twelfth chapter of his 'Treatise on Old Age,' as follows: - "I indeed acted unwillingly in banishing from the senate I.. Flaminius, brother of that eminently brave man, T. Flaminius, seven years after he had been consul; but I thought that his licentiousness should be stigmatized. For when he was consul in Gaul, he was prevailed on by a courtesan, at an entertainment, to behead one of those who were in confinement on a capital accusation;... but lewdness so abandoned and so desperate, which was combining with private infamy the disgrace of the empire, could by no means be visited with approbation by myself and Flaccus."
2. It was in a gloomy dungeon, in the strong old castle of Machaerus, that the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded. That place was in Persia, nine miles east of the Dead Sea, and on the borders between the dominion of Herod and of Aretas. It is thus described by Josephus in relation to its strength: "The nature of the place was very capable of affording the surest hopes of safety to those that possessed this citadel, as well as delay and fear to those that should attack it; for what was walled in was itself a very rocky hill, elevated to a very great height; which circumstance alone made it very hard to be subdued. It was also so contrived by nature that it could not be easily ascended; for it is, as it were, ditched about with such valleys on all sides, and to such a depth that the eye cannot reach their bottoms, and such as are not easily passed over, and even such as it is impossible to fill up with earth." - J.J.G.
Parallel VersesKJV: And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.