Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Herod's troubling public promise

The story of how John the Baptist was killed is a strange story and was a part of my Bible reading today. John the Baptist did not shy away from controversy or confrontation. He has one of my favorite lines in the Bible: "You brood of vipers." It is such a colorful way to describe how he felt about the Pharisees and Sadducees coming out for baptism. He knew that they were doing it merely for the show and not because they were truly being repentant. So he called them a brood of vipers. I find it creative and intelligent. 

But that wasn't the only place that John confronted someone. He also told King Herod exactly what he was thinking as well. King Herod had married his brothers ex-wife, Herodias and John the Baptist was very vocal about it being wrong:

It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.

So Herod had him arrested and thrown in jail. While John might not have been afraid to tell Herod what he thought, you always take a risk when speaking boldly about the the king and his wife.

Herod both feared the people–they thought John was a prophet–and he actually had some fear of John himself. Herod thought that John was a righteous man and would actually take time to listen to John. Herodias, on the other hand, wanted John dead. Would it surprise you that this caused some friction between Herod and Herodias?

Turns out that Herod made a bad move. He was throwing his own birthday party and had invited noblemen, military commanders and important men in Galilee. As part of the party entertainment Herod's 12 or 14 year old stepdaughter Salome danced.

This wasn't some dance recital piece that she had been working on for the school talent show:

For when Herodias's daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests.

Herod was pleased so much and in such a way that he vowed to give Salome what ever she wanted up to half of his kingdom. It was a boastful promise and probably a figure of speech. Salome ran out to ask her mother what to ask for and Herodias said:

The head of John the Baptist.

This part of the story reads as if Herodias had put her daughter up to dancing for all the men at the party. I doubt that Herod and Herodias were winning any parents of the year awards. 

Herod was greatly troubled when Salome came back and asked for John's head on a platter:

And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her.

Herod ended up giving Salome John's head on a platter and Salome gave it to her mom.

As depraved as Herod was, we can learn something from him. There is a lot of power in a promise made in public. These promises can work both for us and against us. We need to be careful what we promise to people. (Just ask George Bush Sr. about how making a very public promise can work against you.) We shouldn't make promises that are going to be difficult for us to keep. But they can also work for us. The power of a public promise–even if that promise is only made to one or two other people–is the very basis of how accountability works. As Christians when we are struggling with something often times it is much easier to over come those struggles with the help of someone else.

To that end I am making a public promise. The time between Christmas Eve and New Years Day is reserved for my family. This means that I am not going to be doing things that take me away from spending time with family. My wife is off that week and so this means that I will be taking that time off from blogging. So if any of you catch me breaking this promise please hold me accountable.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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