Matthew 14:6-11 (NIV) On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother.
As was said before, Herod was a weak man, caring more about the opinions of others than about what was truly right or righteous. This is a case in point.
Herod was impressed by the dancing of his step-daughter. He was also feeling expansive due to his birthday celebration and the abundant wine that was traditionally part of those festivities. So he made a rash promise, accompanied by an oath, to give the young woman anything she asked for, up to half his kingdom (Mark 6:23).
Left to her own devices, she probably would have asked for a house, a grant of land, or some bauble from the royal treasury. But, prompted by her mother, she made the horrifying request of the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
It was at this moment that Herod failed as a leader, and as a person who professed to follow God. He was unnecessarily torn between what he knew to be right, God’s just requirement not to murder, and what his guests might think of him if he backed down from his oath.
He could easily have chosen the high road, and simply told Herodias’ daughter that requests that God forbade could not be granted, oath or no oath. But instead, he was more worried about how he would appear in the eyes of his guests than about how he would appear in God’s eyes, and he gave the order.
It is easy to give in to peer pressure, and to convince ourselves that doing the wrong thing for the right reason is the moral high ground. But doing the wrong thing is NEVER the right or moral thing to do, no matter the reason. It was the same when Saul kept the best of the livestock when he conquered the Amalekites, instead of destroying them as God commanded (1 Samuel 15:18-25). His excuse was that the soldiers pressured him to take the best of the cattle “in order to sacrifice them to the Lord” (verse 21), and that he had given in to them because “I was afraid of the people” (verse 24c). God’s word to Him was, “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22 NIV)
Herod repeatedly gave in to popular opinion instead of following God’s commands, which he knew well. And, in so doing, he wrote the book of his doom with his own hands.
Father, You tell us over and over again in Your word that You want us to obey You above anything else. And that is critical, because none of the people we are tempted to please here on earth get a vote on whether we get into heaven when our lives here are over. Only You make that decision, and it will be based on our relationship with You through Jesus, demonstrated by our actions of obedience. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21 NIV) Help us to keep our priorities straight, to be guided consistently, not by what others might think of us, but solely by Your word. Amen.