For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife.…
This is introduced quite incidentally to account for the superstitious terror of Herod; but the story is so graphic that we seem to be carried into the midst of the scene of dissipation and crime. It is a hideous picture, and its chief lessons are of warning, and yet its gloom is not utterly unrelieved, for the portrait of the Baptist stands out in grand contrast to its vicious surroundings.
I. THE PROPHET'S FIDELITY. John the Baptist was a prophet of repentance. His was a difficult task, because he aimed at making it effective. It is easy to denounce sin in the general; no one will be affected. It is safe to accuse the weak of their wickedness; they cannot retaliate on their censor. Therefore the temptation is to take one or the other of these courses; but the first is useless, and the second mean and cowardly.
1. John denounced particular sins. He did so with the various classes who came to his baptism. The animus of Herodias' hatred springs from the fact that his shaft went home to one great and shameful act of wickedness.
2. John fearlessly accused the great. He was not stern with the miserable outcast, and meek with the sinner in high places. Pharisees could rail at the weeping penitent and be silent about the sin of the harlot-queen. John preached to the court; but he was no court preacher. The faithful prophet must denounce the sins of princes as well as those of peasants.
II. THE PRINCESS'S SHAME. In the flush and splendour of her youth, the highest-born maiden of the land lowers herself to perform a disgraceful dance under the gloating gaze of a company of half-drunken men of pleasure. The sin of the guilty mother is already bearing bitter fruit in the shame of her ill-trained daughter. We are appalled at the contrast between the lofty character of the faithful prophet and the miserable state of the princess on whose young soul the bloom of innocence is so early destroyed. The ruin of natural modesty prepares for a more horrible evil - callousness in brutal crime. Thus the loss of the pure simplicity of maidenhood leads to the hardened heart of unwomanly cruelty. None are so cruel as the dissolute.
III. THE QUEEN'S VINDICTIVENESS. It was the king's sin that John denounced, for that was the first evil; and the prophet was a man, and one who dared to bring a vile deed home to its true author. But naturally the queen feels the sting of the reproach most keenly. Then, instead of admitting its justice and humbling herself, she turns on the preacher like an infuriated tigress. Her very ferocity shows that her conscience has been wounded. When people will not repent at the word of a faithful admonitor, they flame out in a rage against him as though he were their mortal enemy. If they did but see the truth they would own him as their best friend.
IV. THE KING'S WICKED WEAKNESS. Herod himself had some respect for the prophet. He even kept him, as he might have kept an actor or a singer, to amuse his idle hours; or perhaps be was somewhat drawn to the serious teaching of John. Yet he weakly yielded to the bloodthirsty demand of the daughter of Herodias. He was moved by two considerations.
1. His oath. But it was a gross error to suppose that his oath could be made to demand compliance with the savage request made to him under it, for the most awful oath cannot bind a man to do wrong.
2. His fear. He dreaded to be thought weak by his guests. In this he revealed the very weakness he wanted to avoid. There is no cowardice so despicable as that which does wrong from fear of ridicule. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife.
WEB: For Herod had laid hold of John, and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife.