The Dance of Herodias' Daughter
"He also swore to her, 'Whatever you ask me, I will give
you, up to half my kingdom'" (Mark 6:23)
Herod was on top of the world. It was his birthday, and all the great men of the region had come to celebrate with him (Mark 6:21). Certainly there was much joy and many toasts to the great King of Galilee. Just when the party seemed to reach its peak, in came Herodias' daughter to dance. What kind of dance? "And when Herodias' daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, 'Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you'" (Mark 6:22). It is hard to imagine that Herod was so impressed by her footwork or enamored of her execution of dance moves. This dance had as its object the same as most dances-the arousal of sexual desires. And Herod, in this excited state, utters words that will haunt him for many mornings after: "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom" (Mark 6:23). Let us learn from this sad scene in Herod's life, and see how we can choose better.
First, we see that women have power over men. Herod is just another in a long list of Bible characters who prove this statement to us. How great might Samson had been if not for Delilah (Judges 16)? What kind of success would David have had if he had left Bathsheba alone (2 Samuel 11-12)? Wouldn't Solomon's example have been above reproach without his foreign wives, who turned him away from God (1 Kings 11:4)? There is an important lesson to be learned here. If these great men were not strong enough to resist the pull of evil women, we must not trust in our own strength either. Truly does Solomon say of the immoral woman "all who were slain by her were strong men" (Prov 7:26).
Especially we should notice that Herod had the right idea before he started listening to wicked women. While Herodias wanted to kill John the Baptist for speaking against their unrighteous union (Mark 6:19), Herod wouldn't because he "feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him. And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly" (Mark 6:20). Only when Herod's defenses were down because of the dancing did Herodias get her way-only then was John killed (Mark 6:25). Why did the king end up doing something that made him "exceedingly sorry"(v. 26)? He allowed wicked women to remain in his close company and scheme him into making wicked decisions as well. Two admonitions must be given: godly women must take care not to use these means to scheme and contrive ways to get men to act wickedly. Meanwhile, men must not be lured into evil by such evil women. "And I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God shall escape from her, but the sinner shall be trapped by her" (Eccl 7:26). Herodias and her daughter are perfect examples of women "more bitter than death". Godly men must take great caution to escape such and learn from Herod's failure.
What could prompt Herod to make such a foolish vow? Was it the alcohol he was more than likely drinking? Was it his sexual desire that was aroused? Was it both? Herod's reaction to Herodias' daughter's dance reminds us that we can make very foolish decisions when we're tempted. Not only does Herod tell her to "ask me whatever you want and I will give it to you" (v. 22), but he even says "up to half my kingdom" (v. 23)! What if she had asked for half the kingdom? Such a promise is simple foolishness! Even when Herod seemed to regain a bit of his sanity at her request for John's head, it was too late! "Yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her" (v. 26). When being tempted, often our reasoning is very poor. Consider Samson, who had told Delilah three separate sources for his strength-bowstrings, new ropes, hair woven in a loom-and three times had awakened to bowstrings, ropes, and a loom! Each time Delilah had said, "The Philistines are upon you"! How could he, after all this, tell her his secret? The answer can only be the foolish reasoning of the man focused on fulfilling sexual desires rather than thinking straight. What is so tragic is that our reason seems suspended when we need it the most! We must take great care to consider the consequences of our actions, even when we are being tempted very strongly! "Immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter" (Prov 7:22). Think!
Finally, Herod shows us that sin's consequences outlive what we expect. Killing John haunted Herod so much that when Jesus came preaching, his first thought was "This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead" (Mark 6:16). He was still thinking about John and feeling guilty! He knew he had done wrong, and his foolishness still tormented him. He is reminiscent of Joseph's brothers, who, years after selling him into slavery, thought that any minor problem was punishment for what they had done. When Joseph demanded that Simeon stay in Egypt, "they said to one another, 'we are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us" (Gen 42:21). How many problems in life-a sick baby, or a famine-had they thought were punishment for their sin? It truly haunted them, just as Herod's sin haunted him. These physical consequences of sin far outlive what we would expect. Beer commercials don't tell us about wrecked homes, drunk driving deaths, cirrhosis, and alcoholism. Sex sells, but we're not told what we're really buying-loneliness because of unfaithfulness, disease, unwanted pregnancy. These are not the things we're thinking of when we're tempted. Yet Herod reminds us that sin's consequences long outlive what we would think. Sin's pleasures will pass, and what will be left with? We must be like Moses, who chose "rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin" (Heb 11:25).
Herod's birthday is long in the past, but his foolish decision speaks to us today. Let us be careful of the influence women can have over men. Let us learn to make better decisions in temptation, remembering God's promise and what is truly at stake. Let us consider the disastrous consequences that sin will bring us. Think!
By Jacob Hudgins
From Expository Files 15.5; May 2008