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Off With His Head! | Matthew 14:1-12

You know, sometimes you just get yourself into a mess

This week, we study Matthew chapter 14:1-12. Let’s dig in!

Listen along to the episode here or on your favorite podcast app

John the Baptist has been imprisoned by Herod Antipas.  We don’t know when exactly this happened, but it is mentioned in Matthew 11.  We do know why he was imprisoned.  You see John the Baptist had a problem with the “Jewish” ruler being married to Herodias because she was first the wife of his brother, Philip.  Now that sounds bad enough on its own, but it gets worse if you dig a little deeper.  I was curious so of course I did. 

Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great.  We know him because he was king when Jesus was born.  He’s the one that talked with the Magi back in Matthew 2.  Although he was crazy and sometimes brutal, he is a fascinating character.  An Edomite by birth.  That means not Jewish.  But who were the Edomites?  I’m glad you asked.  Edom is from the line of Esau.  Remember him?  Esau was the twin brother of Jacob…Jacob became Israel.  Father Isaac, Grandfather Abraham.  (Genesis 25:19-34) 

However, Herod’s father converted to Judaism.  His father was also granted Roman citizenship by Julius Caesar. So that makes Herod half Jewish and a Roman citizen.  He started his political career as governor of Galilee and then a tetrarch of Galilee and finally became King of Judea.  He ruled for 32 years.  He did some great things while king.  He rebuilt the Temple and endowed his territory with fortresses and palaces and new cities. 

Herod the Great had at least 10 wives and 14 children.  He divorced his first wife (Doris) and banished her and his son from court.  He did this because he fell in love with Mariamne, a Hasmonean princess.  It is believed that he truly did love her even though he kept taking more wives.  But then he got jealous and suspicious and had her murdered along with her two sons, her brother, her father, and her mother.  This left some orphans and instead of just kicking them out, Herod espoused them to another member of his family.  Keep this in mind. 

Upon Herod’s death his realm was left to 3 of his sons:

Archelaus was brutal and insensitive and exiled to Gaul. His mother was wife 4, Malthace, a Samaritan.

Antipas was the ruler during Jesus’s lifetime (how we got down this rabbit hole) He was passive.  While he did seem to try to take care to not openly offend his Jewish subjects.  We see this with John the Baptist and Jesus.  Galilee did thrive economically during his time.  Full brother to Archelaus, his mother was also Malthace.

Philip was kind and well liked.  Half-brother to Archelaus and Antipas.  His mother was wife 5, Cleopatra of Jerusalem. 

While they all were technically Jews, they were raised in Rome and were more Hellenistic in their practices.  That means culturally they were more Roman than Jewish.  For instance, birthdays were more of a pagan/Gentile thing.  The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911 version had this to say (and I think it is hilarious):  In the scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday.  It is only sinners like Pharoah and Herod who make great rejoicings over the day in which they were born into this world.  Which brings us nicely back to Matthew 14. 

Herod had married his sister-in-law/niece.  John told him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” (Refers to Leviticus 18:16) This irritated Herod so he had him imprisoned.  He didn’t want to kill John the Baptist because he was popular among his Jewish subjects.  At his birthday party his step-daughter/great-niece danced for him and his friends.  He really thought she gave a fantastic performance and told her she could have whatever she wanted.  So she asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.  Her mother had told her to ask for that.  Herod felt like he couldn’t refuse.  It would make him look bad to his guests and so he did it.  You know, sometimes you just get yourself into a mess.

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