Mark 6:14-29 A Promise Best Broken
Today we read the story of what happened to John the Baptist. We looked at this same story in Matthew’s account. For a closer look at this story, check out John the Baptist Murdered. Today I want to look at a different angle with Mark’s retelling.
I want to look at the promise Herod made, his reasons for making the promise, his reasons for keeping that promise, and the guilt that resulted from it. I wonder if Herod was famous for making promises. If he did, was he famous for keeping those promises? Our leaders certainly don’t keep their promises.
When Salome, Herodias’ daughter, danced for Herod she danced for a purpose. One of her purposes of course was to entertain Herod and his guests. But her deeper purpose, devised by her mother, was to win Herod’s favor and to exact a promise from him. Herodias knew Herod’s custom and set him up beautifully. He rewarded Salome, as expected, with a promise out of habit and showmanship. He was being watched by the most important men in the region. He wanted to look good in front of them and to show off his wealth. I guess you could say Herod made a “bragging” promise.
Salome didn’t go in there with a fixed request but with a directive from her mother. “If/When Herod makes you a promise, come talk to me before answering him.” Herodias knew what she wanted but Salome was not in on that detail. I wonder if Salome even thought twice about asking Herod for what her mother wanted.
When Salome came back into the room all the nobles, military officers, and leaders were still there. This too was planned. Everyone who had heard Herod make the “bragging” promise were with him when he was asked to fulfill it. Salome’s request was outrageous; by our standards anyway. Herod was now faced with a dilemma. To keep his promise he would have to do something that he KNEW was wrong. Or he could break his promise and lose credibility in front of all the important people in the region. He could have chosen door number three and said, “That is not mine to give. The man belongs to God”, but that would be admitting his own authority had limits.
Herod kept his promise to Salome, not because it was the right thing to do, but to save face. He didn’t want his leaders seeing him break his word. He didn’t want to admit that his authority wasn’t limitless. And maybe he figured that if Herodias wanted John bad enough to trap him like this, she would find another way to get to John anyway. Herod kept his promise because it was easier to give in than to stand up for what was right.
Once Herod made up his mind to honor his promise, he didn’t even hesitate in carrying out the final act. Salome was standing there waiting for her “reward” in front of all of Herod’s guests. Was she afraid that if she didn’t wait before Herod that he would find a way out? The pressure was on and Herod quickly released himself from it by having the promise fulfilled quickly. Once John’s head was presented to Salome, Herod probably thought the whole issue was over, but it wasn’t.
Now Herod had to live with himself. He was wracked with guilt. He knew John was a man of God. He knew what he did was wrong, and he expected to receive some kind of punishment. He had lived in Israel long enough to hear the stories of Israel’s God and how He dealt with those who sin against Him. Herod knew that was exactly what he had done and he was constantly looking over his shoulder for the payback he knew he deserved.
When Jesus’ name started cropping up and His fame increased, Herod’s guilt led him to believe that John had risen from the dead to seek revenge on him. I find it interesting that other people thought the same thing. Were some of these people in attendance at the banquet that night? Maybe they realized the error of keeping that promise.
I know God wants us to “let your yes be yes and your no be no” (Matt. 4:37). He expects us to keep our word, but are there times He wants us to break it too? Maybe Herod should have listened to Jesus’ teaching about oaths before he got himself in so much trouble. I wonder if God would have been ok with him breaking this promise.
Another thing I find interesting is how Herod removed from his life the one thing that could have save it. Herod used to gladly listen to John. I know John pricked Herod’s conscience, but Herod didn’t understand some of the things John said to him. If Herod had been with John longer, what would Herod’s eternal fate look like? But because of God’s plan, John had to decrease so Jesus could increase. The focus had to be on Jesus alone.
Thank You God for being there to welcome John home. What Herod did only ended John’s earthly life. His forever life began when the axe fell. I’m glad too that there wasn’t time for a lot of fanfare, as this would have increased the time fear was allowed to build in John’s heart. Did he pray for a quick end or did he pray You would prevent the end?
I sometimes walk away from the most impactful things in my life because they make me uncomfortable or take too much work. I’m not limiting that statement to Your word alone but am including exercise and working out difficult relationships. Some relationships I NEED to walk away from, but others I need to lean into, no matter how hard that is.
Finally Lord, help me live by Jesus’ instructions about making oaths and promises. Let my word simply be yes or no, and help me live up to whatever that entails. I don’t want to find myself in a “Herod dilemma” again. I’ve had enough of those in my life too. I just realized I am in the middle of one right now and I have no idea what to do about it. Actually, You rescued me from that one and took care of it another way. THANK YOU for that reprieve!