TO READ: Mark 6:14-29
And Herod respected John, knowing that he was a good and holy man, so he kept him under his protection. Herod was disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him. Mark 6:20
Allan Bloom, in his book The Closing of the American Mind, probably borrowed from Shakespeare’s famous line, “Conscience doth make cowards of us all.” Bloom wrote, “Conscience is a coward and those faults it has not strength enough to prevent, it seldom has justice enough to punish by accusing.”1
The story of John the Baptist and Herod Antipas is a fascinating commentary on Bloom’s observation. Herod and John knew each other well. As a matter of conscience, John had been outspoken in opposing Herod’s marriage to “his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias” (Mark 6:17). Herodias was understandably upset by this public condemnation and persuaded Herod to imprison John. But even in prison John would not be silenced. He “kept telling Herod, ‘It is illegal for you to marry your brother’s wife’ ” (6:18). There was something about John’s integrity which appealed to Herod, and he “liked to listen to him” (6:20), even though John said things he didn’t like to hear. But Herodias did not like it, and when Herod (no doubt in a rash, unguarded, and possibly wine-induced moment) offered Herodias’s daughter anything she wanted—“up to half my kingdom”—she asked for John’s head on a platter. And she got it, much to Herod’s chagrin, because of his fear of losing face (6:26).
When Jesus appeared on the scene, superstitious people said, “This must be John the Baptist come back to life again” (6:14). The gossip reached Herod’s ears, and this powerful man “was worried and puzzled” because of what he heard (Luke 9:7). The ruler of all Galilee and Perea was troubled by a guilty conscience. John, whom he had executed, “was a good and holy man” (Mark 6:20). While Herod sat on his royal throne with a troubled conscience, John had gone to his grave with a clear conscience.
John undoubtedly had his faults, but cowardice was not one of them. Herod was full of faults, but his conscience did not have strength enough to prevent them. Whether or not Herod’s conscience had the justice to accuse his faults, we cannot be sure. At least he was worried and puzzled!
The issue for me, and every modern man, is how to keep the conscience alive, and where to find the courage to respond. In John’s case, the answer was found in his commitment to truth and his relationship to God’s Spirit. It comes down to whether my conscience makes me a coward or my commitment to truth gives me the courage of conviction—whether I’m a Herod or a John.
Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind.
Heavenly Father, keep me strong in Your Word, that I may proclaim you to all I see, that I not be a coward and help me to be of good conscience in all my dealings.
I pray these in Jesus name
Scripture Mark 6: 14-29
14 And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.
15 Others said, That it is Elias. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets.
16 But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead.
17 For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her.
18 For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife.
19 Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not:
20 For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.
21 And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee;
22 And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee.
23 And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.
24 And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.
25 And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist.
26 And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her.
27 And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison,
28 And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother.
29 And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.