Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dysfunctional family dynamics: Herod, Herodias, and daughter Salome

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 a holy man, and one who feared God and observed to worship him; and when he heard him he did many things for him].
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. (Mark 6:16-28, JST inserted)
I have to make several observations about this story. First, even though Herod respected John, listened to him, and did many things for him, Herod’s leadership did not extend to his own family. He didn’t teach his wife or his daughter to respect John as well. Think what would have happened if he had. This whole tragic episode might have been avoided completely. If he had been a better leader to his family, perhaps the desires of his wife and daughter might have been different. They might have learned to ask for righteous things instead of something so terrible as a prophet’s head on a platter.

Another thing--from what Herodias instructed her daughter to ask, we can see that mothers can pass on their evil desires and inclinations to their children. Herodias’s daughter didn’t know what to ask for. She didn’t know what was worth having when offered what amounted to a blank check. If Herodias had been a righteous woman, think what good might have been done!

Another thing I observe is that Herodias had a problem with cattiness and holding grudges. She would have had John killed right off, but Herod wouldn’t let her. Yet she pressured Herod until he had John put in prison. Did that satisfy her to have a prophet’s freedom abridged so that he was unable to preach? No. She wanted him dead and that was at the top of her mind when her daughter came to her to find out what request she should make of Herod. She didn’t even consider asking something that could have benefited her daughter in any way. Her daughter was the one that deserved the reward for her dancing skills, but Herodias put herself first even before her daughter.

If we look even deeper, we find that Herod’s family affliction was rooted in his disobedience of a particular portion of the Law of Moses—taking his brother’s wife. “Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother’s wife: it is thy brother’s nakedness.” (Leviticus 18:16) “And if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing: he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness...” (Leviticus 20:21) (And evidently the woman he chose wasn’t the greatest.) As a prophet, John the Baptist was obligated to decry wickedness and call to repentance all people, including those in high places, such as Herod and Herodias. Herodias would be highly offended by this and view John the Baptist as a meddler who was coming between Herod and her. Her opinion was probably the same as is sometimes seen today—“It is not the prophet’s business to say who is allowed to marry who! That’s a private decision!” It is also possible that Herod and Herodias wanted people to think they were religiously devout and John the Baptist was spoiling their public relations.

The final thing I observe about this story—which is actually in the first verse of the quoted material above—is that after it was all over and John was dead, when Herod heard of the things Jesus was doing, he made statements that it was John risen from the dead. I don’t think this indicates that Herod was superstitious and thought that John was coming back to take revenge. I think Herod preferred to think that it meant that his own heinous act of murder had been cancelled out somehow, perhaps forgiven, somehow reversed. Maybe he said it to try to anger his wife too. Imagine the guilt he must have felt for killing John the Baptist and how this must have affected his relationship with his wife.

So what does this sad story teach me? It shows me how important it is for a man and a woman to be equally yoked in marriage and how difficult it can be when one partner wants to listen to the prophet and the other is offended by the prophet. It makes my heart ache when I think of members whose marriage partner is even just inactive or a nonmember. How difficult that must be want to do right but feel unable to whole-heartedly embrace it because of a critical or skeptical family member or partner.

In summary, this story conveys:
  • The importance of marrying a righteous person in the Lord’s way
  • The need to teach family to revere the prophets and listen to them
  • The importance of forgiveness
  • The importance of teaching children to want righteous things
  • The importance of looking for wise ways to reward our children for their skills

Image: from


Bonnie said...

I hope you don't object to my putting your link on my blog. You're insights are so amazingly in depth. You're younger than 4 of my children, and way younger than their mom, and it appears to me that you think circles around us. I just discovered your blog yesterday and am eager to read more.

Michaela Stephens said...

Kind of you to say so. I don't mind you adding a link to my blog on yours.

I truly believe that the Lord has much to reveal to all of us if we would signal our readiness for it by searching, pondering, and praying.

Jocelyn Christensen said...

This is excellent! I am always enriched by the things that you write and love your love of scripture! I also think, to take your first point further in application to our day, that there are many "righteous" fathers who respect people professionally and uphold principles in their public life, but do not carry those "business practices" into their family life...aka do not teach these principles to children. That's both a secular and religious commentary, I guess...