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But when Herod's birth-day was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod: whereupon he promised with an oath, that he would give her whatsoever she would ask; and she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist's head in a charger. And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her, and he sent, and beheaded John in the prison; and his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel; and she brought it to her mother. - And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus.”
Before we enter upon this remarkable and affecting narrative of the murder of John the Baptist by Herod, it will be proper to take notice of the two first verses of this chapter, which gave occasion to the introduction of that transaction in this place, although it had happened some time before.
“At that time, says the Evangelist, Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, and he said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist: he is risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.” It is not easy to meet with a more striking instance than this of the force of conscience over a guilty mind, or a stronger proof how perpetually it goads the sinner, not only with well-grounded fears and apprehensions of impending punishment and vengeance, but with imaginary terrors and visionary dangers. No sooner did the fame of Jesus reach the ears of the tyrant Herod, than it immediately occurred to his mind that he had himself, not long before, most cruelly and wantonly put to death an innocent, virtuous, and holy man, whose reputation for wisdom, integrity, and sanctity of manners, stood almost as high in the estimation of the world as that of Jesus; and who had even declared himself the herald and the forerunner of that extraordinary person. B 2 This This instantly suggested to him an idea the most extravagant that could be imagined, that this very person who assumed the name of Jesus was in fact no other than John the Baptist himself, whom he had beheaded, and who was now risen from the dead, and was endowed with the power of working miracles, though he never performed any when living. It is evident that nothing could be more improbable and absurd than these suppositions, nothing more contrary even to his own principles; for there is reason to believe that Herod, like most other people of high rank at that time, was of the sect called the Sadducees, a sect which rejected the immortality of the soul, and the doctrine of a resurrection, and must therefore be perfectly adverse to the strange imagination of John the Baptist being risen from the dead. . Yet the fears
of Herod overruled all the prejudices of
his sect, and raised up before his eyes the semblance of the murdered Baptist armed with the power of miracles, for the very
purpose (he perhaps imagined) of inflicting exemplary vengeance upon him for that atrocious deed, as well as for his adultery, his incest, and all his other crimes; which now probably presented themselves in their most hideous forms to his terrified imagination, pursued him into his most secret retirements, and tortured his breast with unceasing agonies. The evangelist having thus introduced the mention of John the Baptist, goes back a little in his narrative, to make the reader acquainted with that part of the Baptist's history which brought down upon him the indignation of Herod, and was the occasion of his death. This flagitious prince had, it seems, in the face of day, and in defiance of all laws, human and divine, committed the complicated crime of adultery and incest, attended with every circumstance that could mark an abandoned and unprincipled mind. He had been married a considerable time to the daughter of Aretas, king of B 3 Arabia
Arabia Petraea, but conceiving a violent passion for his brother Philip's wife, Herodias, he first seduced her affections from her husband, then dismissed his own wife, and married Herodias, during the lifetime of his brother. It was impossible that such portentous wickedness as this could escape the observation or the reproof of the holy Baptist. He had the honesty and the courage to reproach the tyrant with the enormity of his guilt, although he could not be ignorant of the danger he incurred by such a measure; but he determined to do his duty, and to take the consequences. The consequences were, “that Herod laid hold of J ohn, and bound him, and threw him into prison*.” And undoubtedly his wish was to have put him immediately to death, but he was restrained by two considerations. The first was, because John was held in such high esteem and veneration by all the people, that had any violence been offered to him by Herod, he was apprehensive that it might
* Matt. xiv. 3.