Unlike his bold father Herod the Great (Matthew 2), Herod Antipas comes across as a very weak man, but as Plumptre has noted, "Like most weak men, Herod feared to be thought weak." On one dark night, Herod's Antipas' step-daughter (probably a mere 12 years old), danced before him as a birthday gift. Though unmentioned, drunkenness and lust certainly fueled the rash vow Herod makes to his step-daughter, that she could request anything in his kingdom. The diabolical mother Herodias has her daughter request John the Baptist's head on a platter. John the Baptist had regularly rebuked the immoral union between Herod and his brother's wife, and now the evil woman could have her revenge.
Verses 1-12 reveal to us much about the human condition.Verse 5 tells us that Herod had not done the dirty deed himself up to this point because "he was afraid of the people." He knew that the crowds loved John, and he couldn't stand to think of losing popularity. Note the contrast in John: John was willing to lose face before Herod in order to stand up for God's holiness. But on the night in question, Herod's fear of the people was overwhelmed by a greater fear: losing face before the powers that be (v. 9). Hence, Herod goes on to murder the innocent preacher in order to maintain his depraved sense of superiority. This sin hung around Herod's neck as a chain of guilt the remainder of his days (Mt. 14:1-2).
Application for today: What are the most powerful forces pulling on your heart? Fear of man or fear of God? Having popularity before people or integrity before God? On a Roman Cross, the crowds called out to Jesus, "You saved others, now save yourself." But rather than live for the popularity of people, Jesus submitted to the will of God. Jesus' willingness to die for sinful people is our freedom. He died the death we should have died (Rom. 3:21-26). Not only does Jesus offer us freedom from sin, death and hell, but through Christ we can live for God and live lives of integrity for God (Gal. 2:20). The Holy Spirit desires to change our hearts to find life through obedience.
Now, what we ultimately value will be the litmus test to how we conduct our lives. If we value the praise of men, we will live for the praise of men. If we long to hear the words of God, "Well done, good and faithful servant," we will withstand the temptations to sin. We may die martyrs deaths like John the Baptist. We may not have the popularity of a rock star. But we will have the delight and pleasure of God.