Herod the Tetrarch – A Vacillating Tragic Life

May 1, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Wisdom | 1 Comment

After the last post, I was thinking that there is so much confusion about Herod’s family in the Bible, that I might write a post about each of the major four Herods with lessons we can learn.  Herod the Great, as history knows him, reigned over Judea, Samaria, Perea and Galilee as a king, but still under the authority of Rome.  He called himself “The King of the Jews.”  The previous post was about him, and his life could be called one of self-protection.  He had numerous offspring that ruled various parts of that area for four generations, and four of them are significant rulers in the biblical story, while many others show up in the Bible.

One of Herod’s sons ruled over a part of his father’s kingdom, and came to be known as Herod the Tetrarch (literally means ruler of a fourth); he is also called Herod Antipas.  This Herod was the ruler when Jesus was in his adult ministry; he was a part of Jesus’ trial, where he apparently asked Jesus to do a miracle for him (Luke 23:7-9); and he put John the Baptist to death.  His life can be called one of vacillating tragedy.  A part of his story is told in Mark 6:14-29.  I see four reasons for his poor leadership.

First, Herod the Tetrarch had no theological foundation.  The most basic theological issue of life is the true identity of Jesus.  Herod didn’t know who Jesus was; in fact, he thought Jesus might be the resurrection of John the Baptist.  Though there were some theories about Jesus amongst his people, none of them were correct, but Herod seemed not to care about that.  He also seemed to care little about the Old Testament Law his people held so dear.

Second, Herod the Tetrarch had no experience of grace, and so he operated from a sense of guilt which seemed to haunt him (16).  When a person operates from guilt, everything he does becomes a cover up or a legalistic rule or an effort to please.  His murder of John was all of these:  a cover up of his illegal marriage, which John spoke against; an effort to please his step-daughter and his guests, and a legalistic stand on his ridiculous promise.

Third, this Herod had no moral compass – no true sense of right and wrong.  He arrested John even though he knew him to be righteous and holy (20).  His marriage was illegal (17-18  By the way, this wife was his niece, another descendant of Herod the Great).  He was puzzled by a man who did speak truth (20).  He invited his step daughter to dance at his dinner party (22).  To clarify, this was no mild ballet that impressed his guests; the word used and the context indicate it was an erotic dance.  And Herod killed John the Baptist, even though he did it on a rash promise and even though he was distressed by it.

Finally, Herod the Tetrarch was a man with no spine, no mettle.  He was influenced by rumor instead of truth (14); he was influenced by his wife’s bitterness (19, 24); he made an impulsive promise to an erotic dancer (22-23); and he kept that promise because of his guests (26).  Herod could have told his step daughter that her request was out of line because it was wrong and because it undermined Herod’s authority and thus was more than the “half my kingdom” he promised.  But Herod wouldn’t stand up for what was right in any of these situations.  Certainly politicians today are not unique in that regard.

If we want to be leaders that matter, we must be people of solid theological and moral conviction.  At the same time, if we want to elect leaders that matter, we must vote for those who show theological and moral conviction.

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  1. To see a simplified family tree of Herod’s family click here:

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