“For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not,” (Mark 6:17–19 ESV)
Quite the cast of characters in Mark 16.14-29, including Herod Antipas, Herod Philip [Antipas’ brother], Herodias, wife of first Philip and then Antipas, and finally Salome, Herodias’ daughter.
It’s quite the convoluted family tree explaining how Antipas, Philip, and Herodias were related. Antipas and Philip were brothers of each other, and also uncles of Herodias. Herodias first married her uncle Philip which is kind of creepy, but not unheard of in the Roman empire at the time. She apparently visited Herod Antipas and the pair fell for each other, so she divorced Uncle Philip and proceeded to marry Uncle Antipas. What is creepier than marrying your uncle? Divorcing him and marrying another uncle.
This tidy arrangement broke a couple of specific commands in the Mosaic Law:
“You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness.” (Leviticus 18:16 ESV)
“If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impurity. He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.” (Leviticus 20:21 ESV)
John the Baptist watched Herodias on this uncle marriage-go-round and preached out against it since it went against the Law. Herodias was none to pleased to have such a well-known and popular preacher saying publicly that she should have not divorced Uncle #1 and married Uncle #2. Mark tells us that she held a grudge against John. I like The Message paraphrase here:
“For John had provoked Herod by naming his relationship with Herodias “adultery.” Herodias, smoldering with hate, wanted to kill him, but didn’t dare” (Mark 6:18–19 MESSAGE)
Herodias, as we shall soon see, is successful! She manages to take advantage of both her daughter and her husband and back him into a corner from which he cannot escape. He orders the execution of John the Baptist and the episode ends with John’s head on a literal platter in Herodias’ possession.
This is not, however, the end of the story. The end of the story is yet to be told. Herodias will stand in judgment before God one day and give account for her life. John the Baptist will no doubt stand as witness against her. She had heard his message, he had told her to repent of her adultery. She had not repented, and in fact had the accuser murdered. What she saw as her greatest victory will turn into eternal defeat and separation from God. This was a Pyrrhic victory if their ever was one in all of history.