John the Baptist – Beheaded

Israel’s Dead Sea has many interesting stories, not the least of which is it’s proximity to Jerusalem and the dire need for security. There are eight cities involved in this ingenious defensive scheme. Masada, Herodium, Jerusalem, Hyrcania, Cypros, Doq, and Alexandrium, along with Machaerus; these provided safety for the Jews.

“The main defensive advantage of placing a fortified citadel at Machaerus stems from the visibility of its mountainous perch above the Dead Sea. Signals sent from the site could be seen at other defensive fortresses on the other side of the dead Sea as far as Alexandrium to the north, Masada to the south and Jerusalem to the far west. Machaerus not only warned Judea of attacks from the east, but also stood as an anchor point for relaying warnings from one fortress to the rest. Looking out from Machaerius, one would have been able to see the smoke of sacrificial offerings rising from the Jerusalem Temple (Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October, 2012).”

The story takes an ominous, deadly turn at this point. While doing its job well in the ring of protection, a wicked king resided at Machaerus, along with his step-daughter Salome and her mother, Herodias. The Law of the Lord explicitly said that a brother could not take his brother’s wife – while that sibling lived! Herodias’s adulterous spirit ignored that mandate, and gladly accepted Herod Antipas’ offer to become his wife. It did not matter that his father was King Herod the Great, ruler of Galilee and Perea between 4 B.C. and 39 A.D. The Law took precedence. Some think they are above the law.

The other main character in this tantalizing story is an unusual prophet who did his praying in the wilderness wearing a leather girdle and camel’s hair. Born late in life to the Priest Zacharias and Elizabeth, he determined to preach the word and warn all to obey. When he heard of the sinful marriage of the king and Herodias he publicly opposed it. Herodias was furious! She plotted in her wicked mind of some way to silence the fearless preacher. Her chance came when Herod Antipas had a huge birthday party. Salome was a provocative dancer and stirred the king’s emotions such that he made a terrible statement: “I will give you anything you want, up the half the kingdom.” Mother whispered in the daughter’s ear, “tell him you want John the Baptist’s head on a silver charger!” Upon hearing the request, he regretted his offer, but his pride would not let him relent. So in the city of great defense, John’s head was chopped off, placed on a platter, and presented to Salome and her mother.

That act did not absolve their sin, nor change God’s word. John’s preaching days were over, but it opened the door for a greater minister, the Lord Jesus Christ, who continued proclaiming God’s word and the gift of salvation for all.

Rev. Raymond Parnell is Pastor Emeritus of Christ Memorial Temple in Lafayette, Indiana.

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