Herod Antipas, “That Fox”
KING Herod the Great on his deathbed made a new will, as already noted, in which he left half of his dominion to his son Archelaus, and one fourth each to his sons Philip and Herod Antipas. The fourth, or “tetrarchy” of Herod Antipas, consisted of Galilee and Perea, where Jesus did much of his preaching. While both Philip and Herod Antipas were “tetrarchs,” ‘rulers over one fourth’ of a province, the term was also applied to any minor district ruler or territorial prince. (Luke 3:1, NW, footnote) In this connection let it be noted that although Herod Antipas is referred to at Mark 6:14 as “King Herod,” he was not a king in the same sense that Herod the Great was.
Herod Antipas seems to have been a weakling whose desire to please men and his wife caused him to compromise and eventually led to his undoing. In some respects he might be likened to King Ahab, and his wife certainly was another Jezebel, for she hated John the Baptist every bit as much as Jezebel hated John’s prototype, Elijah.—Matt. 17:10-13.
Herod Antipas, disappointed by his father’s deathbed change in his will, went to Rome in the hope of gaining more honor and territory; and not only once, but time and again. But all in vain. During one of his visits at Rome he was invited to stay at the home of one of his half brothers, Philip (not to be confused with another half brother Philip the tetrarch*), who had married his own niece Herodias. She was ambitious to be a queen and proceeded to play upon his emotions so successfully that Herod took her with him when he returned to Galilee, necessitating his divorcing his first wife, the daughter of the Arabian King Aretas, who returned to her father’s palace.
This adulterous union, which scandalized the Jews, did not go unnoticed by John the Baptist, and so during his year of preaching he repeatedly told Antipas: “It is not lawful for you to be having the wife of your brother.” Guilty Herodias wanted him killed for this, but Antipas would go no farther than having John imprisoned, for he “stood in fear of John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man; and he was keeping him safe. And after hearing him he was at a great loss what to do, yet he continued to hear him gladly.”—Mark 6:17-20, NW.
Yes, Antipas continued to hear John gladly until at a birthday party he unwittingly committed himself to John’s execution; but only because saving his face was more important to him than the life of a righteous man. So “in view of the oaths and those reclining at his table” he gave orders to have John beheaded to comply with the request made by his stepdaughter Salome at the instance of her mother Herodias.—Mark 6:21-28, NW.
When Antipas heard of Jesus’ miracles he concluded that John had been raised from the dead, and so was anxious to see him. (Matt. 14:1, 2; Luke 9:7-9, NW) When certain Pharisees tried to frighten Jesus by telling him that Antipas was seeking to kill him Jesus gave them a stinging answer to transmit to Antipas, “that fox.”—Luke 13:31, 32.
Herod Antipas finally did get to see Jesus when Pilate tried to shift the responsibility of giving Jesus justice by sending Jesus to him. His curiosity, however, was not satisfied, for Jesus did not perform any miracles; in fact, Jesus did not even answer his questions. Disappointed, and noting the vehement denunciations the Jewish clergy were making against Jesus, Antipas joined his soldiers in poking fun at Jesus, after which he returned his prisoner to Pilate, the superior authority as far as Rome was concerned. Up till this time Pilate and Herod Antipas had been enemies, apparently due to certain accusations Antipas had leveled against Pilate out of envy, but now they became fast friends.—Luke 23:7-12, NW.
Again Antipas had allowed his desire to please men result in the sacrifice of a servant of Jehovah, and this time none other than the Son of God.
As the years went by Antipas wearied of his efforts to gain the royal title and more territory, but not Herodias. Noting a new emperor at Rome, Caligula, she gave her husband no peace until he agreed to try it again. But instead of gaining more, he lost everything. Reports insinuating that Antipas was plotting sedition reached the emperor the same time that Antipas and Herodias did. Unable to satisfactorily refute the charges, Antipas was banished and his wealth and territory were given to others. Herodias voluntarily chose to go with her husband; but this must have given him small comfort in view of the fact that she had been instrumental in his fall. He had listened to her once too often.
Incidentally, Salome, the daughter of the disinherited Philip, married her uncle by the name of Philip, the tetrarch, her father’s half brother. Such intermarriage was common among the Herods.