Unlawful Divorce and Remarriage | Mark 6:17–20
17 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. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.
The house of Herod was a nest of sin. It wasn’t a biblical reign over Israel, but instead established by Rome. It didn’t herald the One “born king of the Jews” (Mt 2:2) but instead tried to murder Him (vv. 16–18). And in this text, it alternatively arrested and sought to kill a prophet of God who called for its repentance.
A specific sin had caught the attention of John the Baptist. Herod Antipas had stolen the wife of his brother (Philip), a flagrant disregard for God’s ways. John pointed to Scripture, which forbade taking a brother’s wife to oneself (Lv 18:16; 20:21). The only right course of repentance would be for Herod to give Herodias back to Philip. That sparked two responses within Herod’s house.
An embittered Herodias sought to kill God’s messenger. It seems that she wanted to remain where she was. Herod Antipas was a more ambitious man than Philip, and perhaps she saw a better life for herself as his queen. That some guy from the desert would come spouting Bible verses about sin threatened her spiritual and social status, and she wanted to silence him permanently.
A concerned Herod sought to keep God’s messenger. Herod also feared John, but he protected him from Herodias. Scripture reveals that Herod knew John was “a righteous and holy man.” Even though John filled him with uncertainty, he “heard him gladly.”
Don’t be deceived: the second response is no better than the first. While God’s message might cause you great emotion—fear, confusion, gladness—that doesn’t mean it has penetrated your heart. In Herod’s case, he never repented of his illicit marriage, and we’ll see in the following verses that Herodias got her way. Genuine faith will produce good works; otherwise, it’s a false or dead faith (Js 2:14–26).
Know that being close to church and the Bible won’t help in the Day of Judgment. If you are in an unlawful relationship, end it now for the sake of your soul. Repent (turn from your sin to God) and believe that His gospel message will save you.