Kings and leaders come under special temptations, since they bear much responsibility and have the authority to carry out their designs. They are surrounded by liars, flatterers and those who praise them. Diviners and sorcerers wait on them to tell them about the future by consulting the spirits. Their worldly power and pride often keep them away from God in the bitterness and isolation of their sins. They live in fear, disturbed and confused. After Herod commanded the killing of John the Baptist, he kept saying about Jesus, “John, whom I beheaded, has risen” (Mark 6:16). He was controlled by spirits, and saw in every corner a spirit lurking for him.By killing John, Herod thought that he could get that troublesome fellow out of the way so that he might go on in his sins, undisturbed and uncontrolled. No sooner had John been killed than he heard of Jesus and His disciples preaching the same pure doctrine that John preached. What is more, even the disciples confirmed it by doing miracles in their Master’s name. Ministers may be silenced, imprisoned, banished, and slain, but the Word of God cannot be silenced.Though innocent, John the Baptist was bound in prison, because Herod was driven by his lusts. He married his brother’s wife with her agreement using a trick. John called that twofold adultery a horrible sin and a bad example to the people. Therefore, Herodias, the adulteress, plotted against John and succeeded in getting him sent to prison.The sin that John reproved Herod for was marrying the wife of his brother, Philip. He did not marry Philip’s widow (there would have been no crime in that), but his wife. Philip was still living, and Herod cheated his wife from him and kept her for his own. This was a complication of wickedness, adultery, and incest, besides the wrong done to Philip, who had a child by this woman. To further aggravate the wrong, Herod and Philip were half-brothers by their father.For this sin John reproved him in plain terms, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” He doesn’t suggest that it is not honorable or it is not safe, but clearly declares that “it is not lawful.”Perhaps some of John’s friends might have accused him of being indiscreet in reproving Herod, and told him it would have been better to be silent than to provoke Herod, whose character he knew very well. The result was the loss of his liberty. But discretion that would hinder men from doing their duty as magistrates, ministers, or Christian friends should be done away with. I believe John’s own heart did not reproach him for it, but the testimony of his conscience made his bonds of suffering for well-doing, easier to bear.Herod feared John and his frankness. He used to consult him (Mark 6:20), because he felt that this prisoner who called people to repentance was the only one that spoke to him truthfully and did not flatter him as his servants did. John was, in fact, an effectual advisor in making important and fateful decisions. However the king was enslaved by his lusts and by evil spirits, and the desire of his cunning adulteress was fixed on one goal, to kill John, who had annoyed her.Suddenly, the opportunity offered itself. She invited her daughter by her first husband to dance in front of her uncle, the drunkard king, who swore that he would give her anything she asked for, even as much as half his kingdom. Directed by her spiteful mother, the girl demanded the head of John the Baptist. This made the king very sad, but he could not refuse her because of the vows he had made in front of all his guests. He found that he had no alternative but to live up to his promise. He did not fear God, and had John, his faithful counselor beheaded.A vain and graceless heart is apt to be greatly in love with the lusts of the flesh. “When lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin” (James 1:15); for by that Satan gets and keeps possession of the heart.How sad are those children whose parents counsel them to do wickedness, who instruct them and encourage them in sin, and set bad examples for them. For the corrupt nature will fall quicker to lawlessness by bad instruction than become restrained by good.Thus John the Baptist, the greatest man among men and Christ’s messenger, died a true martyr, for others’ sins whom he had called to repentance. Do you love your safety more than the truth? Shouldn’t you reproach your friends with love and humility for their sins? Preaching does not only involve the demonstration and communication of grace, but also requires reproach for sins and offenses.Josephus, the Jewish historian, cites this account of John the Baptist and adds that the fatal destruction of Herod’s army in his war with “Aretas,” king of “Petrea” (whose daughter was Herod’s wife, whom he put away to make room for Herodias), was generally considered by the Jews to be a just judgment upon him for putting John the Baptist to death. It is also told that the daughter of Herodias was going over some ice in winter, and it broke. She fell into the water, and her neck was cut through by a sharp edge of the ice. God requiring her head for that of the Baptist, which, if true, is a remarkable providence.