Have you ever witnessed or experienced a gift-giving faux pas—an occasion when either giving or receiving a gift did not go well?
The worst gift I was given is when I got out of rehab that Christmas; a bottle of wine. It was delicious. — Craig Ferguson, Talk-Show Host
☑Gift-giving faux pas: An inappropriate gift choice, the wine would have put a stumbling block directly in Ferguson’s path.
The Christmas-Clearance Ceramic Cookie-Jar Conundrum
An annual Christmas party was a longstanding tradition at one of the churches I served as pastor. A highly-anticipated time of fellowship, food, and fun; the party always ended with the distribution of gifts. There was, however, one year when the meaning of a gift was diminished by the spirit in which the gift was given.
Wrapped with pretty paper and adorned with silk ribbons, the gift-box was tagged to Donna and me. Donna picked up the box, removed the ribbons, carefully peeled away the paper, and lifted the lid. Inside was a small ceramic cookie-jar, which had a whimsical Christmas motif. To better appreciate the detail, Donna carefully lifted the cookie jar from the box and could not help but smile.
For the sake of maintaining the anonymity of the givers, I will call them Frank and Jean. Still holding the cookie jar in her hands; Donna spotted Jean, who was sitting a short distance away. Managing to get Jean’s attention, Donna graciously expressed her appreciation for the gift.
Donna: Jean, thank you so much for the lovely gift!
Jean: What did I give you?
Donna: This adorable Christmas cookie jar.
Jean: Oh, okay.
Donna: Where in the world did you find something so cute?
Jean: I really don’t remember. I go to clearance sales and buy leftover Christmas merchandise, which I store away until next December. Then, I get out the items and give them as Christmas gifts to whomever.
Donna’s and my names, as indicated by Jean’s words, were not very high on her and Frank’s Christmas gift list.
Now, what you need to understand about Donna is that she takes gift-giving to heart. Asking questions and taking mental notes, she exerts every possible effort to match gifts to recipients.
Unsure how to respond to Jean, Donna chose to take the high road. Thanking Jean a second time, Donna switched gears—moving quickly on to the next gift.
☑Gift-giving faux pas: Jean’s heart was neither in the giving of the gift nor her admission of not even knowing what the gift was. Jean’s curt response to Donna showed not only lack of common courtesy, but also good manners.
A Twisted Family Tree
Rising to kingship through his friendship with Mark Antony and Caesar Augustus, Herod the Great is remembered for two main reasons:
- In their search for the whereabouts of the Christ Child, the wise men were granted audience with Herod the Great.
- In an attempt to keep the throne for himself and his heirs, Herod the Great attempted to destroy the Holy Child—ordering the deaths of all the male children two-years old and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem.
With a plethora of inter-familial marriages, tracing Herod the Great’s descendants is very much like untangling a giant ball of knotted twine. Our focus, however, will be primarily on two of Herod the Great’s sons, Herod Antipas and Herod Philip I. My research uncovered a great deal of confusing and conflicting information about them, but I will share with you the most cohesive of what I found.
- Son of Herod the Great and his fourth wife; Malthace, a Samaritan
- Born 21 BC
- Married Phasaelis, the daughter of King Aretas IV of Nabatea and his wife, Chuldu
- Appointed as Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea
- Ruled 4 BC to 39 AD
- Died 39 AD
Herod Philip I
- Son of Herod the Great and his third wife; Mariamne II, daughter of Simon Boethus the High Priest
- Born circa 27 BC
- Also known as Herod II
- Commonly mistaken for Philip the Tetrarch
- Married Herodias, daughter of Aristobulus IV and Berenice
- Never ruled
- Died circa 33/34 AD
A Royal Scandal
Herodias was the paternal niece of her husband, Herod Philip I, and his brother, Herod Antipas. Her father, Aristobulus IV, was their half-brother (same father, different mothers).
- Son of Herod the Great and his second wife; Mariamne I, a Hasmonean
- Born 31 BC
- Married Berenice; daughter of Costobarus, governor of Idumea (Biblically referenced as Edom) and Salome I
- Never ruled
- Executed 7 BC for treason against his father
Herod Philip I and Herodias had a daughter, Salome. In visiting Herod Philip I and his family, Herod Antipas began to take notice of Herodias and she him. Driven by lust, Herod Antipas divorced Phasaelis and Herodias divorced Herod Philip I. Free from their former spouses, Herod Antipas and Herodias married.
Recognized by civil, not Jewish law; their divorces and marriage did not go unnoticed—particularly by a certain tell-it-like-it-was preacher/evangelist, John the Baptist.
Stepping On Some Royal Toes
As the news of Herod Antipas’ and Herodias’ tainted courtship and marriage spread throughout the land of Judea and Galilee, John wasted no time in calling them out and demanding their repentance.
Herodias bitterly resented John’s words of condemnation. John, however, did not care. He was one to neither mince words nor stand idly by while Herod Antipas and Herodias paraded their sinful lifestyle.
Mark 6:17-20 (King James Version)
17 For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her.
18 For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.
19 Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not:
20 For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.
For Herodias’ sake, Herod Antipas had John arrested; but that only intensified the situation. From his prison cell, John’s voice was nearer and louder as he constantly called for repentance—warning Herod Antipas and Herodias of coming judgment.
Herodias despised John and wanted him dead. Herod Antipas, however, was intrigued not only by John’s tenacity, but also his ironclad devotion to God. Herod Antipas would frequently slip down to John’s prison cell, visit with him, and listen to what he had to say.
A Birthday Soiree
Mark:6:21 (King James Version)
21 And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee;
Herod Antipas decided to go all out for his birthday and host a gala evening in the courtyard of his palace, Machearus—also known by the ominous title, the Black Fortress.
Built on a precipice southeast of the mouth of the Jordan River in Jordan, Machearus was a fortified hilltop-palace overlooking the eastern side of the Dead Sea.
The time frame of Herod Antipas’ birthday celebration would have fallen around the second year of John’s imprisonment. Celebrating birthdays was not a Jewish, but Roman custom. Jewish people considered birthday parties to be self-centered celebrations. Herod Antipas’ having a birthday party would not have set well with the predominantly-Jewish territory he governed.
In the society of that day and age, the only guests allowed at what was considered to be the social event of the season would have been male. Maintaining an “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” mentality, their agendas were to impress their royal host. As each guest arrived and the pile of gifts grew higher and higher, so did Herod Antipas’ spirits.
The finest food and drink were bountiful. Guests were tempted with the most lavish of delicacies and finest of wines. Entertainment was provided by musicians and troupes of dancers, who swayed and twirled tempestuously to the rhythm of the pipes and drums.
Enter The Seductress
As the evening grew later; the music shifted to a slower, sultrier tempo. As if on cue, the dancers disbursed to the sides of the courtyard—relinquishing the dance floor to a solitary female dancer. With her fluid movement, she held the audience spellbound as she took command of the dance floor and seamlessly transcended into an exotic dance-routine.
As she moved closer to Herod Antipas, the graceful motion of her arms wove a pattern in the moonlight. Sensing something familiar about the young temptress, he felt his pulse quicken.
As she moved nearer the throne on which he sat, he recognized the gentle curve of her face—now illumined by the flickering light of a torch. Like a ton of bricks, the revelation hit Herod Antipas that this was no mere peasant girl—this was none other than his stepdaughter and paternal great-niece, Salome.
☑Gift-giving faux pas: As a female member of the royal family, Salome should not have even been present at an all-male party, much less gifting Herod Antipas with a birthday dance. Herodias, however, wanted to manipulate her husband and had no qualms whatsoever about using her daughter as leverage.
Mark 6:22-23 (King James Version)
22 And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee.
23 And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.
Herod Antipas and his guests were mesmerized by Salome’s charm and grace. When she finished her dance and gracefully sank to the floor at Herod Antipas’ feet, she had him wrapped around her little finger.
Most-likely inebriated from his celebratory consumption of wine, Herod Antipas was in no condition to make an educated judgement call. He, however, wanted to impress Salome. In the presence of witnesses, he swore that he would give her up to half his kingdom.
☑Gift-giving faux pas: Truthfully, Herod Antipas was offering something that was not his to give. The kingdom he governed belonged to Rome, not him. He made, in front of his friends, an empty boast in an attempt to impress Salome. Simply thanking her would have been the appropriate response. As the birthday celebrant; Herod Antipas was to be receiving, not giving gifts.
Mark 6:24-29 (King James Version)
24 And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.
25 And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist.
26 And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her.
27 And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison,
28 And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother.
29 And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.
Salome did not immediately answer, but hurried away to seek counsel with her mother. In whispers, the two of them discussed the situation at hand. When Salome returned to Herod Antipas, she had an answer. Undeterred; Salome asked for the head, on a platter, of John the Baptist.
☑Gift-giving faux pas: Finding himself caught in a trap of his own making, Herod Antipas was jolted back to reality. Realizing he would be perceived as a weak ruler if he gave his word and went back on it, Herod Antipas reluctantly granted Salome’s barbaric request.
John’s assailants literally thought they had gotten by with murder. John’s death, however, would go neither unnoticed nor unpunished by God. In His own time and His own way, God delivers justice on behalf of His faithful servants whose ministries have suffered and/or ended at the hands of the wicked.
Deuteronomy 32:35 (King James Version)
To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.
John was arrested, imprisoned, and beheaded for speaking out against the transgressions of Herod Antipas and Herodias. If that were not enough, his head was even served-up as a gruesome party favor.
Sure, it would have been easier and safer for John to have taken the path of least resistance. Instead of confronting Herod Antipas and Herodias, John could have stayed silent and remained alive. He, however, was not concerned about his mortal life, but his and their immortal souls.
If your souls were not immortal, and you in danger of losing them, I would not thus speak unto you; but the love of your souls constrains me to speak: methinks this would constrain me to speak unto you forever. — George Whitefield, Preacher/Evangelist
To be true to God and His calling, John knew he had to preach repentance in order to preach salvation. As disciples of Jesus Christ, the same is true for us today.
☑Gift-giving la perfection: God’s gift of salvation does not come in a box wrapped with pretty paper and adorned with silk ribbons, but on a cross stained with our sin and adorned with Christ’s blood.
Yours in Christ,
Featured Image: Gustave Moreau; Salome Dancing Before Herod; Gustave Moreau Museum; Paris, France; 1876; Painting in Oil
To accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, all you need do is open your heart to Him, earnestly repent of your sins, and pray the sinner’s prayer.