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Lessons from a Weak Leader

February 4, 2019

Weak Leader (Chess)In reading and reflecting as I slowly work my way through Matthew’s Gospel, I have oddly enough had some thoughts about Herod Antipas.  I come from the standpoint that we learn from bad as well as good examples.  In Herod as portrayed in Matthew 14:1-12 and the parallel passage Mark 6:1-29 we can see some characteristics of a weak leader.  While Herod, no doubt, has absolute power in his small “kingdom” that encompassed Galilee and Perea he displays for us the characteristics of a weak leader.   Let me explain.

We are told in Matthew 14:3 that some time earlier Herod had arrested John the Baptist.  The reason?  John had gone public denouncing the marriage of Herod to Herodias.  Herodias had been the wife of Herod’s half-brother, Philip.  According to Dr. Michael Wilkins in the NIV Application Commentary on Matthew.  Philip and Herodias were private citizens living in Rome.  Herod Antipas visited Rome, met and fell in love with Herodias, while being hosted by his brother Philip.  She demanded, that Herod divorce his wife and then the two of them were married.  What Wilkins also points out was the Herodias was also Herod’s half niece (Wilkins NIV Application Commentary, Matthew p. 511).  So John spoke out against this incestuous marriage and was arrested.

Weak leaders do all they can to silence any criticism.  Criticism is hard to hear.  Criticism can sometimes be unjust.  Criticism makes us uncomfortable.  And yet we have a choice.  We can ignore it.  We can even, like Herod, seek to silence it.  Or we can respond to it and let it make us better.  Dawson Trotman is credited with the quote “Lord, show me any kernel of truth in this criticism.”  That is the response of a strong leader.  Strong leaders look for how they can grow when they are confronted with truth, or even criticism.

Weak leaders celebrate themselves.  Herod threw himself a birthday party and at that party the daughter of Herodias performed a dance for Herod and his guests (Mt. 14:6).  Mark’s gospel says that following the dance Herod offered her whatever she would want, up to half his kingdom (Mk 6:22-23).  The girl went to her mother for advice on what to ask and was instructed to request the head of John the Baptist.  She did as she was told. Weak leaders make grandiose declarations with little or no thought of the consequences. Herod was out to impress his guests.  He gave no thought to the fact that he did take time to listen to John, even while he was in prison (Mk. 6:20).  His thought was on the fact that he made a grand declaration and wanted his guests to be impressed the he was a man who “kept his promises.” Strong leaders don’t throw parties in their own honor.  Strong leaders also weigh the impact and the consequences of their words.

Matthew tells us that Herod was afraid of the people and so he was reluctant to put John to death (Mt. 14:5).  But now he had an excuse.  It was no longer his decision.  He was honoring his promise to Herodias’ daughter.  One could say that Herod self protectively changed the narrative.

Weak leaders work to change the narrative, so others are to blame for their actions.  We are told in Mark’s gospel that Herod was distressed but he could not go back on his promise.  The circumstances he had created helped him changed the narrative. Strong leaders take responsibility for their actions and accept the consequences.

As I reflect on this man with great power, who showed himself to be a weak leader, I am given pause to look in the mirror and ask God to show me where I need to be stronger.  We can each learn not just from good examples but from bad examples as well.


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