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Herod That Fox
Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
JACOB BEHMEN says that a man is sometimes like a wolf, cruel and merciless, and with an insatiable thirst for blood; sometimes like a dog, snappish, malicious, envious, grudging, as a dog is with a bone that he cannot himself eat; sometimes like a serpent, stinging and venomous, slanderous in his words, and treacherous in his actions; sometimes like a hare, timorous and starting off; sometimes like a toad, and sometimes like a fox, and so on. The Teutonic philosopher has a whole incomparable chapter on "The Bestial Manifestations in Man." "My dear children in Christ," he proceeds, "my sole purpose in writing in this way to you is not to revile you or to reproach you with your fallen and bestialised estate. What I here write to you is the simple and naked and open truth. I am as certain as I live that it is the truth of God, because I have the daily experience of it all in myself. Every day, and every hour of every day, I have the bondage of it all, and the shame of it all, and the degradation and the guilt of it all, in myself, and not in another. And, therefore, your embruted estate is here told you not to exclude any of you from the hope of salvation. The most wolf-like man among you, the most dog-like man among you, the most toad-like man among you, the most fox-like man among you-all such men are invited, and, indeed, commanded, to arise every moment and flee from themselves into the new birth in God. And, moreover, it was for this very purpose that the Son of God was manifested. It was to turn us all from being beasts and devils everlastingly, and to make us all with Himself, the new and born-from-above sons and daughters of the living God. Jesus Christ, the very Mouth of Truth Himself, called Herod a fox, not to sentence him, and to fix him for ever the fox that he was, but it was in order, if possible, to turn him from all his guiles, and all his lusts, and all his lies, and to make him even yet a child of God, and an heir of everlasting life." So writes "the illuminated Behmen" in his Election of Grace.
All the historians and all the biographers of that time, both sacred and profane, agree about Herod Antipas. They all agree that Antipas was his father's son in all that was worst in his father's character. Old Herod, with all his brutalities and with all his devilries, had at the same time some of the possibilities in him that go to the making of a great man. But by no possibility could his second son ever have been a great man. Antipas was a weak, cruel, sensual, ostentatious, shallow-hearted creature. He is known to the readers of the New Testament first as the dupe of a bad woman, and then as the murderer of John the Baptist, and then as one of the judges of Jesus Christ. He was that fox who tried to frighten our Lord to flee from His work; and at last he was that puppet-king, and reprobate sinner, to whom our Lord would not answer one word. His licentious life, his family miseries, his political manæuvres, his sycophantic and extravagant expenditures, his ruinous defeats, both in war and in diplomacy, his fall from his throne, and his banishment from his kingdom, are all to be read in the books of Josephus, who is an author altogether worthy to chronicle the deeds, and to tell the exploits, of such a hero. Avoid giving of characters, says Butler in his noble sermon on "The Government of the Tongue." At the same time, as Bengel says, the truth must sometimes be spoken, and must sometimes be all spoken. Sometimes a dog must be branded to all men to be a dog, and a serpent advertised to be a serpent, and a swine to be a swine. 'Go back,' said our Lord, 'to that fox which sent you, and tell him what I have said about him: tell him the name I have denounced upon him.' And we understand and accept both what our Lord and His two servants have said on this subject of the giving of characters. It is a large part of our daily lesson and discipline and duty in this life, to be able to give the proper characters, and to apply the proper epithets, to men and to things; and to do that at the right time and in the right temper. It is a large and an important part of every preacher's office especially, to apply to all men and to all their actions their absolutely and fearlessly right and true names. To track out the wolf, and the serpent, and the toad, and the fox, in the men in whom these bestialities dwell, and to warn all men how and where all that will end; no minister may shrink from that. All the vices and all the crimes of the tetrarch's miserable life, and all the weakness and duplicity of his contemptible character, are all summed up and sealed down on Herod Antipas in that one divine word that day: "That fox."
But what makes Herod Antipas such a poignant lesson to us is not that he was a fox, it is this rather, that he began by being a fox, and ended by being a reprobate. You know what reprobation is, my brethren? This is reprobation. "As soon as Pilate knew that this prisoner belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was in Jerusalem at that time. And Herod questioned Jesus with many words, but He answered him nothing." That is reprobation. It is our reprobation begun when God answers us nothing. When, with all our praying, and with all our reading, and with ail our inquiring, He still answers us nothing. Herod's day of grace had lasted long, but it is now at an end. Herod had had many opportunities, and at one time he was almost persuaded. At one time he was not very far from the Kingdom of Heaven. But all that is long past. Herod had smothered and silenced his conscience long ago, and now he is to be for ever let alone. Nay-and let all beginning reprobates attend to this-not only was Herod let alone, but when he put many eager questions to our Lord, He answered him nothing. It is here that the real horror and the awful fascination to me of all Herod's case comes in. It is in this: because we also go on exactly like Herod, cheating ourselves, and thinking, poor self-entrapped foxes that we are, that we are all the time mocking God also, till it is too late; for God is not to be mocked by any man. David has drawn out this solemnising lesson, and has set it in a singularly impressive Psalm of his, and in never-to-be-forgotten words: "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." Now, it was just because this lewd and cruel fox had so defiantly, and so flagrantly, and so criminally, and for so long, regarded the greatest iniquity in his heart and in his life, that now at last when he put so many questions to our Lord He answered him nothing. We all know the same thing ourselves. Fox-like, Antipas-like, Doth God see us? we say. Surely the darkness shall cover us, we say. Just this once more, we say. At a more convenient time I will reform myself, we say. We take our own way and our own time, and, fox-like, we have many tricks in our eye by which we will escape the trap. We have all gone on in that way, till these words of reprobation-"no answer"-describe to perfection many of us in this house tonight. In Herod it was murder and incest, never repented of and never forsaken, that so absolutely shut our Lord's mouth toward Herod and toward all his requests and all his questions. There are no controversies so dark and so terrible between God and our souls as the murder of John the Baptist. But God may be as silent and as angry at all our prayers and questions and casuistries as ever He was at Herod's. Nobody would believe, but those of us who have come through it, the little things, the trivial things, that will stop God's ear, and shut His mouth, and make Him our enemy. Somewhat too much money spent on ourselves, and somewhat too little spent on the Church of Christ and on His poor will do it. Too little time and strength spent in closet and intercessory prayer will do it. A secret ill-feeling entertained at somebody will do it. A debt not paid and with interest will do it. A prejudice nursed and not surrendered in time will do it. A grudge kept up will do it. An apology not made will do it. A too long and a too free tongue will do it. An impertinent book, and the time and money spent upon that book will do it. A second sleep in the morning more than is necessary will do it. A pipeful of doubtful tobacco will do it. A daily glass or two of inexpedient wine will do it. A knuckle of too-savoury mutton will sometimes do it, as Dr. Jowett was wont to say. Nobody could tell, nobody who has not himself come through it all could imagine or could believe if it were told them, the triviality, and the absolute immateriality, of the things that will in some men's cases do it. God has kept up a life-long controversy with some of His saints about little things that they could not put words upon, so unlike Almighty God and so beneath Him, as one would say, is the whole dispute. The truth is, when Almighty God is bent upon the absolute sanctification of some elect sinner, no autobiography, no Brea, no Reliquiæ, no Grace Abounding, no amount of imaginative genius and a corresponding style, could possibly convey to another man all the controversies, great and small, that all through his life go on between God and that elect sinner's soul. There are some terribly predestinated saints. There are some elections that almost consume those chosen souls to dust and ashes in the awful furnace of their sanctification. The apostle had this same terrible election, and sin-consuming ambition, for his Thessalonian converts. "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly: and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." You have it all there. It is as much as to say, the very God of peace turn a deaf ear to your most importunate and agonising prayers, as long as there is a single speck of sin secretly staining any part of your soul. The very God of peace crucify every remaining lust in your body, and every remaining affection in your spirit, and every remaining thought, and feeling, and passion, in your soul, till you are absolutely blameless in His consumingly holy sight. The very God of peace empty you from vessel to vessel, and prune you to the quivering quick, and keep you in a sevenfoldfire, till the coming of the Great Refiner in the glory of His father. And, in like manner, the very God of peace demands of you also every moment of your time, and every mite of your money, and every word of your mouth, and every beat of your heart. And not till He gets all that from you will He answer you one word; no, not for all your prayers, and all your sweats, and all your tears. It is not lawful for a child of God to have it, He will say, till He will make your disobedient life a burden to you past bearing, a racking torture, and one long agony. No! He denies you, till you can bear nothing in all your conscience but these angry words with you. No! it is not lawful for you. It is not right. It is not safe. It is not seemly. It is not expedient. It may be for others, but it can never now be for you. And as long as God in your conscience says that to you about anything whatsoever, you may debate, and question, and pray, and seek for marks and evidences till your dying day, but the very God of peace will answer you nothing.
And then there is this complication also: there are things that it is not lawful for one man to do, that his very next-door neighbour may do every day, and walk with God and talk with God all the time. There are things that are unpardonable in the sight of God in one man, but which are not only entirely innocent and inoffensive, but are positively virtuous and praiseworthy in another man. There are things that will be the ruin of one man's soul, that may all the time be the very sweetness and strength of his neighbour's soul. I may have to deny myself, on the pain of reprobation, every day, what you may eat and drink every day and ask a blessing on it. I may have to spend all the rest of my redeemed life in this world in a daily battle and a nightly self-examination against habits of body and mind that you cannot so much as imagine. I may have to sit up at my salvation every night of the week, while you are sleeping like an innocent child. I may have to meditate on David's Psalms continually, and on nothing else any more, while you are doing nothing else all your time and thought but either telling or hearing some new thing. I may have, till the day of my death, to fight against a slavery that makes you, in your lush liberty, say that I am beside myself. I may have iniquities in my heart absolutely shipwrecking all my prayers: iniquities that even David in his very best Psalms knew nothing about: iniquities that did not even exist in David's day, because the Holy Ghost was not yet given. So beset behind and before are some New Testament men, and some men far on in the life of grace, that God scarcely ever answers them one word from one year's end to another. Then king Herod questioned with Jesus in many words; but He answered him nothing. But, sings David, verily God hath heard me. He hath attended to the voice of my prayer.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Herod That Fox'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​h/herod-that-fox.html. 1901.