Hearing God’s Word with Puzzlement and Pleasure

By Mark D. Roberts

October 3, 2016

Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.

Mark 6:20


Barbed wire cutting into a tree's trunk. The story of Herod and John the Baptist is a curious one with a sad ending. Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee during the time of Jesus. He had scandalized his subjects by marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias. John the Baptist boldly rebuked Herod, which angered Herodias and ultimately led her to bring about his death. Herod’s response to John was surprisingly ambivalent, however. According to Mark 6:20, Herod “feared” John. Moreover, though he was perplexed when he heard John’s preaching, Herod nevertheless “liked to listen to him” (the Greek reads, more literally, “listened to him gladly”). Strangely enough, Herod listened to God’s truth proclaimed by John with both perplexity and pleasure.

It’s not hard to imagine why Herod was disturbed when he heard John preach. Not only did John directly rebuke Herod for his sinful marriage, but also, in general, John called for repentance and promised renewal in a way that would not have pleased someone of Herod’s station in life. If John was right about things, then Herod needed to turn his life around, or God was soon going to do it for him, whether Herod liked it or not.

But why did Herod listen to John gladly? Why did he continue to pay attention to someone who was making his life more difficult? In part, Herod’s attitude towards John’s preaching reflects his basic respect for John as a holy man. Yet there was also buried within Herod something that yearned for relationship with God. Even though his life had been anything but spiritually shaped, nevertheless Herod’s soul had been created for God. Somehow he sensed this purpose. In the end, however, Herod allowed his wife’s scheming and his pride to get the better of him, and he was coerced to execute John, thus cutting off, not only the head of the Baptist, but also his own source of God’s truth.


Can you relate to Herod in this story?

Have there ever been times in your life when you heard God’s truth with ambivalence, both being disturbed by it and yet knowing that you needed to hear it?

What do you do when God’s truth confronts you in uncomfortable ways?


Gracious God, first, I am reminded to thank you today for the faithfulness of John the Baptist. Not only was he the herald who announced the coming of Christ, but also he was true to your word, even at the cost of his life.

Lord, in a strange way, I can relate to Herod’s response to John’s preaching. There are times when your truth disturbs me, when it unsettles me, when, frankly, I’d rather not have to deal with it at all. But there is something in me that nevertheless is drawn to your truth. Thank you, Lord, for the part of me that yearns for your word. Thank you for your Spirit who stirs up my desire for your righteousness. Help me, Lord, always to hear your word gladly, even and especially when it challenges me in my discipleship. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Work and Identity (Acts 8-12)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

More on Mark

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Learn Learn Learn Learn

the Life for Leaders newsletter

Learn Learn Learn Learn