"Sly as a fox."
"I outfoxed him."
"The Prince," said Machiavelli, "must be a lion; but he must also know how to play the fox."
The fox stands for craftiness, cunning, and cruelty.
The lamb is always the symbol of gentleness and innocence. "Gentle as a lamb," we say. It was said of one that he was "a lion in the chase" but "a lamb at home." In the lodge ritual of a large fraternity the lamb is the badge of innocence. In the writings of Blake, the lamb is the badge of innocence.
The Bible describes Herod as a fox and Jesus as a lamb. The Pharisees had come to Jesus with a warning. "Herod is going to kill you." Jesus said, "Go tell that fox today and tomorrow I do cures and the third day I will be perfected." In other words, "I am keeping my schedule."
No man was more deserving of that title "fox." When his father, Herod the Great, died he left most of his territory to a younger brother and only little Galilee to Herod Antipas. He hurried to Rome to try to influence the emperor against his brother, but failed. Against another brother he was more successful. He seduced Herodias, his brother's wife. Eventually he shipped his first wife home and married Herodias. His sister-in-law became his wife, and she was already his niece. So the sin became a triple sin. It was that sin that John the Baptist fearlessly denounced. That was the reason Herodias demanded and got the prophet's head on a platter.
Nor was any man more deserving of the term "lamb" than Jesus. His introduction by John the Baptist contained just those words: "Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world." Never was a man more gentle with children, with the sick, with the sinner. Never was a man so innocent. "He did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth." When He challenged the crowd, "which one of you convicteth me of sin?" no one answered. Pilate's verdict is the only verdict. "I find no fault in him."
How perfectly He fulfilled Isaiah's prediction - "led as a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb dumb before his shearers." We must not suppose that His silence in our text was a deliberate fulfilling of the prophecy but rather that the prophet saw before what would, in fact, be the case.
Small wonder that in Revelation Jesus is pictured as the Lamb again and again. Small wonder that our songs reflect that thought so often.
"Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood shall never lose its power."
"Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?"
"Near the cross, O Lamb of God!"
In this text the fox and the lamb meet. Picture the scene. There sits Herod with all his soldiers arrayed behind him. How powerful he seems. How weak he is.
Jesus is standing alone. How weak He seems. How powerful He is. Herod has his bodyguards and all the palace crowd around him. Jesus is alone. Five thousand ate His loaves and fishes by the sea, but none of them are here now to defend Him. Twelve sturdy men had accompanied Him for more than three years, but none of them are here. He has friends in this place: Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. But they are not present to rise to His defense. If you were there and asked to join the winning side, you'd pick Herod at once. All the power of the Roman Empire is behind that puppet from Galilee. The carpenter seems a poor choice by comparison.
Yet the career of one ends in obscurity. The career of the other ends in grandeur. Indeed, if it had not been for Christ, most of us would never have heard of Herod. The fame of Christ has spread round the world and down the ages; and He is today the most powerful man of human history. Herod's life sputtered out in the obscurity of exile in France.
How quickly glory fades and power evaporates!
Yet we keep supposing that the answers to world problems lie with the Herods of the world and not with Jesus.
The world keeps betting on the fox and not on the Lamb. We ourselves often think that the odds favor the Herods of the world; that the odds lie with power, not with humility; that the odds lie with wealth, not with poverty; that the odds lie with cunning, not with innocence.
Once on a boat the disciples discovered that no one remembered to bring the picnic basket. There was only one loaf for all thirteen of them. Jesus said, "Beware of the leaven of Herod." They pondered that cryptic remark. Was He upset because there was no bread? What did He mean? He spoke it not only for them but for us. Jesus knew that through all time men would turn to Him for guidance. To us today, He says, "Beware of the leaven of Herod."
Beware of the sins of Herod. Lust and cruelty are in the world still. Beware of the idle and flippant curiosity, of Herod. Beware of the irreverence of Herod that makes men mock holy things.
Beware of the tendency to talk when silence would be better. If Herod had only known the true situation, he would have kept silent. If he had known that he was in the presence of the King of kings, would he have dared to demand a miracle? Would he have dared to play the little game of masquerade? Would he have dared to mock and ridicule?
King Henry went to hear Latimer preach. The great man began by giving himself some public advice: "Latimer," he said, "be careful what you say. The king of England is here." He added, "Latimer, be careful what you say. The King of kings is here."
In this text the fox and the lamb meet. And it is the fox who is afraid.
Verse 8 hints at this and Luke 9:7-9 makes it plain. Herod had never really gotten over the execution of John the Baptist. No doubt he secretly admired the man. He had spoken rashly at the birthday party, promising the seductive Salome anything she wished. When the request was for the head of John, Herod was, says the Bible, exceedingly sorry. Herod never forgot how weak he had been, how he had been manipulated, how cruel he had been.
When Jesus came along, so like John, curiosity arose in the heart of Herod - and turned to fear. What if John had indeed come back from the dead! What if he was only biding his time for vengeance? How sin makes men afraid!
Jesus silence seems fitting. He would not remove from Herod that fruit of sin he so fully deserved. Let him wonder. Let the anxiety smolder.
Jesus is remembering how desperately John had sent word from prison to find reassurance that his life had not, after all, been in vain. And the cruel and needless execution of that great preacher must have surely filled His heart with strong emotion. He may have kept silent because He dared not speak. So strong was that emotion, He may not have trusted himself to say anything. To speak would calm Herod's fears. Silence only makes them grow deeper.
Herod's fear is also mixed with a certain curiosity. Again look at verse 8. Everybody likes to see a magician perform his tricks. Many like to believe there is something supernatural about it. It amazes us how willing, how anxious people are to believe in magic.
The reports that have come to Herod about Jesus are exciting. He wants to see those miracles of healing. But how would that look! Imagine, the governor of Galilee going out to some hillside to watch a carpenter teaching and healing! Of course, his position would not let him do that. But now he has a chance at last to satisfy his coarse curiosity about Jesus, and Jesus properly will not honor it.
We may sometimes come to the Bible with such an unholy attitude. The Bible is far, far more than an old curiosity shop. If all you are interested in is viewing its curiosities, then stay away. We must come here as Moses did before the burning bush, without our shoes, recognizing that this is holy ground.
Men do strange things when they are afraid and frustrated. Some whistle. Others laugh. Herod is in the second category. Verse 11 says that he "set him at nought." That is translated by some as "made light of him" or "treated him with contempt." They ridiculed Him, made fun of Him, and mocked Him. They put on Him a gorgeous robe. He could have struggled against the ugly charade, tried to shake off the robe, cried out, "Stop it!" But Jesus never lost His dignity. He bent to receive that robe with all the grace and bearing of a king. Never in His life had He worn anything half so fine as that. How odd it looked over His rough Galilean garments. Yet never a man deserved to wear it more than He.
In the story of the crucifixion people kept unknowingly doing appropriate things. Judas betrayed with a kiss. Did not Jesus deserve the loving kisses of the world? The soldiers gave Him a reed for a sceptre! Never did a man deserve more to hold the sceptre of power! Pilate put up a title: King. He put it in three languages so that no one would miss the joke. What is more appropriate than that the Lord of all mankind should be identified trilingually?
So here, though the scenes make our blood run cold, there is a cruel appropriateness to it all. Herod and his soldiers play their little game of charades. Does he hope to provoke Jesus to speech? Is he bored with palace routine? Is it some devilish streak in his nature that prompts such action? We cannot know. We recoil from the scene. Herod and his men soon tire of it. In the gorgeous robe, Jesus is sent again to Pilate.
But let us not miss the importance of verses 9 and 10. The tendency when one is accused is to answer back quickly, firmly, at length. Why does Jesus offer no defense? Perhaps it is because some charges ought not to be dignified with a defense. Years ago, when everybody was hunting Communists, it was not hard to find pages of accusations hurled at high public officials. Often they were silent in the face of such slanders. I wondered why. I even sometimes naively thought that their silence proved their guilt. I am older now. I know what Jesus obviously knew all along. One does not dignify every charge against Him with an answer. Some accusations are not worthy of an answer.
So, as charge after charge is hurled against Jesus, He stands calm and unruffled in dignified silence. We admire Him far more for that than if He had shouted, "Lies! Lies! They're all lies! You made that up!" True enough that would have been. But Jesus would have lost something of dignity and honor and manhood. And looking at the scene today, we know He did exactly right. He ignored those clamoring voices as if they were no more than wind in the trees.
Thus went the first meeting between the fox and the Lamb. It was not the last. Herod and Jesus met again. This time Herod was the prisoner in the dock. This time Jesus was the judge. This time it was Herod who was speechless!
Reprinted from PULPIT DIGEST, January/February, 1982.
Used by permission.