In The Fire of Delayed Answers, Bob Sorge pints our how often the theme of prison recurs in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. Two oft-cited examples are Joseph and Paul. But we tend to overlook Samson and Jeremiah, and Peter and John (exile to Patmos being a form of prison). Others had experiences akin to prison, like David when he was being hunted by Saul. Jesus was imprisoned for a short time.
And then we have John the Baptist.
Set apart from before his birth, John became known for letting his hair grow, wearing wild animal skins and eating locusts and honey. He had a message that attracted people, lots of people. He was clearly a holy man, called by God to bring a very specific message.
Make way for the Lord.
He baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. And then his ministry began to wane, heading for a close. He was imprisoned for speaking the truth about Herod and his wife. Imprisoned, and left to languish. Herod didn’t seem to care; his wife did, however.
We don’t know how long John was imprisoned. But we do know he was feeling alone, and likely anguished. He had done all that the Lord had asked of him, and how he was left alone in Herod’s prison.
Alone, but not forgotten. Salome danced, a dance of lust that became John’s warrant for execution.
What did he think in those final hours, before the dance? Was in prayer, or despair? Or both, perhaps?
What did he think as the heard the soldiers coming, handling him roughly, and dragging him out to be executed (unless they beheaded him right there in his cell)? The soldiers were likely the only witnesses to the sword falling on his exposed neck. What ran through his mind in those final moments as the executioner began to swing the sword?
We don’t know. We can only imagine. We can try to put ourselves in his place, but the fact is we don’t know.
Could God have saved him? Yes.
But He didn’t. For whatever reason and purpose, He didn’t save John.
When Jesus was told, we read he went away by himself. He mourned his cousin, and he caught a glimpse of his own future.
The execution of John the Baptist seems unfair, and wrong. And it is, because of the injustice inflicted on John by Herod and his family.
But whatever else we might think, we know John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord, even in his death.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’re discussing The Fire of Delayed Answers. To see more posts on this chapter, “Prison Theology,” please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines.
Photography by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.