Watch Out!

Beware of the Leaven of the Pharisees and the Leaven of Herod. —Mark 8:15, NAB


A great many sermons and articles have been composed to explain the "leaven of the Pharisees." Our Savior clearly explained that the "leaven of the Pharisees" was "hypocrisy" (Luke 12:1), "…for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men…" (Matt 23:3-5). "For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops. And I say to you, My friends, ‘do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do’" (Luke 12:2-4).

The Pharisees were dangerous from two standpoints: 1) They taught a hypocritical form of self-righteousness that was not really righteousness at all, but often fooled the common people. 2) They were often able to enforce punishments on others for not going along with their false-righteousness. Some brethren may see some church organizations as modern-day Pharisees, inflicting rules and regulations on the members to which the ministry and leadership are not subject. Members who did not comply with these rules were sometimes punished—cast out of their organization and ostracized from 20 or 30 years of acquired friendships.

But what is the "Leaven of Herod"?

The Bible does not specifically answer that question, but if we look for clues, it seems that the "leaven of Herod" is little different than the "leaven of the Pharisees"—it is the "leaven of the State" rather than the "leaven of the Church." The governmental leaders were supposed to administer justice on behalf of Rome—and they made a great show of pretending to be just. And of course, they insisted that the common people follow the law. But were they just themselves? Notice this story about Herod:

For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. For John had said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife." Therefore Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him, but she could not; for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him. And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly. Then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee. And when Herodias’ daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, "Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you." He also swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom." So she went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask?" And she said, "The head of John the Baptist!" Immediately she came in with haste to the king and asked, saying, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." And the king was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought. And he went and beheaded him in prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother (Mark 6:17-28).

Even our Savior publicly referred to Herod as "that fox" (Luke 13:31-32). Was it lawful for Herod to execute a just person for no reason? No. But did Herod do it anyway? Yes. He probably did what leaders usually do when they want to punish an innocent person: invent a charge—treason or maybe even terrorism. Our Savior and the Apostle Paul were the victims of similar false accusations before governments (Matt 26:59; Acts 21:27-29; 23:27-30; 24:2-13,26; 25:7-9).

We do not see any New Testament example or commission to reform the human governments of this world. That is not the job of the Ekklesia (church) of believers. Nevertheless, we must watch and be aware of "the leaven of Herod"—the corruption in our human governments. Just as we have seen that leaders of church organizations sometimes serve themselves more than they serve their members, we should also not be surprised to find government leaders serving themselves rather than those who elected them. It is a mistake to blindly trust a human government—to assume that whomever they say "is good" really is good, and whomever they say "is bad" really is bad. How many people refused to hear the message of Jesus or the early apostles because they "were in trouble with the civil authorities?"

Also, there are numerous prophecies of corrupt leaders in both "church" and "state":

There is a conspiracy of her princes within her like a roaring lion tearing its prey; they devour people, take treasures and precious things and make many widows within her. Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. Her officials within her are like wolves tearing their prey; they shed blood and kill people to make unjust gain (Ezk 22:25-27).

We have reprinted these three articles on the Oklahoma City bombing because they seem to represent a middle-of-the-road point of view. The vast majority of the press coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing places great emphasis on the sufferings of the victims and how much the various government agencies are doing to reduce that suffering and convict the guilty. At the opposite extreme, some writers view the bombing as just a small part of a massive conspiracy by the rich to establish a "New World Order"—a hierarchical World Government. We have been continually amazed at the ability of the mass media to apparently ignore important facts. On the other hand, we have also been amazed at the number of different conspiracy theorists who ask us to accept their theory which contains a rather large number of unprovable assumptions.

Servants’ News will not stop its purpose of teaching the brethren in order to become a political news magazine. We do not intend to write on this bombing again unless there are some extremely significant developments. But we believe some of our readers are not aware of how far our nation has departed from the path of truth and justice. It is not clear to us whether individuals in the Federal government actually planned the bombing, or simply failed to stop it and are too embarrassed to admit it. But it is very clear to us that the Federal government is hiding a lot of important information, and that to some degree, the popular news media is cooperating. McVeigh’s trial raised more questions than it answered. Are we expected to believe that a single, mixed-up individual could make one of history’s most powerful ammonium nitrate bombs in just a few hours with little or no assistance? Why were no private explosive-investigators ever allowed on the property to determine the exact cause of the blast? Why did two different seismometers show that there were actually two blasts? Why were the vast majority of the FBI, CIA, and BATF employees and their families not in the building on the day of the blast? Was it a coincidence that the blast occurred when the "Anti-terrorist Bill" was stalled in the Senate? The original version of that bill gave the President the authority to secretly jail anyone for up to 10 years if he considered them a terrorist. Is that unconstitutional? Probably so. But how could you plead your case if you are held in a secret jail? Does anyone believe that our current president is honest enough to be trusted with that kind of authority?

Again, we at Servants’ News do not believe that it is the job of Believers to solve the Oklahoma City bombing or the problems of our governments. Could these issues become a matter of life and death? Yes. But remember, "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matt 16:25). Our job is to become righteous individuals and to preach the Gospel to others (Matt 5:48, Mark 15:16). But we should not be ignorant of Satan’s schemes (2Cor 2:11, NIV) and we should be praying "Thy Kingdom Come"! (Matt 6:10, KJV).