While Jesus is on a teaching tour some Pharisees advise him to depart the region as Herod Antipas desires to kill him (Luke 13:31). Herod is the unscrupulous tetrarch of Judea who has already beheaded John the Baptist (Luke 9:9). Undaunted, Jesus fearlessly fires back a message for Herod (Luke 13:32-35). He begins by referring to the ruler with the unflattering epithet “that fox” (Luke 13:32).
And He [Jesus] said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.’” (Luke 13:32 NASB)I. Howard Marshall (b. 1934) summarizes:
Some Pharisees warn Jesus to flee from the murderous intentions of Herod Antipas, but he replies with an expression of contempt for that ‘fox’ [Luke 13:31-32]; he had a task to perform, which will conclude with his ‘perfecting’ in Jerusalem [Luke 13:33], and no Herod will be able to divert him from it. He has, therefore, no need to flee at this juncture. If Herod wants to kill him he had better go to Jerusalem! (Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (New International Greek Testament Commentary), 568-69)Kazuhiko Yamazaki-Ransom (b. 1970) situates:
The context is Jesus’ journey from Galilee to Jerusalem [Luke 9:51]. The Pharisees’ report reveals what was implicit in Luke 9:9: Antipas was not merely curious about Jesus but actually intending to kill him. It is not immediately clear why Luke included this short episode at this point in his narrative. The reader is told about Antipas’ intention to kill Jesus, but Luke tells of no further action on the side of the tetrarch. Even when Antipas finally met Jesus in Jerusalem, it was by the initiative of Pilate (Luke 23:7). Harold W. Hoehner [1935-2009] argues that Antipas could not kill Jesus immediately. Although he saw Jesus’ movement as a potential threat, he had no evidence that Jesus was actually causing political trouble. So the best he could do was to pose a threat so Jesus would leave his territory. Such a political manoeuvre was indeed fitting for Jesus’ designation of him as a ‘fox’ – a crafty coward. (Yamazaki-Ransom, The Roman Empire in Luke’s Narrative, 169-70)There is no doubt that someone is attempting to intimidate Jesus but there is a question as to who is doing so. Though it is the Pharisees who alert Jesus of Herod’s ruinous desires (Luke 13:31), this faction is typically depicted in opposition to Christ (Luke 5:30, 6:2, 7, 7:30, 39, 11:38-39, 42, 43, 53, 12:1) which calls their motives into question: Is the allegation legitimate? Are they conscientiously alerting a fellow Jew of a plot against his life or is this a case of politics making strange bedfellows with the Pharisees using Herodian threats to initiate Jesus’ withdrawal which they themselves desire?
John A. Darr (b. 1953) acknowledges:
In this scene, Herod remains offstage. A report of murderous intentions on the part of Herod reaches Jesus through the Pharisees, who urge Jesus to leave the area (Luke 13:31). The fact that members of a group apparently inimical to Jesus (see Luke 11:53-12:1) are the sole source of this information arouses the reader’s suspicions both about the authenticity of the report and about the Pharisee’s true intentions in delivering it. In a rare occurrence in the Lukan narrative, the reader is given no authoritative guidelines (e.g. by the narrator) to help in assessing this account. (Darr, Herod the Fox: Audience Criticism And Lukan Characterization, 175)Bruce J. Malina (b. 1933) and Richard L. Rohrbaugh (b. 1936) presume:
The behavior of Pharisees here [Luke 13:31] is a good indication of how in-group and out-group boundaries work. Throughout the story, Jesus and his followers form an in-group opposed to the Pharisees, a hostile out-group. But now the Pharisees warn Jesus of Herod’s plan to kill him, thus doing him a favor. In the perception of the Pharisees, when it comes to Herod, Jesus forms part of their in-group, with Herod and his supporters forming an out-group. (Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, 283)Michael Card (b. 1957) perceives:
Due to an almost universal bias against the Pharisees, this story is almost always viewed with a negative slant. I would like to believe, however, that these particular Pharisees are showing a genuine concern for Jesus’ safety. We will see Jesus in the home of a Pharisee one last time in chapter 14 [Luke 14:1], and it will not necessarily be a negative encounter. In fact, Jesus will even heal a man with dropsy on that occasion, and yes, it will be on a Sabbath [Luke 14:1-6]. So perhaps this is a friendly warning. (Card, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement (Biblical Imagination), 172)Kazuhiko Yamazaki-Ransom (b. 1970): scrutinizes:
It has been debated whether the Pharisees’ report was true or false as well as what their motive was. First, the portrayal of Antipas as a murderer is consistent with Luke’s totally negative portrayal up to this point in his narrative [Luke 3:19-20, 9:7-9]. Second, Jesus does not negate or question the Pharisees’ report. Thus it seems the Pharisees’ report was true. See Harold W. Hoehner [1935-2009] , Herod Antipas, pp. 175, 219; Richard J. Cassidy [b. 1942], Jesus, Politics, and Society, p. 51; contra Luke Timothy Johnson [b. 1943], Luke, pp. 218, 368. On the other hand, although some Pharisees were portrayed either neutrally or positively in Acts (notably Gamaliel [Acts 5:33-39] and Paul [Acts 23:6, 26:5]), in Luke’s Gospel they are consistently portrayed negatively. Thus it seems unlikely that they were reporting to Jesus about Antipas in order to help him. Contra Joseph A. Fitzmyer [b. 1920], Luke, p. 1030; Joseph B. Tyson [b. 1928], ‘Jesus and Herod Antipas’, Journal of Biblical Literature 79 (1960), pp. 239-46 (246); Martin Rese [b. 1935], ‘Einige Überlegungen zu Lukas XIII, 31-33’, in Jacques Dupont [1915-1998] (editor), Jésus aux origines de la christologie (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium, 40; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1989), pp. 201-25 (209-15). It is more likely that the Pharisees were using the information to run Jesus out of their territory. See Alfred Plummer [1841-1926], A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Luke (International Critical Commentary), 28; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 5th edition, 1922), p. 348; I. Howard Marshall [b. 1934], Luke p. 571; John A. Darr [b. 1953], Herod the Fox, pp.175-79. (Yamazaki-Ransom, The Roman Empire in Luke’s Narrative, 169)Jesus does not question their motivation but instead instructs the Pharisees to “go and tell that fox...” (Luke 13:32). He is not, however, positioning the Pharisees as mediators between himself and his would be murderer. Joseph A. Fitzmyer (b. 1920) assumes:
This is not a command that Jesus gives to the Pharisees whom he would send back, but rather his rhetorical comment on their warning and the situation that faces him. He sees through Herod’s character. (Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV (Anchor Bible), 1031)Luke Timothy Johnson (b. 1943) concurs:
Rather than flee, Jesus sends them back [Luke 13:32]. Are they speaking for Herod? Then they can deliver this message back to him. This is, of course, all rhetorical. (Johnson, Luke (Sacra Pagina), 218)Jesus brazenly resorts to name calling against the powerful tetrarch, referring to him as “that fox” (Luke 13:32). The Greek alōpēx is almost universally rendered “fox” (ASV, CEV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, MSG, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV). There are three New Testament references to foxes, all of which emanate from the lips of Jesus (Matthew 9:20; Luke 9:58, 13:32).
The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines:
The relatively few references in Scripture are to the common fox of Palestine, Vulpesvulgaris, a wild carnivore of the dog family, living usually on a diet of small animals and fruit, though its European relations may sometimes be found looking into trash cans during daylight hours as well as at night. This natural predator usually lives in burrows, the American red fox being a related species. Damage to vineyards by “the little foxes” (Song of Solomon 2:15) may have been a reference to jackals rather than to foxes. Similarly the 300 foxes caught by Samson in order to pair them for raids on Philistine corn fields, with lit torches tied to their tails (Judges 15:4-5), may have been jackals, which would have been more readily caught. Tobiah the Ammonite poured scorn on the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem by suggesting that even the tread of a fox would break the stones (Nehemiah 4:3). The craftiness of the fox was emphasized by our Lord’s description of Herod Antipas (Luke 13:32). (J.D. Douglas [1922-2003] and Merrill C. Tenney [1904-1985], Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 76-77)Though the term is consistently translated, H.K. Moulton (1903-1982) informs:
An Eskimo translator is faced with an inverted set of problems...When our Lord says of Herod, ‘Go and tell that fox...’ [Luke 13:32] the question comes back, ‘What kind of fox? We have grey, red, blue and white’. Remembering that the fox is the emblem of craftiness and destructiveness we ask which of the four Eskimo foxes is most like that, and the answer comes back, ‘None, our crafty animal is the wolverine’. So the wolverine it must be in the Eskimo Bible to get the meaning across to them, even if it means nothing to us. (Moulton, “Bible Translation”, Indian Journal of Theology 23.1-2 (January-June 1974), 16-17)Some have seen the term as especially derogatory given its feminine gender. Robert H. Gundry (b. 1932) typifies:
A vixen is a female fox and therefore not to be feared. By calling Herod a vixen, Jesus is saying he has nothing to fear from Herod. (Gundry, Commentary on Luke)Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) counters:
We cannot infer that the feminine is used here in a contemptuous sense: but the masculine occurs in Song of Solomon 2:15. (Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Luke (International Critical Commentary), 349)Jesus is clearly using a figure of speech and does not intend to characterize Herod as an omnivorous four-legged mammal. Jan Joosten (b. 1959) delineates:
A different distinction established by linguists is that between denotation and connotation. While the meaning of a word may remain more or less stable, its affective impact and the mental images it calls up may vary. Some Greek words of the New Testament are given a connotation that is unusual in profane literature but explicable in light of Semitic models. A nice example is the use of the word ἀλώπηξ, “fox”, in Luke 13:32. While Greek (and modern European) usage would lead one to think Jesus qualifies Herod Antipas as a crafty person, Hebrew and Aramaic literature use the fox more often as an image of insignificance. Contextually, it is indeed more likely that Jesus qualifies Herod as “small-fry”, a person of no consequence. (Juan Pedro Monferrer-Sala [b. 1962] and Ángel Urbán, “The Graceo-Semitic Vocabulary of the New Testament”, Sacred Text: Explorations in Lexicography, 119)A reader must be careful not to impose the figurative connotations of the present age onto the ancient text. William W. Klein (b. 1946), Craig L. Blomberg (b. 1955) and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. (b. 1943) advise:
When Jesus called Herod Antipas a fox (Luke 13:32), his hearers understood “fox” to represent a certain value. To call someone a fox today would have different meanings or values, depending upon the culture (or subculture) involved. If a reader simply imposed a current value for “fox,” the original intent would be obscured or even lost. In some cultures, fox might have no connotative value, and the meaning would simply be opaque. Biblical revelation was communicated within cultures. It could not be otherwise, for all human language is culturally conditioned. (Klein, Blomberg and Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 173)Jesus is utilizing a metaphor. Brenda B. Colijn (b. 1952) explains:
As figures of comparison, metaphors have two parts: the subject of the comparison (often called the tenor) and the thing with which the subject is compared (often called the vehicle)...When Jesus calls Herod a fox (Luke 13:32), “Herod” is the tenor, and “fox” is the vehicle. Jesus uses the connotations of “fox” to suggest something about Herod. (Colijn, Images of Salvation in the New Testament, 36)The metaphor defines Jesus’ relationship with Herod. Robert L. Brawley (b. 1939) discloses:
Some philosophers of language call the nonfigurative referent of a metaphor the subsidiary subject and the figurative referent the principal subject. Metaphors may produce epiphoric effects, that is, they may expand meaning beyond the subsidiary subject. But metaphors also generate diaphoric effects, that is, they may create meaning by evoking new ways of construing what we comprehend. When Jesus calls Herod a fox in Luke 13:32, he expands meaning beyond the nonfigurative referent of a four-footed mammal to the figurative—an epiphoric effect. But he also evokes a new way of construing his relationship to the potentate and his potency—a diaphoric effect. (Brawley, Text to Text Pours Forth Speech: Voices of Scripture in Luke-Acts, 9)The interpretive key is to determine what “fox” meant in the original context and where this understanding intersects with Luke’s depiction of Herod. What the fox implies today is not necessarily what was meant in Jesus’ day.
Mark L. Strauss (b. 1959) compares:
Today the fox is viewed as clever and sly; this is one of the qualities attributed to it by the Greeks and in later rabbinic literature (often with negative connotations of deception and cunning). In other Jewish contexts, however, the fox is viewed as an insignificant creature (Nehemiah 4:3) or as a destroyer. Ezekiel identifies false prophets and prowling “jackals among ruins [Ezekiel 13:4].” Jesus’ comment may contain a variety of these connotations. (Clinton E. Arnold [b. 1958], Matthew, Mark, Luke (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), 123)Joel B. Green (b. 1956) investigates:
The designation of Herod as a “fox” [Luke 13:32] must be understood, particularly since “fox” has a range of virtual, metaphorical properties not all of which are actualized here. For example, we read in the Lukan narrative no hint that Herod is particularly cunning or crafty. More appropriate is the metaphorical representation of Herod the fox as one who lacks the status or is impotent to carry out his threat. In this case, Herod’s rank would be relativized by the recognition that Jesus, whose mission is rooted in divine necessity, thus serves one of greater status and power than Herod or the Rome he represents. Herod’s threat is blunted because his design runs contrary to the divine will. A further foxlike trait is potentially actualized in Jesus’ use of this metaphor — namely, the proclivity of fox for malicious destructiveness: “Upon hearing of Herod’s threat,” then, “Jesus pegs the Tetrarch as a varmint in the Lord’s field, a murderer of God’s agents, a would-be disrupter of the divine economy.” (Green, The Gospel of Luke (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 536)The fox transmits a variety of undertones. I. Howard Marshall (b. 1934) researches:
In rabbinic literature the fox was typical of low cunning (Berakoth 61b, citing Rabbi Akiba [40-137]; Hermann Leberecht Strack [1848-1922] and Paul Billerbeck [1853-1932] II, 200f.), but it was also portrayed as an insignificant creature in comparison with the lion: ‘Be first in greeting every man; and be a tail to lions and be not a head to foxes’ (Pirkei Aboth 4:15). Both ideas have been detected here, the former by Burton Scott Easton [1877-1950] 221; Carroll Stuhlmueller [1923-1994], 147; and the latter by J.M. Creed [1889-1940] 186; Walter Grundmann [1906-1976], 288; probably both are present (T.W. Manson [1883-1958], The Sayings of Jesus, 276). Werner Grimm [b. 1945], 114-117, takes the point further and sees an allusion to king Saul (šā’ûl;cf. šû‘āl, ‘fox’) in contrast to the messianic ‘lion’ of the house of David (Genesis 49:9; Revelation 5:5). The saying would then contain an implicit messianic identification by Jesus; but in the absence of an explicit reference to the lion, this proposal is too speculative to be convincing. (Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (New International Greek Testament Commentary), 571)Joseph A. Fitzmyer (b. 1920) adds:
In both classical and Hellenistic Greek alōpex, “fox,” was an epithet for a crafty or sly person. See Pindar [522-443 BCE], Pythian Odes 2.77-78; Plato [427-347 BCE], Republic 2.8 § 365c; Plutarch [45-120], Solon, Epictetus [55-135], Discourses 1.3, 7-8. In the Old Testament šû‘āl is used of foolish prophets (Ezekiel 13:4); but in rabbinic literature it later carries the Greek connotation. See Hermann Leberecht Strack [1848-1922] and Paul Billerbeck [1853-1932] 2.200-201. Martin Dibelius [1883-1947] (From Tradition to Gospel 162-63) thinks that Jesus would hardly have used the epithet and that it betrays Luke’s interest in the great ones of the earth. Possible, but far from certain! It is, moreover, farfetched to think that “fox” is used with further connotations of a contrast with “lion”—or of Saul with David, pace Werner Grimm [b. 1945]. (Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV (Anchor Bible), 1031)There is a recurring theme in these assessments: negativity. John A. Darr (b. 1953) portrays:
Almost without exception, the traits associated with foxes in the ancient Mediterranean world were pejorative. A very common notion was that the fox was intelligent. Though some fables depicted foxes as being wise and good, the vast majority portrayed the fox as using intelligence in a devious manner. That is, foxes were considered to be cunning, crafty, subtle, sly and mischievous, making up for a lack of physical strength with cleverness. The latter observation implies inferiority, a second trait commonly ascribed to foxes. The fox’s weakness and cowardice were often contrasted with the lion’s strength and courage. Thus, to call someone a fox could imply that the person was insignificant, lacking in true power despite the fact that he or she might accomplish things through cunning. A final trait ascribed to the fox was destructiveness, an attribute no doubt based on the actual experience of farmers who lost crops and livestock to these varmints. (Darr, Herod the Fox: Audience Criticism And Lukan Characterization, 180)Given this data, “fox” carries several plausible associations. Darrell L. Bock (b. 1953) enumerates:
The signification of ἀλώπηξ (alōpēx) is debated (E. Earle Ellis [1926-2010] 1974:190): it can refer to (1) a person of no significance (Hermann Leberecht Strack [1848-1922] and Paul Billerbeck [1853-1932] 2:201; Nehemiah 4:3 [II Esdras 13:35 Septuagint]); (2) a deceiver, a person of cunning (which was the rabbinic force of the term; David Daube [1909-1999] 1956:191; Song of Songs Rabbah 15.1 on Song of Solomon 2:15); or (3) a destroyer (Ezekiel 13:4; Lamentations 5:18; I Enoch 89:10, 42-49, 55; A.R.C. Leaney [1909-1995] 1958:209). The formal Greek sense is the second meaning (Joseph A. Fiztmyer [b. 1920] 1985:1031; Epictetus [55-135] 1.3.7-8; Plutarch [45-120], Life of Solon 30.2 ), although either of the first two senses or a combination of them is possible, depending on how the context fills out the metaphor (T.W. Manson [1883-1958] 1949:276 and I. Howard Marshall [b. 1934] 1978:571 mention the first two, while John A. Darr [b. 1953] 1992:140-46 sees the third as primary and the second as possible). Considering how the Synoptics portray the way Herod removed the Baptist [Luke 9:7-9], the meaning of deceiver or destroyer is possible. Luke’s emphasis seems to be destructiveness, since Herod murdered “the greatest born of woman” (Luke 7:28) and later stands opposed to Jesus (Acts 4:26-28). In Luke 13 the issue is willingness to kill Jesus [Luke 13:31]. (Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53 (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 1247)David E. Garland (b. 1947) encapsulates:
Randall Buth [b. 1950] claims that the metaphor fits the rabbinic use of fox and challenges Herod’s inability to carry out his threat and attacks his pedigree and morality. He offers the following possible translations to convey the intent of the original: “Weakling, small fry, usurper, poser, clown, insignificant person, cream puff, nobody, weasel, jackass, tin soldier, peon, hick, pompous pretender, jerk, upstart.” In an article titled “Kings Are Lions, but Herod Is a Fox,” Eric A. Hermanson [b. 1940] argues that Jesus is saying that Herod is no lion but a jackass. (Garland, Luke (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 559)Thus it is possible that Jesus is putting Herod in his place: I am a lion, you are a fox; I am David, you are Saul; or in the words of Rush Hour (1998): “I’m Michael Jackson [1958-2009], You Tito!”
Some scholars have analyzed the epithet through the lens of physiognomy, the practice of analysis through physical characteristics. Chad Hartsock (b. 1977) deduces:
That Luke knows the conventions of physiognomics is clear, as he uses examples from all three categories of physiognomics—zoological, racial/ethnographical, and bodily features. In zoological terms, two examples will suffice. In Luke 3:7, John the Baptist refers to the crowds as a “brood of vipers,” and the meaning here is self-evidently negative and insulting...A second example is Luke 13:32, where Jesus is warned that Herod is out to get him. Jesus answers, “Go and tell that fox...” (Luke 13:32). Polemo [90-144]’s characterization of the fox is primarily that of being cunning and deceptive. Certainly Herod rules in such a matter, and the physiognomic convention is very much at work in this text to add a layer of meaning that is often unnoticed. (Hartsock, Sight and Blindness in Luke-Acts: The Use of Physical Features in Characterization, 167-68)Mikeal C. Parsons (b. 1957) probes:
Pseudo-Aristotle remarks rather briefly that, in contrast to lions who are “brave,” foxes, because they are “reddish,” are of “bad character” (πανουργοι; 812a17), a comment that echoes Aristotle [384-322 BCE]’s point that the fox is cunning and of evil disposition (History of Animals 1.1.488b20). Polemo [90-144] is more expansive: “The fox is wily, deceitful, coy, evasive, rapacious, shrewd” (174). What they lack in physical strength, foxes make up for with cunning and deceit. (Parsons, Body and Character in Luke and Acts: The Subversion of Physiognomy in Early Christianity, 69)Some physiognomy studies juxtapose the fox with the lion. Mikeal C. Parsons (b. 1957) discusses:
It is not necessary to introduce the lion/fox contrast as the primary context of Jesus’ saying, as some do, in order to understand how the imagery would have impacted the reader familiar with cultural symbolism of foxes echoed in the zoological method of physiognomy. To be sure, as John A. Darr [b. 1953] has demonstrated, the primary image of “Herod the Fox” must be seen within the developing characterization of Herod in the Lukan narrative, from Luke 3-Acts 13. Darr rightly suggests that it is Herod’s foxlike trait of destructiveness that is most likely in the mind of the Lukan audience, a metaphor that is continued in Jesus’ next statement about Jerusalem: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing” (Luke 13:34b). Darr concludes, “The image is that of the hen defending her chicks against attack by a predator. Although the predator is not specified, the reader very likely understands it to be a fox, for the fox was known as a common predator of chickens and the animal imagery lay close at hand in the passage.” This conclusion, however, should not exclude the metaphor from having a “surplus” of meaning, some of which is provided by the zoological method of the physiognomists. Thus the negative portrayal of Herod is reinforced by an appeal to the physiognomic repertoire that would have held foxes as essentially destructive creatures whose only virtue—cleverness—was self-serving. (Parsons, Body and Character in Luke and Acts: The Subversion of Physiognomy in Early Christianity, 71)Whatever nuance(s) Jesus is attempting to convey, there is little doubt that he uses the term “fox” pejoratively and that the appellation would have been interpreted as such. As has been alluded, this is accentuated by the immediate context in which Jesus likens himself to a motherly “hen” gathering her chicks (Luke 13:34). Herod is the proverbial fox watching the hen house.
Charles H. Talbert (b. 1934) determines:
Jesus responds with a message for “that fox [Luke 13:32].” This would have been heard as a term of derision. Epictetus [55-135] (Discourses I.iii.8-9) is typical when he says: “For what else is a slanderous and malicious man but a fox, or something even more rascally and degraded? Take heed, therefore, and beware that you become not one of these rascally creatures.” The negative feature that fits this context is Herod’s destructiveness. He has killed John [Luke 9:9] and now he seeks to kill Jesus. Song of Solomon 2:15 speaks of young foxes that destroy vineyards. This is Herod: a destructive rascal! (Talbert, Reading Luke: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Third Gospel (Reading the New Testament), 166)Craig A. Evans (b. 1952) modernizes:
The designation may imply a person of no significance or consequence, or a person of cunning and treachery. In either case the designation is derogatory and in today’s parlance might be better rendered as “rat.” (Evans, Luke (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series), 216)Leon Morris (1914-2006) bolsters:
T.W. Manson [1893-1958] says, ‘To call Herod “that fox” is as much as to say he is neither a great man nor a straight man; he has neither majesty nor honour.’ The expression is thus contemptuous. Herod is the only person Jesus is recorded as having treated with contempt. Later we read that he wanted to see Jesus perform a miracle, and that when Jesus stood before him the Master said nothing to him at all (Luke 23:8f.). When Jesus has nothing to say to a man that man’s position is hopeless. (Morris, Luke (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), 249)The epithet is fitting. Because their prey is small, foxes are solitary rather than pack hunters and Herod is a predator who preys on innocents (Matthew 2:16) and tolerates no rivals. The shoe fits.
John T. Carroll (b. 1954) comments:
The choice of the metaphor fox for Herod is apt [Luke 13:32], evocative of this powerful ruler’s destructive bent (cf. Song of Solomon 2:15). Jesus’ reply to these Pharisees reinforces the reader’s impression that the warning is realistic and thus contributes to the building of suspense as the story moves towards it conclusion—concerning the “how,” if not the “what,” of the end of Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem. (Carroll, Luke: A Commentary (New Testament Library), 294)Kazuhiko Yamazaki-Ransom (b. 1970) supports:
Jesus calls Antipas ‘that fox (ἀλώπηξ)’ (Luke 13:32). Foxes were associated with craftiness and inferiority in both Hellenistic and rabbinic literature. Others argue that the designation ‘fox’ implies destructiveness. Craftiness and destructiveness are, however, not mutually exclusive features. On the one hand, in Luke, Antipas appears as a destructive tyrant who kills John (Luke 9:9). On the other hand, when he finally meets Jesus, he does not kill him himself but cunningly sends him back to Pilate so that the latter, yielding to the pressure from the Jews, would crucify him (Luke 23:11). (Yamazaki-Ransom, The Roman Empire in Luke’s Narrative, 170)Christoph W. Stenschke (b. 1966) assesses:
Within this reference to Herod is the note that Jesus called him a fox [Luke 13:32]. Whether it conveys Herod’s weakness and insignificance (‘the mean and paltry man as opposed to the lion’) or craftiness and slyness, both meanings suggest that divine assessment of Herod is in contrast to his claims and self-confident behaviour in Luke 3:19f, 9:7-9, 23:7-12. Either a sinful character trait is directly addressed (cf. Luke 3:19f) or an equally unacceptable attitude of pride and arrogance is indirectly addressed: Herod is not what he thinks himself to be. (Stenschke, Luke’s Portrait of Gentiles Prior to Their Coming to Faith, 132)In calling Herod a “fox”, Jesus dismisses the king with one word (Luke 13:32). Though he follows this moniker with a message, it is unnecessary because all that would be remembered was that Jesus had the audacity to openly disparage the reigning ruler.
John Phillips (1927-2010) remarks:
Herod probably didn’t understand a word of it—except the part about his being a fox [Luke 13:32]. (Phillips, Exploring the Gospel of Luke: An Expository Commentary, 200)Paul Borgman (b. 1940) conjectures:
Jesus responds to the warning by referring to Herod as a fox [Luke 13:32] — wily, and an example of worthless “low-life.” This brushing-aside of the secular ruler sets up the narrative focus on the real adversaries of Jesus, his own religious peers and fellow Jews. (Borgman, The Way According to Luke: Hearing the Whole Story of Luke-Acts, 206)Jesus calls Herod as he sees him and Christ is clearly not a fan of Judea’s tetrarch. Jesus uses his biting wit to show that the “King of the Jews” (Luke 23:3, 38) does not think much of Judea’s king nor is he threatened by him.
Why do the Pharisees inform Jesus of Herod’s ambition to eliminate him (Luke 13:31)? Why does Jesus call Herod a “fox” (Luke 13:32)? Which connotation of fox most applies to Herod? With what do you associate foxes? How has the connotation of the animal changed since Jesus’ time? Is Jesus’ use of the feminine form of fox an attempt to emasculate Herod? What is the modern equivalent of “that fox”? Are the Pharisees “foxes” too? If Herod is a fox, what animal is Jesus? When is it appropriate to call an opponent by an unflattering term? Have you ever been compared to an animal? To which animal would you least wish to be compared?
Herod is a bully but his threats are not hollow. This king is not a person to be trifled with. When Jesus confronts Herod he is doing the same thing that leads to John the Baptist’s imprisonment and ultimately his death (Luke 3:19-20, 9:7).
Scot McKnight (b. 1953) connects:
The use of “fox” for Herod Antipas strikes one as coherent with Jesus’ relation to John and to what Herod did to John [Luke 9:7-9]. The attitude expressed through the term did not endear the early Christians to the ruling authorities of their day, but it is quite consistent with Jesus’ attitude toward other authorities—one thinks here of the undeniable criticisms Jesus made of the Pharisees. The same criticisms may be found in rabbinic documents (e.g. Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 28a; Babylonian Talmud Yebamoth 109b; Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 1:4). It is the attitude...that betrays the authenticity of the tradition. The context, the style, and the meaning each speak more of the context of Jesus than a later rewriting of the Jesus tradition. (McKnight, Jesus and His Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus, and Atonement Theory, 134-35)Jonathan Marshall (b. 1978) validates:
Identifying Antipas as a fox (ἀλώπηξ) [Luke 13:32] carries connotations of craftiness, destructiveness, and impotence (Epictetus [55-135], Discourses 1, 3, 7, 9; Babylonian Talmud Berakoth 61b; Song of Solomon 2:15; Ezekiel 13:4). A response to a threat made by the tetrarch is also historically plausible considering the response made by John to Antipas’s marriage to Herodias [Luke 3:19]. (Marshall, Jesus, Patrons, and Benefactors: Roman Palestine and the Gospel of Luke, 186)In confronting the alleged death wish, Jesus demonstrates his political awareness. Despite Herod’s track record, Jesus is obviously not intimidated by the maniacal ruler.
Robert C. Tannehill (b. 1934) categorizes:
Jesus speaks boldly in response to Herod’s threat, calling him a “fox [Luke 13:32].” The original audience might interpret Jesus’ response in the context of a traditional “type-scene” of bold philosopher confronting tyrant, or bold prophet confronting king. (Tannehill, Luke (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries), 224)William Barclay (1907-1978) praises:
It takes a brave person to call the reigning king a fox. Bishop [Hugh] Latimer [1487-1555] was once preaching in Westminster Abbey when Henry VIII [1491-1547] himself was one of the congregation. In the pulpit he soliloquized, ‘Latimer! Latimer! Latimer! Be careful what you say. The king of England is here!’ Then he went on, ‘Latimer! Latimer! Latimer! Be careful what you say. The King of Kings is here.’ (Barclay, The Gospel of Luke (New Daily Study Bible), 220)In some ways, calling Herod a “fox” fits Jesus’ counter-cultural modus operandi. L. R. Arul Sam characterizes:
Jesus opposes injustice and speaks out against oppression, advocates non-violence, affirms new roles for women, condemns the rich, and praises those who give away their possessions. He calls Herod a ‘fox’ (Luke 13:31-33) and speaks of Pilate’s violence (Luke 13:1-30. He defies the Jewish Sanhedrin (Luke 22:67-70) and repudiates Gentile rulers (Luke 22:24-27). He predicts that those who are faithful to him will incur trouble from secular authorities (Luke 21:12). (Sam, The Love Commandment of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Luke and Its Implication in the Indian Context, 41)Being fearless in the face of political oppression is part of the role Jesus is called to play. Scot McKnight (b. 1953) appraises:
Prophets do not fear rulers. Jesus knows Antipas is devious, manipulative and dishonest. Regardless of what Antipas wants, Jesus declares he will continue in his redemptive, liberating work of the kingdom and it will end, as did John’s prophetic life, in death [Luke 13:32-35]. But Jesus’ death will be in the center of power, in Jerusalem. Like John’s death, Jesus’ will take place in conjunction with a festive meal [Matthew 14:6-12; Mark 6:14-29]. The politic of Jesus entails words for devious earthly kings, words that will kill Jesus. (George Kalantzis [b. 1967] and Gregory W. Lee [b. 1978], “Extra Ecclesiam Nullum Regnum: The Politics of Jesus”, Christian Political Witness, 68)Jesus keeps Herod and God in their proper places. Bruno Dyck (b. 1961) explains:
In his act of civil disobedience Jesus refuses to consider authorities like Herod to be more significant than they are. Jesus does not ingratiate himself to unjust authorities. This is evident in Jesus calling Herod a fox [Luke 13:32], an unflattering term that suggests conventional leaders like Herod do not play a central role in kingdom of God structures and systems. Jesus does not expect Herod’s support in promoting countercultural ideas (Dyck, Management and the Gospel: Luke’s Radical Message for the First and Twenty-First Centuries, 129)Though the Bible does not report what the fox says in response (if anything), it is clear that Jesus is not afraid of a confrontation with the king. In the gospels, Herod is said to be afraid; Jesus is not (Matthew 14:5; Mark 6:20). Jesus never forgets that Herod’s power is minuscule in comparison to God’s. From this perspective, Herod poses no threat to Jesus. God can easily outfox “that fox”.
Herod’s threat does not deter Jesus’ mission. Does the threat that Herod poses effect Jesus in any way? Should Christians confront corrupt politicians? Given Herod’s track record, why is Jesus unafraid of him? Is Jesus’ response to Herod a template for how to respond to bullies? Should Christians be fearless in the face of the objections of the secular world? Are you afraid of anything? Should you be?
“A man who is intimate with God will never be intimidated by men.” - Leonard Ravenhill (1907-1994)