20 He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. After securing the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply.
21 On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” 23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
24 But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.
Barnabas and Saul Sent Off
25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.
There are various points throughout the Old Testament where someone would violate the holiness of God’s presence and pay dearly for it. Someone would offer an invalid sacrifice to God and immediately be struck with a terrible disease or someone else would reach out and touch the Ark of the Covenant despite God’s warnings not to do so and they would fall dead instantly. There are many such examples throughout the Scriptures of the Old Covenant and yet, there are also many other times when people would disobey God and not be struck down immediately. In fact, as we saw in Acts 5, a very similar situation happened with Ananias and Sapphira. They attempted to deceive God by lying to his people and pretending to be fully part of God’s family when they were not. After being given an opportunity to be honest and repent and failing to do so, they both fell over dead immediately. The repercussions of their behavior were as swift as they were stiff. But, we have to wonder, why them? Why did they keel over dead and not so many others? After all, there are plenty of people who have tried deceive God and be something amongst his people that they were not in their hearts. Why do some die and others don’t?
The answer to that question is not something that we can fully answer. To know the answer to that question one would have to be able to know the mind of God. What we do know, however, is that at certain places and times God allows the judgment and consequences of people’s behavior to come upon them immediately so as to serve as a warning and a cautionary tale for the rest of the people. When we violate God’s laws and word, the spiritual effects and ramifications are just as serious as those who felt their punishment immediately. It’s as if God is telling us, “This is what will happen to you ultimately if you commit these same sorts of acts and don’t repent.” The choice is then ours to learn from those situations or to not learn and be determined to face the consequences in eternity for ourselves.
This situation with King Herod seems to be one of those situations. He was certainly not the first king to begin to think of himself as so powerful that he was divine and he will not be the last, but he did suffer his punishment immediately. He had taken the mantle as king of those who purported to be God’s people and now had the nerve to oppose God’s true people and had finally shown the fullness of his true colors. He was more than willing to be worshipped and treated like a god. He was willing to take the place of the one, true, God and for that, he would be cut down immediately as an example for all.
After leaving behind the debacle of Peter escaping and the ensuing embarrassment of that situation, Herod Agrippa I made his way to Caesarea. The leaders of Tyre and Sidon joined Herod there to have an audience with him. We are not told what quarrel he was having with the people of this region but we do know that this was an area that had relied on Judea for its food supply for hundreds of years, so it was intensely in their favor to remain on the good side of Herod. Whatever the quarrel was, it is somewhat safe to assume that it was his problem with them and not the other way around. This was evidently a region where Herod felt quite comfortable and clearly had the upper hand. After such a humiliating incident with Peter’s escape, Herod would do what many people do after such an event. He went somewhere where he was in control and could dictate events.
As he arrived in Caesarea, the people of Tyre and Sidon quickly sought an audience with the King to ensure that they would continue to curry his favor and much needed support. They ensured that they first secured the support of Blastus, one of the king’s most trusted advisors. We aren’t told the nature of this support but it may have come through bribery or similar means. They wanted the king’s advisor to push for peace and not conflict because they so deeply relied on the King’s support.
The scene described in verse 21 may seem odd but it is really not outside of the normal realm of natural human behavior. They had mistakenly come to believe that their food supply and provision came from the favor of the King rather than from God and that is dangerous. Whenever we confuse the source of our provision, whether it be our jobs or a king, we are quick to give way too much power, adoration, and even worship to our perceived provider. It quickly becomes our God.
This incident with Herod in Caesarea is particularly interesting because Luke was not the only surviving account of this encounter. The Jewish historian, Josephus, also described this account. According to Josephus, “There came together for this occasion a large number of provincial officials and others of distinguished position. On the second day of the shows Agrippa put on a robe made of silver throughout, of quite wonderful weaving, and entered the theatre at break of day. Then the silver shone and glittered wonderfully as the sun’s first rays fell on it, and its resplendence inspired a sort of fear and trembling in those who gazed at it. Immediately his flatterers called out from various directions, in language which boded him no good, for they invoked him as a god: ‘Be gracious to us!’ They cried. ‘Hitherto we have reverenced you as a human being, but henceforth we confess you to be of more than mortal nature’. He did did rebuke them, nor did he repudiate their impious flattery. . . At the same time he was seized with a severe pain in his bowels, which quickly increased in intensity. . . He was hastily carried into the palace, and. . . when he had suffered continuously for five days from the pain in his belly, he died, in the fifty-fourth year of his life and the seventh year of his kingship.”
Luke stresses the fact that Herod was struck immediately with this illness and that it was a direct result of his acceptance of this blasphemy, while Josephus adds that it took him five days to actually die from this immediate illness. The problem was that Herod didn’t just fail to turn away this bit of worship, he had encouraged it and played into it. He paraded around in a shiny silver robe that reflected the sun brilliantly and further fed into the adoration of those around him. They were willing to accept that a normal man couldn’t have the power and the prestige and put this altogether like this. So they were willing recognize that Herod was a god.
Both Luke and Josephus saw the error of this. Herod should have immediately rebuffed such praise as Luke will describe Paul and Barnabas doing in Acts 14 when people take their miraculous actions as something that only the gods could pull off. Paul and Barnabas were horrified by such suggestions but Herod enjoyed it.
Luke has already been drawing a comparison between King Herod and King Jesus and now it comes to a head. Jesus was the true King and Herod was just a shadow of that. Herod was stealing what rightly belonged to the true King and he would pay for it. The contrast is stark. Jesus was the true King but was rejected by men, only to conquer death and demonstrate that he really was the true King of Israel and the world. But Herod was just a parody of the true King. He tried to curry the favor of men, and when he received their praise unjustly he accepted it falsely. And yet, the very foe that Jesus had defeated would humble Herod and show him to be nothing more than a man after all. He had fallen prey to the one enemy that no human had ever defeated, except for the true King Jesus the Messiah. Jesus was now with the Father in heaven, ruling at his right hand, while Herod would be eaten by the worms. He went the way of all things and people that set themselves up against the rightful King.
With Herod firmly in the grave, proving his mortality and weakness, the true power of Jesus would continue to be felt. When Herod died, that was the end. There was no more adoration; no more worship; and no one thought of him as the king or divine anymore. Death proved him powerless. But the word of God in the gospel would continue to flourish. More and more would come to know Jesus as the Son of God and the true King of the world. Death had proved him to be powerful beyond compare.
Who do you rely on as your provider? Is it really God or do you tend to view yourself, someone else, or even your job as your provider? It is an important question to really examine because we usually tend to worship our provider with our time, energy, and resources. Look to see who you really believe to be your provider because that is probably your God as well.