On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” 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.
But the word of God continued to increase and spread. (verses 21-24)
Herod, proud and powerful, meets his demise in these verses.
He came from a family of power and cruelty. His grandfather, Herod the Great, ruled at the time of Jesus’ birth, choosing to slaughter all the male children two years of age and under who lived in Bethlehem and vicinity. It was a vain attempt to stop the newborn King of the Jews – Jesus – in his tracks before he even got started. Jesus and his family escaped to Egypt, and Herod died.
His son, Herod Antipas, was the one who imprisoned John the Baptist and then removed his head, having been caught in a careless promise to give his step-daughter whatever she wanted. She decided that John’s head was it. Later, he had the opportunity to interrogate Jesus himself before his crucifixion, but squandered his influence and joined the general spirit of mockery and unbelief that led to Jesus’ death.
In Acts 12 we’re dealing with the third generation of the family. This is now Herod Agrippa I, nephew of Herod Antipas and grandson of Herod the Great. He only appears in this chapter, so we know him simply for his arbitrary cruelty and conceited self-focus. He set his sights on persecuting the church, arresting followers of Jesus and putting James, brother of John, to death by the sword. Realizing this execution pleased the religious leaders, he imprisoned Peter, also, intending to put him on public trial after Passover. But Peter slipped through his fingers, having been released by the angel of the Lord. Herod’s power only went so far.
Nevertheless, his pride endured. When the people of Tyre and Sidon shouted out that he was a god, he readily embraced it, seeking to steal God’s own glory.
But it was a step too far. Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down. Was it the same angel who earlier thwarted Herod’s power by releasing Peter from prison? We’re not told. But the text makes clear that judgement fell “because Herod did not give praise to God” (verse 23). This is punishment for the immediate moment as he revelled in praise not his own. But perhaps it is also comment on Herod’s whole perspective as he opposed the purposes of God, not offering praise for what the Lord himself was doing through James and Peter and the church of Jesus Christ.
In it all, it’s clear who is truly sovereign. Although Herod had power to inflict cruelty and harm, yet it was always the Lord himself who reigned supreme. Yes, James was slain. Yes, the Body of Christ sustained a grievous wound. Yet, cruel attack couldn’t crush the church’s forward movement. Nor could prison bars dictate the timeline for death of any of the Lord’s servants, Peter being the case in point.
Indeed, the closing line of this incident tells us “the word of God continued to increase and spread” (verse 24). Herod saw himself as sovereign. How wrong he was.
Whether in trauma or in miracle, the Lord reigns.
Praise you, O Lord, for your rule is unequalled. Right here, right now, you are the Sovereign Lord.
I join with the scriptures to say, “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns!’” (I Chronicles 16:31).
Reflect: What circumstance in your world seems to be out of control. Praise the Sovereign Lord right in the midst. Even if there’s pain, by faith, rejoice and be glad and affirm, “The Lord reigns!”