Monday, July 25, 2022

Acts 12:20-25

Acts 12:20–25: The Death of Herod


A short passage outlining the death of Herod Agrippa I. Verses 20–21 gives the background:

  • Herod has been “angry” with the people of Tyre and Sidon
    • What is meant by “angry” the passage doesn’t say
  • Because the people of Tyre and Sidon depend on Herod for food, they come to him for peace
  • They persuade one of Herod’s trusted personal assistants, a man named Blastus, that this is their intention
  • Blastus apparently convinces Herod as well, because he puts on his royal robes, takes his seat on his throne, and delivers a speech to them

As the crowd hears him speaking they start shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” (verse 22)1. Because Herod doesn’t “give God the glory” (verse 23), an angel of the Lord strikes him down and he is eaten by worms2 and breathes his last.

Regardless of whether Herod gave God the glory or not others definitely are because verse 24 tells us that the Word is increasing and spreading.

And then we’re told in verse 25 that Barnabus and Saul return to Antioch from their famine relief journey to Jerusalem, bringing along a man named John, whose other name is Mark3.


In reading this passage I spent more time thinking about John, whose other name is Mark, than I did thinking about the death of Herod. (In other words, I’m not good at reading my Bible…) I’d like to say that it’s because I’m getting into the habit of looking up each person’s name as they’re encountered, to see where else they play into the story, but it’s not the case; I was just looking him up because I wasn’t sure if he’s the same Mark who wrote The Gospel of Mark. (I was pretty sure this wasn’t the case, and am even more sure now.)

Of course, most of my thinking about John (whose other name is Mark) ended up in a footnote rather than the body of the post, so if I have any readers they might not even have seen it…

As for Herod’s death itself—the focus of the story—I do find it interesting that it’s such a minor offense Herod is committing! In fact, he’s not even the one who’s blaspheming, it’s the crowd who are calling him a god, all he does is not stop them! It’s interesting to look at the contrast between this episode and what we saw in Chapter 10 when Cornelius tried to bow before Peter, and the upcoming scenario in 14:8–18 when a crowd will see a miracle performed by Paul and Barnabas and decide that they’re gods.

Man Situation Reaction
Peter Cornelius bows down to worship him Immediately stops Cornelius, saying he’s only a man just like Cornelius
Paul and Barnabas Called “gods” because of a miracle they’ve performed Tear their garments in an act of distress, and rush to tell the crowds that they’re only men, and it’s God whom the people should be worshipping
Herod Called “a god” by a crowd Says, yeah, that sounds about right

The instinctive reaction from Christians in these situations is to shy away from any praise that we feel should be going to God, while the instinctive reaction from a sinful heart is to say, “well, maybe not a god, but I am pretty great…”

One should note that those are not two distinct categories; Christians still have sinful hearts, and so even Christians sometimes react poorly to praise. To be clear, I’m not one of those Christians who believes that we should never, ever accept compliments. (“That’s a nice shirt you’re wearing today!” “All the glory goes to God.” “Er… yeah.”) There’s a performative, holier than thou attitude that can creep in when we’re seemingly deflecting compliments, thinking we’re doing the right thing. But I am saying that compliments can puff us up and make us think we’re better than we are, if we’re not on guard; the natural response of the human heart is to take a compliment that way, which is a reason we need to have strong prayer lives and be regularly reading our Bibles, soaking ourselves in Scripture, so that the presence of the Holy Spirit is stronger than our natural, sinful reactions.

Which, ok, sounds a little too “cause and effect” for something that’s much more complicated. I’m making it sound like reading our Bibles and actively praying causes the Holy Spirit to be more active in our lives, which causes us to be less sinful. And, as a Christian, I can’t say that that’s not the case, but I also can’t claim it’s that simple. However, regardless of how simple or complex it is, reading the Bible and praying are good things that Christians should be doing, regardless of whether it always has an “outcome” like this. (There will be times when I’m actively reading the Scripture and praying and I’ll still sin; it doesn’t mean that reading the Scripture or praying were “ineffective” or a waste of time!)

Side Note: This is yet another passage that I came to with the assumption I’d have very little to think about, only to find myself coming out the other side with an essay…

  1. The ESV Study Bible notes point out that this story is also told in a book called Jewish Antiquities, where it says that Herod’s robes were made of silver that sparkled in the sun, which is what provoked the crowd’s response. I’d always just assumed they were flattering him because they needed his food and wanted to keep the peace. (It’s quite possible it was both.) ↩︎

  2. I’m assuming this is a figure of speech that just means he was dead, not that worms immediately sprang up on the spot and started consuming the body. ↩︎

  3. Another one of those details I didn’t mention at the time, but maybe should have: in the previous passage when Peter is freed from prison, he visits a home where a number of believers are praying for him. That home was the home of this same man, John, whose other name is Mark. He obviously must have been an important man at the time; we’ll see him again one more time in 15:36–41 when a disagreement about whether he should be brought on a missionary trip causes a rift between Paul and Barnabus. ↩︎

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