Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.
Now about that time - That is, during the time that the famine existed, or the time when Barnabas and Saul went up to Jerusalem. This was probably about the fifth or sixth year of the reign of Claudius, not far from 47 ad.
Herod the king - This was Herod Agrippa. The Syriac so renders it expressly, and the chronology requires us so to understand it. He was a grandson of Herod the Great, and one of the sons of Aristobulus, whom Herod put to death (Josephus, Antiq., 18, 5). Herod the Great left three sons, between whom his kingdom was divided - Archelaus, Philip, and Antipas. See the notes on Matthew 2:19. To Philip was left Iturea and Trachonitis. See Luke 3:1. To Antipas, Galilee and Perea; and to Archclaus, Judea, Idumea, and Samaria. Archclaus, being accused of cruelty, was banished by Augustus to Vienna in Gaul, and Judea was reduced to a province, and united with Syria. When Philip died, this region was granted by the Emperor Caligula to Herod Agrippa. Herod Antipas was driven as an exile also into Gaul, and then into Spain, and Herod Agrippa received also his tetrarchy. In the reign of Claudius also, the dominions of Herod Agrippa were still further enlarged. When Caligula was slain, he was at Rome, and having ingratiated himself into the favor of Claudius, he conferred on him also Judea and Samaria, so that his dominions were equal in extent to those of his grandfather, Herod the Great. See Josephus, Antiq., book 19, chapter 5, section 1.
Stretched forth his hands - A figurative expression, denoting that "he laid his hands on them, or that he endeavored violently to oppress the church."
To vex - To injure, to do evil to - κακῶσαί kakōsai.
Certain - Some of the church. Who they were the writer immediately specifies.
And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
And he killed ... - He caused to be put to death with a sword, either by beheading, or piercing him through. The Roman procurators were entrusted with authority over life, though in the time of Pilate the Jews had not this authority.
James, the brother of John - This was the son of Zebedee, Matthew 4:21. He is commonly called James the Greater, in contradistinction from James, the son of Alpheus, who is called James the Less, Matthew 10:3. In this manner were the predictions of our Saviour respecting him fulfilled, Matthew 20:23, "Ye shall indeed drink of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with."
And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)
And because he saw that it pleased the Jews - This was the principle on which he acted. It was not from a sense of right; it was not to do justice, and to protect the innocent; it was not to discharge the appropriate duties of a magistrate and a king, but it was to promote his own popularity. It is probable that Agrippa would have acted in this way in any circumstances. He was ambitious, vain, and fawning; he sought, as his great principle, popularity, and he was willing to sacrifice, like many others, truth and justice to obtain this end. But there was also a particular reason for this in his case. He held his appointment under the Roman emperor. This foreign rule was always unpopular among the Jews. In order, therefore, to secure a peaceful reign, and to prevent insurrection and tumult, it was necessary for him to court their favor; to indulge their wishes, and to fall in with their prejudices. Alas, how many monarchs and rulers there have been who were governed by no better principle, and whose sole aim has been to secure popularity, even at the expense of law, truth, and justice. That this was the character of Herod is attested by Josephus (Antiq., 19, chapter 8, section 3): "This king (Herod Agrippa) was by nature very beneficent, and liberal in his gifts, and very ambitious to please the people with such large donations; and he made himself very illustrious by the many expensive presents he made them. He took delight in giving, and rejoiced in living with good reputation."
To take Peter also - Peter was one of the most conspicuous men in the church. He had made himself particularly obnoxious by his severe and pungent discourses, and by his success in winning people to Christ. It was natural, therefore, that he should be the next object of attack.
The days of unleavened bread - The Passover, or the seven days immediately succeeding the Passover, during which the Jews were required to eat bread without leaven, Exodus 12:15-18. It was some time during this period that Herod chose to apprehend Peter. Why this time was selected is not known. As it was, however, a season of religious solemnity, and as Herod was desirous of showing his attachment to the religious rites of the nation (Josephus, Antiq., Exodus 19:7, Exodus 19:3), it is probable that he chose this period to show to them more impressively his purpose to oppose all false religions, and to maintain the existing establishments of the nation.
And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
And when he had apprehended him - When he had taken or arrested him.
He put him in prison - During the solemnities of this religious festival, it would have been deemed improper to have engaged in the trial of a supposed criminal. The minds of the people were expected to be devoted solely to the services of religion; and hence, Herod chose to retain him in custody until the Passover had ended.
To four quaternions of soldiers - A "quaternion" was a company of "four"; consequently the whole number employed here was sixteen. The Romans divided the night into four watches so that the guards could be relieved; those who were on guard occupying three hours, and being then relieved. Of the four who were on guard, two were with Peter in the prison Acts 12:6, and two kept watch before the door of the prison. The utmost precaution was taken that he should not escape; and Herod thus gave the most ample assurance to the Jews of his intention to secure Peter, and to bring him to trial.
Intending after Easter - There never was a more absurd or unhappy translation than this. The original is simply after the Passover (μετὰ τὸ πάσχα meta to pascha. The word "Easter" now denotes the festival observed by many Christian churches in honor of the resurrection of the Saviour. But the original has no reference to that, nor is there the slightest evidence that any such festival was observed at the time when this book was written. The translation is not only unhappy, as it does not convey at all the meaning of the original, but because it may contribute to foster an opinion that such a festival was observed in the time of the apostles. The word "Easter" is of Saxon origin, and is supposed to be derived from "Eostre," the goddess of Love, or the Venus of the North, in honor of whom a festival was celebrated by our pagan ancestors in the month of April (Webster). Since this festival coincided with the Passover of the Jews, and with the feast observed by Christians in honor of the resurrection of Christ, the name came to be used to denote the latter. In the old Anglo-Saxon service-books the term "Easter" is used frequently to translate the word "Passover." In the translation by Wycliffe, the word "paske," that is, "Passover," is used. But Tyndale and Coverdale used the word "Easter," and hence, it has very improperly crept into our King James Version.
To bring him forth to the people - That is, evidently, to put him publicly to death to gratify them. The providence of God in regard to Peter is thus remarkable. Instead of his being put suddenly to death, as was James, he was reserved for future trial; and thus an opportunity was given for the prayers of the church, and for his consequent release.
Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
But prayer was made - The church was apprised of his imprisonment and danger, and had no resource but to apply to God by prayer. In scenes of danger there is no other refuge; and the result shows that even in most discouraging circumstances God can hear prayer. Nothing scarcely could appear more hopeless than the idea of rescuing Peter out of the hands of Herod, and out of the prison, and out of the custody of sixteen men, by prayer. But the prayer of faith Was prevalent with God.
Without ceasing - Intense, steady, ardent prayer. The word used here ἐκτενής ektenēs is found in only one other place in the New Testament, 1 Peter 4:8, "Have fervent charity among yourselves." The word has rather the idea that their prayer was earnest and fervent than that it was constant.
Of the church - By the church.
And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.
And when Herod would have brought him forth - When he was about to bring him to be put to death.
The same night - That is, the night preceding. The intention of Herod was to bring him out as soon as the Passover was over; but during the night which immediately preceded the day in which he intended to bring him to punishment, Peter was rescued.
Peter was sleeping - Here is an instance of remarkable composure, and an illustration of the effects of peace of conscience and of confidence in God. It was doubtless known to Peter what the intention of Herod was. James had just been put to death, and Peter had no reason to expect a better fate. And yet in this state he slept as quietly as if there had been no danger, and it was necessary that he should be roused even by an angel to contemplate his condition and to make his escape. There is nothing that will give quiet rest and gentle sleep so certainly as a conscience void of offence; and in the midst of imminent dangers, he who confides in God may rest securely and calmly. Compare Psalm 3:5; Psalm 4:8.
Between two soldiers - See the notes on Acts 12:4. Peter was bound to the two. His left hand was chained to the right hand of one of the soldiers, and his right hand to the left hand of the other. This was a common mode of securing prisoners among the Romans. See abundant authorities for this quoted in Lardner's Credibility, part 1, chapter 10: section 9, London edition, 1829, vol. i. p. 242, 243, etc.
And the keepers ... - See Acts 12:4. Two soldiers were stationed at the door. We may see now that every possible precaution was used to ensure the safe custody of Peter:
(1) He was in prison.
(2) he was under the charge of sixteen men, who could relieve each other when weary, and thus every security was given that he could not escape by inattention on their part.
(3) he was bound fast between two men. And,
(4) He was further guarded by two others, whose business it was to watch the door of the prison. It is to be remembered, also, that it was death for a Roman soldier to be found sleeping at his post. But God can deliver in spite of all the precautions of people; and it is easy for him to overcome the most cunning devices of his enemies.
And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.
And, behold, the angel of the Lord - See the notes on Acts 5:19.
Came upon him - Greek: was present with him; stood near him ἐπέστη epestē.
And a light shined in the prison - Many have supposed that this was lightning. But light, and splendor, and shining apparel are commonly represented as the accompaniments of the heavenly beings when they visit the earth, Luke 2:9; Luke 24:4; compare Mark 9:3. It is highly probable that this light was discerned only by Peter; and it would be to him an undoubted proof of the divine interposition in his behalf.
And he smote Peter on the side - This was, doubtless, a gentle blow or stroke to arouse him from sleep.
And his chains ... - This could have been only by divine power. No natural means were used, or could have been used without arousing the guard. It is a sublime expression of the ease with which God can deliver from danger, and rescue his friends. Compare Acts 16:26.
And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.
Gird thyself - When they slept the outer garment was thrown off, and the girdle with which they bound their inner garment, or tunic, was loosed. He was directed now to gird up that inner garment as they usually wore it; that is, to dress himself, and prepare to follow him.
Bind on thy sandals - Put on thy sandals; prepare to walk. See the notes on Matthew 3:11.
Cast thy garment about thee - The outer garment, that was thrown loosely around the shoulders. It was nearly square, and was laid aside when they slept, or worked, or ran. The direction was that he should dress himself in his usual apparel. See the notes on Matthew 5:38-42.
And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision.
And wist not - Knew not.
That it was true - That it was real.
But thought he saw a vision - He supposed that it was a representation made to his mind similar to what he had seen before. Compare Acts 10:11-12. It was so astonishing, so unexpected, so wonderful, that he could not realize that it was true.
When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.
The first and second ward - The word which is here rendered "ward" φυλακήν phulakēn properly denotes "the act of guarding"; but it is most commonly used to denote "a prison, or place of confinement." In this place it seems to denote the guard itself - the soldiers stationed at intervals in the entrance into the prison. These were passed silently, probably a deep sleep having been sent on them to facilitate the escape of Peter.
The iron gate - The outer gate, Secured with iron, as the doors of prisons are now.
That leadeth unto the city - Or rather into εἰς eis the city. The precise situation of the prison is unknown. It is supposed by some (compare Lightfoot on this place) that the prison was between two walls of the city, and that the entrance to the prison was immediately from the inner wall, so that the gate opened directly into the city.
Of his own accord - Itself. It opened spontaneously, without the application of any force or key, thus showing conclusively that Peter was delivered by miraculous interposition.
And passed on through one street - Until Peter was entirely safe from any danger of pursuit, and then the angel left him. God had effected his complete rescue, and now left him to his own efforts as usual.
And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.
And when Peter was come to himself - This expression naturally means, when he had overcome bas amazement and astonishment at the unexpected deliverance, so as to be capable of reflection. He had been amazed by the whole transaction. He thought it was a vision: and in the suddenness and rapidity with which it was done, he had no time for cool reflection. The events of divine providence often overwhelm and confound us; and such are their suddenness, and rapidity, and unexpected character in their development as to prevent calm and collected reflection.
Of a surety - Certainly, surely. He considered all the circumstances; he saw that he was actually at liberty, and he was satisfied that it could have been effected only by divine interposition.
The expectation of the people - From this it appears that the people earnestly desired his death; and it was to gratify that desire that Herod had imprisoned him.
And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.
And when he had considered ... - Thinking on the subject; considering what he should do in these circumstances.
He came to the house of Mary ... - Probably this house was near him; and he would naturally seek the dwelling of a Christian friend.
The mother of John ... - Probably this was the John Mark who wrote the gospel. But this is not certain.
Whose surname - Greek: who was called Mark. It does not mean that he had two names conferred, as with us, both of which were used at the same time, but he was called by either, the Greeks probably using the name Mark, and the Jews the name John. He is frequently mentioned afterward as having been the attendant of Paul and Barnabas in their travels, Acts 12:25; Acts 15:39; 2 Timothy 4:11. He was a nephew of Barnabas, Colossians 4:10.
Where many were gathered together, praying - This was in the night, and it shows the propriety of observing extraordinary seasons of prayer, even in the night. Peter was to have been put to death the next day; and they assembled to pray for his release, and did not intermit their prayers. When dangers increase around us and our friends, we should become more fervent in prayer. While life remains we may pray; and even when there is no human hope, and we have no power to heal or deliver, still God may interpose, as he did here, in answer to prayer.
And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda.
At the door of the gate - Rather the door of the vestibule, or principal entrance into the house. The house was entered through such a porch or vestibule, and it was the door opening into this which is here intended. See the notes on Matthew 9:2.
A damsel - A girl.
Came to hearken - To hear who was there.
Named Rhoda - This is a Greek name signifying a rose. It was not unusual for the Hebrews to give the names of flowers, etc., to their daughters. Thus, Susanna, a lily; Hadessa, a myrtle; Tamar, a palm-tree, etc. (Grotius).
And when she knew Peter's voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate.
She opened not the gate - At this time of night, and in these circumstances, the door would be fastened. Christians were doubtless alarmed by the death of James and the imprisonment of Peter, and they would take all possible precautions for their own safety.
For gladness - In her joy she hastened to inform those who were assembled of the safety of Peter.
And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel.
Thou art mad - Thou art insane. They seemed to have regarded his rescue as so difficult and so hopeless, that they deemed it proof of derangement that she now affirmed it. And yet this was the very thing for which they had been so earnestly praying. When it was now announced to them that the object of their prayers was granted, they deemed the messenger that announced it insane. Christians are often surprised even when their prayers are answered. They are overwhelmed and amazed at the success of their own petitions, and are slow to believe that the very thing for which they have sought could be granted. It shows, perhaps, with how little faith, after all, they pray, and how slow they are to believe that God can hear and answer prayer. In a revival of religion in answer to prayer, Christians are often overwhelmed and astonished when even their own petitions are granted, and when God manifests his own power in his own way and time. Prayer should be persevered in, and we should place ourselves in a waiting posture to catch the first indications that God has heard us.
But she constantly affirmed - She insisted on it. How much better it would have been to have hastened at once to the gate, than thus to have engaged in a controversy on the subject. Peter was suffered to remain knocking while they debated the matter. Christians are often engaged in some unprofitable controversy when they should hasten to catch the first tokens of divine favor, and open their arms to welcome the proofs that God has heard their prayers.
Then said they - Still resolved not to be convinced.
It is his angel - Any way of accounting for it rather than to admit the simple fact, or to ascertain the simple truth. All this was caused by the little hope which they had of his release, and their earnest desire that it should be so. It was just such a state of mind as is indicated when we say, "The news is too good to e believed." The expression "It is his angel" may mean that they supposed that the "tutelary guardian," or angel appointed to attend Peter, had come to announce something respecting him, and that he had assumed the voice and form of Peter in order to make them certain that he came from him. This notion arose from the common belief of the Jews that each individual had assigned to him, at birth, a celestial spirit, whose office it was to guard and defend him through life. See the notes on Matthew 18:10. That the Jews entertained this opinion is clear from their writings. See Kuinoel. Lightfoot thinks that they who were assembled supposed that the angel had assumed the voice and manner of Peter in order to intimate to them that he was about to die, and to excite them to earnest prayer that he might die with constancy and firmness. Whatever their opinions were, however, it proves nothing on these points. There is no evidence that they were inspired in these opinions, nor are their notions countenanced by the Scriptures. They were the mere common traditions of the Jews, and prove nothing in regard to the truth of the opinion one way or the other.
But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished.
Were astonished - They were now convinced that it was Peter, and they were amazed that he had been rescued. As yet they were of course ignorant of the manner in which it was done.
But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.
But he, beckoning ... - To prevent the noise, and tumult, and transport which was likely to be produced. His wish was, not that there should be clamorous joy, but that they should listen in silence to what God had done. It was sufficient to awe the soul, and produce deep, grateful feeling. A noise might excite the neighboring Jews, and produce danger. Religion is calm and peaceful; and its great scenes and surprising deliverances are rather suited to awe the soul to produce calm, sober, and grateful contemplation, than the noise of rejoicing, and the shoutings of exultation. The consciousness of the presence of God, and of his mighty power, does not produce rapturous disorder and tumult, but holy, solemn, calm, grateful emotion.
Go, show these things ... - Acquaint them that their prayer is heard, and that they may rejoice also at the mercy of God.
And to the brethren - Particularly to the other apostles.
And went into another place - Probably a place of greater safety. Where he went is not known. The papists pretend that he went to Rome. But of this there is no evidence. He is mentioned as in Jerusalem again in Acts 15. The meaning is evidently that he went into some place of retirement until the danger was past.
Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter.
No small stir - Amazement that he had escaped, and apprehension of the consequences. The punishment which they had reason to expect, for having suffered his escape, was death.
And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there abode.
He examined the keepers - The soldiers who were entrusted with his custody. Probably only those who had the special care of him at that watch of the night. The word "examine" here means "to inquire diligently, to make investigation." He subjected them to a rigid scrutiny to ascertain the manner of his escape; for it is evident that Herod did not mean to admit the possibility of a miraculous interposition.
Should be put to death - For having failed to keep Peter. This punishment they had a right to expect for having suffered his escape.
And he went down ... - How soon after the escape of Peter he went down to Caesarea, or how long he abode there, is not known. Caesarea was rising into magnificence, and the Roman governors made it often their abode. See the notes on Acts 8:40. Compare Acts 25:1, Acts 25:4. This journey of Herod is related by Josephus (Antiq., book 19, chapter 8, section 2). He says that it was after he had reigned over all Judea for three years.
And there abode - That is, until his death, which occurred shortly after. We do not learn that he made any further inquiry after Peter, or that he attempted any further persecutions of the Christians. The men on guard were undoubtedly put to death; and thus Herod used all his power to create the impression that Peter had escaped by their negligence; and this would undoubtedly be believed by the Jews. See Matthew 28:15. He might himself, perhaps, have been convinced, however, that the escape was by miracle, and afraid to attempt any further persecutions; or the affairs of his government might have called off his attention to other things; and thus, as in the case of the. "persecution that arose about Stephen," the political changes and dangers might divert the attention from putting Christians to death. See the notes on Acts 9:31. Thus, by the providence of God, this persecution, that had been commenced, not by popular tumult, but by royal authority and power, and that was aimed at the very pillars of the church, ceased. The prayers of the church prevailed; and the monarch was overcome, disappointed, bummed, and, by divine judgment, soon put to death.
And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king's chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king's country.
And Herod was highly displeased ... - Greek: "bore a hostile mind," intending war. See the margin. The Greek word θυμομαχῶν thumomachōn does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. It means to meditate war; to purpose war in the mind; or here, probably, to be enraged or angry at them. What was the cause of this hostility to the people of Tyre and Sidon is not mentioned, and conjecture is useless. It is not at all inconsistent, however, with the well known character of Herod. It was probably from some cause relating to commerce. Tyre and Sidon were under the Roman power, and had some shadow of liberty (Grotius), and it is probable that they might have embarrassed Herod in some of his regulations respecting commerce.
Tyre and Sidon - See the notes on Matthew 11:21. They were north of Caesarea.
They came with one accord - Fearing the effects of his anger, they united in sending an embassage to him to make peace.
Blastus, the king's chamberlain - See Romans 16:23. The word "chamberlain" denotes an officer who is charged with the direction and management of a chamber or chambers, particularly a bed-chamber. It denotes here a man who had charge of the bed chamber of Herod.
Because their country was nourished ... - Was supplied by the territories of Herod. The country of Tyre and Sidon included a narrow strip of land on the coast of the Mediterranean. Of course they were dependent for provisions, and for articles of commerce, on the interior country; but this belonged to the kingdom of Herod; and as they were entirely dependent on his country, as he had power to dry up the sources of their support and commerce, they were the more urgent to secure his favor.
And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.
And upon a set day - An appointed, public day. This was the second day of the sports and games which Herod celebrated in Caesarea in honor of Claudius Caesar. Josephus has given an account of this occurrence, which coincides remarkably with the narrative here. The account is contained in his "Antiquities of the Jews," book 19, chapter 8, section 2, and is as follows: "Now when Agrippa had reigned three years over all Judea, he came to the city Caesarea, which was formerly called Strato's Tower; and there he exhibited shows in honor of Caesar, upon his being informed that there was a certain festival celebrated to make vows for his safety. At which festival a great multitude was gotten together of the principal persons, and such as were of dignity throughout his province. On the second day of which shows he put on a garment made wholly of silver," etc.
Arrayed in royal apparel - In the apparel of a king. Josephus thus describes the dress which Herod wore on that occasion. "He put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of wonderful contexture, and early in the morning came into the theater place of the shows and games, at which time the silver of his garment, being illuminated by the first reflection of the sun's rays upon it, shone after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently on him."
Sat upon his throne - This does not denote a throne in the usual sense of that word, but "a high seat" in the theater, where he sat, and from whence he could have a full view of the games and sports. From this place he made his speech.
Made an oration - Addressed the people.' What was the subject of this speech is not intimated by Luke or Josephus.
And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.
And the people gave a shout - A loud applause.
It is the voice of a god ... - It is not probable that the Jews joined in this acclamation, but that it was made by the idolatrous Gentiles. Josephus gives a similar account of their feelings and conduct. He says, "And presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another (though not for his good), that he was a god; and they added, 'Be thou merciful unto us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a king, yet shall we henceforth own thee as a superior to mortal nature.'" It is true that Josephus says that this was done when they saw his splendid apparel, and that he gives no account of his addressing the people, while Luke describes it as the effect of his speech. But the discrepancy is of no consequence. Luke is as credible an historian as Josephus, and his account is more consistent than that of the Jewish historian. It is far more probable that this applause and adoration would be excited by a speech than simply by beholding his apparel.
And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.
And immediately the angel of the Lord - Diseases and death axe in the Scriptures often attributed to an angel. See 2 Samuel 24:16; 1 Chronicles 21:12, 1 Chronicles 21:15, 1 Chronicles 21:20, 1 Chronicles 21:27; 2 Chronicles 32:21. It is not intended that there was a miracle in this case, but it certainly is intended by the sacred writer that his death was a divine judgment on him for his receiving homage as a god. Josephus says of him that he "did neither rebuke them the people nor reject their impious flattery. A severe pain arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner. And when he was quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, in the 54th year of his age, and the 7th year of his reign." Josephus does not mention that it was done by an angel, but says that when he looked up, he saw an owl sitting on a rope over his head, and judging it to be an evil omen, he immediately became melancholy, and was seized with the pain.
Because he gave not God the glory - Because he was willing to receive the worship due to God. It was the more sinful in him as he was a Jew, and was acquainted with the true God, and with the evils of idolatry. He was proud, and willing to be flattered, and even adored. He had sought their applause; he had arrayed himself in this splendid manner to excite admiration; and when they carried it even so far as to offer divine homage, he did not reject the impious flattery, but listened stir to their praises. Hence, he was judged; and God vindicated his own insulted honor by inflicting severe pains on him, and by a most awful death.
And he was eaten of worms - The word used here is not found elsewhere in the New Testament. A similar disease is recorded of Antiochus Epiphanes, in the Apocrypha, 2 Macc. 9:5, "But the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, smote him with an invisible and incurable plague; for a pain in the bowels that was remediless came upon him, and sore torments of the inner parts Acts 12:9, so that worms rose up out of the body of this wicked man," etc. Probably this was the disease known as morbus pedicularis. It is loathsome, offensive, and most painful. See the death of Antiochus Epiphanes described in 2 Macc. 9. With this disease also Herod the Great, grandfather of Herod Agrippa, died (Josephus, Antiq., book 17, chapter 6, section 5). Such a death, so painful, so sudden, and so loathsome, was an appropriate judgment on the pride of Herod. We may here learn:
(1) That sudden and violent deaths are often acts of direct divine judgment on wicked people.
(2) that people, when they seek praise and flattery, expose themselves to the displeasure of God. His glory he will not give to another, Isaiah 42:8.
(3) that the most proud, and mighty, and magnificent princes have no security of their lives. God can in a moment - even when they are surrounded by their worshippers and flatterers - touch the seat of life, and turn them to loathsomeness and putrefaction. What a pitiable being is a man of pride receiving from his fellow-men that homage which is due to God alone! See Isaiah 14.
(4) pride and vanity, in any station of life, are hateful in the sight of God. Nothing is more inappropriate to our situation as lost, dying sinners, and nothing will more certainly meet the wrath of heaven.
(5) we have here a strong confirmation of the truth of the sacred narrative. In all essential particulars Luke coincides in his account of the death of Herod with Josephus. This is one of the many circumstances which show that the sacred Scriptures were written at the time when they professed to be, and that they accord with the truth. See Lardner's Credibility, part 1, chapter 1, section 6.
But the word of God grew and multiplied.
But the word of God grew ... - Great success attended it. The persecutions had now ceased; and notwithstanding all the attempts which had been made to crush it, stir the church increased and flourished. The liberation of Peter and the death of Herod would contribute to extend it. It was a new evidence of divine interposition in behalf of the church; it would augment the zeal of Christians; it would. humble their enemies, and would fill those with fear who had attempted to oppose and crush the church of God.
And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.
Returned from Jerusalem - They had gone to Jerusalem to carry alms, and they now returned to Antioch, Acts 11:30.
When they had fulfilled their ministry - When they had accomplished the purpose for which they had been sent there; that is, to deposit the alms of the church at Antioch in the hands of the eiders of the churches, Acts 11:30.
John, whose surname was Mark - See the notes on Acts 12:12. From this period the sacred historian records chiefly the labors of Paul. The labors of the other apostles are, after this, seldom referred to in this book, and the attention is fixed almost entirely on the trials and travels of the great apostle of the Gentiles. His important services, his unwearied efforts, his eminent success, and the fact that Luke was his companion, may be the reasons why his labors are made so prominent in the history. Through the previous chapters we have seen the church rise from small beginnings, until it was even now spreading into surrounding regions. We have seen it survive two persecutions, commenced and conducted with all the power and malice of Jewish rulers. We have seen the most zealous of the persecutors converted to the faith which he once destroyed, and the royal persecutor put to death by the divine judgment. And we have thus seen that God was the protector of the church; that no weapon formed against it could prosper; that, according to the promise of the Redeemer, the gates of hell could not prevail against it. In that God and Saviour who then defended the church, we may still confide, and may be assured that he who was then its friend has it still "engraved on the palms of his hands," and designs that it shall extend until it fills the earth with light and salvation.