Acts 12:21
And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.
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(21) And upon a set day . . .—Josephus (Ant. xix. 8, § 2) gives an account of the incident that follows substantially agreeing with that here recorded. The scene was the theatre at Cæsarea, which had been built by Herod the Great. Agrippa was celebrating games in honour of the Emperor Claudius, who had succeeded Caligula in A.D. 41, possibly in honour of his return from Britain in A.D. 44. He was arrayed in a robe of silver tissue, such as Caligula had been wont to wear at banquets and games in Rome, which glittered with a dazzling brightness under the rays of the morning sun. His courtiers, taking up the Roman fashion of showing honour to kings and emperors, hailed him as a god, and prayed him, as such, to be propitious to them. The king did not repress the flattery, which fell on the ears of all Jewish by-standers as a fearful blasphemy. He accepted for himself the divine honours which he had dissuaded Caligula from claiming. He looked up, and saw an owl perched on a rope behind him, and recognised in it an omen of evil, fulfilling a prediction which had been made to him by a fellow-prisoner during his confinement at Rome (Jos. Ant. xviii. 8). Sharp pain fell on him, and in five days he died.

Comparing St. Luke’s narrative with this, it seems probable that the delegates from Tyre and Sidon were among those who raised the cry, “Be thou propitious to us,” and that their friend Blastus, knowing the weak point in Herod’s character, had instructed them that this was the way to obtain his favour. We feel, as we read the narrative, the contrast between St. Peter’s refusal even of Cornelius’s attitude of homage, and Agrippa’s acceptance of the profane apotheosis of the multitude.

Acts 12:21-23. And upon a set day — When shows and games were exhibited by him in honour of Claudius Cesar; Herod, arrayed in royal apparel — In a garment so wrought with silver, that the rays of the rising sun, striking upon, and reflected from it, dazzled the eyes of the beholders; sat upon his throne — In a public theatre; and made an oration unto them — Not to the Tyrian and Sidonian deputies merely, but unto all the people assembled on this grand occasion. And the people gave a shout, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man — Such profane flattery the heathen frequently paid to princes. But the commonness of a wicked custom rather increases than lessens the guilt of it. And the unhappy king, instead of expressing a just indignation at such base and impious adulation, hearkened to it with a secret pleasure. And immediately — For frequently God does not delay to vindicate his injured honour; an angel of the Lord smote him — Of this, other historians say nothing; so wide a difference there is between divine and human history! An angel of the Lord brought out Peter, an angel smote Herod. Men did not see the instruments in either case: these were only known to the people of God. Because he gave not God the glory — Did not reject these blasphemous applauses, but willingly received them, and thus filled up the measure of his iniquities. So then vengeance tarried not. And he was eaten of worms — Or vermin, which bred in his bowels, and rendered him a most loathsome and horrible spectacle to all about him; and he gave up the ghost — Expired in agony and infamy, (as his grandfather, Herod the Great, had done, see on Matthew 2:19,) and sunk as much below the common state of human nature, as his flatterers endeavoured to raise him above it! The Jewish historian, Josephus, confirms St. Luke’s account of the end of this miserable man. He tells us, that “as he did not rebuke the impious flattery addressed to him, he was immediately seized with exquisite and racking tortures in his bowels, so that he was compelled, before he left the place, to own his folly in admitting such acclamations, and upbraided those about him with the wretched condition in which they then saw their god; and being carried out of the assembly to his palace, he expired in violent agonies, the fifth day after he was taken, in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and the seventh of his reign.” Antiq., Acts 19:7.

12:20-25 Many heathen princes claimed and received Divine honours, but it was far more horrible impiety in Herod, who knew the word and worship of the living God, to accept such idolatrous honours without rebuking the blasphemy. And such men as Herod, when puffed with pride and vanity, are ripening fast for signal vengeance. God is very jealous for his own honour, and will be glorified upon those whom he is not glorified by. See what vile bodies we carry about with us; they have in them the seeds of their own dissolution, by which they will soon be destroyed, whenever God does but speak the word. We may learn wisdom from the people of Tyre and Sidon, for we have offended the Lord with our sins. We depend on him for life, and breath, and all things; it surely then behoves us to humble ourselves before him, that through the appointed Mediator, who is ever ready to befriend us, we may be reconciled to him, lest wrath come upon us to the utmost.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.

21. And upon a set day Herod … made an oration unto them—to the Tyrians and Sidonians especially. Upon a set day; this was (says Josephius, cap. 19. lib. 7) the second day of the sports or games, which Herod had instituted in honour of the emperor Claudius; or, it may he, such a day as Herod had appointed to determine the diffrence between him and the Tyrians.

Royal apparel; such, saith Josephus, as were made of silver, woven with extraordinary art, and did reflect strangely the beams of the sun shining upon it.

Sat upon his throne; an elevated place, from whence he might the better be seen and heard.

And upon a set day,.... Either on some feast day of divine appointment, as a feast day was by the Jews called "a stated day"; or on some day appointed by Herod, for the receiving of the ambassadors of Tyre and Sidon, and of hearing their petitions; or as Josephus (r) says, it was on the second day of the sports and plays, instituted by him in honour of Caesar:

Herod, arrayed in royal apparel; the same Jewish historian in the same place says, that this his apparel was all of silver, and of a wonderful contexture; and that going in this very early in the morning into the theatre, the silver shone so with the rays of the rising sun, that it struck the spectators with terror and admiration:

sat upon his throne; and very likely with the other ensigns of royalty, as a crown on his head, and a sceptre in his hand:

and made an oration unto them; either unto the ambassadors from Tyre and Sidon, or rather unto the common people, the multitude that were gathered together in the theatre, where the above historian says he was.

(r) Antiqu. l. 19, c. 8. sect 2.

And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.
Acts 12:21. Τακτῇ δὲ ἡμέρᾳ] According to Joseph. Antt. xix. 8. 2, comp. xviii. 6. 7, δευτέρᾳ δὲ τῶν θεωριῶν ἡμέρᾳ. According to Josephus, namely, he was celebrating just at that time games in honour of Claudius, at which, declared by flatterers to be a god, he became suddenly very ill, etc.

ἐνδυσάμ. ἐσθῆτα βασιλ.] στολὴν ἐνδυσάμενος ἐξ ἀργυρίου πεποιημένην πᾶσαν, Joseph. l.c.

The βῆμα, the platform from which Agrippa spoke, would have to be conceived, in harmony with Josephus, as the throne-like box in the theatre (which, according to the custom of the Romans, was used for popular assemblies and public speeches, comp. Acts 19:29), which was destined for the king, if Luke—which, however, cannot be ascertained—has apprehended the whole occurrence as in connection with the festival recorded by Josephus. This festival itself is not defined more exactly by Josephus than as held ὑπὲρ τῆς σωτηρίας of the emperor. Hence different hypotheses concerning it, such as that of Anger: that it celebrated the return of Claudius from Britain; and that of Wieseler: that it was the Quinquennalia, which, however, was not celebrated until August; a date which, according to the context (Acts 12:25), is too late.

ἐδημηγόρει πρὸς αὐτούς] he made a speech in public assembly of the people (Acts 12:22) to them, namely, to the Tyrians and Sidonians, to whom (to whose representatives) he thus publicly before the people declared in a speech directed to them his decision on their request, his sentiments, etc. Only this simple view of πρὸς αὐτούς: to them (comp. Plat. Legg. vii. p. 817 C: δημηγ. πρὸς παῖδάς τε καὶ γυναῖκας καὶ τὸν πάντα ὄχλον), not: in reference to them (my first edition, and Baumgarten), as well as the reference to the Tyrians and Sidonians, not to the people (so Gerlach, p. 60, after Ranisch, de Lucae et Josephi in morte Her. Agr. consensu, Lips. 1745; and Fritzsche, Conject. p. 13 f.), is suggested by the context, and is to be retained. That, moreover, the speech was planned to obtain popularity, is very probable in itself from the character of Herod, as well as from Acts 12:22; and this may have occasioned the choice of the word δημηγορεῖν, which often denotes such a rhetorical exhibition; see Stallb. ad Gorg. p. 482 C, ad Rep. p. 350 E.

Acts 12:21. τακτῇ: only here in N.T.; cf. Jos., Ant., xix., 8, 2 (cf. xviii., 6, 7), δευτέρᾳ δὲ τῶν θεωριῶν ἡμέρᾳ. It is quite true that Josephus says nothing directly of the Tyrians and Sidonians, but the audience was evidently granted to them on the second day of the public spectacle; cf. for the expression, Polyb., iii., 34, 9. The description of Josephus evidently implies some special occasion, and not the return of the ordinary Quin-quennalia; see on Acts 12:19 and also below. Josephus does not menion Blastus, or those of Tyre and Sidon, but this is no reason against the narrative, as Krenkel maintains. Belser, much more reasonably, contends that Luke’s narrative supplements and completes the statement of Josephus.—ἐνδ. ἐσθῆτα βασιλικήν, cf. Jos., Ant., xix., 8, 2, στολὴν ἐνδυσάμενος ἐξ ἀργυρίου πεποιημένην πᾶσαν.; on ἐσθ. see Acts 1:10.—βήματος: Josephus speaks of the event happening in the theatre, and the βῆμα here = rather “the throne,” R.V. (margin, “judgment-seat”), the royal seat in the theatre from which the king saw the games and made his harangues to the people (so of an orator’s pulpit, Nehemiah 8:4, 2Ma 13:26), see Blass and Grimm-Thayer, sub υ.ἐδημηγόρει: only here in N.T. In 4Ma 5:15 = contionari, frequent in classical Greek.—πρὸς αὐτούς, i.e., to the Tyrian and Sidonian representatives, but the word ἐδημ. might well be used of what was in any case an address, ad populum, cf. Acts 12:22.

21. And upon a set day] The day was one appointed (as Josephus tells us) for holding a festival on which to make vows for Cæsar’s safety.

Herod, arrayed (having arrayed himself) in royal apparel] See the extract from Josephus given below.

Acts 12:21. Τακτῇ δὲ ἡμέρᾳ, but on an appointed day) The solemn celebration of games for the safety of Cæsar, as Josephus says, l. 19. Ant. Jud. ch. 8, who describes at large this impiety of Herod and its punishment: “Clad in a garment which was all woven of silver by marvellous workmanship, and which, struck by the rays of the rising sun and emitting a kind of divine splendour, was inspiring the spectators with veneration accompanied with awe: and presently after pernicious (baneful) flatterers raising acclamations, each from a different quarter, were hailing him as a god, begging him that he would be favourably propitious; for that heretofore having revered him as a man, they now perceive and acknowledge that there is in him something more excellent than mortal nature: this impious adulation he did not correct or repel.—There ensued torturing pains in the belly, which were violent from the very first. Having therefore turned his eyes towards his friends, ‘Behold,’ said he, ‘I the god, as you called me, am commanded to leave life, the fatal necessity of death confuting your lie; and I, whom ye hailed as immortal, am hurried away by a mortal stroke.’—Then worn out by the torture, which did not at all abate for five days in continuation, he ended life.”—πρὸς αὐτοὺς, unto them) It is probable that among his hearers were ambassadors of the Tyrians and Sidonians.

Verse 21. - Arrayed himself for arrayed, A.V.; and sat for sat, A.V. and T.R.; on the throne for upon his throne, A.V. On the throne. Βῆμα does not mean "the king's throne," and is nowhere so rendered in the A.V. but here. It means any raised stage or platform upon which a judge, or an orator, or any one wishing to address an assembly, stands. Here it means a high platform in the theatre at Caesarea, from whence the king, raised above the rest of the audience, could both see the games and make his speech to the people. Acts 12:21Set (τακτῇ)

Appointed. Only here in New Testament. What the festival was, is uncertain. According to some, it was in honor of the emperor's safe return from Britain. Others think it was to celebrate the birthday of Claudius; others that it was the festival of the Quinquennalia, observed in honor of Augustus, and dating from the taking of Alexandria, when the month Sextilis received the name of the Emperor - August.

Arrayed (ἐνδυσάμενος)

More literally, having arrayed himself.

Royal apparel

Josephus says he was clothed in a robe entirely made of silver.


See on Acts 7:5. The elevated seat or throne-like box in the theatre, set apart for the king, from which he might look at the games or address the assembly.

Made an oration (ἐδημηγόρει)

Only here in New Testament. The word is used especially of a popular harangue (δῆμος, the commons). "At Jerusalem Agrippa enacted the Jew, with solemn gait and tragic countenance, amidst general acclamation; but at Caesarea he allowed the more genial part of a Greek to be imposed on him. It was at a festival in this Hellenic capital, after an harangue he had addressed to the populace, that they shouted, "It is the voice of a god and not of a man" (Merivale, "History of the Romans under the Empire").

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