Now Herod had become infuriated with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they convened before him. Having secured the support of Blastus, the king's chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their region depended on the king's country for food.
1. The interdependence of one nation on another: "Their country was nourished by the king's country" (ver. 20). One land has metals in abundance; another has corn; another, cotton; another, timber, etc. It was clearly the intention of the Father of all that all peoples should live in close friendship and constant intercourse with one another. Yet the heathen idea was that the natural relation between neighboring nations was war. The motto of Christianity is "Peace;" its spirit is that of brotherhood; its counsel and fruit are active interchange of services and resources.
2. The evil of autocracy: "Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon" (ver. 20). It may have been some slight affront he had received, and which he was determined to avenge. All responsibility rested with him, and the caprice or resentment of one single soul would have been sufficient to plunge the thousands of Tyre and Sidon - men, women, and children - into terror and distress. We may unite to thank God that the sword is being taken out of the hand of the autocrat.
3. The drawbacks to human greatness. Herod Agrippa was a man in a very fine position, and he was no doubt envied by thousands of his subjects; doubtless he often congratulated himself on the success of his subtlety. Yet he was
(1) much at the mercy of venal counselors, - probably rich presents had found their way into the treasury of Blastus before that chamberlain spoke honeyed words of peace in Herod's ear (ver. 20);
(2) the dupe of base flatterers (ver. 22), - he must either have been constantly engaged in weighing words and distinguishing the false from the sincere, or else he must have been continually deceived. But to read the lesson of the text we turn to -
I. THE HEIGHT TO WHICH HUMAN PRESUMPTION WILL RISE. The scene which is briefly sketched in the text (ver. 21) has been more fully described elsewhere (see Farrar's 'Life of St. Paul,' 2. pp. 315-317). It may seem incredible to those who move in humble spheres that a mortal man could ever be so inflated with a sense of his own greatness as to accept Divine honors when they were offered. History, however, fully proves that arrogance may rise even as high as this. "The spirit of self-exaggeration," "the insolent exaltation of himself," with which Channing charges Napoleon Bonaparte, is a spirit which has been exemplified in every age and nation in greater or less degree. The acquisition of honor does not satisfy but only inflames ambition, and from height to height it rises until, leaving far behind it merely unwarrantable hope, it reaches shameful arrogance and even, as here, a horrible impiety.
II. THE DEPTH TO WHICH IT MUST FALL. It ends in shame and ruin. Sometimes, as here, in terrible torture. It is noticeable that some of the worst persecutors of their race have come to a frightful end at death: witness, Herod the Great; this man, his grandson; Antiochus Epiphanes; Philip II. of Spain, etc. But where this is not the ease, the end is dishonor. God "will not give his glory to another." Pride must perish, and great must be its fall. From its high pedestal it topples down. No angel-hand is needed to secure the overthrow; its foundations are certain to be undermined, and the god who was at the summit lies, a broken and shattered idol, at the base.
III. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF HEROD'S DEATH. It says to those who wonder at the delays of providence and speak of -
"Truth forever on the scaffold,
And...Herod...went down from Judea to Caesarea.Josephus. It would seem that he left Judaea in disgust and spleen because Peter had escaped from his hands. We are next informed that "Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon," etc. Judaea being an agricultural and a pastoral country, and Tyre and Sidon being mercantile countries, the latter were dependent on the inland trade for their support, and therefore it would have been almost ruin to them if Herod had carried his thoughts into execution; for the expression "highly displeased" means that he contemplated war. They, therefore, came to him in the most submissive manner, and bribed Blastus to use his influence. Herod having acceded to their request, and being a vainglorious man, determined to receive the ambassadors of Tyre and Sidon with a display of royal splendour. He also made an eloquent oration, probably reminding them of his own great condescension in receiving their ambassadors and granting them peace; and then "the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him." And when the tyrant was dead, it is added, in striking and beautiful contrast, "But the Word of God grew and multiplied." Note —
I. THE MISERABLE END OF HEROD. Observe —
1. The extreme emptiness of earthly splendour. How wonderful it is, that with such a lesson as this continually recorded in the page of history, and in our own experience, we should still need to be reminded of it; for it seldom happens that any grand ceremonial takes place without there being some circumstance connected with it to stamp vanity upon it. But it is not merely in the dazzling circumstances of courts and kings that the worldliness of man's heart is shown; it is ingrained in us all. We are by nature lovers of this present world; and even when they are not actually removed, God often embitters to us our idols, and although we clearly see our own folly in idolising them, yet we cannot tear the idols away. We are all hastening towards the grave; and, painful as it must be, it would be very wholesome if we could look upon each other's countenances, and feel an abiding sense that dissolution must soon come. Parents and children, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, dear as they are to each other, must soon part. Oh! that we could meditate then upon this; and when we see a great king thus awfully cut down — when there seems but a step between the gorgeous apparel and the filthy worm — let us pause, learn how short our time is, and pray that we may not set our hearts upon the fleeting shadows of the world, but may seek to lay up treasure where "rust and moth doth not corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal." How blessed, to think that there is a garment which shall never be exchanged for the worm, that there is a crown which shall never fall from our heads, that there is an abode where sorrow cannot come! Who would believe it, to see men frantically pursuing things that are not worth the having?
2. An awful instance of God's wrath against the persecutors of His Church and people. This man had killed James, etc. What a change is here. A little while, and Peter is safe, and the proud and mighty Herod is the prey of worms. "So let all Thine enemies perish, O Lord"; and so must they perish, if they die in their sins. There are few sins which are followed up with more signal punishment than the persecution of God's saints. We see this in the fate of those who persecuted Israel, and it would be easy to show, from the history of modern Europe, that there has not been a power, papal or heathen, which has persecuted the Church of God, but the Lord has rendered an awful retribution into their bosoms. "He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of His eye." There is no organ so delicate as the apple of the eye. The smallest puncture there will give pain over the whole body. How strikingly is this illustrated in the case of Saul. "Why persecutest thou Me?" And our Saviour says that it would be better for a man who persecutes the saints of God "that a millstone had been hung around his neck, and he had been cast into the depths of the sea." And let us remember that it is the spirit of the persecutor which God looks at. You may say that men are not now sent to prison and to bonds for serving Christ. But ungodly men show the same disposition as ever to persecute. They point with the finger of scorn; they apply names of contempt, and endeavour to injure reputation. This is nothing else but the spirit which lifted the hand of Herod, and all that were like him, to persecute the saints of God. Happy are they who are "persecuted for righteousness' sake," but woe be unto them that persecute them.
3. God's jealousy of His own glory and condemnation of human pride. The sin for which he was eaten of worms was only a negative sin. When the people said, "It is the voice of a god, and not of a man," Herod did nothing, said nothing; but it is added, "Immediately the angel of the Lord smote him." And why? "Because he gave not God the glory." Oh, what a little sin does this appear! How singular that this man should have been suffered to go through a long career of cruelty, oppression, and profligacy, ending with the murder of God's saints, and that the blow should be withheld until he had committed this apparently little sin — namely, not to reproach the people for their idolatry! Now this is well worthy of our serious consideration, because it is just by such things as these that we are led to the secret root of sin, and led to detect its hidden springs. It is of no use just to cut off the tops of the weeds in our gardens; we must pluck them up by the roots, or they will grow again. So it is with sin. The case of Herod is not a singular one. It is very remarkable, that we read of many instances in the Old Testament in which persons known to be of the most profligate and wicked character, and nations and people of the most debauched habits, have had the judgments of God poured out upon them, not for what are ordinarily considered great crimes, but for the crime of pride and exaltation against God (Isaiah 10:5, etc.; 47:10; Daniel 4.). It is perhaps said, "But this is an uncommon sin." Certainly in its full development it is; for all are not kings, nor can they array themselves in royal apparel; but as to the sin itself, it is universal. Oh! how many are there amongst us who spend their lives "in arraying themselves in apparel!" The love of personal admiration is one of the most universal sins of our fallen nature. From the queen upon her throne down to the meanest of her subjects, the love of dress and personal display is an indigenous sin in the hearts of all of us, according to our various stations in life. But, you observe, it was not for his apparel that the people admired Herod, but for his oration. Here is the pride of oratory, the pride of intellect. There are many who utterly despise the former, who feed eagerly upon the latter; and the more intellectual our sin, the more subtle it is, and perhaps the more venomous and deadly. There is no pride more detestable in the sight of God than intellectual or spiritual pride. And here again you see the love of flattery, the love of the admiration of our fellow creatures. There is scarcely any human being insensible to this. If there be any avenue by which you can infuse folly into a wise man's heart, it is by flattering him. Oh! how mean and little do we seem when these bosom sins of ours are stripped open! How many a splendid action, how many an apparently virtuous one, how many a seemingly self-denying one, becomes a detestable and abominable sin, when the secret self-love and self-admiration that guided it is exposed! "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble." "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God."
II. THE PROGRESS OF THE GOSPEL, notwithstanding all these events (ver. 24). Remarkable juxtaposition of facts! Here is the persecutor eaten of worms, and gives up the ghost. Poor, feeble, wretched man! he can do nothing against God and His truth; and while he is dying, the Word of the Lord multiplies. This is a sort of recurring chorus in the whole history of the Acts. Thus it was after the deliverance of Peter and John, after the doom of Ananias and Sapphira, after the death of Stephen, and the conversion of Saul. What an idea does this give us of the omnipotence with which the Word is clothed, and of the mighty purposes of God concerning it! He hath said, "So shall My Word be, that goeth forth out of My mouth," etc. And so it has been throughout the whole of the history of Christ's Church militant here upon earth. Infinitely diversified is the story; there is no history so romantic as that. The Church, founded upon a Rock, never can be shaken; the gates of hell cannot prevail against it; men and devils may unite, but they shall be "eaten of worms" and "give up the ghost"; while the "Word of God" shall "grow and multiply." Let us repose our minds on these glorious considerations. It is the consolation of every well-regulated Christian mind that all the things which we see around us, however untoward, work together for the purpose of God. The Lord will show who is right and who is wrong; the work of every man will be submitted to the fire, and we shall then see which was the gold, and which the wood, hay, and stubble. Meanwhile His people have a confidence that they are serving a Master who cannot be defeated, and obey Him who has all things in His hands, and who said to another persecutor, "Thou couldest have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above."
(Dean Close.)I. HE WOULD NOT GLORIFY GOD. To exceed a just proportion, even in that which is good, is sometimes blameful; too much justice; too much love. But to give God the glory is a duty unto which we are bound with an infinite devotion. Wherefore if God gave children by seventies, He asked but the first born. Every hour of our time is His benevolence; yet the law is only to keep the Sabbath day. The earth is the Lord's, and yet His portion is but the tenth; but of His glory, it is His own entirely; He will not part with it. Themistocles, demanding tribute of the men of Andria, told them that he had brought two powerful advocates to plead his cause — Persuasion if they pleased, Violence if they refused. These two apparitors go before the glory of the Most High. Doth it like you to bless His name? So God is glorified by the devotion of His creature. Doth it like you to exalt yourself? Then He will be honoured in your confusion. He that swells to the greatest in this world shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. When the heathen traduced the Christians that they debased their emperor and made him less than the God of heaven, "Know you not," says , "that this is the eminency of your emperor to be less than God?" The heathen said that everything which grew too tall was thunder blasted, and that great fortunes, when they came to excess, did end in shameful ruin. As Virgil says of his bees, that one hive will fight cruelly against another; but cast a little dust into the air, and the fray is parted. So when the pride of man swells with vain opinion, methinks the casting of a little dust should pluck down our stomach, the base mould of which our flesh is made. Says St. Austin, "Set aside this corrupt leaven of ostentation, and all men are but men, as naked in their pomp as when they were born, or when they shall be buried." It was pride that dethroned the bad angels, and it is that which makes man stubborn against the law and refractory against faith, blow there are four ways whereby this daring vice of pride doth diminish from that which should be given to God's glory.
1. It is a sin no less ungrateful than presumptuous to enjoy wit, and art, and memory, and the blessings of the best portion, and to forget God. Everything that renowns us, feeds us, preserves us, is but a crumb that falls from our Master's table.
2. Violence is done to God's glory when conscience will acknowledge that God doth give all; but arrogancy will infer that man deserves all. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the free gift of God the Father, the unction of the Holy Spirit, are turned quite aside, like a river from his own true channel, when it falls into such a soil that thinks it deserves it. When good works sue to be called merits, they are like the ambitious men of the world, that spend their whole revenue to buy some gaudy title of honour; and when they have it, they want substance to maintain it.
3. The third transgression is a lofty stomach, that will seem to be no less than to have no equals. The proud man is deciphered by the single horn of the unicorn, who would be solitary in all God's graces, and without a companion; whereas the congregation of the militant church is compared to a field of wheat, where all the ears of the field are of an equal growth, and if any stalk over-top the rest it is lank and without fructification. They that are not contented to be equal with the common condition of men, shall never be equal with the angels; and he that despiseth the gifts of God in his fellow servants, is not the man that gives God the glory.
4. There is one feather more in the tail of pride, and full as long as the rest: when they arrogate to themselves that which indeed they have not. Christ hath said we cannot add one cubit to our stature; no, nor make one hair of our head black or white. Why do ye practise it, then, O ye gaudy beauties! to bring that about which Christ told you was impossible? I have seen books of meditations whose subject was to let all men know that they are vain, and sinful, and ignorant, and yet they were dedicated to some great man most virtuous and most religious. Presume not to take false titles upon you, as Herod encroached upon the name of God Himself.But as to the pride of Herod, it is a monster that riseth up into two heads —
1. A tongue full of vain and insolent speech.
2. An ear obnoxious to the flattery of the people. Of both in their order, and for your edification. It was Epaminondas's praise that he seldom met with a man that knew more than himself or spake less; and so the least doers inch out their poor works with much talk. As the artificial prospective to the eye, so is the tongue unto the ear an hollow instrument to make everything seem bigger and fairer than it is. The beasts, the birds, the serpents may be sooner tamed, says St. James, than the tongue of man. Worse than these creatures is the tongue of man; fiercer than the beasts, more flitting than the birds, more poisonous than the serpents. It is a member of the body that can taste everything but itself, and knows how all things relish but its own pride and bitterness. And as we are taught from hence to set a watch before our lips, so let us learn from Herod's example to circumcise our ears, to renounce the flatteries of evil men. The French proverb says that the boiling pot doth discover the little pea which is in the bottom of it, and the applause of a little vainglory doth discover the disposition of the mind of man more than any other passion. Says Seneca, "Glory is the fire that kindles virtue when it provokes virtue to good achievements; but when glory begets nothing but the desire of glory, it is but childish popularity." All flattery is the corruption of true glory; but to flatter any man in his vices is a sacrilege against virtue. It is a note of a reprobate that he speaketh good of the covetous, whom God abhorreth. To flatter vice is to promote Satan's kingdom; to flatter princes is to destroy their kingdoms; to flatter princes, as the Sidonians did Herod, is to pluck down God's kingdom. The Athenians, who were but Gentiles at the wisest, could not endure such injury to be offered to the God whom they knew not, but put Timagoras, their ambassador, to death, because he adored the king of Persi like a god.
II. GOD WAS GLORIFIED IN HIM.
1. He, the king. The obedience of the law was violated; but the castigation of the law cannot be avoided. Machiavel, among his irreligious principles, says that all the credit of great enterprises depends upon success; for if Caesar had miscarried in his civil wars, his infamy had been more odious than Cataline's. Mighty sinners run into mighty destructions; and such conspicuous offenders as Herod was, leave themselves as a beacon. Where is his eloquence now? Where is his costly garment? Where is the outcry of the Sidonians that canonised his tongue for the voice of a god? Take heed lest you forfeit your own possession of the earth for denying God the possession of heaven. The Sidonians gave Herod so much of heaven, that they lost him all the earth but a grave. St. asks why the people giving the first offence, yet Herod is punished, and the principal malefactors acquitted.-1 Josephus gives the reason: he should have reproved and abhorred their flatteries. He should have rent his spangled garment, as St. Paul did at Lystra. Woe will be to thousands that suffer so many unsavoury words to fly about their ears and not reprove them.(2) God will take a more exact account of great men's actions than of the vulgar multitude, because their lives are conspicuous and should be exemplary; and if their life is infectious unto many, so their doom will be dreadful unto many.(3) The people were not altogether free from chastisement. Look now upon him that was your idol, ye Sidonians! Imagine with what astonishment the whole assembly was dissolved, if their consciences were not as full of worms as Herod's body!(4) Clemency and justice, when they meet together, attend how they may punish few and save many. If Herod suffer the malediction, one man feels the smart, and the whole assembly may repent and be saved.(5) Let the rabble go home in peace for this time; they were not all white for harvest upon that day, but behold the end. Where is Caesarea now? Or who almost knows the Sidonians? They have learnt to know by dear experience that thunder and judgment is the voice of God, and not an eloquent oration.
2. He was smitten by an angel of the Lord. Strange wickednesses procure strange kinds of death. If the earth will not avenge them, the angel of the Lord will come down and fight. Do the trees of paradise deserve to have a cherubim set before them with a flaming sword? And shall not all the host of heaven stand about the majesty of the Most High, and see the honour of His name preserved?
3. Immediately he was smitten. In such splendour of attire, in such celebrity of attendants, before the face of strangers, among those who in their hearts were no better than his enemies; never did he come out of that chair of the scorner, from that throne wherein he was canonised, till he was stripped of all dignity. It is the most dreadful thing upon earth to be suddenly apprehended by judgment. But let the Christian pray every morning as if he should see the sun rise no more; every evening as if he should see the sun set no more; be ready to meet the bridegroom at midnight, and yet despise not that supplication, "From sudden death, good Lord deliver us."
4. Lest he should glory that he was smitten by no less than an angel, behold the meanest of all creatures, the worms, are made his executioners! He that humbled himself to be a worm and no man, he is exalted above men to the right hand of God. He that would have been Deus non homo, a God and not a man, is dejected below a man, and made a worm. This disease is more observed in histories to be the arrow of the Lord against sinners of high presumption than any other. Thus Sylla died; thus Antiochus Epiphanes; thus Herod the Great; thus Arnulphus, that spoiled the churches of the Christians; thus Phericides, that gloried he never offered sacrifice, and yet lived as prosperously.
(Bp. Hacket.)I. WHEREFORE HAS IT FOUND A PLACE IN THE ACTS? Not as if it had been a punishment for the murder of James, but also because political events are not matters of indifference to Christianity.
II. WHAT ARE WE TO LEARN FROM IT? That the commonweal can prosper, not by flattery and yielding to the lusts and passions of men, but only when we are free from both, looking to the eternal and unchangeable will of God.
I. NATIONAL INTERDEPENDENCE. The Phoenicians wanted what the Palestinians had, and vice versa. This is a glorious fact in God's government of man. Throughout the earth one zone produces what other zones want, and the peculiar products of each contribute towards the consummation of man's well-being. This interdependence serves —
1. To stimulate human activities. It presses ever on the sense of need and love of gain, and thus keeps man's faculties ever on the stretch contriving and constructing methods to work the soil to the greatest advantage, and to increase facilities of transit. He makes seas his high road, electricity his messenger, winds and fire the carriers of his commodities.
2. To check all monopolies. There are narrow souls who would keep all their land produces to themselves. Ignorant alike of the laws of the universe, the genius of the world, and their own insignificance, they vainly talk of national independence. Nature laughs them to scorn. Creature independence is a solecism.
3. To promote international concord.(1) A free commerce throughout the world is one of the best means by which men may become mutually acquainted. Buyers and sellers mutually show themselves in their transactions.(2) It advances interest in man. It is to the interest of traders to be on terms of amity and free intercourse. The commercial interests of the world are against war.(3) But the higher concord, the brotherhood of soul, commerce can only effect this as it becomes thoroughly inspired and ruled by those principles which were embodied in Him who came to break down all partition walls.
II. CLASS WICKEDNESS.
1. Unbounded arrogance on the part of the ruler.(1) The "set day" some think was in honour of Claudius' return from Britain, which he had reduced to a Roman province. Anyhow, the occasion was a grand one. Caesarea was crowded with pleasure seekers. The king enters that theatre which had been erected by his grandfather. The stone seats, rising in a great semicircle, tier above tier, were covered by an excited multitude.(2) The king magnificently arrayed makes an oration. What he said we know not; but we may be sure it was very "grand," like modern "orations" — as gorgeous as his costume, as arrogant as his pretensions. Probably it dealt with the message he received through Blastus. Herod is a type of his class. The haughtiness of rulers is proverbial. Many treat their fellow men as if they themselves were a race of gods.(2) Base servility on the part of the ruled. Who can credit the shrewd Phoenician traders, the cultured Greeks, and the religious Jews with sincerity here? It was simply that base flattery which has been the sin and curse of the people in all ages. It is not uncommon, even in these days of enlightenment, to see men crushed by the injustice of rulers shouting hosannas in their ears. There is no greater obstruction to free government, wholesome law and national advancement, than the servile spirit of millions to those above them. No government can help the man who respects not the high prerogatives of his own humanity.
III. RETRIBUTIVE JUSTICE. Angels have often done such work before (Exodus 12:21; 2 Kings 19:35; 2 Samuel 24:16; 2 Chronicles 32:21). The justice of this man's fate is clear. Surely he who had killed James, imprisoned Peter, and massacred his own guards, and now accepted Divine homage, deserved the end which befell him. Such instances of retributive justice had occurred with Pharaoh, Belshazzar, etc., but they are confessedly rare as compared with the number of notorious offenders. Yet they are sufficient to show that there is a moral government in the world, and to prophesy the coming of a time when retribution shall be fairly dealt out to all.
IV. REMEDIAL FORCES.
1. The Word of God. This "grew and multiplied." The seed was growing everywhere, and the fruit was the antidote to the world's evils, the provision for the cravings of the human soul. Herod had done his best to crush it, but it went on, and as it advanced it elevated and blessed.
2. The agency of the good. Here are Barnabas, and Saul, and Mark, all working to help on the true and the right.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
(Martin Boos.)Sic transit gloria mundi; which was done to put him in mind that all his honour and grandeur should soon vanish away like the smoke from the burning flax.
Scientific Illustrations.When we consider the almost invincible power which the crustaceans derive from their armour, their muscular vigour, their ferocity, and their numbers, we ask how is it that they have not depopulated the shores where they meet none but victims, no enemies capable of contending with them upon equal terms? For formidable as they are to all the tribes of molluscs and zoophytes, what have they to fear — except in a few countries certain littoral or amphibious mammals which, for the most part, only attack them as a last resort, preferring prey more easily devoured, and assisting them in their work of extermination rather than fighting them? Their tyranny then seems at first sight absolute and without counterbalance. Such, however, is not the ease. The crustaceans undergo at certain epochs a fatal crisis, which delivering them up defenceless to external shocks and the blows of their enemies, places an easy vengeance within the reach of the oppressed. These epochs are their sloughing times, when, willy nilly, with great difficulty, and at the cost of the most painful and sometimes the deadliest efforts, they are forced to shed their armour of proof, to expose their living flesh barely covered with a thin soft pellicle, and to bury themselves piteously under the sand until the calcareous secretion shall be reformed and solidified anew. This is their season of fear and fright. Their hiding places are easily discoverable, and once unearthed the disarmed brigands are lost beyond redemption. Myriads perish in this manner, devoured by other animals, crushed among the stones, or dashed in pieces against the rocks by the movement of the waves. Thus Nature enforces her law of reprisal. The power of all tyrants and oppressors has its fixed limits. The quarrelsome crustacean and the despotic king are alike subject to the hour of retaliation.
Clerical Anecdotes.One of the first acts performed by George III after his accession to the throne, was to issue an order prohibiting any of the clergy who should be called to preach before him, from paying him any compliment in their discourses. His Majesty was led to this from the fulsome adoration which Dr. Thos. Wilson, prebendary of Westminster, thought proper to deliver in the Chapel Royal, and for which, instead of thanks, he received from his royal auditor a pointed reprimand, his Majesty observing that he came to chapel to hear the praises of God and not his own.
(T. Guthrie, D. D.)
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