July 11, 2014


Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe



Topic #III: The Church Scattered into Palestine and Syria (8:4-12:25)        


Subtopic F:God Continues To Protect Jerusalem Church (12:1-23)  



Lesson: III.F.4: Herod Killed By an Angel (12:22-23)    



Scripture (Acts 12:22-23; KJV)


22 And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.

23 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.






 Many heathen kings claimed and received Divine honors, but it was far more horribly impious when Herod accepted such idolatrous honors without rebuking the blasphemy, for he knew the word and worship of the living and true God. And such men as Herod, when puffed-up with pride and vanity, are ripe for God’s vengeance. God is very jealous for his own honor, 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 destruction, by which they will soon be destroyed, whenever God just speaks the word. In this lesson, King Herod accepted the honor due only to Almighty God, and God immediately dispatched an angel to take his life.





22 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

We learned from the previous lesson that upon a set day, Herod had arraigned for games and shows to take place in honor of Claudius Caesar. He arrived at the games arrayed in royal apparel; in a garment overlaid with silver, so that the rays of the rising sun, striking upon, and reflected from it, dazzled the eyes of the beholders. Herod sat upon his throne in the public arena; and made an oration unto all the people assembled on this grand occasion. When he finished his speech,the people gave a shout,” and applauded him—the people who shouted were probably those that depended upon him, and had benefitted from his favour—they were the Gentiles, not the Jews. The applause was probably for the silver outfit, instead of the speech.


Saying it is the voice of a God, and not of a man

“It is the voice of a god” was probably shouted by the idolatrous Gentiles, without the Jews joining in. Josephus gives a similar account of their sentiments 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.’” Josephus says that this is what happened when they saw his silver-clad apparel, and he doesn’t even mention the speech he made on this occasion, while Luke describes it as the response made by the people to 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 impressive oratory than simply by beholding his apparel. This idea is supported by the fact that his audience declares “It is the voice of a God,” not the “apparel or attire of a God.”


Both Luke and Josephus do agree on one thing, that the crowd on that day called Herod “a God.” These were flatterers, according to Josephus.It was not unusual at that time, for such people to give divine praises to speakers, especially kings, by their applause and praises. Most of the crowd were heathen, therefore the word “God” does not refer to the Supreme Being, but is to be understood in the pagan sense—“a god.” Here’s the problem; it was not that Herod was called a God, but that instead of expressing a just indignation at such improper and impious adulation, he listened to it with a secret pleasure. You may recall from the previous lesson that before being appointed king over the territory containing the cities of Tyre and Sidon that there was bad blood between Herod and these people, so that they came close to going to war, and they were glad that the situation had been alleviated.


God is great and good, and they thought that Herod possessed such greatness because of his apparel and throne, and such goodness by his forgiving them, and that he was worthy to be called no less than a god; and perhaps his speech was delivered with such an air of majesty, and a mixture of clemency with it, that it affected his audience in this way. Or, it may be, it was not from any real impression made upon their minds, or any high or good thoughts they had indeed conceived of him; but, however contemptibly they thought of him, they were resolved to curry favour with him, and strengthen the newly-made peace between him and them. This is how great men are made an easy prey to flatterers if they listen to them, and encourage them. This is not only a great affront to God, giving that glory to others which is due to him alone, but a great injury to those who accept the flattery, since it makes them forget themselves, and puffs them up with so much pride that they are in the utmost danger possible of falling into the condemnation of the devil.


King Herod accepted these undeserved praises; he was pleased with them, and proud to have them; and this was his sin. We do not find that he had given any private orders to his confidants to begin such a shout, or to put those words into the mouths of the people, nor that he thanked them for the compliment or even acknowledged their complement in any way. But his fault was that he said nothing, did not rebuke their flattery, nor renounce the title they had given him, nor did he give God the glory (v. 23); but he took it to himself, and was very willing to be thought of as a god and to be paid divine honors. And it was worse for him to do it, because he was a Jew, and professed to believe in the one true God only, than it was for the heathen emperors, who had many gods and many lords.



23 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 smote him

“And immediately” indicates again that frequently God does not hesitate to vindicate his injured honor. An angel of the Lord brought Peter out of prison, and an angel smote Herod (by the order of Christ, for all judgment is committed to Him). Men did not see the instruments in either case: these were only known to the people of God.


Angels as ministering spirits are the ministers either of divine justice or of divine mercy, as God is pleased to employ them. The angel smote Herod with a lethal disease just at that instant when he was strutting at the applauses of the people, and adoring his own shadow. The angel smote him, because he took glory for himself, rather than to give the glory to God; angels are jealous for God’s honor, and as soon as they receive the order, they are ready to smite those that commandeer his entitlements, and rob God of his honor. In the Scriptures, diseases and death are often attributed to an angel (See 2 Samuel 24:161 Chronicles 21:12, 15, 20, 27;2 Chronicles 32:21). It is not envisioned 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. An angel had delivered Peter, and here an angel destroys Herod: all that heavenly host fulfil God’s will for the deliverance of his church, and the destruction of his enemies. 


Because he gave not God the glory

“Because he gave not God the glory”—probably means something more than that he did not ascribe to God the praise which was due to Him, and Him only. To “give God the glory” was a phrase always connected with the confession of sin and weakness. Compare:

  • Joshua 7:19: “And Joshua said to Achan, My son, give, I pray you, glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession to him; and tell me now what you have done; hide it not from me.” Because you have highly dishonored Him, now take the blame to thyself, and ascribe unto God the glory of his omniscience in knowing your sin; of his justice in punishing you for it; of his omnipotence, which was obstructed by you; and of his kindness and faithfulness to his people, which was eclipsed by your wickedness; all which will now be evident by your confession of sin and your punishment for it..
  • John 9:24: “Then again called they the man that was blind, and said to him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner.” “Give God the praise”—this phrase addressed to an offender implies that by some previous act or word he has done dishonor to God, and appeals to him to repair the dishonor by speaking the truth. In this case it is also an appeal to the restored man to ascribe his cure directly to God, and not to Jesus, whom the Pharisees considered an imposter.


Herod was willing to receive the worship due to God. It was the more sinful for him since 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 sinful flattery, but listened to their praises. Hence, he was judged; and God vindicated his own insulted honor by inflicting Herod with severe pains, and an awful death.


And he was eaten of worms

“And he was eaten of worms” while alive and still above ground, and then he gave up the ghost. Now this was his punishment for troubling the church of Christ, killing James, imprisoning Peter, and all the other damage he had done.


It was a measly worm that was the instrument of Herod’s destruction: He was eaten of worms, he became worm-eaten; he was rotten, and he became like a piece of rotten wood. The body in the grave is destroyed by worms, but Herod’s body decomposed while he was yet alive, and bred the worms which began to feed upon it in a short time. Observe:

(1.)  What vile bodies we carry about with us; they carry within them the seeds of their own destruction, by which they will be destroyed whenever God speaks the word. Discoveries have been made recently by microscopes of the multitude of worms that are in human bodies, and how much they contribute to bodily diseases, which is a good reason why we should not be proud of our bodies, or of any of their accomplishments, and why we should not pamper our bodies, for they are just food for the worms.

(2.) See what weak and contemptible creatures God can make the instruments of his justice, when he pleases. Pharaoh is plagued with lice and flies, Ephraim consumed as with a moth, and Herod eaten with worms.

(3.)See how God delights not only to bring down proud men, but to bring them down in a way that is most humiliating, and pours the most contempt upon them. Herod is not only destroyed, but destroyed by worms, so that the pride of his glory may be effectually stained.


This story of the death of Herod is related by Josephus, a Jew; and it bears repeating. “Herod came down to Caesarea, to celebrate a festival in honour of Caesar. On the second day of the festival, he went to the theatre in the morning, clothed with that splendid robe mentioned before (covered entirely with silver); that his flatterers saluted him as a god, begged that he would be benevolent to them; that up till then they had admired him as a man, but now they would confess him to be a god. He did not correct this impious flattery. But presently, looking up, he saw an owl perched over his head, and was at the same instant seized with a most violent pain in his bowels, and cramps in his belly, which were intense from the very first. His torture continued without ever easing up, and then he died at the age of fifty-four, having been king seven years.” The Jews say that the spies who brought an ill report on the good land, died this death: the account of it is that“their tongues swelled and fell upon their navels, and worms came out of their tongues and went into their navels, and out of their navels they went into their tongues.'' Many tyrants, oppressors, and persecutors, such as Antiochus, died in this manner. 


Notice what we may learn from this incident:

(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. He will not give His glory to another—“I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images” (Isaiah 42:8). I will not allow it to be ascribed to another; I will not allow another to assume or receive the honor which is due to me.

(3.)That the most proud, and mighty, and magnificent princes have no security in 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 agree with the truth.


And gave up the ghost

He died in agony and shame, due to the nature of his death, he sunk as much below the common state of human nature, as his flatterers endeavored 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 “since he did not rebuke the impious flattery addressed to him, he was immediately seized with severe and tormenting tortures in his bowels, so that he was compelled, before he left the place, to admit his rash and foolish behavior of submitting himself to their making a God of him, and scolded those about him for the wretched condition in which they then saw their god; and after being carried out of the assembly to his palace, he expired in violent agonies after five days. Josephus wrote that before he died, and as soon as he was smitten, he turned to his friends and said, I your God am obliged to depart this life, and now fate reproves the lying words you have just now spoke of me; and I who was called immortal by you, am led away to die.