Acts 12:20-25 – Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food.  On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them.  And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!”  Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.
 But the word of God increased and multiplied.
 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.
The Bible does not tell us very much about Herod Agrippa. We know he was the grandson of Herod the Great. And we know that he would never win the Miss Congeniality title. The little bit we are told of him in Acts 12 ought to be enough to convince us that this was not a very nice man. He had the Apostle James executed and when he saw how this pleased the people he had Peter arrested with intentions to kill him as well. When God sent angels to rescue Peter from his imprisonment and death sentence, Herod had the prison guards executed. We can imagine that the guards were truthful in their explanations of what happened to Peter and we can hardly blame Herod for not believing what they said. But let us not excuse him for putting them to death, even if it was the standard way of handling incompetence in prison guards. In any case, Herod was not nice. In the text before us we see that Herod holds the key to the pantry of Tyre and Sidon (Acts 12:20). These territories apparently angered Herod and he has prevented them in some way of harvesting food for their people. The people of Tyre and Sidon are going to starve if Herod does not change his mind. So they send emissaries to plead with him to unlock the pantry.
One can only imagine what ring kissing was involved. Herod obviously has an inflated view of himself. He is only in “power” at all because Rome allows it. He knows he is small in the grand scheme of things and so do those who have come to him begging for him to let them eat. But begging is what will work with this egomaniac. And if grovelling before a pseudo-king is what it takes to get food for your people then the delegation will do it. And grovel they do – big time. Herod has dolled himself up and comes out to give a speech and almost on cue, and no doubt with their tongues firmly in their cheeks, the delegation from Tyre and Sidon yell out “The voice of a god and not of a man”. Perfect. One could not say a better thing to Herod if one is hoping to get the desired response from him for favours asked. The text does not tell us how Herod responded to the accolade that he was divine, but we can be sure that he found it most acceptable. See him getting puffed up with himself as the cries from the crowd reach his ears. See his chest expanding. See him basking in the praise of these mere mortals who have finally realized who it is they are dealing with. Why, it is almost enough to cause the god to allow these people to eat again.
So God sent an angel to him to kill him (verse 23). The text says “he was eaten by worms and breathed his last” (verse 23). We are not told if the angel gave him worms at that moment or if the angel finally caused the worms he had for quite sometime to finally accomplish their work and he keeled over from it. We are told that the angel “struck him down” and that he died from the worms. I think the angel gave him the worms (through his own unsanitary eating habits) and caused the man to die a long, painful, agonizing death.
The irony is picturesque. Here is a man having his ego stroked by people who need him in order to eat, being eaten by parasites. It is God demonstrating just how gods do not die. And so, another petty little nothing who had delusions of grandeur on a cosmic scale is brought down to size. And if we can take Jesus words literally, Herod has been being eaten by worms ever since (Mark 9:47-48).
Now then. Having enjoyed the tale of how a godless ruler met his end, what should we conclude? There are a couple of things that stand out to me in this account.
1) God did not send an angel to kill Herod when he had killed James or killed the prison guards or killed, no doubt, a host of other innocent people. God did not bring Herod to account when he cut off the food supply for a whole region of territory where thousands of people lived. He did not wipe Herod off the planet for a vast number of inhumane and barbarous acts. But he did send an angel to end Herod’s life when Herod was willing to add deity to his resume. Verse 23 says, “because he did not give God glory”. Any one of the thousands of ways that Herod had ignored God and transgressed His laws would have been sufficient. But God truly is the God of great patience and longsuffering. But God will not share His glory with anyone. The crime of accepting even faux worship is idolatry on a grand scale and God will not have it.
Why God does not do this with every tin pot megalomaniac throughout history is beyond us to know, for they are all guilty of gross idolatry and their chief idol is always themselves. We do know that He will certainly call them to account and they all, if they do not repent, will be eaten by worms, in more ways than the natural. But this story tells us that accepting worship – even politically expedient worship, is a very serious matter. Taking to oneself the position that one is the ultimate source of power and rule is not a job that is up for grabs. Herod is an example to all, especially those who have any kind of authority, that all their power is loaned to them for a purpose and they are accountable to God, who has given it to them. This goes for parents, pastors, managers, municipal, provincial and federal authorities of any kind. It applies to anyone with any kind of responsibility over the welfare of others. Your authority is a stewardship. You are accountable to the God of all things to use your power as He says you should. Use it properly. To use authority as a club for personal advancement or self-aggrandizement is to put oneself on a rung on the ladder higher than God and that is no small thing to do. Those who have spiritual authority granted to them by God should pay particular attention. James 3:1 is not to be taken lightly.
2) This episode in the life/death of Herod is followed in Acts 12 by a very brief, very blunt statement of fact. Right after we read that Herod died by worms eating him from the inside out we are told “But the word of God increased and multiplied”. So blunt. So matter of fact. So encouraging. Nothing will stop the Word of God from increasing and multiplying. The reason Jesus hasn’t returned yet is because He is not finished saving people through the power of the Gospel. Is verse 24 telling us that God used the death of Herod to cause the spread of the Word? Perhaps. His death would certainly have taken the pressure off the church for a while. He was getting in the way so God got him out of the way. No problem. And the Word of God increased and multiplied. Perhaps we are being told that no matter who is over us politically, they cannot hinder the Gospel from doing what God has sent it to do.
What a message for the church. It would be nice to have the laws of the land truly reflecting the Christian Gospel. But for the most part, they do not, and God fearing laws are not necessary for the Word of God to increase and multiply. God fearing believers in Jesus Christ who trust the power of the Gospel is what God calls for. James was murdered and the Word of God increased and multiplied. Peter was miraculously released from prison and the Word of God increased and multiplied. Herod was struck down by God and the Word of God increased and multiplied. The Gospel was preached, Ananias and Sapphira were struck down dead, Paul was beaten and left for dead, the church had everything in common, the churches did not require circumcision to be observed, and the Word of God increased and multiplied. All kinds of things are said to have happened in the Book of Acts that were followed by growth in the number of believers in the Roman Empire. But never was it because Caesar came to his senses and started treating the church with favour. Never. And we think that the legalization of gay marriage, or abortion on demand, or unfair treatment of Christians on campus are going to shut down or hinder the church? If such things shut down the church, then they should, because if that is all it takes to hinder us from our calling, then we were never the church that God raised up in the Book of Acts, in the first place.
What a glory the Gospel is. It is fueled by the power of God. It is not hindered by human or Satanic opposition, even though we should not treat such opposition lightly. That the Word of God increases and multiplies when despots are eradicated or when they are allowed to thrive is a glorious truth demonstrated throughout history. We have no reason whatsoever to think that the Gospel is being hindered by human or Satanic opposition. What God calls us to is faithfulness. The Word of God will increase through our efforts. If it leads to death, the Word will increase and multiply. If it leads to our miraculous release from persecution the Word will increase and multiply. How can we not give up everything and follow Him who has guaranteed us that He cannot lose?
What a glory this is. May we live our lives in the light of its truth.