Now Herod was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they sent a delegation to make peace with him because their cities were dependent upon Herod’s country for food. The delegates won the support of Blastus, Herod’s personal assistant, and an appointment with Herod was granted. When the day arrived, Herod put on his royal robes, sat on his throne, and made a speech to them. The people gave him a great ovation, shouting, “It’s the voice of a god, not of a man!”
Instantly, an angel of the Lord struck Herod with a sickness, because he accepted the people’s worship instead of giving the glory to God. So he was consumed with worms and died.
Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers. When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission to Jerusalem, they returned, taking John Mark with them.Acts 12:20-25
What a fascinating way Luke tells this part of the story. As I wrote in the last Gem, it is more notable for what is left out than for what is said. All of the speeches in Acts record for us in varying degrees of details what was said in a speech – good or bad. In this case we are told no details by a very meticulous Luke other than the comments the people make in reaction to Herod’s speech concerning his anger at people of Tyre in front of the delegation who had come. It must have been positive or conciliatory or they would not have attributed deity to him. Clearly Herod must have offered them a good deal, amnesty or recompense or an end to the conflict – whatever it was. Luke doesn’t even tell us that. Luke has included this story for one reason: to make clear Herod’s savagery and he willingness to put a key apostle to death simply because that apostle’s enemies were pleased it happened. That then gave Herod courage to have Peter arrested with the aim of having him put to death too. After all Peter was now the ringleader of those troublesome Christian upstarts.
On the day of the appointed meeting Herod treats the people of Tyre and Sidon favourably. You don’t see him doing that with the Christian regarding much more serious charges. There is no offer of amnesty there. In fact remember, because their enemies were pleased with one execution, Herod planned another one. Luke omits the specifics on the reason for any contention between Herod and those from Tyre and Sidon and tells us only the reaction of the crowd – “It’s the voice of a god, not of a man!” Other times in Scripture where a human is paid tribute as a deity or even when angels are given God’s glory there is a statement of the rejection of such accolades. Many refuse to receive the glory rightly due only to God, and say something like – I am only a man, not God. Not Herod! It is not only notable that we have no details of the speech and no reasons given etc, but also it is significant that Luke gives us no response on Herod’s part of refusing to be honoured as God. He doesn’t refuse the praise, nor affirm his humanity in any way. Rather he receives the praise rightly due solely to God Himself.
Now look at the three verses which follow this sequence.
- Instantly, an angel of the Lord struck Herod with a sickness, because he accepted the people’s worship instead of giving the glory to God. So he was consumed with worms and died.
- Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers.
- When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission to Jerusalem, they returned, taking John Mark with them.
You would have to admit these three verses are curious to say the least. Let’s deal with the first of these:
“Instantly, an angel of the Lord struck Herod with a sickness, because he accepted the people’s worship instead of giving the glory to God. So he was consumed with worms and died.”
How Do You Die Instantly from Worms?
The word instantly is the Greek word [parachre?ma] which carries the sense: instantly: – forthwith, immediately, presently, straightway, soon.
My question after reading these words is:
- What was it that happened instantly?
- Did Herod die instantly?
- Or was it that the Lord struck him with a sickness immediately following his lack of response?
Of course I conclude it was the latter. Immediately after Herod made no move to refuse to accept the praise rightly due to God, he was writhing on the ground in agony from worms it seems. Well ok perhaps I am being a bit melodramatic. Maybe he wasn’t writhing on the ground, but something happened which indicated there was an immediate response from God. Which leaves us wondering exactly what it was that God did.
Josephus, the Jewish historian of the time, in recording this moment wrote: At the same time he was seized by a severe pain in his belly, which began with a most violent attack . . . He was carried quickly into the palace . . . and when he had suffered continuously for five days from the pain in his belly, he died – in the fifty-fourth year of his age and the seventh of his reign. (Antiquities 19.8.2)
One modern day medical expert’s opinion is that Herod’s death was caused by the rupture of a hydatid cyst. [a hydatid cyst is a cyst filled with a pellucid fluid, sometimes found in various parts of the body of man and animals, consisting of encysted larval tapeworms.] It is described as a cyst caused by masses of maggots eating the victims, thus putrifying the body as though it was already a corpse. Well isn’t that interesting. Sometimes God brings upon us exactly what we deserve. However, this is all conjecture as we can’t tell for sure the exact cause. These people are only guessing. What is clear is that no one dies instantly from worms. Worms take time to exact their toll on our bodies. I believe we can say that there was an instant reaction from God when Herod accepted the glory only due to God for himself. If we are to accept Josephus’ account as factual (and there is no reason to doubt it) then instantly Herod starts having pain in his stomach and falls to the ground. Five days later he is dead having died an horrific death in much pain. And furthermore a death which somehow sums up the nature of the man and the rottenness within. Fitting I am sure you will agree.
What is also interesting to me is the speed with which the worms consumed him. Normally worms take a much longer time to establish and longer still for worms to turn to maggots and eat someone alive from the inside out. Are we to interpret this event as being of God with the immediacy with which Herod fell to the ground and the speed with which these worms took over and ate him alive? Again I think so. Luke tells us this happened “because Herod accepted the people’s worship instead of giving the glory to God.” God’s point exactly!
I will leave the last two verses for the next Gem because I don’t want to open up another can of worms at this stage (Pun intended). We will look at the closing two verses and the fit to what is going on here in the next Gem.
Be careful to give God the glory. I think I will let God be God and not steal HIs Glory for myself. It seems a wise move and prevents stomach pain.Ian Vail
The greatest couples worship Jesus, not each other.Senny Linggarjo
The wisest people recognise from whence their giftings come and give glory back to the One who gave them.Ian Vail
Our responsibility is NOT to preserve the previous generation’s Traditions– but rather to assure the Gospel’s relevance to EVERY GENERATION!Anon
Our responsibility is also to point others who recognise any good in us back to God as the source of anything good.Ian Vail