How often do people take credit for something they haven’t done or accept praise that they don’t deserve? If we are honest, we will recognise that human tendency all too well. But sometimes this can get us in trouble, as it did Herod in Acts 12.
“Now Herod was having an angry quarrel with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they joined together and presented themselves before him. And after convincing Blastus, the king’s personal assistant, to help them, they asked for peace because their country’s food supply was provided by the king’s country. On a day determined in advance, Herod put on his royal robes, sat down on the judgment seat, and made a speech to them. But the crowd began to shout, ‘The voice of a god, and not of a man!’ Immediately an angel of the Lord struck Herod down because he did not give the glory to God, and he was eaten by worms and died.” (Acts 12:20-23 NET)
The Herod mentioned here is Agrippa I. He was a grandson of Herod the Great. He was brought up in Rome and had a close friendship with some in the imperial family including Gaius, the grand-nephew of Tiberius. When Gaius succeeded Tiberius as the emperor of Rome he gave Agrippa the title of ‘king’ and made him ruler of territory in southern Syria, which eventually expanded to include Galilee, the area across the Jordan, and Judea. He was more popular with the Jewish people than most of the Herod dynasty.
Earlier he had the apostle James, brother of John, executed and had Peter arrested. Peter was released by an angel and left the area after visiting with the Christians in Jerusalem (see Acts 12:1-17).
Agrippa became extremely angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. We do not have a record of what they did to enrage him. This area was dependent on Galilee for their food supply, so the best course of action was to regain his favour as quickly as possible. They were able to secure the aid of Agrippa’s personal assistant to plead their cause.
An audience was arranged and Agrippa entered clothed in his royal robes. Josephus recorded in his Antiquities that this was during a festival to honour Claudius Caesar and that Agrippa’s royal robes were of pure silver and glittered in the sun. He also identified the location this took place as the theatre in Caesarea. He gave an oration to those who were assembled.
The people wanted to make him favourable to them and he was dressed impressively. They immediately likened him to a god, both in what he said and undoubtedly because of the brilliant spectacle. There was his problem: he accepted what they said. Rather than telling them he wasn’t a god and that they should give glory to God, he accepted their flattery and accolades. He was immediately struck by an angel and died.
Although this might sound fantastic, Josephus confirmed what Luke recorded. He wrote: “He was seized by a severe pain in his belly, which began with a most violet 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” (Antiquities xix.8.2). Josephus’ description matches what Luke recorded.
What is the lesson for us? We need to be careful either in accepting the flattery and praise people may give us and in giving the same to others. We must be careful not to put others in the position of accepting praise that isn’t deserved or in some way have them owing us. If we are praised be sure to always give God the glory, realising we can do nothing without him.
Photo by Jon Galloway: Theatre in Caesarea, Israel, November 2019.
Readings for next week: Acts 9-13