Herod Killed By an Angel: Part 1 of 2

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

Herod, puffed-up with pride and vanity is ripe for God’s vengeance.

Herod, puffed-up with pride and vanity is ripe for God’s vengeance.

July 11, 2014

Acts of the Apostles

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 a 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 favor 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 applause 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 24:16; 1 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 fulfill God’s will for the deliverance of his church, and the destruction of his enemies.

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