Herod Puts Peter’s Guards to Death: Part 1 of 2

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death.

And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death.

June 27, 2014

Acts of the Apostles
By: Tom Lowe


Scripture (Acts 12:18-21; KJV)

18 Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter.
19 And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there abode.
20 And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king's chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king's country.
21 And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.


Commentary

18 Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter.

Now as soon as it was day
The angel must have come and released him during the fourth watch (three to six A.M.), otherwise Peter’s escape would have been discovered by his keepers at the time of the changing of the guard. Either the guards just coming on duty discovered he was gone, or the two guards chained to Peter awoke to find him missing and chains still attached to their wrists.

There was no small stir among the soldiers
There were sixteen soldiers, or four quaternions, who were assigned to keep Peter in the prison. He was continually chained between two of them while two others watched the doors of the prison, and the guards were changed according to a set schedule. Can you imagine the surprise, amazement, and fear of the guards, who had been chained to the prisoner, who would discover as soon as they awoke, that he had escaped from between them, and they would know that their lives would probably answer for the life of Peter? The soldiers probably created a great tumult as they frantically searched for Peter everywhere inside and outside the prison.

What was become of Peter
This clause expresses the agitation of the soldiers who were bound to Peter by chains. There was no way they would not discover that he was gone as soon as they awoke, for they would have found the chains still holding them, but the other end lying on the floor, and Peter nowhere in sight. What strange thoughts and imaginings must have entered their minds—whether he was in any other part of the prison, by what means he could escape, and where had he gone—and what great fear, since they knew perfectly well that the penalty for losing a prisoner was death. All they knew was that he was gone, and nobody knew how or which way, for the guards, awaking out of their sound sleep, could not give any account of what had happened, and were ready to suspect or accuse each other of negligence or treachery, by giving the prisoner an opportunity to make his escape.


19 And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there abode.

And when Herod had sought for him
Herod probably ordered a thorough search of anyplace he might be, thinking he was in hiding.

And found him not
Peter could not be found in the prison or in any part of the city.

He examined the keepers
The word "examine" here means "to inquire diligently, to make an investigation." “Keepers” are those who were entrusted with his custody. But he probably questioned only those who were guarding him on the night when he escaped. He subjected them to a rigid examination to ascertain the manner of Peter’s escape; for it is evident that Herod did not intend to admit the possibility of a miraculous intervention in behalf of a man he had determined to put to death. All that could be determined from the investigation was that Peter disappeared while they slept.

And commanded that they should be put to death
Herod “commanded that they should be put to death,” because he believed, or pretended to believe that the escape of Peter was due to the negligence of the keepers. The execution of the guards was customary; in that day, if a guard’s prisoner escaped, the guard was given the penalty due to the prisoner—in this case, death. He probably insisted on the death penalty for another reason also, namely, to prevent the suspicion among the people of a miraculous deliverance. The miraculous had been suspected on an earlier occasion when all

the apostles left the prison with the help of an angel: “But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth” (Acts 5:19). Herod knew that Christianity would gain additional strength, if the general belief was that Peter was released by the power of God. Be this as it may, this episode undoubtedly contributed greatly to the churches further progress; and, it seems that this along with the death of Herod, which took place soon after, put a speedy end to the persecution.

And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea
“He,” Herod, not Peter “went down from Judea to Caesarea.” How soon after the escape of Peter he went down to Caesarea, or how long he dwelt there, is not known. Caesarea was rising into magnificence at this time, and the Roman governors often made it their home or used it as a vacation retreat. Josephus says he made this journey after he had reigned over all Judea for three years. He went there with shame, for not having executed Peter, according to his promise;

And there abode
Herod lived in Caesarea, until his death, which occurred shortly afterwards. There is no evidence that he made any further attempts to apprehend Peter, or that he attempted any further persecution of the Christians. The men on guard were undoubtedly put to death; and accordingly Herod used all his power to create the impression that Peter had escaped because of their negligence; and this would undoubtedly be believed by the Jews. Herod himself, perhaps, may have been convinced that the escape was brought about by a miracle, and he was afraid to attempt any further persecutions; or the affairs of his government might have required his attention more than other things; and therefore, as in the case of the "persecution that arose about Stephen," the political changes and dangers might have diverted the attention of both Herod and the Jews from putting Christians to death—“Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers” (Acts 9:31). Thus, by the providence of God, this persecution, that had begun, not by popular uproar, but by royal authority and power, and that was aimed at the very pillars of the church, ceased. The prayers of the church prevailed; and the monarch was overcome, disappointed, and, by divine judgment, soon put to death; and the death of James, and the intended murder of Peter were avenged.


20 And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king's chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king's country.

And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon
“Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon,” two cities on the sea coast, in the land of Phoenicia. Herod was so enraged on account of some supposed affront which he had received from them that though he had not declared war against them, yet he had thought about it, and intended to do it at a proper time. What offended him so grievously is not certain, but as usual there are a couple theories which have been advanced, though there is no basis in actual fact for either:
1. That Peter had been concealed in these cities after his escape.
2. That they might have embarrassed Herod in some of his regulations respecting commerce.

But they came with one accord to him
The people of Tyre and Sidon were traders, sea traders mostly, and they feared the consequences of gaining Herod’s displeasure, since he could adversely affect their ability to trade with other cities. They chose diplomacy to the possibility of war; the ambassadors from both cities united and “came with one accord to him,” and joined in ways and means to reconcile him to them.

And, having made Blastus the king's chamberlain their friend
The word "chamberlain" denotes an officer who is responsible for the management of a chamber or chambers, particularly a bed-chamber. Chamberlains usually had great influence with the princes they served. For instance, Commodus the emperor sought guidance from his chamberlains, and so did other princes, since these officers had access to them when others did not. Here is a man named “Blastus” who had charge of the bedchamber of Herod. Blastus was probably a eunuch, and had considerable influence over his master Herod; and, those who wanted to appear before the King probably bribed the chamberlain. We are told here that the ambassadors from Tyre and Sidon made a friend of Blastus, not merely through their conversations, but very likely, by giving him gifts.

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