Through the Bible in One Year

Day 211

Acts 12:19b-13:12

We left off yesterday with Herod Agrippa believing that it was through the collusion of the guards on duty that Peter was able to escape.  And following the Roman practice of that day Herod Agrippa ordered the squad of four soldiers that had been on guard duty the night Peter escaped to be executed.  And today we are going to see the action move from Jerusalem to Caesarea, then back to Antioch and then on to Cyprus.  Through out all this movement we are going to pick back with the story of Paul and Barnabas.  And more specifically what has come to be known as Paul’s First Missionary Journey.

Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there. He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. After securing the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply.

On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.

But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.—12:19b-24

The fate of Herod Agrippa I demonstrates to the church the justice of God.  The one who had brutally killed James and imprisoned Peter (to be sure, Peter still had to avoid capture) would himself die under the judgment of God.  Indeed, all who oppress God’s elect will face the eventual justice of God.  The Tyrian and Sidonian delegation arranged a meeting with Herod to gain his favor because their region was dependent on him for food.  Access was gained through Blastus, who oversaw the king’s needs and was in charge of the king’s schedule.  The meeting afforded Herod the opportunity to deliver a speech.  The blasphemous response of the crowd (quite possibly prearranged) should have been rejected by a Jewish king.  Herod was immediately struck down.

What happened here was that when Herod received blasphemous praise and failed to give the glory to God, he died.  Years prior, when King Nebuchadnezzar arrogantly claimed credit for the glory of Babylon, God made him insane and caused him to live with animals, until the king was willing to humbly praise and honor the Lord who alone deserves glory.  God declared through Isaiah, “I will not give my glory to another” (Isaiah 42:8).  Pride is an ugly sin and will come under the Lord’s just condemnation—perhaps in this life, but defiantly in eternity.  When you are tempted to think more highly of yourself than you ought, remember that you have nothing which has not been given to you by God.

Now let’s contrast the downfall of Herod with the flourishing of “the word of God.”  The narcissistic king had attempted to stop the spread of the gospel by murdering and imprisoning the church’s leaders and had ended up as worm food.  Meanwhile, the church was growing.

When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark. Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.—12:25-13:3

Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, bringing John, also called Mark, with them.  The message delivered by the local prophets and teachers led to a mission effort.  The prophets/teachers were cosmopolitan: Barnabas was from Cyprus; Simeon (a Jewish name) likely came from northern Africa; Lucius was from Cyrene; Manaen had political connections because of his upbringing; and Saul was a Jew.  The makeup of the church was diverse from top to bottom.  The idea for the journey originated not with the church but with the Holy Spirit.  The message, given in a time of fasting and worship, may have been a public affirmation of a call privately given to Saul and Barnabas.  The source of the calling and mission was God; it was not a product of deliberation.  The imminent travels are sometimes called Paul’s First Missionary Journey, but that is somewhat of a misnomer.  Because Paul had already been to Damascus, Arabia, Jerusalem, Syria/Cilicia and Antioch spreading the gospel.  But the subsequent verses do narrate the first prolonged, intentional attempt to bring the gospel to the Gentiles.

The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.

They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”

Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.—13:4-12

Taking John with them, Saul and Barnabas left for Barnabas’s homeland: the island of Cyprus.  Their first stop on Cyprus was the synagogue, beginning a pattern that is repeated throughout Acts: proclaiming the gospel to the Jews first, then to the Gentiles.  Sergius Paulus is described as an intelligent man.  He was, perhaps, the first of high-born nobility to receive the gospel (if Manaen was merely a friend of Herod; v. 1).  Sergius had as an attendant a Jewish sorcerer named Bar-Jesus (meaning “son of Joshua”; it was a common name with no relation to Christ).  The sorcerer saw his revenue stream dry up with the proconsul’s conversion, hence the opposition.  The sorcerer’s blindness has certain parallels to Saul’s experience, with the notable exception that Saul repented.

Luke notes in Acts 13:9 that Saul is also called Paul.  Like may diasporic Jews, Saul had a Roman-sounding version of his name.  It may have been chosen for its similarity to “Saul” and may have had nothing to do with the Latin meaning (“paulus” means “small” in Latin).  He is never referred to as “Saul” again in Acts outside of his personal testimony.

Now to answer the question that you are all probably dying to have answered and that is: Did worms really kill Herod?

The word Luke used for “eaten by worm” was a word that medical writers of that period used to describe intestinal tapeworms.  The most likely explanation is that when struck by the angel, Herod ruptured an intestinal cyst containing watery fluid and tapeworm larvae.  The Jewish historian Josephus wrote that Herod was stricken with pains following his speech and died five days later.  So Herod was eaten by worms both before and after his death.  And we will pick tomorrow as we continue to learn about Paul’s First Missionary Journey.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

2 Chronicles 29, Romans 14, Psalm 24:1-10 and Proverbs 20:12

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