The Herod Family was one of the most infamous families in history. Herod the Great was the Herod when Jesus, King of the Jews, was born. Out of jealousy and insecurity, Herod had all small boys under two years of age murdered in Jerusalem. What kind of monster would kill little boys to keep his job? Herod the Great also murdered his wife, his mother, and three of his sons. The last son was murdered just five days before his own death. Shortly before he died, he arrested important Jewish leaders and ordered that when he died the Jewish leaders be executed so there would be mourning for him in the Jewish nation. Hopefully, the wailing would drown out the applause.
Herod the Great’s grandson is Herod Agrippa 1 of Acts 12. In Acts 12:1-5, Herod Agrippa 1 martyred James the apostle during prime time or the Jewish Passover feast. Herod Agrippa 1 executed James to curry favor with his political constituency. Some politicians will lie, steal, cheat, and even murder to win a vote. Not much has changed in politics. Today we have Super pacs in attack ads stooping to new lows. When his plot worked and “pleased the Jews” Herod Agrippa 1 arrested the leader of the apostles, Peter.
The early church prayed and God supernaturally sent an angel who broke Peter out of jail. The angel “smote Peter on the side” in Acts 12:7. Later in the story the angel will smite someone else but for very different reasons. When Herod Agrippa 1 learned of the escape of Peter, he executed at least four guards in Acts 12:18-19.
Because his numbers were dropping in the polls, Herod runs from his problems. He flees to Caesarea. The problem with running from your problems instead of facing and resolving your problems, is that you carry your problems inside of you where ever you go. Instead of life getting better in Caesarea, life got worse because Herod Agrippa 1 was still a very proud man.
Herod Agrippa 1 not only was angry at believers in Palestine, but he was angry with the citizens of Tyre and Sidon. We don’t know why. People like Herod don’t need much of a reason to be always upset with someone.
The people of Tyre and Sidon were dependent on Herod for food, so they needed to gain back his favor. They probably bribed Blastus for an opportunity to persuade Herod to remove the blockade. Herod took advantage of the situation to throw around his clout. So Herod gathered the peons in the Herodian amphitheater that his grandfather, Herod the Great, had built. Josephus, the first century Jewish historian described this scene:
“Herod put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theatre early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner” (Antiquities XIX, vii, 2).
As Herod gave his speech, the citizens of Tyre and Sidon shouted, “It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.” They probably were just trying to flatter Herod. But vain Herod believed every blasphemous word. Because Herod did not correct them, but rather gloated in their snow job, “immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms and breathed his last.” This was very likely the same angel that “smote Peter on the side” in 12:7 to deliver Peter from Herod’s hand. That same angel “smote” Herod in judgment.
Bengel notes the contrast between the divine and human histories: “struck by an angel…eaten by worms” (quoted by Stewart Custer in Witness to Christ, p. 178)
Here is one medical doctor’s description of this particular tapeworm:
The root word skolax means a specific head structure of a tapeworm. Since the word skolex is applied to the head of tapeworms, Herod’s death was almost certainly due to the rupture of a cyst formed by a tapeworm. The disease is characterized by the formation of cysts, generally on the right lobe of the liver; these may extend down into the abdominal cavity. The rupture of such a cyst may release as many as two million scolices. The developing worms inside of the cysts are called scolices and when the cyst ruptures, the entrance of cellular debris along with the scolices may cause sudden death. (Dr. Jean Sloat Moron, quoted by John MacArthur, Jr. The MacArthur N T Commentary, Acts 1-12, p. 327).
Again, Josephus, wrote that after Herod collapsed, he had to be carried off stage, and it took Herod five days to die of worms i.e., millions of tapeworms.
This kind of worm is mentioned only in one other place in Scripture. It was used by Jesus to describe the tortures of Hell in Mark 9:42-48. Three times Jesus referred to the skolax or tapeworm that dies not. The same medical doctor said that the skolas or tapeworm “keeps propagating itself. Each section of the worm is a self-contained unit which has both male and female parts.” Jesus used this feature of the tapeworm to remind sinners that their suffering in Hell is conscious and never ending. As Herod suffered agonizingly for five days so will every one who rejects Christ writhe for eternity in fire that is never quenched and where the worm dies not.
Herod suffered his fate “because he gave not God the glory.” Every person in Hell is there because he or she “gave not God the glory” by trusting Christ as Savior. The terrible irony is that “every knee will bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
A very important contrast is drawn by Luke in 12:24, in the face of Herod’s persecution and attempt to stop the church, “the Word of God grew and multiplied.” “The worms are set in contrast with the Word. Both are God’s instruments. Herod might want to destroy the church, but the Word of God marched gloriously on. The armed might of government may be mobilized against it, but the Word of God knows no boundaries to its empire, no barriers to its progress” (John Philips. Exploring Acts, p. 234). Both worms and the Word worked internally. One to the sinner’s torture and the other to the believer’s delight and progress.
Wiersbe added: The early church had no “political clout” or friends in high places to “pull strings” for them. Instead, they went to the highest throne of all, the throne of grace. They were a praying people, for they knew that God could solve their problems. God’s glorious throne was greater than the throne of Herod, and God’s heavenly army could handle Herod’s weak soldiers any day or night! The believers did not need to bribe anyone at court. They simply took their case to the highest court and left it with the Lord!
And what was the result? “But the word of God grew and multiplied” (Acts 12:24). This is another of Luke’s summaries, or “progress reports,” that started with Acts 6:7 (see 9:31; 16:5; 19:20; 28:31). Luke is accomplishing the purpose of his book and showing us how the church spread throughout the Roman world from its small beginnings in Jerusalem. What an encouragement to us today!
At the beginning of Acts 12, Herod seemed to be in control and the church was losing the battle. But at the end of the chapter, Herod is dead and the church—very much alive—is growing rapidly!
The secret? A praying church!
Missionary Isobel Kuhn used to pray when in trouble, “If this obstacle is from Thee, Lord, I accept it; but if it is from Satan, I refuse him and all his works in the name of Calvary!” And Dr. Alan Redpath has often said, “Let’s keep our chins up and our knees down—we’re on the victory side!”
God works when churches pray, and Satan still trembles “when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees” (The Bible Exposition Commentary).