God’s Word for You
Acts 12:20-23 The Lord’s angels
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, May 6, 2020
20 Now Herod had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon. With one accord they came to him, having won over Blastus the king’s chamberlain, and they sued for peace because their country was supplied with food by that of the king.
The effect of this quarrel is presented to us, but not the cause. The cities of Tyre and Sidon were cut off from northern wheat fields by the Lebanese mountains. If Judea cut its trade, those cities would have trouble feeding their people despite all the wealth. The leaders of some countries never learn that money and power aren’t everything.
The delegates from the cities “won over” one of the king’s most important servants, probably with a bribe. The servant’s name, Blastus, is Greek, and in the form blastos it is used even today in horticulture for the bud or sprout of a plant. Having made ‘Bud’ their buddy, they got an audience with Herod, and they were able to beg the king to make peace with them and end the embargo of wheat.
21 On an appointed day, wearing his royal robes, Herod took his seat on his throne and delivered an address to the people. 22 The people kept shouting, “This is the voice of a god and not that of a man!”
This scene is not unique to the Bible. Josephus records it in his Antiquities as well. Josephus relates that the people were shouting and cheering partly because of Herod’s silver robes that were reflecting the sunlight. Also, Josephus reports that the blasphemy of the people was even worse than what Luke reports, and that the people were praying to Herod, “Have mercy on us.” Of course, as a prayer this was nonsense. These people were pagans and they were used to praising Caesars and other humans as gods. But this was no Roman Caesar. This was a Jew and a King of the Jews. This was a man who had persecuted the Christians, God’s people, and God was listening.
23 But because he did not give glory to God, an angel of the Lord immediately struck him down. He was eaten by worms and died.
Herod had an opportunity to make another statement; to tell these people that he wasn’t a god at all, that there was only one true God. But he didn’t bother. He felt a thrill being elevated by the praise of the mob, especially a mob as dignified as this one (in verse 22 the people are called the demos, δῆμος, the citizens of the nation, rather than just ochlos “crowd” or laos “people” in general). He became ill on the spot. Josephus reports that the sickness as in his stomach, and that it took him five days to die, but this is entirely within the framework of Luke’s text. “Eaten by worms” was not unique to Agrippa. Herod the Great died of the same illness (Josephus, Wars 1.33.5), as did the mad ruler Antiochus Epiphanes (2 Maccabees 9:9).
Since Herod’s failure was a form of idolatry in a public forum, an angel struck him down with this wormy illness. This is not to be taken as “the Angel of the Lord” as in the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, but rather one of God’s angels sent with this particular mission. If we were to understand the text otherwise, there would be a clear indication in the text, such as the angel saying something from a point of view that only God himself could take, as when the Angel said to Hagar that “I (not “he”) will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count” (Genesis 16:10), or when he said to all Israel, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give your forefathers” (Judges 2:1).
We have presented the role of the angels at other times, but this might be a good opportunity to remember the usefulness of knowing the doctrine of angels for our benefit (these are condensed from Martin Chemnitz’ Loci, 4:6:4):
1, Consider what great dignity has been added to our human nature, since it was assumed by the Son of God. These holy and pure spirits (the angels) minister to us who, even the purest of us, are constantly polluted in our unrighteousness (Isaiah 64:6), yet nowhere does Christ call the angels his brothers.
2, It is also profitable to teach that things are going well in the church, the state, and the home when we are preserved from danger, and that we do not conclude that this has happened either by accident or by our own prudence. But it is a good practice to say, ‘You have had a good angel,’ and admit that God has commanded his good angels to protect us.
3, It is profitable for our comfort (to know about the angels). When we consider the craftiness, the power and the thousand tricks of the devil, and on the other hand our own weakness, we should not lose courage. For ‘There are more (angels) with us’ (2 Kings 6:16), and the Lord of Armies himself is with us. Satan often frightens us with the fear of dangers; but we must stand against him with this comfort.
4, Thus, because the craftiness and power of the devils are great and on the other hand the blessing and protection of the good angels are great also, we must fervently pray first that God’s holy angel be with us and then that Satan find no occasion to go against us.
What the good angels do, they do at the command of God and to his glory. May we likewise dedicate everything we say and do to the glory of God. We should also make it our personal goal to let even our thoughts be done for God’s glory alone and in his service, so that the crime that led to Herod’s death would be so foreign to us and our way of thinking that it would never be a danger. Let Christ Jesus reign in and over your heart always.
Remember Luther’s conclusion to his evening and morning prayers:
“Let your holy angel be with me, that the
wicked foe may have no power over me. Amen.”
Pastor Timothy Smith