And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul…
When Herod Agrippa I died at Caesarea (Acts 12:23), he left behind him a son and three daughters as heirs of the ancestral name and virtues. The son was the Agrippa of chaps, 25, 26, then a handsome and accomplished youth of seventeen, detained at Rome by Claudius. The girls were Berenice (sixteen), Mariamne (ten), and little Drusilla, only six years of age. Pitiful to think of them! — heiresses of such a name, station, temptations, personal beauty and fascination of manner, and ungovernable passions! It was quite consistent with the traditions of the Herod family that Berenice should, while still a girl in her teens, be given in marriage to her uncle Herod of Chaleis, old enough to be her father. At twenty, a widow with two children, she came to Rome to the house of her brother; and there was nothing, either in his character or in hers to prevent horrible suspicions of them from being entertained in the society and the literature of the capital. To avert scandal, she was married to Polerno, a petty king in Asia Minor, whom she soon deserted, and returned to the society of Agrippa, at his two seats, in Caesarea Philippi and Jerusalem. A dozen years after the hearing before Festus, when more than forty-two, twice a widow, and of infamous reputation, her fascinations had so captivated the heart of Titus that he was hardly dissuaded by the indignant clamours of the Romans from making her empress. The story of Mariamne, the second sister, is happily brief and uneventful. But here is this poor little Drusilla, named for her father's old friend at court, Drusus, son of Tiberius. At the time when her brother set up business as king on a small scale at Caesarea Philippi, she, only fifteen, and a famous beauty, is married to Aziz, another little king, lording it at Hamath, a few days' journey to the north. And now, to bring in another character, we go back to Rome, to the year 44, with which we started. The back stairs influence of the palace was in the hands of two smart, capable brothers, by the names of Pallas and Felix. They had been, several years before, purchased by Antonia, mother of Claudius. Pallas became her confidential servant, and by and by the brothers received from her their freedom. At her death they transferred their services to her son, to whom they succeeded in making themselves indispensable. Pallas became a sort of major domo on the Palatine hill; and Felix (who took the name of Claudius out of compliment to the emperor) had rapid promotion in the army. In 52 a delegation of Jews arrived with a most grave complaint against the wretched administration of Cumanus, governor of Judaea. Naturally they took counsel at once with young Agrippa, and they drew Pallas into their interest by proposing to petition the emperor to give the governorship to Felix; and so the former house servant of the dowager Antonia became the procurator of Judaea. His administration was worthy of his antecedents. "With all manner of ferocity and lust," says a famous sentence of Tacitus, "he wielded the power of a king with the temper of a slave." He had no scruple against employing the basest treachery against public or private enemies. The upright Jonathan, to whom he owed his office, ventured to "reason with him of righteousness," and he hired assassins to murder him. The last public service which he had rendered just before the arrest of Paul was in the case of an Egyptian leader of "four thousand men who were robbers" (sicarii, dagger men). He dispersed the banditti; but "that Egyptian" had escaped, and they were looking for him. Felix had been about a year in his government, when young Agrippa came to be his next neighbour — a delightful accession to the provincial society, especially when the house of Agrippa was enlivened by the visits of the youthful and beautiful Queen of Hamath! It was not unreasonable in the libidinous old slave (he must have been well advanced towards sixty) to mistrust the power of his personal fascinations; and in looking for some ally in his criminal design, he found, all ready to his hand, a certain magician named Simon, in whom we recognise our old acquaintance Simon Magus. This appropriate agent plied his arts of seduction to such purpose on the young bride, that she abandoned her husband, and gave herself to be the so-called wife of the mean and servile old debauchee at Caesarea. This act of the drama fits closely with the death of the deserted husband, Aziz, a few months later, at his desolated palace between the ranges of Lebanon. Whether he died of a broken heart or not we can only conjecture. Such was the pair before whom, invited to give them a private conference on the subject of faith in Christ, Paul "reasoned of justice and continence and coming judgment." Caesarea, a seaport town with a population divided between Jews and Gentiles, was liable to furious outbreaks between the parties. One such took place towards the end of Paul's two years' imprisonment, when Felix filled up the measure of his iniquities. There went up to Rome complaints that he had not only caused wanton slaughter, but had used his opportunity for private plunder. He had considered himself safe in any crime, it was said, so long as his brother Pallas continued near the ear of Nero. But this time he had ventured too far. To the inexpressible relief of the Jewish people, in 60 he was recalled to Rome; whither he promptly departed, accompanied by Drusilla, and by Simon Magus (as a sort of domestic chaplain), and followed by a deputation of Jews to prosecute him. The prosecution succeeded so far as to compel him to disgorge much of his plunder; but the influence of Pallas screened him from severer punishment. Felix and Drusilla both vanish out of history at this point, and Felix never appears again. But about nineteen years afterwards we get a glimpse of a faded beauty of forty years haunting the voluptuous Roman watering places by the Bay of Naples, in whom we may not easily recognise the little Drusilla. In her company is her grown-up boy, Agrippa. It seems as if the world were threatened with the infestation of yet another generation of the accursed race of Herod. But God is merciful. The awful eruption of Vesuvius that overwhelmed Pompeii amid its debaucheries blessed mankind by burying beneath the storm of suffocating ashes the princess Drusilla and her only child. Many have seen, among the remains of that great catastrophe, the perfect contour of a woman's form moulded in the ashen soil, within which the flesh had withered away and perished, and the skeleton had fallen bone from bone. It needs no wild effort of the fancy to imagine, as we look on these sorrowful relics, that we are in presence of what remains of the beautiful and guilty princess of the royal house of Herod.
(L. W. Bacon, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.