And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death…
This journey of Herod is described by Josephus. It would seem that he left Judaea in disgust and spleen because Peter had escaped from his hands. We are next informed that "Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon," etc. Judaea being an agricultural and a pastoral country, and Tyre and Sidon being mercantile countries, the latter were dependent on the inland trade for their support, and therefore it would have been almost ruin to them if Herod had carried his thoughts into execution; for the expression "highly displeased" means that he contemplated war. They, therefore, came to him in the most submissive manner, and bribed Blastus to use his influence. Herod having acceded to their request, and being a vainglorious man, determined to receive the ambassadors of Tyre and Sidon with a display of royal splendour. He also made an eloquent oration, probably reminding them of his own great condescension in receiving their ambassadors and granting them peace; and then "the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him." And when the tyrant was dead, it is added, in striking and beautiful contrast, "But the Word of God grew and multiplied." Note —
I. THE MISERABLE END OF HEROD. Observe —
1. The extreme emptiness of earthly splendour. How wonderful it is, that with such a lesson as this continually recorded in the page of history, and in our own experience, we should still need to be reminded of it; for it seldom happens that any grand ceremonial takes place without there being some circumstance connected with it to stamp vanity upon it. But it is not merely in the dazzling circumstances of courts and kings that the worldliness of man's heart is shown; it is ingrained in us all. We are by nature lovers of this present world; and even when they are not actually removed, God often embitters to us our idols, and although we clearly see our own folly in idolising them, yet we cannot tear the idols away. We are all hastening towards the grave; and, painful as it must be, it would be very wholesome if we could look upon each other's countenances, and feel an abiding sense that dissolution must soon come. Parents and children, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, dear as they are to each other, must soon part. Oh! that we could meditate then upon this; and when we see a great king thus awfully cut down — when there seems but a step between the gorgeous apparel and the filthy worm — let us pause, learn how short our time is, and pray that we may not set our hearts upon the fleeting shadows of the world, but may seek to lay up treasure where "rust and moth doth not corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal." How blessed, to think that there is a garment which shall never be exchanged for the worm, that there is a crown which shall never fall from our heads, that there is an abode where sorrow cannot come! Who would believe it, to see men frantically pursuing things that are not worth the having?
2. An awful instance of God's wrath against the persecutors of His Church and people. This man had killed James, etc. What a change is here. A little while, and Peter is safe, and the proud and mighty Herod is the prey of worms. "So let all Thine enemies perish, O Lord"; and so must they perish, if they die in their sins. There are few sins which are followed up with more signal punishment than the persecution of God's saints. We see this in the fate of those who persecuted Israel, and it would be easy to show, from the history of modern Europe, that there has not been a power, papal or heathen, which has persecuted the Church of God, but the Lord has rendered an awful retribution into their bosoms. "He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of His eye." There is no organ so delicate as the apple of the eye. The smallest puncture there will give pain over the whole body. How strikingly is this illustrated in the case of Saul. "Why persecutest thou Me?" And our Saviour says that it would be better for a man who persecutes the saints of God "that a millstone had been hung around his neck, and he had been cast into the depths of the sea." And let us remember that it is the spirit of the persecutor which God looks at. You may say that men are not now sent to prison and to bonds for serving Christ. But ungodly men show the same disposition as ever to persecute. They point with the finger of scorn; they apply names of contempt, and endeavour to injure reputation. This is nothing else but the spirit which lifted the hand of Herod, and all that were like him, to persecute the saints of God. Happy are they who are "persecuted for righteousness' sake," but woe be unto them that persecute them.
3. God's jealousy of His own glory and condemnation of human pride. The sin for which he was eaten of worms was only a negative sin. When the people said, "It is the voice of a god, and not of a man," Herod did nothing, said nothing; but it is added, "Immediately the angel of the Lord smote him." And why? "Because he gave not God the glory." Oh, what a little sin does this appear! How singular that this man should have been suffered to go through a long career of cruelty, oppression, and profligacy, ending with the murder of God's saints, and that the blow should be withheld until he had committed this apparently little sin — namely, not to reproach the people for their idolatry! Now this is well worthy of our serious consideration, because it is just by such things as these that we are led to the secret root of sin, and led to detect its hidden springs. It is of no use just to cut off the tops of the weeds in our gardens; we must pluck them up by the roots, or they will grow again. So it is with sin. The case of Herod is not a singular one. It is very remarkable, that we read of many instances in the Old Testament in which persons known to be of the most profligate and wicked character, and nations and people of the most debauched habits, have had the judgments of God poured out upon them, not for what are ordinarily considered great crimes, but for the crime of pride and exaltation against God (Isaiah 10:5, etc.; 47:10; Daniel 4.). It is perhaps said, "But this is an uncommon sin." Certainly in its full development it is; for all are not kings, nor can they array themselves in royal apparel; but as to the sin itself, it is universal. Oh! how many are there amongst us who spend their lives "in arraying themselves in apparel!" The love of personal admiration is one of the most universal sins of our fallen nature. From the queen upon her throne down to the meanest of her subjects, the love of dress and personal display is an indigenous sin in the hearts of all of us, according to our various stations in life. But, you observe, it was not for his apparel that the people admired Herod, but for his oration. Here is the pride of oratory, the pride of intellect. There are many who utterly despise the former, who feed eagerly upon the latter; and the more intellectual our sin, the more subtle it is, and perhaps the more venomous and deadly. There is no pride more detestable in the sight of God than intellectual or spiritual pride. And here again you see the love of flattery, the love of the admiration of our fellow creatures. There is scarcely any human being insensible to this. If there be any avenue by which you can infuse folly into a wise man's heart, it is by flattering him. Oh! how mean and little do we seem when these bosom sins of ours are stripped open! How many a splendid action, how many an apparently virtuous one, how many a seemingly self-denying one, becomes a detestable and abominable sin, when the secret self-love and self-admiration that guided it is exposed! "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble." "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God."
II. THE PROGRESS OF THE GOSPEL, notwithstanding all these events (ver. 24). Remarkable juxtaposition of facts! Here is the persecutor eaten of worms, and gives up the ghost. Poor, feeble, wretched man! he can do nothing against God and His truth; and while he is dying, the Word of the Lord multiplies. This is a sort of recurring chorus in the whole history of the Acts. Thus it was after the deliverance of Peter and John, after the doom of Ananias and Sapphira, after the death of Stephen, and the conversion of Saul. What an idea does this give us of the omnipotence with which the Word is clothed, and of the mighty purposes of God concerning it! He hath said, "So shall My Word be, that goeth forth out of My mouth," etc. And so it has been throughout the whole of the history of Christ's Church militant here upon earth. Infinitely diversified is the story; there is no history so romantic as that. The Church, founded upon a Rock, never can be shaken; the gates of hell cannot prevail against it; men and devils may unite, but they shall be "eaten of worms" and "give up the ghost"; while the "Word of God" shall "grow and multiply." Let us repose our minds on these glorious considerations. It is the consolation of every well-regulated Christian mind that all the things which we see around us, however untoward, work together for the purpose of God. The Lord will show who is right and who is wrong; the work of every man will be submitted to the fire, and we shall then see which was the gold, and which the wood, hay, and stubble. Meanwhile His people have a confidence that they are serving a Master who cannot be defeated, and obey Him who has all things in His hands, and who said to another persecutor, "Thou couldest have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above."
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.