The name Herod is used frequently throughout the Gospels and the Book of Acts but what is confusing to many readers is that the name refers to four different Herods. The first is Herod the Great who is ruling over the region including Bethlehem when Jesus is born. The second is Herod Antipas who is presiding over Jerusalem and Palestine when John the Baptist is preaching and Jesus is put on trial. The third is Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great. We will look at him more closely in a moment. The fourth is Herod Agrippa II, obviously Herod Agrippa I’s son. He is the Herod whom Paul will eventually stand trial before. But for now, let’s look at Herod #3.
Educated in Rome, friend of both Claudius and Caligula, a man with an addiction to luxury even though he did not have the means to support his lifestyle, Herod Marcus Agrippa, was born into a powerful family tree that ruled over the Judean region for several generations. His extravagant taste for life eventually landed him in jail when his creditors finally caught up with him, but he was later freed by Claudius and after a power struggle between Claudius and Caligula was granted authority of the territory that was formerly held by his uncle Philip the Tetrarch. At some point during his reign he had a quarrel with the Phoenician coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon and while he was vacationing in Caesarea Maritima officials from these two cities found a listening ear in his personal servant and managed to get an audience with the king. Knowing a good publicity opp when he sees one, Agrippa agrees to hear their plea during a celebration of the emperor’s birthday. Thanks to the historian Josephus we have further information on this event to fill in the succinct details recorded in Acts 12. Verse 21 tells us that Agrippa donned his royal robes, took his place on his throne and delivered a public address. Josephus added that this speech was delivered in the theater (which had amazing acoustics) and noted that Agrippa’s robe was made of silver which glistened radiantly in the morning sun. The spectacle prompted the crowd to cheer and call him God and Agrippa did not stop them. Luke tells us that this displeased the Lord so much that “the angel of the Lord struck him down” and he was eaten by worms and died. Josephus’ account also records that Agrippa was stricken with pain when he did not stop the crowd from worshipping him, immediately carried off to his bed chamber and that he died 5 days later. There is a great amount of parallelism to the demise of Agrippa and the judgment of other rulers and leaders who placed themselves on par with the Lord of All (see Ezek. 28:1-10 for example).
One cannot help but see parallels to Agrippa in the rulers and authorities of our day. Pride, self indulgence, excessive wealth at the expense of the masses, power and pomp are bench mark characteristics that can be found in high places all around the world. Agrippa’s end seems rather abrupt in these short verses and extremely painful after such a huge build up by his own ego and the praises of the crowd. But his story is a reminder to us that while it may seem that men are in control of their destiny and power-mongers may claim they are masters of their own fate, the truth of the matter is “God is still in control” and there is not a ruler or authority who is in their place unless He deemed them to be there (Rom. 13:1-2). Psalm 2:1-4 and 10-11 admonishes those in authority to serve the Lord with reverence and Is. 40:21-23 warns them that the Lord will bring rulers who defy Him to nothing. In fact throughout the book of Psalms one fact is made clear: the Lord is to be feared (Ps. 47:2) because He is the One who ultimately rules over all the nations (Ps. 9:7-8; 10:16; 22:28; 46:10). In the New Testament we see this authority also applied to Jesus (Eph. 1:20-22; Col. 10). So while it may seem that those in authority who mock God’s ways and carry out oppressive and evil policies have it made, ultimately they will be held accountable for what they have done and God will judge them accordingly just as He did with Herod Agrippa I. It’s not easy to suffer under evil and oppressive authorities (2 Tim. 1:8-14). We do not know when God will call them out, but we can rest assured that if He kept His promise of judgment with the likes of Agrippa I, He will also do the same with those in authority today that act the same way (1 Thes. 5:1-3).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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