It is interesting as we come to the end of Acts 12 that Herod should die at the hand of God. Josephus, who never puts Agrippa in a bad light, seems to agree, in that Herod himself saw an owl and took it as an omen from God announcing his death [Josephus: Antiquities 19.8.2]. Therefore, although put in different words, Josephus and Luke agree that God killed Herod, because he accepted without rebuke the praise of the people saying he was a god!
Luke points to Agrippa’s death by saying he was “highly displeased with Tyre and Sidon” (Acts 12:20). Luke uses a Greek word that is found only here (G2371), meaning to fight desperately. We have no record of Herod making war with Tyre and Sidon. While, they were under the protection of Rome, they were also completely dependent upon Agrippa’s kingdom for their commercial enterprises. Josephus mentions nothing of Agrippa’s displeasure with them, which implies what Luke reports could be a petty matter which the king took personally. Remember, it is characteristic of Josephus to never record anything that would blemish Agrippa’s memory.
With the mentioning of Tyre in Acts 12:20 and Herod’s being called a god in Acts 12:22, I am reminded of the King of Tyre mentioned in Ezekiel 28:2-9. There the King of Tyre is told he is a man and not God, but he had set his heart as though he were God (verse-2). His commercial enterprises which have enriched him are mentioned in verse-5. Both of these things also foretell Herod’s end as recorded by Luke. At this point in Ezekiel’s prophecy the King of Tyre personifies Tyre, itself, for God’s judgment was that the terrible of the nations would come and destroy the city (Ezekiel 28:7-8). This is exactly what occurred to Jerusalem and the whole nation after the death of Agrippa. Each Roman governor was more terrible than the previous until, as Josephus puts it: “…we thought it better to be destroyed at once than little by little” [Josephus: Antiquities 20.11.1].
Was Agrippa’s reign that bad that God would judge the nation by what he did? I believe the answer to this is more complicated than what we can read here in Acts 12 or in histories such as Josephus. Scripture reveals all, but only if we pay attention to what God is telling us. Daniel tells us that the last kingdom of man, before the coming of God’s Kingdom, would have 10 kings who rule over God’s people—the Jews. From the time of the announcement of the Kingdom of God by Jesus until the end of the Jewish nation there were 10 Roman procurators who ruled the Jews. I have blogged about these matters elsewhere, but suffice to say: I am of the opinion that we should not be looking to the future for these things to occur. Daniel’s prophecy was fulfilled in the days of Jesus and immediately afterward in the days of the nascent Church of God that comprised his growing Kingdom on earth.
Agrippa set his heart against the Kingdom of God by persecuting the Messianics in his kingdom. I don’t believe it all began with the slaying of James, but began with his reign over Jerusalem. He gradually escalated his displeasure with those who bowed themselves to another King, and, by executing James, Agrippa exposed his true heart toward God. Everything he did in worship was for show. Appearance was everything for him; everything he did was to enhance his reputation among the people, and persecuting the Kingdom of God was no different. Annas had shown himself the enemy of the Kingdom, years previous, by crucifying Jesus and having Stephen stoned. This is the Abomination that made Jerusalem and the Temple desolate decades later. The Annas family was a very powerful priestly clan in Jerusalem, and Agrippa wanted to please them. He did so by vexing the Messianic Jews—no doubt with pleasure in the beginning, since they gave their allegiance to another King. Nevertheless, he held off killing them, until he lifted his hand up against James.
Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18), and God asks: “Will you yet say before him that slays you, ‘I am God?’ but you shall be a man and no God in the hand of him who slays you” (Ezekiel 28:9). It seems Luke may be pointing us to the prideful heart of Herod Agrippa that led to his own death. Why else would he even mention Tyre and Sidon, and the king’s displeasure with them? They, otherwise, would have nothing to do with Luke’s theme. Why mention them at all, if there is no connection? Something occurred here that exposed the king’s prideful heart, and Josephus is silent regarding it. It must have been a very petty thing, indeed, that angered the king, unlike the beneficent and liberal nature Josephus paints for him [Josephus: Antiquities 19.7.3].
Amid all this, however, Luke tells us that the word of God grew and multiplied (Acts 12:24), the third such progress report, found in Acts. Luke places it immediately after Herod’s death to show that all that was done against the Kingdom of God failed. God keeps his promises to us in that no weapon devised of man could ever be successful against God’s Kingdom (Isaiah 54:17). This progress report, though Luke places it immediately following Herod’s death actually points to the completion of Paul’s first missionary journey in Galatia, and the time of Paul’s and Barnabas’ journey to Jerusalem (Acts 12:25) points to the time of the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, which occurred about the time of the famine predicted by Agabus in Acts 11:28, but more about these things in later blogs.