There is much to tell in Acts 12 (link), but I will leave you to read of Peter’s arrest and deliverance on your own. Do not overlook that you have to slow down and notice your prayers being answered: we often are so emotionally overwrought, swinging from the one side to another, that we miss the very practical and obvious working of God.
Instead, today we shall focus on King WormFood. He is actually called Herod Agrippa I, and he had been granted the rule of most of the region we call the Holy Land. His territory included Judea, Samaria, Galilee, the Transjordan, and the Decapolis—more than Herod the Great, his grandfather, had ruled. Herod Agrippa I owed this good fortune to being friends with Caligula, the Roman Emperor.
Caligula was not a popular Emperor and holds the distinction of being the first Roman Emperor assassinated while in office. Technically, Julius Caesar does not count---he was assassinated primarily to prevent him from consolidating all power in the Republic into the Empire. He was the dictator, but not the emperor, the dictator being a temporary position that he only intended to hold for the rest of his life. Caligula is often depicted as a man of highly questionable morality and extreme cruelty. There are some modern scholars that doubt this view of Caligula, but it has been commonly held since, well, Caligula was assassinated by his own guards!
Caligula had placed Herod Agrippa I into ever-widening power because of their friendship. From that position, Herod did what he needed to do to retain his control, and being in Judea, he needed to keep the Jews happy. So we see him open this chapter by executing James the brother of John. Herod then moved to dispose of Peter as well, with the hope that this would keep the religious leadership of Jerusalem happy with him.
We see here that Herod Agrippa I is not particularly concerned with anything but the retention of his power. Most history books that address the time show this to be true. We also see that he has the guards executed who failed to keep Peter in prison when the angel let him out. In all, Herod Agrippa I is a man with power and a will to keep it.
Then we see him at the end of the chapter. History is somewhat vague on his dispute with Tyre and Sidon. These two cities were within the Empire, so there was no outright war happening to have peace from. However, the lesser tyrants of the Roman Empire maintained control through fear and economics in those days, and it is likely that economics were at stake here. Agrippa’s mainland territories are the food sources for these two coastal cities, so he’s going to win.
Neither do we know the source of the enmity between these cities and the king. Given his status as a petty tyrant, it was likely nothing important. Perhaps they had written Caligula’s replacement, Claudius, and asked Claudius to remove Agrippa. Such an action would have been viewed as disloyal and, for a tyrant, reason enough to starve the cities that had taken that action.
However, he who holds the grocery store key holds the power, and the cities capitulate. He sits to make a speech and is acclaimed as a god by the people.
And an angel of God strikes him, he’s eaten by worms and dies.
That’s it. This is his autopsy as reported in Scripture: eaten by worms and dies. And yes, it is entirely in line with the text to think that the eaten by worms part happens first—perhaps some disease or parasite that afflicts him and then he’s dead.
Now, why do we care?
Because petty tyrants still remain in this world. They occur in governments and businesses and unfortunately in churches. These are those people who like to be acclaimed as the saviors and sole authorities and the greatest-evers in what they do. (Quick note: if someone must make sure that all history points back to them, that’s a clue.)
Oftentimes, these tyrants insulate themselves from accountability, they keep themselves in power by any means necessary: individual murder, inappropriate incarcerations, wholesale economic deprivation. You name it, they will do it.
This truth, though, remains: their future is as worm food. It may not be as quick in coming as we would hope. It is, however, coming. All across the years, tyrants have fallen and died: Caligula and his friend, Herod Agrippa I; Nero; Pol Pot; Stalin; Hitler; Idi Amin; Lenin. These have all gone on—others, like Chavez, Ahmadinejad, Assad, and many others yet to come will also go on.
If you’re inclined to chase the power that comes from being a tyrant or the friend of a tyrant, realize this: worm food. That’s the future. It ends in worm food.
The other side?
Acts 12:24: The word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.
Make a choice. One dies and the other grows. The latter requires self-sacrifice, but the former?
Today’s Nerd Note: The lack of other historical documentation for the feud between Herod Agrippa I and Tyre/Sidon should trouble you a small amount, but not much. Why? Because there are many other events readily accepted that have only a single-source for their happening. Much of what we know of Ancient Rome comes from a small number of sources—yet we know it, just the same.
Further, there is non-Biblical support for Herod’s icky death in the writings of Josephus. Also, the text of Acts is not enhanced by fabricating the dispute—the questionable event is the death, which is attested elsewhere.
In all, nerds, do not get overwrought when something is “only in the Bible.” Take a look at the study of history in general and see if it’s really that bad of a thing.