Herod’s ignominious end: An act of judgment and mercy

HerodAntipas_v1_FullActs 12.20-24 records the account of the ignominious end of the reign of Herod Antipas. Death befalls the king “because he did not give glory to God” (v. 23b). No doubt he gloried, instead, in his own vanity, relishing the accolades of the crowd which declared, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” (v. 22). It was precisely the kind of praise Herod wanted from “the people of Tyre and Sidon,” who had come to him to ask for peace. But it was a coerced form of praise. Herod had staged the event, having “put on his royal robes,” taken “his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them” (v. 21).

It was the perfect setting for a king to garner the praise of his fickle subjects. “Look at me!” Herod says. “See my flowing robes. Look at my glorious throne. Hear my voice. Am I not a god to you? Do I not deserve your praise and adoration?”

But, as the saying goes, be careful for what you wish. Herod got the praise of the people, but his failure to praise God cost him his life. As the people glory in his vanity, Herod is struck down by “an angel of the Lord” (v. 23a). God can tolerate no pretenders. To him alone belongs the glory. Human beings were created to glorify God. When they act contrary to creation, they suffer the consequences. For Herod, those consequences were most severe.

God’s striking down of Herod was no mere act of petulant jealousy. In failing to give glory to God, Herod was also failing the people under his authority. He was causing them to bow at the feet of a mere man and proclaim him a god. In pouring out his wrath on Herod, God was showing mercy to the people who had been acting out of ignorance.

Herod’s rotting corpse was “eaten by worms.” In fact, a strict reading of the text suggests the worms starting feasting on him even before “he breathed his last.” Whatever the order of events, it was a gruesome end.

“But the word of God increased and multiplied.” Did the people, having seen Herod struck down, then glorify God? Perhaps some did but, as illustrated in today’s Gospel reading, some people are hard of hearing even when God does speak through the Person of his own Son.


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