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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

Acts 12:19-25

And descending from Judea to Cesarea, he stayed there. 20. And Herod was offended with those of Tyre and Sidon: but they came unto him with one consent, and persuading Blastus, the chamberlain to the king, they required peace, because their country was nourished by the king’s country. 21. And upon a day appointed Herod arrayed himself in royal apparel, and sitting upon his throne, he made an oration unto them. 22. And the people cried, It is the voice of God, and not of man. 23. And straightway the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not the glory to God: and being eaten of worms, he died. 24. Furthermore, the word of God did increase and multiply. 25. And Barnabas and Paul returned from Jerusalem to Antioch, having finished their office, taking John with them, which was called Mark.


20. A worthy  761 history, which doth not only show, as it were in a glass, what end is prepared for the enemies of the Church, but also how greatly God hateth pride. The Scripture saith that “God resisteth the proud,” (1Pe 5:5.) God himself did show a lively image thereof in the person of Herod. And assuredly men cannot extol themselves higher than becometh them, but they shall make war with God, who, to the end he may surpass all,  762 commandeth all flesh to keep silence. And if God did so sharply punish pride in a king whom prosperity did puff up, what shall become of those of the common sort who are ridiculously puffed up without cause? Furthermore, we must note the course of the history, that all things go well with Herod after that he had miserably vexed the Church; he enforced the nations round about him, being tamed with hunger, to come to crave pardon upon their knees, as if God had rewarded him well for his wicked fury. This was no small trial for the godly, who might have thought thus with themselves  763 that God cared not for them, and they were afraid lest with Herod’s power his tyranny and cruelty should increase. But the Lord had another purpose,  764 for he set the oppressor of his Church on high that he might have the greater fall. Therefore, that shadowish felicity, wherein he delighted too much, was unto him a certain falling against the day of slaughter. In like sort, when at this day we see the bloody enemies of the Church carried up upon the wings of fortune into heaven, there is no cause why we should be discouraged; but let us rather call to mind that saying of Solomon,

“Pride goeth before calamity;
and the heart is lifted up before a fall,”
(Pr 16:18.)

Herod was displeased. Luke useth the compound participle, θυμομαχον which signifieth privy grudging or hatred. Therefore Herod did not make open war against those cities; but such was his displeasure, that he essayed to subdue them by policy, as it were by undermining them by little and little. It is a rare matter, saith Demosthenes, for free cities to agree with monarchs. Moreover, Herod was naturally cruel, bold, of insatiable covetousness; and it is not to be doubted but that Tyre and Sidon were, as it were, certain bars or rails to stay his fury, as they were wealthy cities, and unaccustomed to bear the yoke. Also, the remembrance of their old glory might have encouraged them; forasmuch as pride cometh commonly of wealth, it is no marvel if these two cities were proud, the one whereof Isaiah calleth queen of the seas, whose merchants, he said, were kings, and her chapmen dukes, (Isa 23:8.) Also, he saith elsewhere that Sidon was become proud by reason of her wealth. And although they had sundry times been brought almost to utter ruin, yet the commodiousness of their situation did shortly restore them to their wonted state. Hereby it came to pass that they could more hardly digest Agrippa, of late a base fellow, a man of no estimation,  765 and one who had been let out of prison; especially seeing that he had behaved himself so cruelly toward his own subjects, and was troublesome and injurious to his neighbors.

Forasmuch as their country was nourished. It had not been good for him to have assailed the men of Tyre and Sidon with open war, therefore he giveth commandment that there should no corn nor victual be carried  766 out of his realm. By this means did he, without any army, besiege them by little and little. For the borders of both cities were strait, and their ground barren, whereas there was a great people to be fed. Therefore, after that they were tamed with hunger, they humbly crave peace, and that not free, for assuredly they had some laws given them; and it is to be thought that this Blastus mentioned by Luke was not with bare words persuaded, but with rewards [gifts] won to entreat the peace.  767 I know not why Erasmus did think it good to translate this place otherwise than the words import.

21. Upon an appointed day. Luke saith that the men of Tyrus and Sidon had peace granted them, because this was the occasion of the king’s oration, without doubt, that he might make them his underlings hereafter. The same history is extant in Josephus, in his Nineteenth Book of Antiquities, save only that he calleth him everywhere Agrippa, whom Luke calleth Herod. It is to be thought that Agrippa was his proper name, and that he was called by none other name so long as he was a private man; but after that he was advanced to be a king, he took to himself princely dignity, according to the name of his grandfather. Josephus and Luke agree together wonderfully in the thing itself, and in all circumstances. First, they agree concerning the place. Josephus saith, That his garment was embroidered with gold, on which, when the sun-beams light, it did glister again; and that this was the cause which moved the courtiers to call him  768 a god. That he was suddenly wounded; also, that there was seen an owl sitting upon a cord over his head, which cord did prognosticate his ruin. And he is so far from doubting that his sacrilegious pride was punished with this kind of punishment, that he saith, that he confessed the same openly amidst his cruel torments, “Behold me, whom you call a god; I am enforced to finish my life most miserable.” There is no mention made there of the peace made with those of Tyrus and Sidon; but that he made and set forth plays  769 in honor of Caesar. But it may be that the solemnity of the plays was appointed in respect of the peace concluded, which we know was a solemn thing.

23. Forthwith he smote him. As, before, the angel was a minister of God’s grace in the delivery of Peter, so now he taketh vengeance upon Herod. And God doth sometimes use the ministry of angels in heaven in punishing; but sometimes he maketh the devils as hangmen, by whose hand he executeth his judgments. And this doth he as well toward his faithful servants as toward the reprobate. Saul was troubled and vexed by Satan, (1Sa 16:14) but the same did also befall holy Job, (Job 1:12, Job 2:7.) In the Psalms, the punishments wherewith God doth chasten the wicked are attributed to the evil angels; yet we see how the angel which had the government of the safety of the Church smiteth the Egyptians in the first-begotten, (Ex 12:29;) although the Scripture calleth the wicked spirits God’s spirits, because they are obedient to his commandment, though full sore against their will. But where the epithet evil is not added, as in this place, we must understand the angel which doth willingly obey God, and yet the shape of the owl, whereof Josephus maketh mention, did rather serve to figure the devil than an heavenly angel.

Furthermore, I dare not affirm for a surety what manner of disease that was. The word which Luke useth doth signify that he was eaten up of worms. Many conjecture that it was a lousy disease. This is certain, that even when he was yet alive he was corrupt with stink and rottenness, so that he was, as it were, a living carcass. So that he was not only vexed with cruel torments, but also made a laughing-stock to all men, and of all men reviled. For God intended to make choice of a kind of punishment wherewith he might repress the cruelty of a proud man with extreme ignominy. If he had been overcome of some great and valiant army, and had been brought to poverty, the judgment of God had not been so marked; and this had been an honest and princely chastisement;  770 but forasmuch as he abhorreth lice and worms, and this filthiness cometh out of his body, which doth kill him by eating him up, he is handled according to his deserts.

In like sort Pharaoh, forasmuch as he did so oft exalt himself against God with untamed pride, he was not orderly assailed by some prince that did border upon him, but locusts and caterpillars were God’s warriors [soldiers] to make war against him, (Exod. 8:17, 24;) for the more proudly a man exalteth himself, the more doth he deserve to be cast doom of God into the lowest hell with shame and reproach. This is the reason why he set this reigned god Herod to be eaten up of worms, which he was at length enforced to grant, when he said, “Behold me, whom ye saluted as a god; I die miserable.” Such a manifest example of horrible vengeance in a king’s person ought to terrify us not a little from presuming to take to ourselves more than we ought; and that we do not suffer ourselves to be made drunk with the false commendation and flattery of men as with deadly poison.

Because he gave not the glory to God. He is condemned of sacrilege, not only because he suffered himself to be called God, but because, forgetting himself, he took to himself the honor due to God. We do not read that the king of Babylon was thus extolled; and yet the prophet upbraideth to him that he went about to make himself equal with God, (Isa. 14:13, 14.) Therefore this sacrilege is a common fault in all proud men, because, by taking to themselves more than they ought, they darken the glory of God; and so, like giants, so much as ever they are able, they endeavor to pluck God out of his seat. Howsoever, they do not usurp the title of God, neither openly boast with their mouth that they are gods; yet because they take to themselves that which is proper to God, they desire to be, and to be accounted gods, having brought him under, furthermore, the prophet pointeth out the beginning of this evil in one word, when he bringeth in Nebuchadnezzar speaking on this wise, “I will go up,” (Isa 14:13.)

Wherefore there is but one remedy, if every one keep himself in that degree wherein he is placed. Let those who are base and castaways [in a humble station] not desire to climb higher; let kings, and those who are above others, remember that they are mortal, and let them modestly submit their highness to God. And we must note, that it is not enough if men give to God only half the honor which is due to him, who challengeth all that wholly which is his own; if they submit themselves but in part, whom he will have to be thoroughly humbled. Now, forasmuch as the Scripture despoileth us quite of all praise of wisdom, virtue, and righteousness, there is no one of us that can take to himself the least jot of glory without sacrilegious robbing of God. And it is a wonder that, seeing the Scripture pronounceth that all those make, as it were, open war against God which exalt themselves; and we do all grant that that cannot be done without our overthrow, [destruction;] the greatest part of men runneth, notwithstanding, headlong with furious boldness unto their own destruction; for there is scarce one of an hundred who, being mindful of his condition, doth leave to God his glory undiminished.

24. And the word of God. When the tyrant was once taken out of the way the Church was suddenly delivered, as it were, out of the jaws of the wolf. Therefore, though the faithful be accounted as sheep appointed to be slain, (Ps 44:23,) yet the Church doth always overlive her enemies; and though the word of God seem oftentimes to be oppressed with the wicked tyranny of men, yet it getteth up the head again by and by, (Ro 8:37.) For Luke determined  771 not only what had happened after that Herod was dead, but also by this example to encourage us, that we may be assured that God will do that, in all ages, which he then did, to the end the gospel may at length break through all impediments of the enemies, and that the more the Church is diminished, it may the more increase through the heavenly blessing.

25 And Barnabas and Paul. The ministry which Luke saith Barnabas and Paul did finish, must be referred unto the alms, whereof mention was made before. For after that Agabus the prophet had foretold the famine and barrenness, the brethren gathered money at Antioch, whereby they might relieve the necessity of the church which was at Jerusalem; the carrying of this money was committed to Barnabas and Paul. Now Luke saith that they returned to Antioch, that he may pass over unto a new history. He addeth, that they took with them John, whose surname was Mark, whose mother was honorably commended before, that he might keep them company, who was afterward, as we shall see, a cause of grievous and dangerous [hurtful] discord between them.



Memorabilis,” a memorable.


Ut solus emineat,” that he alone may have the pre eminence.


Quibus obrepere suspieio poterat,” who might be led to suspect.


Sed longa aliud fnit Dei consilium,” but very different was the purpose of God.


Obscurae fortunas,” of obscure origin.


Illis... importari,” be imported to them.


Ut pacis esset interpres,” to intercede for peace.


Consulataret,” to salute him as.


Ludos celebraret,” celebrated games.


Liberalis et regia castigatio,” a dignified and royal chastisement.


Enim consilium Lucae fuit,” for it was the purpose of God.

Next: Chapter 13