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12. Peter's Escape From Prison
1Now about that time Herod the king put forth his hands to afflict certain of the church. 2And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3And when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. And those were the days of unleavened bread. 4And when he had taken him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to guard him; intending after the Passover to bring him forth to the people. 5Peter therefore was kept in the prison: but prayer was made earnestly of the church unto God for him. 6And when Herod was about to bring him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and guards before the door kept the prison. 7And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shined in the cell: and he smote Peter on the side, and awoke him, saying, Rise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. 8And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And he did so. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. 9And he went out, and followed; and he knew not that it was true which was done by the angel, but thought he saw a vision. 10And when they were past the first and the second guard, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth into the city; which opened to them of its own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and straightway the angel departed from him. 11And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a truth, that the Lord hath sent forth his angel and delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews. 12And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together and were praying. 13And when he knocked at the door of the gate, a maid came to answer, named Rhoda. 14And when she knew Peter's voice, she opened not the gate for joy, but ran in, and told that Peter stood before the gate. 15And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she confidently affirmed that it was even so. And they said, It is his angel. 16But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened, they saw him, and were amazed. 17But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him forth out of the prison. And he said, Tell these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went to another place. 18Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter. 19And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the guards, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and tarried there. 20Now he was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: and they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king's chamberlain their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was fed from the king's country. 21And upon a set day Herod arrayed himself in royal apparel, and sat on the throne, and made an oration unto them. 22And the people shouted, saying, The voice of a god, and not of a man. 23And immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost. 24But the word of God grew and multiplied. 25And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministration, taking with them John whose surname was Mark.
1. Here followeth new persecution raised by Herod. We see that the Church had some short truce, that it might, as it were, by a short breathing, recover some courage against the time to come, and that it might then fight afresh. So at this day there is no cause why the faithful, having borne the brunts of one or two conflicts, should promise themselves rest, 748748 “Perpetuam. quietem,” perpetual rest. or should desire such a calling 749749 “Vacationem,” discharge. as old overworn soldiers use to have. Let this suffice them if the Lord grant them some time wherein they may recover their strength. This Herod was Agrippa the greater, [elder,] the son of Aristobulus, whom his father slew. Josephus doth no where call him Herod, it may be, because he had a brother who was king of Chalcis, whose name was Herod. This man was incensed to afflict the Church not so much for any love he had to religion, as that by this means he might flatter the common people which did otherwise not greatly favor him; or rather, he was moved hereunto with tyrannical cruelty, because he was afraid of innovation, which tyrants do always fear, lest it trouble the quiet estate of their dominion. Yet it is likely that he did shed innocent blood, that, according to the common craft of kings, he might gratify a furious people; because St. Luke will shortly after declare that Peter the apostle was put into prison that he might be a pleasant spectacle.
He killed James. Undoubtedly the cruelty of this mad man was restrained and bridled by the secret power of God. For assuredly he would never have been content with one or two murders, and so have abstained from persecuting the rest, but he would rather have piled up martyrs upon heaps, unless God had set his hand against him, and defended his flock. So when we see that the enemies of godliness, being full of fury, do not commit horrible slaughters, that they may mix and imbrue all things with blood, let us know that we need not thank their moderation and clemency for this; but because, when the Lord doth spare his sheep, he doth not suffer them to do so much hurt as they would. This Herod was not so courteous, that he would stick to win peace or the people’s favor with the punishment of an hundred men or more.
Wherefore, we must think with ourselves that he was tied by one that had the rule over him, that he might not more vehemently oppress the Church. He slew James, as, when any sedition is raised, the heads and captains go first to the pot, 750750 “In duces et capita animadverti solet,” punishment is usually inflicted on the heads and captains. that the common riff-raft may by their punishment be terrified. Nevertheless, the Lord suffered him whom he had furnished with constancy to be put to death, that by death he might get the victory as a strong and invincible champion. So that the attempts of tyrants notwithstanding, God maketh choice of sweet-smelling sacrifices to establish the faith of his gospel. Luke calleth this games which was slain the brother of John, that he may distinguish him from the son of Alpheus. For whereas some make him a third cousin of Christ’s, who was only some one of the disciples, I do not like of that, because I am by strong reasons persuaded to think that there were no more. Let him that will, repair to the second to the Galatians. Therefore, I think that the apostle and the son of Alpheus were all one, whom the Jews threw down headlong from the top of the temple, whose death was so highly Commended for his singular praise of holiness.
3. Seeing that it pleased the Jews. It appeareth more plainly by this that Herod was not moved either with any zeal that he had to Moses’ law or with any hatred of the gospel, thus to persecute the Church; but that he might provide for his own private affairs, for he proceedeth in his cruelty that he may win the people’s favor; therefore we must know that there be diverse causes for which the Church is assaulted on every side. Oftentimes perverse zeal driveth the wicked headlong to fight for their superstitions, and that they may sacrifice an offering to their idols by shedding innocent blood; but the more part is moved with private commodities only, so in times past, at such time as Nero knew, after the burning of the city, that he was loathed and hated of the people, he sought by this subtle means to get into favor again, or, at least, he went about to stay their slanders and complaints, by putting certain thousands of the godly to death.
In like sort, that Herod may win the people’s favor, who did love him but a little, he putteth the Christians to death. as a price wherewith he might redeem their favor; and such is our estate at this day, for though all men run by troops upon the members of Christ, 751751 “Insaniant,” rage against. yet few are pooked 752752 “Incitat,” instigated by. forward with superstition; but some sell themselves to antichrist, like profitable bond-slaves; other some bear with, and commend the outrageous outcries of monks and the common people. But we, in the mean season, being abjects, must be glad to bear their mocks; yet there is one comfort which doth excellently keep us on foot, in that we know that our blood is precious in the sight of Almighty God, which the world cloth shamefully abuse; yea, the more shamefully and reproachfully the wicked do handle us, so much the less shall God’s goodness forsake us.
4. Adding four quaternions of soldiers. Luke doth, in this place, declare by circumstances that Peter was, as it were, shut up in his grave, so that it might seem that he was quite past hope; for as they divided the day and night into four parts by three hours, so Herod divided the watches, that four soldiers might always keep watch, and that one quaternion might succeed another every third hour. He showeth the cause why he was not forthwith put to death, because it had been an heinous offense to put him to death in the Easter holidays; therefore, Herod doth not delay the time as doubtful what to do, but doth only wait for opportunity; yea, he maketh choice of a time, when as his gift may be more plausible, because there came a great multitude together from all parts unto the holy day. 753753 “Ad diem festum,” to the feast, or festival.
5. But prayers were made. Luke teacheth here that the faithful did not, in the mean season, foreslow [neglect] their duty, Peter stood in the forward 754754 “In prima acie,” in the front rank, the van. alone; but all the rest fought with their prayers together with him, and they aided him so much as they were able. Hereby we do also gather, that they were not discouraged, for by prayer they testify that they persist so much as they are able in defense of the cause, for which Peter is in danger of life. This place teacheth, first, how we ought to be affected when we see our brethren persecuted by the wicked for the testimony of the gospel, for if we be slothful, and if we be not inwardly touched with their dangers, we do not only defy and them of the due duty of love, but also treacherously forsake the confession of our faith; and, assuredly, if the cause be common, yea, if they fight for our safety and salvation, we do not only forsake them, but even Christ and ourselves; and the present necessity requireth, that they be far more fervent in prayer than commonly they are, whosoever will be counted Christians. We see some of our brethren (being brought to extreme poverty) live in exile, others we see imprisoned, many cast into stinking dungeons, many consumed with fire, yea, we see new torments oftentimes invented, whereby being long tormented they may feel death. Unless these provocations sharpen our desire to pray, we be more than blockish; therefore, so soon as any persecution ariseth, let us by and by get ourselves to prayer.
Also, it is a likely thing that the Church took greater thought for Peter’s life, because they should have suffered great loss if he had gone. 755755 “In ejus morte,” in his death. Neither doth Luke say barely that prayer was made; but he addeth also, that it was earnest and continual, whereby he giveth us to understand that the faithful prayed not coldly or over fields; 756756 “Defunctorie,” perfunctorily. but so long as Peter was in the conflict, the faithful did what they could to help him, and that without wearisomeness. We must always understand the name of God, which is here expressed, whensoever mention is made of prayer in the Scripture, for this is one of the chiefest and first principles of faith, that we ought to direct our prayers unto God alone, as he challengeth to himself this peculiar worship, “Call upon me in the day of tribulation,” (Psalm 50:15.)
6. When he was about to bring him forth. It seemeth at the first blush that the Church prayeth to small purpose, for the day was now appointed wherein Peter should be put to death, and he is within one night of death, and yet the faithful cease not to pray, because they know that when the Lord doth purpose to deliver his, he taketh his time oftentimes in the last and farthest point of necessity, and that he hath in his hand diverse ways to deliver. Secondly, we may think that they did not so much pray for Peter’s life, as that the Lord would arm him with invincible fortitude, for the glory of the gospel, and that God would [not] set the gospel of his Son open to the reproaches and slanders of the wicked.
That night he slept. All these circumstances do more set forth the wonderful power of God, for who would not have thought that Peter was already swallowed up of death? for though he drew breath as yet, yet he had no chinch [chink] to creep out at, for as much as he was beset with many deaths. Therefore, whereas he escapeth from amidst deaths, whereas he goeth safely among the hands of his hangmen, whereas the chains are molten and are loosed, whereas the iron gate openeth itself to him; hereby it appeareth that it was a mere divine kind of deliverance, and it was profitable for Peter to be thus taught by these signs, that he might with more assurance forthwith declare unto men the grace of God thus known. Again, it appeareth by this strait keeping that Herod meant nothing less 757757 “Nihil Herocli fuisse minus in animo,” that there was nothing Herod less intended. than to let Peter go away alive.
7. A light shined, It is to be thought that Peter alone saw this light, and that the soldiers did either sleep so soundly, or else were so amazed, that they neither felt nor perceived any thing, And there might be two causes why God would have the light to shine; either that Peter might have the use thereof, and that the darkness might be no hindrance to him, or that it might be to him a sign and token of the heavenly glory. For we read oftentimes that the angels appeared with glistering brightness, even when the sun did shine, Assuredly, Peter might have gathered by the strange light that God was present, and also he ought to have made his profit thereof. When as the angel smiteth Peter’s side, it appeareth hereby what a care God hath for his, who watcheth over them when they sleep, and raiseth them when they are drowsy. And surely there were nothing more miserable than we, if the continuance of our prayers alone did keep God in his watching over us; for such is the infirmity of our flesh that we faint and quail, and we stand most of all in need of his help when our minds, being drawn away, do not seek him. Sleep is a certain image of death, and doth choke and drown all the senses, what should become of us if God should then cease to have respect to us? But forasmuch as when the faithful go to sleep, they commit their safety to God, it cometh to pass by this means, that even their sleep doth call upon God.
Whereas he saith, that immediately after the angel had said the word the chains were loosed, we gather by this, that there is power enough in the commandment of God alone to remove all manner [of] lets, when all ways seem to be stopt on all sides, so that if he intend to appease the motions and tumults of war, although the whole world were appointed in armor, their spears and swords shall forthwith fall out of their hands; on the other side, if he be determined to punish us and our sins with war, in a moment, (in the twinkling of an eye,) their minds, which were before given to peace, shall wax hot, and they shall lay hand on their swords. Whereas Luke setteth down severally both the words of the angel, and also the course of the matter, it serveth for the more certainty of the history, that it may in every respect appear that Peter was delivered by God.
9. He knew not that it was true. He did not think that it was a vain or false visor, as Satan doth oftentimes delude men with jugglings; but true is taken in this place for that which is done naturally and after the manner of men. For we must note the contrariety [antithesis] that is between the thing itself and the vision. Furthermore, though he think that it is a vision, yet doth he willingly obey; whereby his obedience is proved, whilst that being content with the commandment of the angel alone, he doth not inquire nor reason what he must de, but doth that which he is commanded to do.
10. When they were past. God was able to have carried Peter away in the turning of an hand; 758758 “Momento uno,” in one moment. but he overcometh diverse straits one after another, that the glory of the miracle might be the greater. So he created the world in six days, (Genesis 1.) not because he had any need of space of thee, but that he might the better stay us in the meditating upon his works, (Exodus 20:11,) for he applieth the manner of doing unto our capacity, and unto the increase of faith. If Peter had at a sudden been carried unto the house where the brethren were assembled, then should one only deliverance have been acknowledged, but now we see, as it were with our eyes, that he was delivered more than ten times.
11. Then Peter returning to himself. It is word for word, being made in himself, because, being before astonied with a strange and incredible thing, he was, as it were, without himself. But now at length, as it were after a trance, he knoweth that he is delivered from death. His words set down by Luke contain a thanksgiving; for he extolleth with himself the benefit of God which he had tried, [experienced,] and whereof he had tasted, and he doth highly commend it with himself, until he find some other witnesses. He saith that the angel was sent of God, according to the common meaning of the godly, who hold that the angels are appointed to be ministers, to be careful for, and to take charge of their safety; for unless he had been thus persuaded, he would not have spoken of the angel. And yet he doth not commend the angel as the author of the grace, but he ascribeth all the whole praise of the work to God alone, neither do the angels help us to this end, that they may derive unto themselves even the least jot of God’s glory. Whereas he saith that he was delivered out of the hand of Herod, he amplifieth the goodness and benefit of God, by the power of his enemy. To the same end tendeth that which he addeth of the Jews; for the greater the number of the enemies was, the more excellent was the grace of God toward his servant; for it is a great matter that God alone being favorable, the deadly hatred of all the whole world should come to nought.
12. Into the house of Mary It appeareth that she was a matron of rare godliness, whose house was, as it were, a certain temple of God, where the brethren did use to meet together. And Luke saith that there were many assembled there, because, seeing they could not all meet together in one place without fear of some tumult, they came together in diverse places of the city in companies, as they could conveniently. For, doubtless, there were other companies gathered together elsewhere, because it is not to be thought that (at such times as many of the faithful did give themselves to prayer) the apostles were not in like sort occupied, and one house could not hold so many. And we must always mark the circumstance of time, because, even in the heat of the enemy’s cruelty, the godly were, notwithstanding, assembled together. For if, at any time, this exercise be profitable, then is it most necessary when hard conflicts approach.
15. When he did knock at the gate. Whereas they think that the maid is mad, which telleth them that Peter was come; we gather by this, that they did not hope or look for Peter’s deliverance, and yet we will not say that they prayed without faith; because they looked for some other success, to with that Peter being armed with power from heaven, should be ready, whether it were by life or death, to glorify God, 759759 “Christi nomen,” the name of Christ. that the flock being terrified with the violent invasion of wolves might not be scattered abroad, that those that were weak might not faint, that the Lord would put away that whirlwind of persecution. But in that the Lord granteth them more than they hoped for, he surpasseth their desires with his infinite goodness. And now that which was done seemeth to them incredible, that they may be the more provoked to praise his power.
It is his angel. They call him his angel, who was by God appointed to be his keeper and the minister of his safety. In which sense Christ saith that the angels of little ones do always see the face of his Father, (Matthew 18:10.) And what do they gather hence commonly? that every particular man hath a particular angel, which taketh charge of him; but it is too weak. For the Scripture doth sometimes testify (Exodus 14:10) that there is one angel given to a great people, and to one man only a great host. For Elizeus [Elisha] his servant had his eyes opened, so that he saw in the air chariots of fire, which were appointed to defend the prophet, (2 Kings 6:17.) And in Daniel there is but one angel of the Persians, and one of the Grecians named, (Daniel 10:5, 12.) Neither doth the Scripture promise to every man a certain and peculiar angel, but rather that the Lord hath charged his angels to keep all the faithful, (Psalm 91:11;) also that they pitch their tents about the godly, (Psalm 34:8.) Therefore, that vain surmise which is common touching the two angels of every man is profane. Let this be sufficient for us, that the whole host of heaven doth watch for the safety of the Church; and that as necessity of time requireth sometimes one angel, sometimes more do defend us with their aid. Assuredly, this is inestimable goodness of God, in that he saith that the angels, who are the beams of his brightness, are our ministers.
17. Tell James and the brethren: By brethren I understand not every one that was of the Church but the apostles and elders. For though it were requisite that the miracle should be made known to all, yet will Peter worthily for honor’s sake, have his fellows in office to be certified thereof. Ecclesiastical writers after Eusebius report that this James was one of the disciples; but forasmuch as Paul reckoneth him in the number of the three pillars of the Church, (Galatians 2:9,) I do not think that a disciple was advanced to that dignity, and the apostles set aside. Wherefore, I do rather conjecture, that this was James the son of Alpheus, whose holiness was such, that it caused the Jews to wonder at it. And there be two reasons for which Peter would have this joyful message brought unto the brethren; to wit, that he might rid them of that care which did vex them; secondly, that they might be encouraged with such an example of God’s goodness to be the more bold. Whereas he passeth into another place, I think it was done for this cause, because, forasmuch as the house was well known and famous, because many of the brethren resorted thither, he might lie hid elsewhere with less danger. Therefore, he sought a place which was not so much suspected of the enemy, and that he might not only save himself, but also his hostess and others.
18. When it was day. Luke returneth now unto Herod and the soldiers; and he saith that there was no small ado amongst them. For they could not suspect that Peter was taken from them by violence, or that he was escaped by some subtle shift. Herod examineth the matter afterward as a judge; but when as he perceived that the soldiers were in no fault, he himself is also enforced to be a witness of the deliverance wrought by God. Whereas he commandeth them to be carried out of his sight, or to be carried to prison, we may thereby gather, that their faithfulness and diligence were approved and seen; for if there had been any suspicion of negligence, there was punishment prepared for them; but the cause why he doth not let them go free was partly rage, mixed with tyrannous cruelty, and partly shamefacedness. Though some expound it otherwise, that he commanded that they should be punished forthwith. 760760 “Extemplo ad Supplicium rapi,” that they should he immediately dragged off to execution. And whether, being angry, he delivered them to the hangman, or he was content to punish them with perpetual imprisonment, it is assuredly an excellent example of blindness, that whereas he ought to perceive the power of God, yea, though his eyes were shut, yet doth he not bend, neither doth he wax more meek, but proceedeth to resist God of obstinate malice. Thus doth Satan deprive the wicked of understanding, that in seeing they see not; and the Lord, by smiting them with this horrible amazedness, doth justly revenge himself and his Church.
20. A worthy 761761 “Memorabilis,” a memorable. 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,” (1 Peter 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, 762762 “Ut solus emineat,” that he alone may have the pre eminence. 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 763763 “Quibus obrepere suspieio poterat,” who might be led to suspect. 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, 764764 “Sed longa aliud fnit Dei consilium,” but very different was the purpose of God. 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,”
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, (Isaiah 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, 765765 “Obscurae fortunas,” of obscure origin. 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 766766 “Illis... importari,” be imported to them. 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. 767767 “Ut pacis esset interpres,” to intercede for peace. 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 768768 “Consulataret,” to salute him as. 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 769769 “Ludos celebraret,” celebrated games. 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, (1 Samuel 16:14) but the same did also befall holy Job, (Job 1:12; 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, (Exodus 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; 770770 “Liberalis et regia castigatio,” a dignified and royal chastisement. 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, (Exodus 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, (Isaiah 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,” (Isaiah 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, (Psalm 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, (Romans 8:37.) For Luke determined 771771 “Enim consilium Lucae fuit,” for it was the purpose of God. 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.