Herod’s death is recorded in Acts 12, and the Jewish historian, Josephus, also records the same. He describes this occasion when Herod met with the people of Tyre and Sidon in what we now call Lebanon. These people were dependent upon Judea, and especially upon Galilee, for food. So when the king came out, dressed in his royal robes, they flattered him. When he spoke to them they cried out, “Why, this is a voice of a god, and not a man!” And this pompous, vain king believed them. It is almost incredible — the tragic, twisted mentality of a man like this, who could actually believe that he had so much power that he had become a god.
But this was not uncommon in those days, nor is it in our own day. This, of course, is exactly what happens in any man’s mentality when he begins to think of himself as what we call a “self-made” man. Sometimes you talk to men who own a lot of property and they will tell you, “Well, I worked for it. I produced it all myself. Nobody helped me.” They are falling into the same tragic error as this vain and fatuous king who imagined that he had power in himself to operate. But Luke tells us that he was immediately stricken by an angel of the Lord, and he was eaten of worms and died. I do not know what Luke’s exact diagnosis is here, but some sudden catastrophe befell Herod and, as Josephus tells us, within two or three days he died.
What does this mean? This is God’s way of demonstrating the ultimate folly of the person who thinks that he can live without God, who thinks that we are not dependent people. This is the tragedy of mankind. You can frequently discern from listening to others that, as a people, we imagine that we have what it takes to produce all that life requires, and that we do not need anyone or anything else — especially God. The great tragedy is that, more often than not, in a sense, we are saying to God, “Please, God, I’d rather do it myself!” We want to do it all ourselves. But God often strikes to remind us that our very life, our very breath, all that we have and are, is coming from him, and that we are fools to think that we can exist and live, act and react, on our own. This episode shows how blinded, how distorted, how tragically twisted becomes the thinking of men who depart from a sense of dependence upon God.