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1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.
Ver. 1. Now about that time ] That the famine lay sore upon the Church. Afflictions seldom come single. The saints usually fall into various temptations at once, James 1:2 . Fluctus fluctum trudit. Job’s messengers tread one upon the heels of another.
Herod the king ] Nephew to Herod the Great, brother to Herodias, and father to that Agrippa, Acts 25:13 .
2 And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
Ver. 2. And he killed James the brother ] So styled to distinguish him from the other James, called James the Less, kinsman to Christ, and bishop of Jerusalem, as the ancients style him. (Chrysost. Hom. xxxiii, in Act.) It was wonder that Herod killed no more, seeing this took so well with the people, whose favour he coveted. When Stephen the protomartyr of the Church was stoned, Dorotheus testifieth that two thousand other believers were put to death the same day; but God hath set bounds to that sea of malice that is in persecutors’ hearts, which they cannot go beyond: Psalms 76:10 ; "The remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain."
3 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)
Ver. 3. And because he saw, &c. ] Seianus ferox scelerum, quia prima provenerunt, saith Tacitus. It is an old trick of tyrants to curry favour with the wicked, by shedding the blood of the godly.
4 And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
Ver. 4. To bring him forth to the people ] But God had otherwise determined. Sciat Cels. Vestra, saith Luther in a letter to the Elector of Saxony, et nihil dubitet longe aliter in caelo quam Norimbergae de hoc negotio conclusum esse, i.e. God in heaven hath decreed otherwise of this business than the emperor hath at Nuremberg; and the will of the Lord must be done, when all is done. "Yet have I set my King," &c., Psalms 2:6 .
5 Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
Ver. 5. Earnest prayer was made ] Oratio sine malis, est ut avis sine alis. These good souls strained and stretched out themselves in prayer εκτενης , as men do that are running in a race, Puriores coelo afflictione facti, as Chrysostom saith of them.
6 And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.
Ver. 6. Peter was sleeping ] As having cast himself into God’s everlasting arms. So did David, Psalms 3:5 . So did Mr Rogers, our protomartyr in Queen Mary’s days, when he was warned suddenly to prepare for the fire, he then being found asleep, scarcely with much shogging could be awakened; at length being raised and bidden to make haste, then (said he) if it be so, I need not to tie my points.
7 And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him , and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.
Ver. 7. And a light shined in the prison ] Gr. εν τω οικηματι , in the habitacle or conclave. So Solon first called the prison at Athens. So Petronius told Csesar he had rather be with Cato εν οικηματι , in the prison house, than with him in the senate house.
And he smote Peter on the side, &c. ] Cuthbert Simon, a martyr in Queen Mary’s days, about midnight, being in prison (whether in a slumber or awake, I cannot tell, saith Mr Fox), heard one coming in, first opening the outward door, then the second, afterward the third, and so looking in to the said Cuthbert, having no candle or torch that he could see, but giving a brightness or light most comfortable to his heart, saying Ha unto him, and departed again. Who it was he could not tell, nor I dare define. This that he saw he declared often to many; at the sight whereof he received such joyful comfort, that he also expressed no little solace in telling and declaring the same.
His chains fell from off his hands ] Prisoners were bound with one or two chains to one or two soldiers, who (as keepers) were also bound with the same chains.
8 And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.
Ver. 8. And follow me ] See here how by degrees (and not all at once) God oftentimes sendeth forth his prisoners (his afflicted ones) out of the pit wherein is no water, Zechariah 9:11 . He is a "God of judgment," and waits a fit time to deal forth his favours, Isaiah 30:18 ; he crumbles his mercies, as the cloud dissolves drops rain upon the earth; we have his blessings by retail, to maintain commerce and communion between him and us. Have patience, therefore, and wait for full deliverance. We know not what we lose by making haste, and not holding up our hands, as Moses did, to the going down of the sun. If God have begun to enlarge us, he will in due time do it to the full. If we should not be in straits sometimes, God should have "no tribute from us;" as those malignants suggested against those returned captives, Ezra 4:13 .
9 And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision.
Ver. 9. And wist not that it was true ] So Psalms 126:1 . God is often better to his than their hopes, and doth exceeding abundantly for them above all that they can ask or think, Ephesians 3:20 . He will do so much more when they come to heaven; for then, oh, the unutterable ecstasies! At first sight, surely
" Claudicat ingenium, delirat linguaque, mensque. "
10 When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.
Ver. 10. When they were passed ] God could have delivered him all at once; but he knew that cito data cito vilescunt, Lightly come by is lightly set by. He would have us also to weigh well the several passages and circumstances of our deliverance, that he may have the honour of all. Hence those catalogues in Scripture, with an enumeration of particulars. See Trapp on " Act 12:8 "
11 And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.
Ver. 11. Now I know of a surety ] Faith cannot he idle, or ungrateful for benefits received. If Peter have none else to tell it to, he will tell himself what God had done for him by his angel; and what great cause he had to be really and substantially thankful. So doth David, Psalms 103:1-4 , &c. A good man can never be alone; for, in defect of other company, he can fruitfully converse with himself, and commune with his own conscience, and thereupon lift up many a humble, joyful, and thankful heart to God.
12 And 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 praying.
Ver. 12. Where many were gathered together praying ] Great is the force of joint prayer, when Christians set upon God quasi manu facta, as in Tertulllan’s time, they sacked and ransacked heaven by their prayers. Preces fundimus, caelum tundimus, misericordiam extorquemus, saith he. We beseech not God only, but we besiege him too; we beg not barely, but bounce at heaven’s gates.
13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda.
Ver. 13. To hearken ] Before she opened, lest some pursuivant or such like evil angel at that time of the night should have haunted them. Opposition is Evangelii genius, the life of the church, saith Calvin, Piety is no target against persecution.
14 And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate.
Ver. 14. She opened not the door for gladness ] For "fear and great joy," as those other good women, Matthew 28:8 , who had their passions; which stoics allow not in their wiseman, nor popish padres in their wretched novices.
15 And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel.
Ver. 15. It is his angel ] Or, it is his messenger, or one come from him. See a like place, Luke 7:24 . Angels use not to stand at door and knock, and wait for an opening. Fernelius (holding that each saint hath his angel-guardian) tells us out of the rabbins, that Adam’s angel was called Raziel, Abraham’s Zachiel, Isaac’s Raphael, Jacob’s Peniel, and Moses’ Metraton. But this may as well pass for a Jewish fable.
16 But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door , and saw him, they were astonished.
Ver. 16. But Peter continued knocking ] He flung not away in displeasure, because not at first knock admitted. We must also continue instant in prayer. The hand of faith never knocked in vain at the gate of grace; but then, it "maketh not haste," it can willingly wait in hope of a good use and issue of all; yea, it can be content to want that particular blessing it would have; as knowing that God’s people shall reap if they faint not; they shall certainly have their prayers out, either in money or money’s worth.
17 But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.
Ver. 17. And he departed and went ] Cedendum quidem interdum furori, sed ita ut nihilo negligentius fiat opus Domini, saith Beza here; who also proves that he went not now to Rome, as the Papists would have it; though Bellarmino holds it not de fide, concerning the faith, that he was ever there.
18 Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter.
Ver. 18. There was no small stir ] Huddle or hubbub, ταραχος , with fear and care how they should answer it; but this was but part of their punishment, and the least part too; there was a worse matter followed, Acts 12:19 . Lo, so it fareth with all graceless persons. They are not without their crosses here, but the worst is behind. What they feel here is but a typical hell, a foretaste of eternal torment. All their present sufferings are but as drops of wrath forerunning the great storm, a crack foregoing the ruin of the whole house. The leaves only of the tree fall upon them here; the tree itself will shortly fall upon them, and crush them to pieces.
19 And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there abode.
Ver. 19. That they should be put to death ] This was just in God, but unjust in Herod. He is safest that hath least to do with tyrants.
20 And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king’s chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king’s country .
Ver. 20. Because their country, &c. ] Should not God’s manifold mercies move us to make peace with him? Will he not else curse our blessings, and destroy us "after that he hath done us good?" Joshua 24:20 .
21 And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.
Ver. 21. And upon a set day ] When there were solemn shows and plays acted in honour of Caesar. God picks out his time to be avenged on his enemies, then when it may be most for his glory and their utter confusion.
Herod arrayed in royal apparel ] In cloth of silver, saith Josephus, which being beaten upon by the sunbeams, dazzled the people’s eyes, and drew from them that blasphemous acclamation, Hunc homines decorant, quem vestimenta decorant, ειματα ανηρ . The most (as it is said of the Bohemian cur) fawn upon a good suit. It was a fault of old, James 2:3 .
22 And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.
Ver. 22. It is the voice of a god ] ηδιστον ακουσμα επαινος , saith Xenophon. Men naturally hear nothing with more delight than their own commendation; fair words make fools vain, put them into their paradise. How much better Charles V, who coming to Paris, and entertained with a speech by one of the king’s counsellors, that tended much to his commendation; answered, Ideo sibi gratam esse orationem quod eum commone fecisset quod talis esse deberet, i.e. That the orator rather taught him what he ought to be than told him what he had been.
23 And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.
Ver. 23. Because he gave not glory ] Joseph is trusted with all Potiphar’s goods, not with his wife: Glory is God’s beloved Spouse; in the enjoying whereof he is a jealous God, admitting no co-rivul, in heaven or earth,Isaiah 42:8; Isaiah 42:8 ; to look upon it, and lust after it, is to commit spiritual adultery with it in our hearts.
And he was eaten of worms ] σκωληκοβρωτος . Or with lice, as his grandfather Herod had been before him; as the tyrant Maximinus (who had set forth his proclamation engraven in brass, for the utter abolishing of Christ and his religion) was after him. a So was Philip II, king of Spain, who swore he had rather have no subjects than Lutheran subjects. And when he had very narrowly escaped drowning in a shipwreck, he said he was delivered by the singular providence of God to root out Lutheranism; which he presently began to do, &c. But God was even with him soon after. See Scriban. de Institut. Princip. xx. An evil end also befell Diagoras the atheist; who when he had made a famous oration against a deity, the people came applauding him, and said he had almost persuaded them, but only they thought that if any were God, he was for his eloquence’ sake; whereupon this wretch, like Herod, was content to be thought a god; which soon wrought his ruin. Good therefore is the counsel of the apostle, "Let us not be desirous of vain glory," of popular applause; which what is it else but a blast of stinking breath, a meteor that liveth in the air, a Magnum nihil, a glorious fancy,Galatians 5:26; Galatians 5:26 ; and if derogatory to God’s honour, as here, it proves pernicious and destructive.
And gave up the ghost ] His death was precationis opus potius quam morbi, as it was said of Arius the heretic, who was brought to confusion by the prayers of Alexander the good bishop of Constantinople. (Socrat. lib. i. cap. 15.) Josephus saith, Herod at his death much complained of the people’s vanity in deifying him. But no man is flattered by another that hath not first flattered himself.
a Sic et Sulla pediculari morbo periit. Plutarch.
24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.
Ver. 24. But the word of God ] The Church is invincible; and truth may be oppressed a while, but not utterly suppressed. The Israelites never increased so as when Pharaoh kept them under. Fish thrive best in salt waters. The ground that is most harrowed is most fruitful. Camomile, the more you tread it the more you spread it, and the palm tree’s posy is, Nec premor nec perimor. Neither overwhelmed nor destroyed. All the power of the empire could not prevail against Luther.
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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Acts 12". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29