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Herod persecutes the Church. James is killed by him, and Peter put into Prison. An Angel of the Lord opens the Prison Doors, and delivers him. Herod 's awful Death.
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. (2) And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. (3) And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)
If the Reader at the opening of this Chapter, will consult the Poor Man's Commentary on Matthew 2:19 ; he will there observe, that this Herod was the fourth of that name, whose awful histories are shortly mentioned in the word of God. Not with a view to record their names, but their infamy. And, but for the carrying on the history of the Church, would not have been known even by name, in the present hour, but to a very few, if any. Their memorial is perished with them, Psalms 9:6 . He was deputy king, under Claudius Caesar, Emperor of Rome. This James, whom Herod killed, was one of the sons of Zebedee, concerning whom the Lord Jesus foretold, of his being baptized with his baptism, Matthew 20:22 . The Lord hath given in a single line the infamy of Herod's character. He had killed James; and because he saw it pleased the Jews, he would have killed Peter also. So that this thirsting for blood, was not even pretended to be on the least ground of justice, but to please blood-thirsty men, like himself. How very pointed are the words of the Holy Ghost, concerning the sure destruction of such characters. Whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not! 2 Peter 2:3 .
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. (5) Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
The days of unleavened bread mean the feast of the Passover; and as a great number of Jews were of course come up at Jerusalem on this occasion, Herod thought this a fine opportunity to gratify that people with the spectacle of the murder of Peter; and therefore he intended, as soon as their religious ceremonies were over, the Apostle should be brought forth. And thus this time-serving king was filling up the measure of his iniquity, Genesis 15:16 .
I pray the Reader to be very particular in observing, what is said of the unceasing prayer of the Church, for the preservation of Peter, The words in the margin of the Bible are: instant and earnest prayer was made without ceasing. An holy importunity with the Lord, such as would take no denial. Such as Jacob himself the father of all the praying seed of Israel used, when it is said, that he wept and made supplication unto him, Hosea 12:4 . Weeping, and then praying; and then at it again: wrestling again, with tears and prayers; and as one that was determined never to give over, until he obtained as at length he did obtain the object he desired. See the whole history, Genesis 32:24 etc. And it is worthy remark, the light in which the Lord regards such holy pleaders. He calls them Recorders; for so the word Mazkir means: Isaiah 62:6-7 . I beg the Reader to turn to the passage. He will find in the margin of his Bible, that to the Lord's watchmen, whom he hath commanded never to hold their peace, day nor night, the Lord saith; Ye that are the Lord's remembrancers, keep not silence; and give him no silence, until he hath established, and made Jerusalem a praise in the earth. And then follows the Lord's Oath. - I entreat the Reader to ponder this sweet Scripture well. And I entreat him to seek instruction from the Lord the Spirit, to a right apprehension of it. And when he hath thus done, I would ask him the question, (I do not decide,) whether there is not in the whole God the Father's oath and promise: Hebrews 6:17-18 . God the Son's finished salvation and intercession: (for both are implied in all real prayer): 1 John 2:1-2 , and God the Spirit's grace and supplication, as a spirit of both, poured out to lead the praying seed of Jacob to prayer, and help them in it; all included in this sweet portion, Zechariah 12:10 ; Romans 8:26 .
We that live in the present cold, prayerless generation, (and as it is to be feared, too often satisfy ourselves with heartless forms,) by reason of such prison frames as we pray in, can hardly figure to ourselves an idea of the holy importunity of those holy men of old. But were the Lord to bring on the Church, as in those days, an awful persecution like this of Herod, the faithful in Christ, would soon learn, in what soul-feeling prayer consisted.
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. (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. (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. (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. (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.
I need not attempt a comment where every word is so very plain? And sure I am, the simplicity of the history as here related, would lose its beauty, if I were to alter it by a needless explanation. But, I would observe, that the situation of Peter in this prison, hath been, and perhaps not unaptly considered, (besides its real history,) as a lively representation of the child of God before his conversion, when in the prison of sin and Satan. Like Peter he may be truly said to be sleeping between two soldiers; both law and justice bound with the two chains of sin and death; and the keepers, Satan and his hellish crew, before the door guarding their lawful prisoner. Lawful, it may be truly called; for he hath made our whole nature his lawful captive, by reason of our original and actual transgressions. For of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage, 2 Peter 2:19 . And hence that blessed question of the Lord, Isaiah 49:24-26 .
The Angel of the Lord delivering Peter from the prison is like the Lord the Spirit by regeneration, rousing a sinner from the slumber of death in sin: for before this glorious act is wrought, every child of God is sleeping in sin; yea, dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1 . But when the Lord the Spirit gives life to the soul, and he that was dead in sin, is made life in Christ; all chains fall from the poor sinner: for the Son of God having made him free, he shall be free indeed. He is at once delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son, John 8:36 ; Colossians 1:13 . And such is the mighty change wrought in his heart by grace, that, like Peter, the whole appears too good to be true, and for a while seems to be but a vision. He will indeed, being so enabled by the Lord, gird himself with strength in the Lord; bind on the garments of salvation, and his feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace: he will follow the Lord in the regeneration, through both the wards of providence, and grace; until he cometh to the iron gate of death, which leadeth to the city, and which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God. But here the subject varieth. For forth with the angel departed from Peter. But Jesus never departs from his redeemed; for all his delivered captives enter with him into the holy city, and abide with him forever.
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. (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. (13) And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. (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. (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. (16) But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished. (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 show these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.
This interview must have been particularly interesting. The Lord which brought Peter from the prison, no doubt directed his steps to the house of Mary the mother of Mark. See Colossians 4:10 . Here he found many of the Church at prayer for him (see Acts 12:5 ). The knocking at such an hour, and at such a time, as the night before the intended execution of Peter, must have excited wonderful apprehensions. Who shall describe what the different party felt? It seems they were all panic struck; for none ventured to go to the gate. At length a damsel went, perhaps chosen for this purpose, that whoever it was knocking, the voice of a mere child, might not convey an idea, that there was any fear within. Ye people of God! judge ye, for I cannot explain, how these things, and similar ones, sometimes operate in life. Oh! what a world of wonders will be explained at the great day of account! The name of Rhoda, which signifies Rose, would not have been memorable but from this circumstance. The situation of Peter, however, compelled him to be importunate. And when at length they opened the door, (for it should seem that the whole party went to do it,) what surprise it must have occasioned !
But, Reader! the grand point remains to be considered. Do not overlook, the blessed answers to prayer in Peter's deliverance. So gracious, so abundantly gracious was the Lord in this event, that they who were so earnest in prayers, did not believe the thing was done, when answers came to their prayers: so that the Lord far exceeded all their expectations. And oh! how often, both before and since, hath the Lord done so by all his people! See a beautiful proof of it in the Church of old, Psalms 126:0 throughout.
Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter. (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 Judea to Caesarea, and there abode. (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.
It is a question, more of curiosity than usefulness, where Peter went after he left the house of Mary, and where he secreted himself. It is enough for the Church to discover the Lord's gracious hand in delivering him at that time from Herod, and the expectation of the Jews. The Lord had other work for his servant to accomplish. But when that was over, Peter, like other men, proved to be vulnerable, 2 Peter 1:4 .
And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. (22) And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. (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.
Here we arrive at the close of Herod's pomp, in which we behold the sure end of iniquity. We see that in the very moment of all his pomp, and earthly grandeur, an Angel of God smiting the monster to the earth. And to distinguish him yet more, as one execrated both by God and man, he was eaten of worms, even before his death. It is the common sentence on human nature, by reason of sin, to return to the dust, out of which man was taken. But this hater of God, and persecutor of his people, shall have an end yet more despicable, and loathsome. He shall be eaten of worms while alive; a prelude to the everlasting devouring by that worm which dieth not, and in that fire which shall not be quenched. And if we may credit profane history, it is remarkable how many tyrants have died this death!
But the word of God grew and multiplied. (25) And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.
What a sweet relief to the mind from the perusal of the foregoing account, in the awful death of the Reprobate, is the relation here made, of the progress, and blessedness of the Church. Yes! thou dearest Jesus! thy Church must stand: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!
Reader! let not you and I overlook the wonderful success of prayer, in the case of Peter, as related in this Chapter. Oh! what cannot prayer accomplish, when awakened by the Spirit of the Lord? And let us not fail to remark, how very near sometimes the Lord permits the enemy to approach, and the apprehensions of his people to be exercised, before the Lord vouchsafeth his answer to prayer. The night was advanced, and the morning hastening on, which was to end the life of Peter, before that the prayers for the Apostle's deliverance were answered. So is it frequently with the Church. But there is a time to favor Zion. And that time, shall not fully run out, before the Lord's hour is come. Oh! the wonders of the Lord's timing; and the Lord's giving deliverance. And, oh! the exercises of the Lord's people, thereby to their good. In everyone the Lord speaks; I the Lord teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go!
What a lesson is here read, to the great and the mighty of the earth, of such as are enemies to God, and his Christ. Oh! how suddenly do they consume, perish, and come to a fearful end! Behold in Herod, the sad representation. It is the shout of a god, said the mistaken multitude. And before the shout was hardly ended, he shrieked, though unheard by them, the first shriek of his in hell. What a striking, but just account, the word of God gives, of such awful characters, Like Sheep, (said the Psalmist,) they are laid in the grave: death shall feed on them, and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning: and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling. He shall go to the generation of his fathers: they shall never see light. And where is that? Nay, where is it not? Peter saith; to the spirits which are in prison. And if they never see light, where can that be but hell? A land of darkness, as Job saith; as darkness itself, and of the shadow of death, without any order; and where the light is as darkness. Oh! for grace to know distinguishing grace, and to say with the same Psalmist: But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for he shall receive me.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Acts 12". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11