Upon a set day, etc. - A day on which games, etc., were exhibited in honor of the Roman emperor. What this refers to, we learn from Josephus. "Herod, having reigned three years over All Judea, (he had reigned over the tetrarchy of his brother Philip four years before this), went down to Caesarea, and there exhibited shows and games in honor of Claudius, and made vows for his health. On the second day of these shows, he put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture most truly wonderful, and came into the theater early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment, being illuminated by the first reflection of the sun' s rays, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those who looked intently upon him; and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another, ' He is a god:' and they added, ' Be thou merciful to us, for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature.' Nor did the king rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery. But, looking up, he saw an owl on a certain rope over his head, and immediately conceived that this bird was to him a messenger of ill tidings; and he fell into the deepest sorrow; a severe pain also arose in his bowels, and he died after five days' severe illness." This is the sum of the account given by Josephus, Ant. lib. xix. cap. 8, sect. 2. (See Whiston' s edition.) Notwithstanding the embellishments of the Jewish historian, it agrees in the main surprisingly with the account given here by St. Luke. Josephus, it is true, suppresses some circumstances which would have been dishonorable to this impious king; and, according to his manner, puts a speech in Herod' s mouth, when he found himself struck with death, expressive of much humility and contrition. But this speech is of no authority. When Josephus takes up and pursues the thread of mere historical narration, he may be safely trusted; but whenever he begins to embellish, or put speeches in the mouths of his actors, he is no longer to be credited. He even here transforms an angel of the Lord into an owl, and introduces it most improbably into his narration; as if an owl, a bird of all others that can least bear the light, should come and perch on the pavilion of the king, when the sun was shining with the most resplendent rays!
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