The other night I stepped off my porch and had the feeling I was being watched. I stopped and looked around, and there he was: a great horned owl! It was a majestic bird just perched and watching me. It was a little unsettling. He wasn’t anxious. The owl seemed to know it all. The great horned owl is mentioned in the Bible according to the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible:
Large owl, standing nearly two feet tall. The color is mouse gray with gray-brown spots and black stripes. As one of its names indicates, it has tufted “ears” and is sometimes called the great horned owl. It feeds on rodents, such as rats and mice. It winters in Israel among ruins and in groves. The great owl may be the owl mentioned in the Bible among the birds of desolation that will inhabit devastated Edom (Is 34:11 NASB margin).
That’s interesting but hardly inspiring. I don’t think I’ve ever preached about “devastated Edom.” On the other hand, according to Josephus, owls played a significant role in King Herod Agrippa I’s story.
Agrippa was raised in Rome and was a boyhood chum of the future Emperor Caligula. Once, as they were riding along in a carriage, Agrippa told him it was a shame that Emperor Tiberius was living so long. He wished Tiberius dead so Caligula could become Emperor. Sadly, the driver heard these words and reported them to Tiberius. The Emperor ordered the arrest of Agrippa, who was put in chains, even while Agrippa was wearing his royal purple robe. Later in chains, Agrippa was leaning against a tree amid the other prisoners on his way to prison. An owl was sitting in the tree, and a German prisoner told Agrippa: “I think it fit to declare to thee the prediction of the gods. It cannot be that thou shouldst long continue in these bonds; but thou wilt soon be delivered from them, and wilt be promoted to the highest dignity and power, and thou wilt be envied by all those who now pity thy hard fortune; and thou wilt be happy till thy death, and wilt leave thine happiness to the children whom thou shalt have.” Then the German prisoner warned Agrippa: “But, do thou remember, when thou seest this bird again, that thou wilt then live but five days longer.”
Shortly afterward, Tiberius died, and Caligula became Emperor. Caligula jokingly replaced the iron chains of Agrippa with one of solid gold, granted Agrippa his freedom, and ultimately made him the first Herodian king since his grandfather, Herod the Great.
Now we come to Acts chapter 12. Shortly after becoming king, Agrippa beheaded the Apostle James. Then he arrested the Apostle Peter intending to do the same. We know how an angel freed Peter. Later, in the same chapter, Agrippa appeared before an assembly in Caesarea. Josephus agrees with the book of Acts. The crowd called Agrippa a god, and King Agrippa was struck down with worms and died (Acts 12:20 – 24). Josephus adds these details. Agrippa appeared before the crowd in a silver robe. The sun was reflected off his robe as he was speaking and blinded the crowd. They declared Agrippa was a god, and the impious king didn’t deny it. Josephus goes on: “But, as he presently afterward looked up, he saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings, as it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him; and fell into the deepest sorrow. A severe pain also arose in his belly and began in a most violent manner.” Agrippa died.
My owl flew away silently in the darkness, as owls do, and I checked my stomach. No pain!