Bible Missing Out with Bernice

Missing Out with Bernice

A guest blog by Shawn Blythe

The opportunity to make a difference in any one person’s life can often be a singular event.  We cross paths with somebody only once and then both parties continue along their respective paths.  In some cases, the encounter may be memorable or even life-changing while in other cases the intersection is inconsequential and quickly forgotten.

Bernice crossed paths with Paul only once in Caesarea on or around the year 60 AD.  She had already experienced a great deal in her 32 years of life and would have even more adventures in the years following.  We are well acquainted with Paul’s life and missionary journeys up to this point – and his subsequent journey to Rome following this meeting from the Biblical record.  However, Bernice is only mentioned twice and, in both instances, simply related to her visit to Caesarea and subsequent encounter with Paul (Acts 25-26).  Her life story is documented by other historical records and is worth a brief look.

She was the eldest daughter of Herod Agrippa I.  Her father was a shrewd politician who successfully balanced the need to keep peace in Judea while at the same time enforcing Roman rule.  Although respected historically for this balance, he was less popular among Christians due to the fact that he had James (brother of John) executed and Peter arrested (Acts 12).

Bernice was married at the age of 13 to Marcus – but he died very soon after.  At age 16, she was married to her uncle (her father’s brother; Herod of Chalcis) and experienced the sudden death of her father (Acts 12).  She had two children with Herod before he also passed away therefore leaving Bernice a widow for the second time at the age of 22.  This is where things get a little interesting.

Bernice moves in with her brother (King Herod Agrippa II) and there are allegations of an incestuous relationship.  In an effort to put these rumors to rest, she marries Polemo of Cilicia – but this doesn’t last as she leaves him and returns to her brother shortly thereafter.

It is during this time that she and her brother King Agrippa travel to Caesarea to meet the new governor of the area, Festus.  While there, Festus raises the issue of what to do with Paul (who had been left prisoner by his predecessor Felix as a favor to the Jews).  Agrippa asks to hear from Paul directly and it is arranged for the following day (Acts 25-26).

Although Bernice is not recorded as having participated in the verbal exchange, she is obviously present and would have had the opportunity to hear everything.  She would have heard Paul’s testimony and Festus’ interruption that Paul was out of his mind.  She would have heard Paul’s direct question to her brother regarding his belief in the prophets and Agrippa’s response regarding Paul’s attempts to convert him to Christianity in such a short period of time.  Finally, she would have heard Paul’s prayer that all those listening might become believers.  This is the pivotal moment.  If this were a film, there would be a building crescendo of music as Bernice considers the invitation to believe and makes the decision that will chart the course for the rest of her life.

The result would be a letdown.  Although hearing her brother admit that Paul had done nothing deserving further punishment, the invitation to a personal relationship with Christ remains unanswered.  Bernice leaves Paul behind and returns to her personal ambitions and plans.

During a period of persecution of the Jewish people in Judea several years later, Bernice attempts to intercede.  However, this effort ultimately fails as the Jewish insurrectionists revolt and eventually defeat the Roman 12th legion at the Battle of Beth-Horon in 66 AD.   As one might expect, the Romans did not take kindly to this devastating defeat and dispatched Vespasian to Judea with the 5th and 10th Roman legions within a year.  His son Titus joined him with the 15th Roman legion.  This combined force overwhelmed Jewish defenses and ultimately conquered Jerusalem by AD 70.

This is where Bernice reappears in the historical record.  Somewhere between Titus’ arrival in AD 67 and the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, she falls in love with him.  However, when Titus returns to Jerusalem, Bernice is left behind in Judea and does not join him until AD 75 when she effectively moves in with him and acts as his wife.  However, Bernice was not well-liked by the Romans, and she is eventually sent away.  Upon Titus’ ascension to emperor in 79 AD following his father Vespasian’s death, Bernice returns again – but is sent away for a second time and disappears from the historical record.

Bernice was an extremely accomplished and powerful woman of her time.  She leveraged her royal heritage, weathered some difficult times during her first two marriages and overcame a real or perceived incestuous relationship with her brother to eventually position herself as the potential wife of a future emperor of Rome.

Perhaps her ability to accomplish her goals by herself made Paul’s message less relevant for her.  It is not an unusual scenario and one in which the Israelites found themselves repeatedly.  Success breeds self-confidence and self-confidence reduces our reliance on God.  It is only when we find ourselves in untenable situations that we call out to God as a savior of last resort.  But in this case, we have no evidence that Bernice ever even considered God at all.

Perhaps she agreed with Festus and assumed that Paul was out of his mind.  Perhaps Paul’s message was simply the minutia of local politics to her.  Or perhaps she wasn’t listening at all and was already thinking about her next engagement for the day.  Regardless of the reason, Paul did his job and sowed the seed, but Bernice did not receive it.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can all recognize the pivotal moment in Bernice’s life that was entirely missed.  Bernice – in all her pomp – is the one who is relegated to obscurity; and it is Paul – the one in chains – who is remembered.

It is a cautionary tale for us when we feel that we have our lives well under control.  We have our goals, our plans, and are experiencing success or are on our way to success.  It is often in this moment that we find little need for God.  However, it was in this moment that Bernice missed the most important message of all.  When we are the ones on top of the world with our successes and accomplishments, we should pay careful attention to the messages from the poor and powerless.

And when we are the poor and powerless, we should remember that we are only poor and powerless in our own eyes – in God’s eyes we are His beloved children with a message to deliver.  There are opportunities to share the love of Christ and we should not miss them because we feel we are inadequate, irrelevant, or incapable.  We have been made in the image of God.  Who are we to judge our ability to accomplish what God himself has equipped us to do?

We'd love for you to

Get Connected today

Let us know some info, and we'll follow up with you asap. If you have questions, need prayer, or want to take a next step of faith at Central, let us know below.
[contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]