Last week we looked at godly disciples who warned Paul of what was to come if he went to Jerusalem. In today’s episode of All God’s Women we continue in that thread and discover that the disciples were right. Paul was attacked and brought to trial. Two sisters, Bernice and Drusilla took part in his trial.
Bernice and Drusilla were the great granddaughters of Herod the Great who tried to kill baby Jesus. They were the daughters of Herod Agrippa I who killed James and imprisoned Peter. And they were the nieces of Herod Antipas who killed John the Baptist. Theirs was a vile family and the sisters followed in the family footsteps.
We’re introduced to Drusilla when she appears with her husband Felix at Paul’s trial. Felix was the Roman governor charged with ruling what to do with Paul.
Acts 24:24-25 says, “And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, ‘Go away for now: when I have a convenient time I will call for you.’”
Verse 26 lets us know that Felix was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, but when he didn’t, Felix kept him in prison until he could figure out what to do with him. In the meantime, Felix sent for him often and conversed with him. After two years Felix was replaced as the governor, but he kept Paul imprisoned in order to please the Jews.
Porcius Festus succeeded Felix. As the new governor, he invited the Jews who had issue with Paul to present their case and called in Paul to hear what they had to say. The Jews laid down a long list of unsubstantiated complaints with Paul refuting, saying that he had done nothing against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple nor against the Roman government.
Since Paul insisted he was innocent of any wrongdoing. Festus was forced to send him on to Caesar to appeal his case to him. In the meantime, King Agrippa and his sister Bernice came to call on Festus. Bernice was Drucilla’s older sister. During their stay, Festus told them about Paul’s perplexing case. Festus had expected the Jews to accuse him of actual crimes. Instead, their concern was over a dead man named Jesus whom Paul affirmed to be alive. Intrigued, Agrippa said he would like to hear from Paul himself.
The next day Agrippa and Bernice arrived with great pomp and circumstance and entered the auditorium with the commanders and prominent men of the city. Festus announced that he had found no charges to accuse Paul of. Perhaps they could find something since it seemed unreasonable to send a prisoner to Caesar without any specific charges against him.
Paul stretched out his hand, thanked King Agrippa for listening to him since Agrippa was a Jew and would understand the customs and questions that the Jews had.
Paul shared about his upbringing as a devout Jew, that he lived as a Pharisee, but now he was being accused by the Jews because he believed that God raised the dead. He recounted his persecution of the early Christians, his Damascus road experience, and his life as a believer. When he said that Christ would bring light to the Jewish people as well as the Gentiles, Festus interrupted him.
“Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!” (Acts 26:24 NKJV)
Paul denied his accusation, pointing out that King Agrippa knew that what he was saying was the truth.
Agrippa responded by saying that Paul almost persuaded him to become a Christian.
The governor, king, and Bernice talked over all that Paul shared and agreed that he’d done nothing deserving of death or chains. But they couldn’t free him since he’d appealed to Caesar.
The Rest of the Story
That’s all that’s recorded about Drusilla and Bernice in the Bible. However, since they came from a political family and lived their lives in the public eye, we have further information about them provided by the historian Josephus.
He tells us that Bernice was the oldest daughter but Drusilla was more lovely, and the two sisters hated each other.
Bernice was first married to Marcus. Then she married her uncle Herod. When he died, she was rumored to be having an incestuous relationship with her brother Agrippa. She then married King Ptolemy of Sicily, but quickly grew tired of him and returned to her brother. She also had an affair with Vespasian, then his son Titus.
As a young teen Drusilla married King Aziz. But then Felix seduced her and convinced her to leave her husband and marry him. According to Josephus, Drusilla and her only child died in Pompeii twenty years later when they tried to escape the volcanic explosion. They waited too late, though, and were buried in the lava.
Wow! What a soap opera life these two sisters lived.
So what can we learn from Bernice and Drusilla?
Obviously, these girls were not raised in a godly home. Though Jewish, they knew nothing about God’s love, only his wrath. Even so, they made choices that went against everything the Jews believed in. They lived shameless lives, flaunting their lack of morals.
Both sisters were given the opportunity to hear Paul’s testimony. They were there when he presented the gospel. As they heard about his miraculous salvation experience, how God had taken a Jewish murderer and saved him, they should have realized that God could do the same for them.
Instead, they chose to dismiss Paul as being irrelevant to their lives. They missed out on a new life because they were too caught up in their sinful lives.
Have you been guilty of the same? Do you gloss over Scripture that challenges you? Do you mock anything that condemns your personal sins? When faced with spiritual truths, do you accept them or reject them?
We make choices every day of our lives. Some are inconsequential. Others are life changing. Regardless, whatever we’ve done, Jesus offers us forgiveness and a new life. We don’t have to remain in the tangled web we’ve woven. He offers us a way out.
I challenge you today to read through Paul’s testimony in this week’s Scripture passages. Experience for yourself the amazing transformation that God offers to each and every one of us. Regardless of your past, He can give you a bright future. Won’t you see for yourself the difference He can make?
Lord God, thank You for making Your love and forgiveness available to anyone who asks. Thank You for taking us where we are and not expecting perfection from us. Thank You for never giving up on us. Open our eyes to the things we do that draw us away from You. Take us by the hand and lead us to where we need to be. Forgive us each time we fail. Give us the courage and strength to resist temptation. We love You. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Tune in next week when we look at Phoebe and the other women
mentioned by Paul in the book of Romans.
Backstory: Acts 21:27-40; 23:1-35; 24:1-23
Their Story: Acts 24:24-27; 25:1-27; 26
Bible Study Review
- Who were Bernice and Drusilla’s relatives?
- Who was Drusilla married to?
- What was the main problem the Jews had with Paul?
Thoughts to Ponder
- What did the sisters have in common?
- How might they have impacted Paul’s imprisonment?
- What impact did Paul’s words have on the sisters?
- Are you making wise choices in your life right now?
- How do you react when confronted with spiritual conviction?
- What can you learn from Bernice and Drusilla?
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