Acts 6:11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” Acts 6:13 They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; Acts 6:14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” Acts 7:1 Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?”
Acts 7:2 And he said, “Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, Acts 7:3 and said to him, ‘LEAVE YOUR COUNTRY AND YOUR RELATIVES, AND COME INTO THE LAND THAT I WILL SHOW YOU.’ Acts 7:4 “Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living. Acts 7:5 “But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that HE WOULD GIVE IT TO HIM AS A POSSESSION,AND TO HIS DESCENDANTS AFTER HIM. Acts 7:6 “But God spoke to this effect, that his DESCENDANTS WOULD BE ALIENS IN A FOREIGN LAND, AND THAT THEY WOULD BE ENSLAVED AND MISTREATED FOR FOUR HUNDRED YEARS. Acts 7:7 ” ‘AND WHATEVER NATION TO WHICH THEY WILL BE IN BONDAGE I MYSELF WILL JUDGE,’ said God, ‘AND AFTER THAT THEY WILL COME OUT AND SERVE ME IN THIS PLACE.’ Acts 7:8 “And He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs. Acts 7:9 “The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him, Acts 7:10 and rescued him from all his afflictions, and granted him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and all his household. Acts 7:11 “Now a famine came over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction with it, and our fathers could find no food. Acts 7:12 “But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers there the first time. Acts 7:13 “On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family was disclosed to Pharaoh. Acts 7:14 “Then Joseph sent word and invited Jacob his father and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five persons in all. Acts 7:15 “And Jacob went down to Egypt and there he and our fathers died. Acts 7:16 “From there they were removed to Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham had purchased for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem. Acts 7:17 “But as the time of the promise was approaching which God had assured to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt, Acts 7:18 until THERE AROSE ANOTHER KING OVER EGYPT WHO KNEW NOTHING ABOUT JOSEPH. Acts 7:19 “It was he who took shrewd advantage of our race and mistreated our fathers so that they would expose their infants and they would not survive. Acts 7:20 “It was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely in the sight of God, and he was nurtured three months in his father’s home. Acts 7:21 “And after he had been set outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and nurtured him as her own son. Acts 7:22 “Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds. Acts 7:23 “But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel. Acts 7:24 “And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. Acts 7:25 “And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand. Acts 7:26 “On the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?’ Acts 7:27 “But the one who was injuring his neighbour pushed him away, saying, ‘WHO MADE YOU A RULER AND JUDGE OVER US? Acts 7:28 ‘YOU DO NOT MEAN TO KILL ME AS YOU KILLED THE EGYPTIAN YESTERDAY, DO YOU?’ Acts 7:29 “At this remark, MOSES FLED AND BECAME AN ALIEN IN THE LAND OF MIDIAN, where he became the father of two sons. Acts 7:30 “After forty years had passed, AN ANGEL APPEARED TO HIM IN THE WILDERNESS OF MOUNT Sinai, IN THE FLAME OF A BURNING THORN BUSH. Acts 7:31 “When Moses saw it, he marvelled at the sight; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord: Acts 7:32 ‘I AM THE GOD OF YOUR FATHERS, THE GOD OF ABRAHAM AND ISAAC AND JACOB.’ Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look. Acts 7:33 “BUT THE LORD SAID TO HIM, ‘TAKE OFF THE SANDALS FROM YOUR FEET, FOR THE PLACE ON WHICH YOU ARE STANDING IS HOLY GROUND. Acts 7:34 ‘I HAVE CERTAINLY SEEN THE OPPRESSION OF MY PEOPLE IN EGYPT AND HAVE HEARD THEIR GROANS, AND I HAVE COME DOWN TO RESCUE THEM; COME NOW, AND I WILL SEND YOU TO EGYPT.’ Acts 7:35 “This Moses whom they disowned, saying, ‘WHO MADE YOU A RULER AND A JUDGE?’ is the one whom God sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush. Acts 7:36 “This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. Acts 7:37 “This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, ‘GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN.’ Acts 7:38 “This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you. Acts 7:39 “Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt, Acts 7:40 SAYING TO AARON, ‘MAKE FOR US GODS WHO WILL GO BEFORE US; FOR THIS MOSES WHO LED US OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT–WE DO NOT KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM.’ Acts 7:41 “At that time they made a calf and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. Acts 7:42 “But God turned away and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, ‘IT WAS NOT TO ME THAT YOU OFFERED VICTIMS AND SACRIFICES FORTY YEARS IN THE WILDERNESS, WAS IT, O HOUSE OF ISRAEL? Acts 7:43 ‘YOU ALSO TOOK ALONG THE TABERNACLE OF MOLOCH AND THE STAR OF THE GOD ROMPHA, THE IMAGES WHICH YOU MADE TO WORSHIP. ALSO WILL REMOVE YOU BEYOND BABYLON.’ Acts 7:44 “Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. Acts 7:45 “And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David. Acts 7:46 “David found favour in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. Acts 7:47 “But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. Acts 7:48 “However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says: Acts 7:49 ‘HEAVEN IS MY THRONE, AND EARTH IS THE FOOTSTOOL OF MY FEET; WHAT KIND OF HOUSE WILL YOU BUILD FOR ME?’ says the Lord, ‘OR WHAT PLACE IS THERE FOR MY REPOSE? Acts 7:50 ‘WAS IT NOT MY HAND WHICH MADE ALL THESE THINGS?‘ Acts 7:51 “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Acts 7:52 “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; Acts 7:53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” (Acts 7:2-53)
Make sure you pay careful attention to what is said in the context of the allegations made against him. Remember, the focus of the allegations are that Stephen was blaspheming against Moses and God and was speaking against “this holy place”and the Law and the customs of Moses.
1. Speaking against this holy place.
In what way was Stephen always speaking against the Holy Place? We don’t actually know what he had to say before this account that he gave, but we must assume it was in the same vein as his summary given before the Council. Stephen makes no comment at all about the nature and the pattern of the tabernacle. He doesn’t challenge the use of the temple as the Holy Place of God. Remember he was a Hellenist – a Greek speaking follower who had come to accept the Hebrew way of doing things. So what did he have to say about the tabernacle and about Moses? Well he doesn’t say all that much about Moses as such but he does take a long hard look at the Patriarchs and of course he has some things to say about the Holy Place – the Temple. However, he expands his comments on the Temple to include its beginnings as the Tent of Meeting and the Tabernacle.
Let me summarise his points for you:
- Our father Abraham was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran,
- He left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran.
- From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living.
- Act 7:5 “But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground,
- Abraham became the father of Isaac,
- Isaac became the father of Jacob,
- Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.
- The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt.
- Joseph was made governor over Egypt
- Jacob sent our fathers there (Egypt) the first time.
- Joseph sent word and invited Jacob his father and all his relatives to come to him,
- Jacob went down to Egypt and there he and our fathers died.
- From there they were removed to Shechem and laid in the tomb
- It was at this time that Moses was born
- Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and nurtured him as her own son.
- Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians,
- MOSES FLED AND BECAME AN ALIEN IN THE LAND OF MIDIAN, where he became the father of two sons.
- AN ANGEL APPEARED TO HIM IN THE WILDERNESS OF MOUNT Sinai,
- At the BURNING THORN BUSH – THE PLACE ON WHICH YOU ARE STANDING IS HOLY GROUND.
This Moses whom they disowned,
This is the Moses was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai,
THIS MOSES WHO LED US OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT
I WILL REMOVE YOU BEYOND BABYLON.’
“Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen.
Our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations . . . until the time of David.
David asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. Midian
The Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands;
‘HEAVEN IS MY THRONE, AND EARTH IS THE FOOTSTOOL OF MY FEET;
WHAT PLACE IS THERE FOR MY REPOSE?
Does that focus the point of Stephen’s argument with clarity and sharpness?
The members of Sanhedrin were constantly telling Israel’s story of how they were the chosen people and how God had given them the Temple and made Israel to be a great nation. They have now the magnificence of the Temple. They are the chosen nation and now all the Law and the Prophets are Jewish. Many are coming to them to be incorporated into the community of God. Stephen, a Hellenist, retells Jewish history with a particular emphasis. This is a Hellenist’s view of Jewish history but he is casting himself as Jewish to remind them of their roots. But he selectively told Israel’s story.
Our forefather Abraham came from Chaldea. He was Mesopotamian. After settling in Haran, God sent him to this land where you are now living – Israel. But God did not give him even so much as a foot of land as a downpayment on his inheritance or as proof of God’s promise to him and his descendants. “Not a foot of land.” Not even a square foot of land .” But the comment is even more powerful than that. I am not going to explain it at this point. I will leave the significance of it for a later time to give you time to dig on the phrase.
Stephen then lists the lineage of the Patriarchs – namely Abraham – Isaac – Jacob, through whom came the twelve patriarchs. Those illustrious Patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold their own brother into Egypt. All of our Patriarchs were resident in Egypt. Joseph was the one who was instrumental in them all being brought to Egypt and being saved by Joseph in Egypt. Jacob and our fathers died there. They brought back Jacob’s body to where? To Shechem! Where was Shechem? It was in the middle of Samaria. It was associated with the centre for false worship set up under the time of Jeroboam. There was nothing holy about Shechem in Jewish thinking.
Moses was born in this time frame. Stephen then reminds them of the relevant facts related to the great leader Moses. He was saved by the Pharaoh’s daughter and educated in the ways of the EGYPTIANS. Then he became an ALIEN in the land of Midian and had two sons there. It was there Moses had the experience of God speaking to him personally and telling him to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. Stephen could have said, “And where was this Holy Ground you speak of?” It was at Sinai in the land of Midian, not the promised land. The Holy Ground was outside of the Holy Land. This was where they had the Tabernacle of the Testimony of God’s Presence. In the midst of Midian. This great leader of ours which you remind us of constantly, was actually rejected by his people in the middle of Desert of Paran in the Wilderness of Sin. Born in Egypt, trained in Egypt, grew up in Midian and rejected in Paran.
And what has God had to say about all of this when David wanted to build a temple for His Dwelling Place?
The Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; ‘HEAVEN IS MY THRONE, AND EARTH IS THE FOOTSTOOL OF MY FEET; WHAT PLACE IS THERE FOR MY REPOSE?
How can you claim that any place is any more holy than any other, when our history and that of our ancestors makes it clear that God has led and established His Presence in places which ought to shock you? In fact He said, “Heaven is My dwelling place. The earth is but My footstool. Where then on earth is the place for Me to dwell?” Stephen is challenging the foundational concepts of God’s dwelling place and what makes a place Holy. Is it holy because it is in the Land of Promise? No, it is holy because God is there. Just look back and see where He has been present in past times.
Mesopotamia, Chaldea, Haran, Egypt, Shechem in Samaria (Jacob is buried there), Midian (among the Midianites, our hated enemies). And remember God didn’t give Abraham one foot of land in the Promised Land. Even the land where God spoke to Moses at the burning bush was outside the Promised Land.
Stephen was saying, I think you leaders have to rethink the idea of the Promised Land and what makes a place Holy. No wonder this made them agitated and calling for Stephen’s death.
It is impossible for a Christian to have a secular job. Doing things in church doesn’t make it holy. It was holy before that.Ian Vail
Holiness, not happiness, is the chief end of man.Oswald Chambers
When Jesus comes to live in our hearts, the seed of holiness is planted. We become the temple of the Holy Spirit because He dwells within us.Ian Vail
On the last day, God will not acquit us because our good works were good enough, but he will look for evidence that our good confession was not phoney.Kevin DeYoung
There are no cheerleaders on the way to holiness or godliness.Ian Vail
I’ll bring You more than a song for a song in itself is not what You have required. You search much deeper within, through the ways things appear, you’re looking into my heart. (Heart of Worship)Matt Redman