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.
2. Speaking against the Law and Moses
What is interesting throughout Stephen’s speech is that it is not divided into sections in order to answer each allegation one by one. Rather the points he makes are interwoven through what he has to say. Some comments he makes relate to both the matter of the Holy Place and the Law and Moses. While he doesn’t directly address the matter of speaking against Moses, comments related to Moses are interspersed throughout. It is not that Stephen is speaking against Moses. Never once does he speak of Moses in a blasphemous way. Rather he is gathering evidence or quotes from Moses and the Law which show these leaders that all leaders before them set themselves against Moses. It is rather ironic therefore, that the members of the Council assume the role of opposing Stephen and accusing him of blasphemy against Moses, when in actual fact, if anyone is opposing Moses it’s his accusers themselves. Not only that but Stephen was using evidence from the history of the patriarchs and Israel’s history to show as a nation, they and their leaders have continually set themselves against the purposes of God.
These illustrious forefathers (Patriarchs and leaders through the ages) have continually opposed the purposes of God. But note it is more than that. It is almost as though Stephen is demonstrating a link between Jesus, Joseph, Moses and all of the prophets. These leaders are all combined in the one category. The leaders and the people were unwilling to be obedient to anyone God sent to them. They opposed them, rejected and repudiated them and eventually killed them. There is an underlying sense in which all through the ages, they have not understood the plan of God and have set themselves against it. Stephen also weaves a thread of questioning the character of leaders down through the ages. He especially singles out the patriarchs for criticism. Those wonderful brothers of Joseph who were jealous and sold him into slavery. (Y)our glorious fathers also rejected Moses. In fact, which of the prophets have they ever accepted? They continually rejected and disposed of (killed) anyone God sent to help them. “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One.”
It has happened throughout your history and you are carrying the practice on. God, on a number of occasions, has had to reject and turn His back on His people because of their sinful disobedience. Stephen alludes to Aaron and the people’s sin with making the golden calves to worship and the subsequent influence on both Judah and Israel which led ultimately to their exile, although in this case he only mentions the exile in Babylon. Stephen doesn’t mention the exile of Israel in Assyria because of course none came back from there. He is only talking to the descendants of those from the tribe of Judah who returned from exile, so he doesn’t use the extended analogy of the Assyrian exile as well.
I have picked up some aspects of the story that Stephen is alluding to that I find interesting but am holding back my conclusion on it until I let the idea sit for a while. I find it interesting that he starts all of this with “The God of glory” in verse 2. It could also be translated as “the Glory of God”. Glory is always indicative of God’s Presence. There is much debate among the experts on this reference from Stephen. Is he drawing attention to the glory of God in his opening line? I think he may well be because Luke has closed the section before it with reference to the fact that Stephen’s face was shining, like Mose’s face on Sinai. Is this another little reminder for them of what they have been doing? Then there is another little dig at them in 7:38 when he refers to Moses up the mountain [with face shining] while at the same time they are down below, fed up with waiting and fashioning idols for themselves to replace God because they can’t wait until Moses comes down again. This requires more thought on my part before I comment more.
There is another huge poke for them with Stephen’s use of “no inheritance, not even a foot of ground”. But I am still going to leave that one to you to make the connection, before I open it up for you in the next Gem as we look at the customs of Moses – which are really the customs of all leaders of Israel, not just Moses. In the yellowed or orange sections above, Stephen is never speaking against Moses or the Law but simply using Moses and the leaders of Israel from time past, to remind these leaders that Israel always rejects all leaders they have ever been sent. Isn’t that the point of the whole speech? Isn’t that the lesson of Israel’s past? That is the way they thought of it. All of Jewish history was based on the Law of Moses and the resultant judges or saviours God sent them over and over. But they continually rejected whoever it was who was sent. Stephen could have expanded his comment above to read, “which one of the prophets, judges or kings did your fathers not reject, even down to Messiah Himself?” They killed or ignored those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One. God sent them judges and they rejected all of them eventually. All did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6, 21:25 etc). So then at the end of the time of the Judges, the people ask for a king and God tells them they are rejecting Him. He was to be their king. Even after it was explained to them, they opt for a king despite the prophet Samuel telling them it will go bad for them and the kings chosen will led them astray. The verb for this is imperfect – inferring continually, not just with one king. Stephen was reminding these leaders of Israel’s past track record. And look what happened.
Next Gem I will disclose the significance of “not even a foot of ground” and wrap up Stephen’s speech. Of course, I am not covering every little detail; I would never finish.
Grace doesn’t mean there’s no accountability for our sin. Grace means there’s no condemnation.Rick Godwin
Your time is precious, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.Steve Jobs
Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.Alan Greenspan
Jesus was opposed to sin yet ok for sinners to be near him. People with need knew that He was safe. Are you safe for sinners?Ian Vail
Do you know you are just a sinner saved by grace? Or are you a pharisee, using the Law to beat others over the head?Ian Vail