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This chapter Acts 7:0 contains the defense of Stephen before the Sanhedrin, or Great Council of the Jews. There has been great diversity of opinion about the object which Stephen had in view in this defense, and about the reason why he introduced at such length the history of the Jewish people. But a few remarks may perhaps show his design. He was accused of “blasphemy in speaking against the institutions of Moses and the temple, that is, against everything held sacred among the Jews.” To meet this charge, he gives a statement, at length, of his belief in the Mosaic religion, in the great points of their history, and in the fact that God had interposed in a remarkable manner in defending them from dangers. By this historical statement he avows his full belief in the divine origin of the Jewish religion, and thus “indirectly” repels the charge of blasphemy. It is further to be remembered that this was the best way of securing the “attention” of the Council. If he had entered upon an abstract defense, he might expect to be stopped by their cavils or their clamor.
But the history of their own nation was a favorite topic among the Jews. They were always ready to listen to an account of their ancestors; and to secure their attention, nothing more was necessary than to refer to their illustrious lives and deeds. Compare Psalms 78:0; Psalms 105:0; Psalms 106:0; Psalms 135:0; Ezekiel 20:0: In this way, Stephen secured their attention, and practically repelled the charge of speaking reproachfully of Moses and the temple. He showed them that he had as firm a belief as they in the great historical facts of their nation. It is to be remembered, also, that this speech was broken off in the midst Acts 7:53-54, and it is therefore difficult to state fully what the design of Stephen was. It seems clear, however, that he intended to convict them of guilt, by showing that they sustained the same character as their forefathers had manifested Acts 7:51-52; and there is some probability that he intended to show that the acceptable worship of God was not to be confined to any place particularly, from the fact that the worship of Abraham, and the patriarchs, and Moses, was acceptable before the temple was raised (Acts 7:2, etc.), and from the declaration in Acts 7:48, that God does not dwell in temples made with hands. All that can be said here is:
- That Stephen showed his full belief in the divine appointment of Moses and the historical facts of their religion;
- That he laid “the foundation” of an argument to show that those things were not perpetually binding, and that acceptable worship might be offered in other places and in another manner than at the temple.
It has been asked in what way Luke became acquainted with this speech so as to repeat it. The Scripture has not informed us. But we may remark:
(1) That Stephen was the first martyr. His death and the incidents connected with it could not but be a matter of interest to the first Christians, and the substance of his defense, at least, would be familiar to the disciples. There is no improbability in supposing that imperfect copies might be preserved by writing, and circulated among them.
(2) Luke was the companion of Paul. (See the introduction to the Gospel by Luke.) Paul was present when this defense was delivered, and was a man who would be likely to remember what was said on such an occasion. From him Luke might have derived the account of this defense. In regard to this discourse, it may be further remarked, that it is not necessary to suppose that Stephen was inspired. Even if there should be found inaccuracies, as some critics have pretended, in the address, it would not militate against its genuineness. It is the defense of a man on trial under a serious charge; not a man of whom there is evidence that he was “inspired,” but a pious, devoted, heavenly-minded man. All that the sacred narrative is responsible for is the correctness of the report. Luke alleges only that such a speech was in fact delivered, without affirming that every particular in it is correct.
Then said the high priest - See the notes on Matthew 2:4. In this case the high priest seems to have presided in the council.
Are these things so? - To wit, the charge alleged against him of blasphemy against Moses and the temple, Acts 6:13-14.
Men, brethren, and fathers - These were the usual titles by which the Sanhedrin was addressed. In all this Stephen was perfectly respectful, and showed that he was disposed to render due honor to the institutions of the nation.
The God of glory - This is a Hebrew form of expression denoting “the glorious God.” It properly denotes His “majesty, or splendor, or magnificence”; and the word “glory” is often applied to the splendid appearances in which God has manifested Himself to people, Deuteronomy 5:24; Exodus 33:18; Exodus 16:7, Exodus 16:10; Leviticus 9:23; Numbers 14:10. Perhaps Stephen meant to affirm that God appeared to Abraham in some such glorious or splendid manifestation, by which he would know that he was addressed by God. Stephen, moreover, evidently uses the word “glory” to repel the charge of “blasphemy” against God, and to show that he regarded him as worthy of honor and praise.
Appeared ... - In what manner he appeared is not said. In Genesis 12:1, it is simply recorded that God “had said” unto Abraham, etc.
Unto our father - The Jews valued themselves much on being the children of Abraham. See the notes on Matthew 3:9. The expression was therefore well calculated to conciliate their minds.
When he was in Mesopotamia - In Genesis 11:31, it is said that Abraham dwelt “in Ur of the Chaldees.” The word “Mesopotamia” properly denotes the region between the two rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris. See notes on Acts 2:9. The name is Greek, and the region had also other names before the Greek name was given to it. In Genesis 11:31; Genesis 15:7, it is called Ur of the Chaldees. Mesopotamia and Chaldea might not exactly coincide; but it is evident that Stephen meant to say that “Ur” was in the country afterward called Mesopotamia. Its precise situation is unknown. A Persian fortress of this name is mentioned by Ammianus Genesis 25:8 between Nisibis and the Tigris.
Before he dwelt in Charran - From Genesis 11:31, it would seem that Terah took his son Abraham of his own accord, and removed to Haran. But from Genesis 12:1; Genesis 15:7, it appears that God had commanded “Abraham” to remove, and so he ordered it in his providence that “Terah” was disposed to remove his family with an intention of going into the land of Canaan. The word “Charran” is the Greek form of the Hebrew “Haran,” Genesis 11:31. This place was also in Mesopotamia, in 36 degrees 52 minutes north latitude and 39 degrees 5 minutes east longitude. Here Terah died Genesis 11:32; and to this place Jacob retired when he fled from his brother Esau, Genesis 27:43. It is situated “in a flat and sandy plain, and is inhabited by a few wandering Arabs, who select it for the delicious water which it contains” (Robinson’s Calmet).
And said unto him - How long this was said before he went is not recorded. Moses simply says that God had commanded him to go, Genesis 12:1.
Thy kindred - Thy relatives, or family connections. It seems that “Terah” went with him as far as to Haran; but Abraham was apprised that he was to leave his family and to go almost alone.
Into the land ... - The country was yet unknown. The place was to be shown him. This is presented in the New Testament as a strong instance of faith, Hebrews 11:8-9. It was an act of “simple confidence” in God. And to leave his country and home; to go into a land of strangers, not knowing whither he went, required strong confidence in God. It is a simple illustration of what man is always required to do at the command of God. Thus, the gospel requires him to commit all to God; to yield body and soul to his disposal; to be ready at his command to forsake father, and mother, and friends, and houses, and lands, for the sake of the Lord Jesus, Luke 14:33; Matthew 19:27, Matthew 19:29. The trials which Abraham might have anticipated may be readily conceived. He was going, in a rude and barbarous age of the world, into a land of strangers. He was without arms or armies, and almost alone. He did not even know the nature or situation of the land, or the character of its inhabitants.
He had no title to it; no claim to urge; and he went depending on the simple promise of God that he would give it to him. He went, therefore, trusting simply to the promise of God. Thus, his conduct illustrated precisely what we are to do in reference to all our coming life, and to the eternity before us: We are to trust simply to the promise of God, and do what he requires. This is faith. In Abraham it was as simple and intelligible an operation of mind as ever occurs in any instance. Nor is faith in the Scriptures regarded as more mysterious than any other mental operation. If Abraham had seen all that was to result from his going into that land, it would have been a sufficient reason to induce him to do as he did. But God saw it; and Abraham was required to act just as if he had seen it all, and all the reasons why he was called. Upon the strength of God’s promises, Abraham was called to act. This was faith. It did not require him to act where there was “no reason” for his so acting, but where he did not see the reason. So in all cases of faith. If man could see all that God sees, he would perceive reasons for acting as God requires. But the reasons of things are often concealed, and man is required to act on the belief that God sees reasons why he should so act. To act under the proper impression of that truth which God presents is faith; as simple and intelligible as any other act or operation of the mind. See the notes on Mark 16:16.
Land of the Chaldeans - From Ur of the Chaldees, Genesis 11:31.
When his father was dead - This passage has given rise to no small difficulty in the interpretation. The difficulty is this: From Genesis 11:26, it would seem that Abraham was born when Terah was 70 years of age. “And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran.” From Genesis 12:4, it seems that Abraham was 75 years of age when he departed from Haran to Canaan. The age of Terah was therefore but 145 years. Yet in Genesis 11:32, it is said that Terah was 205 old when he died, thus leaving 60 years of Terah’s life beyond the time when Abraham left Haran. Various modes have been proposed of explaining this difficulty:
(1) Errors in “numbers” are more likely to occur than any other. In the “Samaritan” copy of the Pentateuch, it is said that Terah died in Haran at the age of 105 years, which would suppose that his death occurred 40 years before Abraham left Haran. But the Hebrew, Latin, Vulgate, Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic read it as 205 years.
(2) It is not affirmed that Abraham was born just at the time when Terah was 70 years of age. All that the passage in Genesis 11:26 proves, according to the usual meaning of similar expressions, is, that Terah was 70 years old before he had any sons, and that the three were born subsequently to that. But which was born first or what intervals intervened between their birth does not appear. Assuredly, it does not mean that all were born precisely at the time when Terah was 70 years of age. Neither does it appear that Abraham was the oldest of the three. The sons of Noah are said to have been Shem, Ham, and Japheth Genesis 5:32; yet Japheth, though mentioned last, was the oldest, Genesis 10:21. As Abraham afterward became much the most distinguished, and as he was the father of the Jewish people, of whom Moses was writing, it was natural that he should be mentioned first if it cannot be proveD that Abraham was the oldest, as assuredly it cannot be, then there is no improbability in supposing that his birth might have occurred many years after Terah was 70 years of age.
(3) The Jews unanimously affirm that Terah relapsed into idolatry before Abraham left Haran; and this they denominate “death,” or a moral death (Kuinoel). It is certain, therefore, that, from some cause, they were accustomed to speak of Terah as “dead” before Abraham left him. Stephen only used language which was customary among the Jews, and would employ it, doubtless, correctly, though we may not be able to see precisely how it can be reconciled with the account in Genesis.
And he gave him none inheritance - Abraham led a wandering life; and this passage means that he did not himself receive a permanent possession or residence in that land. The only land which he owned was the field which he “purchased” of the children of Heth for a burial place, Genesis 23:0: As this was obtained by “purchase,” and not by the direct gift of God, and as it was not designed for a “residence,” it is said that God gave him no “inheritance.” It is mentioned as a strong instance of his faith that he should remain there without a permanent residence himself, with only the prospect that his children, at some distant period, would inherit it.
Not so much as to set his foot on - This is a proverbial expression, denoting in an emphatic manner that he had no land, Deuteronomy 2:5.
Would give it to him - Genesis 13:15. Abraham did not himself possess all that land; and the promise is evidently equivalent to saying that it would be conferred on the family of Abraham, or the family of which he was the father, without affirming that “he” would himself personally possess it. It is true, however, that Abraham himself afterward dwelt many years in that land as his home, Genesis 13:0, etc.
For a possession - To be held as his own property.
When as yet he had no child - When there was no human probability that he would have any posterity. Compare Genesis 15:2-3; Genesis 18:11-12. This is mentioned as a strong instance of his faith; “who against hope believed in hope,” Romans 4:18.
And God spake on this wise - In this manner, Genesis 15:13-14.
His seed - His posterity; his descendants.
Should sojourn - This means that they would have a “temporary residence there.” The word is used in opposition to a fixed, permanent home, and is applied to travelers, or foreigners.
In a strange land - In the Hebrew Genesis 15:13, “Shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs.” The land of Canaan and the land of Egypt were strange lands to them, though the obvious reference here is to the latter.
Should bring them into bondage - Or, would make them slaves, Exodus 1:11.
And entreat them evil - Would oppress or afflict them.
Four hundred years - This is the precise time which is mentioned by Moses, Genesis 15:13. Great perplexity has been experienced in explaining this passage, or reconciling it with other statements. In Exodus 12:40, it is said that their sojourning in Egypt was 430 years. Josephus (Antiq., book 2, chapter 9, section 1) also says that the time in which they were in Egypt was 400 years; though in another place (Antiq., book 2, chapter 15, section 2) he says that they left Egypt f 430 years after their forefather, Abraham, came to Canaan, but 215 years after Jacob removed to Egypt. Paul also Galatians 3:17 says that it was 430 years from the time when the promise was given to Abraham to the time when the Law was given on Mount Sinai. The Samaritan Pentateuch also says Exodus 12:40 that the “dwelling of the sons of Israel, and of their fathers, which they dwelt “in the land of Canaan,” and in the land of Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.”
The same is the version of the Septuagint. “A part” of this perplexity is removed by the fact that Stephen and Moses use, in accordance with a very common custom, “round numbers” in speaking of it, and thus speak of 400 years when the literal time was 430. The other perplexities are not so easily removed. From the account which Moses has given of the lives of certain persons, it would seem clear that the time which they spent in “Egypt” was not 400 years. From Genesis 46:8, Genesis 46:11, it appears that “Kohath” was born when Jacob went into Egypt. He lived 133 years, Exodus 6:18. Amram, his son, and the father of Moses lived 137 years, Exodus 6:20. Moses was 80 years old when he was sent to Pharaoh, Exodus 7:7. The whole time thus mentioned, including the time in which the father lived after his son was born, was only 350 years. Exclusive of that, it is reasonable to suppose that the actual time of their being in Egypt could not have been but about 200 years, according to one account of Josephus. The question then is, how can these accounts be reconciled? The only satisfactory way is by supposing that the 430 years includes the whole time from the calling of Abraham to the departure from Egypt. And that this was the fact is probable from the following circumstances:
- The purpose of all the narratives on this subject is to trace the period before they became finally settled in the land of Canaan. During all this period from the calling of Abraham, they were in a wandering, unfixed situation. This constituted substantially one period, including all their oppressions, hardships, and dangers; and it was natural to have reference to this “entire” period in any account which was given.
(2)All this period was properly the period of “promise,” not of “possession.” In this respect the wanderings of Abraham and the oppressions of Egypt came under the same general description.
- Abraham was himself occasionally in Egypt. He was unsettled; and since Egypt was so pre-eminent in all their troubles, it was natural to speak of all their oppressions as having occurred in that country. The phrase “residence in Egypt,” or “in a strange land,” would come to be synonymous, and would denote all their oppressions and trials. They would speak of their sufferings as having been endured in Egypt, because their afflictions there were so much more prominent than before.
(4)All this receives countenance from the version of the Septuagint, and from the Samaritan text, showing the manner in which the ancient Jews were accustomed to understand it.
(5)It should be added, that difficulties of chronology are more likely to occur than any others; and it should not be deemed strange if there are perplexities of this kind found in ancient writings which we cannot explain. It is so in all ancient records; and all that is usually expected in relation to such difficulties is that we should be able to present a “probable” explanation.
And the nation ... - Referring particularly to the Egyptians.
Will I judge - The word “judge,” in the Bible, often means to “execute judgment” as well as to pronounce it; that is, “to punish.” See John 18:31; John 3:17; John 8:50; John 12:47; Act 24:6; 1 Corinthians 5:13, etc. It has this meaning here. God regarded their oppressive acts as deserving His indignation, and He evinced it in the plagues with which He visited upon them, and in their overthrow at the Red Sea.
Shall serve me - Shall worship me, or be regarded as my people.
In this place - That is, in the place where God made this promise to Abraham. These words are not found in Genesis, but similar words are found in Exodus 3:12, and it was a practice, in making quotations, to quote the sense only, or to connect two or more promises having relation to the same thing.
And he gave him - That is, God appointed or commanded this, Genesis 17:9-13.
The covenant - The word “covenant” denotes properly “a compact or agreement between two or more persons,” usually attended with seals, pledges, or sanctions. In Genesis 17:7, and elsewhere, it is said that God would establish his “covenant” with Abraham; that is, he made him certain definite promises, attended with pledges and seals, etc. The idea of a strict “compact” or “agreement” between God and man, as between “equal parties”; is not found in the Bible. The word is commonly used, as here, to denote “a promise on the part of God,” attended with pledges, and demanding, on the part of man, in order to avail himself of its benefits, a specified course of conduct. The “covenant” is therefore another name for denoting two things on the part of God:
- A “command,” which man is not at liberty to reject, as he would be if it were a literal covenant; and,
- A “promise,” which is to be fulfilled only on the condition of obedience. The covenant with Abraham was simply a “promise” to give him the land, and to make him a great nation, etc. It was never proposed to Abraham with the supposition that he was at liberty to reject it, or to refuse to comply with its conditions. Circumcision was appointed as the mark or indication that Abraham and those thus designated were the persons included in the gracious purpose and promise. It served to separate them as a special people; a people whose unique characteristic it was that they obeyed and served the God who had made the promise to Abraham. The phrase “covenant of circumcision” means, therefore, the covenant or promise which God made to Abraham, of which circumcision was the distinguishing “mark” or “sign.”
The twelve patriarchs - The word “patriarch” properly denotes “the father and ruler of a family.” But it is commonly applied, by way of eminence, to “the progenitors” of the Jewish race, particularly to “the twelve sons of Jacob.” See the notes on Acts 2:29.
Moved with envy - That is, dissatisfied with the favor which their father Jacob showed Joseph, and envious at the dreams which indicated that he was to be raised to remarkable honor above his parents and brethren, Genesis 37:3-11.
Sold Joseph into Egypt - Sold him, that he might be taken to Egypt. This was done at the suggestion of “Judah,” who advised it that Joseph might not be put to death by his brethren, Genesis 37:28. It is possible that Stephen, by this fact, might have designed to prepare the way for a severe rebuke of the Jews for having dealt in a similar manner with their Messiah.
But God was with him - God protected him, and overruled all these wicked doings, so that he was raised to extraordinary honors.
And delivered him ... - That is, restored him to liberty from his servitude and humiliation, and raised him up to high honors and offices in Egypt.
Favour and wisdom - The favor was the result of his wisdom. His wisdom was particularly evinced in interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh, Genesis 41:0.
And he made him governor ... - Genesis 41:40.
All his house - All the family, or all the court and government of the nation.
Now there came a dearth - A famine, Genesis 41:54.
And Chanaan - Jacob was living at that time in Canaan.
Found no sustenance - No food; no means of living.
Was corn in Egypt - The word “corn” here rather denotes “wheat.” See the notes on Matthew 12:1.
Our fathers - His ten sons; all his sons except Joseph and Benjamin, Genesis 42:0: Stephen here “refers” only to the history, without entering into details. By this general reference he sufficiently showed that he believed what Moses had spoken, and did not intend to show him disrespect.
Joseph was made known - Genesis 45:4.
Joseph’s kindred ... - His relatives; his family, Genesis 45:16.
All his kindred - His father and family, Genesis 45:17-28; Genesis 46:1-26.
Threescore and fifteen souls - Seventy-five persons. There has been much perplexity felt in the explanation of this passage. In Genesis 46:26, Exodus 1:5, and Deuteronomy 10:22, it is expressly said that the number which went down to Egypt consisted of 70 persons. The question is, in what way these accounts can be reconciled? It is evident that Stephen has followed the account which is given by the Septuagint. In Genesis 46:27, that version reads, “But the sons of Joseph who were with him in Egypt were nine souls; all the souls of the house of Jacob which came with Jacob into Egypt were seventy-five souls.” This number is made out by adding these nine souls to the 66 mentioned in Genesis 46:26. The difference between the Septuagint and Moses is, that the former mentions five descendants of Joseph who are not recorded by the latter. The “names” of the sons of Ephraim and Manasseh are recorded in 1 Chronicles 7:14-21. Their names were Ashriel, Machir, Zelophehad, Peresh, sons of Manasseh; and Shuthelah, son of Ephraim. Why the Septuagint inserted these, it may not be easy to see. But such was evidently the fact; and the fact accords accurately with the historic record, though Moses did not insert their names. The solution of difficulties in regard to chronology is always difficult; and what might be entirely apparent to a Jew in the time of Stephen, may be wholly inexplicable to us.
And died - Genesis 49:33.
He and our fathers - The time which the Israelites remained in Egypt was 215 years, so that all the sons of Jacob were deceased before the Jews went out to go to the land of Canaan.
And were carried over - Jacob himself was buried in the field of Macpelah by Joseph and his brethren, Genesis 1:13. It is expressly said that the bones of Joseph were carried by the Israelites when they went into the land of Canaan, and buried in Shechem, Joshua 24:32; compare Genesis 50:25. No mention is made in the Old Testament of their carrying the bones of any of the other patriarchs, but the thing is highly probable in itself. If the descendants of Joseph carried his bones, it would naturally occur to them to take also the bones of each of the patriarchs, and give them an honorable sepulchre together in the land of promise. Josephus (Antiq., book 2, chapter 8, section 2) says that “the posterity and sons of these men (of the brethren of Joseph), after some time, carried their bodies and buried them in Hebron; but as to the bones of Joseph, they carried them into the land of Canaan afterward, when the Hebrews went out of Egypt.” This is in accordance with the common opinion of the Jewish writers, that they were buried in Hebron. Yet the tradition is not uniform. Some of the Jews affirm that they were buried in Sychem (Kuinoel). As the Scriptures do not anywhere deny that the patriarchs were buried in Sychem, it cannot be proved that Stephen was in error. There is one circumstance of strong probability to show that he was correct. At the time when this defense was delivered, “Sychem” was in the hands of the Samaritans, between whom and the Jews there was a violent hostility. Of course, the Jews would not be willing to concede that the Samaritans had the bones of their ancestors, and hence, perhaps the opinion had been maintained that they were buried in Hebron.
Into Sychem - This was a town or village near to Samaria. It was called Sichar (see the notes on John 4:5), “Shechem,” and “Sychem.” It is now called “Naplous” or “Napolose,” and is ten miles from Shiloh, and about forty from Jerusalem, toward the north.
That Abraham bought - The word “Abraham” here has given rise to considerable perplexity, and it is now pretty generally conceded that it is a mistake. It is certain, from Genesis 33:19 and Joshua 24:32, that this piece of land was bought, not by Abraham, but by “Jacob,” of the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. The land which “Abraham” purchased was the cave of Macpelah, of the sons of Heth, in Hebron, Genesis 23:0. Various solutions have been proposed of this difficulty, which it is not necessary to detail. It may be remarked, however:
- That as the text now stands, it is an evident error. This is clear from the passages cited from the Old Testament above.
(2)It is not at all probable that either Stephen or Luke would have committed such an error. Every consideration must lead us to the conclusion that they were too well acquainted with such prominent points of the Jewish history to commit an error like this.
(3)The “probability,” therefore, is, that the error has arisen since; but how, is not known, nor is there any way of ascertaining. All the ancient versions agree in reading “Abraham.” Only one manuscript reads “Abraham our father.” Some have supposed, therefore, that it was written “which our father bought,” and that some early transcriber inserted the name of Abraham. Others, that the name was omitted entirely by Stephen; and then the antecedent to the verb “bought” will be “Jacob,” in verse 15, according with the fact. Other modes have been proposed also, but none are entirely satisfactory. If there was positive proof of Stephen’s inspiration, or if it were necessary to make that out, the difficulty would be much greater. But it has already been remarked that there is no decisive evidence of that, and it is not necessary to make out that point to defend the Scriptures. All that can be demanded of the historian is, that he should give a fair account of the defense as it was delivered; and though the probability is that Stephen would not commit Such an error, yet, admitting that he did, it by no means proves that “Luke” was not inspired, or that Luke has committed any error in recording “what was actually said.”
Of the sons of Emmor - In the Hebrew Genesis 33:19, “the children of Hamor” - but different ways of rendering the same word.
The time of the promise - The time of the “fulfillment” of the promise.
The people grew ... - Exodus 1:7-9.
Till another king arose - This is quoted from Exodus 1:8. What was the “name” of this king is not certainly known. The “common” name of all the kings of Egypt was “Pharaoh,” as “Caesar” became the common name of the emperors of Rome after the time of Julius Caesar: thus we say, Augustus Caesar, Tiberius Caesar, etc. It has commonly been supposed to have been the celebrated Rameses, the sixth king of the eighteenth dynasty, and the event is supposed to have occurred about 1559 years before the Christian era. M. Champollion supposes that his name was Mandonei, whose reign commenced in 1585 b.c., and ended 1565 years before Christ (Essay on the Hieroglyphic System, p. 94, 95). Sir Jas. G. Wilkinson supposes that it was Amosis, or Ames, the “first” king of the eighteenth dynasty (Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, vol. 1, pp. 42, 2nd ed.). “The present knowledge of Egyptian history is too imperfect to enable us to determine this point” (Prof. Hackett).
Which knew not Joseph - It can hardly be supposed that he would be ignorant of the name and deeds of Joseph; and this expression, therefore, probably means that he did not favour the designs of Joseph; he did not remember the benefits which he had conferred on the nation; or furnish the patronage for the kindred of Joseph which had been secured for them by Joseph under a former reign. National ingratitude has not been uncommon in the world, and a change of dynasty has often obliterated all memory of former obligations and compacts.
Dealt subtilly - He acted deceitfully; he used fraud. The cunning or deceitful attempt which is referred to, is his endeavour to weaken and destroy the Jewish people by causing their male children to be put to death, Exodus 1:22.
Our kindred - Our nation, or our ancestors.
And evil-entreated - Was unjust and cruel toward them.
So that ... - For that purpose, or to “cause” them to cast them out. He dealt with them in this cruel manner, hoping that the Israelites themselves would destroy their own sons, that they might not grow up to experience the same sufferings as their fathers had. The cunning or subtilty of Pharaoh extended to everything that he did to oppress, to keep under, and to destroy the children of Israel.
In which time ... - During this period of oppression. See Exodus 2:2, etc.
Was exceeding fair - Greek: “was fair to God”; properly rendered, “was very handsome.” The word “God” in the Greek here in accordance with the Hebrew usage, by which anything that is “very handsome, lofty, or grand” is thus designated. Thus, Psalms 36:7, “mountains of God,” mean lofty mountains; Psalms 80:11, “cedars of God,” mean lofty, beautiful cedars. Thus, Nineveh is called “a great city to God” (Jonah 3:3, Greek), meaning a very great city. The expression here simply means that Moses was “very fair,” or handsome. Compare Hebrews 11:23, where he is called “a proper child”; that is, a “handsome child.” It would seem from this that Moses was preserved by his mother on account of his “beauty”; and this is hinted at in Exodus 2:2. And it would also seem from this that Pharaoh had succeeded by his oppressions in what he had attempted; and that it was not unusual for parents among the Jews to expose their children, or to put them to death.
Was cast out - When he was exposed on the banks of the Nile, Exodus 2:3.
And nourished him - Adopted him, and treated him as her own son, Exodus 2:10. It is implied in this that he was educated by her. An adopted son in the family of Pharaoh would be favored with all the advantages which the land could furnish for an education.
Moses was learned - Or, was “instructed.” It does not mean that he had that learning, but that he was carefully “trained” or educated in that wisdom. The passage does not express the fact that Moses was distinguished for “learning,” but that he was carefully “educated,” or that pains were taken to make him learned.
In all the wisdom ... - The learning of the Egyptians was confined chiefly to astrology, to the interpretation of dreams, to medicine, to mathematics, and to their sacred science or traditionary doctrines about religion, which were concealed chiefly under their hieroglyphics. Their learning is not infrequently spoken of in the Scriptures, 1 Kings 4:30; compare Isaiah 19:11-12. Their knowledge is equally celebrated in the pagan world. It is known that science was carried from Egypt to Phoenicia, and thence to Greece; and not a few of the Grecian philosophers traveled to Egypt in pursuit of knowledge. Herodotus himself frankly concedes that the Greeks derived very much of their knowledge from Egypt. (See Rawlinson’s Herodotus, vol. 2, pp. 80, 81; Herodotus, bk. 2, pp. 50, 51.)
And was mighty - Was powerful, or was distinguished. This means that he was eminent in Egypt before he conducted the children of Israel forth. It refers to his addresses to Pharaoh, and to the miracles which he performed “before” their departure.
In words - From Exodus 4:10, it seems that Moses was “slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.” When it is said that he was mighty in words, it means that he was mighty in his communications to Pharaoh, though they were spoken by his brother Aaron. Aaron was in his place, and “Moses” addressed Pharaoh through him, who was appointed to deliver the message, Exodus 4:11-16.
Deeds - Miracles, Exodus 7:0, etc.
Full forty years old - This is not recorded in the Old Testament; but it is a constant tradition of the Jews that Moses was 40 years of age when he undertook to deliver them. Thus, it is said, “Moses lived in the palace of Pharaoh forty years; he was forty years in Midian; and he ministered to Israel forty years” (Kuinoel).
To visit ... - Probably with a view of delivering them from their oppressive bondage. Compare Acts 7:25.
Suffer wrong - The wrong or injury was, that the Egyptian was smiting the Hebrew, Exodus 2:11-12.
Smote the Egyptian - He slew him, and buried him in the sand,
For he supposed - This is not mentioned by Moses; but it is not at all improbable. When they saw him “alone” contending with the Egyptian; when it was understood that he had come and taken vengeance on one of their oppressors, it might have been presumed that he regarded himself as directed by God to interpose, and save the people.
And the next day - Exodus 2:13.
He showed himself - He appeared in a sudden and unexpected manner to them.
Unto them - That is, to “two” of the Hebrews, Exodus 2:13.
As they strove - As they were engaged in a quarrel.
Have set them at one - Greek: “would have urged them to peace.” This he did by remonstrating with the man that did the wrong.
Saying - What follows is not quoted literally from the account which Moses gives, but it is substantially the same.
Sirs - Greek: “Men.”
Ye are brethren - You belong not only to the same nation, but you are brethren and companions in affliction, and should not, therefore, contend with each other. One of the most melancholy scenes in the world is that, where those who are poor, and afflicted, and oppressed, add to all their other calamities altercations and strifes among themselves. Yet it is from this class that contentions and lawsuits usually arise. The address which Moses here makes to the contending Jews might be applied to the whole human family in view of the contentions and wars of nations: “Ye are “brethren,” members of the same great family, and why do you contend with each other?”
But he that did ... - Intent on his purpose, filled with rage and passion, he rejected all interference, and all attempts at peace. It is usually the man that does the injury that is unwilling to be reconciled; and when we find a man that regards the entreaties of his friends as improper interference, when he becomes increasingly angry when we exhort him to peace, it is usually a strong evidence that he is conscious that he has been at fault. If we wish to reconcile parties, we should go first to the man that has been injured. In the controversy between God and man, it is the “sinner” who has done the wrong that is unwilling to be reconciled, and not God.
His neighbour - The Jew with whom he was contending.
Who made thee ... - What right have you to interfere in this matter? The usual salutation with which a man is greeted who attempts to prevent quarrels.
Wilt thou kill me ... - How it was known that he had killed the Egyptian does not appear. It was probably communicated by the man who was rescued from the hands of the Egyptian, Exodus 2:11-12.
Then fled Moses ... - Moses fled because he now ascertained that what he had done was known. He supposed that it had been unobserved, Exodus 2:12. But he now thought that the knowledge of it might reach Pharaoh, and that his life might thus be endangered. Nor did he judge incorrectly; for as soon as Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to take his life, Exodus 2:15.
Was a stranger - Or became a sojourner πάροικος paroikos, one who had a temporary abode in the land. The use of this word implies that he did not expect to make that his permanent dwelling.
In the land of Madian - This was a part of Arabia. “This would seem,” says Gesenius, “to have been a tract of country extending from the eastern shore of the Elanitic Gulf to the region of Moab on the one hand, and to the vicinity of Mount Sinai on the, other. The people were nomadic in their habits, and moved often from place to place.” This was extensively a desert region, an unknown land; and Moses expected there to be safe from Pharaoh.
Where he begat two sons - He married Zipporah, the daughter of “Reuel” Exodus 2:18, or “Jethro” Numbers 10:29; Exodus 3:1, a “priest” of Midian. The names of the two sons were Gershom and Eliezer, Exodus 18:3-4.
And when forty years ... - At the age of 80 years. This, however, was known by tradition. It is not expressly mentioned by Moses. It is said, however, to have been after the king of Egypt had died Exodus 2:23; and the tradition is not improbable.
In the wilderness of mount Sina - In the desert adjacent to, or that surrounded Mount Sinai. In Exodus 3:1, it is said that this occurred at Mount “Horeb.” But there is no contradiction; Horeb and Sinai are different peaks or elevations of the same mountain. They are represented as springing from the same base, and branching out in different elevations. The mountains, according to Burckhardt, are a prodigious pile, comprehending many peaks, and about thirty miles in diameter. From one part of this mountain, Sinai, the Law was given to the children of Israel.
An angel of the Lord - The word “angel” means properly a “messenger” (see the notes on Matthew 1:20), and is applied to the invisible spirits in heaven, to people, to the winds, to the pestilence, or to whatever is appointed as a messenger “to make known” or to execute the will of God. The mere “name,” therefore, can determine nothing about the “nature” of the messenger. That “name” might be applied to any messenger, even an inanimate object. The nature and character of this messenger are to be determined by other considerations. The word may denote that the “bush on fire” was the messenger. But a comparison with the other places where this occurs will show that it was a celestial messenger, and perhaps that it was the Messiah who was yet to come, appearing to take the people of Israel under his own charge and direction. Compare John 1:11, where the Jews are called “his own.” In Exodus 3:2, it is said that the angel of the Lord appeared in a flame of fire; in Exodus 3:4 it is said that Yahweh spake to him out of the midst of the bush; language which implies that God was there, and which is strongly expressive of the doctrine that the angel was Yahweh. In Exodus 23:20-21, God says, “I send an angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey “his” voice,” etc., Exodus 23:23; Exodus 32:34; Exodus 33:2. In all these places this angel is mentioned as an extraordinary messenger sent to conduct them to the land of Canaan. He was to guide them, to defend them, and to drive out the nations before them. All these circumstances seem to point to the conclusion that this was no other than the future deliverer of the world, who came then to take his people under his own guidance, as emblematic of the redemption of his people.
In a flame of fire - That is, in what “appeared” to be a flame of fire. The “bush” or clump of trees seemed to be on fire, or to be illuminated with a special splendor. God is often represented as encompassed with this splendor, or glory, Luke 2:9; Matthew 17:1-5; Acts 9:3; Acts 12:7.
In a bush - In a grove, or clump of trees. Probably the light was seen issuing from the “midst” of such a grove.
He wondered ... - What particularly attracted his attention was the fact that the bush was not consumed, Exodus 3:2-3.
The voice of the Lord - Yahweh spake to him from the midst of the bush. He did not see him. He merely heard a voice.
Saying, I am the God ... - See this explained in the notes on Matthew 22:32.
Then Moses trembled - Exodus 3:6.
Then said the Lord ... - In Exodus 3:0 this is introduced in a different order, as being spoken “before” God said “I am the God,” etc.
Put off thy shoes ... - Exodus 3:5. To put off the shoes; or sandals, was an act of reverence. The ancients were especially not permitted to enter a temple or holy place with their shoes on. Indeed, it was customary for the Jews to remove their shoes whenever they entered any house as a mere matter of civility. Compare the notes on John 13:5. See Joshua 5:15. “The same custom, growing out of the same feeling,” says Prof. Hackett (Illustrations of Scripture, pp. 74, 75), “is observed among the Eastern nations at the present day. The Arabs and Turks never enter the mosques without putting off their shoes. They exact a compliance with this rule from those of a different faith who visit these sacred places. Though, until a recent period, the Muslims excluded Christians entirely from the mosques, they now permit foreigners to enter some of them, provided they leave their shoes at the door, or exchange them for others which have not been defiled by common use.
“A Samaritan from Nablus, who conducted Mr. Robinson and Mr. Smith to the summit of Gerizim, when he came within a certain distance of the spot, took off his shoes, saying it was unlawful for his people to tread with shoes upon this ground, it being holy.”
Is holy ground - Is rendered sacred by the symbol of the divine presence. We should enter the sanctuary, the place set apart for divine worship, not only with reverence in our hearts, but with every “external” indication of veneration. Solemn awe and deep seriousness become the place set apart to the service of God. Compare Ecclesiastes 5:1.
I have seen ... - The repetition of this word is in accordance with the usage of the Hebrew writers when they wish to represent anything emphatically.
Their groaning - Under their oppressions.
Am come down - This is spoken in accordance with human conceptions. It means that God was about to deliver them.
I will send thee ... - This is a mere summary of what is expressed at much greater length in Exodus 3:7-10.
Whom they refused - That is, when he first presented himself to them, Exodus 2:13-14. Stephen introduces and dwells upon this refusal in order, perhaps, to remind them that this had been the character of their nation, and to prepare the way for the charge which he intended to bring against those whom he addressed, as being stiff-necked and rebellious. See Acts 7:51-52, etc.
A ruler - A military leader, or a governor in civil matters.
A deliverer - A Redeemer - λυτρωτὴν lutrōtēn. It properly means one who redeems a captive or a prisoner by paying a “price” or “ransom.” It is applied thus to the Lord Jesus, as having redeemed or purchased sinners by his blood as a price, Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:18; Hebrews 9:12. It is used here, however, in a more “general” sense to denote “the deliverance,” without specifying the manner. Compare Exodus 6:6; Luke 24:21; Luke 1:68; Luke 2:38.
By the hand of the angel - Under the direction and by the “help” of the angel, Numbers 20:16. See on Acts 7:30.
Wonders and signs - Miracles, and remarkable interpositions of God. See the notes on Acts 2:22.
In the land of Egypt - By the ten plagues. Exo. 4–12.
In the Red sea - Dividing it, and conducting the Israelites in safety, and overthrowing the Egyptians, Exodus 14:0.
In the wilderness - During their forty years’ journey to the promised land. The wonders or miracles were, providing them with manna daily; with flesh in a miraculous manner; with water from the rock, etc., Exodus 16:0; Exodus 17:0; etc.
Which said ... - Deuteronomy 18:15, Deuteronomy 18:18. See this explained, Acts 3:22. Stephen introduced this to remind them of the promise of a Messiah; to show his faith in that promise; and “particularly” to remind them of their obligation to hear and obey him.
In the church - The word “church” means literally “the people called out,” and is applied with great propriety to the assembly or multitude called out of Egypt, and separated from the world. It has not, however, of necessity our idea of a church, but means the “assembly,” or people called out of Egypt and placed under the conduct of Moses.
With the angel - In this place there is undoubted reference to the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. Yet that was done by God himself, Exodus 20:0: It is clear, therefore, that by “the angel” here, Stephen intends to designate him who was God. It may be observed, however, that “the Law” is represented as having been given by the ministry of an angel (in this place) and by the ministry of “angels,” Acts 7:53; Hebrews 2:2. The essential idea is, that God did it by a messenger, or by mediators. The “character” and “rank” of the messengers, or of the “principal” messenger, must be learned by looking at all the circumstances of the case.
The lively oracles - See Romans 3:2. The word “oracles” here means “commands” or “laws” of God. The word “lively,” or “living” ζῶντα zōnta, stands in opposition to what is dead, or useless, and means what is vigorous, efficacious; and in this place it means that the commands were of such a nature, and given in such circumstances, as to secure attention; to produce obedience; to excite them to act for God - in opposition to laws which would fall powerless, and produce no effect.
Would not obey ... - This refers to what they said of him when he was in the mount, Exodus 32:1, Exodus 32:23.
In their hearts turned ... - They wished to return to Egypt. They regretted that they had come out of Egypt, and desired again the things which they had there, as preferable to what they had in the desert, Numbers 11:5. Perhaps, however, the expression means, not that they desired literally to “return” to Egypt, but that “their hearts inclined to the habits and morals of the Egyptians.” They forsook God, and imitated the idolatries of the Egyptians.
Saying unto Aaron - Exodus 32:1.
Make us gods - That is, idols.
And they made a calf - This was made of the ear-rings and ornaments which they had brought from Egypt, Exodus 32:2-4. Stephen introduces this to remind them how prone the nation had been to reject God, and to walk in the ways of sin.
Then God turned - That is, turned away from them; abandoned them to their own desires.
The host of heaven - The stars, or heavenly bodies. The word “host” means “armies.” It is applied to the heavenly bodies because they are very numerous, and appear to be “marshalled” or arrayed in military order. It is from this that God is called Yahweh “of hosts,” as being the ruler of these well-arranged heavenly bodies. See the notes on Isaiah 1:9. The proof that they did this Stephen proceeds to allege by a question from the prophets.
In the book of the prophets - Amos 5:25-26. The twelve minor prophets were commonly written in one volume, and were called the Book of the Prophets; that is, the book containing these several prophecies, Daniel, Hosea, Micah, etc. They were small “tracts” separately, and were bound up together to preserve them from being lost. This passage is not quoted literally; it is evidently made from memory; and though in its main spirit it coincides with the passage in Amos, yet in some important respects it varies from it.
O ye house of Israel - Ye people of Israel.
Have ye offered ... - That is, ye have not offered. The interrogative form is often an emphatic way of saying that the thing had “not” been done. But it is certain that the Jews did offer sacrifices to God in the wilderness, though it is also certain that they did not do it with a pure and upright heart. They kept up the form of worship generally, but they frequently forsook God, and offered worship to idols. through the continuous space of forty years they did “not” honor God, but often departed from him, and worshipped idols.
Yea, ye took up - That is, you bore, or you carried with you, for purposes of idolatrous worship.
The tabernacle - This word properly means a “tent”; but it is also applied to the small tent or house in which was contained the image of the god; the shrine, box, or tent in which the idol was placed. It is customary for idolatrous nations to bear their idols about with them, enclosed in cases or boxes of various sizes, usually very small, as their idols are commonly small. Probably they were made in the shape of small “temples” or tabernacles; and such appear to have been the “silver shrines” for Diana, made at Ephesus, Acts 19:24. These shrines, or images, were borne with them as a species of amulet, charm, or talisman to defend them from evil. Such images the Jews seem to have carried with them.
Moloch - This word comes from the Hebrew word signifying “king.” This was a god of the Ammonites, to whom human sacrifices were offered. Moses in several places forbids the Israelites, under penalty of death, to dedicate their children to Moloch, by making them pass through the fire, Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5. There is great probability that the Hebrews were addicted to the worship of this deity after they entered the land of Canaan. Solomon built a temple to Moloch on the Mount of Olives 1 Kings 11:7; and Manasseh made his son pass through the fire in honor of this idol, 2Ki 21:3, 2 Kings 21:6. The image of this idol was made of brass, and his arms extended so as to embrace anyone; and when they offered children to him, they heated the statue, and when it was burning hot, they placed the child in his arms, where it was soon destroyed by heat. It is not certain what this god was supposed to represent. Some suppose it was in honor of the planet Saturn; others, the sun; others, Mercury, Venus, etc. What particular god it was is not material. It was the most cutting reproof that could be made to the Jews, that their fathers had been guilty of worshipping this idol.
And the star - The Hebrew in this place is, “Chiun your images, the star of your god.” The expression used here leads us to suppose that this was a star which was worshipped, but what star it is not easy to ascertain; nor is it easy to determine why it is called both “Chiun” and “Remphan.” Stephen quotes from the Septuagint translation. In that translation the word “Chiun” is rendered by the word “Raiphan,” or “Rephan,” easily changed into “Remphan.” Why the authors of that version adopted this is not known. It was probably, however, from one of two causes:
(1) Either because the word “Chiun” in Hebrew meant the same as “Remphan” in the language of Egypt, where the translation was made; or,
(2) Because the “object” of worship called “Chiun” in Hebrew was called “Remphan” in the language of Egypt. It is generally agreed that the object of their worship was the planet “Saturn,” or “Mars,” both of which planets were worshipped as gods of evil influence. In Arabic, the word “Chevan” denotes the planet Saturn. Probably “Rephan,” or “Remphan,” is the Coptic name for the same planet, and the Septuagint adopted this because that translation was made in Egypt, where the Coptic language was spoken.
Figures which ye made - Images of the god which they made. See the article “Chiun” in Robinson’s Calmet.
And I will carry you away ... - This is simply expressing in few words what is stated at greater length in Amos 5:27. In Hebrew it is “Damascus”; but this evidently denotes the Eastern region, in which also Babylon was situated.
The tabernacle of witness - The “tent” or “tabernacle” which Moses was commanded to make. It was called a tabernacle of “witness,” or of “testimony,” because it was the visible witness or proof of God’s presence with them; the evidence that he to whom it was devoted was their protector and guide. The name is given either to the “tent,” to the two tables of stone, or to the ark; all of which were “witnesses,” or “evidences” of God’s relation to them as their Lawgiver and guide, Exodus 16:34; Exodus 25:16, Exodus 25:21; Exodus 27:21; Exodus 30:6, Exodus 30:36; Exodus 31:18, etc.; Numbers 1:50, Numbers 1:53. The two charges against Stephen were, that he had spoken blasphemy against Moses or his Law, and against the temple, Acts 6:13-14. In the previous part of this defense he had shown his respect for Moses and his Law. He now proceeds to show that he did not design to speak with disrespect of the temple, or the holy places of their worship. He therefore expresses his belief in the divine appointment of both the tabernacle Acts 7:44-46 and of the temple Acts 7:47.
According to the fashion ... - According to the pattern that was shown to him, by which it was to be made, Exodus 25:9, Exodus 25:40; Exodus 26:30. As God showed him “a pattern,” it proved that the tabernacle had his sanction. Against that Stephen did not intend to speak.
Our fathers that came after - None of the generation that came out of Egypt were permitted to enter into the and of Canaan except Caleb and Joshua, Numbers 14:22-24; Numbers 32:11-12. Hence, it is said that their fathers who “came after,” that is, after the generation when the tabernacle was built. The Greek, however, here means, properly, “which also our fathers, having “received,” brought,” etc. The sense is not materially different. Stephen means that it was not brought in by that generation, but by the next.
With Jesus - This should have been rendered “with Joshua.” Jesus is the Greek mode of writing the name “Joshua.” But the Hebrew name should by all means have been retained here, as also in Hebrews 4:8.
Into the possession of the Gentiles - Into the land possessed by the Gentiles, that is, into the promised land then occupied by the Canaanites, etc.
Whom God ... - That is, he continued to drive them out until the time of David, when they were completely expelled. Or it may mean that the tabernacle was in the possession of the Jews, and was the appointed place of worship, until the time of David, who desired to build him a temple. The Greek is ambiguous. The “connection” favors the latter interpretation.
Who found favour ... - That is, God granted him great prosperity, and delivered him from his enemies.
To find a tabernacle - To prepare a permanent dwelling-place for the “ark,” and for the visible symbols of the divine presence. Hitherto the ark had been kept in the tabernacle, and had been borne about from place to place. David sought to build a house that would be permanent, where the ark might be deposited, 2 Samuel 7:0; 1 Chronicles 22:7.
But Solomon ... - Built the temple. David was not permitted to do it because he had been a man of war, 1 Chronicles 22:8. He prepared the principal materials for the temple, but Solomon built it, 1 Chronicles 22:0: Compare 1 Kings 6:0.
Howbeit - But. Stephen was charged with speaking against the temple. He had now shown that he had due veneration for it, by his declaring that it had been built by the command of God. But he “now” adds that God does not need such a temple. Heaven is his throne; the universe his dwelling-place; and “therefore” this temple might be destroyed. A new, glorious truth was to be revealed to mankind, that God was not “confined” in his worship to any age, or people, or nation. In entire consistency, therefore, with all proper respect for the temple at Jerusalem, it might be maintained that the time would come when that temple would be destroyed, and when God might be worshipped by all nations.
The Most High - God. This sentiment was expressed by Solomon when the temple was dedicated, 1 Kings 8:27.
As saith the prophet - Isaiah 66:1-2. The place is not literally quoted, but the sense is given.
Heaven is my throne - See the notes on Matthew 5:34.
Earth is my footstool - See the notes on Matthew 5:35.
What house ... - What house or temple can be large or magnificent enough for the dwelling of Him who made all things?
The place of my rest - My home, my abode, my fixed seat or habitation. Compare Psalms 95:11.
Ye stiff-necked - The discourse of Stephen has every appearance of having been interrupted by the clamors and opposition of the Sanhedrin. This verse has no immediate connection with what precedes, and appears to have been spoken in the midst of opposition and clamor. If we may conjecture in this case, it would seem that the Jews saw the drift of his argument; that they interrupted him; and that when the tumult had somewhat subsided, he addressed them in the language of this verse, showing them that they sustained a character precisely similar to their rebellious fathers. The word “stiff-necked” is often used in the Old Testament, Exodus 32:9; Exodus 33:3, Exodus 33:5; Exodus 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:6, Deuteronomy 9:13; Deuteronomy 10:16, etc. It is a figurative expression taken from oxen that are refractory, and that will not submit to be yoked. Applied to people, it means that they are stubborn, contumacious, and unwilling to submit to the restraints of Law.
Uncircumcised in heart - Circumcision was a sign of being a Jew - of acknowledging the authority of the laws of Moses. It was also emblematic of purity, and of submission to the Law of God. The expression “uncircumcised in heart” denotes those who were not willing to acknowledge that Law, and submit to it. They had hearts filled with vicious and unsubdued affections and desires.
And ears - That is, who are unwilling to “hear” what God says. Compare Leviticus 26:41; Jeremiah 9:26. See the notes on Romans 2:28-29.
Resist the Holy Ghost - You oppose the message which is brought to you by the authority of God and the inspiration of his Spirit. The message brought by Moses; by the prophets; by the Saviour; and by the apostles - all by the infallible direction of the Holy Spirit - they and their fathers opposed.
As your fathers did ... - As he had specified in Acts 7:27, Acts 7:35, Acts 7:39-43.
Which of the prophets ... - The interrogative form here is a strong mode of saying that they had persecuted “all” the prophets. It was “the characteristic of the nation” to persecute the messengers of God. This is not to be taken as literally and universally true; but it was a general truth; it was the national characteristic. See the notes on Matthew 21:33-40; Matthew 23:29-35.
And they have slain them ... - That is, they have slain the prophets, whose main message was that the Messiah was to come. It was a great aggravation of their offence that they put to death the messengers which foretold the greatest blessing that the nation could receive.
The Just One - The Messiah. See the notes on Acts 3:14.
Of whom ye ... - You thus show that you resemble those who rejected and put to death the prophets. You have even gone beyond them in guilt, because you have put the Messiah himself to death.
The betrayers - They are called “betrayers” here because they employed Judas to betray him - agreeable to the maxim in law, “He who does anything by another is held to have done it himself.”
Who have received the law - The Law of Moses, given on Mount Sinai.
By the disposition of angels - There has been much diversity of opinion in regard to this phrase, εἰς διαταγὰς ἀγγέλων eis diatagas angelōn. The word translated “disposition” does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. It properly means the “constituting” or “arranging” of an army; disposing it into ranks and proper divisions. Hence, it has been supposed to mean that the Law was given “amidst” the various ranks of angels, being present to witness its promulgation. Others suppose that the angels were employed as agents or instruments to communicate the Law. All that the expression fairly implies is the former; that the Law was given amidst the attending ranks of angels, as if they were summoned to witness the pomp and ceremony of giving “law” to an entire people, and through them to an entire world. It should be added, moreover, that the Jews applied the word “angels” to any messengers of God; to fire, and tempest, and wind, etc. And all that Stephen means here may be to express the common Jewish opinion that God was attended on this occasion by the heavenly hosts, and by the symbols of his presence, fire, and smoke, and tempest. Compare Psalms 104:4; Psalms 68:17. Other places declare that the Law was spoken by an angel, one eminent above all attending angels, the special messenger of God. See the notes on Acts 7:38. It is plain that Stephen spoke only the common sentiment of the Jews. Thus, Herod is introduced by Josephus (Antiq., book 15, chapter 5, section 3) as saying, “We have learned in God the most excellent of our doctrines, and the most holy part of our Law by angels,” etc. In the eyes of the Jews, it justly gave increased majesty and solemnity to the Law, that it had been given in so grand and imposing circumstances. It greatly aggravated their guilt that, notwithstanding this, they had not kept it.
They were cut to the heart - They were exceedingly enraged and indignant. The whole course of the speech had been such as to excite their anger, and now they could restrain themselves no longer.
They gnashed on him ... - Expressive of the bitterness and malignity of their feeling.
Full of the Holy Ghost - See the notes on Acts 2:4.
Looked up stedfastly - Fixed his eyes intently on heaven. Foreseeing his danger, and the effect his speech had produced; seeing that there was no safety in the Great Council of the nation, and no prospect of justice at their hands, he cast his eyes to heaven and sought protection there. When dangers threaten us, our hope of safety lies in heaven. When people threaten our persons, reputation, or lives, it becomes us to fix our eyes on the heavenly world; and we shall not look in vain.
And saw the glory of God - This phrase is commonly used to denote the visible symbols of God. It means some magnificent representation; a splendor, or light, that is the appropriate exhibition of the presence of God, Matthew 16:27; Matthew 24:30. See the notes on Luke 2:9. In the case of Stephen there is every indication of a vision or supernatural representation of the heavenly objects; something in advance of mere “faith” such as dying Christians now have. What was its precise nature we have no means of ascertaining. Objects were often represented to prophets by “visions”; and probably something similar is intended here. It was such an elevation of view - such a representation of truth and of the glory of God, as to be denoted by the word “see”; though it is not to be maintained that Stephen really saw the Saviour with the bodily eye.
On the right hand of God - That is, exalted to a place of honor and power in the heavens. See the Matthew 26:64 note; Acts 2:25 note.
I see the heavens opened - A figurative expression, denoting that he was permitted to see “into” heaven, or to see what was there, as if the firmament was divided, and the eye was permitted to penetrate the eternal world. Compare Ezekiel 1:1.
Then they cried out - That is, probably, “the people,” not the members of the council It is evident he was put to death in a popular tumult. They had charged him with blasphemy; and they regarded what he had now said as full proof of it.
And stopped their ears - That they might hear no more blasphemy.
With one accord - In a tumult; unitedly.
And cast him out of the city - This was in accordance with the usual custom. In Leviticus 24:14, it was directed to bring forth him that had cursed without the camp; and it was not usual, the Jewish writers inform us, to stone in the presence of the Sanhedrin. Though this was a popular tumult, and Stephen was condemned without the regular process of trial, yet some of the “forms” of law were observed, and he was stoned in the manner directed in the case of blasphemers.
And stoned him - This was the punishment appointed in the case of blasphemy, Leviticus 24:16. See the notes on John 10:31.
And the witnesses - That is, the false witnesses who bore testimony against him, Acts 6:13. It was directed in the Law Deuteronomy 17:7 that the “witnesses” in the case should be first in executing the sentence of the Law. This was done to prevent false accusations by the prospect that they must be employed as executioners. After they had commenced the process of execution, all the people joined in it, Deuteronomy 17:7; Leviticus 24:16.
Laid down their clothes - Their “outer garments.” They were accustomed to lay these aside when they ran or worked. See the notes on Matthew 5:40.
At a young man’s feet ... - That is, they procured him to take care of their garments. This is mentioned solely because Saul, or Paul, afterward became so celebrated, first as a persecutor, and then an apostle. His whole heart was in this persecution of Stephen; and he himself afterward alluded to this circumstance as an evidence of his sinfulness in persecuting the Lord Jesus, Acts 22:20.
Calling upon God - The word God is not in the original, and should not have been in the translation. It is in none of the ancient mss. or versions. It should have been rendered, “They stoned Stephen, invoking, or calling upon, and saying, Lord Jesus,” etc. That is, he was engaged “in prayer” to the Lord Jesus. The word is used to express “prayer” in the following, among other places: 2 Corinthians 1:23, “I call God to witness”; 1 Peter 1:17, “And if ye call on the Father,” etc.; Acts 2:21, “whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord,” etc.; Acts 9:14; Acts 22:16; Romans 10:12-14. This was, therefore, an act of worship; a solemn invocation of the Lord Jesus, in the most interesting circumstances in which a man can be placed - in his dying moments. And this shows that it is right to worship the Lord Jesus, and to pray to him. For if Stephen was inspired, it settles the question. The example of an inspired man in such circumstances is a safe and correct example. If it should be said that the inspiration of Stephen cannot be made out, yet the inspiration of Luke, who has recorded it, will not be called into question. Then the following circumstances show that he, an inspired man, regarded it as right, and as a proper example to be followed:
- He has recorded it without the slightest expression of an opinion that it was improper. On the contrary, there is every evidence that he regarded the conduct of Stephen in this case as right and praiseworthy. There is, therefore, this attestation to its propriety.
(2)The Spirit who inspired Luke knew what use would be made of this case. He knew that it would be used as an example, and as an evidence that it was right to worship the Lord Jesus. It is one of the cases which has been used to perpetuate the worship of the Lord Jesus in every age. If it was wrong, it is inconceivable that it should be recorded without some expression of disapprobation.
(3)The case is strikingly similar to that recorded in John 20:28, where Thomas offered worship to the Lord Jesus “as his God,” without reproof. If Thomas did it in the presence of the Saviour without reproof, it was right. If Stephen did it without any expression of disapprobation from the inspired historian, it was right.
(4)These examples were used to encourage Christians and Christian martyrs to offer homage to Jesus Christ. Thus, Pliny, writing to the Emperor Trajan, and giving an account of the Christians in Bithynia, says that they were accustomed to meet and “sing hymns to Christ as to God” (Latriner).
(5)It is worthy of remark that Stephen, in his death, offered the same act of homage to Christ that Christ himself did to the Father when he died, Luke 23:46. From all these considerations, it follows that the Lord Jesus is a proper object of worship; that in most solemn circumstances it is right to call upon him, to worship him, and to commit our dearest interests to his hands. If this may be done, he is divine.
Receive my spirit - That is, receive it to thyself; take it to thine abode in heaven.
And he kneeled down - This seems to have been a “voluntary” kneeling; a placing himself in this position for the purpose of “prayer,” choosing to die in this attitude.
Lord - That is, Lord Jesus. See the notes on Acts 1:24.
Lay not ... - Forgive them. This passage strikingly resembles the dying prayer of the Lord Jesus, Luke 23:34. Nothing but the Christian religion will enable a man to utter such sentiments in his dying moments.
He fell asleep - This is the usual mode of describing the death of saints in the Bible. It is an expression indicating:
- The “peacefulness” of their death, compared with the alarm of sinners;
- The hope of a resurrection; as we retire to sleep with the hope of again awaking to the duties and enjoyments of life. See John 11:11-12; 1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:10; Matthew 9:24.
In view of the death of this first Christian martyr, we may remark:
(1) That it is right to address to the Lord Jesus the language of prayer.
(2) It is especially proper to do it in afflictions, and in the prospect of death, Hebrews 4:15.
(3) Sustaining grace will be derived in trials chiefly from a view of the Lord Jesus. If we can look to him as our Saviour; see him to be exalted to deliver us; and truly commit our souls to him, we shall find the grace which we need in our afflictions.
(4) We should have such confidence in him as to enable us to commit ourselves to him at any time. To do this, we should live a life of faith. In health, and youth, and strength, we should seek him as our first and best friend.
(5) While we are in health we should prepare to die. What an unfit place for preparation for death would have been the situation of Stephen! How impossible then would it have been to have made preparation! Yet the dying bed is often a place as unfit to prepare as were the circumstances of Stephen. When racked with pain; when faint and feeble; when the mind is indisposed to thought, or when it raves in the wildness of delirium, what an unfit place is this to prepare to die! I have seen many dying beds; I have seen many persons in all stages of their last sickness; but never have I yet seen a dying bed which seemed to me to be a proper place to make preparation for eternity.
(6) How peaceful and calm is a death like that of Stephen, when compared with the alarms and anguish of a sinner! One moment of such peace in that trying time is better than all the pleasures and honors which the world can bestow; and to obtain such peace then, the dying sinner would be willing to give all the wealth of the Indies, and all the crowns of the earth. So may I die and so may all my readers - enabled, like this dying martyr, to commit my departing spirit to the sure keeping of the great Redeemer! When we take a parting view of the world; when our eyes shall be turned for the last time to take a look of friends and relatives; when the darkness of death shall begin to come around us, then may we be enabled to cast the eye of faith to the heavens, and say, “Lord Jesus, receive our spirits.” Thus, may we fall asleep, peaceful in death, in the hope of the resurrection of the just.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Acts 7". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany