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Bible Commentaries
Acts 7

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Introduction

This chapter is devoted to the defense Stephen made before the court. Stephen’s speech is a fearless account of Jewish history as it relates to the coming of Jesus and His rejection as the Messiah. Over the years there have been critics who attempted to show "so-called contradictions" in the historical facts as presented by Stephen. But as noted by Coffman, "those great experts of Jewish history who sat in the Sanhedrin found no fault whatever with the history cited by Stephen; the only thing they objected to was his application of it!" (133).

Verse 1

Then said the high priest, Are these things so?

Then said the high priest: Caiaphas, who served as high priest until A.D. 36, is again in charge of those who would rid the world of Christianity. He presides against Jesus in Matthew 26:57-66, against Peter and John in Acts 4:18, against the apostles in Acts 5:40; and now against Stephen.

Are these things so: Stephen has been accused of blaspheming God, the Law, and the temple. All of these charges are made by "suborned" (6:11), that is, lying witnesses; and Caiaphas has the hypocritical arrogance to ask "Are these things so?" Stephen is being asked to plead guilty or not guilty, thus setting the stage for his discourse.

Verse 2

And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran,

And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken: With his face glowing as the "face of an angel," Stephen addresses the entire audience."Men and brethren" would be those onlookers who line the judgment hall while "fathers" indicates members of the Sanhedrin. Stephen, being "full of wisdom," makes his defense by using an indirect approach to his declaration of Jesus as the promised Messiah. It is a common procedure in trials to appeal to similar cases to substantiate the verdict desired. In his defense, Stephen intends to show that his judges have the same characteristics as their forefathers. They are willing to reject anyone who is approved of God.

Throughout the entire history of the Jews he weaves the thought that every man whom God sent to the nation of Israel was rejected and mistreated; that there was not one man sent from God who was accepted for what he was. In the case of Joseph, the Patriarchs refused him and sold him into Egypt. Moses was twice rejected. The application that fairly shouts from Stephen’s account is that the rulers of the Jews in his day were doing with Jesus exactly what their fathers did with Joseph, Moses and all the prophets (De Welt 93).

The God of glory: Stephen begins his discourse with a Hebrew expression that means "the glorious God."

appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia:"Mesopotamia" literally means "between the rivers." In this case it refers to the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. In Genesis 11:31, the area in Mesopotamia where Abraham lived is called "Ur of the Chaldees."

before he dwelt in Charran: Charran is the Greek form of the Hebrew word Haran. This region is also in Mesopotamia but is north of Ur of the Chaldees. This is one of the places where pseudo Bible intellectuals attempt to find a discrepancy in the historical account of Luke. As usual, the only discrepancy is on the part of the critic. Dennis Gaertner gives the following explanation:

Stephen places God’s call of Abraham "in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran." The call recorded in Genesis 12:1 however, comes after Abraham’s arrival in Haran. But this problem seems to disappear when Genesis 15:7 is taken into account, a passage which has the Lord saying to Abraham "I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans" (127).

Verse 3

And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee.

Abraham receives instruction from God to leave his home and his "kindred" to travel to an unknown land (Genesis 12:1). This unquestioning act of obedience on the part of Abraham is forever remembered in God’s word.

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went (Hebrews 11:8).

This separation from his "kindred" also served another purpose to benefit Abraham. He was removed from the influence of his idolatrous relatives.

Verse 4

Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell.

Abraham left the "land of the Chaldaeans" in Mesopotamia and along with his father Terah and his nephew Lot settled in Charran. They remained in Charran until Abraham’s father died; and then under divine instruction, Abraham moved to Canaan.

Verse 5

And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child.

In an emphatic way, the scriptures tell us Abraham had no land of his own. He received no permanent possession or residence in the land of Canaan.

Abraham was given no part of the land in actual possession; for the rest of his life he lived as a resident alien there. It was a promised land to him, indeed–promised to him and his posterity before he had any children–but to him and his immediate posterity it remained no more than a "promised land." (Bruce 147).

The only land Abraham ever owned in Canaan was the cave "in the field of Machpelah, " which he purchased from the children of Heth for a grave (Genesis 23).

Verse 6

And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years.

Here, Stephen speaks of the time the "seed" of Abraham, the Israelites, left the land of Canaan to travel to the land of Egypt. Egypt became the land of bondage; Israel became slaves (Exodus 1:11). Surely, Egypt was a "strange" land to Israel, but the actual meaning of this phrase is that Israel would be"a stranger in the land that is not theirs" (Genesis 15:13)."To sojourn 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" (Barnes 421).

The "four hundred years" is another statement Bible critics strain at. In the account in Exodus 12:40 and Paul’s record in Galatians 3:17, the figure is given at 430 years.

Exodus 12:40 gives the time as 430 years; but the four hundred years is a round number as in Genesis 15:13. Also, there are two ways of counting the"so-journing, "these being (1) from the call of Abraham to the Exodus, which was 430 years, and (2) from the birth of Isaac to the Exodus, which was 400 years. ... It is ridiculous to make anything out of such so-called discrepancies as these" (Coffman 135-36).

Verse 7

And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place.

This reference is to the nation of Egypt; they were to feel the judgment of God. "The word ’judge’, in the Bible, often means to execute judgment as well as to pronounce it; that is, to punish" (Barnes 4:22) (John 18:31; Acts 24:6). Egypt experienced the wrath of God’s judgment in the plagues inflicted upon them and the disaster in the Red Sea. After the bondage in Egypt, Israel was delivered to serve God in the "promised land."

Verse 8

And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs.

And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: God gave to Abraham the token of circumcision as a sign of the covenant that He made with him. Circumcision became the physical mark that distinguished the people of God. Although some other nations practiced circumcision, this sign had spiritual significance only to the Israelites (Genesis 17:9-13).

The covenant of circumcision was given the year before Isaac was born. The argument suggested here is apparently the same as Paul’s in Romans 4:10-17. There it is argued that circumcision has nothing to do with Abraham’s justification – he being justified before the seal of circumcision was given. Circumcision had nothing to do with Abraham’s being reckoned as righteous by God. Thirteen or more years before he received the covenant of circumcision from God, he had been reckoned as righteous because of his continuing obedient faith, Romans 4:1 ff and Galatians 3:17 (Reese 224).

and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day: Abraham circumcised Isaac on the "eighth day, " and in so doing, the sign of the covenant was transmitted from generation to generation.

and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs: Through this chronology, the foundation for the nation of Israel is established. Beginning with Abraham, followed by Isaac and Jacob and finally the twelve patriarchs, the twelve tribes of Israel were established. "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" (Barnes 422).

Thus far, Stephen has delivered a brief history of the origin of Israel by tracing its roots back to Father Abraham. He now turns his attention to Joseph to demonstrate how Israel has historically rejected those God would put in leadership.

Verse 9

And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him,

And the patriarchs: In this case, the "patriarchs" are Joseph’s own brothers.

moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: The brothers of Joseph were envious of him because of the favor showed to him by his father Jacob and the dreams that Joseph had. They sold him into slavery (Genesis 37:3-28).

but God was with him: As surely as God has watched over the fortunes of Abraham, He also guided and protected the life of Joseph. Stephen’s point is clear, "God was with him"; and whomever God is with, Israel is against!

Verse 10

And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.

And delivered him out of all his afflictions: By the providence of God, Joseph is delivered from bondage and affliction to a position of high honor.

and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt: In particular, Joseph shows his wisdom in the interpretation of the Pharaoh’s dreams (Genesis 41). The word "Pharaoh" is not the king’s name but rather his title. All the kings of Egypt were called Pharaoh.

and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house: Joseph became the right-hand man to Pharaoh and took charge over the affairs of Egypt.

Verse 11

Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan, and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance.

Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan, and great affliction: Stephen reminds his audience of the famine and "great affliction" that eventually brought the "patriarchs" to depend on the mercy of Joseph. One can only wonder what it would take to cause Stephen’s audience, on that day or in the world today, to realize their spiritual famine and to cause them to turn to the mercies of Jesus.

and our fathers found no sustenance: There was no food for man or beast in Canaan.

Verse 12

But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first.

Because of the "wisdom" of Joseph, the Egyptians stored grain during the years of plenty; therefore, they had excess to sell. "Corn" here is not corn as we usually understand it but rather wheat or barley. The brothers of Joseph were sent to Egypt to buy this grain (Genesis 42).

Verse 13

And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph’s kindred was made known unto Pharaoh.

On the second occasion when they went to Egypt to buy food, Joseph (whom they had not recognized the first time) made himself known to them; is there a suggestion here that a greater than Joseph, who was not recognized by His brethren when they saw Him for the first time, will be acknowledged by them as their anointed deliverer when they see Him the second time (Bruce 148)?

Verse 14

Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls.

After Joseph revealed himself to his brethren, he sent word to his father to join him in Egypt (Genesis 45:17-28). Stephen says there were "threescore and fifteen souls" or seventy-five of Joseph’s relatives who moved to Egypt. This is another of the alleged mistakes made by Stephen as the account elsewhere states the number was seventy. McGarvey gives this explanation:

Stephen, being a Hellenist, read the Scriptures in the Greek translation, as did all of his adversaries in the foreign synagogue, and as did the great majority of the Jewish people, to whom the original Hebrew was already a dead language. His Greek Bible, the Septuagint version, gives precisely the number of names which he here quotes. It reads: "All the souls of the house of Jacob who went with Jacob into Egypt, were seventy-five souls; " and it makes the additional five, by giving, at verse 20, the names of two sons of Manasseh, two of Ephraim, and one grandson of the latter. Stephen then gave the figures as he and his hearers read them in their Bible, and perhaps neither he nor they had ever observed the discrepancy between the version and the original (Vol. I 120).

Verse 15

So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers,

The time spent in Egypt by the Israelites was long enough that Jacob and all of his sons died there. They literally died in bondage waiting for a leader to take them to the promised land. Do the inquisitors of Stephen also miss this point? The answer is obvious.

Verse 16

And were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem.

Here Stephen is charged with another error. Is he saying Jacob and all of his sons died and were carried "over into Sychem" to be buried? The answer is no.

Stephen’s comments on the location of the tomb of the patriarchs presents an example of compressing of the narrative. Genesis describes two purchases of burial plots-one by Abraham at Hebron (Genesis 23:17-18) and the other by Jacob at Shechem (Genesis 33:19). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were buried at Hebron while Joseph was buried later at Shechem (Joshua 24:32). Stephen compressed these accounts into one story in his statement that the patriarchs were buried "in the tomb that Abraham had bought" at Shechem. The Sanhedrin would have understood his summary completely (Gaertner 129-130).

May we remind the reader these so-called mistakes that are charged to Stephen in the first sixteen verses of his narrative are not challenged by this supreme council of the Jews. If there is any group that could have pointed out the mistakes of Stephen, either in history or geography, it is this ultra legalistic group of scholars before whom he makes his defense. As far as the Sanhedrin is concerned, the only mistake Stephen makes is in accusing them of killing Jesus!

Verse 17

But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt,

And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them (Exodus 1:7).

Stephen has shown that the Patriarchs rejected Joseph who had saved the Israelites from starvation; now he will demonstrate that they also rejected Moses who would lead them out of bondage. Stephen’s case for Jesus builds. The time is drawing nigh for the deliverance of Israel.

Verse 18

Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph.

The instrument in God’s hand to bring about the exodus of Israel out of Egypt was to be a new Pharaoh. This new king evidently did not realize the valuable service rendered by Joseph in former days; therefore, he did not show the same appreciation to the Israelites as they had received in earlier days.

Verse 19

The same dealt subtilly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live.

This new Pharaoh is a hard taskmaster over Israel. "The Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour" (Exodus 1:13). He viewed the increase in Hebrew population as a threat, and thus he commanded, "Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, ..." (Exodus 1:22).

Verses 20-21

In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father’s house three months: And when he was cast out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son.

During this time of oppression, Moses is born. He is sheltered in his father’s house for three months before being set upon the river in "an ark of bulrushes" (Exodus 2:3). Pharaoh’s daughter finds baby Moses and brings him up as her own son in a style befitting a royal prince (Exodus 2:1-10). "Truly God was working in a marvelous way His wonders to perform! Little did the king and his daughter realize that God was using them, His very enemies, to train and protect a leader to deliver Israel from their hands" (Reese 229).

Verse 22

And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.

Moses had the benefit of the best education the Egyptians could provide. The wisdom and knowledge of the Egyptians was revered all over the world of that day and age. The Egyptians were famous for their studies in music, geometry, medicine, and mathematics; and we might assume Moses was educated in all of these areas of arts and sciences. But the most outstanding thing about the education of Moses must have come from the influence of his mother. Amidst the wealth, culture and "pleasures of sin, " Moses never forgot the true priorities of life. Moses chose to "suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt..." (Hebrews 11:25-26). Christian parents take heart! "Bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" and "when they are old they will not depart from it" (Ephesians 6:4; Proverbs 22:6).

Verses 23-24

And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian:

In spite of the Egyptian ties that Moses had, he never forgot he was a Hebrew. When he was forty years old, he began to take steps to become the leader for Israel; but his intervention on their behalf was not appreciated. When Moses observed an Israelite being whipped by his Egyptian taskmaster, Moses "smote the Egyptian" and killed him (Exodus 2:11-12).

Verse 25

For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.

This point seems to be the core of the problem. Israel did not understand that Moses was to be their deliverer, nor were they ready to accept him as such.

Verse 26

And the next day he shewed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another?

According to Exodus 2:13, two Israelites were in a fight with each other when Moses attempts to establish peace between them. The one who was at fault totally rejected the attempt of Moses to bring reconciliation; instead he made charges against Moses.

Verse 27

But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?

The Hebrew, who was in the wrong, pushed Moses away and taunted him with the question, "who made you a ruler?" In other words, Moses was being asked what authority he had that gave him power over them? Stephen has again presented a parallel that the Sanhedrin should not have missed. It is this same murderous court that asked Jesus "by what authority doest thou these things; or who gave thee this authority?" (Mark 11:28).

Verses 28-29

Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday? Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons.

Moses had exposed himself to grave peril by his attempt to champion his oppressed people’s cause; his action in killing an Egyptian bully was more widely known than he wished, and he had to leave Egypt in haste and find refuge in north -west Arabia (Bruce 150).

Moses correctly assumes his life would be in jeopardy if the news of his killing the Egyptian reached Pharaoh. "Pharaoh sought to slay Moses" (Exodus 2:15). In Midian, Moses married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro. The names of the two sons of Moses were Gershom and Eliezed (Exodus 18:1-4).

Verse 30

And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush.

And when forty years were expired: Moses spent the next forty years in Midian until he was called to deliver Israel. He was now eighty years old.

there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina: The Exodus account states that the mountain was Horab. "But there is no contradiction; Horab and Sinai are different peaks or elevations of the same mountain" (Barnes 424).

an angel of the Lord: There is much discussion as to the "angel" that spoke to Moses. In this verse the angel is spoken of as the one who would supply the power to deliver Israel. Some commentators (Lenski, Barnes) think the angel is Christ. This interpretation seems to be in opposition to the very principle that makes the New Testament superior to the Old Testament. Paul reasons in Hebrews 2:2-3, "if even the law, ’spoken through angels, ’ imposed inexorable penalties on those who infringed it, much more inexorable will be the penalty of disregarding God’s latest revelation which was communicated not by angels but by His Son ... " (Bruce 163).

Whether it can be determined if the angel is Christ or not, it must be recognized that this messenger of God is indeed a most powerful and authoritative character in the history of Israel (Exodus 23:20-23). Isaiah refers to him as the"angel of His presence" (Isaiah 63:9). Bruce says, "The angel of the presence" of God (lit. the messenger of His face, ...) is the angel who makes His presence real to men – in other words, the angel of Jehovah" (152).

By "the angel who spoke to him in Mount Sinai, " Stephen means the same angel mentioned in verse 30, where he says, "An angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush." In the next verse (31) this angel is called The Lord, as in Exodus he is called both Jehovah and God (Ex. ii1 2, 4). This shows that visible and audible manifestations of God were made through the persons of angels (McGarvey, Vol. I 125).

in a flame of fire in a bush: In a bush that was burning yet not being consumed by the fire, Moses heard the "voice of God" (Exodus 3:2-6).

Verse 31

When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the Lord came unto him,

And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I (Exodus 3:4).

Verses 32-33

Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold. Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground.

It was a fearful thing for Moses to stand in the presence of God. He was afraid and dared not to look upon the burning bush from which emanated "the voice of God."

He was instructed, "Put off the shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground." Again, the thrust of this information is the fact that God appeared to Moses in the pagan land of Midian, the "holy ground" being neither in a temple nor in Jerusalem. The place is "holy ground" because of the divine presence of God (Exodus 3:5).

Verse 34

I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee into Egypt.

God was very much aware of the afflictions of Israel; "He knew their sorrows, " and He had not forgotten His promise to deliver them. The time had come for Moses to be sent back to Egypt (Exodus 3:7-10).

Verse 35

This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush.

Stephen once again emphasizes the fact that Moses, the leader chosen by God, was rejected by Israel. The ultimate parallel is that the Jews also rejected Jesus Christ.

Verse 36

He brought them out, after that he had shewed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years.

The final forty years of the life of Moses is now brought into focus by Stephen. Mention is made that Moses confirmed himself as the leader of Israel with many "wonders and signs." The dividing of the Red Sea, water from the rock, deliverance from serpents- these are but a few of the many miracles of Moses. It should have come to the mind of Stephen’s accusers that Jesus also is "approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs" (2:22).

Verse 37

This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear.

Stephen here shows that in reality he is the one who honors and respects Moses, and they are the ones who opposed and rejected him. Moses predicted the coming Messiah, and that Messiah is Jesus. Stephen is willing to "hear" Jesus; the Sanhedrin is not (Deuteronomy 18:15-18). Stephen has not blasphemed Moses; on the contrary, it is the Sanhedrin who blasphemes in their failure to honor the words of Moses when he commanded to "hear" him (see notes on 3:22).

Verse 38

This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:

This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness: This same Moses is with the "church in the wilderness." The Greek word is ekklesia, "from ek, out of, and klesis, a calling. In Acts 7:38, it is used of Israel ..." (Vine, Vol. I 83-84). Literally the word "church" in this place indicates those Israelites who were "called out of bondage into the wilderness." The Israelites were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and the sea; they now are the "church" (the called out). It should be understood this is not a reference to the church of Christ but to the congregation of Israel in the wilderness, which is typical of Christ’s church.

The word here rendered church, ekklesia, is the one usually so rendered in the N. T., but never in the O. T. As the body of the Israelites represented by it is always in the O. T. styled the congregation, or the assembly, so it should have been here in the text as our revisers have given it in the margin. This is required by uniformity, and it would have prevented some persons from confounding the assembly in the wilderness with the New Testament church (McGarvey, Vol. I 125).

with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina: See notes on verse 30.

and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us: The term "oracles" is used by the Greeks to indicate communication from their gods. Stephen here contrasts what supposedly comes from idols with the words that come from the living God. Moses and the patriarchs received not dead words from dead gods but the "living" words of a living God (Hebrews 4:12; 1 Peter 1:23).

Verse 39

To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt,

To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them: Again, Stephen reiterates the rejection of God’s chosen leader by the forefathers of these same Jews who are now rejecting Jesus. One would expect the point would have been taken by now. It would be very interesting to know what Saul of Tarsus is thinking at this moment of Stephen’s inquisition.

and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt: What a pitiful commentary this is on the people of God. They regretted they had come out of Egypt, preferring a full stomach and the idolatry of Egypt to the freedom found in the wilderness (Exodus 16:2-3; Exodus 32:1-23). This sad condition is also reflected by our society. In a nation that allows the freedom to worship God as His word directs, the majority prefer to bow down to the "gods of this world, " preferring the morals and habits of the heathen to the good life in service to the living God.

Verse 40

Saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us: for as for this Moses, which brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.

"When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount" (Exodus 32:1), they used this occasion as an excuse to build an idol to replace God. How amazing! Moses and God were about as close physically as man and God have ever been; God was engraving the Ten Commandments with His own finger; there was lightning and thundering, along with a host of angels on Mount Sinai; one might expect that Israel was reverently awaiting the return of Moses; but no, Israel had turned to idolatry. They "have sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play" (Exodus 32:6).

Verse 41

And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.

And they made a calf in those days: When Israel "in their hearts turned back to Egypt, " it is a natural thing for them to copy the idols they had seen in Egypt. Cattle were considered sacred and to be worshiped in Egypt, so Israel built themselves a "golden calf." Campbell says, "The science and art of calfmaking ... was an Egyptian art" (49).

This was in imitation of the Egyptian bull-worship. Several of these animals were worshipped at different places in Egypt. Apis was worshipped at Memphis. ... The Egyptians say that fire comes down from heaven upon the cow, which thereupon conceives Apis. ... He was regarded by the Egyptians, not merely as an emblem, but as a god. ... Another sacred bull was maintained at Heliopolis, in the great Temple of the Sun, under the name Mnevis, and was honored with reverence next to Apis (Vincent 481-482).

and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands: How soon the Israelites forgot! The God who brought the plagues upon Egypt, parted the Red Sea, and sent the manna and quail had been replaced by a lifeless, graven image! Stephen has now shown that not only did Israel reject their leaders, but they rejected the very God of Heaven and rejoiced in their sinfulness.

Verse 42

Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness?

Then God turned, and gave them up: The Israelites had shown their inclination toward idolatry; therefore, God abandoned them to their own desires. "God gave them up" to their idolatrous ways after pleading with them for many long years. Paul also uses this term to describe what happens to the Gentiles in Romans 1:24; Romans 1:26; Romans 1:28.

to worship the host of heaven: Most idolaters, in one way or another, incorporate the sun, moon, stars, etc. into their false worship.

as it is written in the book of the prophets: The following quotation is from Amos 5:25-26.

O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness: We can be sure Israel did offer sacrifices to God during the wilderness wanderings, but we can also be sure that often "their hearts were far from him. They kept the form of worship, but they often forgot God and worshiped idols. In this quote from Amos, Stephen shows that even in the wilderness, Israel rejected God in their hearts. In the next verse, Stephen becomes more specific with his charges.

Verse 43

Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babylon.

Yea, ye took up:"Took up" literally means they carried with them for the purpose of idolatrous worship. Israel was not only guilty of idolatry, but idolatry was their intention.

the tabernacle of Moloch: The Israelites carried with them the "tabernacle" (tent) of Moloch. This is the container for the various images, charms, and necessary paraphernalia to worship Moloch. Moloch was the god of the Ammonites, to whom children were offered in sacrifice."According to Rabbinical tradition, his image was hollow, heated from below, with the head of an ox and the outstretched arms, into which children were laid, their cries being stifled by the beating of drums" (Vincent 482-483).

and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: As is always the case, idolators "worship and serve the creature more than the Creator" (Romans 1:25).

This was a star which was worshipped, but what star it was is not easy to ascertain. In Amos 5:26, the name is given as Chiun, in the Hebrew, and as Rephan (Raiphan or Remphan) in the LXX. The best explanation of this seems to be that Rephan is the Coptic name of the star, and that Chiun is the Hebrew or Arabic name. And the star is usually said to be Saturn (Reese 237).

and I will carry you away beyond Babylon: Stephen restates what is said in Amos 5:27."Where Stephen says ’beyond Babylon, ’ the Hebrew has ’beyond Damascus; ’ however, ’beyond Damascus’ to the Jewish mind meant Babylon. Stephen’s words therefore give an inspired commentary on what the Hebrew meant. Amos has reference to the Babylonian captivity when he predicted a ’carrying away’ because of their sin and idolatry" (Reese 238). Because of Israel’s repeated rejection of God and their persistent obsession with idolatry, God allowed them to be taken into bondage. Not only were the ten northern tribes lost entirely, but the two southern tribes were sent into Babylonian captivity as punishment for their idolatry.

Verse 44

Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen.

The place where God was worshiped in the wilderness, the tabernacle, was moved about as Israel moved from place to place. The argument is that God is not necessarily worshiped in any one particular location to the exclusion of all others. By this discussion, Stephen shows the Jews themselves have changed the religious customs of Moses.

He also mentions that when God spoke to Moses concerning the construction, furnishings, and arrangement of the tabernacle, all things were to be done "according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount" (Hebrews 8:5). It must also be understood that God has a divine pattern that we must follow today. For the work and worship of the Lord’s church, a pattern has been revealed in the scriptures. It is up to us to ask for a "thus saith the Lord" for the things that we practice (Matthew 15:9; John 4:23-24; Galatians 1:6-9; 2 Timothy 2:5).

Verse 45

Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David;

Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus: It should be remembered that Moses was not allowed to enter into the Promised Land. Of the original six hundred thousand plus Israelites who left Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb were allowed to enter."Our fathers that came after" indicates the next generation of Israelites (Numbers 1:46; Numbers 14:22-24; Numbers 32:11-12)."Jesus" is the Greek word for Joshua. The context of this passage allows us to understand the reference is to Joshua rather than to the Lord."There is perhaps a tacit suggestion that it is not by accident that the leader who brought them into the earthly land of promise bore the same name as the One under whom they might inherit better promises" (Bruce 156-157).

into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers: God gave Israel victory over the Gentiles so that they were able to take the land of Canaan ("the possession of the Gentiles"). Stephen continues to point out that the "tabernacle" was moved about during the sojourn of Israel in the wilderness and later when it was carried into the "Promised Land." The point is that the place of worship changed. Stephen is preparing to show the Jews have also changed the religious customs of their fathers.

unto the days of David: The tabernacle continued to be the place for worship "unto the days of David." David desired to build a permanent place of worship but was not allowed to do so.

Verse 46

Who found favour before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.

Because of the sins of David, God did not allow him to build the temple. Instead the temple was eventually built by David’s son. Bruce gives the following commentary:

King David, after putting down his enemies inside and outside the land, longed to provide a nobler dwelling- place for the ark than the new tent-shrine he had erected for it on Mount Zion when he brought it out of the long obscurity in which it had remained since its capture and restoration by the Philistines. Psalms 132, which underlies the words of Stephen here, describes:

How he sware unto Jehovah, And vowed unto the Mighty One of Jacob: Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, Nor go up into my bed; I will not give sleep to mine eyes; Or slumber to mine eyelids; Until I find out a place for Jehovah, A tabernacle for the Mighty One of Jacob (vv. 2-5).

The contrast between David’s own palace, panelled in cedar wood, and the curtained tent within which the ark abode, weighed upon his mind. He confided in the prophet Nathan, and Nathan’s first reaction was to bid the king act upon his inclination and build a palace for the ark of God. But Nathan soon ascertained the mind of God more clearly, and went back to David with the message that God desired no house of cedar at his hands, but would Himself establish David’s house in perpetuity. Yet a son of David would arise, and build a house for God (2 Samuel 7) (Bruce 157).

Verse 47

But Solomon built him an house.

The reason given as to why David was not allowed to build a house for God is that he was a man of war and had "shed much blood upon the earth."Instead, David’s son, Solomon, "a man of rest," was allowed to build "an house" unto the name of God (1 Chronicles 22:6-11).

Verse 48

Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet,

Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands: Stephen’s reference to the temple of Solomon indicates this temple was not to be the ultimate dwelling place of God because"the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands."The true message, which is probably wasted on this audience, is that it is another "son of David," not Solomon, who is to provide the true temple of God (Matthew 1:1; Matthew 15:22; Romans 1:3)."One greater than the temple" is here, that being Jesus Christ (Matthew 12:6). Through Jesus, the dwelling place of God is to be the hearts of men, a "dwelling not made with hands."

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you (1 Corinthians 3:16)?

as saith the prophet: The passage from which the gist of the following statement is taken is Isaiah 66:1-2.

Verses 49-50

Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Hath not my hand made all these things?

The idol gods of the heathen might be housed in temples made with hands, but not so for the God of the Universe. He is described as being so vast the entire universe is necessary to provide Him a place to sit while the earth is so small that God uses it as a "footstool." The logic follows: how could it be possible for man to build a physical house that could contain Almighty God? With this reasoning, Stephen shores up his defense that he did not blaspheme the temple.

Involved in these remarks is the argument that inasmuch as the tabernacle was once God’s house, but was supplanted by the temple, grand and ancient as it was, was infinitely too small to contain the living God, and was declared by one of their own prophets not to be God’s real dwelling place, it could be no blasphemy to say that it was yet to be set aside and destroyed (Reese 240-241).

Verse 51

Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.

Here, and in the next two verses, it seems that the cherubim-faced Stephen announces the judgment of God upon these evil men whose day of grace has passed. He wastes no words in his summary and condemnation of the conduct of Israel from Moses to the court before which he now stands.

Ye stiffnecked:"Stiffnecked"is an Old Testament term used by God in a description of Israel (Exodus 33:5). It is taken from the figure of oxen that will not submit to being yoked. So it is with the Israelites: they would not submit to the yoke of God.

and uncircumcised in heart and ears: Since circumcision is the mark of the Jew and supposedly indicates an acknowledgment of the law of Moses, anything referred to as uncircumcised is considered heathen and disobedient. To be"uncircumcised in heart and ears" means they are unwilling to acknowledge the Law in their minds or even to listen to it with their ears.

ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye: Stephen establishes a pattern of disobedience from the time of Moses to the court now in session. "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 – they and their fathers opposed" (Barnes 427).

Verses 52-53

Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.

In this summary of Stephen’s speech, the pent up emotions he seems to have held in check to this point come forth. Without reservation, he now reverses the charges made against him and turns them upon his audience. They are the ones guilty of resisting the Holy Spirit, disobeying the law received "of angels, " rejecting the prophets, and murdering the Messiah. Truly, this accusation of guilt is a bitter pill for these Jews to swallow.

At this point in Stephen’s discourse, he has answered all the charges made against him. Did he blaspheme the Law? Not at all. In reality, it is the very "fathers" the Sanhedrin represent who had subverted the Mosaic traditions (verse 39). Did he blaspheme the temple? Again, the answer is no. He has shown that even their own prophets knew that "God dwells not in temples made with hands" (verse 48). What about "this Jesus of Nazareth who shall destroy this place, and change the customs which Moses delivered us" (6:14)? Stephen makes no attempt to deny what Jesus will do, but rather he justifies his position by showing that it is the position held by the patriarchs and prophets that his Jewish opponents have categorically denied. The conclusion: the members of this self-righteous court are the ones in opposition to the eternal plan of God. They are the historical rebels to the leaders that God had chosen for them. They are the closet idolaters who put more emphasis on the temple than upon the Living God, as did their fathers who preferred to worship the "creation rather than the Creator." And finally they are the ones upon whose heads the blood of the "Just One" rests.

Verse 54

When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.

When they heard these things: When the truth of Stephen’s sermon strikes home with the Jews, they react in a violent way.

they were cut to the heart: The message of Stephen has cut them to their very conscience. They are now indignant and enraged by this assault upon their integrity (see notes on 5:33).

and they gnashed on him with their teeth: This statement does not mean they literally attacked Stephen to bite him with their teeth, but rather they are so upset by his charges that they grind their teeth in anguish. To "gnash" one’s teeth is a sign of intense bitterness, anguish, and suffering (Matthew 8:12; Matthew 13:42).

Verse 55

But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

But he, being full of the Holy Ghost: See notes on Acts 6:3.

looked up stedfastly into heaven: Stephen, seeing the effect his speech has had upon the crowd, looks intently "into heaven, " perhaps for help or encouragement.

and saw the glory of God: What better time could God have chosen to give Stephen such a display of reality and support. What a comfort it must have been to see "the glory of God." "It was fitting indeed that God should have given to the first Christian martyr such a glorious vision of eternal realities" (Coffman 146). "This phrase is commonly used to denote the visible symbols of God. It means some magnificent representation; a splendour, or light, that is the appropriate exhibition of the presence of God, Mat. xv1 27; xxiv 30" (Barnes 427).

and Jesus standing on the right hand of God: There are some most interesting conjectures drawn from this phrase. The idea that Jesus is "standing" as opposed to sitting seems to indicate the special concern shown for the first Christian to pour out his life’s blood for his faith.

Sitting at the right hand of God is the usual attitude ascribed to our Lord in token of his victorious rest, and waiting for the day of judgment; but here he is seen standing, as rising to welcome his faithful martyr, and to place on his head the crown of life (Hervey 221).

Verse 56

And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

Stephen now relates what he sees to his audience. The revelation that he sees "the Son of man standing on the right hand of God" so infuriates the Jews they are ready to put him to death. This is the only occasion when the title, "Son of man" is used in the New Testament except when Jesus uses the term in reference to Himself (Matthew 8:20; Matthew 11:19; Matthew 12; Matthew 8; Mark 9:9).

... the presence of Messiah at God’s right hand meant that for His people there was now a way of access to God more immediate and heart-satisfying than the obsolete temple ritual had ever been able to provide (Bruce 166).

Verse 57

Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,

It seems the general assembly of the adversaries of Stephen have heard all they intend to listen to. Stephen has charged them with the murder of Jesus whom he now says he sees at "the right hand of God." Not only does this charge affirm the resurrection of Jesus but also it makes Jesus equal with God. To stop what they consider this blasphemous attack from Stephen, they cry out, stop their ears in order to hear no more, and rush upon him.

This was a strange way for a court to break up; the whole body of seventy grave rabbis, whose official duty it was to watch for the faithful execution of the law, leaving their seats and rushing in a wild mob, amid hideous outcries, to the sudden execution of a prisoner uncondemned and untried (McGarvey, Vol. I 132).

Verse 58

And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.

And cast him out of the city: To take him "out of the city" to be stoned is in observation of the Law (Leviticus 24:10-16; Numbers 15:35; Hebrews 13:12).

and stoned him: Stoning is the prescribed punishment for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16; John 10:31-33). It must be noted this is a totally illegal execution. What begins as a religious inquisition has turned into a mob action. It is not lawful for the Jews to execute anyone without the sanction of the Roman government. In the heat of the moment, there seems to be no way to quench the spirit or shut the mouth of this man Stephen, whose arguments they could not meet, but to put him to death.

and the witnesses laid down their clothes: It is also the teaching of the Law (Deuteronomy 17:7) that those who stand in witness are to be the ones to cast the first stones. One may wonder if those witnesses who accept money to swear lies against Stephen (6:11) have any pangs of conscience when they realize they are now to become his executioners. Surely these wicked men "are of their father the devil" for they are guilty of lies and murder (John 8:44), They "laid down their clothes" (outer garments) in order to have more freedom to hurl their deadly missiles.

at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul: If anything good can be recognized from this grisly scene, it is the lasting impression that is being made upon the "young man whose name is Saul."

Here, in this bloody episode, there was evidence of the timeless principle that "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church." That young man was never to forget what his eyes that day beheld, what his heart felt, and what his conscience said; and there was born in his soul that instant and impression that would in time recruit him to the faith of Christ and energize the greatest evangelist of all ages (Coffman 147).

The Apostle Paul must have relived the events of this day in his nightmares and on his conscience until he, like Stephen, pays the ultimate price for his faith in Jesus Christ (22:19-20; 1 Timothy 1:15).

Verse 59

And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus: This is one of few places in the New Testament where prayer is directed to Jesus rather than through Him to the Father. This seems like the obvious thing for Stephen to do; he sees Jesus in the vision and cries out to Him in prayer.

receive my spirit: Stephen requests Jesus to "receive my spirit." This is a very similar statement to the one Jesus makes as He is dying upon the cross; "Father into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46). The wise man says, ".. and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

Verse 60

And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice: In a praying posture, Stephen makes one last request.

Lord, lay not this sin to their charge: Again, this statement is very similar to the prayer of Jesus, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34)."The spirit of Christ is a spirit of forgiveness; it leads us to love our enemies and to bless them that curse us, and to pray for them who despitefully use us (Matthew 5:44)" (Boles 120).

It should be noted the Jews do not ask for Stephen’s forgiveness, yet he forgives them anyway. Does the fact that Stephen says, "lay not this sin to their charge, "mean God forgave them for their evil deed? Certainly not! What happened is the same thing that happened with Jesus. Both Jesus and Stephen dismiss themselves from the cares of this world and give them over to God. God will take care of the judgment of sinful men. The Christian has the same opportunity today. We can forgive those who sin against us regardless of whether they ask for our forgiveness or not (Matthew 6:12). This relieves us of a worldly burden and allows God to be the judge.

And when he had said this, he fell asleep: The term "sleep" is often used to describe death (Matthew 9:24; Mark 5:39; 1 Corinthians 15:18; 1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). What a simple and beautiful way this is to describe the passing of a saint. After a forceful and dramatic defense of the Truth, the first saint to shed his blood in the Christian dispensation crosses over to meet his Lord. But you see, "we sorrow not as others who have no hope" for we know that Stephen is "asleep in Jesus!" (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).

The name "Stephen" means "wreath" or "crown," and it is appropriate that the first to win the martyr’s crown should have worn such a name. It is said of Stephen in the NT that he was a man:

Full of faith (Acts 6:5).

Full of grace (Acts 6:8).

Full of power (Acts 6:8).

Full of light (Acts 6:15).

Full of scripture (Acts 7).

Full of wisdom (Acts 6:3; Acts 6:10).

Full of courage (Acts 7:51-56).

Full of love (Acts 7:60).

The providence of God overrules the tragic event of Stephen’s death (1) by making it the occasion for the scattering of the church which was so necessary in the divine purpose and (2) by accomplishing through it (in all probability) the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the mightiest figure, apart from Christ, in the entire NT. (Coffman 133-134).

There is one other loose end from this chapter that deserves some comment. There is some discussion among commentators as to how Luke receives his information about the speech of Stephen or the private meetings of the Sanhedrin. It is suggested by some (McGarvey, Vol. I 133; Bruce 172; and others) that perhaps Luke receives the facts of his account from Paul after he is converted. Paul would certainly have known the facts, being an eyewitness. But the witness of Paul is not needed for Luke to write a full and accurate account of the events. Luke writes by direct inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16). Luke gets his facts from God! See notes on Acts 4:16.

What a wonderful example of a great gospel preacher we have in this first Christian to die for the cause of Christ. Fearlessly he stands before this most intimidating of courts and defends Jesus with such conviction and boldness that even this hypocritical and callused assembly cannot escape the truth of his words. Saul of Tarsus does not realize it now, but one day he will recall the events of this day and he will know STEPHEN WAS RIGHT!

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Acts 7". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/acts-7.html. 1993-2022.
 
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