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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Acts 7



Verses 1-60

THEIR HISTORY BEGAN with God calling Abraham out of his old place and associations, that he might go to the land of God’s choice and there be made a great nation. This is shown in Genesis 12:1-3, and it was an epoch-making event, as is evident when we note that a rather longer period of time is compressed into Genesis 1:1-31; Genesis 2:1-25; Genesis 3:1-24; Genesis 4:1-26; Genesis 5:1-32; Genesis 6:1-22; Genesis 7:1-24; Genesis 8:1-22; Genesis 9:1-29; Genesis 10:1-32; Genesis 11:1-32, than the period expanded to fill all the rest of the Old Testament. The call of Abraham marked a new departure in God’s ways with the earth, and with that new departure Stephen began his address.

Genesis tells us that Jehovah appeared to Abraham, but Stephen knew Him and spoke of Him in a new light. The Jehovah who appeared to Abraham was the God of glory, the God of far more glorious scenes than can be afforded by this world, even at its fairest and best. This it is, doubtless, which accounts for Abraham’s faith embracing such heavenly things as are spoken of in Hebrews 11:10-16. Called by the God of glory, he at least had glimpses of the city and country where glory dwells. On this high note Stephen began, and he ended, as we know, with Jesus in the glory of God.

The main drift of his remarkable address was evidently to bring to the people the conviction of the way in which their fathers and they had been guilty of resisting the operations of God by His Spirit all through their history. He dwells particularly upon what happened when God had raised up servants to institute something new in their history. There had been a series of new departures, of greater or less significance. The original one had been with Abraham, but then followed Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon; all of whom he refers to, though giving far more attention to the first three than to the second three. To none of these had they really responded, and Joseph and Moses they had definitely refused to start with. He ends with the seventh intervention, which threw all the others into the shade—the coming of the Just One—and Him they had just slain.

Stephen made it very plain that the Jewish rulers of his day were but repeating in a worse form the sin of their forefathers. The patriarchs sold Joseph into Egypt because they were “moved with envy;” and Matthew records the efforts of Pilate to deliver Jesus, “for he knew that for envy they had delivered Him.” So too with Moses; the saying at which he fled, “Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?” was uttered by one of his brethren, and not by an Egyptian. The rejection came from amongst his own people, and not from outside. Thus too it had been with Jesus.

Exodus 2:1-25 does not give us such an insight into the fame and prowess of Moses at the end of his first forty years as is given in verse Acts 7:22 of our chapter. He was a man of learning, oratory and action, when it came into his heart to identify himself with his own people, who were the people of God. Having made the plunge, it must have come to him as a terrible shock to be refused by them. At that saying he fled. He did not fear the wrath of the king, as Hebrews 11:27 tells us, but he could not stand this refusal. He had acted in the consciousness of his own exceptional powers, and now needed forty years of Divine tuition at the back side of the desert to learn that his powers were nothing and the power of God everything. In all this he stands in contrast to our Lord, though he typified Him in the rejection he had to endure.

This Moses was again rejected by their fathers, when he had brought them out of captivity and into the wilderness. In rejecting him, they really rejected Jehovah, and they turned aside into idolatry of a very gross kind. Even in the wilderness, and not only when in the land, they were slack about Jehovah’s sacrifices, and tampered with idols, thus paving the way to the Babylonish captivity. Still God had raised up David, and then Solomon built the house. Now in the house they boasted (see Jeremiah 7:4) as though the mere possession of these buildings guaranteed everything, when really God dwelt in the Heaven of heavens, far above the most gorgeous buildings on earth.

Stephen’s closing words—verses Acts 7:51-53 —are marked by great power. They are like an appendix to the Lord’s own words, recorded in Matthew 23:31-36, carrying the indictment on to its dreadful conclusion in the betrayal and murder of the Just One. Their standing before God was on the basis of the law, and though they had received it by the disposition of angels, they had not kept it. The law broken by flagrant idolatry, and the Messiah murdered; there were the two great counts in the indictment against the Jew, and both are prominent in Stephen’s closing words.

The Holy Ghost, by the lips of Stephen, had completely turned the tables upon his persecutors, and they found themselves arraigned, as though they were in the dock instead of sitting upon the judicial bench. The very suddenness with which Stephen dropped his historic recital, and launched

God’s accusation against them, must have added tremendous power to his words. They were cut to the heart and stirred to fury.

The only calm person evidently was Stephen. Filled with the Spirit, he had a supernatural sight of the glory of God, and of Jesus in that glory, and he testified at once of that which he saw. Ezekiel had seen, “the likeness of a throne” and “the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it” (Ezekiel 1:26), but Stephen saw not a mere “likeness” or “appearance,” but rather the MAN Himself, standing on the right hand of God. Jesus, once crucified, is now the Man of God’s right hand: He is the mighty Executive, by whom God will administrate the universe!

In his address Stephen had pointed out that though Joseph had been refused by his brethren, he became their saviour and ultimately they all had to bow down to him. He also reminded them that though Moses was at first rejected, he ultimately became both ruler and deliverer of Israel. Now he testifies a similar, but vastly greater thing in connection with Jesus The Just One whom they had murdered, is to become their Judge, and ultimately, for those who receive Him, their great and final Deliverer. In token thereof He was in glory, and Stephen saw Him.

Utterly unable to refute or resist his words, the Jewish leaders rushed into the murder of Stephen, thus fulfilling the Lord’s words, recorded in Luke 19:14, as to the citizens hating the departed nobleman and sending a message after him saying, “We will not have this Man to reign over us.” Jesus was still “standing” in glory, ready to fulfil what Peter had said in Acts 3:20, if only they had repented. They did not repent, but gave a violent refusal by stoning Stephen and sending him after his Master. Prominent in connection with this wicked act was a young man named Saul, who consented to his death, and acted as a kind of superintendent at his execution. Thus where the history of Stephen ends, the story of Saul begins.

Stephen, the first Christian martyr, ended his short but striking career in the likeness of his Lord. Filled with the Spirit, his vision was filled with Jesus in glory. He had nothing more to say to men; his last words were addressed to his Lord. To the Lord he committed his spirit, and assuming the attitude of prayer, he desired mercy for his murderers. Who could have anticipated so astounding an answer as was given by his exalted Lord in the conversion of Saul, the arch-murderer? The prayer of the Lord Jesus from the cross for His murderers was answered by the sending forth of the Gospel, to begin at Jerusalem: the prayer of Stephen was answered in the conversion of Saul. That Saul himself never forgot it, is shown by Acts 22:20.


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Acts 7:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 25th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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