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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Acts 7

 

 

Verse 1

Then said the high priest, Are these things so?

Then said the high priest, Are these things so? Stephen defends himself by a Historical Sketch of God's procedure toward Israel, and of Israel's conduct in return. Part First: From the call of Abraham to the settlement of Jacob and his family in Egypt ()


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. In this long defense Stephen takes a much wider range, and answers the charges brought against him less directly, than we should have expected. But when we find his accusers stung to the quick by what seems a mere recital of historical facts-especially as the drift of them is expressed in the concluding summary-we may be sure that they were selected and presented with no ordinary skill. What was the precise object aimed at has occasioned much discussion and division of opinion. But it seems clearly to have been twofold: first, by an induction of facts, to show that the national platform which they now idolized, though divinely erected, had been of slow growth, and that the then existing state of things, which was no older than Solomon, had been expressly declared by the Lord Himself to be but external and shadowy, pointing to something else which was spiritual and far better; second, by a similar induction of facts, to show that the whole history of the nation, from the earliest period down to the latest, had, on their part, been little else than one continued misapprehension of God's designs toward fallen man through them, as His covenant people, and rebellion against these gracious purposes; while on God's part it was the triumphant establishment of His own plans, in spite of them, and even by means of them.

In their murderous treatment of the Lord Jesus, then, and their present opposition to His witnesses, Stephen would have them, to know that they were but filling up their fathers' iniquity; while God was, in spite of them and by means of them, laying the foundations of the kingdom that was never to be moved. Incidentally, this long historical sketch would serve another purpose-to clear himself of the charge of hostility to Moses, and the divinely-instituted religion of the nation; every sentence showing not merely such familiarity with even its minute details as devout and habitual study only could impart, but that reverence for all parts of the divine procedure, and the very words in which they are expressed and explained and vindicated, as only a profound faith in the God of Israel and His living oracles could have inspired. But this with Stephen was but a secondary object, or rather no object at all; his soul being filled with one purpose, to seize the opportunity now afforded him of vindicating before the highest tribunal of the nation the truth of God which in his person was on its trial.

That Stephen delivered this speech, not in the mother-tongue, but in Greek, is next to certain, from the conformity of its style to that of the Septuagint, and from the conformity of some of its details to that translation where it diverges from the Hebrew text; and if he was a Hellenistic or Greek-speaking Jew, as there is every reason to think he was, this would be to him the more natural language. In this case we have here no mere translation of the speech (as in the case of Paul's address on the castle stairs, Acts 22:1-30), but the original. But how, in this case (one may ask) could the speech have been preserved? That the whole is the composition of a later period is only what the Tubingen critics might have been expected to affirm, though on that supposition probably none but themselves would suppose it likely to be constructed as it is; and Hackett only expresses what every intelligent reader of it must feel, that 'its special character impresses upon it a seal of authenticity; because no one would think of framing a discourse of this kind for such an occasion.

Had it been composed ideally, or after some vague tradition, it would have been thrown into a different form, and its relevancy to the charge which called it forth would have been made more obvious.' That Saul of Tarsus, us a member of the Sanhedrim, wrote it down and afterward communicated it to our historian, his companion in travel, is certainly unlikely. But that notes of it were taken by several who were present is scarcely to be doubted, arrested as they would be by the angelic expression of his countenance (Acts 6:15), and expecting that in such circumstances something worth hearing would surely be spoken. And if they once began, they wore not likely to stop in recording so uncommon an address. And violent as was the rage of the Council at the closing words of the speech, it is not to be doubted that it made a deep impression on some at least, through whose notes of it the Christians might obtain it; and after Saul's conversion-whose part in the execution of Stephen (Acts 7:58) indelibly impressed the whole scene upon his memory (see Acts 22:20) - it is not impossible that when its echoes were once wakened up he may have been able to fill in some points in the narrative, or some features in the closing description of the effect produced, of which our historian has availed himself.

The God of glory - magnificent appellation! (as Bengel well calls it,) fitted at the very outset to rivet the devout attention of his audience. It denotes here not so much that visible glory (called the Shechinah) which attended so many of the divine manifestations (as DeWette, Meyer, Alford, and Hackett), as the glory of those manifestations themselves-of which every Jew regarded this manifestation to Abraham as the fundamental one. It is the glory of that free grace toward sinners of mankind, which, when it proceeded to concentrate itself in one family, did in pure sovereignty select Abraham to be the parent, and, through his seed, the depositary of that grace which in the fullness of time was to flow forth to all nations.

Appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran - or 'Haran' [ Chaaraan (Hebrew #2771); Septuagint, Charran (Greek #5488) - in Greek writers, Karrai; Latin, Carroe, where Crassus fell, ignominiously defeated by the Parthians]. It lies about fifty miles from Ur. Though this first call of Abraham is not recorded in Genesis, it is clearly implied in Genesis 15:7, "I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees;" and the same statement is repeated in Nehemiah 9:7. The Jewish commentator Philo, and the historian Josephus (both nearly contemporary with Stephen), concur in representing the first call of Abraham as given when he was in Ur.


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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.


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.

Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell. This last statement seems to contradict the account given in Genesis 11:26; Genesis 11:32; and Genesis 12:4, from which one would certainly conclude that Abraham's father, instead of being dead when he migrated to Canaan, lived 60 years after that. (Thus, "Terah lived, sixty years and beget Abram, Nahor, and Haran;" "And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years, and Terah died in Haran;" "And Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran." Adding, then, to Terah's 70 years, when Abram was born-and supposing him to be the oldest of the family-the 75 years of Abram's age, when-he removed to Canaan, we have Terah only 145 years old at that date, leaving 60 years more of his life to run after that).

This difficulty has occasioned much discussion and diversity of opinion. Grotius, DeWette, and Meyer have an easy way of disposing of the matter by alleging a chronological error on the part of Stephen. But as Philo has represented the matter very much as Stephen does, Lechler and others prefer to say that he simply followed the current tradition; and Alford endeavours to account for the Jews having fallen into this mistake. But let us see how others solve the difficulty. Olshausen and Stier, following the rabbis, have adopted a most unnatural interpretation-namely, that when Abraham's removal to Canaan is said to have been 'after his father's death,' it means not his natural but big spiritual death, or his apostasy to idolatry (Joshua 24:2). A more natural solution is, that when it is said "Terah was seventy years old, and beget Abram, Nahor, and Haran" (Genesis 11:26), the meaning is that he was seventy when the oldest of his three sons was born, and that Abraham, though mentioned before Nabor and Haran, as being the most important of the three, was probably the youngest.

'This (says Alexander, who takes this view) would enable us to fix the birth of Abraham at such a distance from that of his older brother or brothers as would bring his 75th year after the natural death of his father.' 'But this (says Olshausen, and with reason, we suspect) will not fill up 60 years.' Better than this, in our judgment, is Bengel's view (though pronounced by Lechler 'purely fanciful,' and by Alford 'lamentable'), that though Abraham came to Canaan while has father was alive, it was only as a stranger-his settled abode being then with his father at Haran-and that it was only on his father's demise that Abraham permanently settled in Canaan. This would account for the Jewish tradition on the subject, and quits well explain in Stephen's statement. But it hardly accord's with the natural sense of the account given in Genesis. It only remains to state the view taken by Baumgarten, which seems best to meet the difficulty-that in Genesis the historian relates at once, in the eleventh chapter, all he has to say of the ancestry and nearest relations of Abraham, ending with the death of his father, in order that when he came to open in the next chapter the more special history of the father of the faithful, he might be able to relate his call and migration to Canaan as the proper starting-point of the covenant transactions, unembarrassed by any reference to his fleshly connections, and that Stephen, reading the history in this light (as, indeed, Philo seems to have done, and so, probably, other also), holds forth the calling of Abraham as being after his father's death. If this be the case, instead of this being properly a chronological error, it is simply the light in which the original account, as it stands in Genesis, naturally presents itself to the devout mind. The reader, however having thus before him all the different views of the matter, can judge for himself.


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.

And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on - for, though he got by purchase the cave of Machpelah for a burial-place, his having to buy it only confirms Stephen's statement, that God gave him, as a gift of heaven, none inheritance in it.

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. Both the land and the seed to inherit it were thus, at the first, matter of pure promise-to be apprehended by mere faith on Abraham's part.


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.

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 - that is, speaking in round numbers, as in Genesis 15:13; Genesis 15:16. The exact period was 430 years (Exodus 12:40; Galatians 3:17). (Though the structure of the sentence seems to imply that they were not only 'brought into bondage,' but 'evil entreated' four hundred years it is to the former only that the four hundred years are intended to apply.)


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.

And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God - that is, visit with avenging judgments.

And after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place. Stephen, it will be observed, combines here two premises into one-that to Abraham (Genesis 15:16), and that to Moses (Exodus 3:12) - his object being merely to give a rapid summary of the leading facts.


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 - that is, the covenant of which circumcision was the visible, sacramental token:

And so - that is, according to the arrangements of this covenant.

Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs - so called as being the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel.


Verse 9

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

And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him. Here Stephen brings forward his first example of Israel's misapprehension of God's purposes and opposition to them, in spite of which, and by means of which, those purposes were accomplished.


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, 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. Thus again was the stone which the builders rejected made the head of the corner.


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: and our fathers found no sustenance. [Lachmann, on good external authority, leaves out geen (Greek #1093), reading 'all Egypt.' But there is nearly equal authority for retaining it; probability is in favour of it; and Tischendorf inserts it.]


Verse 12

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

But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt , [ eis (Greek #1519) Aigupton (Greek #125) is manifestly the true reading here, not en (Greek #1722) Aiguptoo (Greek #125), as in the Received Text]

He sent out our fathers first.


Verse 13

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

And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph's kindred was made known unto Pharaoh. And so were the enemies of God's chosen one, who were his own brethren, made to bow in submission to him. The bearing of these features of the narrative on all that Stephen was arraigned for preaching must strike every thoughtful reader; but we have thought it well to put the main positions in Italics, to call attention to them.


Verse 14

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

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

This is strictly according to Genesis 46:27 and Exodus 1:5, as rendered in the Septuagint, which Stephen follows. The Hebrew text of both passages makes the number "seventy." Probably five are included in the one reckoning which are excluded in the latter; though which five is not quite agreed on.


Verse 15

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

So Jacob went down into Egypt. [Tischendorf on insufficient authority, strikes out eis (Greek #1519) Aigupton (Greek #125), and Alford brackets it; Lachmann retains it.]

And died, he, and our fathers.


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.

And were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that , [the Greek letter omega (oo) is clearly the true reading here-by attr. for the Greek letter omicron (o), into which it has been corrected in the Received Text]

Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor - or "Hamor" (Genesis 39:19).

The father of Sychem - or "Shechem:" in John 4:5. (on which see note) it is called "Sychar." Three difficulties occur in this verse.

(1) It seems to say that both Jacob and his sons were buried at Shechem; whereas in Genesis 50:13 it is said that Jacob's sons buried their father not at Shechem, but in the cave of the field of Machpelah or Hebron, according to his own dying charge (Acts 49:29-30 ).

(2) It says that Jacob's sons were buried at Shechem, of which no mention is made in Old Testament history.

(3) It says that the sepulchre at Shechem was bought by Abraham; whereas Genesis 33:18-19, ascribes the purchase to Jacob.

As to Jacob's own burial-place, it is not very likely that Stephen fell into a mistake in a matter so notorious-confounding Hebron with Shechem; nor is it necessary to suppose that Stephen, in saying they "were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre," etc., meant that both "he and our fathers" were both so carried. If we suppose "he and our fathers" to apply only to the party last mentioned-namely, Jacob's sons, not himself-that difficulty disappears. Then, as to the burial of Jacob's sons at Shechem, there is nothing in the Old Testament to contradict it, though it is not expressly recorded. In this speech several other things are referred to as known facts, of which we have no record in the Old Testament. But it is expressly stated that Joseph was buried there (Joshua 24:32); and Jerome, in the fourth century of the Christian era, says (Epp.

686) that the sepulchre of the twelve patriarchs was then to be seen at Sichem. As to the remaining difficulty, it is surely hasty to conclude that Stephen has here confounded the purchase of the field of Machpelah or Hebron by Abraham with the purchase of Shechem by Jacob. Is it unnatural to suppose that after a very long time from the period when Abraham bought this field, the original possessor having retaken it, Jacob finally secured it to himself by repurchasing it? Certain it is that Jacob had an altercation with these Amorites, or sons of Emmor, about some property, and that "with his sword and with his bow" he wrenched what on his deathbed he bequeathed to Joseph (Genesis 48:22). But what, it may be asked, would have been the use to Abraham of two hurrying places-one at Hebron and another at Shechem? It may as well be asked why Jacob should have purchased a burying-place at Shechem, or anywhere else, when that at Hebron would naturally descend to him-that sepulchre where rested the ashes of his grandparents, Abraham and Sarah; the ashes of both his own parents, Isaac and Rebekah; the ashes also of his wife Leah; and where he charged his sons to lay himself (Genesis 49:30-31). We only add that, by the most recent accounts, it would appear that Hebron is not regarded in the country itself as the resting-place of Joseph's brethren. (See "The Sepulchre in Sychem," in Journal of Sacred Literature for April, 1864; and 'The Mosque of Hebron,' in Stanley's Sermons in the East). The solutions we have given of the difficulties of this verse, though only submitted for the reader's consideration, are at least preferable to the short and easy way of charging an error on the speaker.

The Defense Continued-Part Second: From the Settlement in Egypt to the Exodus ()


Verse 17

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

But when, [ kathoos (G2531) de (G1161), rather, 'But as'] the time of the promise (that is, for its fulfillment) drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham , [ oomosen (Greek #3660)] - or, according to the best attested reading (adopted by Lachmann and Tischendorf,) 'which God had agreed to Abraham' [ hoomologeesen (Greek #3670)]

The people grew and multiplied in Egypt. For more than 200 years they amounted to no more than 75 souls. How prodigious, then must have been their multiplication in the following centuries, when 600,000 men fit for war besides women and children, came up out of Egypt! Indeed, it has been pronounced an impossibility, and on this among other grounds the historical character of the Pentateuch has been attacked, not only by professed infidels, but by some high in ecclesiastical rank, who are weak enough to think that they can retain the Christian Faith while rejecting, as unhistorical, those fundamental books of the Old Testament to the veracity of which the great Author and Subject of the Christian Faith attaches His most solemn seal. But the statistics and laws of population, when applied to the whole circumstances of the Hebrew people in Egypt, have been shown to be at least so far in accordance with this prodigious increase as to prove that there is nothing incredible in it; and beyond this we are not concerned to go.


Verse 18

Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph.

Till another king arose , [ heteros (Greek #2087), not allos (Greek #243)] - q.d., 'a king of a different sort,' pointing to another dynasty (as Lechler notes).

Which knew not Joseph. After the lapse of centuries, and in a new dynasty, this might seem not surprising. But "knew not Joseph" is intended to convey more than mere want of knowledge. The memory of great events in the history of nations is not readily lost. Written records, and even popular traditions, preserve them fresh for centuries; and the organic changes which took place in Egypt during Joseph's administration would make it impossible that the memory of the country's obligations to him should perish within the period here referred to. Ingratitude is evidently meant to he stamped upon the royal procedure toward the descendants and countrymen of one to whom Egypt once owed its preservation.


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.

The same dealt subtilly (or cunningly) with our kindred, and evil-entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children , [ ta (Greek #3588) brefee (Greek #1025) autoon (Greek #846)] - 'their babes,' but the males only are meant.

To the end they might not live - (see Exodus 1:22) The martyrdom of these 'innocents' of Israel has been compared to that of the babes of Bethlehem.


Verse 20

In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father's house three months:

In which time - of deepest depression and urgent need.

Moses was born - the destined deliverer; their extremity being God's opportunity (see Deuteronomy 32:36; Isaiah 59:15-16).

And was exceeding fair , [ asteios (Greek #791) too (Greek #3588) Theoo (Greek #2316)] - 'fair to God' (as in margin), or, perhaps, 'divinely fair.' (See the note at Hebrews 11:23). And nourished up in his father's house three months - at the peril of his parents' lives; but "through faith

... they were not afraid of the king commandment" (Hebrews 11:23).


Verse 21

And when he was cast out, Pharaoh's daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son.

And when he was cast out , [ Ektethenta (Greek #1620)] - or 'exposed;' for his mother "could not longer hide him" (Exodus 2:3). [ ektethentos (Greek #1620), adopted by Lachmann, though supported by 'Aleph (') A B C D, etc., is probably a grammatical correction, Tischendorf abides by the Received Text, which is approved by Meyer, DeWette, and Alford.]

Pharaoh's daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son - a most wonderful providence, which secured not only his preservation from certain death at that time, but the highest training thereafter which the most advanced kingdom then existing could supply. Nor, as we shall immediately see, was he a dull learner.


Verse 22

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

And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians , [ epaideuthee (Greek #3811) en (Greek #1722) pasee (Greek #3956) sofia (Greek #4678) - the preposition being better attested than the want of it in the Received Text]. The statement contained in this verse is nowhere to he found in the Old Testament-another proof of the rashness of concluding that because Stephen's statements cannot be all verified from the Old Testament, their accuracy is to be suspected. "The wisdom of the Egyptians," - proverbial five centuries after this, in Solomon's time, and apparently famed even in Moses' time-was all communicated to this apt pupil. Philo (the Jewish commentator on Moses) represents him as having had tutors from the most celebrated foreign schools, and accomplished in geometry, music, and philosophy; and though we need not take this too literally, there can be no doubt that he took intelligently in whatever he was taught.

And was (as the fruit of this training) mighty in [his] words and in deeds. (The word 'his' [ autou (Greek #846)] is certainly part of the genuine text.) Compare with this what is said of the "Prophet like unto Moses" in Luke 24:19. It may seem strange that one who by his own account, was "slow of speech and of a slow tongue" - probably defective in utterance (Exodus 4:10) - should be held forth as "mighty in his words." But his recorded speeches-not to speak of his wonderful writings-are in a high degree worthy of the epithet "mighty." In what "deeds" he was mighty we read not, unless it refer to the skill with which he led Israel out of Egypt, and through the wilderness to the borders of the promised land. But the reference, perhaps, is to some unrecorded circumstances in his early life. What Josephus says of his military exploits is hardly to be depended on; but when he tells us that his ability was acknowledged before he left Egypt, there is no reason depended on; but when he tells us that his ability was acknowledged before he left Egypt, there is no reason to question his accuracy.


Verse 23

And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel.

And when he was full forty years old. Here, and in Acts 7:30; Acts 7:36, the life of Moses is represented as embracing three periods of forty years each. The Jewish writers affirm the same; and though in the Old Testament this is not expressly stated, it says he was 120 years old when he died (Deuteronomy 34:7), which tallies with this exactly.

It came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. By this time he had, in the exercise of faith, deliberately "refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather 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: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward" (Hebrews 11:24-26). His heart, now yearning with love to his people as God's chosen family, and heaving, no doubt, with the consciousness of a divine vocation to set them free, he goes forth to look them in the face, and see if some occasion will not present itself for coming to some understanding with them on this subject.


Verse 24

And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian:

And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and, avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian - in the heat of his indignation going further, probably, than he intended. Humphry quotes from Diodorus Siculus (1: 77) an Egyptian law requiring the subjects to rescue anyone whom they should see ready to be slain, or suffering violence at the hands of another; and if that could not be done, to kill the oppressor.


Verse 25

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

For , [ de (Greek #1161)] - 'But' or 'Now,' explaining the view under which he acted. For , [ de (Greek #1161)] - 'But' or 'Now,' explaining the view under which he acted.

He supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them.

Though this is Stephen's own comment it is one naturally suggested by the narrative in Exodus. He probably imagined this a suitable occasion for rousing and rallying them under him as their leader; thus anticipating his work, and so running unsent. Calvin thinks Moses was divinely directed not only in interfering in the quarrel, but in slaying the Egyptian. But as the narrative certainly does not say this, so to us-especially when viewed in the light of the forty years' exile in Midian-it seems to imply the reverse.

But they understood not. Reckoning on a spirit in them congenial with his own, he had the mortification to find it far otherwise. This furnishes to Stephen another example of Israel's slowness to apprehend and fall in with the divine purposes of love.


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?

And the next day he showed himself unto them , [ oofthee (Greek #3700) autois (Greek #846)]. This mode of expression (with which compare Exodus 2:13) confirms the view gives by Stephen, and implied in the narrative, that Moses expressly intended by these two visits to his people to present himself to them as their destined deliverer, in the hope of being recognized by them in this character.

As they strove, and would have set them at one again , [ suneellassen (Greek #4900) autous (Greek #846) eis (Greek #1519) eireeneen (Greek #1515)] - 'urged them to peace' comes nearest to the sense. An air of authority is implied.

Saying, Sirs, ye are brethren - [the emphatic humeis (Greek #5210) after adelfoi (Greek #80) este (Greek #2075) is of more than doubtful authority.] Here it is not an Israelite and an Egyptian, but two Israelites, or parties of Israelites, in collision with each other. Moses, grieved at the spectacle, interposes as a mediator; but his interference, as unauthorized, is resented by the party in the wrong, whom Stephen identifies with the mass of the nation (see Acts 7:35), just as Messiah's own interposition had been spurned by Stephen's present hearers.


Verse 27

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

But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? Compare the similar treatment of Christ Himself (Matthew 21:26), "By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?"


Verse 28

Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday?

Wilt thou kill me, as thou didst the Egyptian yesterday? Moses had thought the deed unseen (Exodus 2:12), but, to his surprise and alarm, he now finds himself mistaken.


Verse 29

Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons.

Then fled Moses at this saying - for "when Pharaoh heard this thing he sought to slay Moses" (Exodus 2:15). No doubt he had before this become an object of jealousy in Pharaoh's court, as a too aspiring and dangerous foreigner; and the courtiers, thinking the time had now come for getting rid of him, would with eager haste carry tidings to the king of the deed done, and work upon his fears until he give orders to despatch him.

And was a stranger in the land of Madian - or 'Midian,' in Arabia [Madyaan; Madiam (Greek #3099) in Septuagint], not the locality of the great body of the Midianites, which was certainly far to the eastward of this region, but a tract of land near to the desert of Sinai, as the sequel of this narrative shows, inhabited by a portion of that people who had migrated there for pastoral purposes: "where he begat two sons."


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 - (see the note at Acts 7:23).

There appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina - the wilderness or desert of that mountain-range which went, it would appear, under the general name of Horeb, but is here called (from the individual mountain whence the law was given) Sinai:

An Angel of the Lord. The better attested reading is simply 'an' or 'the angel.' Whichever way we render it, 'the Angel of the covenant' is clearly meant, since He immediately calls Himself Yahweh (Hebrew #3068) (compare Acts 7:38). In a flame of fire in (or 'of') a bush , [ batou (Greek #942)]. This bush-burning, yet not consumed-was no doubt designed to hold forth the two chief characters by which the Church of God has been in every age distinguished-persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; chastened, but not killed; dying, but behold it lives (2 Corinthians 4:9; 2 Corinthians 6:9).


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,

When Moses saw it, be wondered at the sight , [ ethaumazen (Greek #2296). Tischendorf reads-azen, 'kept wondering.' The authorities are about equal]:

And as he drew near to behold, [ katanoeesai (G2657), or to 'contemplate'] it, the voice of the Lord came unto him.


Verse 32

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.

[Saying], I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and [the God of] Isaac, and [the God of] Jacob. (The bracketed words are insufficiently attested.) In this sublime announcement the glorious Speaker identifies Himself with all the divine manifestations, covenant-transactions, and rich promises made to the father of the faithful, and transmitted to the heirs of promise through Isaac and Jacob.

Then Moses trembled - (compare Hebrews 12:21; Genesis 28:17; Psalms 99:1; Psalms 119:120; Habakkuk 3:16) and durst not behold. The history says, "Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God" (Exodus 3:6).


Verse 33

Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground.

Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet. Stephen may seem to have reversed here the order in which the divine command was given-which was before, not after, proclaiming who it was that spake to him from the bush (Exodus 3:5-6). The words of Stephen, however, simply are, 'But the Lord said to him [ eipen (Greek #2036) de (Greek #1161) autoo (Greek #846) ho (Greek #3588) Kurios (Greek #2962)], Put off,' etc. Moses recoiled from the spectacle as too awful in glory for him to gaze on; and when the Lord bade him not draw nigh, the meaning simply was, 'with covered feet,' implying a positive wish for his approach with shoes off.

For the place where thou standest, [ ef' (G1909) hoo (G3739) is preferable to en (G1722) hoo (G3739)] is holy ground. The Oriental custom of uncovering the feet in token of reverence, whether in approaching royalty or in a temple drawing near to God, is well known, and prevails to this day. The priests ministered in the tabernacle (say the Rabbis) with uncovered feet.


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.

I have seen, I have seen , [ idoon (Greek #1492) eidon (Greek #1492), as in the Septuagint = raa'oh (Hebrew #7200) raa'iytiy (Hebrew #7200), Exodus 3:7 - which our version renders, "I have surely 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 , [ aposteiloo (Greek #649), aorist subjunctive, is much better attested than - aposteloo (Greek #649) of the Received Text, and rightly adopted by Lachmann and Tischendorf].


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.

This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? [ archonta (Greek #758) kai (Greek #2532) dikasteen (Greek #1348)]. By "judge' here is plainly meant 'avenger,' answering to "deliverer," or 'redeemer,' in the next clause:

The same did God send , [the imperfect, apestalken (Greek #649), is better attested than the aorist, apesteilen (Greek #649), of the Received Text]

To be a ruler and a deliverer [ archonta (Greek #758) kai (Greek #2532) lutrooteen (Greek #3086)]. Stephen, it will be observed, purposely selects such terms in characterizing Moses as would make the intended parallel between him and Christ-rejected by the nation, but chosen God-unmistakeable.

By the hand [ (Greek #1722) hii (Greek #5495)] rather ' ith the hand' [ (Greek #4862) being the better By the hand , [ en (Greek #1722) cheiri (Greek #5495)] - rather, 'with the hand' [ sun (Greek #4862) being the better attested reading]

Of the Angel which appeared to him in the bush. Here again "the stone which the builders refused was made the head of the corner."


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.

He brought them out after that he had showed , [ poieesas (Greek #4160)] - rather, 'He brought them out, having (that is, after bringing them out) showed'

Wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years.

The Defense Continued-Part Third: From the Exodus to the Erection of Solomon's Temple ()


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.

This is that Moses which said unto the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 18:15).

A Prophet shall [the Lord your] God raise up unto you. The authority for the bracketed words is rather weak. Probably they were added from the passage in Deuteronomy.

Of your brethren, like unto me; [him shall ye hear.] (Compare the words of Peter, Acts 3:22.) These last words also, enclosed in brackets, are of doubtful genuineness. They may have been added from the Old Testament passage. Lechler calls attention to the rhetorical emphasis unmistakeably lying in the repeated and forcible way in which the person of Moses is here referred to-the 35th, 36th, 37th, and 38th verses all beginning with his person-thus: "This, Moses" (Acts 7:35); "He" [ houtos (Greek #3778)], or 'He it was that' (Acts 7:36); "This is that Moses" (Acts 7:37); "This is he" (Acts 7:38). The obvious design of this emphasis was to hold forth more vividly the contrast between God's choice of him and the nation's rejection of him, as a mirror in which might be seen their recent treatment of the Greater than Moses, followed up, as it now was, by their refusal of His messengers. In the 37th verse Stephen reminds his hearers that, blindly as they now set up Moses as the great object of a devout Israelite's regard, Moses himself, in his grand testimony, had held himself forth, not as the last and great prophet of Israel, but only as a humble precursor and small model of Him to whom absolute submission was due by all.


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 , [ en (Greek #1722) tee (Greek #3588) ekkleesia (Greek #1577)] - the collective body of God's chosen people viewed as 'assembled' from time to time for public religions purposes: hence, it has come to denote the whole body of the faithful under the Gospel, or particular sections of them.

In the wilderness with the Angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers. As to this "Angel," see the note at Acts 7:30.

Who received the lively oracles , [ logia (Greek #3051) zoonta (Greek #2198)] - or 'living oracles;' not meaning in the first instance, 'life-giving oracles,' but 'living' in opposition whether to the pretended oracles of the pagan, or to a mere dead letter; hence, 'efficacious,' 'vitalizing,'

To give unto us. Here Stephen represents Moses as alike near to the angel, from whom he received all the institutions of the ancient economy, and to the people, to whom he faithfully reported the living oracles as he received them, and among whom he as faithfully set up the divine institutions. The reader will observe how, in bearing this high testimony to Moses, Stephen incidentally rebuts the main charge for which he was now on trial-that of disparaging Moses and the law; although, as already observed, he so rises above himself throughout. that to vindicate the ways of God against those who had all along misunderstood and sought to thwart them, appears to be his one object.


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. Here Stephen shows that the deepest dishonour ever done to Moses came from the nation that now professed the greatest jealousy for his honour.

And in their hearts turned back again into Egypt - not meaning by this expression that they wished to return literally to Egypt, but that their hearts (as appears by what follows) still clung to the idolatry of Egypt, into which we are expressly told that they had sunk when they dwelt there, (Ezekiel 20:7). In this Stephen would have his hearers read the downward career on which they themselves were now entering.


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.

Saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us. In using the word "gods" in the plural number, Stephen only follows the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew word [ '


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 - in imitation of the ox and bull in Egypt, and indeed generally in the East; as appears by the Nineveh sculptures. The ox, as the symbol of agriculture, and so of all that supports human life, was naturally selected for special honour in the idolatry of symbols. As one of the cherubic forms in the holy of holies, it was employed in the tabernacle and temple service, not as an object of worship, but to convey symbolic instruction, and so exalt the conceptions of the worshippers. It is worthy of notice, that whereas the Old Testament historian ascribes the making of this image to Aaron, Stephen ascribes it to the people; and indeed no one can read the history without perceiving that Aaron merely yielded to the clamour of a people maddened at that moment with idolatrous inclinations, to the dishonour alike of Him who had brought them out of Egyptian bondage, and of Moses, His instrument in this great deliverance.

And offered sacrifice unto the idol , [ too (Greek #3588) eidooloo (Greek #1497)]. In the strictest sense it was not an idol, but intended as a visible representation of Yahweh; but it was regarded as nothing less than idolatry by Him who, in the second commandment, had condemned not only the worshipping but even the making for purposes of worship, of any graven image, and had told them how jealous He was on this subject. And no wonder, because all worship by the aid of, or through the medium of, visible representations of created objects has sooner or later degenerated into the worship of the objects themselves; and even where it does not reach to naked idolatry, it tends to materialize and debase the worship of Him who is a spirit.

And rejoined in the works of their own hands. Thus does Stephen hold forth the deep degradation into which the nation had sunk, when after all that the Lord had done for them, they became intoxicated with idolatrous joy in a thing of their own handiwork.


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 - changing His method with them: as they had turned from Him, so now He turned from them,

And gave them up - judicially abandoned them (see the note at Romans 1:24)

To worship the host of heaven - to star-worship, a fact which, though not expressly mentioned in the Pentateuch, is implied in those forms of idolatry to which we know that they were addicted, such as the worship of Moloch, presently to be mentioned.

As it is written in the book of the prophets - the twelve minor prophets, regarded as one book (the words are from Amos 5:25-27) "O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness?"


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 (rather, 'And' - [ Kai (G2532)]) ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, [ teen (Greek #3588) skeeneen (Greek #4633)]. This was probably a small portable shrine, containing the image of the horrid deity. The meaning of these two verses, which is a little obscure, seems to be, 'Did ye offer to Me the sacrifices which I required?' and yet ye bore about at the same time the shrine of Moloch!' The form of the question in Acts 7:42 [with mee (Greek #3361)] supposes the proper answer to be in the negative; and what is added is designed to show that, since the two actions were in direct contradiction to each other, it could be only a hypocritical and abhorred worship which, with such idolatrous hearts and hands, they offered to the living God.

And the star of your god , [not 'the god,' according to Lachmann and Tischendorf, the evidence for the Received Text being stronger]

Remphan, or 'Rephan.' The word is variously spelled in the manuscripts.

Figures [ tupous (G5179), or 'images,'] which ye made to worship them. Two kinds of idolatry are here charged upon the Israelites: that of the golden calf, and that of the heavenly bodies-Moloch and Remphan being deities representing apparently the divine powers ascribed to nature under different aspects. Remphan (or, as in the Septuagint, Rephan) is put for "Chiun" in Amos 5:26, which Stephen is quoting, and is supposed to correspond to Saturn. But as the object was rather to fasten on the nation the charge of foul and varied idolatry, than to specify the particular forms of it, there is the less necessity for going here into the learned speculations to which these words have given rise.

And I will carry you away beyond Babylon. The word used by the prophet is not Babylon, but "Damascus" (Amos 5:27), where the ten tribes were carried captive. But Stephen seems purposely to have changed this into "Babylon." the well-known region of the captivity of Judah, with which his hearers would have most sympathy. And as both captivities were equally the fulfillment of the ancient threatening, that they should be dispersed among the nations for their departure from the Lord (Leviticus 26:33), the substitution of the one captivity for the other, in Stephen's quotation, was in the strict line of the prophecy.


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.

Our fathers had [ en (Greek #1722) before tois (Greek #3588) patrasin (Greek #3962) has but weak support]

The tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed - that is they were divinely entrusted with the custody of it; and this is mentioned to show how aggravated was the guilt of that idolatry in which they indulged, having such tokens of the divine presence constantly in the midst of them.

Speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen. Here again Stephen, by his way of alluding to such divine arrangements, indirectly shows how far he was from disparaging Moses and the ancient economy.


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 , [ diadexamenoi (Greek #1237)] - rather 'Which also our fathers having received it (that is, the custody of the tabernacle) by succession' from their ancestors,

Brought in with Jesus (that is, Joshua) into the possession of the Gentiles , [ en (Greek #1722) tee (Greek #3588) kataschesei (Greek #2697)]. So the Vulgate, and after it Calvin, Grotius, Humphry, and Hackett [taking en (Greek #1722) as = eis (Greek #1519)]. Another rendering has been adopted by DeWette, Meyer, Alford, Webster and Wilkinson, and Alexander-`brought in with Joshua at the taking possession of (the territory of) the Gentiles.' (This would be preferable if the active sense of the word rendered 'possession' were sufficiently proved, which however it scarcely is).

Whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David - for until then Jerusalem continued in the hands of the Jebusites. But Stephen's object in mentioning David is to hasten from the tabernacle which he set up, to the temple which his son built, in Jerusalem; and this only to show, from their own Scriptures (Isaiah 66:1-2), that even that temple, magnificent though it was, not the proper resting-place of Yahweh upon earth-as His audience and the nation had all along been prone to imagine.


Verse 46

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

Who found favour before God and desired , [ eeteesato (Greek #154)] - or, 'asked for himself'

To find a tabernacle , [ skeenooma (Greek #4638)] - a more permanent dwelling than the usual one [ skeenee (Greek #4633)], for the God of Jacob.


Verse 47

But Solomon built him an house.

But Solomon built him an house.


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. The word "temples," though in the Received Text, is evidently not genuine. The idea is thus quite, general-`dwelleth not in man-made buildings.' Solomon himself sublimely expresses this in his prayer at the consecration of the temple (2 Chronicles 6:18): "But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built!"

As saith the prophet (Isaiah 66:1-2) - that is, the Lord by the prophet.


Verse 49

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?

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?


Verse 50

Hath not my hand made all these things?

Hath not my hand made all these things? The prophet goes on to say that the chosen and proper resting-place of Yahweh is the "contrite heart that trembleth at His word," and that the time was coming when those who clung to the temple and its ritual would be objects of divine abhorrence, as great as the rankest idolaters; while the true spiritual worshippers, though but a despised and excommunicated remnant, would find the Lord upon their side, and interposing gloriously in their behalf (Acts 7:2-5). From this it will be seen how singularly apposite to Stephen's case was this reference. He contents himself, however, with quoting the first verse and part of the second, condemning that idolatrous attachment to the material temple and its external services which was the cause of all their rage at his preaching, and of his now standing at their bar on a charge of impiety. The attempt made by the Tubingen critics (Baur and Zeller) to make out that Stephen meant here to condemn the temple and its services in themselves, or out and out-and so stood self-convicted of the charge brought against him-affords a good specimen of the wretched character of their criticism. The same style of reasoning would prove Isaiah and most of the ancient prophets to have been opposed to the whole external services of the economy under which they lived-an opinion which some of themselves have not scrupled to express.

The Defense Concluded, in a Brief and Pungent Statement of the Nation's Treatment of the Lord's Designs and Messengers from First to Last ()


Verse 51

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

Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears. [Lachmann adopts the plural kardiais (Greek #2588), for which the external evidence is rather better than for kardia (Greek #2588) of the Received Text. The internal evidence, however, is not so good. Tischendorf adheres to the Received Text.]

Ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye. On this verse Olshansen, Humphry, Webster and Wilkinson fall in too readily with the notion of some of the older critics, that symptoms of impatience and irritation in the audience here induced Stephen not only to cut short his historical sketch, but to pass abruptly from calm narrative to sharp invective. But since little further light could have been thrown upon Israel's perversity from subsequent periods of the national history, as recorded in their own Scriptures, it is more natural to view this and the two following verses as a vivid summing up-the concentrated expression and brief import-of the whole Israelite history, in the form of a charge, and certainly the heaviest conceivable, of grossness of heart and continuous resistance of the Holy Spirit in all the divine procedure toward them, from the beginning down to that very moment. (So Meyer, Alford, Baumgarten, Hackett, Alexander, and Lechler.) In using the familiar Old Testament phrases, "stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears," Stephen doubtless meant to serve his auditors heirs to their fathers' incorrigible perversity and paganish carnality.


Verse 52

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:

Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been , [ gegeneesthe (Greek #1096)] - rather, 'ye were' [ egenesthe (Greek #1096)] being the better supported reading,

Now the betrayers and murderers. In these most withering words the still darker features of the national character are boldly held up-deadly hostility to the messengers of God, whose highest mission was to announce the coming of "THE RIGHTEOUS ONE," that well-known prophetic title of Messiah (Isaiah 53:11; Jeremiah 23:6; etc.), and this crime, consummated by the betrayal and murder of Messiah Himself by their own hands. One word more is added.


Verse 53

Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. Who have received , [ Hoitines (Greek #3748) elabete (Greek #2983)] - rather 'Who [are the parties that] received the law;' thus identifying those who had just killed the Prince of life with those who had at the beginning of their economy received the law at Mount Sinai, as one corporate personality-one in privilege, responsibility, and guilt.

By the disposition of angels , [ eis (Greek #1519) diatagas (Greek #1296) angeloon (Greek #32)]. This expression is special, and has occasioned some discussion. Literally, it is 'at the arrangements of angels,' which, no doubt, means 'through their instrumentality.' [For this sense of eis (Greek #1519), compare Matthew 12:41, and see Winer,

xxxii. 4 b, and 49: a, 100:] This interesting fact, that the ministration of angels was employed in the sublime scenes of the giving of the law at mount Sinai is not expressly recorded in the Old Testament; but it is certainly implied in Psalms 68:17, "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them [as in] Sinai, in the holy place" (compare also Deuteronomy 32:2, in the Septuagint): it is explicitly. stated (as if it had been a known fact) in Galatians 3:19, and Hebrews 2:2); the general doctrine of Scripture regarding the ministry of angels, especially in all the higher operations of providence and grace, is quite in accordance with it; and Josephus and Philo both speak of it as a recognized fact.

And have not kept it. This closing word may seem to sum up their guilt somewhat weakly, after the awful charge brought against them in the foregoing verse, of being the betrayers and murderers of the Lord of glory. But as he was there, not to bring home a charge of guilt against them, but to rebut their charge against himself-of dishonouring the law-he shows, rather, consummate wisdom in rolling that charge back upon themselves, by first reminding them that the law had been committed to them as a sacred trust by Yahweh Himself, amidst august angelic ministrations at Sinai, and then, in a word (as the result of his long historic induction of facts) protesting that, throughout their entire history, they 'had not kept it.'

Martyrdom of Stephen ()


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, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. If they could have answered him, how different would have been their temper of mind!


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 Spirit, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God - that is, But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God - that is, such a visible manifestation as was vouchsafed so frequently of old.

And Jesus standing on the right hand of God - the place of coequal power and honour. Ye who can transfer to canvass such scenes as these, in which the rage of hell grins horrible from men, as they sit condemned by a frail prisoner of their own, and see heaven beaming from his countenance and opening full upon his view, I envy you, because I find no words to paint what, in the majesty of the divine text, is here so simply told. 'But how could Stephen in the council chamber see heaven at all?' I suppose this question never occurred but to critics of narrow soul, one of whom (Meyer) conjectures that he saw it through the window! and another, of better mould (Alford), that the scene lay in one of the courts of the temple. Since the sight was witnessed by Stephen alone, the opened heavens are to be viewed as revealed only to his bright beaming spirit. But why was Jesus seen standing on this occasion and not sitting?-the posture which the glorified Saviour is elsewhere invariably represented as occupying (Psalms 110:1; Matthew 26:64; Mark 16:19; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 12:2).

Augustine replies, that Christ sits as a Judge, but on this occasion stood as an Advocate. This Calvin thinks somewhat far-fetched, giving it as his own opinion that the sitting and the standing postures both mean the same thing, since neither can be literally understood. But this decides nothing. For, granting that these postures are to be understood figuratively, the question will still remain; Do they both mean the same thing? And as it seems impossible to doubt that in Psalms 110:1, and especially in the use made of it in Hebrews 10:12-13, the idea of rest after the completion of a work, and calm expectation of the fruit of that work, so, for our part, we cannot doubt that the standing posture here exceptionally ascribed to Christ, at the right hand of God, is intended to express the eager interest with which He watched from the skies the scene in that council-chamber, and the full tide of His Spirit, which He was at that moment engaged in pouring into the heart of His heroical witness, until it beamed in radiance from his very countenance.


Verse 56

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

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

This (to use the words of Alford) is the only time that our Lord is by human lips called THE SON OF MAN after his ascension. (Revelation 1:13; Revelation 14:14, are not instances.) And why here? Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, speaking now not of himself at all (Acts 7:55), but entirely by the Spirit, is led to repeat the very words in which Jesus Himself, before this same council, had foretold His glorification (Matthew 26:64), assuring them that that exaltation of THE SON OF MAN, which they should hereafter witness, to their dismay, was already begun and actual.


Verse 57

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

Compare the remarkably similar scene at the trial and condemnation of our Lord (Matthew 26:64). To men of their mould and in their temper, Stephen's last seraphic words could only bring matters to extremities; but this served to reveal the diabolical spirit which they breathed.


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 - as the law required to be done in cases of blasphemy (Leviticus 24:14; Numbers 15:35; 1 Kings 21:13 : and see Hebrews 13:12),

And stoned him , [ elithoboloun (Greek #3036)] - rather, 'proceeded to stone him;' for the actual stoning is recorded in the next verse.

And the witnesses - those whose hands were required by the law to be first upon the criminal. Such a provision was probably intended to meet the reluctance to be the first to inflict so painful a capital punishment.

Laid down their clothes , [ himatia (Greek #2440)] - their loose outer garments, to be taken charge of while they did their murderous work,

At a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. Such is our historian's calm, purely historical, yet thrilling way of introducing his readers to one to whom Christianity-whether as unfolded in the New Testament or as established in the world, and worked into the religious thinking and phraseology of Christendom-owes more, perhaps, than to all the other apostles together. Here he is, already in all likelihood having a seat in the Sanhedrim, about 30 years of age, an eager participator in the murder of one of the most distinguished witnesses for Christ. See the note at Acts 8:1, and his own affecting confession of this to Jesus Himself, Acts 22:20. But was this a legal proceeding? Looking at John 18:31 (see there), one should say not. Yet nothing seems wanting to it but the actual sentence of condemnation, which may have been pronounced, though not here recorded. Certainly the subsequent proceedings against the Christians, to imprisonment and even to death, with the letters of authorization issued by the high priest to such as Saul of Tarsus, with the view of arresting all who called on the name of Jesus, imply a large amount of power over the lives and liberties of the Jews on the part of their ecclesiastical superiors-either independent of the civil governor, or, which is more probable, by a tacit understanding that he should not interfere.


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, receive my spirit.

And they stoned Stephen , [ elithoboloun (Greek #3036)] - the imperfect tense here denoting the continuance and protracting of the operation until it ended in death.

Calling upon [God], and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. A most unhappy supplement of our translators is this word "God" here-as if, while addressing the Son, he was really calling not upon Him, but upon the Father. The sense is perfectly clear without any, supplement at all [ epikaloumenon (Greek #1941) kai (Greek #2532) legonta (Greek #3004)] - 'invoking and saying' (as the Vulgate, Calvin, and Beza render it), "Lord Jesus"

Lord Jesus - He being the Person intended, and addressed by name (compare Acts 9:14). Even Grotius, DeWette, and Meyer so understand the words, the two latter adding several examples of direct prayer to Christ from the New Testament. Pliny, in his well-known letter to the Emperor Trajan (1 AD), says it was part of the regular Christian service to address, in alternate strains, a hymn to Christ as God. In presenting to Jesus the identical prayer which Himself had on the cross offered to His Father, Stephen renders to his glorified Lord absolute divine worship, in the most sublime form, and at the most critical moment of his life. And in this committal of his spirit to Jesus, Paul afterward followed the footsteps of the first martyr, with a calm and exultant confidence that with Him it was safe for eternity: "I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day" (2 Timothy 1:12). For more on this subject see the note at 1 Corinthians 1:2.


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 - with something of the gathered energy of his dying Lord (see the note at John 19:30),

Lord - that is, beyond all doubt, 'Lord JESUS,' whom, as Lord, he had just before invoked.

Lay not this sin to their charge. Comparing this with the prayer of his dying Lord who can fail to see how very richly this martyr of Jesus had drunk into his Master's spirit, and that in its loftiest, divinest form?

And when he has said this, he fell asleep. This is never said of the death of Christ-partly, no doubt, because the New Testament writers would not, by using such a term, even seem to teach that the death of Christ was not a real death; but partly, too, to indicate the bitter ingredients in the death of the Head, as contrasted with the stingless placidity of that of His members. (See the note at 1 Thessalonians 4:14.)

Remarks:

(1) How different was Stephen's reading of the Old Testament from that of the learned ecclesiastics before whom he pleaded! They read them merely as the story of their own separation from among the nations of the earth to be the Lord's special people, and of the establishment and preservation of those special laws and institutions, which constituted a wall of separation between them and all other nations and which were their boasts. Stephen read them as the Record of God's high designs of grace and glory, which were eventually to reach the whole human family through the seed of Abraham, as the divinely-appointed channel, as a light shining in a dark place, until the day should dawn and the Sun of Righteousness should arise with healing in His wings. They read in their Scriptures only God's favour for themselves as His chosen people; he read in them only Israel's incurable misapprehension from age to age of God's purposes and plans of mercy, and their obstinate resistance of them. And are there no parallels to this in later ages? Or, rather, does not all Church History proclaim that there are two ways of reading the lively oracles and the providence of God-the carnal and the spiritual; that the great mass of professing Christians-including worldly ecclesiastics of every name-belong to the former class, while a far less proportion of both belong to the latter; and that these two classes differ in nothing essential from the assembled judges who sat to try Stephen, and the friendless prisoner at their bar, whose address was too high for their grovelling apprehensions to reach, and yet too stinging for their self-complacency to pardon?

(2) What a study for those who feel in themselves a vocation to serve the Lord in some special sphere is the history of Moses! Who can wonder at his mistaking the pulsations of this feeling, when roused by the ill treatment of a countryman at the hand of an Egyptian, for a call to begin the work of deliverance then and there? The event taught him, to his cost, that he had anticipated his time by forty years. And, what is remarkable, when his time at length came, the difficulty then was to persuade him to stir at all, or that it would be of any avail to do so. How differently did He act of whom Moses wrote! (See the notes at Luke , Remark 6, at the close of that section.)

(3) When men 'do not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gives them over to a reprobate mind,' and they sink from higher to lower, from more refined to greaser forms of religious and moral degeneracy. Stephen traces this in his address, from the rejection of Moses in Egypt to the golden calf in the wilderness, and from that to the abominations and cruelties of Moloch-worship in Palestine; and Paul traces it in the pagan world, in the dark picture of their idolatries and abominations which he draws in the opening chapter of his Epistle to the Romans; nor are illustrations of this principle wanting in Christendom. (See the notes at Romans 1:18-32, Remarks 3, 5, 6, at the close of that section.)

(4) In the earliest stages of the struggle between the Gospel and its Jewish enemies, since the apostles could not be spared, we have seen them shielded-partly by the heroic courage imparted to them, and partly by miraculous interpositions in their behalf-from the violence which was ready to crush them. But, that men might see from the first how believers could die for the name of the Lord Jesus, the most distinguished disciple who was not in the number of the twelve was divinely surrendered to the popular fury. And the death of this first martyr of Jesus has forever consecrated martyrdom in times of persecution. And what bright encouragement to the persecuted and martyred servants of Jesus lies in the glorious manifestation of Himself which He vouchsafed to Stephen just before the fury of his enemies burst forth upon him! Nor is it at all certain that it went beyond what has been experienced, times without number by those that have since suffered for His name, if any reliance is to be placed upon human testimony-testimony borne in circumstances the least open to the charge either of imposition or enthusiasm.

(5) What a sublime contrast is presented by that bruised and mangled body, from whose pale lips. there issued in the agonies of death the placid petition, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," and the soul which at such a moment sent it up! No dying shriek for mercy is this-such as is extorted at times from the worst of men in their dying moments. It is the unruffled language of one who, just before, had given bread for stones-breathing out a prayer for the forgiveness of his murderers; it is the gentle utterance of one expecting next moment to drop into the arms of his present Lord.

(6) As invoking the name of Jesus seems to have been a characteristic and familiar mark of the early Christians, so to do this just as the spirit is passing out of time into eternity, and in these solemn circumstances to commit to Jesus that most precious of all deposits-one's own spirit-asking Him to receive it on its flight from the body, is such an act of supreme worship as no devout dying believer can be conceived to have offered to one whom he believed to be no more than a creature, or to be other than "God over all blessed forever;" and if the great apostle did not habitually do this very thing which Stephen did with his last breath, what meaning can be put upon the words already quoted, penned by him when about to seal his testimony with his blood, "I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day"? (2 Timothy 1:12.)

(7) What a Religion is that which teaches men to pray for their murderers, in the very spirit as well as the words of Him who was the First to exemplify His own precept, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44); and what a harvest of such has the Church of Christ produced-from the days of Stephen down to the martyrs of Madagascar in our own day-showing that Jesus lives in His people still, returning in His suffering servants blessing for cursing!

Acts 8:1-40; Acts 9:1-43; Acts 10:1-48; Acts 11:1-30; Acts 12:1-25 - "YE SHALL BE WITNESSES ... IN ALL JUDEA, AND IN SAMARIA" (Acts 1:8)

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Acts 7:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/acts-7.html. 1871-8.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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