corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.08.20
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Acts 7

 

 

Introduction

CHAPTER 7

THE CHURCH BEGINS HER MARTYR ROLL—THE MURDER OF STEPHEN

1. The Apology of Stephen; or, a Vindication of Christianity (Act ).

2. The Progenitor of Israel; or, the History of Abraham (Act ).

3. The Last of the Patriarchs; or, Joseph a Type of Christ (Act ).

4. The Founder of the Nation; or, the Biography of Moses—in three chapters (Act ).

5. From Joshua to Jesus; or, the Downward Course of Israel (Act ).

6. The Martyrdom of Stephen; or, the First Taste of Blood (Act ).


Verses 1-53

CRITICAL REMARKS

Act . The high priest's question, Are these things so? analogous to that put to Christ (Mat 26:62), was equivalent to a modern "Guilty or not guilty?"

Act . Concerning what Stephen said in reply, Luke's information may have been derived either from Paul, who probably was present on the occasion (Act 26:10), and afterwards in his own speeches and writings reproduced the martyr's language (compare Act 7:48 with Act 16:24, and Act 7:53 with Gal 3:19), or from records of it preserved by the Church at Jerusalem. The God of glory.—i.e., who manifested His presence by means of the glory (Exo 16:7; Exo 16:10; Exo 24:16; Exodus 17; Exo 33:18; Exo 33:22; Exo 40:34; Exodus 35; Lev 9:6; Leviticus 23; Num 14:10; Num 14:21-22)—i.e., of the Shechinah or luminous appearance which shone between the Cherubim (Psa 80:1). Before he dwelt in Charran, or Haran.—Carræ in North-West Mesopotamia, about twenty-five miles from Edessa, one of the supposed sites of Ur of the Chaldees, which, however, is now almost unanimously found in Hur, the most important of the early capitals of Chaldæa, the present-day Mugheir, at no great distance from the mouth and six miles to the west of the Euphrates. That Stephen's statement does not contradict Genesis. (Act 12:1), which places the call of Abraham at Haran (Holtzmann) may be inferred from these facts—

(1) that Gen and Neh 9:7 both represent Ur of the Chaldees as the locality in which Abraham received Jehovah's call, and

(2) that with these both Josephus and Philo agree. There is nothing unreasonable in supposing the call to have been given twice, first in Ur and again in Haran.

Act . When his father was dead.—If Abraham was Terah's firstborn (Gen 11:26), and seventy-five when he departed from Haran (Gen 12:4), then Terah could only have been one hundred and forty-five years old at his death, whereas, according to Gen 11:32, Terah was two hundred and five when he died, and must have survived Abraham's departure from Haran by sixty years; but if Abraham was Terah's youngest son, and born in Terah's one hundred and thirtieth year, which, according to the Hebrew narrative, is not impossible, then as Abraham was seventy-five years old when he migrated from Haran, Terah must have been two hundred and five when he died—which agrees with Stephen's narrative. For he removed the best texts read (God) removed him.

Act . None inheritance in it.—Not contradicted by Abraham's purchase of the field and cave at Machpelah (Gen 23:9-11), which were meant for "a possession" of a burying place but not for an inheritance in the strict sense of the term.

Act . Four hundred years.—If Stephen included in these four centuries the whole period of sojourning, bondage, and oppression, exactly as Jehovah did in Genesis (Act 15:13), this seems to be at variance with Paul's reckoning of the interval between the Abrahamic promise and the Mosaic law as four hundred and thirty years (Gal 3:17), which interval again is represented in Exodus (Exo 12:40) as "the sojourning of Israel who dwelt in Egypt." Assuming that four hundred may have been a round number for four hundred and thirty, the difficulty remains how to harmonise the statements of Stephen and Paul. If, according to Paul, the interval from Abraham to Moses was four hundred and thirty years, then, inasmuch as Isaac was born twenty-five years after the promise was first given, and was sixty years old at the birth of Jacob, who was one hundred and thirty years of age when he stood before Pharaoh, then 430 − (25 + 60 + 130) = 215, which leaves only two hundred, and fifteen for the years of exile, bondage, and oppression. Either, therefore, Stephen, following the LXX. version of Exo 12:40, which inserts "in the land of Canaan" after "in the land of Egypt, designed his four hundred years to embrace the same period as Paul's four hundred and thirty indicate—a view supported by Josephus (Ant., II. xv. 2), or he followed Gen 15:13, and understood the four hundred to refer to the Egyptian sojourn, bondage, and oppression, in which case he is again supported by Josephus (Ant., II. ix. 1; Wars, V. ix. 4), who gives both views, but not by Paul. It would remove all appearance of contrariety if Gen 15:13 signified by "a land not theirs," Canaan as well as Egypt; if this cannot be done, then at the worst Paul and Stephen must be held to have followed different traditions.

Act . They shall come forth and serve Me in this place.—"They shall come hither again" of Gen 15:16 is replaced by "and serve Me in this place," suggested by rather than borrowed from Exo 3:2, in which the words are "ye shall serve God upon this mountain." Stephen, unintentionally mixing up the passages in Genesis and Exodus, may not have been hindered by the Spirit, because the sentiment he expressed was correct; or under the Spirit's guidance he may have selected the new clause suggested by Exodus to explain the import of the one in Genesis.

Act . The covenant of circumcision.—I.e., of which circumcision was the sign. See Rom 4:11. The twelve patriarchs.—I.e., the twelve sons of Jacob as the founders of the tribes or heads of the families of Israel. The term also applied to Abraham (Heb 7:4) and to David (Act 2:29).

Act . Moved with envy, or jealousy, they, the patriarchs, sold Joseph into Egypt—i.e., to be carried thither. Stephen condenses the Genesis narrative.

Act . The Pharaoh under whom Joseph rose to power was the last of the Hyksos or Shepherd kings, Apophis, who, not being himself a native Egyptian, might feel disposed to favour the Hebrew stranger who had in so remarkable a manner interpreted his dreams and saved the country.

Act . A dearth over all the land of Egypt and Canaan.—Brugsch, Sayce, and others find this dearth in a famine, which, according to an inscription from a nobleman's tomb at Eileythia in Southern Egypt, prevailed in the land for several years, and during which the dead man (Baba), according to the inscription, "distributed corn to the city each year of famine." Baba, the nobleman in question, is supposed to have lived shortly before the establishment of the eighteenth dynasty. Counting four hundred and thirty years back from B.C. 1325, when Menephtah II. ascended the Egyptian throne, gives the reign of Apophis as the commencement of the exile according to Stephen, as the date of the promise according to Paul. (But see above on Act 7:6.)

Act . Threescore and fifteen souls.—So the LXX. in Gen 46:27; but the Hebrew text of Gen 46:27; Exo 1:5, and Deu 10:22 gives threescore and ten as the number of souls that went down into Egypt—i.e., the sixty-six of Gen 46:26 with four (Jacob, Joseph, Ephraim, and Manasseh) added. The additional five were probably Joseph's grandsons, counted by the LXX. as among his sons. Stephen, a Hellenist, most likely followed the LXX. without deeming it necessary to correct what after all was no mis-statement, if "sons" be taken in the wider sense of descendants.

Act . Carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money.—Two historical inaccuracies are commonly discovered here:

1. That Jacob and the fathers were all buried at Sychem, or Shechem, Abraham's earliest settlement in Canaan (Gen ); whereas Jacob was interred at Hebron (Gen 1:13), and only Joseph's bones were laid in Sychem (Jos 24:32), Scripture being silent as to where those of the other fathers were deposited.

2. That Abraham purchased a sepulchre at Shechem from the sons of Emmor, or Hamor, for a sum of money, or for a price in silver; whereas the tomb Abraham bought was at Hebron, while the seller was Ephron the Hittite (Gen ), and Jacob's purchase was of a field at Shechem (Gen 33:19), in which afterwards Joseph's bones were interred (Jos 24:32). As to the first part of Stephen's statement that Jacob and the fathers were all carried over into Shechem and laid in a tomb, nothing can invalidate that. If Stephen must be understood as asserting that all were laid in the same tomb, that was not so, since Jacob was buried at Hebron and Joseph at Sychem, unless it can be shown that Joseph's bones were subsequently reinterred in the patriarchal vault at Hebron—a hypothesis not impossible, certainly, but still not capable of proof. If, further, Stephen purposed to affirm that Abraham bought a tomb at Shechem, this can only be harmonised with Genesis by maintaining that the tomb at Shechem was purchased twice—once by Abraham and afterwards by Jacob, which is not a likely supposition. The suggestion that Abraham has been either substituted in the text for Jacob, or inserted in the text which originally had no nominative to the verb "purchased," is rendered inadmissible by all existing MSS. having Abraham. Yet if Jacob were inserted every difficulty would not vanish. It would still remain impossible to maintain that Jacob was interred at Shechem. Could Stephen himself be recalled, it might be possible to solve this problem; in his absence it must be given up, at least till additional data be forthcoming. On the ground of this unsolved problem it would be rash to challenge the inspiration of either Stephen or Luke.

Act . Another king which knew not Joseph.—This was Aahmes, the first monarch of the eighteenth dynasty, "a prince of great force of character, brave, active, energetic, liberal, beloved by his subjects" (Rawlinson, The Story of the Nations—Egypt, p. 152).

Act . Dealt subtilly with our kindred, or race.—With Aahmes the new policy towards the Israelites may have begun, but the author of the cruel decree appears to have been Seti I., while Rameses II. was the Pharaoh of the Oppression, and Menephtah II. the Pharaoh of the Exodus. They cast out.—Pharaoh's object in the oppression appears to have been to render the lives of the Israelites so miserable that they would rather cast out their offspring than see them grow up to experience such woe as themselves endured. If he be read instead of they, then the well-known decree (Exo 1:16-22) is that to which Stephen alludes.

Act . Learned.—Better, trained or instructed.

Act . Suffer wrong, injured, by beating (Exo 2:11). The wrongdoer may have been one of Pharaoh's taskmasters. A bas-relief recovered from the Nile Valley exhibits one of these standing over a gang of slaves, whip in hand, and saying as he lashes them, "To your work, O slaves: ye are idle!"

Act . He supposed should be he was supposing, meaning that was his habitual mood of mind at this period. Would deliver them should be gives them deliverance or salvation; the present tense signifying either that the deliverance was at hand or was beginning with the blow then struck.

Act . Madian, or Midian.—In the south-east of the Sinaitic peninsula.

Act . Mount Sinai.—Exodus (Exo 3:1) gives, as the scene of this Divine manifestation, Horeb, which was probably the name of the range, Sinai being the designation of the particular peak (Robinson, Eadie), though others regard Sinai as the range and Horeb as the peak. Whether Sinai, the mountain of the Law, was Jebel Serbal (Burckhardt, Lepsius, and Ebers), or Ras-es-Sufsafeh (Robinson, Stanley, Porter), or Jebel Musa (Wilson, Sandie), travellers are not decided. Josephus (Ant., II. xi. 1) and Paul (Gal 4:25) locate it in Arabia, which Sayce thinks to a writer of the first century would mean Arabia Petræa. Wherefore he looks for Sinai not in the peninsula, but among the ranges of Mount Seir in the neighbourhood of Kadesh Barnea (see The Higher Criticism and the Monuments, pp. 263-373).

In Act the order of the Hebrew text is transposed.

Act . A deliverer, or redeemer, λυτρωτήν.—A latent allusion to the work of Christ.

Act . After that he had showed should be having done or wrought.

Act . The Lord your are omitted in best MSS. Like unto me might be rendered as he raised up me.

Act . The Church.—The use of ἐκκλησία—a term employed by the LXX. (Deu 18:16; Deu 23:1; Psa 26:12)—for the congregation of Israel warrants the inference that Stephen at least regarded the Hebrew nation as a church and the new assembly of believers as its representative under the Christian dispensation.

Act . They made a calf is one word in the original. The calf, or bullock, was selected in imitation of the Egyptians, who worshipped an ox, Apis at Memphis and Mnevis at Heliopolis.

Act . In the book of the prophets.—The quotation is from Amo 5:25-27. The interrogation, Have ye offered unto Me? etc., is much used by the higher criticism to prove that the sacrificial system of the so-styled priest code had no existence in the time of Moses; but the prophet's meaning is not that the Israelites did not offer sacrifices to Jehovah in the wilderness, but that, though they did, their hearts ran after their idolatries—the worship of Moloch and the Star Rephan—so that Jehovah rejected their insincere service.

Act . The tabernacle of Moloch and the star of your god Remphan.—The Hebrew might be rendered Siccuth your king and Chiun (or the shrine of) your images, the star of your god (R.V.), Siccuth being in this case the name of one idol which the Hebrews worshipped as their king, and Chiun the name of another, believed to have been the planet Saturn, of which the name among the Syrians and Arabians was Kçwân. Stephen, however, followed the LXX., who understood Siccuth as equivalent to "tabernacle"—i.e., the portable tent in which the idol's image was carried—and for "your king" substituted, with some ancient MSS., Moloch, the idol meant; while for "Chiun your images" they read "the star of your god Rephan," which Kircher believes to be Koptic for Saturn, and Schrader regards as a corruption from Kewan. That the LXX. failed to intelligibly translate the second Hebrew clause was of small moment to Stephen. The words, "the star of the god," showed that God had given the Israelites up to worship the host of heaven. The substitution of Babylon for Damascus in the Hebrew and the LXX. is explainable by the fact that Babylon had long been associated in Jewish history with the exile.

Act . The tabernacle of the testimony in the wilderness was so called because it contained the Ark in which the two tables of the Decalogue were kept (Num 11:15; Num 17:13).

Act . Our fathers that came after should be simply our fathers. Jesus is Joshua, as in Heb 4:8. Into (lit. in) the possession of the Gentiles.—Meaning that the Ark was brought in to remain in the possession of the nations—i.e., in their land. The R.V. reads, "When they entered on the possession of the nations"; lit. "at" or "in" their taking possession of (the land of) the nations.

Act . Tabernacle should be "habitation," permanent abode, like "house" in Act 7:47.

Act . The prophet was Isaiah (Isa 66:1-2).

Act . Which of the prophets, etc., echoed the words of Christ (Mat 5:12; Mat 23:31; Luk 13:34).

Act . By the disposition of the angels is better rendered in the R.V., as it was ordained by angels, or as ordinances of angels; lit. unto ordinances of angels. Compare Gal 3:19 and Heb 2:2.

HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Act

The Apology of Stephen; or, a Vindication of Christianity

I. To whom it was addressed.—

1. The Jewish Sanhedrim, consisting of Annas, Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and perhaps also Gamaliel, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea, if the last two had not by this time withdrawn from the conclave. The court that had already condemned the apostles (Act ) was little likely to give a fair hearing to the eloquent deacon.

2. The Jewish people generally. Through their official representatives, with whom at this moment they were acting in sympathy and concert.

3. All whom in after ages it might concern. Though this presumably entered not into Stephen's, it without doubt formed part of the Holy Spirit's mind.

II. In what spirit it was spoken.—

1. With affection. Hinted at by the term "brethren" with which Stephen saluted his judges and accusers. A sign of goodness as well as greatness on the part of Stephen that he disowned not kinship with the truculent adversaries who were then thirsting for his blood.

2. With reverence. Not forgetting the respect due to the elders of his people, he courteously addressed them as "fathers." No man ever injures his cause by rendering honour to whom honour is due.

III. Of what statements it was composed.—

1. A historical retrospect. The drama of Israel's career was opened out in three successive acts.

(1) The age of the Patriarchs before Moses (Act ); or the age of the promise, rehearsing the story of Abraham's call by the God of Glory first from Mesopotamia (Ur of the Chaldees) and afterwards from Haran, to go into the Land of Canaan. This call the patriarch obeyed, only to find that God, who had promised to bestow Canaan for possession, on himself and on his seed after him, when as yet he had no child, actually gave him in it none inheritance. Rather God predicted that before his descendants should come into their heritage they should be bondmen in a strange land for four hundred years. At the same time, in pledge that the promise would be fulfilled and the land kept for its appointed heirs, the God of glory gave to the patriarch the covenant of circumcision, which was handed on from sire to son, till in Jacob's days events began to move in the direction of bringing together the heirs and the inheritance. Joseph, his father's favourite son, was sold into Egypt by his envious brethren, who also by a singular combination of circumstances some time later, in a season of famine, repaired thither to find the brother they had evil entreated governor over all the land. At his invitation Jacob, with his kindred, numbering threescore and fifteen souls, went down into Egypt, where they died and left behind them children, in what was soon to become for them a house of bondage. With that closed the first act in the drama.

(2) The age of Moses (Act ); or, the age of the law, sketching the career of Moses in three periods of forty years. "Three generations rolled over him," writes Emil Zittel (Die Entstehung der Bibel, p. 40). "Three times he lived through the holy number of forty years; as son of Egyptian wisdom, as shepherd of the wilderness, as emancipator of his people." Of these periods the first began during the currency of Israel's oppression, and, embracing the lawgiver's birth and education in the house of Pharaoh, ended with his flight into Midian (Act 7:17-29). The second closed with the appearance to him in the Wilderness of Sinai, of an angel of God, and his subsequent departure into Egypt to lead forth his people from captivity, which he successfully accomplished (Act 7:30-36). The third opened with the Exodus, included the wilderness wanderings, and terminated with the entrance into Canaan under Joshua (Act 7:37-45).

(3) The Age of the Prophets; or, the Age of the Temple (Act ), telling the brief but simple tale of David's proposal to find a habitation for the God of Jacob, and of Solomon's building Him a house, in which indeed Jehovah was formally worshipped, while outside His prophets were disobeyed and persecuted.

2. An implied representation. Of the history of Jesus, which had its obvious parallel and prefigurement in the just recited career of the nation.

(1) Like Joseph whom his brethren sold for envy, but whom Jehovah delivered and appointed to be their preserver, Christ—though Stephen leaves this unexpressed—had been rejected by them, yea even sold into the hands of His enemies and put to death, raised up by God, exalted to the highest throne in heaven, made Lord of all and sent to be their Saviour, to give repentance unto Israel and remission of sins.

(2) Like Moses, whom his countrymen understood not and resisted, but who afterwards led them forth to liberty, Christ had come unto His own, who likewise knew Him not, but thrust Him from them, and was coming again to offer them emancipation from sin and death.

(3) Like the men who in the wilderness preferred the tabernacle of Moloch to that Jehovah had caused to be constructed for them, and like their descendants who desecrated the temple by carrying on within its sacred precincts, in defiance of the warnings of Jehovah's prophets, heathen orgies instead of the legitimate Jehovah worship, so had they defiled, desecrated, and despised the true tabernacle and temple of Jehovah, even Jesus of Nazareth, and preferred to Him the lifeless stones of the material edifice, and the meaningless service of an effete ritual.

IV. With what arguments it was charged.—

1. Against supposing that the true worship of Jehovah was bound up with the law. This could not be:

(1) Because the God of Glory had appeared unto the father of the nation in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran (Act ). If a theophany or Divine manifestation be the basis of all acceptable worship, as the law itself says (Exo 22:24), then clearly such worship did not originate at Sinai but at Ur of the Chaldees, and not with Moses but with Abraham.

(2) Because the promise of a Messiah, admittedly the kernel of Mosaism, was given to Abraham when as yet he had no child and therefore no descendants on whom to enjoin the law (Act ).

(3) Because the covenant of circumcision in which all Israelites gloried as of the essence of their law was not of Moses but of Abraham (Act ; compare Joh 7:22).

(4) Because the presence of God with His people to protect and deliver them, which was what pious Jews understood by salvation, did not begin with His coming down to talk with them at Sinai, but had been enjoyed by Joseph in Egypt (Act ), and by Joseph's father and brethren through him (Act 7:14-15).

2. Against supposing that the true worship of Jehovah was bound up with Moses. This it could not be:

(1) Because when Moses first offered himself to his countrymen, in Jehovah's name, as a deliverer, they would not receive him but thrust him from them (Act ).

(2) Because Moses himself, who had been miraculously called and strengthened to effect their temporal deliverance, had distinctly pointed them to a greater prophet than himself, even to Jesus, though Stephen leaves this supplementary thought unspoken (Act ).

(3) Because though Moses had been the medium of conveying to Israel the "living oracles," or oracles of life received from Jehovah, he could not secure Israel's obedience to these, even at the moment when Israel was encamped in Jehovah's presence (Act ).

3. Against supposing that the true worship of Jehovah was bound up with the temple. This once more was impossible:

(1) Because in the wilderness the tabernacle, which was the shadow of the temple, could not retain the allegiance of the people to Jehovah. Instead of offering to Jehovah slain beasts and sacrifices at the tabernacle door, they took up the tent of Moloch and carried about the star of the god Remphan (Act ).

(2) Because the temple was never meant to be anything more than an emblem of Jehovah's true habitation, as saith the prophet, "The heaven is My throne," etc. (Act ).

(3) Because the existence of the temple could not keep Israel's fathers from resisting the Holy Ghost and murdering Jehovah's prophets (Act ).

4. Against supposing that the true worship of Jehovah was bound up with them. They had certainly been honoured above all peoples, had received the law as ordained by—i.e., as it were, at the hands of angels, had listened to the voices of Jehovah's prophets showing before the coming of the Righteous One—i.e., of Messiah—and had enjoyed the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit upon their hearts, and yet to what had all these gracious privileges led? They had not kept the law except in the letter, and not always that; they had not believed in Jehovah's prophets but persecuted and killed them, the last and greatest of them having been the righteous One of whom they had just been the betrayers and murderers; and they had not yielded to but resisted the Holy Ghost. Was it not then idle to assert or suppose that they were the representatives of the true Jehovah-worship? Such was the spirit of Stephen's address.

V. To what results it conducted.—

1. For his hearers.

(1) Conviction of guilt. They were cut to the heart, pierced to the quick, sawn asunder with inward pain because of inability to deny the truth of Stephen's charges.

(2) Rage against their prisoner, at whom they snarled and snapped with their teeth like angry wolves, impatient to devour their prey, because his cutting invective, penetrating to their consciences, had brought their guilt to remembrance.

2. For himself. A violent death and a martyr's crown—a large recompense for a short service; a brief shame followed by a long fame; a little loss and then an eternal gain (see on Act ).

Learn.—

1. That an eloquent and able defence is not always followed by a verdict of acquital.

2. That it does not always conduce to one's personal safety to tell the truth.

3. That judges are not always open to the force of sound reasoning.

4. That opponents defeated in argument are seldom merciful.

5. That the sins of one age are often repeated in the next.

HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS

Act . The Speech of Stephen.

I. A masterpiece of sacred eloquence.

II. A witness to the truth of Old Testament history.

III. A testimony to the sustaining power of religion.

IV. A proof of the reality of divine inspiration.

V. A noble vindication of Jesus Christ.

VI. A striking anticipation of Pauline universalism.

NOTE.—On the Historical Credibility of this Speech.—That this speech was not really uttered by Stephen, but freely composed by a late author (Baur, Zeller Weizsäcker, Holtzmann, and others) has been argued on the following grounds:

1. "That it takes so little notice of the special accusation against which Stephen defends himself" (Baur, Paul, his Life and Work, vol. i., p. 44). But in this Stephen only showed how entirely absorbed he was in vindicating his Master rather than in excusing himself. Besides, that his speech should have this appearance is a powerful indirect testimony to its genuineness, since its composer, had it not been Stephen, would have been sure to have avoided this appearance of incongruity.

2. That it contains historical inaccuracies, as, e.g., about the call of Abraham (Act ), the burial of the patriarchs (Act 7:16), and the duration of the Egyptian bondage (Act 7:6). But the so-called inaccuracies are susceptible of reasonable explanation; and, even if they were not, could only be urged against the inspiration of the speech, and not against its genuineness. If the composer of the speech could err, so also might Stephen, assuming that he was not inspired.

3. That it discovers verbal and material points of contact with the discourses of Peter and Paul (Overbeck, Weizscker, Supernatural Religion, iii., 145-178); but exactly this is what one should have expected from Stephen, who was the contemporary of these men, and believed the same facts and doctrines as they did.

4. That it goes far beyond the standpoint of Paul in teaching the spirituality of worship (Act ; Act 7:48), and seems rather to belong to later Christian Alexandrinism (Holtzmann); but this is an altogether unwarranted assertion, since Paul quite as clearly teaches that God can be rightly worshipped only in the Spirit (Act 17:24; Eph 2:21-22; Php 3:3).

5. That the riotous proceeding against Stephen renders it "improbable there was any transaction at all before the Sanhedrim" (Baur, i. 56). This, however, is simply turning criticism into ridicule; as if the Jewish Sanhedrim never overstepped its legitimate powers, and was always a law-abiding court. Credat Judus!

6. That there is nothing to prevent the supposition that the historian put this speech into Stephen's mouth (Baur, i. 56). But inasmuch as the speech is admitted to have "well suited the character of Stephen," and to be "correctly stamped with his declared religious views," it is much easier to suppose that Stephen himself delivered it than that Luke or another composed it.

7. That there is difficulty in understanding how the speech would or could be taken down in court. But even if Paul did not make notes of it at the time (Baumgarten), the memories of some who heard of it might not be unequal to the task of its preservation. Examples of remarkable memories are not wanting either in ancient or in modern times.


Verses 2-8

CRITICAL REMARKS

Act . Concerning what Stephen said in reply, Luke's information may have been derived either from Paul, who probably was present on the occasion (Act 26:10), and afterwards in his own speeches and writings reproduced the martyr's language (compare Act 7:48 with Act 16:24, and Act 7:53 with Gal 3:19), or from records of it preserved by the Church at Jerusalem. The God of glory.—i.e., who manifested His presence by means of the glory (Exo 16:7; Exo 16:10; Exo 24:16; Exodus 17; Exo 33:18; Exo 33:22; Exo 40:34; Exodus 35; Lev 9:6; Leviticus 23; Num 14:10; Num 14:21-22)—i.e., of the Shechinah or luminous appearance which shone between the Cherubim (Psa 80:1). Before he dwelt in Charran, or Haran.—Carræ in North-West Mesopotamia, about twenty-five miles from Edessa, one of the supposed sites of Ur of the Chaldees, which, however, is now almost unanimously found in Hur, the most important of the early capitals of Chaldæa, the present-day Mugheir, at no great distance from the mouth and six miles to the west of the Euphrates. That Stephen's statement does not contradict Genesis. (Act 12:1), which places the call of Abraham at Haran (Holtzmann) may be inferred from these facts—

(1) that Gen and Neh 9:7 both represent Ur of the Chaldees as the locality in which Abraham received Jehovah's call, and

(2) that with these both Josephus and Philo agree. There is nothing unreasonable in supposing the call to have been given twice, first in Ur and again in Haran.

Act . When his father was dead.—If Abraham was Terah's firstborn (Gen 11:26), and seventy-five when he departed from Haran (Gen 12:4), then Terah could only have been one hundred and forty-five years old at his death, whereas, according to Gen 11:32, Terah was two hundred and five when he died, and must have survived Abraham's departure from Haran by sixty years; but if Abraham was Terah's youngest son, and born in Terah's one hundred and thirtieth year, which, according to the Hebrew narrative, is not impossible, then as Abraham was seventy-five years old when he migrated from Haran, Terah must have been two hundred and five when he died—which agrees with Stephen's narrative. For he removed the best texts read (God) removed him.

Act . None inheritance in it.—Not contradicted by Abraham's purchase of the field and cave at Machpelah (Gen 23:9-11), which were meant for "a possession" of a burying place but not for an inheritance in the strict sense of the term.

Act . Four hundred years.—If Stephen included in these four centuries the whole period of sojourning, bondage, and oppression, exactly as Jehovah did in Genesis (Act 15:13), this seems to be at variance with Paul's reckoning of the interval between the Abrahamic promise and the Mosaic law as four hundred and thirty years (Gal 3:17), which interval again is represented in Exodus (Exo 12:40) as "the sojourning of Israel who dwelt in Egypt." Assuming that four hundred may have been a round number for four hundred and thirty, the difficulty remains how to harmonise the statements of Stephen and Paul. If, according to Paul, the interval from Abraham to Moses was four hundred and thirty years, then, inasmuch as Isaac was born twenty-five years after the promise was first given, and was sixty years old at the birth of Jacob, who was one hundred and thirty years of age when he stood before Pharaoh, then 430 − (25 + 60 + 130) = 215, which leaves only two hundred, and fifteen for the years of exile, bondage, and oppression. Either, therefore, Stephen, following the LXX. version of Exo 12:40, which inserts "in the land of Canaan" after "in the land of Egypt, designed his four hundred years to embrace the same period as Paul's four hundred and thirty indicate—a view supported by Josephus (Ant., II. xv. 2), or he followed Gen 15:13, and understood the four hundred to refer to the Egyptian sojourn, bondage, and oppression, in which case he is again supported by Josephus (Ant., II. ix. 1; Wars, V. ix. 4), who gives both views, but not by Paul. It would remove all appearance of contrariety if Gen 15:13 signified by "a land not theirs," Canaan as well as Egypt; if this cannot be done, then at the worst Paul and Stephen must be held to have followed different traditions.

Act . They shall come forth and serve Me in this place.—"They shall come hither again" of Gen 15:16 is replaced by "and serve Me in this place," suggested by rather than borrowed from Exo 3:2, in which the words are "ye shall serve God upon this mountain." Stephen, unintentionally mixing up the passages in Genesis and Exodus, may not have been hindered by the Spirit, because the sentiment he expressed was correct; or under the Spirit's guidance he may have selected the new clause suggested by Exodus to explain the import of the one in Genesis.

Act . The covenant of circumcision.—I.e., of which circumcision was the sign. See Rom 4:11. The twelve patriarchs.—I.e., the twelve sons of Jacob as the founders of the tribes or heads of the families of Israel. The term also applied to Abraham (Heb 7:4) and to David (Act 2:29).

HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Act

The Progenitor of Israel; or, the History of Abraham

I. The honours he received.—

1. An overpowering revelation.

(1) Of what? Of the glory of God. "The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham." This remarkable expression, "the God of glory," which occurs only here in the New and but once in the Old Testament (Psa ), nevertheless has its roots in and receives explanation from the latter. Without question it points back to the transaction at Sinai (Exo 16:7; Exo 16:10; Exo 24:16), and identifies the divine Being whose external and symbolic form, an ethereal luminous essence, appeared in the cloud upon the mountain summit (Exo 24:17), and afterwards filled the tabernacle (Exo 40:34), as the same who had revealed Himself to the son of Terah. Whether He appeared in a similar fashion as at Sinai cannot be decided, although Stephen's language and sundry notices in Genesis (Act 15:17; Act 17:22) almost warrant an affirmative answer. In any case, it does not seem possible to reduce this theophany to a mere subjective impression on the patriarch's mind.

(2) Where? In Mesopotamia, or the region between the two rivers Tigris and Euphrates; not, however, in the northern district, but in the south, "in the land of the Chaldeans"—i.e., in Ur (Gen ), now identified as Mugheir (see "Critical Remarks").

(3) When? "Before he dwelt in Haran," and whilst his father was yet alive. The statement of Stephen does not contradict but supplements that of Genesis (Act ), which appears to say, but does not necessarily mean, that the order to depart from his father's house was only given to the patriarch in Haran. Haran was not Abraham's country or land of his nativity, but the land of the Chaldees was (Gen 11:28).

2. An imperative command.

(1) To get out from his land and from his kindred, or, in other words, to become a pilgrim. Hard as the summons was, it was obediently complied with. Abraham's pilgrimage commenced at Ur, and reached its first stage at Haran. Five years later, on his father's (Terah's) death, it entered on its second and final stage.

(2) To betake himself to a new country, the land of Canaan, wherein they, his descendants, were then dwelling; a land which God would show him, a mitigation of the preceding hardship, since a pilgrim under God's leading must always be safe, and can never come to grief. That Abraham yielded obedience to this command was a signal proof of faith (Heb ).

3. A gracious promise.—

(1) Of a land for a possession, the land of Canaan above-mentioned. Broad acres have ever been a coveted and cherished inheritance. But God, the supreme owner of the soil, distributes them to whomsoever He will. If this promise was broken to the hand and foot, it was kept to the heart and spirit (see below).

(2) Of a son for an heir. Offspring, especially among the Hebrews, has ever been a much-prized blessing. No one man likes to be succeeded by a stranger, and far less to leave his wealth to a servant. Yet just this was the prospect which Abraham at the moment had before him (Gen ). Like land, children are the gift of God (Psa 127:3).

(3) Of a nation for descendants. Most men count themselves happy when they can found a family; but God promised Abraham that his offspring should ultimately develop into a people (Gen ), which, after sojourning in a strange land (Egypt) in a state of bondage for four hundred years, should be emancipated from their thraldom and conducted to their inheritance.

4. A solemn covenant. One would have thought a promise from God's lips would have been sufficient guarantee for the bestowment of the above-named blessings: and, so far as God's creature is concerned, that is all he can at any time expect to receive; but, marvellous condescension! God has frequently been pleased to add to His spoken word a visible pledge or seal—in Noah's case the rainbow (Gen ), in Abraham's circumcision (Gen 17:10-14), the import of which was that Israel after the flesh should be a separated, purged, and consecrated people.

II. The virtues he displayed.—

1. Faith. He believed in God, credited the revelation which had been given him, accepted the invitation proffered him, relied on the promise made to him, and assented to the covenant which had been struck with him. Had faith been awanting—such faith as is the substance of things hoped for (Heb ) and reposes on God's word (Joh 3:33)—nothing of a spiritual sort could have followed.

2. Obedience. He promptly, cheerfully, and faithfully performed that which God had commanded. First, he went out from Ur along with Terah his father, Sarah his sister-wife, and Lot his nephew (Gen ); and afterwards, when Terah was dead, removing from Haran, he migrated southwards to Canaan.

3. Patience. Though on arriving in Canaan it looked as if the promise were about to fail, as if he were to obtain neither the inheritance nor the heir, yet he quietly adhered to the word which had been spoken (Rom ; Heb 6:15). Nor did he abandon hope when God talked about four hundred years of servitude for his posterity, but calmly rested in God and waited for the fulfilment of what had been promised.

4. Insight. He could see that Jehovah's promise was larger than any immediate or earthly fulfilment could realise—that the seed was One higher than a child of his loins, even One in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed (Joh ), and that the land was something more desirable than an earthly inheritance like Canaan, was a better country, even an heavenly (Heb 11:10).

III. The rewards he obtained.—

1. God's promise was fulfilled. He got his son and heir—"Abraham begat Isaac." His son's descendants grew into a family—"Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob the twelve patriarchs." Their households (threescore and fifteen souls, Act ) multiplied into a nation. The nation eventually entered on the occupation of the land (Act 7:45).

2. His own horn was exalted. He became the ancestor of the Jewish people, the progenitor of the Messiah, the father of the faithful, the world-renowned pattern of believers.

Learn.—

1. The sovereignty of God in dispensing His favours.

2. The wisdom of man in walking by faith.

3. The certainty that believers will, ultimately, inherit the promises.

HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS

Act . The God of Glory.—The fitness of this designation will appear when it is considered that—

I. God's dwelling-place is glorious. Heaven (Deu ); eternity (Isa 57:15); both of which are the habitation of His holiness and His glory (Isa 63:15); and in both of which are glory and honour (1Ch 16:27.

II. His character is glorious. In holiness (Exo ); in power (Exo 15:6; Isa 63:12; 2Th 1:9); in grace (Eph 1:6). Or, summing up all His attributes His Name is glorious (1Ch 29:13; Psa 72:19).

III. His works are glorious. The creation of the material universe (Psa ). His providential government of earth (Isa 63:14; Psa 120:3; Psa 145:11; Mat 6:13) His redemption of a lost world (Psa 98:2; Isa 52:10; Eph 1:3; 2Ti 1:9).

IV. His word is glorious. Twice at least is the gospel so designated (2Co ; 1Ti 1:11).

V. His Church is glorious. The company of redeemed ones will yet be presented before Him as a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle (Eph ).

VI. His final appearing will be glorious. Christ, the image of God, will one day be manifested in glory (Col ; Tit 2:13).

Act . God's Promises to His People.

I. Often broken in the letter but kept in the spirit.—As it was with the promise of Canaan to Abraham.

II. Though long delayed in fulfilment, never cancelled.—As it was with the promise of a son to Abraham.

III. Sometimes denied to the promisees but granted to their children.—As it was with the inheritance which Abraham obtained not, though his seed did.

Act . The History of a Called Sinner.

I. The divine.—In Abraham's case this consists of two parts: first, the vision; and, secondly, the command.

1. The vision. The God of glory appeared. Here was

(1) the divine suddenly appearing in the midst of the human,

(2) the true in the midst of the untrue;

(3) the heavenly in the midst of the earthly;

(4) the real in the midst of the unreal. So is it with every genuine conversion; there may not be the actual vision; there may not be the glory which appeared to Abraham in Ur, and to Saul on his way to Damascus; but in all cases it is God breaking in upon man and man's idolatry; the light of the knowledge of the glory flashing into a soul; the light dispelling the darkness; the true dispersing the untrue; the heavenly supplanting the earthly. This is conversion. It is God coming near; coming in!

2. The command. Get thee out,—go to the land I shall point to. It thus consists of two parts: calling out from, and calling in to. It is a Divine command, urgent and explicit.

II. The human.—This consists of four parts.

1. The obedience. "He came out of the land of the Chaldeans." He hesitated not, but rose up and obeyed.

2. The pilgrimage. He is not led into Canaan at once.

3. The tribulation. In Abraham's case it was considerable. Lot's worldliness, that was a trial; the destruction of Lot's family, and of Sodom, that was a trial; the death of Sarah, that was a trial. He had many a sorrow.

4. The inheritance at last. Not Babylon, nor Egypt, but the land flowing with milk and honey. Thus our whole life here is one of faith, from first to last. Get thee out, is God's message to each worldling.—H. Bonar, D.D.

Act . A great Prophecy and its Fulfilment.

I. The prophecy.—

1. That Abraham should have a seed, when as yet he had no child.

2. That that seed should grow into a people, of which no reasonable prospect existed.

3. That that people should be enslaved for a period of four hundred years.

4. That the nation which enslaved them should be visited with severe punishment.

5. That this punishment should result in their emancipation.

6. That when emancipated they should serve God in the land of Canaan.

II. The fulfilment.—

1. The seed predicted appeared when Isaac was born.

2. The people arose when the patriarchs began to multiply in the days of Jacob.

3. The captivity commenced to realise itself when the seventy souls comprising Jacob's family went down into Egypt.

4. The punishment threatened against their oppressors took the form of a series of plagues upon the land of Egypt.

5. The emancipation came to pass when Moses led his brethren from the house of bondage.

6. The foretold service of Jehovah was set up when Israel was established in Canaan.

Lessons.—

1. The ability of God to predict and to fulfil.

2. The argument from fulfilled prophecy in support of inspiration.

Act . The Twelve Patriarchs.

I. Descendants of distinguished men.

II. Not above cherishing sinful feelings.

III. Perpetrators of a hideous crime.

IV. Subjects of a great mercy (Act ).

Act . The experiences of a soul—illustrated in the case of Abraham.

I. A glorious vision.—God. Not impossible to see God by the eye of faith. God still, by His Spirit and through His gospel, reveals Himself to men's souls. In this inshining of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ lies the beginning of the soul's new life.

II. A hard precept.—"Get thee out of thy country," etc. When God makes Himself known to a human soul in the manner above described, it is for the purpose of detaching that soul from its earthly surroundings, separating it from its mundane attachments, leading it forth from its terrestrial relationships, and causing it to start upon a nobler spiritual career.

III. A magnificent promise. That God would conduct him (Abraham) to another and better land, and bestow it on himself and his posterity. Similarly, God never enjoins a soul to enter on a heavenward career without extending to that soul a like assurance of help and guidance towards that ideal state after which it aspires. To the soul that "comes" God will "shew."

IV. A splendid faith.—"Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans." Without that response to the divine precept and promise Abraham had never set his foot upon the upward way. Spiritual life on the soul's side begins with personal acts of trust and obedience. The soul that cannot surrender to God in hearty confidence and prompt submission lacks the capability of being redeemed.

V. A sore disappointment.—Though Abraham obeyed, God gave him none inheritance in the land. The reason was, that God had provided for him something better. God never intended to put him off with a few acres of material soil, but had prepared for him a city in a better country, even an heavenly. The disappointment was required to prepare him for this city. Neither does God engage that gracious souls shall not be disappointed if they seek their inheritance on earth; but he does engage that "all things shall work together for their good," and that they shall have an inheritance among the saints in light (Col ).

VI. A sufficient consolation.—The covenant of circumcision which formed Abraham's descendants into a people was a pledge that the land for the people would not be wanting, but would arrive in due time. So to Christian souls is God's covenant of grace, signed and sealed by the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, ample guarantee that the heavenly inheritance will not fail.


Verses 9-16

CRITICAL REMARKS

Act . Moved with envy, or jealousy, they, the patriarchs, sold Joseph into Egypt—i.e., to be carried thither. Stephen condenses the Genesis narrative.

Act . The Pharaoh under whom Joseph rose to power was the last of the Hyksos or Shepherd kings, Apophis, who, not being himself a native Egyptian, might feel disposed to favour the Hebrew stranger who had in so remarkable a manner interpreted his dreams and saved the country.

Act . A dearth over all the land of Egypt and Canaan.—Brugsch, Sayce, and others find this dearth in a famine, which, according to an inscription from a nobleman's tomb at Eileythia in Southern Egypt, prevailed in the land for several years, and during which the dead man (Baba), according to the inscription, "distributed corn to the city each year of famine." Baba, the nobleman in question, is supposed to have lived shortly before the establishment of the eighteenth dynasty. Counting four hundred and thirty years back from B.C. 1325, when Menephtah II. ascended the Egyptian throne, gives the reign of Apophis as the commencement of the exile according to Stephen, as the date of the promise according to Paul. (But see above on Act 7:6.)

Act . Threescore and fifteen souls.—So the LXX. in Gen 46:27; but the Hebrew text of Gen 46:27; Exo 1:5, and Deu 10:22 gives threescore and ten as the number of souls that went down into Egypt—i.e., the sixty-six of Gen 46:26 with four (Jacob, Joseph, Ephraim, and Manasseh) added. The additional five were probably Joseph's grandsons, counted by the LXX. as among his sons. Stephen, a Hellenist, most likely followed the LXX. without deeming it necessary to correct what after all was no mis-statement, if "sons" be taken in the wider sense of descendants.

Act . Carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money.—Two historical inaccuracies are commonly discovered here:

1. That Jacob and the fathers were all buried at Sychem, or Shechem, Abraham's earliest settlement in Canaan (Gen ); whereas Jacob was interred at Hebron (Gen 1:13), and only Joseph's bones were laid in Sychem (Jos 24:32), Scripture being silent as to where those of the other fathers were deposited.

2. That Abraham purchased a sepulchre at Shechem from the sons of Emmor, or Hamor, for a sum of money, or for a price in silver; whereas the tomb Abraham bought was at Hebron, while the seller was Ephron the Hittite (Gen ), and Jacob's purchase was of a field at Shechem (Gen 33:19), in which afterwards Joseph's bones were interred (Jos 24:32). As to the first part of Stephen's statement that Jacob and the fathers were all carried over into Shechem and laid in a tomb, nothing can invalidate that. If Stephen must be understood as asserting that all were laid in the same tomb, that was not so, since Jacob was buried at Hebron and Joseph at Sychem, unless it can be shown that Joseph's bones were subsequently reinterred in the patriarchal vault at Hebron—a hypothesis not impossible, certainly, but still not capable of proof. If, further, Stephen purposed to affirm that Abraham bought a tomb at Shechem, this can only be harmonised with Genesis by maintaining that the tomb at Shechem was purchased twice—once by Abraham and afterwards by Jacob, which is not a likely supposition. The suggestion that Abraham has been either substituted in the text for Jacob, or inserted in the text which originally had no nominative to the verb "purchased," is rendered inadmissible by all existing MSS. having Abraham. Yet if Jacob were inserted every difficulty would not vanish. It would still remain impossible to maintain that Jacob was interred at Shechem. Could Stephen himself be recalled, it might be possible to solve this problem; in his absence it must be given up, at least till additional data be forthcoming. On the ground of this unsolved problem it would be rash to challenge the inspiration of either Stephen or Luke.

HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Act

The Last of the Patriarchs; or, Joseph a type of Christ

I. The victim of a terrible crime.—Joseph was sold into Egypt, for twenty pieces of silver (Gen ). So was Christ betrayed to the chief priests for thirty pieces of silver (Mat 26:15). The former crime was—

1. Perpetrated by Joseph's brethren. And so was Christ's betrayal by those who were His own kinsmen according to the flesh (Joh ), and in particular by one of His own disciples (Mat 26:14).

2. Instigated by fraternal jealousy. Joseph's brethren were envious of the place which Joseph had in their father's affection, and of the greatness which Joseph's dreams foreshadowed (Gen ). So the real root of men's opposition to Christ was His essential goodness and greatness, which they hated.

3. Followed by unmerited afflictions. These, in excruciating forms of slander, accusation and imprisoment were all without being deserved, experienced by Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 39). The like and worse were without cause, in after years, meted out to Joseph's antitype Jesus (Matthew 26; Matthew 27).

II. The subject of a marvellous interposition.—God worked in his behalf, and gave him three things which again had their counterpart in the experience of Christ.

1. Consolation in his troubles. Such as arises to a good man from the enjoyment of God's favour and fellowship (Psa ): "God was with him" (compare Gen 39:21). The same support was extended to Christ in His tribulation (Joh 16:32).

2. Deliverance from his troubles. "God delivered him out of all his afflictions." So Christ was delivered from death and the grave. A like favour promised to the righteous (Psa ). As Joseph escaped out of his afflictions in Egypt, so will the Christian be released from his, if not here, at least hereafter (Rev 7:16-17).

3. Promotion after his troubles. God "gave him favour and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and made him governor over Egypt and all his house (Gen ). In like manner Christ was exalted after His humiliation (Act 2:33; Act 5:31; Php 2:9); and so to Christians is promised after life's trials a share in Christ's throne (2Ti 2:12; Rev 4:10), a crown of life (Jas 1:12), an exceeding even an eternal weight of glory (2Co 4:17).

III. The instrument of a wondrous deliverance.—

1. The subjects of this deliverance were Joseph's brethren, who had sold him into bondage, with their families; and so is Christ's salvation intended for those who sold Him to death, and for their children (Act ).

2. The nature of this deliverance was a rescue from famine which entailed sore affliction, and might have ended in death—a type of the peril, spiritual hunger, from which Christ proposed and still proposes to save men.

3. The terms of this deliverance were free. Joseph exacted no conditions from his brethren or father beyond this, that they should accept his kindness and live upon his bounty; and no conditions different does Christ impose on sinful men.

Learn.—

1. That a man's foes are often those of his own household (Mat ).

2. That God never forsakes them that trust in Him (Jos ; 1Sa 12:22; Heb 13:5).

3. That all things work together for good to them that love God (Rom ).

4. That sinful men are seldom requited according to their deserts (Psa ).

5. That Old Testament history was full of God and Christ (Act ; Act 10:43; 1Co 10:4; 1Pe 1:11).

HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS

Act . The Portion of God's People.

I. Affliction.—Of various sorts and sizes, of differing severity and continuance (Joh ).

II. Consolation.—From God and Christ, whose companionship the saints will or may always enjoy (Mat ; Heb 13:5).

III. Promotion.—Out of their afflictions (Psa ) and into places of honour (1Sa 2:30).

IV. Usefulness.—In their day and generation, to the Church and to the world (Mat ).

V. Renown.—Their names being often held in remembrance by posterity (Psa ).

Act . Egypt a Type of the World.

I. In its attractions.—

1. A land of luxury. "‘Take thy fill, eat the fat, and drink the sweet,' was her seductive song. The means of subsistence were inconceivably abundant. The very soil teemed with life" (Baldwin Brown).

2. A land of civilisation. Egypt "was full of the wisdom of this world, the wisdom of the understanding, which prostitutes itself eagerly to the uses of a sensual and earthly life" (Ibid.). Such the world is still to them whose main ambition is learning.

3. A land of promise. It promised food, learning, safety, comfort, honour to Joseph's brethren; and the like attractions does the world hold out to its devotees.

II. In its deceptions.—

1. A land of spiritual barrenness. In all its multitudes of gods there was none that Joseph's brethren could worship; in its elaborate ritual nothing to feed the faith of the chosen family. With a similar soul dearth is the world struck, as they who live in it find.

2. A land of moral deterioration. As all Egypt's civilisation could not keep her people from sinking down to lower depths of sensuality and vice, in which Israel must have shared, so neither can the culture of the present-day world prevent those who have nothing else to live upon from undergoing a similar experience.

3. A land of intolerable bondage. Whereas Joseph's brethren expected to find in Egypt shelter, comfort, and honour, they were not long settled on its fat soil before they discovered it to be a house of galling oppression. A true type of what the world always proves to them who try to live for it as well as in it.

III. In its fortunes.—As old Egypt was invaded, broken up, and its power destroyed, and God's Israel rescued from its grasp, so will it be with the present evil world, whose power indeed has been already broken, and from whose servitude the children of God will be eventually delivered (Gal ).

Act . God's Presence with His People.

I. Real, though unseen.

II. Constant, though not always felt.

III. Beneficent, though not always believed to be so.

IV. Efficient, though this is often doubted.

The Pharaohs mentioned in Scripture.

I. Abraham's Pharaoh (Gen ).—Probably Amenemhat III. of the twelfth dynasty, B.C. 2300.

II. Joseph's Pharaoh (Genesis 40).—Most likely Apophis, the last of the shepherd kings, who reigned B.C. 2266-1700.

III. The Pharaoh who knew not Joseph (Exo ).—Aahmes of the eighteenth dynasty, B.C. 1700.

IV. The Pharaoh who commanded the first-born to be cast into the river (Exo ).—Seti I. of the nineteenth dynasty, B.C. 1366.

V. The Pharaoh of the oppression, who sought to slay Moses (Exo ).—Rameses II., B.C. 1350.

VI. The Pharaoh of the Exodus (Exo ).—Menephtah II., B.C. 1300.

VII. The Pharaoh whose daughter Solomon married (1Ki ).—Pinetem II., the last of the twenty-first dynasty, B.C. 1033.

VIII. The Pharaoh who invaded Judah in the reign of Rehoboam (2Ch ).—Shishak, Sheshank I., of the twenty-second dynasty, B.C. 966.

IX. The Pharaoh of Hezekiah's time (2Ki ; 2Ki 19:9).—Tirhakah, the Ethiopian, of the twenty-first dynasty, B.C. 693.

X. The Pharaoh against whom Josiah warred (2Ki ; 2Ch 35:20-24).—Necho, Naki, of the twenty-sixth dynasty, B.C. 612.

XI. Pharaoh, the ally of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah (Jer ; Eze 17:15-17).—Hophra, the second successor of Necho; Uahabra, or Apries, B.C. 591.

Act . Corn in Egypt; or, Good News from a Far Country.—The tidings brought to Jacob may be used to illustrate the good news of the Gospel. Jacob's tidings were—

I. Timely.—Corn in Egypt! This was heard of when Jacob's household was famishing (Act ). So Christ, the Bread of Life, came when the world was on the eve of perishing. So the gospel comes to sinners in a destitute and lost condition.

II. Unexpected.—Corn in Egypt! Though the famine was there as well as in Canaan. So the salvation of the gospel arose in a quarter the most unlooked for, and proceeded forth, as it were, from the very humanity which required to be redeemed. So often the good news reaches sinners in places and at times where and when they least anticipate.

III. Joyful.—Corn in Egypt!

1. Not in a distant country, but close at hand. So the gospel is nigh to men, the word of faith which the apostles preached, requiring no painful journey to obtain its provisions but only the exercise of faith.

2. Not a small supply but an abundant store. All countries sought to Egypt for corn. So the gospel contains "enough for each, enough for all, enough for evermore."

3. Not on hard conditions but on easy terms. At least for Joseph's brethren. So the gospel's heavenly corn is without money and without price.

IV. Certain.—Corn in Egypt. If before they started from Hebron Joseph's brethren had doubts, when they arrived in Joseph's presence they had none. So will no one question the truthfulness of the gospel news who will repair to Christ's presence in search of a supply for his soul's needs.

Act . Buried in Canaan.—Jacob in the field of Machpelah (Gen 1:13) and Joseph at Shechem (Jos 24:32), or the dead hand grasping its inheritance.

I. An act of filial piety.—

1. On the part of Joseph towards his father Jacob in fulfilling his dying request.

2. On the part of the children of Israel in remembering Joseph's last injunction.

II. An act of lively faith.—On the part of both Jacob and Joseph.

1. In clinging to the inheritance God had promised them.

2. In predicting the return of Israel to Canaan.

3. In wishing to have their dust laid in its sacred soil.

III. An act of prophetic meaning.—It seemed to say that those whose dust was laid in Canaan's soil at their own request anticipated a time when not only their descendants should come over but themselves should arise to take possession of its acres. It was their way of hinting at a future resurrection.

Act . Joseph's brethren. These ancient patriarchs are here presented in three aspects.

I. As perpetrators of a hideous crime.—The sale of their brother into bondage in Egypt. The feeling which gave rise to this unnatural deed was the seemingly small and harmless one of envy at their brother's foreshadowed greatness, combined, as the Genesis story shows, with jealousy on account of the paternal favour he enjoyed. From this they passed to hatred of their brother's conspicuous goodness, which silently rebuked their wicked lives, and constrained him to report at home their ill behaviour. The next and final step was easy for those who were already murderers at heart (1Jn ). At the first convenient opportunity the object of their envy and hatred was deprived of his liberty and sold to a company of Midianite merchants who carried him down to Egypt. The lesson is to guard against the entrance of envy into the heart, since once admitted to the bosom none can predict to what enormities it may impel its victims.

II. As sufferers of severe retribution.—It is not often that Nemesis so soon overtakes evil doers as it did them. Hardly had they returned to their homes than they began to be pressed by the straits of famine, which Scripture constantly represents as one of God's ministers of judgment on rebellious lands and peoples (2Sa ; Jer 29:18; Eze 5:16). On visiting Egypt in search of corn they saw their wicked plans defeated. The dismay which seized their spirits when they beheld their long dead brother, as they supposed, seated on the throne and clothed with imperial power, is aptly pictured in the Hebrew narrative which says, that "they were troubled at his presence." Nor did vengeance close with them, but was entailed on their descendants, who, in after years, were subtilly dealt with, evil entreated, and finally enslaved in the land into which their fathers had sold Joseph.

III. As recipients of undeserved mercies.—There are few instances in which mercy is not mixed with judgment. Joseph's brethren experienced kindnesses beyond their merits. At the hand of God who preserved them alive, when He might have justly left them to starve for their inhumanity to their brother. At the hand of Joseph who treated them with clemency and rewarded them with love, inviting them to Egypt and caring for their wants throughout the years of famine, when he might have exacted vengeance for their former cruelty to him. At the hand of their descendants who carried their dead bodies into Canaan and buried them in Abraham's tomb, when they might have been left to rot in the sepulchres of Egypt.


Verses 17-44

CRITICAL REMARKS

Act . Another king which knew not Joseph.—This was Aahmes, the first monarch of the eighteenth dynasty, "a prince of great force of character, brave, active, energetic, liberal, beloved by his subjects" (Rawlinson, The Story of the Nations—Egypt, p. 152).

Act . Dealt subtilly with our kindred, or race.—With Aahmes the new policy towards the Israelites may have begun, but the author of the cruel decree appears to have been Seti I., while Rameses II. was the Pharaoh of the Oppression, and Menephtah II. the Pharaoh of the Exodus. They cast out.—Pharaoh's object in the oppression appears to have been to render the lives of the Israelites so miserable that they would rather cast out their offspring than see them grow up to experience such woe as themselves endured. If he be read instead of they, then the well-known decree (Exo 1:16-22) is that to which Stephen alludes.

Act . Learned.—Better, trained or instructed.

Act . Suffer wrong, injured, by beating (Exo 2:11). The wrongdoer may have been one of Pharaoh's taskmasters. A bas-relief recovered from the Nile Valley exhibits one of these standing over a gang of slaves, whip in hand, and saying as he lashes them, "To your work, O slaves: ye are idle!"

Act . He supposed should be he was supposing, meaning that was his habitual mood of mind at this period. Would deliver them should be gives them deliverance or salvation; the present tense signifying either that the deliverance was at hand or was beginning with the blow then struck.

Act . Madian, or Midian.—In the south-east of the Sinaitic peninsula.

Act . Mount Sinai.—Exodus (Exo 3:1) gives, as the scene of this Divine manifestation, Horeb, which was probably the name of the range, Sinai being the designation of the particular peak (Robinson, Eadie), though others regard Sinai as the range and Horeb as the peak. Whether Sinai, the mountain of the Law, was Jebel Serbal (Burckhardt, Lepsius, and Ebers), or Ras-es-Sufsafeh (Robinson, Stanley, Porter), or Jebel Musa (Wilson, Sandie), travellers are not decided. Josephus (Ant., II. xi. 1) and Paul (Gal 4:25) locate it in Arabia, which Sayce thinks to a writer of the first century would mean Arabia Petræa. Wherefore he looks for Sinai not in the peninsula, but among the ranges of Mount Seir in the neighbourhood of Kadesh Barnea (see The Higher Criticism and the Monuments, pp. 263-373).

In Act the order of the Hebrew text is transposed.

Act . A deliverer, or redeemer, λυτρωτήν.—A latent allusion to the work of Christ.

Act . After that he had showed should be having done or wrought.

Act . The Lord your are omitted in best MSS. Like unto me might be rendered as he raised up me.

Act . The Church.—The use of ἐκκλησία—a term employed by the LXX. (Deu 18:16; Deu 23:1; Psa 26:12)—for the congregation of Israel warrants the inference that Stephen at least regarded the Hebrew nation as a church and the new assembly of believers as its representative under the Christian dispensation.

Act . They made a calf is one word in the original. The calf, or bullock, was selected in imitation of the Egyptians, who worshipped an ox, Apis at Memphis and Mnevis at Heliopolis.

Act . In the book of the prophets.—The quotation is from Amo 5:25-27. The interrogation, Have ye offered unto Me? etc., is much used by the higher criticism to prove that the sacrificial system of the so-styled priest code had no existence in the time of Moses; but the prophet's meaning is not that the Israelites did not offer sacrifices to Jehovah in the wilderness, but that, though they did, their hearts ran after their idolatries—the worship of Moloch and the Star Rephan—so that Jehovah rejected their insincere service.

Act . The tabernacle of Moloch and the star of your god Remphan.—The Hebrew might be rendered Siccuth your king and Chiun (or the shrine of) your images, the star of your god (R.V.), Siccuth being in this case the name of one idol which the Hebrews worshipped as their king, and Chiun the name of another, believed to have been the planet Saturn, of which the name among the Syrians and Arabians was Kçwân. Stephen, however, followed the LXX., who understood Siccuth as equivalent to "tabernacle"—i.e., the portable tent in which the idol's image was carried—and for "your king" substituted, with some ancient MSS., Moloch, the idol meant; while for "Chiun your images" they read "the star of your god Rephan," which Kircher believes to be Koptic for Saturn, and Schrader regards as a corruption from Kewan. That the LXX. failed to intelligibly translate the second Hebrew clause was of small moment to Stephen. The words, "the star of the god," showed that God had given the Israelites up to worship the host of heaven. The substitution of Babylon for Damascus in the Hebrew and the LXX. is explainable by the fact that Babylon had long been associated in Jewish history with the exile.

Act . The tabernacle of the testimony in the wilderness was so called because it contained the Ark in which the two tables of the Decalogue were kept (Num 11:15; Num 17:13).

HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Act

The Founder of the Nation; or, the Biography of Moses in Three Chapters

I. From one to forty (Act ).—

1. Born in an evil time. When the oppression of his countrymen was so cruel that either Hebrew parents cast out their children to perish rather than see them live to experience the bitter servitude under which themselves had groaned, or Hebrew children were cast out by Pharaoh's order to the end that they might not live. This latter interpretation accords best with the Old Testament narrative (Exo ).

2. Exposed to a cruel fate. Brought forth in an hour of sorrow, with no better prospect before him than either to be strangled by a midwife's cord or thrown into the river, Moses was for three months, on account of his extreme beauty, secretly nourished in the house of his father Amram; but at length, when concealment was no longer possible, in an ark of bulrushes, daubed with slime and pitch, he was laid by his mother in the flags by the Nile side (Exo ). The writer to the Hebrews cites the conduct of Moses' parents as an instance of faith (Heb 11:23).

3. Rescued by a strange providence. By accident it seemed, though in fact by the overruling hand of God, the daughter of Pharaoh—the very king whose decree had caused his exposure—having with her maidens come to the river side to wash, found him, "took him up" out of the water, and "nourished him as her own son"—i.e., adopted him. (See Exo .) Josephus says this daughter of Pharaoh was named Thermuthis. She was the sister of Rameses II. or daughter of Seti I. (See "Critical Remarks.")

4. Educated in a king's court. Probably like Rameses himself, Moses was for some years "left in the house of the women and of the royal concubines, after the manner of the maidens of the palace" (Brugsch, Egypt under the Pharaohs, Act ), where he received the nurture and training requisite to fit him for the higher studies and more arduous exercises of youth and manhood. Tradition speaks of him as having studied "mathematics, natural philosophy, engineering, warfare, grammar, and medicine," while Josephus (Ant., II. x. 1) places to his credit a successfully conducted campaign against the Ethiopians. With this accords Stephen's statement that Moses "was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in his words and works" (Act 7:22).

II. From forty to eighty (Act ).—

1. A patriotic inspiration. "To visit his brethren, the children of Israel"—to visit in the sense of sympathising with and succouring them (compare Luk ; Luk 7:16; Act 15:14). Whether special means were taken under God by Moses or his mother to keep alive the knowledge of his kinship with the down-trodden Hebrews is not recorded, but, on reaching man's estate, the sense of that kinship having asserted itself, he refused any longer to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter (Heb 11:24).

2. A chivalrous interference. Having paid a visit to the brickfields, with which up to this time he may have been comparatively unacquainted, he beheld what the monuments tell us was a frequent scene—one of his brethren suffering wrong or enduring blows at the taskmaster's hand; and, his patriotic blood leaping within his veins, he warded off the blows, laid the ruthless slave-driver lifeless at his feet, and, thinking that nobody saw, buried him in the sand (Exo ).

3. A mistaken supposition. He imagined his countrymen would have understood how God had called him to deliver them, but they did not. The blow that day struck was premature. The people were not ready to rise, and he was not yet qualified to lead. Forty years more of suffering for them, and of discipline for him, were needed before the great bell of liberty would ring in Egypt's land. Men are often in a hurry; God never is. Men often strike before the iron is hot; God never does.

4. An angry response. The day after, when he would have parted two of his quarrelling countrymen, saying, "Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another?" (compare Gen ), he that did the wrong thrust him away, saying, "Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? wouldst thou kill me as thou didst the Egyptian yesterday?" Wrongdoers always resent the interference of third parties—a clear proof they are in the wrong.

5. A precipitate flight. Having discovered through the choleric questions of his countrymen that his offer of himself as a deliverer was premature, and that his deed of yesterday was known, he saw that thenceforward Egypt would be no place of safety for him, and accordingly betook himself to Midian (see "Critical Remarks").

6. An obscure life. There, having met with Jethro the shepherd priest of the land, who granted him Zipporah to wife, he forgot his early patriotic ambitions in the humdrum occupation of feeding sheep, and in conjugal felicity (Exo ; Exo 2:22).

III. From eighty to one hundred and twenty (Act ).—

1. A great sight.

(1) When? At the close of the second period of forty years, on the death of Rameses II. (Exo ). At the opening of the third. At the beginning of the reign of Menephtah II. When the oppression of the people had become intolerable (Exo 2:23). When God's time, as distinguished from Moses', had arrived.

(2) Where? In the wilderness of Mount Sinai (see "Critical Remarks"), at the back side of the desert, at the mountain of God, even Horeb (Exo ). God delights to reveal Himself to His people in solitudes.

(3) What? "An angel"—the angel of the Lord, or Jehovah" (Exo )—"appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush," which burned and yet was not consumed.

(4) How? Wherein lay the greatness of the sight? In its unexpectedness, in its supernaturalness, in its impressiveness.

2. A heavenly voice. That of Jehovah, who

(1) revealed His own character as the covenant God of the Hebrew fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Act );

(2) cautioned Moses against irreverence before the Holy One, whose presence consecrated the very ground whereon He stood (Act );

(3) announced that He (Jehovah) had beheld and sympathised with the sufferings and heard the groanings of His people in Egypt (Act ); and

(4) intimated His intention to deliver them and to despatch Moses into Egypt for that purpose (Act ).

3. An exalted commission. Considering

(1) by whom it was issued—God, the God of glory (Act ) and the God of the fathers (Act 7:32);

(2) to whom it was entrusted—the man whom his countrymen had refused, but whom God had chosen;

(3) through whose hand it was to be executed, that of the angel who had appeared to him; and

(4) for what it was appointed—that Moses should be to Israel, who had rejected him, both a ruler and a deliverer, or redeemer, and in both (according to Stephen) a type of Christ.

4. A splendid achievement.

(1) As a liberator he (Moses) brought out the children of Israel from Egypt, having wrought, in his work of emancipation, which began with the Exodus and ended (so far as Moses was concerned) with the forty years of wandering, signs, and wonders (compare Act ), first in Egypt (Exodus 7-12), next at the Red Sea (Exodus 14), and after that in the wilderness (Exodus 15; Exodus 16; Exodus 17; etc.).

(2) As a prophet he foretold to them the coming, in after years, of a prophet like unto, but greater than, himself, even their Messiah, whom in the person of Jesus they had refused to hear.

(3) As a lawgiver he conferred upon them "living oracles" received by himself from Jehovah—viz., the whole system of moral and ceremonial precepts composing the law of Moses, here characterised as "living" to describe not their effect, which was not always life-giving because of the corruption of men's hearts (Rom ), but their design, which was to impart life to all by whom they should be obeyed (Lev 18:5; Rom 7:10).

(4) As an architect he gave them the tabernacle of the testimony in the wilderness, which he made according to the pattern he had seen—in the mount of Sinai (Exo ; Exo 25:40).

5. A disgraceful requital. As at the commencement of his illustrious career, so at its close, his countrymen "thrust him from them," declined to obey his instructions, but turned back into Egypt, and (Act ) yet Moses, towards the termination of his leadership, thought less of his people's thankfulness to himself than of their deplorable ingratitude to God (Deu 32:6).

See in Moses:

1. A pattern of true greatness.

2. An example of life's vicissitudes.

3. A type of Jesus Christ.

HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS

Act . The Time of the Promise.

I. Fixed by God, as all times are.

II. Remembered by God, who forgets none of His sovereign and gracious appointments.

III. Honoured by God, who never fails to implement a promise He has made, when the time for its fulfilment has arrived.

The Increase of Nations.—Occurs as in Israel.

I. Always in accordance with Divine providential arrangements (Job ; Psa 107:38).

II. Often in spite of the most adverse circumstances (Exo ).

III. Never beyond the limits prescribed by God (Act ).

Act . The Story of Moses.

I. The son of a Hebrew mother.—No imaginary or legendary character but a real historical personage. Distinguished in infancy by remarkable beauty, which His parents regarded as an omen of future greatness (Exo ; Heb 11:23). Exposed to a cruel fate—cast out into the Nile, placed in an ark of bulrushes by the river's brink. Compare the story of Sargina I. of Babylon. See below.

II. The foundling of an Egyptian princess.—In the providence of God this led to the preservation of Moses' life and his education in such a way as to fit him for his subsequent calling and career. The All-wise knows the best schools in which to train those whom He intends afterwards to employ as His instruments.

III. The kinsman of slaves.—The feeling of nationality cannot easily be eradicated from the human heart. Out of this rises love of country, patriotism, sense of brotherhood. When it first began to stir in Moses cannot be told; at the age of forty it was too strong to be suppressed (Heb ).

IV. The liberator of his people.—Though not exactly in his time, yet in God's time, he was honoured to lead his down-trodden countrymen from the house of bondage (Heb ).

V. The founder of a nation.—Having conducted his followers to Sinai, he there formed them into a people, with a regularly organised community, with laws and statutes for the regulation of their civil and religious affairs.

VI. The prophet of a new religion.—He imparted to them the terms on which alone they could be regarded as Jehovah's people, or Jehovah could consider Himself their God—gave them the ten commandments and the multifarious ordinances of the ceremonial or Levitical law.

NOTE—Legend of the infancy of Sargina I., of Babylon, who lived about fifteen or sixteen centuries before the Christian era—i.e., not long before the birth of Moses.

1. I am Sargina, the great king; the king of Agani.

2. My mother knew not my father: my family were the rulers of the land.

3. My city was the city of Atzu-pirani, which is on the banks of the river Euphrates.

4. My mother conceived me: in a secret place she brought me forth.

5. She placed me in an ark of bulrushes: with bitumen she closed me up.

6. She threw me into the river, which did not enter into the ark to me.

7. The river carried me: to the dwelling of Akki, the water-carrier, it brought me.

8. Akki, the water-carrier, in his goodness of heart lifted me up from the river.

9. Akki, the water-carrier, brought me up as his own son.

10. Akki, the water-carrier, placed me with a tribe of Foresters.

11. Of this tribe of Foresters, Ishtar made me king.

12. And for … years I reigned over them.—Records of the Past, Act , first series.

Act . The Burning Bush (Exo 3:2).

I. A supernatural phenomenon.—Revealed by two things:

(1) the fact that the bush, though burning, was not consumed; and

(2) the voice which proceeded from its midst.

II. An impressive spectacle.—It caused Moses to tremble. Chiefly

(1) Before the Divine presence (Act ) and

(2) At the Divine communications (Act ).

III. A suggestive symbol.—

(1) Of the holiness of God, which burns against every manifestation of sin; (Heb ) (the flame).

(2) Of the imperishability of the Church of God which may be cast into the fire but cannot be destroyed (Isa ) (the bush).

Act . Holy Ground.

I. Where God manifests His presence.

II. Where God reveals His character.

III. Where God makes known His will.

IV. Where God communes with His people.

V. Where God is worshipped by believing hearts.

Act . The Angel in the Bush.—That this was no created spirit but the angel of Jehovah, or Jehovah Himself, is clearly taught by Stephen, who besides calling Him the Lord (Act 7:31) represents Him as—

I. Assuming the Divine name.—"I am the God of thy fathers" (Act ).

II. Claiming Divine worship.—"Loose the shoes from thy feet" (Act ).

III. Exercising Divine attributes.—"I have seen," "I have heard" (Omniscience); "I have come down," "I will send" (Omnipotence) (Act ).

IV. Speaking Divine words.—Imparting living oracles unto Moses (Act ).

Act . A Prophet like unto Moses.—See on Act 3:22.

Act . The Church in the Wilderness: a Type of The Christian Church on Earth.—In respect of—

I. Its origin.—Called out of Egypt, the then symbol of the world; redeemed from the house of bondage which was emblematical of man's natural condition.

II. Its position.—In the wilderness; a fitting picture of the spiritually barren world through which the Church of Christ has to journey.

III. In its privileges.—Manifold and high.

1. The divine presence. The angel of the Lord—which also the Church of the New Testament enjoys (Mat ; Mat 28:20).

2. A divinely qualified teacher. Moses with whom the angel spake at Mount Sinai—which, too, the Christian Church has in the indwelling Holy Spirit (Joh ; 1Jn 2:20; 1Jn 2:27), and in the apostles and prophets, pastors and teachers (1Co 12:28; Eph 4:11), bestowed upon it by its exalted Head.

3. A divine revelation. The "living oracles" delivered to Moses—which again the gospel Church possesses in the words of Christ and His apostles preserved in the New Testament records (Heb ).

4. A divine institution.—The tabernacle—which once more has its counterpart in the Christian sanctuary, congregation, or Church.

IV. In its business.—Which was twofold.

1. To witness for Jehovah in the then world. Israel Jehovah's witnesses (Isa ); the apostles Christ's witnesses (Act 5:32); and Christians generally expected to be living epistles of Christ (2Co 3:3).

2. To overcome its adversaries on the way to Canaan. So Christians have a constant warfare to maintain against innumerable foes (Eph ; 1Ti 6:12; 2Ti 2:3).

V. In its imperfection.—The Church in the wilderness was guilty of not a few heinous sins—disobedience to its leader, Moses, hankering after Egypt, apostasy from Jehovah; all which have their equivalents in the faults of the people of Christ.

VI. In its discipline.—The Church in the wilderness was chastised for its sins, first by judicial visitations, such as the fiery serpents, next by powerful adversaries like the Moabites and Midianites, which were raised up against them, after that by spiritual hardening, so that they plunged into deeper idolatry, and lastly by exile and captivity in Babylon. So the Church of to-day, either as a whole or in its individual members, is not left without chastisement for its shortcomings and backslidings, its transgressions and iniquities. It, too, has its providential visitations by which its numbers are reduced, its open and secret opponents by which its progress is hindered, its seasons of spiritual decline, in which it lapses from the faith, its removals into exile and captivity, where it sighs and cries for the liberty it once enjoyed.

VII. In its goal.—Canaan, which in a heavenly form is the destination of the New Testament Church.

Act . The Apostasy of Israel.

I. Its occasion.—The absence of Moses. When the Christian Church reposes with too much dependence on its visible leaders it is prone to withdraw its confidence from its invisible Head.

II. Its form.—A lapsing into the idolatry of Egypt, which led to the people's making, or Aaron making at their request, an image of the famous calf or bull worshipped in Egypt, either the bull Apis at Memphis, or the bull Mnevis at Heliopolis. How deeply ingrained in them this calf or bull worship had been appears from the circumstance that centuries after their settlement in Canaan they, in times of spiritual declension, reverted to it (1Ki ; 2Ki 11:12). So when the New Testament Israel loses sight of its invisible Head it is prone to revert to its old sins (2Pe 1:9).

III. Its punishment.—

1. Withdrawal of Divine restraint. Joined to their idols they were left alone (Hos ). Forsaken by them, God in turn forsook them (2Ch 15:2). Having given up Jehovah He gave up them, so that they sank into deeper and more shameless idolatries. Instead of offering unto Jehovah slain beasts and sacrifices during the forty years of wilderness wandering as they should have done, they carried about the tabernacle of Moloch, a small portable tent in which was enshrined the image of the idol and a model of the planet Saturn, to which, according to Diodorus Siculus, horrid child sacrifices were offered at Carthage. So when God, in punishment for sin, withdraws restraining grace from His people, they commonly plunge into viler and more heinous wickedness than they had before committed, sin being thus avenged by liberty to sin.

2. Infliction of positive pains. The Israelites, through that very tendency to apostatise so early manifested by them, were ultimately driven into exile beyond Babylon; and so will they who persevere in forsaking the living God be eventually punished with perpetual banishment from His holy presence (Rom ; 2Th 1:9).

Act . The Tabernacle of the Testimony in the Wilderness.

I. An actual historic building.—Necessary now to insist on this since the higher critics have imagined and keep on asserting that the Mosaic tabernacle never had a veritable existence at all, but was only a fictional structure, fashioned after the model of the temple but on a smaller scale, and projected into the prehistoric wilderness as a convenient free space on which it might be fictionally erected without risk of colliding with historical and well-authenticated facts—which might be troublesome. But in addition to the theory of a fictional tabernacle being attended with numberless insuperable difficulties—such as, the unlikelihood of a post-exilic fiction-monger entering into minute details of construction like those given in Exodus; the improbability of a late author, who had never himself been in the wilderness, furnishing so accurate a representation of the geographical situation as archæological research shows the Mosaic account to be; the inconceivability of any honest writer stating that the tabernacle had been made by Moses after a pattern shown to him by Jehovah in the Mount, when in point of fact it was never made at all, but only imagined by the writer himself, who took the first or second temple for his model; the falsification of Pentateuchal history which must ensue if the tabernacle of Moses never was an actual building; the contradiction to statements in the historical and prophetical books which must be made if the fiction theory is correct; in addition to these the actual historic character of the tabernacle is vouched for by both Stephen and the writer to the Hebrews (Act ; Act 8:5; Act 9:2-3; Act 9:6; Act 9:8; Act 9:11; Act 9:21; Act 13:10). See an article by the present writer, entitled "The Tabernacle and the Temple" in The Theological Monthly, April 1891.

II. A divinely sketched building.—If Moses was the constructor of the tabernacle (and in this sense may be styled its architect) its true designer was God. This introduces into the religion of ancient Israel that which is so keenly objected to, but without which no religion can be of permanent value or saving power—viz., the supernatural element. If Christianity is not "of God" in the highest sense of that expression, it will not succeed permanently in binding the consciences of men.

III. A provisional building.—It was intended for the temporary accommodation of the Ark during the period of the wilderness wanderings, and until a permanent habitation could be secured for it in the place which Jehovah should choose. Hence it was in due course superseded by the Temple of Solomon, which in turn has been displaced by the Christian Church.

IV. A symbolic building.—

1. Of the Divine fellowship with Israel.

(1) The Holy of Holies with its Ark of the Covenant, its Glory burning between the cherubim, its mercy seat, its tables of testimony, etc. (Heb ), was an emblem of the divine presence, the divine majesty, the divine character, and the divine conditions of fellowship between Jehovah and Israel.

(2) The holy place, with its altar of incense, its seven-branched candlestick, and its tables of shew bread, was an emblem of what that fellowship consisted in—spiritual acceptance, spiritual illumination, and spiritual nourishment of the believing worshipper by Jehovah on the one side, and on the other spiritual adoration of God (the incense), spiritual shining for God (the lamps), and spiritual consecration to God (the loaves).

(3) The outer court, with its altar of burnt offering and laver, was an emblem of the only way in which such fellowship with Jehovah could be reached—viz., by atonement (the altar) and regeneration (the laver).

2. Of the Divine fellowship with believers in the Christian Church. This thought is elaborated and fully wrought out in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Act ).


Verses 45-53

CRITICAL REMARKS

Act . Our fathers that came after should be simply our fathers. Jesus is Joshua, as in Heb 4:8. Into (lit. in) the possession of the Gentiles.—Meaning that the Ark was brought in to remain in the possession of the nations—i.e., in their land. The R.V. reads, "When they entered on the possession of the nations"; lit. "at" or "in" their taking possession of (the land of) the nations.

Act . Tabernacle should be "habitation," permanent abode, like "house" in Act 7:47.

Act . The prophet was Isaiah (Isa 66:1-2).

Act . Which of the prophets, etc., echoed the words of Christ (Mat 5:12; Mat 23:31; Luk 13:34).

Act . By the disposition of the angels is better rendered in the R.V., as it was ordained by angels, or as ordinances of angels; lit. unto ordinances of angels. Compare Gal 3:19 and Heb 2:2.

HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Act

From Joshua to Jesus; or, the Downward Course of Israel

I. Joshua and the conquest.—

1. The clearing out of the nations from Canaan.

(1) Effected instrumentally by the swords of Joshua and his warriors. Stephen does not hint that the extermination of the Canaanites was a horrible impiety; this is mostly done by tender-hearted "moderns" who see nothing wrong in shooting down "inferior races" when they happen to be possessed of desirable lands.

(2) Sanctioned providentially and even commanded verbally by God Himself (Deu ; Deu 32:49), so that Stephen represents the nations as having been thrust out by God before the face of the fathers of Israel. That God had a perfect right to eject the degraded Canaanites from their land, and to do so in whatever way He chose, no one can dispute. That He selected Joshua and his warriors for this purpose could not render the action wrong on God's part, and was ample justification for Joshua 2. The entering in of Israel into their possession. This took place under the leadership of Joshua, who in conducting Israel to Canaan served as an eminent type of Christ. In taking over the soil the Israelites did nothing different from what has been going on ever since in the providence of God. Degenerate nations retire, go down, and become extinct before or are absorbed in superior peoples who are better able to occupy the land.

3. The establishment in Canaan of Jehovah's worship. Stephen clearly believed that Moses had made a tabernacle in the wilderness, and that Joshua had fetched it into Canaan, setting it up first at Gilgal (Jos ), and latterly at Shiloh (Jos 18:1; Jos 19:51). In so doing Israel under Joshua began her national history well. Had she adhered to Jehovah and His tabernacle her subsequent fortunes, and perhaps the history of the world, would have been different.

II. David and the monarchy.—Two things noted.

1. Concerning David's character. That he found favour in the sight of God, and was a man after God's own heart (Act ; 1Sa 13:14), who delighted to do Jehovah's will (Psa 40:8). This does not imply that David never fell into sin.

2. Concerning David's request. To be allowed to find a habitation for the God of Jacob. This request, though denied him, was pronounced good and accepted as an evidence of his piety (1Ch ). In David's days Israel's national glory reached its zenith. In the next reign it began to decline.

III. Solomon and the temple.—

1. The honour conferred upon David's son. He was permitted to carry out his father's project and erect a house for the worship of Jehovah (1 Kings 6, 8). A signal honour of which in his latter days he became unmindful (1Ki ). Eminent service in and to the Church is no certain guarantee against apostasy. For the notion that Stephen intended "to declare that Solomon built the temple without warrant, in place of the tabernacle" (Weizscker), there is not the shadow of foundation.

2. The silence preserved about his reign. It is significant that Stephen adds nothing more about David's son; as if he desired to convey the impression that nothing more to Solomon's advantage or Israel's could be said. Possibly this was so. Nevertheless, Nihil nisi bonum de mortuis is an excellent maxim.

IV. Isaiah and Jehovah.—

1. The decline in religion after Solomon. Notwithstanding the magnificence of the temple worship, and perhaps partly because of its magnificence, it began to degenerate—drifting first into mere external ritual, and latterly terminating in shameful and shameless idolatry (see Isa ; Isa 2:8).

2. The lofty doctrine of the prophets. That Jehovah was not a local divinity, but the sovereign of the universe; that He could not be confined to any material edifice, however imposing, since heaven was His throne and the earth His footstool; and that He could not be served by any mere bodily performance or visible ceremonial, but only by the true homage of the heart.

3. The evil fortunes of the prophets. The people, stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart, resisted the Holy Ghost who spake in them (2Sa ; 2Pe 1:21), and persecuted them, sometimes even unto death (Mat 23:29-35).

V. Jesus and His contemporaries.—

1. Their exalted privileges.

(1) They had received the law, as it was ordained by angels, or as the ordinance of angels (Psa ).

(2) They had been honoured by the coming to them of the righteous One (Joh ).

2. Their heinous sins.

(1) They had not kept the law (Joh ).

(2) They had betrayed and murdered the righteous One (Act ).

Learn.—

1. The powerlessness of mere external privilege to save.

2. The heredity that shows itself in sin as well as in piety.

3. The criminality of those who know the truth, and do not walk in accordance therewith.

HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS

Act . Four Old Testament Typical Persons.

I. Moses.—As

1. Deliverer.

2. Mediator.

3. Lawgiver.

II. Joshua.—As

1. Captain.

2. Conqueror.

3. Consolidator.

III. David.—As

1. Shepherd.

2. King.

IV. Solomon.—As

1. Builder of the Temple.

2. As Prince of Peace.

Act . The House and its Dwellers.

I. The house.—There was on earth once a house which Jehovah called His own. Though the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands, yet He chose for Himself a local habitation, and built for Himself a place of special abode. For many an age it was simply a tent, of stakes, and boards, and curtains; in after ages it was a palace, of marble, and gold, and cedar, and brass; but whether it was named Jehovah's tent or Jehovah's temple, it was still the place of His habitation.

II. The dwellers.—They of old were Israel. To them pertained the house, and the altar, and the mercy seat, and the glory.

III. The blessedness.—"Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house." This blessedness is both negative and positive. It arises out of that which we are freed from, and that which we gain.

1. The negative. On entering the house of God, we are delivered from the dangers which beset all who remain outside.

2. The positive.

(1) Love. Jehovah's house is specially the abode of love. It was love that thought of such a house for us; it was love that planned it, and love that built it. It is love too that fills it, and provides all its excellences.

(2) Companionship. It is not into a cell we enter—a prison, a desert, a place of isolation. It is into a home, a well-replenished habitation, a well-peopled city. Israel's temple was such, to which the tribes went up. Much of life's happiness is derived from the fellowship of heart with heart, and the communion of saints is no small portion of our joy, even here. Here, on earth, companionship is imperfect, and is sometimes a hindrance, a vexation. Not so hereafter, in the "house not made with hands," the city of habitation, the eternal tabernacle.

(3) Service. "They serve Him day and night in His temple." "His servants shall serve Him." It is to serve, as well as to reign, that we are called. Such service is, in all its parts, blessedness. David knew the blessedness of service in his day.

(4) Glory. At present it is not glory, save in anticipation.—H. Bonar, D.D.

Act . The Greatness and Majesty of God.

I. The throne of His glory.—Heaven. A throne.

1. Resplendent.—Filled with His presence.

2. Exalted.—High above this world (Psa ).

3. Powerful.—Wielding authority over all created things.

II. The footstool of His feet.—The earth. As such:

1. The work of His hands (Isa ).

2. Under His rule (Psa ).

3. Destined to share His glory (Isa ).

III. The place of His rest.—

1. The temple which Solomon built, symbolically (Psa ).

2. The universe, which He himself built, really.

Learn.—

1. The reverence due to God (Ecc ).

2. The hopefulness of earth's future (Isa ).

3. The spirituality of divine worship (Joh ).

Act . A Terrible Indictment.

I. Jehovah's law broken.—And that by men who had received it at the hands of angels.

II. Jehovah's prophets murdered.—And that by the men they had come to instruct.

III. Jehovah's Son slain.—And that by those who should have been His protectors.

IV. Jehovah's Spirit resisted.—And that by the men who had been pledged to obey.


Verses 54-60

CRITICAL REMARKS

Act . Cut to the heart.—See on Act 7:33. The word describes a keener pang than "pricked "in Act 2:37. Gnashed on him with their teeth.—Lit. snapped their teeth against him, like ferocious animals. The phrase only occurs here. The Sanhedrists "had passed beyond articulate speech into the inarticulate utterances of animal ferocity" (Plumptre).

Act . They stoned Stephen.—An illegal and tumultuous proceeding, as the Jews at this time had not the power of inflicting capital punishment without the authority of the Romans (Joh 18:31); most probably to be explained, like the murder of James (Act 12:2), by supposing that it took place in an interregnum, perhaps about A.D. 37, after the removal of Pilate, and before the arrival of his successor (Renan, Hausrath).

Act . The words fell asleep suggest the Christian view of death (Act 13:36; 1Co 15:18, etc.).

HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Act

The Martyrdom of Stephen; or, the First Taste of Blood

I. Stephen's last look into heaven (Act ).—

1. Where he stood.

(1) In the council chamber. Baur was greatly exercised to understand "how Stephen could have seen the heavens opened in the room in which, doubtless, the sitting of the Sanhedrim was held;" but the eye of faith can see heaven from any spot on earth. Moses beheld it from the land of Egypt (Heb ), Isaiah from the temple (Isa 6:1), Ezekiel from the banks of the Chebar (Eze 1:1), Peter from the house top (Act 10:11), John from Patmos (Rev 4:1).

(2) Confronted by infuriated foes who gnashed upon him with their teeth. No external circumstances can dim faith's eye, or prevent it from looking within the veil. Varied as were the situations of those just mentioned, all alike gazed on things unseen (Heb ).

2. How he looked.

(1) His internal condition. Filled with the Holy Ghost. As water rises to its level, so does the Holy Spirit of which water is an emblem. As fire and flame ascend to the skies, so does the Holy Spirit, of which these are symbols, ever soar heavenward. The Spirit, which is "God's breath in man," habitually "returns to its (place of) birth" (George Herbert). The Holy Ghost, descending from above and entering the human soul, instinctively impels it to look above.

(2) His external manner. With steadfast gaze, like that with which the apostles followed the departing Christ (Act ), he fixed his eyes upon the scene which unfolded itself before his mental vision. There is no need to ask whether he saw the sky through the chamber window. The upward glance was only a symbol of the inward look.

3. What he saw.

(1) The glory of God. The luminous symbol of the divine presence which Abraham beheld in Ur (Act ), Moses upon Sinai (Exo 33:23), and Ezekiel at Chebar (Eze 1:28), which filled first the tabernacle (Exo 40:34), and afterwards the temple (1Ki 8:11), which shone round the shepherds (Luk 2:9), and appeared upon the transfiguration mount (Luk 9:32).

(2) Jesus standing on the right hand of God. As if He had risen to protect or receive His servant, say some, though it is doubtful whether any special significance should be attached to Christ's attitude. The point of importance is that Stephen, on the eve of martyrdom, enjoyed a vision of the glorified Christ. Saul (Act ), and John (Rev 1:13), had similar visions, though neither of these occurred at death (see "Hints on Act 7:55").

II. Stephen's last testimony for Christ (Act ).—

1. Introduced by a note of exclamation. "Behold!" as if he meant to say: "This from a dying man receive as certain," or to call attention to its supreme importance as his last word of testimony that would fall upon their ears.

2. Continued by a startling declaration.

(1) That he was looking into heaven—"I see the heavens opened," those heavens out of which Christ affirmed He had come (Joh ; Joh 6:38), and into which His disciples had beheld Him depart (Act 1:11); which heavens, therefore, were a reality, and not merely a fiction of the mind (Joh 14:2), and nearer to them than they had ever imagined.

(2) That in heaven He beheld Jesus—I see "the Son of Man," referring to Him by this name that there might be no mistake as to whom he meant—the personage they knew so well, who, when He stood where Stephen then stood, had called Himself by this designation (Mat )—no mistake as to His identity, and none as to His continued existence in a bodily form, and therefore none as to His resurrection.

(3) That the Jesus whom he saw was standing on the right hand of God. Perhaps a circumstance full of comfort for the dying deacon, as if it indicated that Christ had risen from His throne in holy eagerness, either to support and protect, or to receive and welcome His courageous servant (but see above), certainly a statement fitted to alarm those who remembered that Jesus of Nazareth had used similar speech concerning Himself (Mar ), and had even spoken about coming with great power and glory (Mar 13:26), fitted to suggest that the Son of man, whom they had crucified, had already started up, and was on the move to avenge His death.

3. Interrupted by a fierce demonstration.

(1) By an angry shout, crying out, most likely, that he should be silenced and put to death, as the people had before cried out against his Master (Mat ; Joh 19:12), and afterwards against Paul (Act 22:22-23).

(2) By a suggestive action, stopping their ears, as if they could not listen without holy horror to what they regarded as blasphemy. (Compare Zec .)

4. Followed by a murderous infliction. The assault which ensued was—

(1) Sudden. "They rushed upon him," under the impulse of blind and unreflecting fury, feeling, perhaps, with regard to the thought that was in their hearts, that "'twere well it were done quickly" (Macbeth, i. 7).

(2) Unanimous—"with one accord"—a striking contrast to the "one accord" of the disciples (ii. 46), a unity of hate and sin rather than of love and grace.

(3) Violent. "They cast him out of the city," as the inhabitants of Nazareth had once done to Christ (Luk ), "and they stoned him," as the men of Jerusalem had more than once threatened to do to Christ (Joh 10:31; Joh 11:8).

(4) Illegal. At this time the Jews possessed not the power of inflicting capital punishment. (See "Critical Remarks.") Yet

(5) Deliberate. "The witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul." This accorded with the Hebrew law, which required the accusers to begin the work of lapidation (Deu ; Deu 17:7). Many who shudder at breaking the letter of the law have no scruples at violating its spirit.

III. Stephen's last cry for himself (Act ).—Uttered—

1. With perfect calmness of spirit. Recognising that his end was come he quietly prepared to receive the lethal missiles. No cry for mercy from his enemies escaped his lips, no fluster or fear appeared in his countenance, speech, or manner. With absolute composure he resigned himself to die—in this furnishing a bright example to Christians. (Compare the fortitude of Paul, Act ; Act 25:11.)

2. With unfaltering trust in Christ. Addressing Him as Lord Jesus, Stephen intimated in the hearing of his executioners his faith in Christ's divinity (Lord) and ability to save (Jesus). Such faith has enabled multitudes since Stephen's day to die in peace. Nothing else will impart the calm which Stephen displayed.

3. With certain hope of felicity. As Christ, following the example of the Psalmist (Psa ), had commended His spirit to the Father's hand (Luk 23:46), so Stephen now commends his spirit to the hands of Christ. A proper model for the dying Christian. So the dying Huss was often heard to repeat the words: "Into Thy hands. O Lord, I commend my spirit"; and was followed by his fellow-martyr Jerome of Prague (Neander's Church History, vol. ix., pp. 536, 549, Bohn's Edition). Since Christ is in glory, the soul that His hands receive must be blessed indeed.

IV. Stephen's last prayer for his enemies (Act ).—

1. Its manner.

(1) With reverent humility—"he kneeled down." As Solomon did when invoking Jehovah's presence to come into the temple (2Ch ); as Daniel when he prayed towards Jerusalem (Dan 6:10); as Christ in Gethsemane (Luk 22:41); as Peter when raising Dorcas (Act 9:40); as Paul at Miletus (Act 20:36) and at Tyre (Act 21:5). Kneeling most suitable when the soul is charged with deep emotion. Stephen "stood when he prayed for himself: he kneeled when he prayed for his enemies" (Trapp).

(2) With fervent supplication—"he cried with a loud voice," thus marking the intensity of his desire. Although noise in devotion is not always to be mistaken for spiritual ardour (2Ki ), and although feeling may sometimes be too deep for utterance (1Sa 1:13), yet as a rule suppliants, who are in earnest, cry aloud and spare not (Psa 142:1; Mat 20:31).

2. Its burden. That the sin of his executioners and murderers might not be laid to their charge. A prayer modelled after Christ's on the Cross (Luk ). Such a prayer as had never been offered till Christ set the example (contrast the prayer of Zechariah, 2Ch 24:21), and such a prayer as has no parallel outside the Christian Church, though within such parallels are not wanting. John Huss, the Bohemian Reformer, when the order was given to kindle the flames around him, only uttered these words: "Lord Jesus! I endure with humility this cruel death for Thy sake; and I pray Thee to pardon all my enemies" (Waddington's Church, History, p. 595).

3. Its effect. What impression Stephen's prayer produced upon his enemies cannot be told, though, it may be surmised, that one at least never forgot it, and that Augustine's remark is true, "If Stephen had not prayed the Church would not have possessed Paul." As to Stephen himself, his devotions calmed his spirit and enabled him to fall asleep. And what a falling asleep it was! "He fell asleep among flints and awoke among jewels" (Besser). The same writer adds: "Stephen means a garland or crown. When his mother named her child so she little thought of an imperishable crown of honour; but Stephen's spiritual mother, the Holy Church, honours the first bearer of her martyr crown by celebrating his memory on the day after Christmas, according to the motto ‘yesterday was Christ born upon the earth, that to-day Stephen might be born in heaven'" (Besser).

"Foremost and nearest to His throne,

By perfect robes of triumph known,

And likest Him in look and tone

The holy Stephen kneels,

With steadfast gaze, as when the sky

Flew open to his fainting eye,

Which, like a fading lamp flash'd high

Seeing what death conceals."—Keble.

Conclusion.—They who would share with Stephen the glory of wearing that immortal crown must

1. Look by faith into that opened heaven into which he gazed;

2. Contemplate with believing adoration that exalted Christ whom he beheld;

3. Testify by their lives, as he did by his, to the Saviour in whom they trust;

4. Commit themselves to Christ as he did when they come to die; and

5. Fall asleep as he did, breathing forth forgiveness upon all.

HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS

Act . The opened Heavens.

I. For the glory of God to shine through.

II. For the grace of God to come through.

III. For the spirit of man to pass through.—

1. By the exercise of faith.

2. In the offering up of prayer.

3. At the hour of dissolution.

Act . Changed Stones.—The stones cast by the world against Christ's witnesses are changed.

I. Into monuments of shame for the enemies of the truth.

II. Into jewels in the crowns of the glorified martyrs.

III. Into the seed of new life for the Church of Christ.—Gerok.

The young Man named Saul.

I. His early biography.—

1. His birthplace. Tarsus in Cilicia (Act , Act 21:39, Act 22:3).

2. His parentage. The son of a tent-maker, or worker in hair cloth (Act ). That Paul had a sister is mentioned by Luke (Act 23:16); that he had a brother (2Co 8:16-24) whom he afterwards converted to Christianity (Hausrath) is, to say the least, doubtful.

3. His citizenship. Roman, obtained by birth (Act ; Act 22:28).

4. His education. Brought up at the feet of Gamaliel (Act ; Act 26:4).

5. His religion. A pharisee and the son of a pharisee (Act ; Act 23:6; Act 26:5; Php 3:5; Gal 1:14).

6. His nationality. A Hebrew of the Hebrews (2Co ; Php 3:5); of the tribe of Benjamin (Php 3:5).

II. His first appearance in history.—

1. An accomplice in murder. "The witnesses laid down their clothes at his feet."

2. A ferocious persecutor. "He laid waste the Church," etc. (Act ).

3. A commissioned assassin. Breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, he asked and obtained letters from the high priest empowering him to hunt them down at Damascus (Act ).

III. His remarkable conversion (see "Homiletical Analysis on Act ").—

1. His journey to Damascus.

2. His sudden arrestment.

3. His vision of the exalted Christ.

4. His complete and instantaneous surrender.

IV. His subsequent career.—

1. As a missionary of the cross. His three journeys, the first with Barnabas (13, 14), the second with Silas (16-), the third with Timothy (Act 18:23 to Act 21:17).

2. As a founder of churches. In Asia Minor and on the shores of Europe.

3. As a writer of epistles. Certainly four—Romans , 1 and 2 Corinthians and Galatians—proceeded from his pen; most likely other eight—Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians , 1 and 2 Thessalonians , 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus—possibly also Hebrews.

V. His martyr death.—His career.

1. Opened by assisting at the murder of Stephen, and

2. Closed by himself being slain.

Act . Stephen's Three Crowns.

I. The fair crown of grace with which the Lord adorned him in his life and work.

II. The bloody crown of thorns which he wore after his Saviour in suffering and death.

III. The heavenly crown of glory which was reserved in eternity for the faithful martyr.

Stephen's Prayer for Himself.

I. The doctrines it contained.—

1. The divinity of Christ.

2. The existence of man's spirit.

3. Future immortality.

4. The efficacy of prayer.

II. The spirit it exemplified.—

1. Devout adoration.

2. Humble resignation.

3. Hopeful expectation.

III. The lessons it taught.—

1. How to pray.

2. How to die.

Act . Stephen's Prayer for his Enemies.

I. Sin is always, in the first instance at least, charged to or laid to the account of its perpetrators.—God can by no means clear the guilty (Exo ).

II. Sin, however, may in certain instances not be charged to its perpetrators. Forgiveness is not impossible (Psa ).

III. If sin is not to be charged to its perpetrator's account, it is the Lord who must grant the requisite discharge.—God alone can forgive sins (Mar ), but Christ is God, and Christ by His death and resurrection has rendered it possible for sin to be forgiven (Rom 3:25-26).

IV. The followers of Jesus Christ may and should pray for the forgiveness of sins to others than themselves, even for their enemies. Christ commanded them to do so (Mat ; Luk 6:28), and exemplified His own command (Luk 23:34).

The Sleep of Stephen.

I. Rested him from his labours (Rev ).

II. Released him from his sufferings (Rev ).

III. Introduced him to heaven (2Co ).

IV. Crowned him with glory (Rev ).

Act . The First Christian Martyr.

I. The call of Stephen was to martyrdom.—Neither he nor the Church knew the honour which awaited him. The office of the first deacons was humble. They were to "serve tables," a labour too secular and secondary for apostles. Stephen illustrates the truth that the humblest service leads to the highest. We do not want so much men for large places as men to enlarge small places. What God wanted of Stephen did not fully appear at the first.

II. Stephen was called because he was full of the Holy Ghost.—The power of the Pentecostal baptism was upon him to a degree so extraordinary as to have drawn the attention of the Church. In the brief description of his gift, the Greek verb expresses a spiritual state. The gift in him was not occasional or transient. He was habitually a man of spiritual power. The presence of this power in him was recognised as a qualification for his official duties. Through the Spirit

(1) he had a message. The characteristic of his preaching, in distinction from that of all others of his time, was, that he carried the Christian doctrine to a new development. He went beyond the apostles. They continued to worship in the temple. They honoured the ceremonial law. They did not break with the religious class in the nation. It had not begun fully to appear how revolutionary the gospel was. Stephen made the break. He taught that Christianity was a universal religion. As sin is universal, redeeming grace is for mankind. This is biblical universalism—the universality of guilt and of grace. In his so-called defence we see the character of his preaching. He had nothing to say for himself: he preached Christ. God knows his theologians. He chose a deacon. The reason suggested is, that to so pre-eminent a degree he was filled with the Spirit. All true advances of Christian doctrine have been entrusted to spiritual men. The qualification for great teachers, the leaders of revolutions, the qualifications for all teachers sent from God, is the gift of the Holy Ghost. Through the Spirit

(2) Stephen had the power of a holy face. Those in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel. What is the characteristic of an angel's face? The word suggests softness, purity, spirituality. We apply the adjective "angelic" to womanly sweetness and grace, but the angels of the Bible are masculine. Sweetness there may have been in Stephen, purity there must have been; but more than these the council saw, what they associated with the heavenly messengers who appeared to Adam and Eve, to Manoah, to David, to the Prophets—glory, spiritual power, the ineffable, Divine light. It riveted them; it awed them. The baptism of the Spirit is an illumination. The face of every new-born soul begins to shine with the light that was never on sea or land. He is transfigured. Through the Holy Spirit

(3) Stephen displayed the Divine union of severity and gentleness. His outbreak was terrible: "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears!" uttered with that angelic face. The words might be hastily taken as the utterance of passion. The expression of righteous wrath resembles passion; but, as Jesus never had more absolute control of Himself than when He pronounced His great indictments, so at no point in his argument had Stephen more absolute control of his soul than in his final denunciation. This remarkable association of wrath and love, as elements of the same emotion, is superhuman; it is Divine; it is the manifestation of the fulness of the presence of the Holy Ghost. Through the Spirit

(4) Stephen had a vision. He seemed to have a spiritual intimation. He looked up. The earnestness of his gaze was intense. "He, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God." The vision was inward. No eye but his saw it. Through the Spirit

(5) Stephen was sustained. He triumphed over pain. This power the Spirit gives. Christian martyrs have sung in the flames, and called them beds of roses.

III. The effects of the martyrdom.—Stephen's death seemed a calamity. Time alone could show the wisdom of God's large plan. But He makes no mistakes. Notice

(1) the effect on the world. He showed the world how a Christian could die. Observe

(2) the effect upon the Church. In all ages, persecution has been one of the greatest providential agencies for the spread of the gospel. Again, notice

(3) the effect on the apostles. They remained in Jerusalem. Their position must have been of great danger, responsibilility, distress. They did not flee; they stayed at their posts. The influence of their constancy upon the Christians, and also upon their enemies, must have been very great. Observe

(4) the effect upon the devout Jews. Of this class were the men who bore Stephen to his burial. They were not Christians, but favourably disposed toward Christianity. The persecution tested them. At the peril of their lives they paid the murdered man the reverence of burial. They were led to take an open stand. We see, finally

(5), the effect on Saul. Upon him the impression was deep. His reference to the part he had had in the murder, when he was in his trance at Damascus, shows it. One of the goads against which, from that time, he kicked in vain, was then buried in his heart. The immediate result was to infuriate him. He became exceeding mad. Our great intellectual changes are unconscious. They are parts of a larger movement, which is vital. The movement of the life is secret, involuntary, slow, like the growth of trees, like the coming on of summer. We argue against the truth. We triumph in the debate. But an influence has been let into our lives which gently lifts us, loosens us from our old moorings, and shifts us unconsciously to the opposite side of the stream. We find ourselves there. This process of vital movement, this set of the soul, may have taken place with Saul. Stephen may have been, probably he was, his spiritual father. The truth, which could only be answered by stones, lived on invulnerable. It took root in him.—Monday Club Sermons.

The First Christian Martyr.—Stephen had grown up into Christ in all things. His energy had been prodigiously effective. The whole city had been put into commotion. Bad men were passionately agreed. This deacon stood straight across their path. How might they be rid of him? When it came to speaking, there was really little to be said—to them. Need we talk to a storm? Do we choose words for wolves? It does not appear that Stephen even hoped to move that high-priest. As to what he really did intend, there has been a long debate. But he was probably speaking to the future, thinking aloud, building better than he knew. Providence was taking care of his speech. It was given him in that same hour. So the ideas have no shackles on. The truth has made him free. With a Gentile largeness and liberty of interpretation he expounds the Scriptures. What would be the effect of such discourse upon priests and scribes and elders may readily be anticipated. He has only to look into their angry eyes. But while this tempest rages, and in the midst of it all, there is one still place. It is the martyr's own heart. He is not disturbed. He has no resentments and no fears. It does not seem far to heaven, and it was not far. Jesus, "standing," risen from the throne, is ready to aid His friend, to hear his last words, and to "receive" his spirit. So the sufferer "fell asleep." One witness at least there was of these events whose dreams for many a night they disturbed. Like serpents' fangs they stung his conscience. It is probable that he had already been prominent among "them of Cilicia" "disputing with Stephen." Perhaps to his hearing of the address before the council we may owe the extended report preserved for us. At any rate, with the mob he strode from the "stone chamber" to the city-walls. He was close enough to the actual violence to see the face and hear the voice of the expiring Christian.

I. We can see how bad men are made to serve the good cause.—A wise prayer for the devil would be, "Save me from my friends." It was the design of these conspirators to cripple, and if possible to destroy, the infant Church. But it is manifest how they only strengthened and enlarged it. The people had again seen the contrast between piety and pretence. In such a case the charm of real goodness could not but win friends. It is not safe, indeed, in any case to despise even the humblest virtue. "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit." So it proved here. There were men and women who night and day could only think with tears how this brave servant of the truth had been struck down. See, too, how this crime wrought upon the young man Saul. So does a bad purpose blunder and defeat itself. It is like Pharaoh kindling Moses, like Goliath summoning David. A pope makes Luther necessary, and finds Him; King Charles brings Cromwell out; the Georges develop Washington; and a prison gives to the world John Bunyan and his book. At every point, therefore, were the enemies of the gospel made to aid the gospel. They excited popular indignation against their own cruelty. They secured the planting in the mind of Saul of germs of truth "which, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, afterwards developed into the Epistles with which we are now so familiar." "And the more havoc" they made of the Church at Jerusalem the more quickly was the Church established in many distant localities.

II. We seldom know at the time how much good we may be doing.—Our opportunity often comes when we are least aware of it. Stephen could not have failed to see that he was fighting a "good fight." It perhaps occurred to him that his death might aid the truth more than his life could have done. But how little he suspected the real culmination of his power! "If Stephen had not prayed, the Church would not have had Paul," Augustine said. There was the tremendous circumstance. Such opportunities we easily fail to meet. They are not likely to be repeated. If we have no mind for them, no heart for them, life creeps on, commonplace, feeble, small. Stephen made no such failure. Though quite unconscious of the sublimity of the hour, he kept on in duty. That once more proved to be the path of glory.

III. We may also learn that our visions come when we need them.—"He saw heaven opened, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God." To troubled, weary Christians the fear will sometimes arise that the Redeemer has forgotten them. "Carest Thou not that we perish?" is apt to be the cry of unbelief in storms and perils. But in the nick of time comfort comes. There is "grace to help in time of need." Jacob, solitary, absent from home, laying his head upon a stone at Jabbok, has a vision of God and receives the promise.

IV. It is clear that such dying as Stephen's is possible only as the fruit of such living as his.—Thus far in the brief Christian history death had often served as a dreadful warning. In utter darkness Judas, an apostle, had gone to "his own place." Ananias and Sapphira had met their sudden doom. Now, however, in contrast with such dismal dying, comes this martyr's victory. If we would "die the death of the righteous," we must be careful to live the righteous life. We need envy no man's triumph, whether in death or in life, as if it were luck instead of labour. "Do men gather grapes of thorns?" Whoever meets occasions, furnishing what is needed, only discloses the completeness of former preparations of mind and heart. For those who have a little of Stephen's grace, Stephen's Lord will lead the way to Stephen's victory.—H. A. Edson, D.D.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Acts 7:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/acts-7.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, August 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology