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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Acts 7

 

 

Verses 1-3

Acts 7:1-3. Then said the high-priest — Who was president of the council, and, as such, the mouth of the court; Are these things so? — Are they as these witnesses have deposed? for thou art permitted to speak for thyself, and make thy defence. And he said — Stephen had been accused of blasphemy against Moses, and even against God; and of speaking against the temple and the law, threatening that Jesus would destroy the one and change the other. In answer to this accusation, rehearsing, as it were, the articles of his historical creed, he speaks of God with high reverence, and a grateful sense of a long series of acts of goodness to the Israelites; and of Moses with great respect, on account of his important and honourable employments under God; of the temple with regard, as being built to the honour of God; yet not with such superstition as the Jews; putting them in mind, that no temple could comprehend God. And he was going on, no doubt, when he was interrupted by their clamour, to speak to the last point, the destruction of the temple, and the change of the law by Christ. The sum of his discourse is this: I acknowledge the glory of God revealed to the fathers, Acts 7:2; the calling of Moses, Acts 7:34, &c.; the dignity of the law, Acts 7:8; Acts 7:38; Acts 7:44; the holiness of this place, Acts 7:7; Acts 7:45; Acts 7:47. And, indeed, the law is more ancient than the temple; the promise more ancient than the law. For God showed himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their children, freely, Acts 7:2, &c., 9, &c., 17, &c., 32, 34, 45; and they showed faith and obedience to God, Acts 7:4; Acts 7:20, &c., 23; particularly by their regard for the law, Acts 7:8, and the promised land, Acts 7:16. Meantime God never confined his presence to this one place, or to the observers of the law. For he hath been acceptably worshipped, before the law was given, or the temple built, and out of this land, Acts 7:2; Acts 7:9; Acts 7:33; Acts 7:44. And that our fathers and their posterity were not tied down to this land, their various sojournings, Acts 7:4, &c., 14, 29, 44, and exile, Acts 7:43, show. But you and your fathers have always been evil, Acts 7:9; have withstood Moses, Acts 7:25, &c., 39, &c.; have despised the land, Acts 7:39; forsaken God, Acts 7:40, &c.; superstitiously honoured the temple, Acts 7:48; resisted God and his Spirit, Acts 7:50; killed the prophets, and the Messiah himself, Acts 7:51; and kept not the law, for which ye contend, Acts 7:53. therefore God is not bound to you, much less to you alone. And, truly, this solemn testimony of Stephen is most worthy of his character, as a man full of the Holy Ghost, and of faith, and power: in which, though he does not advance so many regular propositions, contradictory to those of his adversaries, yet he closely and nervously answers them all. Nor can we doubt but he would, from these premises, have drawn inferences touching the destruction of the temple, the abrogation of the Mosaic law, the punishment of that rebellious people, and, above all, touching Jesus of Nazareth, the true Messiah, had not his discourse been interrupted by the clamours of the multitude, stopping their ears and rushing upon him. Men, brethren, and fathers — All who are here present, whether ye are my equals in years, or of more advanced age. The word which, in this and many other places, is rendered men, is a mere expletive. The God of glory — The glorious God; appeared to Abraham before he dwelt in Charran — Therefore Abraham knew God long before he was in this land. And he said, Get thee out of thy country — Depart from this thy native country, which is become idolatrous; and from thy kindred — Who are now alienated from my worship; and come into the land — A remote land; which I shall show thee — And to which, by my extraordinary interposition, I will guide thee; though at present thou dost not know even its situation, much less the way leading to it. See note on Genesis 12:2.


Verse 4-5

Acts 7:4-5. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans — Strange as the command which was given him might seem, he, with all submission, readily obeyed it; and dwelt in Charran — Namely, for several years, having been led thither by the divine conduct, and not immediately receiving a signal to proceed any further. And from thence — After his father died, by another call; he (God) removed him into this land — The land of Canaan. And yet, upon his coming into it, he gave him none inheritance — But he was a stranger and sojourner in it; no, not so much as to set his foot on — Or a piece of land which he might cover with the sole of his foot: for the field mentioned, Acts 7:16, he did not receive by a divine donation, but bought it; yet he promised — At sundry times; that he would give it to him for a possession — Which promise Abraham firmly believed that God would fulfil; and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child — And, humanly speaking, it was not likely he ever should have one: but his faith triumphed over all these seeming difficulties, and he confidently trusted in the power, and love, and faithfulness of God to make his word good.


Verses 6-8

Acts 7:6-8. And God spake, that his seed should sojourn in a strange land — When God had brought Abraham into this country, he did not keep him and his posterity here till the time when they were to enter upon the possession of it, in consequence of this divine grant; but, on the contrary, God informed him in a vision that his seed should be strangers in a foreign land, and that they among whom they sojourned should bring them into bondage — Should make them slaves; and entreat them evil — Use them with great cruelty; and that these events, with the circumstances preparatory to them, should extend themselves to the full period of four hundred years. See note on Genesis 15:13. And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage — By which they shall be enslaved; will I judge, said God — I will assuredly punish with righteous and tremendous severity; and after that shall they come forth — Namely, out of that land; and serve me in this place — In this land, erecting a temple for the performance of my worship here. He gave him the covenant of circumcision — See notes on Genesis 17:10-14. And so Abraham begat Isaac — After the covenant was given, of which circumcision was the seal.


Verse 9-10

Acts 7:9-10. And the patriarchs, moved with envy — The rest of the twelve sons of Jacob, though their relation to such holy ancestors might have taught them a much better lesson; yet, influenced by envy at the superior regard which Jacob showed to his favourite son, most inhumanly sold Joseph — Their brother; into Egypt — Where he became a slave, and suffered a great variety of calamities; but God was with him — In the midst of them, supporting him, though he was not in this land, and rendering that country a scene of very glorious providences toward him: for by these things God was working, in a mysterious and surprising manner, for the accomplishment of the prediction before mentioned. From what Stephen relates of the story of Joseph, it was obvious for the members of the council to infer that the greatest favourites of Heaven might suffer by the envy of those who were called the Israel of God; and might be exalted by him after having been rejected by them: a thought worthy of their consideration with respect to Jesus; but prudence would not allow Stephen, in the beginning of his defence, to say expressly what they could not have borne to hear; for that they could not, appears by the manner in which they resented his application of these premises, when, he was drawing toward a conclusion. And delivered him out of all his afflictions — To which he was exposed in consequence of his integrity and piety; and gave him favour and wisdom — That is, favour on account of his distinguished wisdom; in the sight of Pharaoh, who made him governor over Egypt — Committing all things in the palace, as well as elsewhere, to his direction and management. Thus did God, in the course of his providence, wonderfully exalt this despised Joseph, whom his brethren (then the whole house of Israel) had most outrageously insulted and abused, and even sold for a slave. And thus, Stephen insinuated, hath God exalted Jesus, whom ye treated as a slave, insulted, and abused, scourged, and hanged on a tree.


Verse 11

Acts 7:11. Now there came a dearth — According to the prediction of Joseph, when the seven preceding years of extraordinary plenty were past, which he had also predicted; over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan — A calamity which reduced the latter country to such distress, that, fruitful as it had generally been, our fathers found no sustenance — Or, not what was sufficient to support themselves and their families. But Jacob, hearing that there was corn in Egypt — Ordered his sons to go and fetch a supply from thence; and sent our fathers first — Namely, the ten without Benjamin. And at the second time — That they went, when Benjamin accompanied them; Joseph was made known to his brethren — Of which see on Genesis 44:1-15. And, as the matter was immediately made public, Joseph’s kindred — Greek, το γενος, his descent, or race, was discovered to Pharaoh, of which he had not been informed before. Then sent Joseph, and called his father — With Pharaoh’s full consent; and all his kindred — Now become numerous, amounting in the whole even to threescore and fifteen souls — So the Seventy interpreters, whom Stephen follows: one son and a grandson of Manasseh, and three children of Ephraim, being added to the seventy persons, mentioned Genesis 46:27. So Bengelius.


Verse 15-16

Acts 7:15-16. Jacob went down into Egypt, and died — After having been supported there about seventeen years, by the filial gratitude and tenderness of his son Joseph; and our fathers — The patriarch’s children also ended their lives in the same country; and were carried over into Sychem — That is, as Jacob was immediately carried, with solemn funeral pomp and procession, to be buried in the cave of Machpelah, with Abraham and Isaac, (Genesis 50:13,) so the patriarchs also, having been embalmed, and put into coffins, in Egypt, (Genesis 50:26,) were, at the return of Israel from thence, carried over to Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre — Made in that field which Jacob bequeathed to Joseph, as a peculiar legacy; he having first, as Abraham had done in a like case, bought it for a sum of money, (that is, for one hundred pieces of silver,) of the sons of Emmor, the father of Sychem — From whom, in particular, the place was named; and the Amorites having afterward seized it, Jacob had by force recovered it out of their hands. See notes on Genesis 48:22; Joshua 24:32. It seems that St. Stephen, rapidly running over so many circumstances of history, had not leisure (nor was it needful, where they were so well known) to recite them all distinctly. Therefore he here contracts into one two different sepulchres, places, and purchases, so as, in the former history, to name the buyer, omitting the seller; in the latter, to name the seller, omitting the buyer. Abraham bought a burying-place of the children of Heth, Genesis 23. There Jacob was buried. Jacob bought a field of the children of Hamor. There Joseph was buried. You see here how St. Stephen contracts these two purchases into one. This concise manner of speaking, strange as it seems to us, was common among the Hebrews: particularly when, in a case notoriously known, the speaker mentioned but part of the story, and left the rest, which would have interrupted the current of his discourse, to be supplied in the mind of the hearer. And laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought — The first land which these strangers bought was for a sepulchre. They sought for a country in heaven. Perhaps the whole sentence might be rendered thus: So Jacob went down into Egypt and died, he and our fathers, and were carried over into Shechem, and laid by the sons [that is, descendants] of Hamor, the father of Shechem, in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money. So Bengelius and Wesley.


Verses 17-21

Acts 7:17-21. When the time of the promise drew nigh — That is, the time for the accomplishment of the promise; which God had sworn to Abraham — Concerning the multiplication of his seed; see note on Genesis 22:16-17; the people grew, &c. — Became very numerous in Egypt, notwithstanding that they were under great oppression there; till another king arose — Probably of another family; which knew not Joseph — And had no regard to his memory. The same dealt subtly with our kindred — Formed crafty and treacherous designs against them; and evil-entreated our fathers — Used them in a most injurious and barbarous way, lest in time they should become too powerful; so that — In obedience to a most inhuman order, which he published; they cast out their young children — Exposed them to perish by hunger or wild beasts; or cast them into the river Nile; to the end they might not live — That they might be cut off from being a people, and their very race become quite extinct. In which afflictive and persecuting, but seasonable time — When our fathers were reduced to this miserable state; Moses was born — The person intended by God to be the instrument of his people’s deliverance; and was exceeding fair — Greek, αστειος τω θεω, fair to God, as the margin reads it. The words, being a Hebraism, are only an emphatical expression, to denote Moses’s extraordinary beauty, and might be not unfitly rendered divinely beautiful, the name of God being often introduced to express such things as were extraordinary in their kind. So in the Hebrew, what we translate great wrestlings, (Genesis 30:8,) is wrestlings of God; goodly cedars, (Psalms 80:10,) are cedars of God; great mountains, (Psalms 36:6,) are mountains of God. This then agrees with what is said of Moses, (Exodus 2:2,) that he was a goodly child; and with the account which Josephus gives of him, who says, “that when he was but three years old, his extraordinary beauty was such, that it struck every one that saw him; and as they carried him about, persons would leave their work to look at him.” See Grotius and Whitby. And when he was cast out — Was thus exposed to perish, the providence of God so ordered it, that Pharaoh’s daughter took him up — Being moved with pity at the sight of him; and nourished him — With a purpose of adopting him; for her own son — By which means, being designed for a kingdom, he had all those advantages of education, which he could not have had if he had not been exposed. “All these extraordinary circumstances, relating to the birth, preservation, education, genius, and character of Moses, serve to aggravate the crime of Israel in rejecting him, when he offered himself to them as a deliverer under so many advantages, and when Providence had so wonderfully interested itself in his favour.” — Doddridge.


Verse 22

Acts 7:22. Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians — Which was then celebrated in all the world, and for many ages after. Geography, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, natural history, physic, and hieroglyphics, are all mentioned by ancient writers as branches of Egyptian literature. Several ancient testimonies to the extraordinary learning of Moses may be seen in Philo, Justin Martyr, Origen, and Clemens Alexandrinus. And was mighty in words — Deep, solid, weighty, though not of a ready utterance. “It expresses,” says Doddridge, “such a weight and solidity in his counsels and speeches, as may be very consistent with the want of a flowing elocution;” and in deeds — Referring to the astonishing miracles which God wrought by him. We may observe here, that it must have been a great piece of self-denial, such as none but a lover of learning, and one who has made some progress in it, can understand, for a person of such a genius and education as Moses, in the prime of life, to leave the polite court of Egypt, and live as a retired shepherd in the Arabian desert.


Verses 23-25

Acts 7:23-25. When he was forty years old — So long he continued in Pharaoh’s court; it came into his heart — Probably by an impulse from God; to visit his brethren — He having been instructed, it appears, in the knowledge of his real descent, and in the principles of the Jewish religion; and it is likely his spirit was so impressed with a concern for their welfare, that all the pleasure and grandeur at the court of Egypt could not make him easy, without going in person to take a view of their state. And seeing one of them suffer wrong — Probably by one of the task-masters; he defended him — And smiting the Egyptian with a mortal wound, he at once rescued and avenged him that was oppressed — See note on Exodus 2:11-12. For he supposed his brethren would have understood, &c. — The manner in which Stephen expresses himself, seems to imply, that he considered Moses as doing this action in consequence of a special impression from God on his mind, intimating to him the important work for which he was intended, that God by his hands would deliver them — Two things are here proper to be inquired into, namely, 1st, By what authority or right Moses slew the Egyptian. 2d, What reason he had to expect the people should understand that God designed him for their deliverer? “The Jewish historians,” says Whitby, “give us a very easy solution of these difficulties; for, according to Clemens Alexandrinus, their priests declare that Moses slew the Egyptian with a word, and so gave them a miracle to prove his mission: and Josephus assures us, that ‘God appeared to Amram, the father of Moses, as he was praying to him for the afflicted Jews, and said to him, Thy son, now in the womb of thy wife, shall escape the hand of the Egyptians, and shall deliver the Hebrews from the afflictions of Egypt; and that, to confirm this vision, his wife brought him forth without any pain.’ The Jerusalem Talmud likewise declares that Moses slew the Egyptian by the spirit of prophecy, or by an extraordinary impulse from God; and Maimonides makes this action one degree of prophecy. And thus, as Stephen here says: it came into his heart, namely, from God, to visit his brethren: and indeed otherwise he could not have justified this fact to God and his own conscience. Now Moses, knowing what had been declared of him to his father, and by this action working deliverance to one of them, might justly hope they would look upon him as one appointed by God to be their deliverer.” Dr. Benson, however, not crediting these stories, thinks “it does not appear that Moses had as yet any prophecy to assure him that he was the person who should deliver Israel; but, knowing there was a divine promise of deliverance made to, and retained in the house of Israel; that he himself had been extraordinarily preserved and educated, and that the time of their deliverance was approaching, he showed himself willing to run all hazards and dangers with the people of God, rather than continue in the splendour of the Egyptian court; and that when the time should be fully come, he would cheerfully join and head them, in order to rescue them from their bondage and cruel slavery.” But it seems there is more than this implied in the verse; and though we may have no certain information of any prophecy that Moses had yet received, it does not follow but he might have received some private revelation from God, that he was the person appointed by him to deliver the Israelites. But they understood not — Such was their stupidity and sloth, which made him afterward unwilling to go to them.


Verses 26-29

Acts 7:26-29. The next day he showed himself unto them — Of his own accord, unexpectedly; as they strove — As they were quarrelling with each other; and would have set them at one — That is, by interposing between them, he would have put an end to their quarrel, and have persuaded them to live in peace and friendship; saying, Sirs, ye are brethren — Descended from Jacob, our common ancestor, and now also joined in affliction as well as in religion; which things ought doubly to cement your affections to each other; why then do you injure one another? But he that did his neighbour wrong — Unable to bear with his plain and faithful reproof; insolently thrust him away — As a person that had nothing to do in their controversy; saying, Who made thee a ruler, &c., over us? — Thus, under the pretence of the want of a call by man, the instruments of God are often rejected. The speech of this single person is represented (Acts 7:35) as expressing the sentiments of the whole body of the people, as their slowness afterward to believe the mission of Moses, when attested by miracle, (Exodus 5:20-21,) seems evidently to show that it was. Wilt thou kill me, as thou didst the Egyptian, &c. — His blood may cost thee dear enough, without adding mine to it. Then fled Moses — Finding the matter was discovered, and being apprehensive that, in consequence of it, the Egyptian power would soon be armed against him, while the Israelites were not inclined to use any efforts for his protection, nor to put themselves under his guidance. See the note on Exodus 2:15. And was a stranger in the land of Madian — Where he became shepherd to Jethro, the prince of the country, and marrying Zipporah his daughter, he begat two sons, Gershom and Eliezer.


Verses 30-34

Acts 7:30-34. When forty years were expired — That is, forty after his leaving Egypt; during which time Israel had continued under this bondage, and Moses, inured to hardships and poverty, and to contemplation and devotion, had been trained up and prepared, in the humble and retired life of a shepherd, for the great work for which God designed him; see on Exodus 2:22; there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina — Which lay in the confines of the Midianite country, not far from the Red sea; an angel of the Lord — The Son of God, as appears from his styling himself Jehovah; (see on Exodus 3:2;) a name which cannot, without the highest presumption, be assumed by any created angel, since he whose name alone is Jehovah, is the Most High over all the earth, Psalm lxxxiii, 18. It was therefore the Angel of the covenant: Malachi 3:1, the Angel of God’s presence, Isaiah 63:9, who delivered the law to Moses, and was with the church in the wilderness, and gave them possession of Canaan as the Captain of the Lord’s host, Joshua 5:14. In a flame of fire in a bush — Which, though of combustible matter, was not consumed; representing the state of Israel in Egypt, where, though they were in the fire of affliction, yet they were not consumed by it, but miraculously preserved as a people, and even increased. When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight — Wondered why the bush, which burned, was not consumed: it was a phenomenon, with the solution of which all his Egyptian learning could not furnish him. And as he drew near to behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying, I am the God of thy fathers, &c. — Expressions sufficiently showing that the person speaking was not a mere angel, but possessed of true Deity, and therefore, as being also styled an angel, or messenger, was the Son of God, the Father’s Messenger to men. Then Moses trembled — Moses, upon this, perceiving that God himself was there present, and spake to him, trembled at this appearance of his majesty, and durst not behold with a curious regard, as he had intended. Then said the Lord, Put off thy shoes — An ancient token of reverence; for the place is holy ground — The holiness of places depends on the peculiar presence of God there. See the note on Exodus 2:5. “It was formerly in the eastern nations, and is now in the southern, esteemed a ceremony of respect, to put off the shoes when approaching a superior, lest any of the dirt or dust cleaving to the shoes should be brought near him, and that the person approaching barefoot might tread more cautiously. This, which perhaps was introduced at first in court apartments, where rich carpets might be used, the King of kings requires to be done in a desert, as a token of the infinitely greater reverence due to him. See Joshua 5:15, and Ecclesiastes 5:1. On the same principle, it seems, the priests ministered thus in the tabernacle and temple, no direction being given for shoes or sandals as a part of their dress, though all the rest of it was so particularly prescribed.” I have seen, I have seen the affliction — See note on Exodus 2:7-8.


Verse 35-36

Acts 7:35-36. This Moses, whom they refused — Namely, forty years before: probably not they, but their fathers did it, and God imputes it to them. So God frequently imputes the sins of parents to those of their children who are of the same spirit. The same did God send to be a ruler and deliverer — Which is much more than a judge. By the hand — That is, by the means; of the angel — See on Acts 7:30. He brought them out — Though for a while he hesitated, he afterward complied, and at length led them forth in triumph, a willing people listed under his banner; after he had showed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt — Which were afterward continued for the completing their deliverance, according as the case called for it; in the Red sea, and in the wilderness, forty years — During which space they were every day miraculously fed with manna from heaven, and conducted by a pillar of fire and cloud, and had a variety of other astonishing miracles wrought in their behalf continually. Thus Stephen is so far from blaspheming Moses, that he extols him as a glorious instrument in the hand of God in the forming of the Old Testament Church. But it does not at all derogate from his just honour, to say that he was but an instrument, and was excelled by Jesus, whom he encourages these Jews yet to receive and obey; not fearing, if they did so, but that they should be accepted, and obtain salvation by him, as the people of Israel were delivered by Moses, though they had once refused him.


Verse 37-38

Acts 7:37-38. This is that Moses which said, A prophet, &c. — Here Stephen shows that there is no opposition between Moses and Christ. And it is mentioned as one of the greatest honours God put upon Moses; nay, as that which exceeded all the rest, that by him God gave notice to the Israelites of the great prophet that should come into the world, raised their expectation of him, and required them to receive him on pain of utter destruction. Now this was very full to Stephen’s purpose, supposing him to have intimated, as his accusers affirmed, that Jesus should change the customs of the ceremonial law. And he is so far from blaspheming Moses, that he really does him the greatest honour imaginable, by showing how one of the most important of his prophecies was fulfilled. This is he (Moses) that was in the church in the wilderness — Presiding in all the affairs of it for forty years, and being king as well as prophet: in Jeshurun, Deuteronomy 33:5. Here we see the camp of Israel is called the church in the wilderness; and with good reason, for it was a sacred society, incorporated by a divine charter, under a divine government, and blessed with a divine revelation. It was a church, though not yet so perfectly formed as it was to be when they should come to Canaan. It was the honour of Moses that he was in that church; and many a time it would have been destroyed, if Moses had not been in it to intercede for it. But Christ is the president and guide of a more excellent and glorious church than that in the wilderness; and is more in it than Moses could be in that, as being the life and soul of it. With the angel that spake to him — The Angel of the covenant, even of the old as well as of the new. The angel that went before him and was a guide to him, otherwise he could not have been a guide to Israel. Of this God speaks, (Exodus 23:20,) I send an angel before thee to keep thee in the way, &c., beware of him, and obey his voice, for my name is in him. He was in the church with the angel, without whom he could have done no service to the church: but Christ is himself that angel which was with the church in the wilderness, and therefore has an authority above Moses. Who (Moses) received the lively oracles — Not only the ten commandments, but the other instructions, which the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak them to the children of Israel. Observe, reader, 1st, The words of God are oracles, certain and infallible, and of unquestionable authority and obligation: they are to be consulted as oracles, and by them all controversies must be determined. 2d, They are lively oracles, for they are the oracles of the living God, not of the dumb and dead idols of the heathen. They are full of divine life and energy; quick and powerful, (Hebrews 4:12,) enlightening the eyes, rejoicing the heart, converting the soul, raising the dead: for the word that God speaks is spirit and life: they were delivered in an awakening and impressive manner, and instruct us in the way to life and happiness. Not that the law of Moses could give life of itself, but it showed the way to life, especially as exhibiting, in types and shadows, good things to come. 3d, It was the principal privilege of the Jews that unto them were committed these oracles, and it was by the hand of Moses that they were committed. Moses was not the author of them, nor of the law contained in them: he was merely the medium, or instrument, of their communication. And he that gave those customs by his servant Moses, might, no doubt, when he pleased, change them by his Son Jesus, who has received more lively oracles to give unto us than Moses gave.


Verses 39-41

Acts 7:39-41. Whom our fathers would not obey — Even after all the proofs of his miraculous powers given in Egypt, and at the Red sea; but thrust him from them — Acting a part more stupid and ungrateful than that before mentioned, Acts 7:27; rejecting him a second time, as in contempt of all these wonderful appearances of God by him; and in their hearts — In their affections and intentions; turning back again into Egypt — Preferring their garlick and onions there, before the manna they daily received under the conduct of Moses, and the milk and honey they hoped for in Canaan. They murmured at him, mutinied against him, refused to obey his orders, and sometimes were ready to stone him. Saying unto Aaron — At the very foot of that mountain upon which God had visibly manifested himself to them, while the sound of his voice was, as it were, yet in their ears, and though, but a few days before, they had seen their great leader ascending up to him, by an intimacy of approach allowed to no other mortal: make us gods to go before us — Back into Egypt, or forward to the promised land, and to conduct us in the way thither: for as for this Moses, who, indeed, brought us out of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him — And have not patience to wait for him any longer: therefore make us gods of gold — As if gods of Aaron’s making, though of gold, would be sufficient to supply the place of Moses, or rather, of Jehovah! And they made a calf — In imitation of the Egyptian Apis, to be their saviour and their guide; in those days — Those very days in which they continued encamped in that remarkable situation; and offered sacrifice unto the senseless and dead idol — Which could neither see nor hear, nor take any notice of the worship offered to it; and rejoiced in the work of their own hands — In the god they had made, as if, instead of being a reproach and abomination, it had been an ornament and defence to them. Nay, so proud were they of their new god, that, after they had sat down to eat and drink, they rose up to play (Exodus 32:6) before it, and in honour of it.


Verse 42-43

Acts 7:42-43. Then God turned — Upon this, God, being most righteously provoked, turned away from them in anger, and, as in many other instances, punished one sin by letting them fall into another; and at length gave them up, in succeeding ages, to the most abandoned, public, and general idolatry, even to worship all the host of heaven — The stars and other heavenly bodies, and that with as little reserve, and as little shame, as the most stupid of the heathen nations. As it is written in the book of the prophets — Namely, of the twelve minor prophets, which the Jews always connected together in one book. What is here quoted is taken from the Prophet Amos 5:25; where see the note. The passage consists of two parts; of which the former confirms Acts 7:41, concerning the sin of the people; the latter, the beginning of Acts 7:42, respecting their punishment: O house of Israel, have ye offered to me — To me alone; slain beasts, &c., forty years in the wilderness? — You know that even then you began to revolt, and provoke me to jealousy with your abominations. They had offered many sacrifices, but did not offer them to God alone, but sacrificed to idols also; and God did not accept even those that they offered to him, because they did not offer them with an upright heart. And in succeeding ages you were continually renewing and aggravating your rebellions and treasons against me. Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch — Instead of confining yourselves to my tabernacle; and the star of your god Remphan — Or Chium, as it is called in Amos. Moloch probably meant the sun, and Remphan, or Chium, the moon; or some other star. Aben Ezra thinks Saturn; figures which ye made — Images, or emblematical representations, of these supposed deities; to worship them — Both the images, and the supposed deities which they were intended to represent. See note on Amos 5:26. I will carry you away beyond Babylon — Into countries more distant. So Dr. Prideaux reconciles Stephen’s quotation with the original passages in Amos, where we read, beyond Damascus. This was fulfilled by the king of Assyria, 2 Kings 17:6.


Verses 44-47

Acts 7:44-47. Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness — Greek, του μαρτυριου, of the testimony. The two tables of stone, on which the ten commandments were written, were most properly the testimony, as being a constant testimony of the relation between God and Israel: hence the ark, which contained them, is frequently called the ark of the testimony; and the whole tabernacle in this place, the tabernacle of the testimony. This, says Stephen, was with our fathers in the wilderness, a tabernacle made in all respects as God had appointed, who, speaking unto Moses, commanded him to make it according to the fashion, or model, that he had seen — Namely, in the mount, Exodus 25:40. “As Stephen had been accused of blaspheming the temple, he, with great propriety, takes occasion to speak of their sacred places with due reverence, as raised by special direction from God; and yet corrects that extravagant regard for them, and confidence in them, which the Jews entertained.” — Doddridge. Which our fathers, that came after — Or rather, as διαδεξαμενοι more properly signifies, having received; brought in with Jesus — That is, with Joshua, when he led them over Jordan; into the possession of the Gentiles — Into the land which the Gentiles possessed before. So that God’s favour is not a necessary consequence of inhabiting this land. All along Stephen intimates two things: 1st, That God always loved good men in every land. 2d, That he never loved bad men even in this. Unto the days of David — That is, the tabernacle continued for many ages, even unto David’s time, to be the resort of the pious worshippers in Israel; above four hundred years before there was any thought of building a temple. David indeed having found favour before God, desired — Greek, ητησατο, petitioned, this further blessing, on which his heart was set; even to have the honour to find a tabernacle — Or a dwelling more stable and splendid; for the God of Jacob — But he did not obtain his petition. For, as he had been a man of war, and had shed much blood, God would not permit him to build the temple. He laid a plan for it, however, and consecrated a considerable part of the spoils which he had taken from the enemy toward erecting it. But God remained without any temple till Solomon built him a house — Which, till the reign of that prince, he never had commanded or permitted to be done. Observe how wisely the word house is used here, rather than the word temple, with respect to what follows.


Verses 48-50

Acts 7:48-50. Howbeit αλλα, but, or yet; we are not to imagine that God permitted a temple to be built even then for his own sake: for it was acknowledged, at the same time, by Solomon himself, that the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands — Be they ever so rich, splendid, and majestic. As saith the prophet — Namely, Isaiah, chap. Isaiah 66:1, where, speaking in the name of God, he says, Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool; and how then should my presence be confined to any particular place? What house will ye build me — Suitable for me; saith the Lord: or, what is the place of my rest? — Have I need of rest? What need have I of a house? either to rest in, or wherein to show my glory? Hath not my hand made all these things? — Whatever splendour any temples may have, did not I form the materials with which they are built, and endow the workmen, that fashioned them, with all their art and genius? Do not imagine, then, that you can confer any obligation upon me by such structures as these, or any act of homage which you can render to me in them, nor think that you can charm me to continue my abode there, or to be a constant guard to you, merely because you have such edifices among you.


Verses 51-53

Acts 7:51-53. Ye stiff-necked, &c. — Stephen, finding by a confused murmur in the place that they understood whither his discourse tended, and perceiving by the eagerness of their countenances that they would soon interrupt him, applied himself more closely to his persecutors in these remarkable words, which he boldly addressed to them under the influence of the Holy Spirit, by whose direction he spoke; Ye stiff-necked — Inflexible and obstinate sinners, not bowing your necks to God’s yoke; and uncircumcised in heart and ears — So that you will not hearken to instruction, or be seriously affected with it. This they immediately showed. See Acts 7:54; Acts 7:57. So far were they from receiving the word of God with their hearts, that they would not hear it even with their ears. Ye — And your fathers; ye, as a people, in all ages; resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did — In former ages; so do ye now. This is the sum of what he had shown at large. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? — Some have inferred from this, that many writings, containing the history of these persecutions, have been destroyed by the Jews; but it seems more natural to understand the words in a limited sense, as only intimating that most of the prophets had suffered such unworthy usage. Attempts, however, were sometimes made to cut off all the prophets of the Lord at once. See 1 Kings 19:10; 1 Kings 19:14; 2 Chronicles 36:16. They have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just or righteous One — That is, Christ; so called by way of eminence, as being alone perfectly righteous: of whom — When you ought to have heard of him with delight, and to have received him with the most humble reverence and joyful gratitude; you have been now the perfidious betrayers, and cruel murderers. Who have received the law — Delivered from Sinai with astonishing circumstances of solemnity, majesty, and terror, by the disposition, or administration of angels, and have not kept, but continually violated it — When the Son of God gave the law on mount Sinai, he was attended with thousands of angels, Galatians 3:19; Psalms 68:17. Dr. Doddridge renders the original expression, εις διαταγας αγγελων, through ranks of angels, “marshalled in solemn array upon that grand occasion:” and he thinks it is evident, from Hebrews 2:2, that God made use of the instrumentality of angels to form the voice heard at that awful time.


Verses 54-56

Acts 7:54-56. When they heard these things — These plain, and undeniable, and alarming truths; they were cut to the heart — Or sawn asunder, the original word being the same that is used chap. Acts 5:33. And not permitting him to proceed any further, in a transport of rage, they gnashed on him with their teeth — As if they would have devoured him alive. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost — And therefore no way terrified with the foresight of the evil which appeared to be determined against him; looked up steadfastly into heaven — From whence alone he could expect help or mercy; and saw the glory of God — Prepared for him; and Jesus standing on the right hand of God — Risen up from the throne of his glory, (for he is generally represented as sitting,) to afford help to his distressed servant, and ready to receive him. Doubtless many other martyrs, as Mr. Addison has observed, when called to suffer the last extremities, had extraordinary assistances of a similar kind; otherwise frail mortality could not have endured the torments under which they rejoiced, and sometimes preached Christ, to the conversion of spectators, and, in some instances, of their guards and tormentors.


Verses 57-59

Acts 7:57-59. Then they cried out with a loud voice — Being provoked to such a degree that they could not contain themselves, and meaning to drown the voice of Stephen; and stopped their ears — As if they could not bear to hear such blasphemy as they wished to have it thought he had spoken. And ran upon him — Greek, ωρμησαν, rushed on him with one accord, before any sentence was regularly passed; and cast — Greek, εκβαλοντες εξω της πολεως, casting him out of the city — It seems by a gate near the place where the sanhedrim sat; and as soon as they had got without the boundaries of that sacred place, of which they judged it would be a profanation to stain it with human blood, they stoned him — This, like the stoning of Paul at Lystra, seems to have been an act of popular fury, exceeding the power which the Jews regularly had; which, though it might have extended to passing a capital sentence, was certainly not sufficient for carrying it into execution, without the consent of the Romans. The Jews were more than once ready to stone Christ, not only when by their own confession they had not power to put any one to death, (John 18:31,) but when nothing had passed which had the shadow of a legal trial. How far they now might have formed those express notions of what the rabbis call the judgment of zeal, is not easy to say; but it is certain they acted on that principle, and as if they had thought every private Israelite had, like Phinehas, who is pleaded as an example of it, a right to put another to death on the spot, if he found him in a capital breach of the divine law; a notion, by the way, directly contrary to Deuteronomy 17:6, which required at least two witnesses in capital cases, where there was a legal process. And the two witnesses — Whose hands were first upon him to put him to death; laid down their clothes, &c. — In executions of this kind, it was usual for those who had borne witness against the criminal to cast the first stones at him; and for this purpose they were wont to put off their upper garments, and gave them to be kept by persons equally hearty in the prosecution with themselves; and on this occasion the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of Saul, afterward called Paul, who, it seems, willingly took charge of them, to show how heartily he concurred with them in the execution. O Saul! wouldst thou have believed, if one had told thee, while thou wast urging on the cruel multitude, that the time would come when thou thyself shouldst be twice stoned in the same cause, and shouldst triumph in committing thy soul likewise to that Jesus whom thou wast now blaspheming? His dying prayer reached thee, as well as many others. And the martyr Stephen, and Saul the persecutor, (afterward his brother, both in faith and martyrdom,) are now joined in everlasting friendship, and dwell together in the happy company of those who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.


Verse 59-60

Acts 7:59-60. And thus they stoned Stephen — Who, during this furious assault, continued with his eyes fixed on the heavenly glory, of which he had so bright a vision, calling upon God — The word God is not in the original, which is literally, invoking; and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit — For Christ was the person to whom he prayed: and surely such a solemn prayer addressed to him, in which a departing soul was thus committed into his hands, was such an act of worship as no good man could have paid to a mere creature; Stephen here worshipping Christ in the very same manner in which Christ worshipped the Father on the cross. And he kneeled down, &c. — Having nothing further relating to himself which could give him any solicitude, all his remaining thoughts were occupied in compassion to these inhuman wretches, who were employed in effecting his destruction. Having, therefore, as we have reason to suppose, received many violent blows, rising as well as he could upon his knees, he cried, though with an expiring, yet with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge — With severity proportionable to the weight of the offence, but graciously forgive them, as indeed I do from my heart. The original expression, μη στησης αυτοις την αμαρτιαν, has a peculiar emphasis, and is not easy to be exactly translated, without multiplying words to an improper degree. It is literally weigh not out to them this sin; that is, a punishment proportionable to it; alluding, it seems, to passages of Scripture where God is represented as weighing men’s characters and actions in the dispensations of his justice and providence. This prayer of Stephen was heard, and remarkably answered, in the conversion of Saul, of whose history we shall shortly hear more. When he had said this — Calmly resigning his soul into the Saviour’s hand, with a sacred serenity, in the midst of this furious assault, he sweetly fell asleep — Leaving the traces of a gentle composure, rather than a horror, upon his breathless corpse.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 7:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/acts-7.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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