Acts 6:11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” Acts 6:13 They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; Acts 6:14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” Acts 7:1 Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?”
Acts 7:2 And he said, “Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, Acts 7:3 and said to him, ‘LEAVE YOUR COUNTRY AND YOUR RELATIVES, AND COME INTO THE LAND THAT I WILL SHOW YOU.’ Acts 7:4 “Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living. Acts 7:5 “But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that HE WOULD GIVE IT TO HIM AS A POSSESSION,AND TO HIS DESCENDANTS AFTER HIM. Acts 7:6 “But God spoke to this effect, that his DESCENDANTS WOULD BE ALIENS IN A FOREIGN LAND, AND THAT THEY WOULD BE ENSLAVED AND MISTREATED FOR FOUR HUNDRED YEARS. Acts 7:7 ” ‘AND WHATEVER NATION TO WHICH THEY WILL BE IN BONDAGE I MYSELF WILL JUDGE,’ said God, ‘AND AFTER THAT THEY WILL COME OUT AND SERVE ME IN THIS PLACE.’ Acts 7:8 “And He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs. Acts 7:9 “The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him, Acts 7:10 and rescued him from all his afflictions, and granted him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and all his household. Acts 7:11 “Now a famine came over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction with it, and our fathers could find no food. Acts 7:12 “But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers there the first time. Acts 7:13 “On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family was disclosed to Pharaoh. Acts 7:14 “Then Joseph sent word and invited Jacob his father and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five persons in all. Acts 7:15 “And Jacob went down to Egypt and there he and our fathers died. Acts 7:16 “From there they were removed to Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham had purchased for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem. Acts 7:17 “But as the time of the promise was approaching which God had assured to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt, Acts 7:18 until THERE AROSE ANOTHER KING OVER EGYPT WHO KNEW NOTHING ABOUT JOSEPH. Acts 7:19 “It was he who took shrewd advantage of our race and mistreated our fathers so that they would expose their infants and they would not survive. Acts 7:20 “It was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely in the sight of God, and he was nurtured three months in his father’s home. Acts 7:21 “And after he had been set outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and nurtured him as her own son. Acts 7:22 “Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds. Acts 7:23 “But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel. Acts 7:24 “And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. Acts 7:25 “And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand. Acts 7:26 “On the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?’ Acts 7:27 “But the one who was injuring his neighbour pushed him away, saying, ‘WHO MADE YOU A RULER AND JUDGE OVER US? Acts 7:28 ‘YOU DO NOT MEAN TO KILL ME AS YOU KILLED THE EGYPTIAN YESTERDAY, DO YOU?’ Acts 7:29 “At this remark, MOSES FLED AND BECAME AN ALIEN IN THE LAND OF MIDIAN, where he became the father of two sons. Acts 7:30 “After forty years had passed, AN ANGEL APPEARED TO HIM IN THE WILDERNESS OF MOUNT Sinai, IN THE FLAME OF A BURNING THORN BUSH. Acts 7:31 “When Moses saw it, he marvelled at the sight; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord: Acts 7:32 ‘I AM THE GOD OF YOUR FATHERS, THE GOD OF ABRAHAM AND ISAAC AND JACOB.’ Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look. Acts 7:33 “BUT THE LORD SAID TO HIM, ‘TAKE OFF THE SANDALS FROM YOUR FEET, FOR THE PLACE ON WHICH YOU ARE STANDING IS HOLY GROUND. Acts 7:34 ‘I HAVE CERTAINLY SEEN THE OPPRESSION OF MY PEOPLE IN EGYPT AND HAVE HEARD THEIR GROANS, AND I HAVE COME DOWN TO RESCUE THEM; COME NOW, AND I WILL SEND YOU TO EGYPT.’ Acts 7:35 “This Moses whom they disowned, saying, ‘WHO MADE YOU A RULER AND A JUDGE?’ is the one whom God sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush. Acts 7:36 “This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. Acts 7:37 “This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, ‘GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN.’ Acts 7:38 “This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you. Acts 7:39 “Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt, Acts 7:40 SAYING TO AARON, ‘MAKE FOR US GODS WHO WILL GO BEFORE US; FOR THIS MOSES WHO LED US OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT–WE DO NOT KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM.’ Acts 7:41 “At that time they made a calf and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. Acts 7:42 “But God turned away and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, ‘IT WAS NOT TO ME THAT YOU OFFERED VICTIMS AND SACRIFICES FORTY YEARS IN THE WILDERNESS, WAS IT, O HOUSE OF ISRAEL? Acts 7:43 ‘YOU ALSO TOOK ALONG THE TABERNACLE OF MOLOCH AND THE STAR OF THE GOD ROMPHA, THE IMAGES WHICH YOU MADE TO WORSHIP. ALSO WILL REMOVE YOU BEYOND BABYLON.’ Acts 7:44 “Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. Acts 7:45 “And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David. Acts 7:46 “David found favour in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. Acts 7:47 “But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. Acts 7:48 “However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says: Acts 7:49 ‘HEAVEN IS MY THRONE, AND EARTH IS THE FOOTSTOOL OF MY FEET; WHAT KIND OF HOUSE WILL YOU BUILD FOR ME?’ says the Lord, ‘OR WHAT PLACE IS THERE FOR MY REPOSE? Acts 7:50 ‘WAS IT NOT MY HAND WHICH MADE ALL THESE THINGS?‘ Acts 7:51 “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Acts 7:52 “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; Acts 7:53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” (Acts 7:2-53)
Remember, the focus of the allegations are that Stephen was blaspheming against Moses and God and was speaking against “this holy place”and the Law and the customs of Moses.
Why this speech of Stephen’s appears disjointed and mixed up is because he is not approaching the allegations systematically and in order. Neither was he addressing the issue of blaspheming and speaking against Moses and God because he wasn’t. He is reinterpreting Jewish history in chronological order pointing out some things about their forefathers and what they were really like. In the midst of that Stephen challenges them to look with new eyes at how they view the”holy place”. He is not so much concerned with the Law or the customs of Moses.
Firstly, he bids them to take a new look at their ideas on the Holy Place and what is Holy. They view the Temple in Jerusalem as housing the Most Holy Place – the Holy of Holies. But Stephen skilfully reminds them that God did most of the work He accomplished with Moses, the Law Giver and one who established the pattern of the Temple, outside the Promised Land and indeed apart from the temple. Neither the Temple nor the Tabernacle were holy in their own right. They were holy because God was there. Hence, he draws attention to the fact that the place where God told Moses to take off his shoes was in the wilderness in Midian – the very place and people they hated. Ironic isn’t it. Effectively he says, you Jews need to take a long hard look at your own history.
He starts by referring to the patriarchs as Our Fathers to smooth the way for his comments because he knows they will be inflammatory. “Our” wonderful forefathers were not so saintly. “Our” patriarchs were ordinary, everyday people who sinned and made mistakes. That, incidentally, is what is unique about the Bible as compared with all other ancient literature. It records the story warts and all. Ancient literature usually made out the leaders of the past to be saints and infallible. Super heroes, never failing, never doing wrong – demi gods come to earth. Notice the Patriarchs are always listed as Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Those three names sum up the track record of the patriarchs. Abraham means Father most high – it is not a Hebrew name but a Mesopotamian name – a reminder of where he came from and points more to what God accomplished in him than what he did on his own. Isaac (a Hebrew name) means “he laughs” a reminder of what Abraham did when God announced he would have a child of the promise. Jacob (also a Hebrew name) means ‘deceiver or twister, untrustworthy’ which sums up his character. The sons of Jacob sold their brother into slavery because of their own jealousy.
Stephen continues in this way and subtly switches from “our fathers” to “your fathers” and finally to “you”. He reminds them that Israel and the leaders of Israel have their shortcomings and you religious leaders now are just like them.
“You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”Acts 7:51-53
No wonder Stephen was stoned, not because his comments were blasphemous toward God or Moses but because his comments told the truth about Israel’s past and the nature of their leaders. Then he turns it around to accuse the members of the Council and all other Jews, including the members of the synagogue of Freedmen – stiff-necked, uncircumcised of heart, always resisting this same Holy Spirit you see performing all these miracles. You are doing just like your forefathers did. Just like them, you have not kept the law and the traditions of Moses. You indeed have betrayed and murdered the Righteous One, the Messiah who you have been waiting for. Wow! Shock, horror. “How dare he say those things of us.” They are not defending Moses honour, nor Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They are not concerned about the Holiness of God and the sanctity of the Holy Temple. They are concerned only for their interpretation of the truth of God as they see it. They are behaving just as they have always behaved and in that way are no different from their father’s before them, who didn’t defend God’s Law but rather upheld their own traditions. It’s heavy criticism Stephen dished out to them. He didn’t hold back and he didn’t hide anything. He gave it to them with both barrels. In the next Gem we will look at the result of their anger to what Stephen has just told them. Sure they claimed that Stephen was stoned because he blasphemed and spoke against Moses and spoke against (or pulled down) the Holy Place, the Law and the traditions of Moses. He did none of those things. He just simply gave a truthful, factual account of Israel’s history – more based on the traditions of man than the truth of God.
Now I have just one more thing to do in this Gem and that is to address what is behind the statement:-
He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground.Acts 7:5
The meaning of the phrase is a footprint of ground, not a square foot of ground nor any real measure. It refers to a piece of land the size of a human foot print. There is huge symbolism here. These patriarchs, not only just Abraham, didn’t receive the inheritance they were promised. Moses too was barred from entering the promised land because of his reaction to the sin of the people. Neither did any of the other patriarchs receive any inheritance because they disqualified themselves through their disobedience and unbelief. God had told Joshua they would possess the land that they put their feet on! There is a theme carried through the promise given to Abraham and his descendants found in numbers of places (e.g. Deut 1:8, Josh 1:3). They were to action the promise into reality. Step out in faith in order to gain your inheritance. None of these illustrious forefathers (of yours) gained the promised inheritance because of their unbelief and disobedience and you religious leaders are in danger of going down the same path. You, like them, will not even receive as much as a footprint sized piece of land because you disqualify yourself in that you failed to put your foot on the land. Thus you did not even inherit so much as a footprint-sized-piece-of-the-promised-land. The statement not even a foot of ground connects to the part of the promise contained in Deut 1:8 and other passages which place the burden on their shoulders. Not only will they not inherit the promise but like Jesus and Paul say, they prevent others from receiving it, as well as the result of their teaching which is no more than the traditions of man and not God’s truth at all. There was a remez hidden in the statements by this Hellenist. Stephen was teaching them in just the same way the Rabbis and chief religious leaders themselves taught, by hiding clues of allusions to other parts of Scripture behind the words they were using.
And for his wisdom and truthful interpretation of the Law, the Prophets and the Writings, they stoned him.
Be careful that you don’t end up holding on to your interpretation of God’s Truth more dearly than the Truth itself.Ian Vail
As they say, sometimes the truth hurts. But it hurts more when we wish to hold on to untruth rather than confess our error.Ian Vail
If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.Derek Bok
If we are not hated by someone, we don’t know enough people, or we don’t speak enough truth.John Piper
I Would Rather Have You Hate Me For Telling You The Truth Than For You To Love Me For Telling You Lies.Robb Thompson
Hypocrisy cannot live in the same room with Truth and always reacts violently to it.Anon