William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Then said the high priest, Are these things so?Acts Chapter 7
The remarkable testimony of Stephen now comes before us. It was fitting that the devoted Hellenist, rather than any of the twelve, should break fresh ground and pave the way for the wider outgoing of the truth, just after the mention of so striking a witness to its attractive power from the bosom of Judaism in the faith of a crowd of priests (Acts 6:7).
Stephen was accused of disparaging what was most sacred in Hebrew eyes - the sanctuary and the law. He was charged with attributing to the Nazarene a purpose of destroying 'that place', and of changing the customs delivered to them by Moses. What can be of deeper interest and instruction than his way of meeting so malignant a perversion of his meaning? Grace is never the enemy of law, though incomparably higher, it rather establishes law. The prophetic word did not conceal that of the stately buildings of the temple not one stone should be left on another; but was Jesus a destroyer, because He was a prophet and far more than a prophet? Under His reign the law shall go forth out of Zion, and even in humiliation He came not to destroy but to fulfil it. But unbelief is deaf and blind, and is apt to impute its own evils to those who love the truth. Certainly Stephen said nothing but what the prophets and Moses had declared should come.
'And the high priest said, Are these things so? And he said, Brethren [lit. Men brethren] and fathers, hear. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said unto him, Go out of thy land and out of thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee' (vers. 1-3).
'The God of glory' is no mere Hebraism for 'glorious God', but directs the heart from the beginning to One altogether above the world not only in Himself but in His purposes, whatever His ways meanwhile on the earth. 'Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood [river] in old time, even Terah the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods' (Joshua 24:2). It was in sovereign grace that God thus appeared. Even the line of Shem, the father and kindred of Abraham, were idolaters. Grace gives, not finds, what is good. Not only did the God of glory appear: it was to Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia and thus when he was at the farthest point of his distance from 'the land', as well as in idolatrous associations. How little the Jews understood the God of glory or His servant Moses! Stephen, full of grace and power, did. Nothing was more foreign to him than 'speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God.'
Even Abraham, blessed as he was, moved slowly in the path of faith at first. He did not quit Mesopotamia to dwell in Canaan all at once. Before this he dwelt in Haran. He got out of his land, but not so quickly 'out of his kindred', so that there was a remarkable delay in coming into the land which God was to show him. 'Then came he out of [the] land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Haran; and thence, after his father died, He removed him into this land in which ye now dwell' (ver. 4).
It is rather a daring comment to say (Alford, Greek Testament in loco) that 'the Jewish chronology which Stephen follows was at fault here, owing to the circumstance of Terah's death being mentioned, Genesis 11:32, before the command to Abram to leave Haran, it not having been observed that the mention is anticipatory. And this is confirmed by Philo having fallen into the same mistake . . .' The truth is that the favourite Jewish hypothesis (Aben Ezra, Rashi) is that Terah did not die till sixty years after Abraham had left Haran. And in all probability the Samaritan Pentateuch has changed 205 into 145 (Genesis 11:32), in order to meet the supposed difficulty. The source of the error among ancients or moderns is the assumption that Abraham was Terah's eldest son, for which there is no more ground in the order of the names than in the case of Noah's sons, where we know that not Shem but Japheth was the eldest. But, for an adequate divine reason, not the elder but the younger is repeatedly named first. To Terah at 70 years Haran was born, Abraham at 130, who therefore could be married to Haran's daughter, Sarai or Iscah, ten years younger than himself. See Ussher's Works, viii. 21-23; Clinton's Fasti Hellen. i. 289 et seqq.
One may not agree with Bengel's suggestion which Alford quotes, but an upright help towards understanding the word which is held fast as perfect is to be respected: 'truly lamentable' is the pandering to the enemy on the plea of the spirit, not the letter, of God's word. That Terah who had Haran at 70 might have begotten Abraham at 130 is simple enough, dying at 205; that Abraham should at 99 regard it as beyond nature to have by Sarah a son is no less simple. Hagar had borne him a son at 86; and the natural interpretation of Genesis 25:1-6 is that after Sarah's death Abraham had by Keturah, his wife or concubine, six sons sent away from Isaac while he lived, that Isaac only should be his heir without dispute. There is no handling of the word of God so deceitful as the unbelief which treats it as if it were not His, or as if He could lie.
Terah, as long as he lived, was a dead weight on Abraham's obedience. As we are told, 'Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan' (Genesis 11:31). But the land, in these circumstances, they never reached. God told Abraham to quit his kindred as well as his country, and till this was done, he failed to reach Canaan.1 It would have scarcely been proper for Abram as the son to take Terah his father. So 'Terah took Abram . . .' This, however, was not at all according to the call of God to Abram. Hence, we read, 'they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.' But when Terah died, 'Abram departed as the Lord had spoken unto him' (Gen. xii. 4). Then the language is pointedly different: - 'And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran, and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan they came' (Genesis 12:5). There was no failure now that his faith was not hampered by the encumbrance of nature which almost necessarily took the upper hand; therefore the movement had lacked the power of God to give it effect. That gone, the blessing immediately followed.
1 Philo (Ed. Richter, iv. 20) is all wrong in denying that God appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia, confining the vision to Genesis 12:7 just like the Jews who assailed Stephen. Dean Alford's remarks are worse than 'inaccurate'.
There is a question in verse 4 whether the subject be Abram or God understood. If verse 43 points to the latter, the construction of 1 Chronicles 8:6 (in the LXX.) favours the former: so that some may and do abide with the Authorized Version, instead of following the Revisers, and the Vulgate, Syrr., Ar., Cop., if not Aeth. The connection with verse 5 would lead one to prefer God: 'And He gave him none inheritance in it, not so much as a foot's tread, and promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when he had no child.'
It is wholly incorrect to say that God did afterwards give him a possession in Canaan, namely, the piece of land which he purchased of Ephron as a burial-place, Genesis 23:17; for the gift of God is absolute and future, and that it is so is confirmed, not weakened or trenched on, by the purchase of a burial-place from the Hittite. For who that possessed this land or any other would think of buying his own possession? There he lays his dead in land so evidently not his own that he has to buy it for the purpose, the pledge to faith that he will have it another day. So far from occasion to wrest our text here or anywhere in order to produce accordance with the history, the language is as plain and perfect as possible. The fact is stated to show how truly the patriarch was a pilgrim in the very land whose present possession had, to say the least, such exaggerated moment in the eyes of his seed, because they walked not in the faith of their father. God will surely give 'this land' to Abram's seed. They will buy it of no stranger in that day. No intermediate confusion can touch His promise. 'By faith he (Abraham) sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise' (Hebrews 11:9).
Abram and his seed will have the promise in the day when glory is to dwell in that land (Ps. 85.), a truth which Gentile theology makes even believers forget. Indeed all the earth shall then be filled with the glory of Jehovah, but pre-eminently is the glory to rest on Zion, a defence on all, when God shall have accomplished the cleansing of Jerusalem: not by the gospel simply as now, but by the spirit of judgment and of burning. Then shall the children of Abraham, not by nature only but by grace also, enter on the promised inheritance, he himself being in resurrection-glory, when Jesus is revealed from heaven and there come the times of restoration of all things, whereof God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since time began.
There is no ground for regarding 'not', as 'not yet' nor 'gave' and 'promised' as pluperfect in sense, nor 'and' as 'yet', with learned men who did not understand nor believe the scripture before them.
Further, Stephen draws attention to the fact that 'God thus spoke, that his seed [Abraham's] should be a sojourner in a land not theirs, and that they should enslave and ill-treat them, four hundred years. And the nation, to whom they shall be in slavery, will I judge, said God; and after these things shall they come out and serve Me in this place' (vers. 6, 7). It is a free citation of Genesis 15:13-14, with a few words, more or less from Exodus 3:12, instead of the closing phrase. The God of glory thought of His people in Egypt and in the wilderness, before the holy place or even the law, and will never give Israel up till He has made good His promise, guaranteed when Abraham had no child. God called Abraham alone, and blessed and increased him. How wrong then they all were in making so much of themselves, and of their privileges, to the slight of His grace and of Himself, the God of glory, Who appeared to Abraham alone when there was absolutely nothing to boast, nothing but sin and shame in man, and Israel as yet unborn! For as with the father, so with his seed. As he went about a stranger in Palestine, so they were first seen in bondage in an alien land; and this for no brief moment - for in round numbers 400 (strictly 405) years intervened from the birth of the child of promise till God judged the nation that had them in slavery.1 When his descendants did come out, it was not even into the land, but into the desert, where they wandered forty years. He had indeed delivered them to His own glory, but His dealings were not according to their thoughts and prejudices. Were they the people to claim indefeasible and even exclusive rights? To do so, they must disbelieve their own history, yea, God's word.
1 It was as exactly as possible 400 years from the dismissal of the Egyptian bondwoman and her child Ishmael, the beginning of that 'persecution of the line of promise which culminated in Egypt and closed in the Exodus of Israel when divine judgments had broken the power and pride of their oppressors.
At first sight it may appear to some singular that Stephen should introduce circumcision. But he, in fact, simply follows the divine record, so that there is not only instruction conveyed, but it is increased by paying heed to the order impressed on the facts, and so on the history, by the wisdom of God.
'And he gave him a covenant of circumcision, and thus he begat Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac, Jacob; and Jacob, the twelve patriarchs' (ver. 8).
Thus does Stephen draw marked attention to the covenant of circumcision given of God to Abraham, instead of slighting the institution incorporated in the law. It was thus Isaac was begotten, and those who followed; all submitting to a rite which indicated the corruption of the flesh, and put death on it as the only deliverance from it. But the promise was already long before the law; and the father of the faithful had enjoyed the election and call of God anterior even to circumcision. The truth is a whole, and only suffers from the misuse of one part to enfeeble or destroy another. The Spirit, using the word in view of Christ's glory, puts all in its place, as He alone can. Hence the speaker, being a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, saw and presented things according to God, whereas the unbelieving Jews understood in no wise the true bearing of their own institutions, misusing them for self-righteousness and pride, and hence blindly rejecting the Light of God to Whom all pointed.
Alas! it is an old story. Their fathers were not really better than they; and God has not told us of their doings in vain, if we have but an ear to hear. For how does Stephen sum up the history of that early twelve? 'And the patriarchs through jealousy sold Joseph into Egypt: and God was with him, and delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house' (vers. 9, 10). A beloved son, or a God-fearing slave, a guiltless prisoner or a wise vicegerent, Joseph had God with him everywhere and in all circumstances. Yet who of the twelve was so tried of his brethren? who so plotted against as he? Who seemed to fare worse in spite - yea because - of his unsullied purity? Nevertheless, even in prison, 'Jehovah was with him, and that which he did Jehovah made it to prosper.'
Was there no voice, from Joseph and his brethren, to the Jews who surrounded Stephen? 'Joseph brought unto their father their evil report. . . . And when his brethren saw that his father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.... And his brethren said, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams and for his words.... And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him. . . . And they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver; and they brought Joseph into Egypt' (Genesis 37:2-28). If so the fathers dealt with the type, who that believes could wonder that they should deal worse with the great Antitype? For it was what was of Christ in Joseph, what the Spirit wrought in and by him, which irritated the fathers of the nation against him. Was it so wonderful, then, that 'this generation' had rejected a greater than Joseph; Who being come convicted them of enmity against God, drawn out by hatred of divine goodness in His own person, ways, and words? Let them not forget that the rejected of his brethren was exalted to the right hand of power for the blessing of others, and even (specially at the end) of his brethren, to whom he was only thus made known after his long separation from them. Thus did he prefigure Christ in His sufferings, as well as in the glories that should follow them.
'Now there came a famine over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction; and our fathers found no sustenance. But Jacob, having heard that there was corn in Egypt, sent forth our fathers first and at the second [time] Joseph was made known to his brethren, and his [or, Joseph's] race became manifest unto Pharaoh. And Joseph sent and called to him Jacob his father, and all his kindred, seventy-five souls' (vers. 11-14).
It was a pathway of righteous suffering which led to glory; and when exalted, Joseph administers in the wisdom of God what the same wisdom exalted him to provide in days of plenty for those of dearth. Under the mighty hand of God, the dearth pressed not only over all Egypt but over Canaan, where the heads of Israel tasted of that cruel affliction, for they found no sustenance, and in divine providence sought corn in Egypt. This, 'at the second time', gave occasion for their great discovery, not without self-judgment when Joseph was made known to his brethren, and the line of promise became no longer a secret to Pharaoh. And the fathers, with Israel their father, went down into Egypt, where they in lengthened and retributive sorrow were to pay the penalty for their heartless wrong to their brother, who was exalted of God where Jew and Gentile had both put him to shame, which he repaid in nothing but grace to all, but especially to Israel.
The bearing of all this on Christ is unmistakable; but Stephen does not apply - he only states - facts, so much the more striking because they were familiar, and now set in a light which shone on Messiah as well as the Jews, that the people might thereby know God and themselves. How little they knew anything as they ought was plain from this, that they had hitherto never thought of seeing in Joseph the Christ, nor in the guilty fathers themselves, the still guiltier murderers of the Lord of glory. Their ignorant boast was their shame. And He that was sold no less than Joseph, and lifted up on high from a worse pit and a deeper dungeon, was waiting to bless them, as they themselves were to taste the bitter fruits of their sin in a dispersion worse than a captivity, whatever the mercy that awaits them in the latter end, when they bow repentant before Him in glory.
It will be noticed that Stephen speaks of seventy-five souls, where the Hebrew has seventy; he cites here, as elsewhere, the Septuagint. Calvin (in loco) considers that this discrepancy came not from the Greek translators themselves, but crept in through the fault of copyists, and that Stephen did not say so; but that seventy-five was foisted in here to make the speech agree with the Greek version of Genesis 46:27. But this appears to be an unreasonable way of accounting for what is simple enough, and that the apostle's caution against endless genealogies (1 Timothy 1:4) has nothing to do with the matter. The fact is, that both the original and the Greek version might both be true, the latter reckoning in five sons of Manasseh and Ephraim born in Egypt (1 Chronicles 7:14-27), according to a latitude of various forms, by no means uncommon in such lists.
There is more difficulty in explaining the next verse but one. 'And Jacob went down into Egypt and died, he and our fathers; and they were carried over unto Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor in [son, or father of1] Shechem' (vers. 15, 16).
1 The chief various reading in this verse is a question between ἐν and τοῦ : the former supported by p.m. BC, several cursives and ancient versions (and with τοῦ before ἐν corr. AE and three cursives, et al.), the latter (which is the commonly received text) by inferior authorities. The whole phrase is omitted by the Pesh. Syr. and Erp. Arabic.
The late Dean of Canterbury had no hesitation in pronouncing him who spoke, full of the Holy Ghost, as guilty of 'at least two demonstrable historical inaccuracies', which, he is pleased to assure his readers, do not affect the inspiration or the veracity of the writer! On the other hand Bengel, following Fl. Illyricus, et al., seeks to clear the passage up by the supposition that a double purchase and a double burial were intended with intentional omissions on either side. He therefore maintains the integrity of the reading 'Abraham', and declares the conjectural 'Jacob' unnecessary, compendious brevity, when the particulars were all known, accounting for a method which to us seems surprising. The facts are that Abraham bought a burial-place of Ephron the Hittite at Machpelah or Hebron, where the three patriarchs were buried as well as Sarah, and that Jacob bought a field of the sons of Hamor in Shechem, where Joseph was buried. Where the rest of Jacob's sons were laid does not appear in the Old Testament: Josephus says in Hebron; the Rabbis, in Shechem, as Jerome also reports. Moderns argue for some here and some there; and one at least maintains a transfer from Shechem to Hebron.
I prefer to leave the passage; but in the circumstances the least worthy hypothesis is that this blessed and mighty witness of Christ fell into a confusion of Hebron with Shechem, and of Abraham with Jacob, beneath an ordinary Sunday-scholar. Is it not a safer conclusion that we may be ignorant of facts which, better known, would dispel this mist, or of some peculiarity in the mode of reference, as in Matthew 27:9, Mark 1:2, to which Westerns are not used, but which is understood without cavil among Jews? One is disposed (when surveying from first to last a speech of surpassing scope, and power of insight into principles of Jewish history) to doubt that the speaker was ignorant of circumstances lying on the surface of the earliest book of Scripture, and familiarly known to every Jew; or that the inspired writer of the Book did not see the discrepancy which must strike the most careless reader. And one may question whether it would not be better, these things being so, to amend our manners instead of assuming to amend the text.
'But as the time of the promise was drawing nigh which God vouchsafed2 to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt till there arose another king over Egypt who knew not Joseph. He dealt craftily with our race and evil-entreated our fathers that they should expose their babes to the end they might not be preserved alive' (vers. 17-19).
2 There can be scarce a question that ὠμόλογησεν is the right reading, as in ABC, et al., with most of the old versions; and not the vulgar reading w]mosen 'swore', as in HP, most cursives, the Pesh. Syr., Cop., et al.
It is always thus. There is ever war between God and the enemy, and nowhere does it rage so hotly as where His people are concerned, and when a distinct manifestation of divine mercy is imminent. God's approaching favour to Israel drew out the enmity of Satan, who stirred up a suited instrument for his malice in the prince of the world of that day, 'another king who knew not Joseph'. The verses are a pithy summary of Exodus 1:7-20, which gives the details of Pharaoh's wily, aggressive, and unscrupulously cruel efforts to depress, yet just as signally to be defeated of God, for, say or do what he might, 'the people multiplied and waxed very mighty'. The edict to destroy the males failed, not only through human pity, but through the fear of God, Who honoured those who honoured Him, and brought to naught His adversaries.
But now Moses is dwelt on at great length by Stephen as before Joseph more briefly. Thus he brought before their minds another and most salient personal type of the Messiah, besides the general testimony to the truth for their consciences.
'At which season Moses was born, and was exceedingly [lit. to God] fair, who was nourished three months in his father's house; and when he was cast out, Pharaoh's daughter took him up and nourished him for her own son. And Moses was instructed in all [the] wisdom of [the] Egyptians; and he was mighty in his words and works. But when he was about forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the sons of Israel; and seeing one wronged, he defended [him], and avenged him that was oppressed, smiting the Egyptian. For he thought that his brethren understood that God by his hand was giving them deliverance; but they understood not. And on the day following he appeared to them as they were striving, and compelled them to peace, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren: why do ye wrong one to another? But he that was wronging his neighbour thrust him away, saying, Who established thee ruler and judge over us? Dost thou wish to kill me as thou killedst the Egyptian yesterday? And Moses fled at this saying, and became a sojourner in the land of Midian where he begat two sons' (vers. 20-29).
The enemy had raised up a suited instrument, another king over Egypt which knew not Joseph. Suffering became the portion of Israel and a deadly stroke was aimed at the promise in the person of their babes. For the commandment of the king was to expose them that they might not be preserved alive. At that critical moment Moses was born, fair unto God, with a glorious career before him, however dark its beginnings. He, too, came under the sentence of death, and, after being nourished three months in his father's house, was cast out like the rest. But we have the highest authority for affirming that it was 'by faith', whatever the natural affection of his parents, that he was hid by them these three months (Hebrews 11:23). 'They were not afraid of the king's commandment.' God interfered for him providentially; and' the least likely of all in Egypt, Pharaoh's daughter, took him up and nourished him for her own son. It was manifestly an intervention of God.
But divine providence is no guide for faith, nothing but the word. Providence brought him in, whence faith led him out. 'By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter choosing rather to be evil-entreated with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; accounting the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked unto the recompense of reward' (Hebrews 11:24-26).
None can deny that Moses was capable of justly estimating the situation. He was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and works. He looked, however, not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. His eye was on the kingdom of God, he awaited the Messiah, he knew that the purposes of God, as they centre in Christ, had Israel as their inner circle on earth. His affections therefore, were not with the court of Egypt, nor upon the most brilliant vista it could open for a man of his energy. Poor degraded Israel he loved, and loved, not so much because they were his people, but as the people of God, yet reserved for Christ, Whose reproach meanwhile their degradation was.
So when Moses was about forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel. Alas! they were fallen, not in their circumstances only, but in their souls. Faith wrought in but few of them to expect a deliverer or to appreciate such as had faith in God. In such circumstances the worst moral condition is apt to be found. An unfaithful Israelite sinks below an Egyptian; and Moses must learn this, as Joseph had learned it before; as One infinitely greater than Joseph or Moses proved it even before the death of the cross. 'And seeing one suffer wrong, he defended him and avenged him that was oppressed, smiting the Egyptian; and he supposed that his brethren understood how that God by his hand was giving them salvation, but they understood not.' They were dark and dead God-ward. The hardness of man they felt. The hope God had given to Israel had almost vanished from their souls. There was certainly no expectation of a deliverance at hand; yet surely they ought to have looked for it. The fourth generation was proceeding, in which, according to the word of Jehovah, they, so long afflicted, were to quit a judged Egypt, and to come into the promised land again (Genesis 15:13-16).
But God was not in their thoughts, and Moses was misunderstood. Nay, worse than this; 'And the day following he appeared unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren, why do ye wrong one to another? But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? Wouldest thou kill me as thou killedst the Egyptian yesterday?' The keenest wound, as the basest blow, comes from God's people: when man rules therein and not God, Satan works underneath it all and at his worst.
Yet was it all profitable discipline for Moses, who 'fled at this saying and became a sojourner in the land of Midian, where he begat two sons.' He must learn of God alone in the wilderness. The wisdom of Egypt must be, as it were, unlearned: God deigns not to honour it for His deliverances. The wisdom that He uses must come down from above. We shall see how God wrought when the due moment arrives. Meanwhile Moses is the rejected of Israel, as Joseph before of his brethren. Only as Joseph shows us exaltation over the Gentiles when separated from his brethren, so Moses gives us, in another direction, the complication from the offended power and anger of the Gentiles.
But it is during this compulsory exile from Israel that Moses has a family given to him. So the virgin's Son, Emmanuel, speaks in Isaiah 8:5-18. There too Israel are unbelieving; there too is a hostile confederacy of the nations; but, 'Behold, I and the children whom Jehovah has given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel, from Jehovah of hosts which dwelleth in mount Zion.' Faith waits upon Jehovah that hides His face from the house of Jacob, and it looks for Him. At the worst of times He is for a sanctuary, at the right moment He works out unmistakable deliverance. How solemnly all this bore on the actual circumstances of the Jew! They did not understand that Jesus was their Deliverer. They gradually grew to hate His words, because His words judged them in the secret of their souls, and His parables portended sure destruction for their pride and unbelief. Hence they cast Him out even unto death, but God raised Him up and was now manifesting the children He had given Him, as yet from Israel only, but soon to be from Gentiles also. The hour of Messiah's rejection is but the occasion for a higher glory and a more intimate relationship with those who meanwhile believe, just as the stranger in the land of Midian becomes the father of two sons which he had not when in Egypt with the sons of Israel around him.
Had Stephen invented these remarkable facts and yet more remarkable foreshadowings? No Jew, however prejudiced, could deny them to be the brief, true, and bright reflection of God's word in their own hands. The undeniable truth inspired by the Holy Ghost shone solemnly on that which they had done to One attested by God to them by works of power and wonders and signs which God wrought by Him in their midst, as they themselves too well knew. Such is man on the one hand, and such God on the other: so surprising as to provoke the unbelief and ill-will of all who do not bow to His revelation as well as to the bitter conviction of their own evil. To the believer it is the old but ever new lesson of learning the first man and the Second: where this is learnt, the heart seeks and owns it could not be otherwise, man being what he is, as also God what He is for He cannot deny Himself, though man in his blindness constantly denies both himself and God.
But the correction comes when Christ is brought home to the soul by the Holy Ghost in the gospel: one repents, and believes. Such an one reads his own evil in what man did and is: anything of iniquity in a Jew or a Gentile is not overmuch marvellous, he can find a match for Pharaoh or for Israel in his own breast if not in his own life, or in both. But greater grace assuredly than was ever shown by a Joseph or a Moses, he knows in the Son of God Who came down from heaven not to do His own will, but His Who sent Him - in the Son of man Who came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. So does faith turn all things past or future to present account; as a man's unbelief loses all blessing from every quarter, and will rather destroy his own soul than give honour really to God and His Son.
Thus was Moses an outcast for many long years, not more from the incensed king of Egypt than from his own unworthy brethren, who loved him the less, the more abundantly he loved them, and who were as unmindful of the promised deliverance as unappreciative of him who forfeited all on their account. Israel denied him who was in that day the type of the Holy and the Righteous One. It was no new thing.
'And when forty years were fulfilled, an angel [of the Lord]1 appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire of [in] a bush. And Moses, on seeing, wondered at the sight; and as he went up to observe, there came a voice of [the] Lord [unto him]2: I [am] the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and3 Isaac, and3 Jacob. And Moses trembled, and durst not observe. And the Lord said to him, Loose the sandal of thy feet, for the place whereon4 thou standest is holy ground. I have surely [lit. seeing I have] seen the ill-treatment of My people which is in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and am come down to take them out for Myself. And now come, I send [or, will send] thee into Egypt. This Moses whom they denied, saying, Who established thee ruler and judge? him hath5 God sent [both] ruler and deliverer, with an angel's hand that appeared to him in the bush. This [man] led them out, having wrought wonders and signs in the land of6 Egypt and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years. This is the Moses that said to the sons of Israel, A prophet will God7 raise up to you out of your brethren, like me' (vers. 30-37).
1 DEHP, almost all cursives and many ancient versions.
2 Most authorities but not the best.
3 'The God of' in the Authorized Version and Received Text on ample, but not the highest, authority.
4 'Wherein' is the more common reading.
5 The perfect has best, not most, support.
6 Probably Lachmann's choice of ἐν τῃ Αἰγύπτω is right (BC et al.), which may next easily have lapsed into ἐν γῃ Αἰγύπτου or ῳ both being well supported but not the oldest.
7 The Received Text adds, 'The Lord your', as in the Authorized Version, and 'him shall ye hear', but not so the oldest.
God ordered the trials for Moses as none else would. For him, at the vigorous age of forty years, spent with every natural advantage possible in that day, who would have planned an equal period in the comparative solitude of Midian, without a project or even a known communication with his race, in patient waiting on God? Yet what wiser, if God were acting in wisdom and power by Moses to His own glory?
Then came a most singular but suited manifestation: an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire of a bush. It was no less significant than that vouchsafed to Joshua at a later day (Joshua 5:13-15). When conquest of Canaan was in question, what more encouraging than a man seen with his sword drawn, captain of Jehovah's host? When the work was to bring the people through a waste howling wilderness, what more appropriate sign than a bush blazing yet unconsumed, and yet more, 'the good-will of Him that dwelt in the bush'? Moses himself, 'separated from his brethren', could well appreciate its significance, when wonder and fear had yielded to reflection in the light of the divine communications he had received.
'And as he went up to observe, there came a voice of [the] Lord, I [am] the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And Moses trembled, and durst not observe.' Before redemption, even a saint trembled when brought into God's presence. Be it that His voice declares Him the God of promise, of the fathers Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, 'Moses trembled, and durst not observe.' Till redemption peace is impossible. 'And the Lord said to him, Loose the sandal of thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.' Before the exodus of Israel from Egypt there was a manifestation of divine righteousness in delivering them and judging their oppressors. And holiness is proclaimed inviolable from the outset, not less is it so when Israel are called under Joshua to uncompromising conflict with the Canaanite dwelling in the land. 'Holiness', it was sung at a latter day for an epoch not yet fulfilled, 'becometh Thine house, O Jehovah, for ever' (Psalm 93:5). The same prefatory admonition precedes alike the types of redemption accomplished for His people, and of warring in their midst with Satan that they may enjoy their proper privileges. God will be sanctified, whatever His grace in redeeming His own from the house of bondage, or in leading them to victory over the powers which usurp their heritage. Let us not forget it. How often irreverence has crept in, both in learning divine righteousness and in conflict with the enemy! 'These things ought not so to be.'
But redemption was in His heart; and of this He forthwith speaks to Moses, now weaned from self-confidence as much as from worldly association. 'I have surely seen the ill-treatment of My people which is in Egypt and have heard their groaning, and am come down to take them out for Myself.' Who but God would have thus undisguisedly spoken of a poor set of slaves as 'My people'? Others would have delivered and bedecked them first. It is the same God Who as a father falls on the neck of the returning prodigal in his rags and kisses him, before the honours afterwards lavished upon him. But let it be the foreshadowing or the antitypical reality, it is of the utmost moment to apprehend that redemption is the work of God present in some sort, and delivering, not merely from the enemy, but for Himself. His people's ill-treatment must be avenged, their groaning be heard and answered with His consolation"; but, better still, He comes down to take them out for Himself.
'To deliver' was of course verified also but the literal rendering is much more expressive, and gives not mere relief from the usurper's hand, but the positive object, and what can surpass it? If it be often overlooked, both in doctrine and in practice, it is of the more consequence to insist on it. Elsewhere may be put forward liberation, of which it is, of course, right in its place to point out the nature and effects; but here it is God taking Israel out for Himself, as said also of Joseph in verse 10, and not infrequently elsewhere in Scripture, though the emphatic force only comes out fully in redemption. For Christ suffered once for sins, Just for unjust, that He might bring us to God. It will be manifest when we ate in glory; it is no less true now to faith while we are here on earth. Nor can any truth bound up with redemption be of deeper moment for the soul. True spiritual experience rests on and springs out of it.
'And now come, I will send thee into Egypt.' But how different now the feelings of Moses! When in Egypt, he had gone forward in his own energy, and now, when sent of God, he makes objections and difficulties. How instructive the twofold lesson for us! So it is ever. The man who was not called readily proffered to follow the Lord wheresoever He might go; as ignorant of himself and of the world and of the enemy, as of Christ. The disciple who was called begs leave first to go away and bury his father, but learns from the Lord that there must be no object before Himself. 'Follow Me' (Luke 9:57-62).
'This Moses whom they denied, saying, Who established thee ruler and judge? him hath God sent both ruler and deliverer [or, redeemer! with an angel's hand that appeared to him in the bush.' The language is framed so as to maintain the parallel between Moses, as before of Joseph, with Jesus the despised and denied Messiah, Whom God is to send from the heavens, not only to bring in generally the predicted times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, but to redeem Israel from the hand of the enemy, and to gather them out of the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. This is found in not only the New Testament but the Old, as the Lord expounded to the sorrowing disciples on the day of His resurrection, both which teach the sufferings of Christ and the glories which should follow them (Luke 24). 'Ought not Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?' Indeed, He had taught the same before His death. There will be the bright and judicial manifestation in its due season, for as the lightning, when it lighteneth out of the one part under the heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven, even so shall the Son of man be in His day. But first must He suffer many things and be rejected of this generation. Then indeed will He bless Israel, in turning every one of them away from his iniquities.
Of Him Moses was but a shadow, however honoured of God as both ruler and deliverer, with an angel's hand that appeared to him in the bush. Jesus the Son of man will Himself appear on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory; and He shall send forth His angels with a great sound of trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds from one end of the heavens to the other. A greater than Moses shall be displayed in that day; but in this day a far greater humiliation was His than that of Moses. Still in both respects the analogy was close, evident, and intentional, for the Holy Spirit in the word was providing for the help of man in warning or in blessing, and the clear intimations of scripture left the Jew especially without excuse, as Stephen demonstrates.
'This [man] led them out, having wrought wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years.' None denies that Moses stands in the front rank of great as well as good men; but it is God Who made His presence signally known and respected in what He did by him chiefly, though sometimes without him, in that long succession of wilderness patience, and of power, fruitful in wonders, abundant in instruction. Stephen's aim is, however, to give scope to an undercurrent of analogy to Christ, and hence the man Moses comes into prominence, the better to furnish it as his solemn appeal to a people who never forgot their oldest folly and never truly learnt from God when again putting them to the test. What could Moses have done in the desert without God for one day, not to speak of forty years? What wonders and signs could he otherwise have wrought in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea, before Meribah on the day of Massah in the wilderness, when the Jewish fathers tried Jehovah, proved Him, and saw His work?
There was intrinsic power in the person of the Son, Who from everlasting to everlasting is God. Only, subsisting in the form of God, He counted it not a thing to be grasped to be on an equality with God (in blessed contrast with the first man, who sought to be what he was not, to God's dishonour and in disobedience), but emptied Himself, taking a bondman's form, coming in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, yea, death of the cross. All between His birth and death was alike moral perfection; a Man Who never did, never sought, His own will, nothing but the will of God, till all closed in the yet deeper doing it by suffering for sin in death of atonement, that God might be glorified even as to sin, and we righteously delivered. But in His service, of Him pre-eminently it could be said that God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, Who went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil: for God was with Him. And if that generation denied Him, saying, Who established thee ruler and judge? none the less did God raise Him to be a more blessed Redeemer, a more glorious Ruler of the kings of the earth, as He is ordained of God to be Judge of living and dead, whilst He will also fulfil every hope of Israel according to the prophets.
No wonder therefore it is added by Stephen, 'This is the Moses that said to the sons of Israel, A prophet will God raise up to you out of your brethren, like me.' The difficulties and differences of the most celebrated Rabbis prove what a stone of stumbling is the true Christ, the Lord Jesus, to unbelieving Israel. How otherwise could we account for such a man as Abarbanel perverting the words of Deuteronomy 18:18 here cited, to Jeremiah? If there be among the prophets, yea, in all the people, a marked contrast with the honoured deliverer from Egypt and the law-giver in the wilderness, it is the mourning man of Anathoth, whose testimony and life show a continuous struggle of grief and shame between his burning sense of God's ignored rights and his love for the people of God who most of all ignored them, as well as himself. Utterly untenable is the theory of Aben Ezra and others, that Joshua is meant, who but supplemented, and in little more than one direction, Moses' work, but in no adequate way stands out as the prophet raised up from his brethren like Moses. Hence the effort of some most distinguished among the Jewish teachers to interpret as a succession this singular prophet! which is as contrary to usage in the language as to the fact in their history. Compare Numbers 12:6-8 and Deuteronomy 34:10-12. The position of mediator, whose words must be heard on pain of death, points to Moses' peculiarity, only in the highest degree true of none but Messiah. And if the Jews did not then realize the consequence of refusing to hearken to Him, soon did the threat begin to fall on their guilty heads. 'The wrath', says the apostle Paul, 'is come upon them to the uttermost' (1 Thessalonians 2:16). And not yet have they paid the last farthing. The unequalled tribulation is still before them, though a believing remnant will be delivered out of it, hearkening to Him Whom the nation opposed to their own ruin.
The parallel is yet further pursued in what follows. 'This is he that was in the assembly in the wilderness with the angel that spoke to him in the mount Sinai, and with our fathers; who received living oracles to give us: to whom our fathers would not be subject, but thrust [him] away and turned in their hearts into Egypt, saying to Aaron, Make us gods who shall go before us, for this Moses, who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him' (vers. 38-40).
Moses is presented in his mediatorial position, between the angel of Jehovah on the one hand, and 'our fathers' on the other. In the 'church' is suggestive of thoughts and associations altogether misleading. The children of Israel are meant in their collective capacity. It has not the smallest bearing on what in the New Testament is called the church of God, the body of Christ, indeed this is only noticed here in order to guard souls from an error so grave. The church is part of that 'great mystery' or secret which the apostle was given to reveal, the mystery hidden from ages and generations but now made manifest to the saints. What God was then doing by Moses was part of His ordinary dealings, when Israel so readily overlooked the promises to the fathers and took their stand, to their speedy sorrow and inevitable ruin, on their own obedience as the tenure of their blessings.
Immense indeed was the privilege vouchsafed, not only then in works, but in words of God henceforth given to man in permanence. It was not merely that the angel spake to Moses, but he 'received living oracles to give us' - an unspeakable boon, yet more characteristic of the greater than Moses, Whose coming was followed by a fresh, complete, and final revelation of divine grace and truth. Indeed the citation of Moses' own prophecy in ver. 37 prepared the way for new communications with a yet higher sanction. In vain then would Jewish unbelief idolize the servant in sight of his Master.
But on the one hand 'lively' is too slight here, as also in 1 Peter 1:3; 1Pe 2:5, on the other 'life-giving' goes too far, and at any rate is not the epithet intended; for this is to characterize the oracles themselves, not their effect on others. I know not why Mr. Humphry should have endorsed the error which KÂ?hnol adopted from Grotius. And why 'saving'? This is but to change, not to translate or to expound, any more than the opposite lowering of the sense by J. Piscator and J. Alberti as if received viva voce! 'Living' alone is right and sufficient. And how did the children of Israel treat one thus signally honoured in that day? 'They would not be subject' to him. If the fathers so treated Moses, was it surprising that their children did not receive the Messiah of Whom he prophesied, and was besides so striking a type? Thus the simple recall of scripture history vividly presents the actual guilt of the Jews where any had ears to hear. If their fathers of old thrust Moses from them, what of that incomparably more honoured Prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, so recently delivered up to be condemned and crucified? That their hearts were gone from God and turned to Egypt was plain enough then from their appeal to Aaron and from his shameless compliance. But was it less true now when a robber was preferred to 'the Anointed of the Lord'? 'Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber' (John 18:40). 'Ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you.' The difference between the fathers and the children was not in favour of those then alive, ever dull to estimate the present race, and self above all, which it most concerns men to judge aright. Yet is it exactly what the Spirit of God effects in every soul that comes to God: if there is living faith, there is true repentance.
But unbelief craves a present and visible guide. 'Make us gods who shall go before us. For this Moses, who brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him.' Israel was rebellious, when Moses was on high; and so is the Jew now that Christ is gone to heaven. But is it only the Jew? Does the Gentile stand in the truth? Only by his faith can it be, as the apostle declares. Is not Christendom high-minded, instead of humbly and heartily hearing? Is it not lifted up with pride, instead of abiding in goodness? And what must be its end? 'Thou also shalt be cut off.' Christendom, little thinking it, is doomed. If God spared not the natural branches, the Jews. He will certainly not spare the presumptuous wild-olive graft; and Israel as such shall be saved (Rom. 11).
Alas! the baptized soon forsook their own mercies and denied the special testimony for which they were responsible to God's glory before the world. They got weary of dependence on an exalted but absent Lord; they ceased to wait for His return from heaven; they practically superseded the presence and free action of the Holy Spirit in the assembly, they gave up their bridal separateness for worldly influence and favour, and they swamped grace under a system of law and ordinances: so that the word of God became of little or no effect through tradition, as departure from the truth became more and more the state of those who professed the name of the Lord. Insubjection to Him speedily bred alienation, and the heart soon turned toward that world out of which grace calls and severs to God. Men are even more naturally idolatrous than sceptical, unbelief being the mother of both these enemies to God and His truth. Men love to have gods to go before them. The true Deliverer being irksome passes readily out of mind: 'we know not what is become of him.' Is not the wilderness history prophetic? Did not these things happen as types of us that we should not be lusting after evil things, as they also lusted, nor be idolaters, as some of them? Indeed all the things recorded happened to them as types, and were written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the ages are come.
'And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice to the idol and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. But God turned and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven; as it is written in [the] book of the prophets, Did ye offer Me victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of your [or, the] god Remphan, the forms which ye made to worship them; and I will transport you beyond Babylon' (vers. 41 43). So prone is man, incredulous man, to abandon the living God, in spite of daily standing witness of His power and grace, as well as of His solemn occasional judgments before all eyes; so readily does he take up that idolatry which he had but lately known to dominate the high and mighty the refined and learned - the world, in short, where he himself had been enslaved. So powerful an adversary is 'public opinion' to the will and glory of God, even in the face of the grandest exhibitions of His favour to His people, and of stern unmistakable punishment on their enemies, and, not least, of shame on their gods who could neither help their votaries nor screen themselves. Nor did the 'calf', the abomination of Egypt, satisfy Israel; they craved after objects higher than the works of their own hands whatever the charm of this to man's vain heart. Once yielding to the snare Israel must outdo Egypt. So 'God turned and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven.' Grovelling idolatry aspires to higher things and inflates itself with its heavenly imaginations. Not Stephen is the authority for so withering a charge, but Amos (Amos 5:25-27). In the prophets' Book it is written: would an Israelite gainsay them too? or tax scripture itself with saying blasphemous things against Israel? The forms of Moloch, 'horrid king', and of Remphan, they made to worship, and they did worship them.
And not the least repulsive feature of this early corruption among the chosen people was that they offered all the while victims and sacrifices in the wilderness to Jehovah. To be lavish in honour of false gods the poorest can afford, who complain of what is due to the true God, as if He were a rigid exactor and not the Giver of every good and every perfect gift.
But divine judgment is sure if it seem to slumber, and the prophet Amos at a far later day pronounces the sentence for the sin perpetrated in the desert. Whatever may have been the aggravation afterwards, it is the firs. sin which decides. Evil never gets better, never works itself out, though it may easily, and always does, wax worse. The evil heart of unbelief departs more and more from the living God. Patience may go on for ages in ways admirable to the eye of faith; but judgment, however deferred is certain, and in due time is revealed though it may be long before it is executed.
Neither Damascus, the head of Syria (Amos 5:27), nor Babylon, the golden city, is the limit of Israel's deportation from the land they had defiled. 'I will transport you beyond' - saith the Lord. To say that 'Babylon', true in fact was an error in quotation is a statement Mr. Humphry should have left to sceptics.
'Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He that spake to Moses commanded to make it according to the model which he had seen, which also our fathers having in succession received brought [it] in with Joshua. in their taking possession of the Gentiles whom God drove out from [the] face of our fathers, until the days of David; who found favour before God and asked to find a habitation for the God1 of Jacob, but Solomon built Him a house' (vers. 44-47).
1 p.m. BDH join against all other witnesses in reading τῳ ὀίκω 'the house', instead of τῳ θεῳ 'the God', and Tischendorf actually accepts it! - 'a habitation for the house of Jacob'!
Yet all this while of idolatrous iniquity 'our fathers of Israel' had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, made as they were assured according to the model Moses had seen and God commanded. That the heathen who know not God could serve idols is not surprising, however sad their sin and inexcusable; seeing that their fathers once knew God, but glorifying Him not as God, nor thankful, they became vain in their imaginations and with darkened heart in their folly changed His glory into an image of the creature which they worshipped and served rather than the Creator Who is blessed for ever. Amen. And for this cause God delivered them up to vile affections and the most unnatural evil, as well as to a mind void of judgment, so that knowing the judgment of God against all who do such things worthy of death, they not only practise the same but have pleasure in those that do them (Romans 1:20-32).
How much more guilty were those who knew far better, who stood in national relationship with God as His own peculiar and favoured people, and had the very tent of the testimony for Him and against their ways! They bore it not only in the wilderness from father to son, but into the goodly land whence God by Joshua drove out the old heathen inhabitants that Israel might be in the possession of it, adding thus gross hypocrisy to their greedy idolatry. There is no corruption so grievous as that of God's people; and therefore His proportionate chastenings 'You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities' (Amos 3:2).
In the days of David (2 Samuel 7:1-17), the favour which God showed him wrought in the heart of the king, who asked to build a house for Jehovah, but had as his answer that Jehovah would make him a house, and that his son Solomon should build a house for His name, as Stephen here recounts.
Here then, thought the Jew, must Jehovah restrict Himself to that 'magnifical' palace of His holiness. For unbelieving man must have an idol somewhere. 'But the Highest dwelleth not in [places]1 made with hands; even as the prophet saith, The heaven [is] My throne, and the earth a footstool of My feet: what sort of house will ye build Me, saith [the] Lord, or what [is] My place of rest? Did not My hand make all these things?' (vers. 48-50). Superstitious exaltation of the temple detracts from His glory Who gives it all its distinctive grandeur. Jehovah did deign to hallow and glorify it, so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud; for the glory of Jehovah had filled the house of God. But Solomon himself at that august consecration had owned that heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him, much less the house he had just built! And so afterward spoke the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 66:1), long before Babylon was allowed to burn and destroy the object of Israel's pride. It was no afterthought to console the Jew in his subjection to Gentile masters: so had Israel's king spoken to God; and so had God spoken to Israel long before the Chaldeans had become an adversary commissioned to chastise their idolatry.
It was right and pious to own the condescending grace of Jehovah, it was presumptuous to limit His glory to the temple He was pleased to make His dwelling. The Creator had created all and was immeasurably above the universe. From such a point of view what was Jerusalem or the temple? Who was now in accord with the testimony of Solomon and of Isaiah? The accusers, or Stephen? The answer is beyond controversy, and their enmity without excuse.
In these verses we have the conclusion of the address, a most grave and pointed appeal to the consciences of the Jews who, under the form of a most instructive and wonderfully compressed summary of their national sins from first to last, heard of God's unparalleled dealings with Israel. The facts were beyond question, the language (even when most unsparing) that of their own confessedly inspired writers, the accusation therefore as unutterably solemn as it was impossible either to rebut or to evade.
1 The best authorities ABCDE, some cursives, and all the ancient versions save the Armenian, et al., have no such addition as 'temples' in the Received Text and most junior MSS., et al.
'Stiff-necked and uncircumcised in hearts1 and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers, so ye. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they slew those that announced beforehand of the coming of the Righteous One, of Whom now ye became2 betrayers and murderers, ye which received the law as ordinances of angels and kept [it] not' (vers. 51-53).
1 There is a question of reading between καρδίαις (with, or without, ταῖς), and τῃ καρδία. A few of the oldest, ACD, with some cursives, support the plural but EHP with the mass of cursives, ancient versions, et al., give the singular. The reading of the Vatican is a clerical error of καρδίας, for καρδίαις probably. Some, as the Sinaitic, add ὑμῶν.
2 The chief uncials ( ABCDE), well supported by cursives, present ἐγένεσθε 'became'; the majority of cursives, with HP, have γεγένησθε 'ye have been' which seems to have slipped, or been put, in to add force to the simple fact.
'I have seen this people' said Jehovah to Moses at the Mount Sinai 'and, behold, it is a stiff-necked people' (Exodus 32:9), again (Exodus 33:3), 'I will not go up in the midst of thee: for thou art a stiff-necked people, lest I consume thee in the way.' 'For Jehovah had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel Ye are a stiff-necked people' (ver. 5). But this very fact is turned into a pica by the skilful advocacy of the mediator: 'If now I have found grace in Thy sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray Thee, go among us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Thine inheritance' (Exodus 34:9). If Stephen repeated the word at the end of their history, it was fully borne out from the beginning. 'How much more after my death?' said Moses (Deuteronomy 31:27). 'For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days' (ver. 29). The predicted evil was about to be, as it had been already, fulfilled to the letter, and as the latter days are not yet run out, so neither is this evil exhausted: 'this generation' still repeats the same sad tale of unbelief and departure from the living God.
It is Moses again (Lev. 26) who lets Israel know how Jehovah will avenge the breach of His covenant. And yet if thus their 'uncircumcised hearts' be humbled, and they truly accept the punishment of their iniquity, then will He remember His covenant with Jacob and with Isaac and with Abraham, and will remember the land.
But there was another, and the main, fatal charge made by Stephen: 'Ye do always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers, ye also.' Before the deluge He strove with man, though Jehovah said it should not be so always, and thus set a term to His patient testimony of a hundred and twenty years (Genesis 6:3). After that judgment of the whole race, Israel was the theatre of His operations, according to the word that Jehovah covenanted with them when they came out of Egypt. But they rebelled, and vexed His Holy Spirit: therefore He was turned to be their enemy, He fought against them (Isaiah 63:10). Here again Stephen had the surest warrant for vindicating Jehovah and His Anointed, and for convicting the proud stubborn Jews of their old iniquity and opposition to every dealing of His grace. Alas! they were, as Moses told them at the outset, a very forward generation, children in whom is no faith; and without faith there is no life, nor is it possible to please God. Faith working by love seeks His glory and is subject to His word, the expression of His mind and will. Israel without faith was the sad and constant witness of a people outwardly and in profession near to God, their heart ever far from Him and pertinacious in antagonism to Him. Their rejection of the Messiah, their indifference to, or malignant contempt of, the Pentecostal Spirit, were only of a piece with their history throughout. Far yet from being the light of the blind heathen, the instructor of the benighted nations, they are the ringleader of the world's rebellion against God, uniform only in this from father to son throughout their generations.
'Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute?' The prophets dealt with the people's sin, exposing it fearlessly in the light of truth righteousness, and God's judgment, while looking onward to the kingdom of God which should set aside all evil, and the suffering Messiah should be exalted and extolled and very high. It was this confronting the wicked will of man with the light of God that condemned it, which drew out the enmity of Israel, and made the prophet an object of dishonour and hostility nowhere so much as in his own country. God was brought near; and guilty man will not have God at any price. Had Stephen gone outside the record, or misinterpreted its spirit? Jeremiah (who was not a whit behind the rest in the bitter contempt and positive persecution he had to bear from priests, prophets, and princes) bears a plain testimony to God's sending on the one hand, and to Israel's rebellion on the other. So in 2 Chronicles 36:15-16, we read, 'Jehovah God of their fathers sent to them by His messengers, rising up betimes and sending; because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of Jehovah arose against His people, till there was no remedy.' Was not Stephen then right in asking, 'Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute?'
But did not the Jews delight in the promised Messiah? Did they not eagerly anticipate His kingdom, when they will be delivered out of the hand of their enemies, and all that hate them be covered with shame and dismay, and glory dwell in their land, and blessing chase away the gross darkness of the earth? Whatever their thoughts afterwards, their bitterest rancour broke out against those that announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One. If there was any difference, such 'they slew'. It was a kingdom they wanted with ease and honour for themselves; not a King to reign in righteousness, and princes to rule in judgment. No care had they for the inalienable principles of His kingdom; no love, but heart-hatred, for every quality of the divine nature, and for God's rights, which, if in abeyance, can never be abdicated. He was in none of their thoughts, nor His Anointed; and those who held Him before them were most obnoxious to the nation, so that the occasion failed not to work their violent death. And if their children built the tombs of the prophets, and flattered themselves that they were of wholly different temper and condition, the farthest removed from participation in the guilt of the prophets' blood, they only proved thereby that they were blinded by the enemy, and they witnessed to themselves that they were sons of those that slew them.
For faith does not act in garnishing sepulchres, or in monumental tablets to the holy sufferers of days gone by; faith walks and suffers reproach, if not worse persecution, in the days that are, looking for heaven and glory only when Christ appears. Unbelief, on the contrary, seeks present satisfaction and credit in the honouring of those who render no more a living testimony to their consciences, and it falls under the cheat of the enemy who builds up the higher that hypocritical temple of worldly religion where those once despised and slain as martyrs now fill a niche as idols.
And the Lord tested, as He always does, delusion and falsehood. He sends fresh testimony, and will do so till judgment. He sent His servants when on earth; He sent them from on high, as He continues to send. And the world hates the true and faithful, as it loves its own. But He Himself is ever the most searching of all tests, and how did He fare at their hands? 'Of Whom now ye became betrayers and murderers.'
It was possible to complain of others. No saint, no prophet. was immaculate or infallible. 'In many things we all stumble' - I say not must, but do (Jam 3:2). And if it be so now, since redemption and the gift of the Holy Spirit, it was assuredly so in the less privileged times that preceded. The unfriendly eye of man could descry even in the most blessed of God's servants words and ways which were sadly short of Christ and which might be perverted into an excuse for slighting their testimony. But what could they say or think of the Righteous One Who appeals to them, 'Which of you convinceth Me of sin?' 'If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil, but if well, why smitest thou Me?' He was indeed the Holy One of God, Who did no sin, neither was guilt found in His mouth, yet was He treated with altogether unprecedented and most aggravated scorn; and though lawless men had their hand in the cross, the heart and the will of the Jews were engaged in an incomparably deeper way (John 19:11). They were betrayers and murderers of their Messiah, God's Messiah; and Stephen only applies to the living Jews around him what the prophets had declared fully of old, what David had written in the Spirit long before Isaiah and Micah, and Zechariah afterwards, to speak only of the plainest.
By one more characteristic does this most resolute witness of the Lord further explain to the Jews their position and their guilt, 'Which received the law as ordinances of angels and kept it not.' That law in which they boasted was their shame, certainly from no fault in itself, for all the evil was in them. But so it is with man, and most of all with man professing to have a religion from God. His boast is his most manifest condemnation. It matters little what he boasts in; it is at best worthless. There is indeed a resource given in God's infinite grace, where he may and ought to boast; but it is in the Lord, not truly in the law which he fondly flattered himself he was keeping, when in fact he had utterly and miserably failed, and in all its parts, Godward and manward, in himself and toward others. The Lord he had definitively disdained; nor in truth does any soul receive Him till sense of sin before God breaks him down overwhelmingly, whilst notwithstanding he casts himself on God's mercy, till he sees the rich and perfect provision made for such as he is in the offering of the body of Christ once for all. Then he does truly boast in the Lord, as it is meet he should.
The apostle's language in Galatians 3:19 by its similarity materially helps to clear up the words of Stephen here, though it is painful to observe how few seem to have profited thereby. Each word of the phrase (εἰς διαταγὰς ἀγγέλων) has been the occasion of strange perplexity and dispute among the learned to the depravation of the sense. Winer (N. T. Gr. xxxii. 4, 6) refers to Matthew 12:41 as illustrative of the force here too of the preposition, but the difference of the phrases seems to render the desired sameness impossible. 'Repenting at' the preaching of Jonah is very intelligible and clearly meant; not so 'receiving' at ordinances of angels.
Hence Alford, who follows this later suggestion of the German grammarian, understands it as 'at the injunction' of angels. But this departs from the sense we had got for διαταγὰς from Galatians 3:19, which signifies, beyond just doubt, 'ordained' or administered through angels, not 'enjoined' by them, a very different idea, as also is 'promulgated'.
Now what is the meaning of receiving the law as ordinances of angels? Those who take εἰς here as 'at' are obliged therefore, in order to make sense, to interpret διαταγὰς as 'injunctions', swerving in this from the true force of the participle in Galatians 3:19. It appears to me accordingly, that, if it be 'ordinances' here in keeping with 'ordained' there, we must understand eij" in the very common Hellenistic sense of 'as' rather than 'at', the accusative of the predicate, to which Winer had inclined in earlier editions, and, as I believe, more rightly. Israel received the law, not as a code drawn up by human wisdom, but as administered by angels, and so through their intervention, from God. Hence the solemnity of their failure to keep what was divine. The allusion seems to be to Deuteronomy 33:2. Jehovah came from Sinai, rose up from Seir unto them, He shone forth from Mount Paran, and He came from the myriads of holiness (or, holy myriads) - from His right hand a law of fire (or, fiery law) for them. Compare Psalm 68:17. It is needless to cite Josephus, Philo, or the Rabbis What is of more moment, Hebrews 2:2 quite falls in with the Galatians and with our text. In the Septuagint we find singular confusion; for, first instead of 'holiness' they seem to have understood 'Kadesh'; and yet, secondly, they bring 'His angels' into the last clause, instead of 'a law of fire'; so that their version errs greatly from the text.
The discourse is thus brought to a due conclusion; and this terse and pointed application does not sustain the notion of an abrupt stop which shut out words needful to complete Stephen's answer to the accusation. The facts adduced throughout, and now condensed in the final and most cutting appeal, which laid bare their pride not more than their persistent rebellion and extreme rum, appear to my mind singularly effective and complete. He begins with their habitual antagonism, fathers and sons alike, to the Holy Spirit, so that their prime religious badge had lost all meaning - their circumcision was become uncircumcision. They had persecuted the prophets, they had slain those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One, they had now actually betrayed and murdered Himself; and of course the law (received so solemnly through angels)1 they kept not, notwithstanding all their self-righteous pretensions, as if to have the law were to do it.
1 There is not the least ground to take angels here as human messengers: the corresponding scriptures refute the idea; and the meaning which would thus result is as unworthy of the context as it is illegitimate. Again, 'by troops of angels' is not more opposed to grammar than to philology; as also 'by' (A.V.) the disposition of angels is clearly untenable.
It was man, not left to himself like the nations who were suffered to walk in their own ways, but governed as Israel was by God's law, enlightened by prophets, blessed with the coming of the Messiah, and according to the word that Jehovah covenanted when they came out of Egypt, so His Spirit stood among them: no people till then so privileged, none so guilty, and, we may add, none so convicted; for they had broken the law, persecuted the prophets, slain the Messiah, and had always resisted the Holy Ghost (cp. Haggai 2:5).
The closing scene of Stephen, and a very momentous turning-point in God's ways, are both brought before us vividly in the verses that follow.
'Now hearing these things they were deeply cut to their hearts and were gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, looking fixedly into heaven, he saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, Lo, I behold the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God. But they crying with a loud voice held their ears and rushed upon him with one accord, and cast out of the city and stoned [him]. And the witnesses laid aside their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul, and stoned Stephen, invoking and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And kneeling down he cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And having said this he fell asleep. And Saul was consenting to the making him away' (Acts 7:54-60; Acts 8:1).
It is for the truth told in love that those who are Christ's should suffer, for this only; and so it was now. For Stephen's love and faithfulness there was hatred, as with the Master.
But a more blessed picture nowhere appears of the Christian. The Jews resisted - he was full of - the Holy Spirit; his gaze was fixed on heaven, as ours should be, and he was given to see actually, as we only by faith can see, the glory of God and Jesus at His right hand.
It is true, there is a difference. It was as yet a transitional time and Jesus he saw 'standing' there: He had not taken definitely His seat, but was still giving the Jews a final opportunity. Would they reject the testimony to Him gone on high indeed, but as a sign waiting if peradventure they might repent and He might be sent to bring in the times of refreshing here below? Stephen in these last words accentuated the call, as he said, 'Lo, I behold the heavens opened, and the Son of man' (for so He is attested, the rejected Messiah exalted in heaven for a far larger glory) 'standing at the right hand of God'. Thus not only does he look up, as the characteristic outlook of the Christian, but the heavens he sees to be opened (another fact full of blessing to us), and Jesus is beheld as Son of man in the glory of God. He Who came down Son of God in supreme love to die for us is gone up in righteousness, raised from the dead and glorified in heaven, and the believer filled with the Spirit and suffering for His sake sees Him there. Once the heavens opened on Him here as He received the Holy Spirit and 'was acknowledged Son of God. By and by from the opened heaven He will come forth King of kings and Lord of lords to execute judgment on the quick. The place and privilege of the Christian is between these two, and Stephen here sets it forth in its fullest light.
'But they crying with a loud voice held their ears and rushed upon him with one accord, and cast out of the city and stoned [him]: and the witnesses laid aside their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul, and stoned Stephen invoking and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit' (vers. 57-59). Such was religious man, not secular nor heavenly, but now filled with murderous wrath, because he stands convicted of opposition to the present and full truth of God, utterly blind alike to His grace and His glory. And in that guilty scene was one not less dark and infuriated than the rest, Saul of Tarsus, afterward to be the witness of the very Jesus Whom he was then persecuting in Stephen's person, for he not only beheld, but took the part here assigned to him with those that stoned Stephen invoking and saying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'
There is no ground for the addition in the Authorized Version of 'God', and a questionable need for that in the Revised Version of 'the Lord'. It was on the Lord that His dying servant called, as the blessed Lord dying commended His spirit to His Father's hands.
Each is exquisitely in place, which here is somewhat rudely disturbed by the common version. No one doubts that the usual address is to God to the Father; but as little should it be forgotten that there are special circumstances where we not only may but ought to call on 'the Lord', as we see in Acts 1:24, and also in 2 Corinthians 12:8. But in no case is it sweeter than when the servant dies for his Master as here, though he rightly puts it as a prayer to the Lord to receive his spirit; not as the Lord Jesus so appropriately, and according to scripture, commended His spirit into His Father's hands.
But this is far from all, blessed as it is. For 'kneeling down he cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.' - There was nothing of consequence in calling with a loud voice on the Lord; for well he knew that He would hear and answer a whispered petition - that He would receive his spirit - as readily as in the loudest tones. His importunate earnestness was for others, divine love for his enemies then murdering him. It was also the reproduction of the spirit of Christ, the practical anticipation of what Peter exhorted later the saints to do: If ye do well suffer for it, and take it patiently, this is acceptable [this is grace] with God (1 Peter 2:20). It is more than taking patiently, as it was then simple suffering for well-doing and Christ. But it is set before us as the pattern for a believer now; practical grace rising above all injury and malice; present and perfect rest in the Saviour, as became a heavenly man full of the Holy Spirit.
'And having said this, he fell asleep.' Well he might: his work was done and well done; and his cup of suffering filled to the brim, but only so as to bring out his last and fervent cry, the intercession of love to the Lord on behalf of those who were slaying His servant.
'And Saul', it is added quietly, 'was consenting to the making him away' (Acts 8:1). He was not there accidentally, nor without full participation in the bloody business of that never-to-be-forgotten day. It is not so that man would have chosen him who was to be the most self-denying, laborious, and effective workman the Lord ever raised up in the gospel; the most comprehensive, profound, and elevated of apostles in leading the church into the hitherto unrevealed mystery of its union with Christ the Head over all things. A darker page, we know, has yet to be traced, and never more than the day which dawned on his conversion. But how often it is so in the ways of sovereign grace! 'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts' (Isaiah 55:8-9). It is ordered thus that no flesh should glory before God; but he that glorieth let him glory in the Lord. So it is written (1 Cor. 1 29, 31).
LONDON C. A. HAMMOND 11 LITTLE BRITAIN, E.C.1 1952
And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran,
And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee.
Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell.
And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child.
And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years.
And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place.
And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs.
And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him,
And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.
Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan, and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance.
But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first.
And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph's kindred was made known unto Pharaoh.
Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls.
So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers,
And were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem.
But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt,
Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph.
The same dealt subtilly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live.
In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father's house three months:
And when he was cast out, Pharaoh's daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son.
And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.
And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel.
And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian:
For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.
And the next day he shewed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another?
But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?
Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday?
Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons.
And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush.
When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the Lord came unto him,
Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold.
Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground.
I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee into Egypt.
This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush.
He brought them out, after that he had shewed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years.
This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear.
This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:
To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt,
Saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us: for as for this Moses, which brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.
And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.
Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness?
Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babylon.
Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen.
Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David;
Who found favour before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.
But Solomon built him an house.
Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet,
Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest?
Hath not my hand made all these things?
Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.
Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:
Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.
When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.
But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,
And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.