A Commentary in Simple English on The Acts of the ApostlesHome Acts Index Notes Previous Page Next Page
| CHAPTER 7 This Chapter is not at all like the rest of the
Book of Acts. We may wonder whether Paul told Luke what Stephen had said.
Perhaps there was a written record.
Verses 1-53 Stephen speaks to the Jewish Council
So Stephen stands in front of the Jewish Council. In verse 1, the high priest gives Stephen the time to speak. The high priest is probably still Caiaphas. Stephen can answer the charges which the Jews had made against him. See 6:13 and 14. This is not really what he does in the long speech which follows. He is more willing to use the time to speak of God’s truth. He must have known all along what the Jews would do to him. He wanted to give all the glory to God.
There are several places in the Bible where the writers tell the story of Israel. It is not just Israel’s history. It is really the history of what God did for Israel. See, for example, Psalms 78, 105, 106, 135 and 136, and Nehemiah 9. Stephen does this now. He is able to pick out things from Israel’s story. There is so much that he could say. But he can choose those things which will prove his point. It helps us if we think about the ideas of the people to whom Stephen spoke. We can then tell why Stephen said what he did.
So Stephen begins (verse 2) right back in Genesis 12:1. God spoke to Abraham, who was then called Abram. This was about the year 1850BC. This was not in the Land of Promise. It was not in the holy city of Jerusalem. It was not in the Temple. It was far away to the east in one of several places which were called Ur. No one knows which of these places it was. The point which Stephen makes is this. God can speak to us where we are. He does not have to wait for us to travel to some holy city.
(Verse 3) God called Abram to leave his home and his friends. This is how God often speaks to His people. The Jews loved Jerusalem and wanted to stay there. (Verse 4) Perhaps Abram could not move on from Haran because Terah, his father, was ill. Haran was about 600km. north of the Land of Promise. Later on, Abram made this long journey. This is the land where you now live, Stephen tells the Council. God had kept the promise which He gave to Abraham. Verse 6 speaks about Egypt, the land which did not belong to Israel. There, the free people, the Jews, would become slaves. In verse 8, Stephen quickly passes over the lives of Isaac and Jacob.
Verses 9-16 tell the story of Joseph. This begins in Genesis 37 and goes on in Genesis 38-50. Ten of the brothers of Joseph wanted to kill him. Yet it was Joseph who would save the rest of his family. Stephen wants the Council to see that they ‘boiled with envy’ when they put Jesus to death. Yet it was Jesus who was the Saviour. Joseph prayed and God heard and answered him. He prayed in a prison in Egypt, not in the Temple. ‘God was with Joseph’ (verse 9) in Egypt rather than with the other brothers in the Land of Promise.
(Verse 14) There is a problem here. Genesis 46:26 gives the number of Jacob’s family as 66. To this we can add Joseph and his two sons. The figure of 75 seems to take in some more sons of Joseph. There is no way to explain verse 16. The cave which Abraham bought in Genesis 23 was at Hebron in the south of the Land of Promise. See Genesis 50: 1-14 for the burial of Jacob at Hebron. For the burial of Joseph, see Joshua 24:32. This was at Shechem. The Old Testament does not say anything about the burial of the other brothers of Joseph.
The Jewish Council would not like to hear about Shechem. They hated the Samaritans who lived there. In verse 17, Stephen tells how Israel grew from a tribe of about 70 people. It was in Egypt that God made them into a nation. When they came to Egypt they shared the honour which Joseph had enjoyed.
(Verse 18) Four hundred years later, the Egyptians had forgotten all about Joseph. Israel became a nation of slaves.
The next part of the speech is from verse 20 down to verse 41. Stephen tells the story of the first part of the life of Moses. Moses was born under sentence of death. (Verse 19) Yet he was born to save his people, like Jesus. God prepared Moses for the work which he was to do. (Verse 22) But the Jews did not see that God had sent Moses to set them free. (Verses 23 to 27) Moses had to escape from Egypt. Israel were slaves in Egypt for forty more long years.
God renewed His call to Moses to do His work (verses 30 to 34). Once Israel had not wanted him. Now he led them to freedom. (Verses 35 and 36) In verse 37, Stephen uses some words from Deuteronomy 18:15. We have already found these words in Acts 3:22. There, it was Peter who used them. Moses means that Israel are not to forget him or his work. Yet they are not to think that he is the only man that God will use. God will speak to His people through other faithful men. What Moses said was not God’s last word to His people.
The Jews in the Council thought that they honoured the memory of Moses. So in verses 39-41 Stephen shows them how quickly the Jews forgot the wonders that God had done at the Exodus. (See verse 36) In the same way, the Jews who listened to Stephen forgot the wonders which Jesus had done.
In verse 42, Stephen still speaks about the time of Moses. Israel sinned, when they made a calf from gold. They called it their ‘god’. We may think about Romans 1:21-24. God turned away from Israel. Stephen seems to join together the false worship of the calf and the worship of the stars. He goes on to use words from the Book of Amos, who wrote about the year 760BC. This was hundreds of years later than the time of Moses. These words come from Amos 5:25-27. When Amos wrote, the Assyrians were the great power. They did worship the stars. It is clear enough that people in the kingdom of Israel did the same.
So what Amos means is that the Jews did worship God in the time of Moses. They killed animals in worship. They bowed and knelt down. (Psalm 95:6) Yet their hearts were hard (Psalm 95:8). It is worship that comes from our hearts that God wants. So in verse 43, we have the picture from Amos of star worship. And God says that He will send His own people away from the Land of Promise. There are many problems in these words. [7.1]
Stephen quickly passes on from the great Tent for worship. Israel made this. God told Moses exactly what to do. In verse 45, Israel enter the Land with Joshua as their leader. David (verse 45) and Solomon (verse 46) get a few words each. It was Solomon who built the first Temple in Jerusalem. God had given him wisdom. Yet Solomon fell into sin.
Verse 48 may make us think about the teaching of Jesus in John 4:21. The Jerusalem Temple was the third to be built there. It was much bigger and far richer than the other two had been. God is the Most High. He is far higher than the stars which foolish men worship. After all, He made the stars (verses 49 and 50). So now Stephen uses the words of Isaiah 66:1 and 2. It is always good to look up verses like these. Here God almost seems to say that to Him, it is hard to find the Jerusalem Temple. God will be with the man who is humble. He will be with the man who listens to God’s word. No Temple which men may build is good enough for God to live in. Such temples may be good enough for false ‘gods’!
In verse 51, Stephen moves on from the story of Israel. The Council could not argue about that, although they might not like what Stephen says. What Stephen added next really did make them angry.
a) God calls Israel ‘stiff necked’ as far back as Exodus 32:9. It is just
what the Greek word means. ‘Stubborn’ is a good English word for this. Now
Stephen calls the Jewish leaders ‘stiff necked’. They will not turn their
heads to see what they do not want to see.
Verse 53 gathers together most of what Stephen said. God had honoured the
Jews when He gave them the law. Stephen has no wish to speak against Moses
or the Law. It was part of the honour which God gave to the Jews that angels
shared in the work. Yet the Jews had not obeyed the Law down the ages.
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