Defense and Martyrdom of Stephen.
In this long defense Stephen takes a much wider
range, and goes less directly into the point raised by his accusers,
than we should have expected. His object seems to have been to show (1)
that so far from disparaging, he deeply reverenced, and was intimately
conversant with, the whole history of the ancient economy; and (2) that
in resisting the erection of the Gospel kingdom they were but treading
in their fathers' footsteps, the whole history of their nation being
little else than one continued misapprehension of God's high designs
towards fallen man and rebellion against them.
2-5. The God of glory—A magnificent
appellation, fitted at the very outset to rivet the devout attention of
his audience; denoting not that visible glory which attended many of
the divine manifestations, but the glory of those manifestations
themselves, of which this was regarded by every Jew as the fundamental
one. It is the glory of absolutely free grace.
appeared unto our father Abraham before he dwelt
in Charran, and said, &c.—Though this first call is not
expressly recorded in Genesis, it is clearly implied in Ge 15:7 and Ne
9:7; and the Jewish writers
speak the same language.
4. when his father was dead, he removed into this
land—Though Abraham was in Canaan before Terah's death, his
settlement in it as the land of promise is here said to be after it, as
being in no way dependent on the family movement, but a transaction
purely between Jehovah and Abraham himself.
6-8. four hundred years—using round
numbers, as in Ge 15:13, 16 (see on Ga
7. after that shall they come forth, and serve me
in this place—Here the promise to Abraham (Ge 15:16), and that to Moses (Ex 3:12), are combined; Stephen's object being
merely to give a rapid summary of the leading facts.
8. the covenant of circumcision—that is,
the covenant of which circumcision was the token.
and so—that is, according to the terms
of this covenant, on which Paul reasons (Ga 3:1-26).
the twelve patriarchs—so called as the
founders of the twelve tribes of Israel.
9-16. the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph
into Egypt, but God was with him—Here Stephen gives his first
example of Israel's opposition to God's purposes, in spite of which
and by means of which those purposes were accomplished.
14. threescore and fifteen
souls—according to the Septuagint version of Ge 46:27, which Stephen follows, including
the five children and grandchildren of Joseph's two sons.
17. But when—rather, "as."
the time of the promise—that is, for
the people grew and multiplied in
Egypt—For more than two hundred years they amounted to no
more than seventy-five souls; how prodigious, then, must have been
their multiplication during the latter two centuries, when six hundred
thousand men, fit for war, besides women and children, left Egypt!
20-22. In which time—of deepest
Moses was born—the destined
exceeding fair—literally, "fair to
God" (Margin), or, perhaps, divinely "fair" (see on Heb 11:23).
22. mighty in words—Though defective in
utterance (Ex 4:10); his
recorded speeches fully bear out what is here said.
and deeds—referring probably to
unrecorded circumstances in his early life. If we are to believe Josephus, his ability was acknowledged ere he
23-27. In Ac 7:23, 30, 36, the life of Moses is represented as
embracing three periods, of forty years each; the Jewish writers say
the same; and though this is not expressly stated in the Old Testament,
his age at death, one hundred twenty years (De 34:7), agrees with it.
it came into his heart to visit his
brethren—his heart yearning with love to them as God's chosen
people, and heaving with the consciousness of a divine vocation to set
24. avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the
Egyptian—going farther in the heat of his indignation than he
25. For he supposed his brethren would have
understood, &c.—and perhaps imagined this a suitable
occasion for rousing and rallying them under him as their leader; thus
anticipating his work, and so running unsent.
but they understood not—Reckoning on a
spirit in them congenial with his own, he had the mortification to find
it far otherwise. This furnishes to Stephen another example of
Israel's slowness to apprehend and fall in with the divine purposes
26. next day he showed himself unto them as they
strove—Here, not an Israelite and an Egyptian, but two
parties in Israel itself, are in collision with each other; Moses,
grieved at the spectacle, interposes as a mediator; but his
interference, as unauthorized, is resented by the party in the wrong,
whom Stephen identifies with the mass of the nation (Ac 7:35), just as Messiah's own
interposition had been spurned.
28, 29. Wilt thou kill me, as thou didst the
Egyptian yesterday?—Moses had thought the deed unseen (Ex 2:12), but it now appeared he was
29. Then fled Moses, &c.—for "when
Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses" (Ex 2:15).
30-34. an angel of the Lord—rather, "the
Angel of the Covenant," who immediately calls Himself Jehovah (Compare Ac 7:38).
35-41. This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who
made thee a ruler and a judge, &c.—Here, again, "the
stone which the builders refused is made the head of the corner"
37. This is that Moses which said … A
prophet … him shall ye hear—This is quoted to remind
his Moses-worshipping audience of the grand testimony of their faithful
lawgiver, that he himself was not the last and proper object of the
Church's faith, but only a humble precursor and small model of Him to
whom their absolute submission was due.
38. in the church—the collective body of
God's chosen people; hence used to denote the whole body of the
faithful under the Gospel, or particular sections of them.
This is he that was in the church in the
wilderness, with the angel … and with our fathers—alike
near to the Angel of the Covenant, from whom he received all the
institutions of the ancient economy, and to the people, to whom he
faithfully reported the living oracles and among whom he set up the
prescribed institutions. By this high testimony to Moses, Stephen
rebuts the main charge for which he was on trial.
39. To whom our fathers would not obey,
&c.—Here he shows that the deepest dishonor done to Moses
came from the nation that now professed the greatest jealousy for his
in their hearts turned back … into
Egypt—"In this Stephen would have his hearers read the
downward career on which they were themselves entering."
42-50. gave them up—judicially.
as … written in the book of the
prophets—the twelve minor prophets, reckoned as one: the
passage is from Am 5:25.
have ye offered to me …
sacrifices?—The answer is, Yes, but as if ye did it not; for
"neither did ye offer to Me only, nor always, nor with a perfect and
willing heart" [Bengel].
43. Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Molech,
&c.—Two kinds of idolatry are charged upon the Israelites:
that of the golden calf and that of the heavenly bodies; Molech and
Remphan being deities, representing apparently the divine powers
ascribed to nature, under different aspects.
carry you beyond Babylon—the
well-known region of the captivity of Judah; while "Damascus" is used
by the prophet (Am 5:27),
whither the ten tribes were carried.
44. Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in
the wilderness—which aggravated the guilt of that idolatry in
which they indulged, with the tokens of the divine presence constantly
in the midst of them.
45. which … our fathers that came
after—rather, "having received it by succession"
(Margin), that is, the custody of the tabernacle from their
brought in with Jesus—or Joshua.
into the possession—rather, "at the
taking possession of [the territory of] the Gentiles."
unto the days of David—for till then
Jerusalem continued in the hands of the Jebusites. But Stephen's object
in mentioning David is to hasten from the tabernacle which he set up,
to the temple which his son built, in Jerusalem; and this only to show,
from their own Scripture (Isa 66:1, 2), that even that temple,
magnificent though it was, was not the proper resting-place of
Jehovah upon earth; as his audience and the nations had all along
been prone to imagine. (What that resting-place was, even "the
contrite heart, that trembleth at God's word," he leaves to be
gathered from the prophet referred to).
51-53. Ye stiffnecked … ye do always resist
the Holy Ghost, &c.—It has been thought that symptoms of
impatience and irritation in the audience induced Stephen to cut short
his historical sketch. But as little farther light could have been
thrown upon Israel's obstinacy from subsequent periods of the national
history on the testimony of their own Scriptures, we should view this
as the summing up, the brief import of the whole Israelitish
history—grossness of heart, spiritual deafness, continuous
resistance of the Holy Ghost, down to the very council before whom
Stephen was pleading.
52. Which of, &c.—Deadly
hostility to the messengers of God, whose high office it was to
tell of "the Righteous One," that well-known prophetic title of Messiah
(Isa 53:11; Jer 23:6, &c.), and this consummated by
the betrayal and murder of Messiah Himself, on the part of those
now sitting in judgment on the speaker, are the still darker features
of the national character depicted in these withering words.
53. Who have received the law by the
disposition—"at the appointment" or "ordination," that is, by
of angels, and have not kept it—This
closing word is designed to shut up those idolizers of the law under
the guilt of high disobedience to it, aggravated by the august manner
in which they had received it.
54-56. When they heard these things they were cut
to the heart, &c.—If they could have answered him,
how different would have been their temper of mind!
55. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked
up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God—You who
can transfer to canvas such scenes as these, in which the rage of hell
grins horribly from men, as they sit condemned by a frail prisoner of
their own, and see heaven beaming from his countenance and opening full
upon his view—I envy you, for I find no words to paint what, in
the majesty of the divine text, is here so simply told. "But how could
Stephen, in the council-chamber, see heaven at all? I suppose this
question never occurred but to critics of narrow soul, one of whom
[Meyer] conjectures that he saw it
through the window! and another, of better mould, that the scene lay in
one of the courts of the temple" [Alford]. As the sight was witnessed by Stephen
alone, the opened heavens are to be viewed as revealed to his bright
and Jesus standing on the right hand of
God—Why "standing," and not sitting, the
posture in which the glorified Saviour is elsewhere represented?
Clearly, to express the eager interest with which He watched from the
skies the scene in that council chamber, and the full tide of His
Spirit which He was at that moment engaged in pouring into the heart of
His heroical witness, till it beamed in radiance from his very
56. I see … the Son of man standing,
&c.—This is the only time that our Lord is by human lips
called THE Son of Man after His
ascension (Re 1:13; 14:14 are not instances). And why here?
Stephen, full of the Holy Ghost, speaking now not of himself at all
7:55), but entirely by the
Spirit, is led to repeat the very words in which Jesus Himself,
before this same council, had foretold His glorification (Mt 26:64), assuring them that that
exaltation of the Son of Man which they
should hereafter witness to their dismay, was already begun and actual
57, 58. Then they cried out … and ran upon
him with one accord—To men of their mould and in their
temper, Stephen's last seraphic words could but bring matters to
extremities, though that only revealed the diabolical spirit which they
58. cast him out of the city—according
to Le 24:14; Nu 15:35; 1Ki 21:13; and see Heb 13:12.
and stoned—"proceeded to stone" him.
The actual stoning is recorded in Ac 7:59.
and the witnesses—whose hands were to
be first upon the criminal (De 17:7).
laid down their clothes—their loose
outer garments, to have them taken charge of.
at a young man's feet whose name was
Saul—How thrilling is this our first introduction to one to
whom Christianity—whether as developed in the New Testament or as
established in the world—owes more perhaps than to all the other
apostles together! Here he is, having perhaps already a seat in the
Sanhedrim, some thirty years of age, in the thick of this tumultuous
murder of a distinguished witness for Christ, not only "consenting unto
his death" (Ac 8:1), but
doing his own part of the dark deed.
59, 60. calling upon God and saying, Lord
Jesus, &c.—An unhappy supplement of our translators is
the word "God" here; as if, while addressing the Son, he was really
calling upon the Father. The sense is perfectly clear without any
supplement at all—"calling upon [invoking] and saying, Lord
Jesus"; Christ being the Person directly invoked and addressed by name
9:14). Even Grotius, De Wette,
Meyer, &c., admit this, adding
several other examples of direct prayer to Christ; and Pliny, in his well-known letter to the Emperor
Trajan (A.D. 110 or 111), says it was
part of the regular Christian service to sing, in alternate strains, a
hymn to Christ as God.
Lord Jesus, receive my spirit—In
presenting to Jesus the identical prayer which He Himself had on the
cross offered to His Father, Stephen renders to his glorified Lord
absolute divine worship, in the most sublime form, and at the most
solemn moment of his life. In this commitment of his spirit to Jesus,
Paul afterwards followed his footsteps with a calm, exultant confidence
that with Him it was safe for eternity (2Ti 1:12).
60. cried with a loud voice—with
something of the gathered energy of his dying Lord (see on Joh 19:16-30).
Lord—that is, Jesus, beyond doubt, whom he had just before
addressed as Lord.
lay not this sin to their
charge—Comparing this with nearly the same prayer of his
dying Lord, it will be seen how very richly this martyr of Jesus had
drunk into his Master's spirit, in its divinest form.
he fell asleep—never said of the
death of Christ. (See on 1Th 4:14). How
bright the record of this first martyrdom for Christ, amidst all the
darkness of its perpetrators; and how many have been cheered by it to
like faithfulness even unto death!