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The Martyrdom of Stephen
Summary —Stephen Outlines God's Dealings with Abraham. The Christ Promised. Abraham a Man of Faith Before Circumcision Was Appointed. The Patriarchs Sell Joseph into Bondage, Ignorant of the Counsels of God. The Israelites in Egypt First Reject Moses Their Deliverer. The Rejected Moses Is Their Savior. He Predicted a Prophet Like Unto Himself. The Tabernacle and Temple Built, Though God Dwells Not in. Temples Made with Hands. The Jews of Stephen's Time Were Like Their Fathers in Resisting God. Had Slain the Holy One and Had Not Kept the Law. The Outburst of Rage. Stephen Stoned by the Mob.
2. Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken. In order to make his defence, to unveil the fact that his accusers were fighting God, and to preach Christ, Stephen rapidly outlines Jewish history. Every fact cited has a point. Note (1) that Abraham was called in uncircumcision, and the Christ promised through his seed before he was circumcised; (2) that Joseph, the type of Christ, was rejected by his brethren, and afterwards saves them; (3) that Moses is also rejected and despised, but that God makes choice of him to save Israel; (4) that the Israelites went whoring after false gods and were carried into captivity; (5) that God had the tabernacle and temple built, but was particular to assure Israel that he dwelt not in temples made with human hands; (6) that their Moses, rejected, whom the people refused to obey, predicted a prophet like unto himself, and (7) that in the rejection of Christ they showed just the same spirit as their fathers who had rejected and slain the prophets who predicted Christ's coming. The speech is pointed, logical, and powerful, not intended to conciliate, but to show the Jews their own sins. The God of glory appeared unto … Abraham … in Mesopotamia. See Gen. 12:1. Abraham's childhood home was at Ur of the Chaldees in Mesopotamia, the country between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Gen. 12:1 gives a second call at Haran, or Charran (the same), but Stephen declares that the family had gone from Ur to Charran, because of an earlier call. Charran was on the route to Canaan, and Abraham made a stop there of five years, until his father died (Gen. 11:31, 32). See verse 4 of this chapter.
5. Gave him none inheritance in it. Abraham possessed Canaan only by faith. He looked to the fulfillment of the promise, that it would be the possession of his children when he had neither land nor seed. See Heb. 11:8–16.
6. His seed should sojourn in a strange land. See Gen. 15:13, 16. In Egypt. Four hundred years. In round numbers, counting from the time the seed, Isaac, should be born to the Exodus. It is stated in Exod. 12:40 that the sojourning of the children of Israel was 430 years. This includes the period from the call of Abraham to the Exodus. See Gal. 3:16, 17. But Isaac was born about thirty years after the call of Abraham, which leaves Stephen's period of 400 years.
8. And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. After his call and the promise of Christ. See Gen. 17:1–14. The covenant of Christ was for all; circumcision for the Jews.
9. The patriarchs, moved with envy. The sons of Jacob. See Gen. 37:28. As they rejected Joseph, their descendants rejected Jesus. God was with him. With the one rejected, and raised him to royal honors in the house of Pharaoh.
11. There came a dearth. For the history of Joseph, begin at chapter 39, and read to the close of Genesis. For the account of the famine and the visit to Egypt of the ten brethren, see Gen. 42 and 43.
14. Then sent Joseph. The rejected Joseph becomes the prince and savior of all Israel. Threescore and fifteen souls. Gen. 46:27 says that sixty-six persons besides Jacob, Joseph and his two sons, seventy in all, were in Egypt. But the Septuagint Version, quoted almost invariably by Christ and the apostles, as well as by Stephen here, after giving the sixty-six, adds: “And the sons of Joseph born in Egypt were nine souls.” The nine, added to the sixty-six, make the seventy-five that Stephen gives. Why this clause was omitted from the Hebrew text, followed by the Common Version, is unknown. Stephen simply follows the text received by Christ, the apostles, and the Jews generally.
16. And were carried over into Sychem. Jacob was buried at Hebron in the cave of Machpelah (Gen. 50:13), but the fathers were buried in Sychem. We are told (Josh. 24:32) that Joseph was buried there, and Jewish tradition always affirmed that his brethren were buried there also. Jerome, in the fourth century, said that their tombs were still to be seen. He lived in Palestine. That Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor. For an account of this purchase, see Gen. 33:19 and Josh. 24:32. The difficulty arises that it was Jacob that made the purchase instead of Abraham. Some have supposed that Stephen, in the hurry of a rapid speech under exciting circumstances, by an oversight used the name of Abraham for Jacob; others have thought that Abraham did make the purchase first and that it was repeated by Jacob. Neither of these views are probable. Had Stephen made a lapsus, it would have been corrected by Luke, who wrote under Paul's supervision (see Introduction), so as to give Stephen's meaning. It is far more probable that some copyist, by oversight, first wrote “Abraham” for “Jacob,” and that the MSS. that have come down to us were made from that copy. There can hardly be a doubt that a man so learned in the Scriptures as Stephen, and making an inspired defence, said Jacob.
17. The time of the promise. Of deliverance from Egypt. See Gen. 15:13, 14. Which God had sworn. Solemnly promised. There is no account of a formal oath. “Every divine assurance is equivalent to an oath.”—Maimonides.
18–21. For an account of the persecution of Israel and birth of Moses, see Exod. 1 and 2.
22. Moses was learned. He was reared as “the son of Pharaoh's daughter” (Heb. 11:24), and would be educated in all the accomplishments of his time. We know from the researches of the Egyptologists (see Rawlinson's Egypt) that at the period of Moses there were great universities for the education of all who were expected to engage in public employments. Eber's Uarda gives a good picture of Egypt when Moses was a child.
23–29. For the accounts here given, see Exod. 2:11–15. Compare Heb. 11:24. Observe the point of Stephen, that Israel rejected Moses as “a ruler and judge over them,” as they had rejected Joseph and Jesus. Yet God chose both Joseph and Moses to be their saviors and rulers.
30–34. For the call of Moses, see Exod. 3:1–10.
35, 36. This Moses whom they refused. With great force Stephen makes his application. This Moses they refused, but God sent him as their ruler and deliverer. If his hearers failed to see the point, the next verse makes it clear.
37. This is that Moses, which said. This rejected Moses who was chosen by God to be a prince and a savior hath said, A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up … like unto me. Like me, “of your brethren;” like me, rejected and despised by Israel; like me, exalted to be a Prince and a Savior by God. See Deut. 18:15–19.
38. This is he. Moses. That was in the church in the wilderness. The congregation of Israel, the typical church. Moses was its mediator. With the angel. The angel of the Covenant, who communicated the law to Moses in Sinai. See verse 53 and Exod. 23:20, 23. Lively oracles. The Word of life.
39–42. These verses summarize the unbelief, disbelief and waywardness of Israel under Moses. The point is to show that the rejection of Christ harmonizes with their past history. See Exod. 16:3; 17:4; 32:1–14; Deut. 4:19. Did ye offer unto me slain beasts and sacrifices? This passage is quoted from Amos 5:25–27. The emphasis is on me. Did ye not offer them to false gods also? The next verse gives the reply.
43. Ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch. Israel turned to the abominable worship of Moloch and other false gods, and hence shall be carried into Captivity. Moloch, a god of the Amorites, worshiped by human sacrifices. Remphan. Some planet worshiped as a god. Beyond Babylon. A punishment brought on all Israel for its sins, predicted by Amos. Observe still his point of showing their national sinfulness.
44–50. Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness. The tabernacle built at Sinai, a witness of the Covenant (Num. 18:2), and of the good things to come (Heb. 8:5). This tabernacle, built by God's command, according to his pattern (Exod. 25:9, 40), they had rejected for “the tabernacle of Moloch” (verse 43). Which also our fathers … brought in with Jesus. Joshua, the Hebrew form for Jesus. He and the later generations of Jews brought this tabernacle into Canaan when they conquered it. Desired to find a tabernacle. David, who sought to build a permanent temple (2 Sam. 7:2; 1 Chron. 22:7). He was restrained from building the temple, and it was erected by Solomon (2 Chron. 6:7, 8). 48. Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not. See 2 Chron. 6:18. The argument is that the tabernacle was laid aside for the temple by God's command; that God does not confine himself in any house made with hands, and hence the temple also might be laid aside. God's real temple was greater than the building they reverenced so superstitiously. See Isa. 66:1–2.
51. Ye stiffnecked. Stubborn, like the ox which refuses to bend its neck for the yoke. Stephen now makes his direct application. Uncircumcised. Aliens in heart from God. The uncircumcised were aliens from Israel. Stephen told them that spiritually they were heathen. They, like their fathers, resist the Holy Ghost. The will of God.
52, 53. Which of the prophets, etc.? Their fathers habitually persecuted the prophets and slew some of them who predicted Christ (see lives of Isaiah and Jeremiah). Now they, his hearers, were murderers of the Just One. Received the law by the disposition of angels. Through the ministration of angels. See Deut. 29:29. Have not kept it. Pretending to be very scrupulous observers of the law, they were wicked law-breakers.
55. Looked up stedfastly into heaven. The Lord who had promised his presence was with him. His faith was so strengthened that, by faith, he saw the Savior in Heaven, through the opened heavens. The scene was revealed to his soul, instead of his eyes.
57. Cried out with a loud voice. They cried, closed their ears to what they called blasphemy, then, in a tumult, without a vote on his guilt or innocence, rushed upon him to slay him, though yet uncondemned legally.
58. Cast him out of the city. See Lev. 24:14. Though committing murder, they were scrupulous to comply with their custom of execution outside of the city. And stoned him. Jesus was crucified, because the Romans put him to death; Stephen was stoned, because Jesus slew him. Stoning was their usual method of execution. The witnesses. The witnesses had to cast the first stones (Deut. 13:10; 17:7). Though doing all in a tumult, without the consent of the Roman governor, the forms of the law were observed. At a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. Chrysostom says that this young man, who was to become so celebrated, was now about thirty-five. Hackett thinks we was about thirty. For a fuller account of him, see Acts 9:1, note.
59, 60. Stoned Stephen. Repeated to show that in the storm of stones he committed himself to Jesus. Kneeled down. Either voluntarily, or brought to his knees by the cruel blows. The point is that in his sufferings, like his Master, he prayed for his enemies. Saul, no doubt, noted this, and it had its effect. He fell asleep. To wake again at his Savior's voice. The death of Stephen was a murder, instead of an execution, because (1) no vote of the Sanhedrim was taken, and (2) the consent of the Roman governor, requisite to capital punishment, was not obtained. Consult John 18:32, note.
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