January 25, 2014
Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles
By: Tom Lowe
Lesson II.E.3: Stephen’s Sermon (7:1-53)
Part 3: verses 37-53
37 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 that Moses which said unto the children of Israel.
Steven acknowledges Moses as the Lawgiver, but he shows by Moses’ own words that the Law pointed to a more perfect thing, that is to say, to the prophetical office, of which Christ is both the chief Prophet and the head of all Prophets.
This is that Moses who was rejected by his people, and who was chosen by God to be a prince and a savior. What he said is recorded here and in Deuteronomy 18:15, and in Deuteronomy 18:18, and in Acts 3:22. Moses said it in the first two places and Peter in the third on the occasion of the healing of the lame man.
This is that Moses, which said - A prophet, etc. - This very Moses, so highly esteemed and honored by God,
A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear.
What was behind this statement by Stephen? It may have been said for one or all of the following reasons:
Stephen said it to remind them of the promise of a Messiah; to show his faith in that promise; and "particularly" to remind them of their obligation to hear and obey Him.
This was quoted to remind his Moses-worshipping judges of the wonderful testimony of their faithful lawgiver, that he himself was not the last and grand object of the Church's faith, but only a humble predecessor and lesser model of Him to whom they owed total submission.
Steven intended to show his audience that while they boast that Moses is their teacher now that he is dead, that they refused to believe him when he was alive.
Moses promised that there would come after him another Prophetand warned Israel to take special care to listen to this comingProphet.But just like Israel rejected Moses, they rejected Jesus, who is theProphet Moses spoke of. But they went further than Moses’ persecutors did, and put Jesus to death.
This is the greatest honor God ever put upon him, that he gave notice to the children of Israel of the great Prophet that would come into the world; he raised their expectation of him, and required them to receive him.He was not guilty of blaspheming Moses, but instead did him the greatest honor imaginable, by showing how the prophecy of Moses was accomplished, which was made so clear by Christ when He told them himself, “If they had believed Moses, they would have believed him” (John. 5:46).
Moses, in God’s name, told them that, in the fullness of time, they would have a prophet raised up among them, one of their own nation, that would be like him (Deuteronomy 18:151, 182), a ruler and a deliverer, a judge and a lawgiver, like him, who would therefore have authority to change the customs that he had delivered, and to bring in a better hope, as the Mediator of a better testament.
He charged them to hear that prophet, to receive his dictates, to accept the change he would make in their customs, and to submit to Him in everything.
38 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:
This is he that was in the church in the wilderness.
Stephen probably didn’t use the word“church”in the same way it is used in the New Testament, but more like it is commonly used today, to signify a congregation. In Stephen's time it could hardly have become widely known as the designation for the congregation of believers in Christ. In the New Testament, the church is the collective body of God's chosen people; therefore, it is used to denote the whole body of the faithful under the Gospel. Steven was, without a doubt, making reference to the Jewish people he led out of Egypt and for forty years of wandering through the wilderness. The word "church" means literally "the people called out," and is applied correctly to the assembly or multitude called out of Egypt, and separated from the world. It was not, however, necessarily our idea of a church, but means the "assembly," or people called out of Egypt and placed under the oversight of Moses.Israel was never called a church after entering the Promised Land, but while in the wilderness, Israel was a true church, but very different from The New Testament church.
The camp of Israel is called here the church in the wilderness, because it was a sacred society, incorporated by a divine charter under a divine government, and blessed with divine revelation. The church in the wilderness was a church, though it was not yet perfectly formed, as it was to be when they came to Canaan, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes (Deuteronomy 12:8, 9). It was necessary for Moses to have been in that church, since many times it would have been destroyed if Moses had not been in it to intercede for it. But Christ is the president and guide of a more excellent and glorious church than that one in the wilderness, and He is more in it, as the life and soul of it, than Moses could be in that church in the wilderness.
With the angel which spake to him in the Mount Sina.
Who was this angel? It says here that he was the angel that “spoke to him in the mount Sinai,” and with our fathers—he was with Him twice for forty days: He was the Angel of the Covenant, our Savior. Moses spoke with God, but he never lay in his bosom as Christ did from eternity past. This verse may be rendered thus: Moses was in the church in the wilderness, and it was the angel that spoke to him at mount Sinai, that is, at the burning bush; for that was said to be at mount Sinai (v. 30); that angel went before him as his guide, or else he could not have been a guide to Israel. God speaks of this in Exodus (Ex. 23:20 and 33:2). He was in the church with the angel, without whom he could not have been of service to the church; Christ himself was that angel which was with the church in the wilderness, and therefore has authority over Moses.
Stephen may be referring to the burning bush or the time when the Law was given on that mount; and it may be to both, since it is true of both. It was the angel of the divine presence, the second person in the Trinity, and the word of God that bid Moses come up into the mount; and who spoke all ten words to him. By this exalted testimony to Moses, Stephen rebuts the main charge for which he was on trial.
And with our fathers.
“Our fathers” are the Jewish ancestors, who came out of Egypt under Moses, with whom he was deliverer and ruler, their guide and head. He was present with the fathers, so that he might be their guide in obedience to the commandment of the Lord; he was with the angel (Christ) as His minister.
Who received the lively oracles to give unto us.
“The lively oracles” are called the words of God by Paul in Romans 3:2, and Peter calls them “the oracles of God” in 1 Peter 4:11. The word "oracles," as it is used here means "commands" or "laws" of God. The word "lively," or “living,” stands opposed to what is dead, or useless, and means what is vigorous, and effective; and in this place it refers to the commands which were given to secure attention, to produce obedience, or to excite them to act for God, as opposed to laws which would fall powerless, and produce no effect.
Stephen magnifies Moses by reminding his hearers how he had received the Law (lively oracles) from God to give to the people; not only the Ten Commandments, but the other instructions which the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, Speak them to the children of Israel. The words of God:
(1.) Are reliable and infallible oracles, and contain unquestionable authority and compulsion; they are to be consulted as oracles, and all controversies must be decided by them.
(2.) Are Lively oracles, since they are the oracles of the living God, not of the dumb and dead idols of the heathens; and because they contained His mind and will, and were a sure and infallible declaration of it; and "lively" ones, because they were delivered with an articulate voice, and in audible sounds, and because it is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword. The word that God speaks is spirit and life; although the Law of Moses could not give life, it showed the way to life, for it says, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”
(3.) Contain all the promises of God regarding the Messiah, and all the rites and ordinances of the ceremonial law, which pointed out Christ, as the way of life, righteousness, and salvation.
(4.) Points out the way of life and salvation to sinful men; it is a rule of life, and it promises life in case of perfect obedience (Leviticus 18:5); but this is impractical for fallen men to do, and therefore there is no life nor righteousness by the law.
(5.) Promised eternal life for those who are faithful unto death.
(6.) Living and powerful (Hebrews 4:12), enlightening the eyes, rejoicing the heart, converting the soul, and raising the dead.
Moses received the oracles from God, and delivered nothing as an oracle to the people except what he had first received from God. The lively oracles which he received from God he faithfully gave to the people, to be observed by them and preserved by them for future generations. It was the foremost privilege of the Jews to have had the oracles of God committed to them; and it was by the hand of Moses that they were committed. But just as Moses did not give them that bread from heaven, neither did he give them that law from heaven (John 6:32), but God gave it to them; and God who gave them those customs, rites, and ceremonies by his servant Moses, has every right to change them by his Son Jesus, who received more lively oracles to give unto us than Moses did. 39 To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt,
To whom our fathers would not obey.
The Israelites often grumbled against Moses, and were disobedient to him, and to the oracles he delivered to them, and therefore they were also disobedient to God, whose oracles they were. Here Steven shows his hearers that the fathers they came from were disrespectful and rebellious against the same Moses they held in such high regard. Although they were generally disrespectful to him, Stephen may have been referring to what they said about him when he was in the mount,(Exodus 32:1,23). The point he is developing is that the rejection of Christ harmonizes with their past history (See Exodus 16:3; Also see 17:04, 32:1-14, and Deuteronomy 4:19). Their fathers would not be obedient, even though God had bestowed such remarkable marks of favor upon them. They not only refused to obey Moses, but they turned away from him and God and returned to worshipping the god’s of Egypt and said they desired the customs and ordinances of Egypt to the hardships in the wilderness; which was shocking, since they had suffered so grievously there. They would not obey him, but thrust him from them. They griped about him, mutinied against him, refused to obey his orders, and sometimes were ready to stone him.
But thrust him from them.
They disrespected Moses and showed it in their treatment of him; by disobeying his orders and even physically thrusting him from them as one of the two Hebrews did, when he intervened to try to stop their quarreling (Acts 7:27); and which was a symbol and indication of what the Hebrew people would do afterwards.
And in their hearts turned back again into Egypt.
They wished to return to Egypt. They regretted that they had come out of Egypt, and desired to have the things which they had there, since they were better than the manna they had in the desert (Numbers 11:5)—they yearned for the fish, the cucumbers, the melons, leeks, onions, and garlic there. Most Bible scholars do not think that they desired literally to "return" to Egypt, but that their hearts were stirred by thoughts of the habits and morals of the Egyptians. This desire became so powerful that they forsook God, and imitated the idolatries of the Egyptians. Some even wished to return there and went so far as to appoint a captain to lead them back. They became idolaters, and preferred their Egyptian bondage and their idolatry to the Promised Land and the pure worship of God. For this part of their History see Exodus 32:1-35.
They may have longed to go back, but they did not dare to do it. But they returned there in their minds to those corruptions they experienced. To some extent this is understandable, since they had been in Egypt for a long time, and had grown up with Egyptian god’s and ceremonies—as a people they may have been very like the society they just recently came out of. Perhaps that is why God did not let them enter the Promised Land, until that generation had died out. Israel needed that forty years to lose their desire for the perversions of Egypt, and the knowledge of Egyptian deities.
40 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.
Saying unto Aaron, make us gods to go before us.
Though the Jews rebelled in other ways and at other times, yet Stephen chose this one notable example over all the rest. It shows their filthy and detestable treachery, namely, when they made themselves a calf, with the intention of worshipping it instead of God (Exodus 32.112). Could they have done anything that would appear any more thankless? This is a proof of their disobedience to the Law of Moses, and of their rejection of him, and of the predisposition of their hearts to the idolatry of the Egyptians; and it shows the gross stupidity, as well as ingratitude of this ancient generation, to think that gods could be made; and that those that are made could go before them, guide them back to Egypt, and protect them; when they have eyes that don’t see, hands that can’t grip, feet that can’t walk, and heads that can’t think.
For as for this Moses.
You can imagine the curl of the lip, and hear the great contempt in their voices. There could not have been anything they could have invented that was filthier or would show greater unthankfulness. They made a golden calf, which besides the affront that it was to God, it was a great indignity to Moses: this was their object when they made the calf, because"as for this Moses,who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him;therefore make us gods of gold;’’ as if a calf was capable of taking Moses’ place, and as competent of leading them into the Promised and.
Which brought us out of the land of Egypt.
They give Moses the credit for bringing them to their present location; but they don’t mention it with gratitude.
We wot not what is become of him.
They acted as though he was dead, that he was consumed by fire on the mount which constantly flamed with fire. They pretend they could not tell what had become of Moses. But they knew full well that he was on the mount. They saw him with their eyes when he went up, until the Lord took him unto himself, by concealing him with a cloud. Again, they know that Moses is absent for their sake, and that he had promised that he would return, and bring with him the law which God would give them. He asked them to be patient for a while. They could not wait peacefully, and in only a little time they raised an uproar, and without any justification. They wanted gods with them like the Egyptians had. Idols with the form of a cow were worshipped by some of the Egyptians, and it must have been in their minds to have the same familiar god. They did have a God with them, and it wasn’t as if that God had not showed them any tokens of His presence, since His glory appeared daily in the cloud and pillar of fire. So, we see how quickly they commit idolatry and show God wicked contempt, and unthankfulness. They seem to have so soon forgotten those miracles which they ought to have remembered even until the end of the world. Therefore, by this one backsliding, they show what a stubborn and rebellious people they were.
41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.
And they made a calf in those days.
Israel had turned from God to idolatry, and her high priest had helped her do so. One of Stephen's concerns in this speech then was false worship. The Israelites rejoiced in their idolatry in the wilderness and more recently since Jesus was out of the way. God had turned from them for their apostasy in the past, and He was doing the same in the present. They did not really offer their sacrifices to God, and He did not accept them since they had rejected His anointed Ruler and Judge. The Israelites were heading for another wilderness experience. They adopted a house of worship and an object of worship that were not God's choice but their creations. God would remove them far from their land in punishment (It would happen in A.D. 70).
“And they made a calf” while Moses was on the mount; this was done in imitation of the Egyptian idol Apis or Serapis, which was an ox or a bullock; and it was made from the golden earrings and ornaments of the people (Exodus 32:2-4), which were melted down, and cast into the form of a calf, and graved by Aaron with a graving tool (Exodus 32:2). This was a shameful and outrageous instance of idolatry. The Jews themselves were aware of the horribleness of it, and they felt the guilt of it, and the result is that it is common for them to say, "there is not a generation, or an age, in which there is not an ounce of the sin of the calf.” Or, they might say something like, “There is no punishment that has come to Israel in which there is not an ounce of the sin of the calf.”
Stephen introduced this event to remind his audience how prone the nation had been to reject God, and to walk in the ways of sin. This verse is a quotation fromAmos 5:25-27 and although the outright rejection of God and the widespread idolatry during the period of the monarchy came much later, Stephen's application of Amos' prophecy shows that even during the period of the wilderness wanderings they had already rejected God in their hearts. As Hervey expressed it: “What Amos means to say is that because of the treacherous, unfaithful heart of Israel, as shown by the worship of the golden calf, and all their rebellions in the wilderness, all their sacrifices were worthless. Observe, the Israelites turned from Moses to idolatry, and their high priest, Aaron, helped them do it. Consequently God gave them over to what they wanted (Romans 1:24). He also determined to send them into captivity as punishment (Amos 5:25-2718). By implication, turning from the revelation that Jesus had given amounted to idolatry. Stephen implied that by rejecting Moses' coming prophet, Jesus, his hearers could expect a similar fate despite the sacrifices they brought to God.
Stephen had answered his accusers' charge that he had spoken against Moses (See Acts 6:11 andActs 6:13) by showing that he believed what Moses had predicted about the coming prophet. It was really his hearers, like Jesus' hearers earlier, who rejected Moses since they refused to allow the possibility of prophetic revelation that superseded the Mosaic Law.
And offered sacrifice unto the idol.
The people built an idol and made a proclamation that the next day would be the feast of the Lord. Early in the morning the people offered both burnt offerings and peace offerings,Exodus 32:5and rejoiced in the works of their own hands (their hands made it): their rejoicing included eating, and drinking, and singing, and dancing.
Notice that the proclamation said there would be a “feast of the Lord”; but God would not honor such a feast with his presence; however, the devil would certainly attend (Psalm 106:36-39). They pretended to worship Jehovah,(Exodus 32:521). Their idol, if it would not make a god, would make an excellent devil.
And rejoiced in the works of their own hands.
Rejoiced (Revelled), as it is used here, refers to the lustful rites of heathen worship.
42Then 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?
Then God turned.
“Then God turned” away from them, that is, He withdrew his presence, and his favor from them, and abandoned them to their own desires. This is an expression of divine disfavor caused by the rebellion described earlier—“But our fathers refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt” (Acts 7:39).
And gave them up to worship the host of heaven.
“The host of heaven” refers to the sun, moon, and stars, sometimes called heavenly bodies. The word “host” means “armies.” It is applied to the heavenly bodies because they are very numerous, and appear to be “marshalled” or arrayed in military order. In another place, the term “heavenly host” is used for the angels who appeared to announce the birth of Jesus, but that is not the meaning here.
History confirms that Israel, during an earlier age, worshipped idols. From the worshipper’s point of view, the sun, moon, and stars are considered as living beings, therefore, they made up stories where their gods fought among themselves for power and prestige; they had love affairs, bore children, and interacted with men, etc. This is certainly true for Greek mythology, but it is unclear to what extent this golden calf was assigned human characteristics.
God reacted to their idolatry in righteous judgment by giving them up to their reprobate minds, to commit all the idolatry of the Gentiles—an act of true divine retribution (Romans 1:2420).
As it is written in the book of the prophets.
The twelve minor prophets were commonly written in one volume, and were called the Book of the Prophets; that is, the book containing the prophecies of Daniel, Hosea, Micah, etc. Separately they were small books or articles, especially when compared to the Major Prophets—Jeremiah, Isaiah, etc. The twelve Minor Prophets were bound together, since they were liable to be lost if kept separately.
O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness?
“Ye house of Israel” could be stated as “Ye people of Israel.”
The interrogative (questioning) form used here is often used in an emphatic way to denote that the thing had “not” been done. But it is certain that the Jews did offer sacrifices to God in the wilderness, though it is also certain that they did not do it with a pure and upright heart. They kept up the form of worship generally, but they frequently forsook God, and offered worship to idols. Throughout the space of forty years of wandering in the wilderness they often departed from Him, and worshipped idols.
This clause is a quotation fromAmos 5:25-2618, though it is not quoted literally; it is evidently made from memory; but in its main spirit it coincides with the passage in Amos, yet in some important respects it varies from it. The question asked,“Have ye offered me slain beasts forty years”does not necessarily require a negative reply. It is not equivalent to an assertion that during the forty years Israel was in the wilderness they had not offered sacrifice to God. The significance of the question and the reply in the following verse is this: “Have you offered to me, the true God, sacrifices for forty years? Yes, without a doubt, but you have worshipped the false gods also.” They made offerings to devils, and not to God (Deuteronomy 32:17)and though there were some sacrifices offered to God; they were not offered very often, nor were they offered freely, and with all the heart, and with faith, and without hypocrisy—they were looked upon by God as if they were not offered at all.
43 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.
Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch.
“Yea, ye took up,”that is, you transported, or you carried with you, for purposes of idolatrous worship.
The word “tabernacle” is used here to mean a “tent”; but it is also applied to the small tent or house which contained the image of the god; the shrine, box, or tent in which the idol was placed. It is customary for idolatrous nations to take their idols with them, enclosed in cases or boxes of various sizes, usually very small, since their idols were usually small. Probably they were made in the shape of small “temples” or tabernacles; such as the “silver shrines” for Diana, made at Ephesus (Acts 19:24). These shrines, or images, were carried with them as a type of amulet, charm, or talisman to defend them from evil. The Jews seem to have carried such images with them.
The word “Moloch” comes from the Hebrew word signifying “king.” Moloch, Remphan, and Baal were all names for the god which was extensively and extravagantly worshipped by the polytheistic idolaters of that day. This was initially a god of the Ammonites, to whom human sacrifices were offered. Moses in several places forbids the Israelites, under penalty of death, to dedicate their children to Moloch, by making them pass through the fire (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5). It is highly probable that the Hebrews were addicted to the worship of this deity after they entered the land of Canaan. Solomon built a temple to Moloch on the Mount of Olives(1Kings 11:7); Manasseh made his son pass through the fire in honor of this idol (2Kings 21:3,2Kings 21:6); Ahaz burned his children (2 Chronicles 28:3), and Samaria was judged for this sin (2 Kings 17:17). The image of this idol was made of brass, and his arms extended so as to embrace anyone; and when they offered children to him, they heated the statue, and when it was burning hot, they placed the child in his arms, where it was soon killed by heat. It is not certain what this god was supposed to represent. Some suppose it was in honor of the planet Saturn; others, the sun; others, Mercury, Venus, etc. What particular god it was is not material. It was the most cutting criticism that could be made to the Jews, that their fathers had been guilty of worshipping this idol.
The following description of Molech and the worship of it was found, though the author is unknown: “it was made an hollow image, placed within seven chancels or chapels; and whoever offered fine flour, they opened to him the first; if turtle doves or two young pigeons, they opened the second; if a lamb, they opened the third; if a ram, they opened the fourth; if a calf, they opened the fifth; if an ox, they opened the sixth; but whoever offered his son, they opened the seventh: his face was a calf's, and his hands were stretched out, as a man opens his hands to receive any thing from his friend; and they make him hot with fire, and the priests take the infant and put it into the hands of Molech, and the infant expires: and wherefore is it called Topher and Hinnom? Tophet, because they make a noise with drums, that its father may not hear the voice of the child, and have compassion on it, and return to it; and Hinnom, because the child roars, and the voice of its roaring ascends.” This account agrees with the Biblical account. I know you agree with me that it sounds pretty gruesome.
I cannot accept the notion that the Israelites publicly took up, and carried a tabernacle of Molech during their forty years of traveling in the wilderness; for whatever they might have done during the few days they worshipped the golden calf, it cannot be thought that Moses would have permitted such a practice; therefore, it must have reference to other times, when they sacrificed their children to him, and took up and carried his image in little shrines and tabernacles. No doubt, many of them worshipped Molech in their minds, and secretly carried their idols with them.
The offering of human sacrifices persisted during the periods of apostasy and idolatry in Israel, until the days of Josiah. Here Stephen declares that Israel practiced these idolatries, carrying with them the little images throughout all of their journeys in the wilderness. When they crossed the Jordan, Joshua put a stop to all this idolatry, administering to them the rite of circumcision, which was symbolical of their right to sanctification, during their great holiness camp meeting held at Gilgal, immediately after crossing and before they began the conquest of the land. Unfortunately, after arriving in Canaan they never did utterly purge the land of idolatry, hence the surviving Canaanites proved a snare to them, leading them into idolatry and the sad and mournful downward trend of four hundred and fifty years of backsliding, recorded in the book of Judges, and developing the long-established alienation of Jehovah that culminated in their awful Babylonian captivity.
And the star of your god Remphan.
"Raiphan", "Raphan", “Milchom”, “Chium”, "Rephan", "Rephon", "Rephom", "Rephaim", "Rephan", and "Remphan" are all names given to the god we just discussed, Molech. "Remphan," though was the name used when it was in its gigantic form. "Remphan," was said to have a massive crown on his head, which had precious stones that weighed a talent of gold (see 2Samuel 12:30).
“And the star” in the Hebrew is “Chiun your images, the star of your god.” The expression, as it is used here, leads us to suppose that this was a star which was worshipped, but what star it is, is not easy to ascertain; nor is it easy to determine why it is called both “Chiun” and “Remphan.” Stephen quotes from the Septuagint translation. In that translation the word “Chiun” is rendered by the word “Raiphan,” or “Rephan,” which is easily changed into “Remphan.” Why the authors of that version adopted this is not known. It was probably, however, from one of two causes:
Because the word “Chiun” in Hebrew meant the same as “Remphan” in the language of Egypt, where the translation was made.
Because the “object” of worship called “Chiun” in Hebrew was called “Remphan” in the language of Egypt. It is generally agreed that the object of their worship was the planet “Saturn,” or “Mars,” both planets were worshipped as gods of evil influence. In Arabic, the word “Chevan” denotes the planet Saturn. Probably “Rephan,” or “Remphan,” is the Coptic name for the same planet, and the Septuagint adopted this because that translation was made in Egypt, where the Coptic language was spoken.
From this clause, we understand that the declaration of Stephen that God "gave them up to serve the host of heaven" was accurate.
Figures which ye made to worship them.
“Figures which ye made” means “the images of the god which they made.” In Amos it is said, "Which you made for yourselves," meaning both the image and the tabernacle in which it was kept, which they made for their own use.
And I will carry you away beyond Babylon.
In Amos it has “beyond Damascus,” not “beyond Babylon,” as Stephen stated here. His statement to the council was that Israel was carried away for their idolatry beyond Damascus and to the farthest parts of Babylon—actually, they were taken as far as the cities of the Medea, Halah, and Habor, by the river Gozan. This is not a contradiction, since Amos (Amos 5:27) doesn’t say how far past Damascus they were carried. And if they were carried beyond Babylon, they must have been carried beyond Damascus, and so the words of the prophet were fulfilled. Stephen, who lived after the fulfilment of the prophecy, knew how far they were carried; therefore the Jewshave no reason to quibble with Stephen, as if he misrepresented the words of the prophet, and related things that were not true.
44 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.
Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness.
The two charges against Stephen were: first; that he had spoken blasphemy against Moses or his Law; and second, that he had blasphemed against the temple (Acts 6:13-14). In the aforementioned part of this defense he had shown his respect for Moses and his Law. He now proceeds to show that he did not intend to speak of the temple, or their holy places of worship, with disrespect: he does so by expressing his belief that both the tabernacle (vv. 7:44-46) and of the temple (v. 7:47) were divinely designated.(Verses44-50 includesthe transition from the old Tabernacle to the Temple underSolomon.) But instead of either directly admitting or denying the charge of blasphemy against the temple, he commences to show the true religious value of that building—it was the visible witness or proof of God‘s presence with them; the evidence that he to whom it was devoted was their protector and guide. He does it by first mentioning the portable and perishable nature of thetabernacle,which came before the temple, and then, by showing, from the prophets, that the presence of God is not limited to temples made with hands. By this statement, Stephen entrenches himself behind undisputed facts of their own history, and the opinions of their own prophets, in reference to the temple. He is about to spring upon them all of the concealed power of the carefully arranged facts from the life of Moses and of Joseph.
It was while the Israelites were at "Sinai" that God ordered the building of the tabernacle, and there it was built and set up for the first time. It was a type of portable temple, which was carried from place to place; but what made it special was that Jehovah took up His residence there. Exodus, Chapter 25, has a record of the design of the tabernacle and its furniture.
The tabernacle had various names. It is sometimes called “Ohel Moed”, or "the tabernacle of the congregation", because the people of Israel gathered there to meet with God; and sometimes "the tabernacle of the testimony", or "witness", as it is here (see Exodus 38:21;Numbers 1:50),because the Law, which is also called “the tables of the testimony”, and “the testimony”, since it is a declaration of the will of God, was put into an ark; which for that reason is called “the ark of the testimony”; and it was placed in the tabernacle; and for that reason, the tabernacle was called, “the tabernacle of testimony.” The Jewish writers say, it is called the tabernacle of testimony, “because it was a testimony that the Shekinah dwelt in Israel”; and anothersays, “it was a testimony to Israel that God had pardoned them concerning the affair of the calf, for, lo, his Shekinah dwelt among them.”
This tabernacle, in which was the testimony of the will of God, what He wanted them to do, and how he should be worshipped, and was a token of His presence, was with the Jewish fathers while they were in the wilderness; and is mentioned here to exacerbate their sin, since afterwards they would carry the tabernacle of Molech. The tabernacle probably lasted until the time of David. Though it was a movable structure it became the model for the building of the temple.
As he had appointed, speaking unto Moses.
It may be clearer to say, “As God appointed, ordered, and commanded Moses” (Exodus 25:40).
That he should make it according to the fashion he had seen.
God was the architect of the tabernacle, and when He was with Moses on the mount, He didn’t just give him verbal instructions for building the tabernacle, and its furniture and vessels, so that he might form an idea of it in his mind; but there was a visible structure for him to study; a pattern, or model of the whole thing (Exodus 25:9, 40; 26:30). Everything appeared exactly as God wanted it made, so that nothing was left to the imagination of men; which teaches us, that everything in matters of worship ought to be according to His will, as it is expressed in the Bible (Hebrews 8:5).
This is an additional inspired testimony regarding the "pattern," called here "the fashion," that Moses had received from God and according to which he was commanded to "make all things" (Hebrews 8:530). It is immensely important for us to understand that God has given us a pattern which we must follow if we want to please our Creator.
45 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;
Which also our fathers that came after.
None of the generation that came out of Egypt were permitted to enter into the Promised Land (Canaan), except Caleb and Joshua (see Numbers 14:22-24; Numbers 32:11-12). Hence, it is said here that their fathers who “came after,” that is, after the generation that built the tabernacle. What Stephen means to say here is that the tabernacle was not brought into Canaan by that generation—that is, by those that died in the wilderness, and never saw nor entered into the land of Canaan; the children of that generation whose carcasses fell in the wilderness—instead, it was brought in by the generation that came after them.
Brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles.
Stephen is rapidly outlining the history of the tabernacle, which served as the sanctuary not only in the wilderness, but also in the land of Canaan, until the time of King Solomon—it was more than four hundred years before there was even a thought of building a Temple. Here he is merely saying that after they received the tabernacle from their fathers, they brought it into the land of Canaan, which was possessed by the Gentiles, and when they entered Canaan, Joshua was their leader. He is called Jesus here, as he is in Hebrews 4:8,seeing that, Joshua and Jesus are the same name (Jesus is the Greek mode of writing the name “Joshua.”), and both signify a saviour—because Joshua was a savior to the people of Israel; and was a celebrated type of Jesus Christ, the captain of our salvation.
Our fathers, he says, received it (the Tabernacle) from Moses, and brought it into the Land of Promise, when, with Joshua as their leader, they commenced to take possession of the nations then occupying Canaan, however, the expulsion of these nations (the Canaanites) was not completed until the days of David.
Whom God drove out before the face of our fathers.
The Gentiles, who possessed the land of Canaan, were driven out by God through Him giving victory after victory to Israel to pave the way for their settlement there. To whom else but God can the success of those victories over the Canaanites be ascribed, but to God. For example, God knocked down the walls of Jericho, so that the army of Israel could enter the city and gain an easy victory. He continued to drive out Israel’s enemies until the time of David, when they were completely expelled.
Unto the days of David.
This clause is a little bit confusing when read in connection with the words immediately preceding it, since that makes it seem as if the inhabitants of Canaan were driven out of their land until the time of David, and then they returned and resettled in the land, which, of course, is incorrect. The important issue in this section is the duration of the tabernacle and the transition to the real temple. The meaning, then, is that the tabernacle which the Israelites received from their fathers, and brought into the land of Canaan with them, was there until the time of David.
46 Who found favour before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.
Who found favour before God.
“Who found favour” means that God granted him great prosperity, and delivered him from his enemies. David desired the favour and love of God, was chosen by God, raised up to do His will, and declared a man after His own heart. He had the grace of God implanted in him, and was acceptable, and well pleasing to God through Christ; the same is said of Noah (Genesis 6:8).
And desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.
This repetition (found and find) creates a significant contrast. Inasmuch as David found favourwithGod, so would he find a tabernacleforGod. The Greek wordfor tabernaclehere is different from the tabernacle ofActs 7:44. This one signifies a permanent residence, and that one a movable tent.
“The God of Jacob” denotes that the Israelites descended from their famous ancestor, Jacob.
David had a great love of God, and the grace of God fashioned in his heart desired to find a place for the building of a house, or fixed habitation for God. It’s true, there was a tabernacle already, which had existed since the time of Moses, and which the children of Israel brought with them into Canaan. It was moved from place to place; sometimes it was at Gilgal, sometimes at Shiloh, and then it was at Nob, and Gibeah, and later it was brought by David into his own city, Jerusalem; but he wanted to build a magnificent and stable house for the Lord. In Deuteronomy 16:2, there was a hint given that the Lord would choose a place where He would put his name, but it seems that that place was not known; and therefore David very anxiously searched for the proper place for it. His dedication to this undertaking is evident from Psalm 132:3-5, where it reads, “Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed; I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids, until I find a place for the LORD, a habitation for the mighty God of Jacob.”
David desired to prepare a permanent dwelling-place for the “ark,” and for the visible symbols of the divine presence—“David said to Solomon: ‘My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the LORD my God.’” Up till then (more than four hundred years) the ark had been kept in the tabernacle and taken from place to place.
47 But Solomon built him an house.
David was not permitted to build the temple, because he had been a man of war—“But this word of the LORD came to me: 'You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight” (1Chronicles 22:8). He did, however, prepare the principal materials for the temple, but Solomon built it—“In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites had come out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, the second month, he began to build the temple of the LORD” (1Kings 6). He built it according to God's command, but not under any condition that the majesty of God should be enclosed within it.
48 Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet,
"The most High" is one of the names of God—“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God” (Genesis 14:18).
Stephen summed up his argument by expressing here the same thought contained in this prophecy of Isaiah—“Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? (Isaiah 66:1), which set forth the impossibility of Almighty God actually dwelling in any house made by human hands. The great temple of the Jews had become in time a house of thieves and robbers; and, although God had allowed it through the ages to be thought of as typical of the greater temple yet to be revealed in Christ, it was never anything except a crude likeness. Needless to say, such sentiments as these were enough to release the savage fury of the whole Sanhedrin against anyone who might dare to utter such thoughts, since they foolishly believed that the worship of God was tied to the temple, as if he himself had been included in it. The fact that Isaiah had said the same thing in their sacred scriptures made no difference; they were experts at rationalizing the scriptures they did not like.
The Lord did dwell in the temple Solomon built, but he was not confined to it, which Solomon himself suggested, when, at the dedication of the temple, he expresses his wonder at God dwelling on earth, seeing that the heaven of heavens could not contain him, and much less the house which he had built—“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded” (1 Kings 8:27)?
The Apostle Paul says the same thing about God’s dwelling as Stephen does here—“God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24)
On a more familiar level, many Christians do the same thing. It may not be the worship of a church building (though certainly that does take place from time to time), but it is the confinement of God to one place. In other words, the only place they meet God is at the church. As far as they are concerned, God is absent from the rest of their lives. God may as well only live at the church!
49 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?
Heaven is my throne.
Heaven is the seat of His government, and where the divine Majesty sets upon a throne; there his glory is most conspicuous; there He keeps His court, and that is His palace. His attendants, the angels, are around the throne; and from there He governs the universe of suns, and stars and planets, giving special attention to where we live; He watches over the affairs of men, and even keeps track of the number of hairs on my head.
Solomon had shown that he had respect for the temple, by declaring that it had been built by the command of God. But “now” he adds that God does not need a temple. Heaven is his throne; the universe his dwelling-place; and “therefore” this temple might be destroyed. A new, glorious truth was to be revealed to mankind, that God was not “confined” in his worship to any age, or people, or nation. In view of that revelation, and with all proper respect for the temple at Jerusalem, it might be said that the time would come when that temple would be destroyed, and when God might be worshipped by all nations.
And earth is my footstool.
The picture is of the Lord seated on His throne with His feet comfortably resting on the earth (His footstool), meaning everything—nature, man, animals, etc.—is subject to Him, and at His disposal, and which he makes use of as He pleases. These things are not to be taken literally; they are images and figures, representing the majesty, sovereignty, and immensity of God; who is the maker of all things, the governor of the universe, and is above all places, and not to be contained in any of them.
What house will ye build me? saith the Lord.
For anyone to imagine that they could build a house for the Almighty is pure vanity. What would the thought process be? Where can I build a house for Him, since he already takes up the heavens and the earth? What kind of house can be built by men, or with hands, that can hold him, or is fit for him to dwell in? The futility of it is obvious.
Or what is the place of my rest?
I know the answer to this question! He will not live in any house made with hands, but in the church among His saints, who are each and every one temples of the living God; and this where He will rest forever, and here He will dwell, because he has chosen and desired to do so, and He has built them up for a habitation for himself—“For the LORD hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation” (Psalm 132:13).
50 Hath not my hand made all these things?
This is not a question, but a factual statement, because God “made all these things”; the heavens, and the earth, and all that is in them; and therefore what can be made for God, or what house can you build for him? Certainly, there is nothing that men can build that would be a suitable dwelling for the Lord, who has heaven for His throne: “But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne” (Matthew 5:34); and the earth for His footstool, “Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King” (Matthew 5:35).
Stephen certainly had not finished his sermon at this point, nor had he drawn his conclusions from the facts already stated; but it is likely that, as they perceived he was about to draw conclusions unfavorable to the temple and its rituals, they immediately raised an uproar against him, which resulted in the following very cutting remarks by Stephen.
51 Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.
“Stiffnecked” is a term that is not used very often today. I am a Marine, so it reminds me of one of our nicknames, leatherneck. The two words have nothing in common. “Stiffnecked” is a characteristic frequently given to the Jewish people—“And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people” (Exodus 32:9; also see Exodus 33:3, 5; Exodus 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:6,13;Deuteronomy 10:16)It is a figurative expression taken from oxen that are unmanageable, and that will not submit to be yoked. When stiffnecked is applied to the Jews it means they are hard or impossible to manage; stubbornly disobedient: they would not submit their necks to the yoke of God's law, and be obedient to His commands.
When Stephen called these proud Jews stiffnecked, he was using the identical language that Moses used when he conveyed God's rebuke to them—“Unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the way. . . For the LORD had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiffnecked people. . .” (Exodus 33:3, 5). These religious leaders professed to be standing on Moses' side against Stephen, so this must have made his words doubly cutting to them.
Stephen’s sermon has every appearance of having been interrupted by the uproar and hostility of the Sanhedrin, which was probably preceded by symptoms of impatience and irritation in the audience. This verse has no immediate connection with what precedes it, and appears to have been spoken in the midst of anger and tumult. If we may speculate in this situation, it would seem that the Jews saw the drift of his argument; that they interrupted him; and that when the tumult had somewhat subsided, he addressed them in the language of this verse, showing them that they retained a character very similar to their rebellious fathers.
And uncircumcised in heart and ears.
Circumcision was a sign of being a Jew—of acknowledging the authority of the laws of Moses. It was also emblematic of purity, and of submission to the Law of God. The expression "uncircumcised in heart" denotes those who were not willing to acknowledge that Law, and submit to it. They had hearts filled with vicious and uncontrolled feelings and desires. Uncircumcised in heart; only occurs here in the New Testament, but it is found several places in the Old Testament (Exodus 12:48; Judges 14:3; 1 Samuel 17:26, and elsewhere).
Uncircumcised ears denotes unwillingness to "hear" what God says (see Leviticus 26:41;Jeremiah 9:26;Romans 2:28-29).
Stephen’s accusation was that the Jews had the mark of circumcision in their flesh, of which they boasted; yet they did not have the true circumcision of the heart; their hearts were not circumcised to fear and love the Lord, nor their ears to hear the word of the Lord and the Gospel of Christ; so, they were uncircumcised persons as far as their relationship with the Lord is concerned.These words angered his Jewish audience, because they contained a whole volume of rebuke. They prided themselves on their circumcision, they trusted in it as a sure method of gaining favor in the sight of God; but all the while they were on a level with the heathen whom they despised, and were to be reckoned among the uncircumcised whom they loathed. For they were without the true circumcision, which is that of the heart. Here again Stephen was teaching in the exact spirit and words of Moses and the prophets (SeeLeviticus 26:41;Deuteronomy 10:16;Jeremiah 9:26;Ezekiel 44:7; and many other passages).
Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost.
You resist the Holy Ghost—you oppose the message which is brought to you by the authority of God and the inspiration of His Spirit; and by Moses, by the prophets, by the Saviour, and by the apostles—all by the infallible direction of the Holy Spirit, which they and their fathers opposed.
Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost:
Because they were uncircumcised in heart, they always resisted the influences of the Holy Spirit; thus, preventing Him from bringing light and conviction to their minds. The consequence is that they became hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, and would not repent at the preaching of John, nor believe the glad tidings told them by Christ and the apostles.
Because they were uncircumcised in ears, they would neither hear nor obey Moses, the prophets, Christ, nor the apostles.
These men did not resist the Spirit of God in them, since they didn’t have the Holy Spirit, but they resisted the Spirit of God in His ministers, in His apostles, and particularly in Stephen. They didn’t resist the internal operation of His grace, but the external ministry of the word, and all that light, knowledge, evidence, and conviction that it gave of Jesus's being the Messiah. And all those who resist Christ's ministers, resist Him, and those who resist Him, are said to resist His Holy Spirit. The idea expressed here is more physical than spiritual, and signifies a rushing against, and falling upon, in a hostile way, and suitably expresses their ill treatment of Christ and His ministers, by assaulting them and putting them to death; which is the type of resistance meant here, which is also the idea expressed by the following verse. This passage should NOT be used to show the resistance of the Holy Spirit, and the operations of his grace in the conversion of sinners, since it does not appear that He was in these men, and there is no way to know if He was acting in them, with the purpose of converting them, and if he was, it would be difficult to prove that they resisted Him. One thing we do know, however, is that one of them, Saul, was really and truly converted, but we don’t know about the others. While it is true that the Holy Ghost may be resisted, that is, opposed, He cannot be overcome or caused to cease His work of conversion, so that it comes to nothing.
As your fathers did, so do ye.
They were like their fathers, since they were stubborn and headstrong, and resisted the various methods God utilized to reclaim and reform them; they were like their fathers, unresponsive both to the word of God and to His divine intervention. They were like their fathers:
They were stiff-necked; they would not bow their heads, not even to God himself, would not do homage to Him, and would not humble themselves before Him. The stiff neck is the same as the hard heart, obstinate and insubordinate, and will not yield; which is the general character of the Jewish nation (Ex. 32:9; 33:33, 5; 34:9; Deu. 9:6, 13; 31:27; Eze. 2:4).
They were uncircumcised in heart and ears; their hearts and ears were not devoted and yielded to God, as the people were zealous for the sign of circumcision: “In name and show you are circumcised Jews, but in heart and ears you are still uncircumcised heathens, and pay no more deference to the authority of your God than they do” (Jer. 9:26).
They were like their fathers in that they were under the power of degraded lusts, which stopped their ears to the voice of God, and harden their hearts to that which comes from Him. They did not have that circumcision made without hands—“In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11).
They were like their fathers in that they were not only NOT influenced by the methods God took to reform them, but they were enraged and incensed against them—they always resist the Holy Ghost.They, like their fathers, persecuted and slew those whom God sent to them to call them back to Him, and to offer them mercy. Their fathers had been the cruel and constant persecutors of the Old-Testament prophets. They were like their fathers, since they (this same council) had betrayed and murdered Jesus. They had hired Judas to betray Him, and had in a fashion forced Pilate to condemn Him; and therefore, they are charged with being His betrayers and murders. Thus they were the genuine seed of those who slew the prophets.
Their fathers resisted the Holy Ghost in the prophets that God sent to them, and so did they resist Christ’s apostles and ministers, who spoke by the same Spirit, though they had greater gifts than the prophets of the Old Testament.
They resisted the Holy Ghost striving within them for the conversion of their souls in the same way their fathers resisted the commands God gave to them by the hands of Moses. There is that in our sinful hearts that always resists the Holy Ghost, a flesh that lusts against the Spirit, and wars against His influence; but in the hearts of God’s elect, when the fullness of time arrives, this resistance is overcome and overpowered, and after a struggle the throne of Christ is set up in the soul, and every thought that had exalted itself against it is brought into subjection to it—“(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;), casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Co. 10:4, 5).
They, like their fathers, received the Law and would not obey it. They were receiving the gospel now from Stephen, and yet they did not embrace it. They would not yield to the plainest demonstrations, any more than their fathers before them did, for they were resolved not to comply with God either in His law or in His gospel.