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Acts Seven

by Dr. Henry M. Morris

(taken from the Defender's Study Bible)

Acts 7:1 Then said the high priest, Are these things so?

Acts 7:2 And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran,

hearken. Stephen had been accused of blasphemy against the temple and the law but, even though the false witnesses had distorted his message, Stephen did not attempt to defend himself. Instead he probably presented the same type of message to the council he had been preaching in the synagogue, stressing that the principles of God's plan for Israel were established long before the temple system, and that the Abrahamic covenant centered in the promised Messiah, as did the preaching of the prophets. But Israel had rejected God's Word at every stage, had killed the prophets, corrupted the law and finally murdered the Messiah when He came. Stephen's message was powerful and true, but could only anger the council still further.

God of glory. This title—“the God of glory”—occurs only one other time in the Bible, in Psalm 29:3: “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the Lord is upon many waters.” In context, this psalm records David's retrospective vision of the great Flood (for details, see the notes on Psalm 29). Stephen's use of this name at the beginning of his apologetics exhortation to these rulers of Israel was probably to remind them that the same Creator God who judged the whole world in the days of Noah had called Abram, not just to found an elect nation but to use that nation to bring the promised seed who would bless all nations.

Acts 7:3 And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee.

said unto him. Here Stephen quotes Genesis 12:1, God's call to Abram; Stephen's hearers would certainly recall that this call was immediately followed by the promise of a seed who would bless all nations of the earth (Genesis 12:3).

Acts 7:4 Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell.

his father was dead. Apparently Abram's father Terah had also been called to go to Canaan, but instead he only went as far as Haran (Genesis 11:32). Abram could not continue to Canaan until his father died. Terah had, at least to some degree, served other gods (Joshua 24:2), along with his belief in the true God. See notes on Genesis 11:26-12:4.

Acts 7:5 And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child.

Acts 7:6 And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years.

four hundred years. Genesis 15:13 also says 400 years, whereas Exodus 12:40 and Galatians 3:17 say this period was 430 years. Probably the Israelites were treated well for the first thirty years, then evil, as Stephen says, for four hundred years.

Acts 7:7 And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place.

Acts 7:8 And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs.

Acts 7:9 And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him,

the patriarchs, moved with envy. In documenting the long-continued rebellion of the Israelite leaders against God's plan, Stephen thus notes that this began with the very first generation of the children of Israel.

Acts 7:10 And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.

Acts 7:11 Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan, and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance.

Acts 7:12 But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first.

Acts 7:13 And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph's kindred was made known unto Pharaoh.

Acts 7:14 Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls.

threescore and fifteen souls. In Genesis 46:27, we are told that “all the souls of the house of Jacob, which came into Egypt, were threescore and ten.” A number of ways have been suggested for correlating these two numbers. Probably the most natural solution is to assume that the seventy-five included several wives of Jacob's sons who were not actually “of the house of Jacob” but who did come into Egypt and were recognized as his kindred.

Acts 7:15 So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers,

Acts 7:16 And were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem.

Acts 7:17 But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt,

Acts 7:18 Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph.

Acts 7:19 The same dealt subtly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live.

Acts 7:20 In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father's house three months:

Acts 7:21 And when he was cast out, Pharaoh's daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son.

Acts 7:22 And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.

wisdom of the Egyptians. Critics used to allege that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch, because he could not have known how to write. This is absurd; most people in Egypt and Babylonia knew how to write long before Moses. Moses himself was raised as a prince, in line possibly even for Egypt's throne, and was thoroughly trained in all the culture of the advanced Egyptian civilization.

Acts 7:23 And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel.

Acts 7:24 And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian:

Acts 7:25 For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.

Acts 7:26 And the next day he showed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another?

Acts 7:27 But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?

thrust him away. Stephen reminded the council that even Moses had been rejected at first by the leaders of Israel.

Acts 7:28 Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday?

Acts 7:29 Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons.

Acts 7:30 And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush.

Acts 7:31 When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the Lord came unto him,

Acts 7:32 Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold.

Acts 7:33 Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground.

Acts 7:34 I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee into Egypt.

Acts 7:35 This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush.

Acts 7:36 He brought them out, after that he had showed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years.

Acts 7:37 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.

A prophet. Stephen here quoted Deuteronomy 18:15, which the Jewish leaders did recognize as a Messianic prophecy. They should indeed have recognized that “Prophet like Moses,” since they professed to honor and follow Moses and were accusing Stephen of changing his customs.

Acts 7:38 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:

the church. The Greek for “church” is ekklesia, meaning the “called-out ones.” In Deuteronomy 18:16, right after Moses' prophecy of the coming prophet, the word for “assembly,” referring to the whole assembled congregation of Israel at Mount Sinai, was translated ekklesia in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. However, neither the nation Israel nor a local synagogue is ever called a “church” in the same sense as a local assembly of Christian believers.

the angel. The “angel” who spoke with Moses at Sinai, delivering unto him the “living oracles”—that is, the Scriptures—was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in a pre-incarnate theophany.

the lively oracles. This felicitous expression means “the utterances that are vibrantly alive” and refers to the Scriptures. There are just three other references to these “oracles” (Romans 3:2; Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 4:11), always referring to God's word.

Acts 7:39 To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt,

Acts 7:40 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.

Acts 7:41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.

Acts 7:42 Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness?

gave them up. Compare Romans 1:24, 26, 28. Just as God had “given up” the ancient civilizations when they gave Him up for false gods, so He did with His chosen people when they lapsed into idolatry.

host of heaven. The “host of heaven” was the array of false gods (actually “fallen angels”) believed to dwell in the heavens, associated with the stars and the practice of astrology.

book of the prophets. See Amos 5:25-27. The ultimate result of their apostasy was exile beyond Damascus into Assyria, Babylonia and Persia.

Acts 7:43 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.

Acts 7:44 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.

he had appointed. Stephen reminds the council that the temple of which they were so zealous had not actually been appointed by God, as the movable tabernacle in the wilderness had. God had even given Moses all the detailed specifications for the tabernacle, which He had not done for the temple. Although God had accepted and blessed the temple with His presence, the building itself was not sacred and was not destined to last forever. In fact, the existing temple had been built by the Edomite Herod, who cared nothing for God and had built it only for political reasons. Jesus had predicted it would soon be destroyed (Luke 21:5-6).

Acts 7:45 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;

with Jesus. This reference, of course, is to Joshua, whose name was the Hebrew form of “Jesus,” (meaning “Jehovah the Savior,” or simply “salvation”). Possibly Stephen inserted this name here deliberately in order to subtly call attention to the parallel ministries of Joshua, who conquered Canaan, and Jesus, who had come to conquer Satan, sin and death.

Acts 7:46 Who found favour before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.

Acts 7:47 But Solomon built him an house.

Acts 7:48 Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet,

temples made with hands. Even Solomon, in his dedicatory prayer at the completion of the first temple, had acknowledged that God, being omnipresent, could not really dwell in a physical building (1 Kings 8:27).

saith the prophet. Stephen here quoted their most honored prophet (Isaiah 66:1-2).

Acts 7:49 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?

Acts 7:50 Hath not my hand made all these things?

my hand made. Stephen had evidently taken the Great Commission seriously. The God of Israel was actually the God who had created the whole world, and now wanted the gospel carried to all men.

Acts 7:51 Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.

uncircumcised. The Jews placed great stress on the physical ritual of circumcision, forgetting that it was meant to be symbolic of their complete dedication to the will and purposes of God. Thus their hearts were still cold toward God and their ears inattentive to His Word, so that God could not reach them.

as your fathers did. Although their fathers had persecuted the prophets, the current generation of Jews professed to honor them. They claimed that if they had been living in the days of the prophets, they would not have slain them as their fathers had done (Matthew 23:30), but Jesus had called them the true “children of them which killed the prophets” (Matthew 23:31), and Stephen repeated the charge. This they had proved when they murdered Jesus (Acts 7:52) and now were planning the same for Stephen, whose messages had contained the same rebukes their fathers had heard for similar rebellion against the true God and His Word.

Acts 7:52 Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:

Acts 7:53 Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.

disposition of angels. See Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2; Deuteronomy 33:2.

not kept it. Stephen concluded by accusing the Jews of breaking God's law, even as they had accused him of speaking against the law (Acts 6:13).

Acts 7:54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.

Acts 7:55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

Acts 7:56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

Son of man. Jesus had called Himself “the Son of man” at least eighty times, but this is the first time one of His disciples used the title. It had stressed, by implication, the universality of His ministry, and Stephen now emphasized it evidently for the same reason. Furthermore, the vision reported by Stephen must certainly have reminded them of the very similar circumstances of Jesus' trial and conviction just a few weeks previously. He had said to them: “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). Now, at Stephen's trial, he was thus confirming the claim (and supposed blasphemy) of Jesus, thereby giving them an immediate excuse to slay him too. In addition, it would remind them of their frustration at being unable to produce the dead body of Jesus to stop the preaching of His resurrection. His body was alive and in heaven at the right hand of the Father. No wonder they were furious and proceeded forthwith to stone Stephen, not even going through Herod or Pilate, as they had with Jesus.

standing. Jesus is often presented as sitting at the right hand of God, acting as our Intercessor and Advocate (e.g., Acts 2:34; Romans 8:34; xTerm 2:1). Normally, the defense counsel remains seated in the presence of the judge, rising only to make objection when his client comes under especially severe attack or misrepresentation. Thus it is significant that Stephen saw Him standing at God's right hand.

Acts 7:57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,

Acts 7:58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.

whose name was Saul. This is the first introduction to the young zealot who would become the Apostle Paul.

Acts 7:59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

Acts 7:60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.