ACTS - CHAPTER 7
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2000 James Melough
“Then said the high priest, Are these things so?”
Clearly the sympathies of
the high priest and his cohorts were with the Libertines who had brought the charges
against Stephen, but they would preserve the appearance of a fair trial, just as they
had with the Lord Himself. Nor is this
surprising, for the truth is that virtually everything connected with Israel’s
spiritual life had become a mere sham, the inward corruption being hidden behind the
facade of outward religious ritual.
the same state prevails in the professing church today.
“Then 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
His addressing them as men,
brethren, and fathers, reminds us that first of all they were only men, for a man’s
station in life can’t change the basic fact that all men come into the world by way
of human birth, and they come in having the common characteristic that they are all
sinners in desperate need of a Savior.
But their being designated
as brethren declares the special bond that Stephen had with them: he and they were
Jews, and therefore, distinct from the Gentiles: they were peculiarly God’s earthly
people, and He was still dealing with them as such - it was still the Jewish age, and
they were still being offered the millennial kingdom.
His addressing them as
fathers continues to confirm the foregoing. They
were still also the official rulers of the nation, and as such were to be accorded
the reverence associated with their high office.
It is to be noted that this dignity attached to their office, and was
altogether apart from their moral state. The
same principle applies today. The
representatives of government are to be accorded the honor that belongs to their
office, even though the moral state of many leaves much to be desired, see Ro 13:1-7.
Stephen spoke under the
inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and there is special propriety in his referring to
God as The God of glory, for whether he was aware of it or not, his own face
reflected something of that glory. His
words therefore ought to have been the more carefully weighed by those who both heard
his voice, and saw his face “as it had been the face of an angel” reflecting the
The reference to Abraham is
also particularly significant, for he, with far less reason given him than was given
them to impel the exercise of faith, nevertheless trusted God and yielded obedience.
His faith rebuked their unbelief, for, as Stephen proceeded to declare, they
had the long record of God’s dealings with their nation, to encourage faith.
Abraham had no such record. He
had to rely solely on God’s word.
In the same context,
Abraham’s being in Mesopotamia when he was called, continues to point up their
special privileges: he was in pagan darkness when he obeyed, but they, as a nation,
had lived for centuries in the light of divine revelation, the climax of that
revelation being the manifestation of God Himself in the person of the One they had
just crucified, and now continued to reject, even though, as Stephen continued to
point out, the history of Moses and Joseph was a clear foreshadowing of the
experience of Christ. If we today can
see in men such as Moses and Joseph, types of Christ, then they too should have been
able to discern that same truth.
There is special
significance also in his alluding to Abraham’s sojourn in Charran (OT Haran), for
Haran wasn’t in the land of Canaan. Abraham’s
sojourning there speaks of disobedience, of a stopping short, of lack of faith - the
very same sin as marked the nation whose representatives Stephen was then addressing.
But Abraham’s eventual departure from Haran, and his entry into Canaan, were
designed to teach them, and us, the necessity of yielding complete obedience to
sojourn in Haran is a peculiarly apt figure of the spiritual state of Israel at the
time when Stephen stood before her leaders. As
the name of a person, Haran means their mountain; but as the name of a place,
it means their burning; and a careful study of Ge 11 and 12 makes it clear
that it represents the “mountain” (high place) to which the pride of mere
morality apart from conversion, lifts a man, a pride which almost invariably begets
the zeal that is indicated in the meaning their burning.
Haran may have been morally superior to Ur, but it was still on the Assyrian
side of the Euphrates and the Jordan (and Assyria, significantly, appears to
represent religious knowledge). It
wasn’t in Canaan. The Israel sitting
in judgment on Stephen (as they had similarly sat in judgment on his Lord), was
marked by the pride of religious knowledge, by mere moral separation from the
nations, and by the zeal of blind fanaticism. They
too dwelt spiritually at Haran.
“And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and
come into the land which I shall shew thee.”
Since Abraham is the
representative man of faith, God’s directions to him are also His directions to all
who would walk the path of faith; and Stephen’s rehearsal of God’s dealings with
Abraham, was to teach them, and us, what God requires of those who would one day walk
the streets of heaven.
“Get thee out of thy
country,” declares the truth that the new birth (which alone fits men for heaven)
ends the believer’s citizenship in this world, and makes him a citizen of heaven,
the practical demonstration of that truth being his willingness to walk through this
world as a stranger and pilgrim on his way home to heaven (Heb 11:8-16).
“... and from thy
kindred.” The requirement that Abraham leave his kindred, is the symbolic
announcement of the truth that the new birth ends the believer’s association with a
guilty, condemned Adam; and with that link severed, he henceforth walks in eternal
union with Christ, the last Adam, possessing His life, His nature, and having the
assurance that “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ
Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Ro 8:1).
A life lived under the
control of the Holy Spirit is to be the demonstration of the truth that the link with
Adam has been severed.
“... and come into the
land which I shall shew thee.” The
separation from country and kindred portray the negative aspect of salvation, but the
invitation to enter Canaan is the typical revelation of the positive aspect of the
life of faith. The believer’s life
doesn’t consist merely of giving up earthly things, and abstaining from sin. If he is asked to turn his back on the things of earth, it is only
that God might fill those empty hands with eternal riches, for it is not to
impoverish, but to enrich, that He asks us to relinquish the worthless things of this
world. Hands grasping earth’s baubles
can’t lay hold on eternal treasure.
It is significant that
God’s first promise concerning the land was only that He would show it to Abraham. Possession would be in resurrection, and during his earthly
sojourn he had to have the faith to believe that possession would be in
resurrection. This is why we find the
fact of resurrection occurring so prominently in Abraham’s life.
Isaac, the promised seed, came out of two bodies as good as dead (Heb 11:12),
and it was that knowledge that bolstered Abraham’s faith when he was asked to offer
Isaac as a burnt offering. He obeyed
having the faith to believe that God Who had originally brought that son out of
death, as it were, would repeat the miracle, and raise him up from literal death (Heb
That is the kind of faith
that marks the genuine believer, and it is significant that the very foundation of
saving faith is related to faith in God as the God of resurrection “If thou shalt
confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God
hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Ro 10:9).
As Abraham walked through
the land of Canaan without possessing it, but having the faith to believe that in
resurrection he would possess it, so is the believer called upon to walk
through this world, having the faith to believe that he too in resurrection will
become the possessor of eternal riches so vast that “Eye hath not seen, nor ear
heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared
for them that love him” (1 Co 2:9).
however, who claimed to be the people of God, and who maintained that they were the
children of Abraham, knew nothing of Abraham’s faith, nor did they have anything
but an empty ritualistic relationship with Abraham’s God, the Lord Himself
denouncing them as hypocrites, and declaring them to be the children of Satan rather
than of God (Jn 8:44).
There are many in
Christendom today who make similar claims, and maintain the same religious charade,
but who lie under the same divine condemnation.
“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
Chaldea means as
clod-breakers, so that the Chaldean is a figure of the natural man, one occupied
with the things of earth rather than heaven. Such
was Abraham before leaving Ur, and such was every believer before conversion.
Charran is the Greek form of
the OT Haran, which means their mountain: their burning, and as noted already,
represents the zealous pride that marks the moral, but unconverted man.
It is significant that it was Terah, Abraham’s father, who appears to have
led the family there (Ge 11:31), for as also noted in other studies, he represents
the natural man as opposed to the spiritual man.
Their going to Haran therefore, instead of Canaan, is the symbolic disclosure
of the truth that mere moral reformation is the natural man’s substitute for
conversion. It is ominously significant
that “Terah died in Haran” (Ge 11:32). Mere
moral reformation ends in death.
It wasn’t until Terah was
dead that Abraham came into Canaan, the truth thus symbolically declared being that
it is only when our “old man’ is dead, being crucified with Christ (Ro 6:6),
i.e., at the moment of conversion, that we too “enter Canaan,” itself the figure
of the spiritual sphere into which conversion brings the believer.
We must note, however, that
while Canaan may be viewed as a type of heaven, it also represents the sphere of
profession here on earth, hence the presence of the professing, but unbelieving
nation in that same land at the time Stephen addressed the Jewish leaders.
There are many who profess to be believers, but only a relatively few who are,
see Lk 13:23-28. Those Jewish leaders
dwelt literally in Canaan, but not spiritually.
They professed to be in a right relationship with God, but they weren’t.
“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.”
Abraham’s possessing none
of Canaan during his lifetime is to remind us that we too will inherit all our
blessings in resurrection, what we enjoy of them here on earth being but the
foretaste of what awaits us in eternity.
It’s being emphasized that
Abraham wasn’t given of Canaan “so much as to set his foot on” is to teach us
the truth that we are not to covet anything of earth, for the measure in which
we do will simply diminish our present enjoyment of the spiritual blessings that are
ours in Christ. As Abraham walked in the
confidence of a faith that believed he would inherit Canaan in resurrection,
so are we to walk having the same confident faith to believe that we too will inherit
all our promised blessings in resurrection.
With reference to the phrase
“and to his seed after him,” Ga 3:16 enlarges upon this by declaring, “Now to
Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He
saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is
Christ.” The faith of the OT believer
is no different from that of his NT counterpart.
The faith of both centers on Christ; the one having faith to believe that He would
come; the other, faith to believe that he has come.
Abraham’s faith centered on the One Who was to come - the Seed promised in
But the phrase “when as
yet he had no child,” makes it clear that the promise embraced also Abraham’s
literal descendants. They, represented
by the believing remnant that will emerge from the Tribulation, will yet inherit the
earth in the soon-coming Millennium.
“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
The reference continues to
be to Abraham’s literal descendants, the foretelling of their Egyptian bondage
reminding us that God is the One Who holds the ages in His hand, and to Whom all
things are known, though we must be careful to distinguish between the things
foreknown by Him, and those which are predestinated.
Not all that is foreknown to God has been predestinated by Him.
We should note further that
in the reference to Israel’s sojourn in “a strange land” (Egypt), there is also
an oblique reference to the sojourn of the Lord, the true Seed, in that same land (Mt
2:13), for Mt 2:15 “Out of Egypt have I called my son,” makes it clear that what
is written in Ho 11:1 “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son
out of Egypt,” refers to both Israel and Christ, reminding us of the need to read
the OT Scriptures carefully, having God’s assurance that there is woven into the
literal language of the whole OT, countless symbolic references to Christ.
He who refuses to accept that much of the language of the OT is symbolic, robs
himself of by far the greater and better part of its teaching.
Regarding the imagined
discrepancy between the reference here to 400 years, and the 430 mentioned relative
to the same period in Ga 3:17, it is generally accepted that the 400 is simply a
rounded, rather than an exact number.
“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.”
As noted already, that
nation was Egypt, and the judgment was that which fell upon them in the form of the
plagues, culminating with the death of the firstborn on the night of the Passover,
and the destruction of their armies in the Red Sea as they pursued Israel. A careful study of Scripture, however, makes it clear that many of
the events recorded there are themselves foreshadowings of events still future, for
Egypt is a type of the world where dispersed Israel has been in bondage for the past
two thousand years, and where her treatment at the hand of that world has been as
“evil” as that accorded Israel in Egypt 3,500 years ago.
Many students of Scripture
(rightly I believe) take the plagues and destruction referred to above, to be
foreshadowings of the judgments that will devastate the Tribulation-age earth, and
that will also culminate in the destruction of Gentile power, and the emancipation of
the believing remnant of Israel. As
Israel came out of Egyptian bondage to serve God in Canaan, so will she yet emerge
from her long bondage in a Gentile-dominated world, to serve God in millennial
Canaan, she being then what God always intended her to be - “the head and not the
tail” (Dt 28:13) among the nations, and the channel of blessing to them.
“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
Stephen’s allusion to the
covenant of circumcision - the outward sign of God’s covenant with Abraham, and the
symbol of renunciation of all confidence in the flesh - ought to have reminded his
audience of the folly of maintaining an outward religious ritual when in heart they
were estranged from God. For example,
Jeremiah had declared that same need to their fathers, “Circumcise yourselves to
the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants
of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it,
because of the evil of your doings” (Jer 4:4).
For us to read, and fail to
take the lesson to heart, is to announce that our blindness is just as great as that
of Israel’s hypocritical leaders addressed by Stephen two thousand years ago.
It is to be noted also that
the sign was given after the covenant had been made, for the covenant was the
result of grace on God’s part. He was
under no necessity to make it. But as
the recipient of such a covenant, Abraham was called upon to demonstrate that he was
a man in covenant relationship with God, the outward sign being that which declared
symbolically renunciation of confidence in the flesh.
He would henceforth walk as a man in whom the deeds of the flesh were
symbolically cut off. In this is taught,
also symbolically, that salvation is by grace, and not by works.
Baptism, however, is the NT
equivalent of OT circumcision, for it declares that in us too the flesh has been cut
off. We have died to our former state,
and are alive to a new one through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and are henceforth
to walk as becomes our new condition. A
holy life is to be the demonstration of the new inward state.
But just as it wasn’t circumcision that brought about God’s covenant with
Abraham, neither is it the believer’s good works that accomplish his salvation.
“... and so Abraham begat
Isaac.” As frequently in the OT, the
spiritual message transcends the literal. Isaac
is a type of Christ, and the spiritual truth being taught here is that our new state
should see Christ being produced in us, each passing day finding His image more
clearly impressed upon us, so that men see Him, not us.
This was Paul’s consuming desire for the erring Galatians to whom he wrote,
“My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in
you” (Ga 4:19). This is God’s great objective, for Paul writes further, “For
whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his
Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Ro 8:29).
“... and circumcised him
the eighth day.” Isaac too was to bear
in his body the mark that certified death to the flesh; and the spiritual lesson is
easily read. Certainly Christ’s
resurrection body, in His nail-pierced hands and feet and spear-pierced side, bore
the literal imprint of the death of the flesh, a death He died as our Substitute when
“He tasted death for every man” (Heb 2:9). But that doesn’t appear to be the primary truth being declared
in Isaac’s being circumcised on the eighth day, for eight is the Scriptural number
of a new beginning. What is being
declared is the fact that the deeds of the flesh had no part in Him, Who sinless
Himself, nevertheless became man’s Substitute, dying in his stead, but rising again
as the One “... who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18).
Holiness should mark us also from the moment of our rising out of spiritual
death to become new creatures in Christ, possessed of His life, His nature.
“... and Isaac begat
Jacob.” Inasmuch as Jacob was also called Israel, we ought not to miss the
significance of its being said here that “Isaac begat Jacob” rather than
Israel. The reason isn’t difficult to
discern. Jacob is the name associated
with his natural state; Israel, the name associated with what he was spiritually.
The truth being taught here
is that even though every believer is the spiritual child of the true Isaac, and by
the new birth becomes possessor of His nature, we also retain the old “Jacob”
nature. But Jacob means supplanter,
while Israel means he shall be prince of God.
The old nature never changes even in the believer.
It never ceases its attempt to supplant the new nature, hence the need to keep
it in the place of death, where by God’s reckoning it now is for the believer.
Holiness is the hallmark of the new, the Israel nature; sin, the
characteristic of the old, the Jacob nature. Even as believers we are still men in these bodies of sin, but
under obligation to reveal even in these bodies, that we are sons of the true Isaac.
“... and Jacob begat the
twelve patriarchs.” This presents the
perpetuation of Abraham’s life through his descendants, and portrays symbolically
the eternal perpetuation of the new life obtained through faith in the Lord Jesus
Christ. As Abraham’s life is literally perpetuated in the countless Jews upon the
earth today, so will the life obtained through faith in Christ be perpetuated
But there is a further
lesson being taught in the number of the patriarchs, for twelve is the Scriptural
number of divine government on display. The
twelve tribes of Israel, and the Church, built not upon the foundation of the twelve
apostles themselves (Ep 2:20), but rather on the doctrine they taught, are the
corporate bodies in which the government of God is displayed, obedience bringing
blessing; disobedience, chastisement.
There is further instruction
here, however, for a careful study of Scripture reveals that Jacob’s twelve sons
are themselves the symbolic display of what ought to characterize believers, that
lesson being indicated first in the meanings of their names, and then continued in
their individual histories.
It is beyond the scope of
this present study to enlarge upon this line of truth, but a glance at the meanings
of their names will suggest the extent to which the study might be pursued.
Reuben, meaning see ye, a son, reminds us that we who are believers are
responsible to display in our daily lives that we are the sons of God.
declares the need of obedience to God’s Word; while Levi joined, assures us
of the eternal union existing between us and God through faith in the Lord Jesus
Christ. Judah meaning he shall be
praised, needs little comment. We
are to be to the praise of His glory (Ep 1:6,12).
Zebulun dwelling, is also easily read. Believers will dwell for ever in heaven, and because we will, we
should live here on earth as men whose citizenship is in heaven.
Issachar meaning he will
be hired: there is reward: he will bring reward, likewise needs little comment. For the little while of our sojourn here on earth, it is our
privilege to serve the best of all Masters, having the assurance that faithful
stewardship will be abundantly rewarded in the imperishable currency of heaven.
Dan judging: a judge,
reminds us of several truths related to us as believers.
We are to live our lives in the light of the knowledge that we shall all stand
before the judgment seat of Christ. We
are to judge ourselves in view of that day, and in the light of Scripture.
And while there are some matters we are not to judge (Mt 7:1-2), there
are, clearly, others that we are to judge (Mt 7:15-20; 1 Co 5:12-13; 6:1-5).
Gad an invader: a troop:
fortune, declares that we are left here on earth to invade the kingdom of Satan
with the gospel; we are God’s troops to fight against the powers of darkness; and fortune,
so far from indicating that we are simply pawns in the hand of a capricious God,
assures us rather that it is our privilege to serve Him Who holds all things in
control, and who works all things together for His own glory, and the good of those
who love Him.
Asher meaning happy,
needs little comment. Of all the people
on earth, believers are those who have most reason to be happy, for not only are we
on our way to heaven, but as we walk that way we have the assurance of God’s
presence with us always, and the further assurance that “All things work together
for good to them that love God.” An
unhappy Christian is a contradiction in terms, and a very poor advertisement for the
Naphtali my wrestling: my
tortuosity, portrays another characteristic of the believer: we too are
wrestlers, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities,
against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual
wickedness in high places” (Ep 6:12). And
while the enemy is powerful, he is not all powerful, but is, in fact, an
already defeated foe, while “... we are more than conquerors through him that loved
us” (Ro 8:37).
Joseph speaks of increase,
for his name means let him add, and we are called upon to display also the
Joseph character in our lives, by growing “in grace, and in the knowledge of our
Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pe 3:18), and by adding to “faith virtue; and to
virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to
patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness
charity (love)” (2 Pe 1:5-7). But
there is to be also increase through multiplication.
We are to reproduce ourselves by begetting spiritual sons and daughters, i.e.,
by leading others to the Savior.
And finally there is
Benjamin, meaning son of the right hand.
He represents what we are in Christ, for it is He alone Who is the Son of
God’s right hand; but as those who are in Christ, His position is also ours, for we
have been made “... heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Ro 8:17).
In many of the lists,
Joseph’s name is replaced with those of his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, and in
these also we have set forth traits that should mark us as believers.
Manasseh means causing to forget. The Manassite character will be displayed in us only as we emulate
Paul who declared, “... this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are
behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the
mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Php 3:13).
Ephraim means double
ash-heap: I shall be doubly fruitful, meanings which are less disparate than at
first appears. It is only as we consign
to the “ash-heap” everything that would hinder us in the heavenly race, that we
will produce fruit for God’s, and our own glory.
And again Paul is our example, as declared in his own words, “But what
things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the
knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things,
and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Php 3:7-8).
A fuller treatment of these
names is given in the author’s book Genesis Verse by Verse.
“And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with
As in chapter 3 Moses was
presented as a type of Christ, so here is Joseph also presented.
Since Christians have no difficulty in seeing these OT types, the Jewish
leaders of the apostolic age should have had no difficulty either; and God, in using
Stephen to refer to Moses and Joseph, was doing everything He could to convince them
that the Christ presented by Stephen was their Messiah, in Whom is found the
fulfillment of all that the prophets had written.
Glancing briefly at Joseph
in his typical character, we note the parallels between him and Christ.
Both were beloved by their fathers, but hated by their brethren.
Both were sold to what their brethren hoped was certain death; but both were
resurrected: Joseph, typically; Christ, literally.
During the time of rejection by their brethren, each went to the Gentiles, and
was promoted by God. And during that
time each received a Gentile bride: Joseph, Asenath; Christ, the Church.
Both are reconciled to their brethren whom they deliver from death: Joseph
saved his brethren from death by famine; Christ will yet deliver His brethren from
death in the Tribulation.
Stephen’s recounting the
experiences of Joseph should have convinced these Jewish leaders that the Jesus they
had crucified was indeed their Messiah, the Christ, for only wilful blindness could
fail to note the parallel between the life of Joseph and that of Christ.
“And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favor and wisdom in the
sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his
It was Pharaoh who promoted
Joseph, and it is to be noted that while the Pharaohs are generally types of Satan,
the evil prince of this world, the Pharaoh of Joseph’s day is clearly a type of the
Father. He was well disposed towards
Joseph, and promoted him; and in Joseph’s being subject to him, we have a picture
of the Lord’s subjection to the Father. As
Joseph was delivered and promoted, so also has Christ been delivered, and promoted to
God’s right hand, where He sits crowned with glory and honor awaiting that
soon-coming day when the scepter of earth will be placed in His hand, and He will
rule the world for God’s glory.
“Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan, and great
affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance.”
Bible students who recognize
the validity of biblical typology, agree that the seven years of famine in Egypt
foreshadow the coming seven years of tribulation.
Nor should we miss the significance of its being recorded that the dearth was
in “Egypt and Canaan.” Egypt
represents the world of business and pleasure living in defiant independence of God;
and Canaan represents, first, the world of Judaism, outwardly subject to God, but in
heart, as rebellious as the Gentiles; but in a broader context it also represents the
sphere of profession generally, so that the application is also to this present age.
Literal famine is always figurative of a corresponding spiritual condition,
and none will deny that there is a spiritual “famine” today in the world and in
the professing church.
In the world of Joseph’s
day the famine was spiritual as well as literal; and the condition was universal: Jew
and Gentile alike were estranged from God, spiritually starving.
So will it be also in the Tribulation. The
famine will be spiritual as well as literal, and will affect Jew and Gentile alike.
The fact that in Egypt and
Canaan there were both want and great affliction, reminds us that misery is the
concomitant of disobedience, and as it was then, so will it be again.
Jew and Gentile alike are now unconscious of any need of God, but the terrible
Tribulation judgments will bring that consciousness, and lead both to cry out to that
God Whose existence they refuse to acknowledge today.
“But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers
Since Egypt is a type of the
world as distinct from Israel, the fact of there being corn there declares that in
the Tribulation, Israel will learn that the Christ believed on by the Gentiles for
the preceding 2000 years, is the same Christ upon Whom they too must believe in order
to be saved.
The fact of there being two
visits seems to point to the fact that the first represents this present Church age
during which the Jew must go to the Gentile for the Word; but as there was no
reconciliation between Joseph and his brethren during the first visit, neither will
there be any reconciliation between Israel and Christ during this present Church age.
“And the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph’s
kindred was made known unto Pharaoh.”
This carries us figuratively
to what will be in the Tribulation. Not
until the “famine” of the Tribulation judgments has brought Israel to repentance
will the true “Joseph” be made known to His brethren; and in Joseph’s kindred
being made known unto Pharaoh we have presented the truth that it will be through
Christ that Israel will be fitted to stand before God, just as it is today through
Him that the Gentiles are also given that fitness.
He and He alone is the great Mediator, “For there is one God, and one
mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5).
“Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred,
threescore and fifteen souls.”
Of various explanations
offered for the discrepancy between the seventy of Jacob’s family mentioned in Ge
46:26, and the seventy-five mentioned here, the most likely is that the additional
five were distant relatives ignored in the Genesis record. Such instances of the Holy Spirit’s discrimination are not
uncommon, e.g., the genealogical lists in Matthew chapter one, and Luke chapter
three. That discrimination, however, is
never capricious, and here the number seventy-five is meant to teach us that the
believing nation that will emerge from the Tribulation judgments will be
characterized by what is common to the redeemed of every dispensation.
The factors of seventy-five are 3 x 5 x 5, three
being the number of resurrection; and five, of responsibility.
All the redeemed stand on resurrection ground, for all have been raised out of
spiritual death, and all have a two-fold responsibility: to obey God, and to witness
The Genesis account tells us
that they were located in Goshen (Ge 45:10), the best part of Egypt.
This is a picture of the Millennium, for during those thousand years Israel
will dwell in “Goshen,” i.e., in a Canaan which will be the richest part of a
phenomenally fruitful earth.
This section obviously ends
one typological picture, so that verse 15 must be viewed as the beginning of another.
“So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers,”
That small family group
reconciled to Joseph, represents, not only the believing remnant that will emerge
from the Tribulation to inherit millennial blessings,
but also the small believing remnant who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ
while He was here on earth. The fact
that they were in Egypt (type of the world) reminds us that all believers have to
sojourn for a little while here in the world as God’s witnesses; but the fact that
they died reminds us also that all believers (other than those who will be raptured
to heaven) must die in these natural bodies. This
world is a place of death.
His being described as
Jacob, rather than Israel, reminds us also that here on earth we too exhibit much of
what belongs to the old nature (for that is what Jacob represents).
The full exhibition of the perfection of the new nature (which is associated
with the name Israel) won’t be seen until we are home in heaven.
There is, however, also a
prophetic aspect to this typological picture. That
little group reconciled to Joseph, is, as noted already, representative of the little
remnant who believed in the Lord at His first advent. It must not be forgotten that they were Jews, and as such, were
representative of all Israel. Had the
whole nation followed their example, they could have had their Millennium then,
following seven years of tribulation. But
the majority refused to believe, with the result that the nation, as represented by
that believing remnant, “died,” the remnant becoming instead the beginning of the
“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.”
There has been an imagined
contradiction between this verse and Genesis 23 and 33; but clearly Scriptural
history is selective: not every detail has been recorded.
There is no reason why Abraham, in an unrecorded transaction, should not have
also purchased land at Shechem in addition to the field at Machpelah.
Whatever the literal
explanation, it is the spiritual truth that is important, and the fact remains that
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were buried at Hebron, while Joseph, and perhaps his
brothers, were buried at Shechem. Here
in the world (Egypt), we must die, but it is only to pass over to the better place
represented by Hebron and Sychem. Since
Hebron means communion, and Shechem shoulder, the truth being set
before us is that death simply brings the believer into closer communion with God,
for to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Co 5:8); while Shechem
reminds us of the security of the believer who has died.
His soul is home in heaven, and his body sleeps, safe and secure, until the
resurrection of life, when it will come forth, incorruptible, glorious, powerful,
spiritual (1 Co 15:42-44), “fashioned like unto His glorious body” (Php 3:21).
The important point is that
they were not buried in Egypt, but in Canaan. The
burial of the believer is very different from that of others. He is buried figuratively “in Canaan” (the land that
represents the sphere of faith), to await the resurrection of life; the unbeliever is
buried figuratevelly “in Egypt” (figure or type of the unbelieving world), to
await the resurrection of death.
Two truths are set before us
symbolically in the purchase of these burial places in Canaan.
First, Abraham’s purchase of the field of Machpelah, points us to Calvary,
where the Lord, not with silver and gold, but with His own precious blood, has
purchased for faith a burial place very different from that reserved for unbelief.
Second, returning to view
Abraham as the typical man of faith, his purchase of the burial place reminds us that
there is a sense in which the believer also purchases that burial place for himself.
He who would have heaven must give up the world.
We note too that it was
purchased from Hamor, which means an ass, the creature which represents man in
his natural condemned fallen state, “And every firstling of an ass thou shalt
redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck:
and all the firstborn of man ... shalt thou redeem” (Ex 13:13).
Faith purchases what unbelief counts of little worth.
And Hamor’s being the father of Sychem reminds us that nature too has its
own strength, but transient, and devoted to evil.
“But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham,
the people grew and multiplied in Egypt,”
The context makes it clear
that the reference is to the promise given Abraham in Ge 15:13, which relates to
Israel’s deliverance from four hundred years
of Egyptian bondage. Few Bible students,
however, have any difficulty in recognizing that that deliverance is itself a picture
of a greater: the deliverance from spiritual bondage and death, secured for all
believers through the death of Christ, the true Passover Lamb (1 Co 5:7).
Frequently, however, God
employs the same picture to convey several truths.
Israel’s deliverance from Egypt’s bondage is also a symbolic picture of
their future emancipation when Christ returns to end the Tribulation, and inaugurate
His millennial kingdom. And as has been
noted already, that deliverance could have been theirs two thousand years ago had
they as a nation believed in Him as their Savior Messiah.
Their having grown and
multiplied in Egypt reminds us that here on earth we too are to grow and multiply.
We are to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus
Christ” (2 Pe 3:18); and we are to multiply, that is, lead others to the Savior,
for the men and women we lead to Him are our spiritual sons and daughters.
“Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph.”
This begins a new section. Stephen, having presented his audience with a resume of Joseph’s
life, which is simply a foreshadowing of Christ’s, turned next to discuss the life
of Moses, in which they should have also seen a foreshadowing of that of the Lord,
but their blind eyes would see neither. That they should have seen the parallels is demonstrated by the
fact that we today can see them. Theirs
was wilful ignorance, and for that there is no remedy.
Before looking at each
verse, it might be helpful just to glance at a brief summary of Moses as a type of
When Moses was born Israel
was under the rule of an evil king, Pharaoh. When
Christ was born Israel was under the rule of an evil king, Herod. When Moses was born the male children were to be drowned in the
Nile. When Christ was born the male
children under two were to be slain. Moses
was saved by another generation Egyptian (Pharaoh’s daughter).
Christ was saved by being carried into the Egypt of His day (another
generation). Moses presented himself as
Israel’s deliverer. So did Christ.
Moses slew an Egyptian enemy. He
was victorious in the conflict. Christ slew the enemy at Calvary.
Moses presented himself the next day. Christ
was presented “the next day” (His resurrection appearances).
Moses was rejected. So was
Christ. Moses went to the Gentiles. So
did Christ. Moses received a Gentile
bride. So has Christ.
Moses returned to deliver Israel. So
will Christ. Egypt was judged and her power shattered at the Red Sea when Moses
led Israel towards Canaan. Christ will
judge the nations and destroy their power when He leads Israel into the millennial
“The same dealt subtilly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers,
so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live.”
As it was with them in Egypt
at the time of Moses’ birth, so was it with them also at the time of Christ’s
incarnation: they were in bondage to a Gentile power, Rome.
As the Pharaoh of Moses’ day knew not Joseph, neither did Herod know Christ.
As Pharaoh decreed the death of their male children, so did Herod.
“In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in
his father’s house three months.”
In the days of Herod, One
“fairer than the children of men” (Ps.45:2) was born; and as Moses was
“nourished up in his father’s house three months,” so was Christ “nourished
up” in his earthly father’s house (Israel) three decades.
“And when he was cast out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him up, and nourished
him for her own son.”
In the sovereignty of God,
the daughter of the very man who had decreed his death, was made the instrument of
Moses’ preservation. The type was
fulfilled in Christ, for He was preserved by the “daughter” (another generation)
of the same people who had attempted the annihilation of the godly line in the time
of Moses, “Arise, and take the young child ... and flee into Egypt ... for Herod
will seek the young child to destroy him” (Mt.2:13).
And verse 15 tells us that this was done “... that it might be fulfilled
which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my
Pharaoh’s attempt to
destroy the godly line of which Moses was the link, resulted in the death of many
male children. Herod’s attempt to cut
off the One Who completed the godly line, resulted also in the death of many male
“And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in
words and deeds.”
So with Christ.
His knowledge astounded His hearers, so that they asked
“How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” (Jn 7:15).
Even when He was a child of twelve “all that heard Him were astonished at
his understanding” (Lk 2:47). Note
also the testimony of the two on the road to Emmaus “... Jesus of Nazareth, which
was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Lk 24:19).
“And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his
brethren the children of Israel.”
At maturity Moses presented
himself as Israel’s deliverer. Christ
at thirty fulfilled the type, when He presented Himself as their Deliverer
“And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that
was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian:”
“For he supposed that his brethren would have understood how that God by his
hand would deliver them: but they understood not.”
The type was fulfilled at
Calvary when Christ slew the oppressor, but as it was with Moses, so was it also with
the Lord: Israel didn’t understand.
“And the next day he shewed himself unto them as they strove, and would have
set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one another?”
The intervening night has
its counterpart in the time Christ spent in the tomb, the “next day” answering to
His resurrection, and ensuing ministry, and that of the apostles following His ascent
to heaven. The two quarreling Israelites
of Moses’ day are the OT types of the quarreling Scribes and Pharisees, and of the
believing and unbelieving Jews of Christ’s day.
It is significant that on
the second day there was no slain Egyptian. Had
there been, it would have typically implied a second Calvary, but God is careful to
guard against even the hint of such a possibility, “... by his own blood he entered
in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb
9:12), “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat
down on the right hand of God” (Heb 10:12). There is no need of a second Calvary. The work was perfectly completed when Christ said “It is
“But he that did his neighbor wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a
ruler and a judge over us?
“Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday?”
No one will have any
difficulty in seeing in the wrong-doer the representative of the Jewish leaders of
Christ’s day, nor will anyone have any difficulty in seeing in his rejection of
Moses, the foreshadowing of the Jewish leaders’ rejection of Christ.
That they were oppressors is
made clear by the frequency with which the Lord denounced them, e.g., Mt 23:4 “For
they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders;
but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”
“Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian (Midian),
where he begat two sons.”
This is a figure or type of
the Lord’s turning to the Gentiles following his rejection by Israel, and the
fitness of the type is emphasized by the fact that Midian means contention: strife,
an apt description of the Gentile world. Many
Bible students see in the two sons begotten by Moses, a figure of the Jews and
Gentiles who trust in Christ as Savior during this present age of grace which began
on the day of Pentecost.
“And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness
of mount Sina (Sinai) my thorns an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a
The forty years are
generally recognized as being representative of the Church age, the forty (number of
testing) reminding us that this Church age has been one of testing for Israel, the
seven year Tribulation era judgments that will follow this present age, concluding
the testing that will see a remnant of Israel converted, and brought out of the
Tribulation as the new nation of Israel that will remain on the earth to enjoy the
millennial blessings delayed so long by her disobedience.
The reference to Sinai my
thorns is especially significant, for Sinai is associated with the law given to
Israel; thorns are the symbol of sin (Ge 3:18); and the wilderness reminds us that it
is her sin that has caused Israel to dwell, not only in the “wilderness” of a
hostile Gentile world, but in the spiritual “wilderness” of separation from God.
We should note also that
angels are frequently mentioned in connection with Israel, as is also miraculous
manifestation, and here we have both: the angel, and the miracle of a bush that
burned without being consumed. Everything
points to the fact that this is the symbolic foreshadowing of the resumption of
God’s dealings with Israel in the Tribulation.
Many have noted that the
bush, burning but not consumed, is also a double type, (1) of Israel, enduring the
chastisement of God, but being preserved through it, and (2) of Christ at Calvary
enduring the wrath of God against sin, but also emerging alive from that experience.
“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.”
This is generally recognized
as portraying the response of the remnant of Israel to the revelation of Christ that
will be given in the Tribulation through the gospel preached by the 144,000 of Re 7.
The remnant will turn aside to see that great sight so long hidden from their
eyes because of unbelief - of their Messiah hanging on Calvary’s tree, enduring the
wrath of God for their sins, being delivered for their offenses, but being raised
again (not consumed) for their justification (Ro 4:25).
It is possible that they will then see, as we see now, in that burning bush,
the figure of their own experience as a nation: under the judgment of God, but by His
grace preserved through it.
The voice of the Lord will
then come unto them as it did to Moses long ago, and they will be saved.
“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.”
The references to Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob continue to confirm that this is the OT foreshadowing of God’s
dealings with Israel in the soon coming Tribulation, while Moses’ trembling limbs,
and averted eyes, portray the reverential fear that will mark the remnant as God
reveals Himself to them through the gospel.
“Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place
where thou standest is holy ground.”
The shoe is the Biblical
symbol of separation which declares that God’s people are to walk in separation
from the defilement all around them in a world estranged from Him.
Note for example, that the returned prodigal (type of the repentant sinner),
had shoes placed on his feet. The
command to Moses to remove his shoes is the symbolic reminder that where God is there
is holiness, and therefore no need of separation.
Our concern ought to be that God doesn’t have to separate Himself from us
because of sin in our lives
“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.”
As has been noted by others,
God’s deliverance of His people from Egyptian bondage in the days of Moses, was but
the foreshadowing of the deliverance made available to her from greater spiritual
bondage through the death of the true passover Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is equally clear, however, that it is also a miniature of her coming
deliverance from the beast in the Tribulation.
There is clear typical
significance also in the fact that in spite of their having been brought out of
Egyptian bondage, that generation of Moses’ day never entered Canaan, but died in
the wilderness, through unbelief; and so was it also with the generation of
Christ’s day. Although the true
Passover Lamb had died for them, they too died in unbelief, and failed to enter the
millennial kingdom offered them both before and after the Lord’s crucifixion.
Another “generation” (believing Jews and Gentiles) “grew up” in the
apostolic age, to inherit better spiritual blessings.
In this context, Moses is a
type of Christ turning again to Israel after the rapture of the Church, to lead her
out of her spiritual bondage to sin and Satan, and her literal bondage to the nations
(portrayed by Egypt). As her deliverance
under Moses came only at the expiration of the plagues that intensified her
sufferings, but that devastated Egypt, so will her future deliverance come only after
the Tribulation judgments that will intensify her sufferings, but that will devastate
the world. (It is generally recognized
that the plagues which virtually destroyed Egypt in the days of Moses, are the OT
foreshadowings of the coming Tribulation judgments).
“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.”
This continues Stephen’s
presentation of Moses as a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, the true Ruler and
Deliverer Whom they had just rejected and crucified, and as we have discussed
already, the fact that we today can see in Moses a type of Christ, declares that the
Jews addressed by Stephen ought also to have been able to see that truth, so that
they were without excuse.
“He brought them out, after that he had shewed wonders and signs in the land
of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years.”
His reference to the
miracles performed by Moses prior to his leading them out of Egypt, reminds us that
the Lord also validated His claims by the miracles He performed during His public
ministry. Had the Jews of Christ’s day
but believed, His death as the true Passover Lamb (1 Co 5:7) would have delivered
them, not only from thraldom to Rome, but also from their far more terrible bondage
to sin, Satan and death.
And while the miracles which
Moses performed in Egypt relate to what that generation was delivered from,
the miracles at the Red Sea and in the wilderness point to what they had been
delivered for. God desired them
to enjoy the riches of Canaan. And so
was it with the generation of Stephen’s day. God
desired even better blessings for them, for obedience would not only have delivered
them from the bondage already mentioned, it would have brought them (following the
foretold seven years of the Tribulation) into the enjoyment of millennial
Canaan. Unbelief, however, kept the
generation of Moses’s day out of Canaan, and sadly, the generation standing before
Stephen, was about to repeat the folly of their fathers, their guilt being compounded
by virtue of the fact that they had that earlier example as a warning.
Hidden also from those
spiritually blind eyes was the fact that responsibility is in proportion to light
given, Because they had the example of their fathers, the
recompense of their disobedience would also be greater.
Instead of the forty years in the wilderness meted out in the days of Moses,
the rebels of Stephen’s day would be compelled to wander in the wilderness of the
Gentile world for two thousand years, i.e., fifty forties of years!
We are reading these things
amiss, however, if we fail to remember that we have been given even greater light, so
that the recompense of disobedience on our part will also be proportionally greater.
If men fail to enter by faith into the blessings secured for them by the
Lord’s death, their loss will be, not for forty years, or two thousand: it will be
eternal. For the sinner it will be the eternal loss of his soul, and for
the saint, eternal loss of reward.
“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
If we Gentiles can see the
parallel between the lives of Moses and Christ, how wilful was the blindness of those
Jewish leaders! They would neither obey
Moses, nor would they obey his great Antitype when He stood in their midst.
But God Who knows the end from the beginning, impelled Moses to declare “Him
shall ye hear.” That day of Israel’s
obedience and blessing is still future, but near, for no spiritual mind can fail to
see that this present age is almost ended. The
rapture of the Church could be today. There
will then be the brief interval until Israel makes her covenant with death, her
agreement with hell (Isa 28:18), her seven year covenant with the last Roman beast
emperor heading up the European coalition which will be Rome revived, the signing of
that covenant marking the beginning of the seven year Tribulation period.
The terrible judgments of the final three and a half years of that era will
accomplish what love has failed to do. They
will open Israel’s blinded eyes, and enable the remnant of that day to see what
their unbelieving fathers would not - that the Jesus they crucified is their Savior
Messiah. That acknowledgment will be all
that is needed to bring Him to their defense. He will come then (as He would have come in resurrection glory two
thousand years ago had they believed in His resurrection), and will deliver them out
of the hand of the final Roman beast emperor, and bring them into the enjoyment of
the millennial blessings so long delayed by their disobedience.
“This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel that
spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles
to give unto us:”
A clearer rendering of this
verse is “This (Moses) is he, who having later led the congregation of Israel out
of Egypt into the desert, stood as intercessor between them and the angel who spoke
to him at Sinai, giving him the living words of God for transmission to our fathers
and to us.”
That called out company or
assembly in the wilderness is a type of the Church, for she too is a called out
assembly of redeemed men and women who through faith in Christ, find themselves now
in a world, which prior to their conversion, was the equivalent of Egypt, but that
has now become the spiritual equivalent of the wilderness.
And as their deliverer and intercessor was with them during all their years in
the wilderness, so is our Deliverer and Intercessor with us during the interval
between our conversion and our entering heaven, His promise being, “I will never
leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb 13:5), “I am with you alway, even unto the end
of the world (age)” (Mt 28:20).
A further lesson related to
Israel’s wilderness experience is that it was a time in which the old generation
died out, and a new generation grew up. So
is it with us. The time on earth between
conversion and our entering heaven, is time in which the “old man” is to “die
out” as it were, while the “new man” matures, in preparation for the exercise
of his privileges and responsibilities in heaven, for it is to be remembered that the
faithfulness of our stewardship here on earth will govern the measure of the
responsibilities with which we will be entrusted eternally as we reign with Christ.
“To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their
hearts turned back again into Egypt.”
As it had been with the
generation under Moses, so was it with the generation addressed by Stephen.
The earlier generation’s rejection of Moses is but the OT foreshadowing of
the later generation’s rejection of Christ, and nothing less than self-willed
blindness could have resulted in their failing to see the parallels between what
their fathers had done with Moses, and what they themselves were doing with Christ.
Their hankering after the
things of Egypt is but the foreshadowing of the craving of present day Christendom
(and, sadly, of some genuine believers) for the things of the world, to which, by
God’s reckoning, we have become dead (Ga 2:20) through the cross of Christ.
“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.”
Aaron had been appointed to
be Moses’ prophet (Ex 7:1), i.e., the spokesman concerning what God would reveal to
Moses, yet instead of declaring the word of God during Moses’ absence, he became
instead the servant of the rebellious people, doing their bidding instead of
God’s, making for them the idol before which they prostrated themselves, provoking
God’s wrath. The fact that his name
means light bringer lends peculiar irony to his error.
It was no different in the
days of Christ’s earthly ministry. Those
who should have taught the people the truth of God, led them astray, and brought His
wrath upon them instead of His blessing. Nor
is it different today. Those who ought
to be instructing the people in the things of God, are they who lead them astray, and
encourage them in the worship of the gods venerated by the world.
“... which brought them
out of the land of Egypt.” It must not
be forgotten that though Moses had led them out, and had set Canaan before them, only
two of that faithless generation, Joshua and Caleb, actually entered the promised
land. This foreshadows the truth that
though the death of the Lord Jesus Christ made millennial and eternal blessings
available to Israel two thousand years ago, their unbelief kept them out of the
enjoyment of those blessings. The
ultimate truth being declared is that even though Christ’s death has made eternal
blessings available to the whole world, only a very few will enter into the enjoyment
of those blessings (Mt 7:13-14). And it
is significant that the Lord’s announcement of that fact is followed immediately by
His warning “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but
inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Mt 7:15).
“... we wot not what is
become of him.” Their ignorance
concerning Moses was but the precursor of the ignorance of the later generation
relative to the Lord Jesus Christ; and both foreshadow the same ignorance, not only
of an unbelieving modern world, but of an apostate church.
“And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol,
and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.”
It seems at first incredible
that those who had had such dramatic evidence of God’s power exercised on their
behalf, could have been guilty of such wickedness; but then we have little conception
of the wickedness of the human heart, regarding which God says “The heart is
deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9).
Their having chosen to
worship a bull calf is particularly instructive when we remember that to a pastoral
people, cattle constituted the greater part of their wealth, so that the bull calf,
in this context, represents the world’s business.
This brings the lesson closer to home, and reminds us that God’s people
today have been guilty of the same folly, for only the wilfully blind will refuse to
admit that the vast majority of those who constitute the professing church also put
far more confidence in the world’s wealth and ways than in God.
This translates ultimately into confidence in their own power and works.
Today as then, what they worship is the “calf” their own hands have made.
Their offering sacrifice
unto the idol has also its counterpart in the lives of many professing Christians
today. Look, for example, at the time
and ability sacrificed to the world’s business machine.
That same time and ability offered to God for His service would bring an
eternal reward; sacrificed as it is to Mammon, it will bring eternal loss on that
soon-coming day when we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ (Ro
Education, sports, pleasure
are only a few of the other gods to which a rebel world, and an equally rebel
professing church, also offer sacrifice today.
“... and rejoiced in the
works of their own hands.” This is
translated variously as “held festivities in honor of their own handiwork”;
“held a celebration over what their own hands had made”; “held a feast in honor
of the thing their hands had made.”
It is no different today.
Men - many of them professing
Christians - similarly rejoice. Consider,
for example, the festivities, celebrations, feasting, etc., associated with the
world’s business, sports, theater, etc.
“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?”
The OT passage from which
these words are taken is Amos 5:25-27, and it is significant that in the days of
Amos, God declared that He would “give up” the rebellious people into the hand of
the Babylonians. It is a fearful thing
when a nation or an individual exhausts the patience of God so that He gives them up,
for then there is no hope. It is madness
to ignore the warnings concerning the evil of testing God’s patience, “My Spirit
shall not always strive with man” (Ge 6:3); “He, that being often reproved
hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy” (Pr
29:1). The generation addressed by
Stephen was about to take that fatal step by killing him as they had killed the Lord,
and as their fathers had killed the prophets.
The terrible results of
being abandoned by God are dramatically displayed in our modern world, for Ro
1:24,26,28 assures us that, for the most part, a rebel world has been given up
to follow its own evil devices. It is
interesting to note also that they are described as having been given up “to
worship the host of heaven” i.e., the heavenly bodies, for a careful study of
Scripture reveals that He Who created, placed, and named those same constellations,
has displayed in them a gospel as plain to the instructed mind, as that written in
Scripture itself. See, for example, The
gospel in the Stars by Joseph A. Seiss (Kregel Publishers), and God’s Voice
in The Stars by Kenneth C. Fleming (Loizeaux Brothers).
A world that loves darkness rather than light, however, has long since lost
that knowledge, and has prostituted the divine stellar revelation to the service of
the occult through astrology.
“... have ye offered to me
slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness?” is
considered by many to be God’s sarcastic declaration that the offering of those
sacrifices had been a mere empty ritual marked by the same spirit as prompted their
worship of numerous heathen gods, He Himself being regarded simply as another in the
“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.”
Moloch or Molech was an
Ammonite god whose worship involved the sacrifice of children.
What is meant by Israel’s having taken up the tabernacle of Moloch is
uncertain, but there is no doubt that they worshiped him, as they did also Remphan or
Rephan, a god associated in some way with Saturn.
So great was God’s anger with this idolatry that it impelled Him to deliver
them into the hand of the Babylonians. (The
reference in Amos is to Damascus, to which the ten tribes were carried captive; but
Stephen was probably speaking from the perspective of Judah’s captivity in Babylon,
which was the final stroke of divine chastisement against the idolatrous
It is perhaps not without
significance that two similar evils pervade society today.
The thousands of children “sacrificed” by means of abortion, and the
world’s preoccupation with the occult, are no less abominable to God, nor are the
offenders any more likely to escape His judgment.
“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.”
There can be no question
that its being called “the tabernacle of witness” is because it was from
there that God made His will known to the people; but it is equally beyond question
that it was also a tabernacle of witness because in all its material, in every
article of its furniture, in every detail of the ritual associated with it, He has
presented us with symbolic pictures of the Lord Jesus Christ, of His redeemed people,
and of their worship and service. Their
having been given that witness left them without excuse.
We who have been given a
more dramatic witness - the fulfillment of all the OT types and shadows in the Lord
Jesus Christ - have even less excuse for our disobedience.
Nor should we fail to learn the lesson of God’s insistence that in
connection with the tabernacle there was to be no departure from the divine pattern.
How great, then, in His
sight is the rebellion of professed believers who carelessly disregard or defiantly
change His appointed order for the worship and work of the Church!
We deviate from that order at our peril.
“Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus (lit., Joshua)
into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our
fathers, unto the days of David;”
This verse takes us from the
first generation who were given the Tabernacle, to the generations that followed
them, and is meant to remind us that we too are men and women of a later generation
than those to whom NT revelation was first given in the apostolic age.
As those later generations of Israel were responsible to preserve all that God
had commanded in regard to the Tabernacle, so are we responsible to preserve with the
same scrupulous care the truth bequeathed to us by the apostles.
Nor should we miss the
significance of its being said that those who entered Canaan with Joshua, were given
“the possession of the Gentiles,” i.e., they were given what others (the
Gentiles) had forfeited by their disobedience. We
of this Church age (and the Church consists largely of Gentiles), stand on virtually
the same ground, for we have been given even greater blessings than those forfeited
by the disobedience of another - unbelieving Israel.
“... whom God drave out
before the face of our fathers.” It
was through Joshua that God had driven out the enemy so that Israel might inherit.
It is to the true Joshua, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the mighty victory He won
at Calvary, that we also are indebted for the greater blessings bestowed upon us.
The use of the Tabernacle
until the days of David (after which it was replaced with the Temple), would remind
us that this present age is also to end with the coming of the true David, the Lord
Jesus Christ. It was at the end of
David’s reign, and the beginning of Solomon’s, that the Temple replaced the
Tabernacle, and students of Biblical typology are in general agreement that David
portrays Christ during this age of His rejection, while Solomon portrays Him in
millennial glory, the Tabernacle and its accompanying ritual foreshadowing this
present Church age, while the Temple and its ritual foreshadow the coming millennial
age which will bring earth’s turbulent history to a glorious close.
That earth’s history is
accurately portrayed in the typology of the OT is apparent to every careful reader,
and nowhere is that truth more clearly demonstrated than in the events which
culminated in the reign of Solomon. The
anarchy of the era of the Judges clearly foreshadows the condition of the world and
the professing church today; and as that lawless era ended with the tyrannous and
disastrous reign of Saul, so will this present age be followed by the reign of the
beast, of whom Saul is patently a type; and as Saul was followed by David and
Solomon, so will the beast be followed by Christ, returning first to judge the
nations, and then to rule in millennial glory. As the anarchy of the days of the Judges caused Israel to long for
a king, so does the rampant anarchy of this present day cause God’s people to long
for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Who found favor before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of
“But Solomon built him an house.”
“Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the
“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?”
“Hath not my hand made all these things?”
The history of God’s
earthly house should have taught them the truth declared by Stephen.
The glorious temple of Solomon which had replaced the Tabernacle, had been
destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, and was later replaced with the inferior temple of
Zerubbabel. It in turn had been replaced
with the magnificent edifice standing in Jerusalem in the days of Stephen; but the
Lord Himself had declared that it too would pass away, a prediction fulfilled in AD
70, just thirty-eight years after His death and resurrection.
Today, God through the Holy Spirit, dwells in the Church, the temple comprised
of living stones, i.e., those born again through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
But that “temple” too is soon to be removed as the Lord Himself comes to
the air and catches His Church up to heaven. There
will then be some form of temple in Jerusalem during the seven years of the
Tribulation era, that building to be replaced with the glorious millennial temple.
But that too will come to an end when the present heavens and earth are
destroyed by fire, and replaced with the new heavens and earth in which God will
dwell for ever with the redeemed of all the ages.
The ignorance of Stephen’s
accusers was displayed in their believing that their temple, or any other building,
could contain Him Who is omnipresent; and in their believing that all God required
was adherence to a mere outward ritual. The
Scripture referred to is Isa 66:1-2, and it declares that God dwells not in temples,
but in obedient hearts, “... but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor
and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.”
“Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy
Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.”
The stiff neck speaks of
stubborn refusal to bend or change; and an uncircumcised heart is one, which
unconvicted by the Word of God, refuses to put away evil and pursue righteousness.
An uncircumcised ear is one that refuses to listen to God’s Word.
Just as the believer can resist the Holy Spirit by quenching and grieving Him,
so also can the unconverted resist Him, and a truth not sufficiently grasped today is
that there can be no conversion apart from conviction wrought in the heart through
submission to the Holy Spirit’s striving. The
history of the human race begins with the warning “My Spirit shall not always
strive with man” (Ge 6:3), and continues “He, that being often reproved hardeneth
his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy” (Pr 29:1).
Those warnings have seldom been more blatantly ignored than by this present
generation, the only possible exception being those denounced by Stephen - the most
religious nation of which history bears record.
Nor should we fail to note that nothing has changed in the ensuing two
thousand years: the religious self-righteous professor still resists the striving of
the Holy Spirit, refusing to admit any need of a Savior.
“... as your fathers did,
so do ye.” As it was then, so is it
now: the traditions of men are esteemed better than the Word of God.
“Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain
them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the
betrayers and murderers:”
Their fathers were guilty of
murdering the prophets, but they had exceeded the wickedness of their predecessors:
they had killed the One of Whom the prophets testified.
Roman hands might have carried out the actual crucifixion, but it is Israel
whom God charges with the Lord’s murder, for it was she who had instigated His
death. And the righteousness of the
Victim stands in stark contrast with the wickedness of His killers; He is described
as “the Just One,” but they, as “betrayers and murderers.”
“Who have received the law by the disposition of angels and have not kept
Disposition is variously
rendered “ordained by,” “transmitted by,” “given through,” “the
mediation of,” “delivered by,” “by the hand of,” but it is difficult to see
just what part angels had in the giving of the law, unless the reference is to the
sounding of the trumpet when God spoke with Moses at Sinai, see Ex 19:16, 19, the
trumpet presumably being blown by an angel.
To them, concerned only with
the outward appearance, but indifferent to the state of the heart, Stephen’s
accusation undoubtedly seemed unjust, for they were punctilious relative to the
letter of the law, but blind to the fact that God’s concern was with the heart, and
from that perspective they had utterly failed to keep what He had commanded.
Many today are guilty of the same error.
“When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed
on him with their teeth.”
Their reaction was in
glaring contrast with that of the multitude addressed by Peter on the day of
Pentecost, for they, when accused of the death of Christ, “... were pricked in
their heart, and said ... What shall we do?” (Ac 2:37), the result being that about
three thousand souls were saved that day (2:41).
The gospel, preached in the
power of the Holy Spirit, will either convict men of sin and lead them to repentance,
or it will evoke violent antagonism as in the case of those addressed by Stephen.
The reason we see so little
of that hostility today is not because men’s hearts have changed, but because the
“gospel” preached lacks any convicting power.
The Biblical gospel, preached in fellowship with God, and in the power of an
ungrieved and unquenched Holy Spirit, is still “the power of God unto salvation to
every one that believeth” (Ro 1:16).
“But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven,
and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,”
It is this that explains the
power of Stephen’s words: he was full of the Holy Ghost, reminding us that there is
a very great difference between being indwelt by the Holy Spirit (which every
believer is), and being filled with that same Holy Spirit, which is the
experience of relatively few, the lack resulting, not from God’s choice, but ours,
for we will enjoy His filling only to the degree that we yield obedience to His will.
And as the degree of His filling is proportionate to our obedience, so also is
the manifestation of His power.
That power would be more
evident in our lives if we also looked more often up into heaven with similar
intentness, for it is only as our eyes are filled with the vision of “the glory of
God” that we will see the things of earth in proper perspective.
Concerning the Lord Jesus
Christ, He is invariably described as being seated in heaven, but Stephen
beheld Him standing, and from this we may learn something of the concern the
Lord has for His faithful martyrs. At
the death of the first of that illustrious company from the Church age, He rose up. Was
it perhaps to welcome Stephen’s soul into heaven?
“And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on
the right hand of God.”
As the mind of the natural
man cannot comprehend the spiritual things understood by the spiritual man, neither
can the eye of the natural man discern what is clear to the eye of faith.
The spiritually blind mob saw nothing of the glory that filled Stephen’s
eye. It was the same in connection
with Paul on the Damascus road, “The men which journeyed with him stood
speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man” (Ac 9:7).
The Lord’s standing on the
right hand of God reminds us that the right hand is the hand of power. He Who came once in humility, and Who never once on His own behalf
went beyond the weakness that belongs to humanity, will come again in power to rule
the world for God’s glory.
“Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon
him with one accord.”
How different it will be in
that day of judgment when those same men will stand before the Lord whose servant
they killed, as they had also the Master! The
loud voices that clamored for Stephen’s blood will then be silent as He Whose voice
is as the sound of many waters, pronounces their condemnation, and banishes them into
the eternal torment of the lake of fire. They
who stopped their ears against the invitation of the gospel, will lack the power then
to stop them against the command that will banish them for ever from the presence of
the Judge they had rejected as Savior. The
feet that ran so eagerly that day to send Stephen into eternity, will have no power
to run from the fire of that awful lake which their own rebellion has chosen as their
eternal dwelling place.
“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.”
As they had cast the Lord
Himself out of their city, so did they also His servant, little realizing that by
their rejection of both, they were shutting themselves for ever out of God’s city,
the heavenly Jerusalem, the stones they cast on Stephen being as feathers compared to
the charges of guilt that will cause them to die the second death (Re 20:14-15),
sinking them down into that fiery lake from which Christ died to save them, and in
regard to which Stephen warned them.
What folly it is for man to
contend with God! Even as they ushered
one servant out of this world, He had already appointed a successor to be His
witness, and one, moreover, whose testimony would go out to an audience vastly
greater than that reached by Stephen: the whole Gentile world.
Nor would it have been easy to find a less likely witness than Saul whose
zealous hatred of believers exceeded even that of those who stoned Stephen.
That Saul was such a man, however, is a testimony to the transforming power of
“And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive
As was the Master so was
this faithful servant. As the Lord,
having finished His work, dismissed His spirit into the hand of the Father, so now
Stephen, knowing that his work was done, also committed
his spirit into the hand of the Lord he had served so faithfully.
This verse has been cited as
authority for addressing prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ, rather than to the Father
in the Son’s name. It is to be noted,
however, that like most of the other such verses cited, this was in the context of
Stephen’s being face-to-face with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture makes it clear that prayer is to be addressed to the Father, in the
name of the Son, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
“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.”
His kneeling in the presence
of the Lord, even in such circumstances, rebukes the irreverence displayed today by
so many in His presence. Some professed
believers treat Him with less respect than they would a local council member.
And the character of the
Master was perfectly impressed on that of the servant.
As the Lord had besought the Father to pardon the sin of His murderers, so did
Stephen display the same concern for those who took his life.
How little that character has been impressed on many of us is disclosed by our
indifference to the fate of the souls, not of our enemies, but of those who count us
It is to be noted also that
he is said to have fallen asleep. The
departure of the believer from this world is never referred to in the NT as dying,
but as falling asleep, for the believer’s body simply sleeps in the grave until the
resurrection of life, when it will be raised incorruptible, glorious, powerful,
spiritual (1 Co 15:42-44), “fashioned like unto His glorious body” (Php 3:21).