For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

7:1.  “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.

Much the same state prevails in the professing church today.

7:2.  “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 Charran,”

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 divine glory.

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 God’s commands.

Incidentally, Abraham’s 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.

7:3.  “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 11:19).

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).

Stephen’s audience, 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.

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.”

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.

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.” 

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 Ge 3:15.

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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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 eternally.

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. 

Simeon hearkening, 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 gospel.

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.

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

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.

7:10. “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 house.” 

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.

7:11.  “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.

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

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.

7:13.   “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).

7:14.  “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 to men.

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.

7:15.  “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 Church.

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.” 

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.

7:17.  “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.

7:18.  “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 Christ.

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 kingdom.

7:19.  “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. 

7:20.  “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.

7:21.   “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 son.”

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 children.

7:22.  “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).

7:23.  “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

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

7:25.  “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.

7:26.  “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 finished.”

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

7:28.  “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.”

7:29.  “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.

7:30.  “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 bush.”

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.                                         

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.”

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.

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.”

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.

7:33.  “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

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.”

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).

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.” 

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.

7:36.  “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.

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.”

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.

7.38.  “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. 

7:39.  “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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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 14:10).

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.

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?”

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 pantheon.

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.”

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 nation).

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.

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.”

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.

7:45.  “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.

7:46.  “Who found favor before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.”

7:47.  “But Solomon built him an house.”

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

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?” 

7:50.  “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.”

7:51. “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.

7:52.  “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.”

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

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.

7:54.  “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).

7:55.  “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?

7:56.  “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.

7:57.  “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.

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.”

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 the gospel.

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

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.

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.”

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 as friends.

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).

[Acts 8]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough