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Chapter 7

Stephen's Speech to the Sanhedrin

 

This speech, or defence, made by Stephen takes up most of the chapter.   The main purpose of it is to show the reason why God separated a people (the Jews) to himself was in order that He might bring forth and fulfil the promise of the Saviour of the world (Gen. 3: 15).   In reminding the members of the Sanhedrin of the history of Israel he brought an accusation against those who were falsely accusing him.   Instead of having a true enthusiasm for the Temple and the Law in their opposition to the gospel, the Jews were showing  the same rebellious spirit of unbelief that their forefathers, who resisted the purposes of God.

 

Call of Abraham and God's Promise to him.

 

In verse one the high priest gives Stephen an open invitation to answer the charges made against him and he does so by going right back before the nation of Israel came into being.   '

 

7:1-4 Then the high priest said, "Are these things true?" So he replied, "Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our forefather Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he settled in Haran, and said to him, 'Go out from your country and from your relatives, and come to the land I will show you.' Then he went out from the country of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After his father died, God made him move to this country where you now live.

 

It was God that took the first step in separating a people to Himself by calling Abraham out of his father's land and from his father's people to go a land that he did not know nor had ever seen.   This was the first step of faith that Abraham took and the reason why he is known as "the father of the faithful" (Rom. 4: 16).   '

 

7:5-7 He did not give any of it to him for an inheritance, not even a foot of ground, yet God promised to give it to him as his possession, and to his descendants after him, even though Abraham as yet had no child. But God spoke as follows: 'Your descendants will be foreigners in a foreign country, whose citizens will enslave them and mistreat them for four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,'said God, 'and after these things they will come out of there  and worship me in this place.'

 

Although Abraham never possessed any of the land it was promised to his descendents (Gen. 12: 7) who would take possession of it after being in bondage in Egypt for 400 years.  '

 

7:8 Then God gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision, and so he became the father of Isaac and circumcised him when he was eight days old, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.

 

God made an agreement with Abraham of which circumcision was a seal (Gen. 17: 9 - 14).   Under these circumstances he became the father of Isaac, who was the father of Jacob who was the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.

 

7:9-16 The patriarchs, because they were jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt. But God was with him, and rescued him from all his troubles, and granted him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. Then a famine occurred throughout Egypt and Canaan, causing great suffering, and our ancestors could not find food. So when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors there the first time. On their second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers again, and Joseph's family became known to Pharaoh. So Joseph sent a message and invited his father Jacob and all his relatives to come, seventy-five people in all. So Jacob went down to Egypt and died there, along with our ancestors, and their bones were later moved to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a certain sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

 

God prepares the way to preserve the people in order to keep His promise."   God used the jealousy of Joseph's brothers when they sold him.   He became governor of all Egypt in order that through him God might preserve the lives of them, their families and father Jacob through the time of famine and that the promise He made to Abraham would be fulfilled (Gen. 50: 20). God has called and separated us to Himself and given us His promises through the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1: 20)  

 

 

God Delivers Israel by Moses.

 

7:17-19 But as the time drew near for God to fulfill the promise he had declared to Abraham, the people increased greatly in number in Egypt, until another king who did not know about Joseph ruled over Egypt. This was the one who exploited our people and was cruel to our ancestors, forcing them to abandon their infants so they would die.

 

When it was nearly time (the 400 years of bondage that was foretold) for God to bring to fulfilment His promise, the number of the people multiplied so much so that the Egyptians became afraid of them in case they became stronger than they were and overcame them.   So they were made slaves and their babies were destroyed.   '

 

7:20-22 At that time Moses was born, and he was beautiful to God. For three months he was brought up in his father's house, and when he had been abandoned, Pharaoh's daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. So Moses was trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his words and deeds.

 

It was then that God preserved the life of Moses and raised him up to be the deliverer of His people (Heb. 11: 23 - 26).

 

7:23-29 But when he was about forty years old, it entered his mind to visit his fellow countrymen the Israelites. When he saw one of them being hurt unfairly, Moses came to his defense and avenged the person who was mistreated by striking down the Egyptian. He thought his own people would understand that God was delivering them through him, but they did not understand. The next day Moses saw two men fighting, and tried to make peace between them, saying, 'Men, you are brothers; why are you hurting one another?' But the man who was unfairly hurting his neighbor pushed Moses aside, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and judge over us? You don't want to kill me the way you killed the Egyptian yesterday, do you?' When the man said this, Moses fled and became a foreigner in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.

 

However Moses tried to do it in his own strength and way but it never worked, and so he had to flee from Egypt into the desert where he stayed for forty years.   It was during this time that God humbled and prepared Moses to serve Him.

 

7:30-33 After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the desert of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and when he approached to investigate, there came the voice of the Lord, 'I am the God of your forefathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.' Moses began to tremble and did not dare to look more closely. But the Lord said to him, 'Take the sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.

 

God had also been preparing Moses for the time when He would reveal Himself and speak to him in the burning bush.   In the awesome presence of God Moses trembled and was terrified and dared not  look up.  He had to remove his sandals because he was standing on 'holy ground", that is sacred, pure, consecrated, separated to God (see 1 Pet. 1: 15 - 16).   '

 

7:34 I have certainly seen the suffering of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to rescue them. Now come, I will send you to Egypt.'

 

It was here that God told Moses that He, that is God not Moses, had come to deliver His people from the hand of the Egyptians and that He would use Moses to do it.   '

 

7:35 This same Moses they had rejected, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and judge?' God sent as both ruler and deliverer through the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush.

 

And so God by grace and in mercy delivered them by many signs and wonders and kept them by His powers through their desert wanderings.      

 

7:36 This man led them out, performing wonders and miraculous signs in the land of Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years.

 

God has delivered us from the power of Satan, sin and death by His Son the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 1: 4) and made a way for us to enter Heaven.

 

7:37-43 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, 'God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers.' This is the man who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors, and he received living oracles to give to you. Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him, but pushed him aside and turned back to Egypt in their hearts, saying to Aaron, 'Make us gods who will go in front of us, for this Moses, who led us out of the land of Egypt  — we do not know what has happened to him!' At that time they made an idol in the form of a calf, brought a sacrifice to the idol, and began rejoicing in the works of their hands. But God turned away from them and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: 'It was not to me that you offered slain animals and sacrifices  forty years in the wilderness, was it,  house of Israel? But you took along the tabernacle  of Moloch  and the star of the  god Rephan,  the images you made to worship, but I will deport  you beyond Babylon.'

 

 

Israel rebels against God

 

Right at the beginning of this rebellious portion we have the promise that God would bring forth the Saviour, Jesus Christ, in spite of the behaviour of His chosen people toward Him.   'V38 - 43"   Their rebellion started at Mount Sinai when Moses was receiving the Law from God.   Although He had mightily delivered, preserved and provided for them, they turn to worship the golden calf.   From there on right through to the exile in Babylon and up to the time of Christ they rebelled and turned away from God time and time again.   And yet God was still gracious and merciful to them because of the promise He had made to Abraham.

 

7:44-50 'Our ancestors had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as God who spoke to Moses ordered him to make it according to the design he had seen. Our ancestors received possession of it and brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our ancestors, until the time of David. He found favor with God and asked that he could find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob. But Solomon built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands, as the prophet says, 'Heaven is my throne,

 

and earth is the footstool for my feet.

 

What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,

 

or what is my resting place? Did my hand not make all these things?'

 

God's True Tabernacle"   While they were in the wilderness God gave plans to Moses to make a tabernacle in which was the "Holy of Holies" wherein the "Ark of the Covenant" was put.   It was the place where God came down in all His glory.   Later on Solomon built the Temple as a house for God to dwell in.   Neither the Tabernacle nor the Temple were the true dwelling place of God for neither could contain Him.  

The true dwelling place of God is with those who have believed and accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour (1 Cor. 3: 16 - 17; Eph. 2: 21 - 22; 1 Pet. 2: 5)  

 

7:51-53 You stubborn people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, like your ancestors did! Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold long ago the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become! You received the law by decrees given by angels, but you did not obey it."

 

 

Israel Resists the Holy Spirit

 

Here Stephen turns from history to the present with a direct accusation, which is what he has been leading up to.   He brings the message home to them personally for they are responsible as individuals before God no matter what their forefathers did.   He tells them they are '"stick-necked"", that is, stubborn, unwilling to yield, 'uncircumcised in heart and ears"".   Because they were circumcised in the flesh they were self righteous in believing that the outward show made them righteous before God.   But it was not circumcision in the flesh that God required but of the heart (Rom. 2: 28 - 29).   Thus they were always actively resisting the Holy Spirit, persecuting and killing the prophets that God had sent to foretell the coming of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom 'they" had betrayed and murdered.   This they did even though God had given them His law.

Do we resist the Holy Spirit ?

 

 

Stephen Martyred

 

7:54 When they heard these things, they became furious and ground their teeth at him.

 

When they heard these things it was as if a double edged sword had pierced their hearts but instead of repenting they became furious with Stephen to the extend that they gnashed at him like mad dogs would.  

 

7:55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently toward heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

 

How did Stephen react ?   He did not try to run away or turn to the left or right of him looking for help but being filled with the Holy Spirit he looked upward to heaven.  Thus God opened the curtains of heaven as it were and gave him a glimpse of His Glory and of His exalted Son standing in the place of all power and authority.   '

 

7:56-58 Look!" he said. "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" But they covered their ears, shouting out with a loud voice, and rushed at him with one intent. When they had driven him out of the city, they began to stone him, and the witnesses laid their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.

 

This was too wonderful for him to keep to himself so he cried out what he saw and this further infuriated his enemies who screamed out and covered their ears not to hear him.   Rushing upon him they drag him outside the city and stone him.   The latter part of verse 58 is significant for it introduces us to Saul who became Paul.  

 

7:59-60 They continued to stone Stephen while he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" Then he fell to his knees and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" When he had said this, he died.

 

Like his Lord and Master before him Stephen, when about to die committed his soul into the hands of his Saviour and graciously asks forgiveness for his murderers (Luke 23: 34, 46). Stephen was the first Christian to suffer death for Christ and the Gospel's sake, many more have done so right throughout the centuries and to this present day.   Would we be prepared to do the same ?'

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