Acts 7



1 “Then said the high priest, Are these things so?”

And the high priest said for then said the high priest, Authorized Version. The

high priest spoke as president of the Sanhedrin (see Acts 9. 1 and Matthew 26:62).

Theophilus the son of Annas or his brother Jonathan is probably meant.


2 “And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory

appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia,

before he dwelt in Charran,”  Brethren and fathers for men, brethren, and fathers,

Authorized Version. Haran for Charran, Authorized Version. Brethren and fathers.

The Greek is ἄνδρες ἀδελφοὶ  - andres adelpohoi - men who are also my brethren

καὶ πατέρες kai pateres - and fathers.  He adds“and fathers” out of respect to

the elder and more dignified portion of the Sanhedrin. It seems probable that

Stephen, as a Hellenist Jew, spoke in Greek, which is borne out by the

quotations being from the Septuagint, though some think he spoke in Hebrew.

Greek was generally understood at this time by all educated persons. As

regards its scope and object, the two main clues to it are the accusation

which Stephen rose to rebut, and the application with which he ended in

vs. 51-53. If we keep these two things steadily in view, we shall not be

very far wrong if we say that Stephen sought to clear himself by showing:


(1) by his historical summary, what a true and thorough Israelite he was in

heart and feeling and fellowship with the fathers of his race, and therefore

how unlikely to speak blasphemous words against either Moses or the temple;


(2) how Moses himself had foretold the coming of Christ as a prophet like

himself, to enunciate some new doctrines;


(3) how at every stage of their history their fathers had resisted those who

were sent to them by God, and that now his judges were playing the same



Perhaps it may be further true, as Chrysostom explains it (Hom. 15.,

16., 17.), that his intention in the early part of the speech was to show that

the promise was made:


Ø      before the place,

Ø      before circumcision,

Ø      before sacrifice, and

Ø      before the temple,”


in accordance with Paul’s argument (Galatians 3:16-18); and that therefore

the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant could not be dependent upon the Law

or the temple. The God of glory. This unusual phrase identifies God, of whom

Stephen speaks, with the God whose visible glory was seen by the patriarchs

(Genesis 12:7; 18:1; 26:2; 28:12-13; 35:9; Exodus 24:16-17; Numbers 16:19;

Isaiah 6.; John 12:41). Paul uses a similar phrase, “The Lord of

glory” (I Corinthians 2:8). Our father. He thus identifies himself with

his judges, whom he had just called “brethren.” In Mesopotamia, which

would be in Hebrew “Aram of the two rivers.” The exact place, as we learn

from Genesis 11:31, was Ur of the Chaldees;” whence the Israelites

were taught to say (Deuteronomy 26:5), “A Syrian ready to perish

was my father.” That this appearance was in Ur, before he dwelt in

Haran, is manifest from Genesis 11:31, because it is there said that

they went forth from Ur “to go into the land of Canaan,” which makes it

quite certain that the appearance of God to Abraham had preceded their

leaving Ur, and was the cause of it. And this is confirmed by Genesis

15:7; Nehemiah 9:7; and Josephus (‘Ant.,’ 1. 7:1). Moreover, the very

language of the call shows plainly that it came to him when he was living in

his native country, among his kindred, and in his father’s house, i.e. at Ur,

not in Haran, where they were only sojourners. There is nothing the least

unusual, in Hebrew narrative, in the writer going back to any point in the

preceding narrative with which the subsequent narrative is connected.

Genesis 12. It precedes in point of time Genesis 11:31; similar examples

are Ibid. ch. 37:5-6; Judges 20., passim; I Samuel 16:21 compared

with Ibid. ch.17:28; 22:20-21, compared with Ibid. ch. 23:6; and many more.

It is, however, of course possible that a fresh call may have been given after

Terah’s death, though it is by no means necessary to suppose it. Another

imaginary difficulty arises from the statement in Genesis 12:4 that Abraham

was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran, that Terah lived

seventy years and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran, and that Terah died at the

age of two hundred and five; and from the statement in v. 4 of this chapter that

Abram did not leave Haran till Terah’s death. From which it is concluded that

Terah must have lived sixty years after Abram’s departure (70 + 75 + 60 = 205).

But the whole difficulty arises from the gratuitous supposition that Abram

was Terah’s firstborn because he is named first. If Terah were a hundred

and thirty at the birth of Abram, he would be two hundred and five when

Abram was seventy-five. Now, there is absolutely nothing to forbid the

supposition that such was his age. It does not follow that because Abram is

named first he was the eldest. He might be named first as being by far the

most illustrious of the three, he might be named first because the

subsequent genealogies — Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve Patriarchs — were

deduced from him. There may, too, have been other sons of Terah, not

named here because nothing was going to be said about them. Nahor is

mentioned because Rebekah was his granddaughter (Genesis 24:15, 24)

and Rachel his great-granddaughter. And Haran is mentioned because

he was the father of Lot. Others, whether sons or daughters, would not be

mentioned. If Terah, therefore, began to have children when he was

seventy, it is quite probable that Abram may not have been born till he was

a hundred and thirty. That the son named first need not necessarily be the

eldest is clear from the order in which Shem, Ham, and Japheth are named,

whereas it appears from Genesis 9:24 that Ham was the youngest, and

from Genesis 10:2, 21 (according to the Authorized Version and the Septuagint,

Symmachus, the Targum of Onkelos, and the old Jewish commentators),

that Japheth was the eldest. In Joshua 24:4 God says, “I gave unto

Isaac Jacob and Esau,” though Esau was the elder; and so Hebrews 11:20.

So again in Exodus 5:20 we read, “Moses and Aaron” (see also Ibid.  ch.40:31;

Numbers 16:43; Joshua 24:5; I  Samuel 12:6; etc.), though it appears from

I Chronicles 6:3 that Aaron was the eldest. So again we read in Genesis 48:5,

“Thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh,” and in v. 20, “God make thee as Ephraim

and as Manasseh,” though in v. 1 of the same chapter they are named according

to the true order of birth — “Manasseh and Ephraim.” It is, therefore, an

unwarrantable inference that Abram was the eldest son because he is

named first; and with the removal of this inference the difficulty vanishes;

and Stephen was quite accurate when he said that God appeared to

Abraham in Ur, before he dwelt in Haran, and that he did not move from

Haran till the death of Terah. Haran. Charran in the Authorized Versionmarks the

difference between Haran (הָרָן), Lot’s father, and the name of the place

(הָרָן).  It is called “the city of Nahor (Genesis 24:10).  It still exists as an

Arab village, with the name of Harran (see ‘Dictionary of Bible’).


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.”

Thy land for thy country, Authorized Version.


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.” Haran for Charran, Authorized

Version; God removed for he removed, Authorized Version.  The land of the

Chaldaeans. In Genesis 11:28 Ur is called Ur of the Chaldees.” When his father

was dead (see note to v. 2). God removed. That God is the subject appears from

the following verbs, “he gave,” “he promised.” The verb μετώκισεν metokisen

he removed, is the technical word for planting a colony. Wherein, etc. (εἰς τὴν

eis taeninto which) ye came and dwelt.


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.”

And for yet, Authorized Version; in for for a, Authorized Version.

He gave him none inheritance, etc. (compare Hebrews 11:8-9).


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.”  In a strange land; a land belonging

to some one else (Hebrews 11:9, γῆ ἀλλοτρία -   gae allotrialand strange,

alien - as here); a land in which he had none inheritance, not yet become the

possession of his seed; for as the writer to the Hebrews says, he dwelt in tents

with Isaac and Jacob; not applicable, therefore, in the first instance to Egypt

at all. And this sojourning as strangers and pilgrims lasted altogether four

hundred and thirty years, and two hundred and fifteen years in Canaan, and

two hundred and fifteen in Egypt; which agrees exactly with Paul’s reckoning

in round numbers of four hundred years from the giving of the promise to

Abraham to the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai (Galatians 3:17). The

“four hundred years” must not be taken in connection with the bondage

and the ill treatment which characterized the last half of the period, but

as spoken of the whole period during which they had not possession of the

promised land. Bring them into bondage. So the Septuagint; but the Hebrew, as

rendered in the Authorized Version, has “and they shall serve them.” But some

(see render the Hebrew as the Septuagint does. Four hundred years. This is a

round number, as in Genesis 15:13. The exact time, as given in Exodus 12:40-41,

was four hundred and thirty years.



The Ethics of Scripture Quotation (v. 6, etc.)


Much has been said, in modern times, about the importance of quoting

from other writers or speakers with the utmost correctness and precision,

giving the exact language in which the other mind clothed. its thought.

And, from the point of view of a somewhat narrow theory of inspiration, it

has been urged that all scriptural quotations should give the very words of

the Scripture writer. Against making this bondage injurious and painful,

two considerations may be presented.


1. It may be noticed that the Scriptures, as we have them, are translations,

i.e. they are the thoughts of the inspired writers expressed in words chosen

by other men, and there is no reason why men nowadays, who can grasp

the thought of the original writer, should not give it expression in other,

better-chosen, and better-adapted terms.


2. It may be shown that the apostles and New Testament speakers and

writers did not put themselves under any such severe limitations. They

quoted freely, jealous of the sense, but not unduly concerned about

repeating the precise phraseology. Of this we have instances in Stephen’s

speech, to which we direct attention; premising that our space does not

admit of our pointing out every instance of deviation or addition, and that

we can only attempt to open an interesting line of study. It is to be noticed

that Stephen quotes from the Septuagint translation rather than from the

original Scriptures, but even from the Septuagint he makes what seem to

be important alterations; and he blends traditional references with Scripture

quotations, as if some recognized authority attached to them. It is very

probable that “ancient genuine elements were preserved traditionally

among the Jews, which received their higher confirmation by admission

into the New Testament. If we consider the general prevalence of oral

tradition among all ancient nations, and particularly the stationary posture

of things which was common among the Jews, such a descent of genuine

traditionary elements through a succession of centuries will lose the

astonishing character which it seems to have. Illustrations may be given of

the following points :





Ø      Truth must get a form of words if it is to be communicated to and

received by men and is largely dependent on language.


Ø      A particular truth is not, of necessity, confined to one particular form of

words. Each man may give it his own form of expression, and,

conceivably, each man’s form may adequately represent the truth,

and convey it to another mind.


Ø      The utmost importance would attach to the ipsissima verba

(the very words) of Scripture, if they could be recovered.


Ø      That they cannot be recovered, and can only be known in translation,

may be designed to convince us of the comparative unimportance of the

mere form.


Ø      The Bible is translated into many languages, and in its varied dress it is

found efficiently to retain its spirit and its power.



AFFECT THE TRUTH. Stephen spoke from memory; Paul, in his

writings, quotes from memory. Ministers and teachers must often quote

from memory. The power of memory is of two kinds:


Ø      the power to retain exact words;


Ø      the power to retain the thought, the truth, or the principle, which found

expression in the words. It may be easily said that the verbal memory is

alone the correct one, but, more carefully considered, we would recognize

the superior correctness of the memory that held the truth rather than the





OF THE TRUTH. Of this Stephen gives effective example. And it may be

shown that a precise and adequate expression of any truth depends, not on

the exact remembrance of a form of words or an accepted creed, but on

spiritual insight, on the clearness of our visions of the truth: he who sees

the truth will never find it difficult to make his brother see it too.


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.”

Which for whom, Authorized Version. And serve me in this place. These

words are not in Genesis 15., from which the preceding words are quoted.

Instead of καὶ λατρεύσουσι μοί ἐν τῷ τόπῳ τούτῳ - kai latreusousi moi en

to topo toutoand shall be offering divine service to me in this place - the

Septuagint, following the Hebrew, have μετὰ ἀποσκεύης πολλῆςmeta

aposkeuaes pollaes - with great substance. The words “serve me in this place,”

seem certainly to have been suggested by Exodus 3:12, “Ye shall serve God

upon this mountain;” but they give a perfectly correct account of what

happened in this case.



Living Faith (vs. 1-7)


Abraham is well called “the father of the faithful;” nowhere, in the Old

Testament or in the New do we meet with any one whose life was such an

illustration of implicit trust and holy confidence in God as was his. If faith

be not merely the acceptance of a creed, or the utterance of sacred phrases,

or the patronage of religious institutions; if it be a living power in the soul,

it will manifest itself in:


  • CHEERFUL OBEDIENCE. (vs. 2-4.) God bade Abraham leave his

home and kindred, and he left them. He did not know whither he was

going (Hebrews 11:8), but at the call of God he set forth promptly and

willingly. So Matthew at the summons of the Savior (Matthew 9:9). So

many thousands since his day; men and women who have heard the Master

say, “Go,” and they have gone, relinquishing all that is most cherished by

the human heart. When God distinctly speaks to us, whatever He may bid

us do, at whatever cost we may be required to obey, it behooves us to

comply instantly and cheerfully.


  • TRUST IN THE DARKNESS. (v. 5.) There is little faith in trusting

God when everything is bright and hopeful. When we can see our way we

can easily believe that it is the right one. Living faith shows itself when we

do not see and yet believe” (John 20:29). Abraham was promised the

land of Canaan for a possession,” yet God “gave him none inheritance in

it.” “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country”

(Hebrews 11:9). This might have seemed to him as a “breach of

promise” (Numbers 14:34) on the part of Him who brought him out of

Chaldaea, but he does not seem to have entertained any doubts or

misgivings. Moreover, he believed that the land would be the property of

his seed, though “as yet he had no child.” “By faith also he offered up

Isaac,” etc. (Hebrews 11:17). Even in the thick darkness, when he

could not see one step before him, Abraham trusted God. We profess to

“walk by faith, not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7), but we are often

fearful and doubtful when the way is clouded. But it is in the night of

adversity that the star of faith must shine.


“When we in darkness walk,

Nor feel the heavenly flame,

Then is the time to trust our God

And rest upon His Name.”


  • CONFIDENCE IN THE FUTURE. (vs. 6-7.) God told His servant

that, after being in bondage four hundred years, his seed should serve Him

in that country. It was a long time to look forward to. But the believing

patriarch rested in God and was satisfied. We are impatient if our schemes

do not come to maturity in a very brief time; we cry “failure” when only a

small fraction of four centuries is passed without the redemption of our

hope. We are bound to remember that we “have to do” with the Eternal

One. We must wait his time, whether it be a day or a thousand years.


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.”  Jacob the twelve for

Jacob begat the twelve, Authorized Version. He gave him the covenant

of circumcision, subsequently to the gift of the land by promise. The

argument suggested is apparently the same as Paul’s in Romans 4:10-17.


9 “And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but

God was with him,”  Moved with jealousy against Joseph, sold him, for moved

with envy sold Joseph, Authorized Version, more correctly, and in accordance with

Genesis 37:11, Septuagint; and for but, Authorized Version. Moved with jealousy, etc.

Here breaks out that part of Stephen’s argument which went to show how

the Israelites had always ill-used their greatest benefactors, and resisted the

leaders sent to them by God.


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.”Before for in the sight of, Authorized Version. And delivered

him, etc. And even so had he delivered His servant Jesus from the grave, and raised

Him to eternal life.


11 “Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan,

and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance.” Famine for dearth,

Authorized Version; Egypt for the land of Egypt,  Authorized Version and Textus

Receptus; Canaan for Chanaan, Authorized Version.


12 “But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our

fathers first.” Sent forth for sent out, Authorized Version; the first time for first,

Authorized Version.


13 “And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren;

and Joseph’s kindred was made known unto Pharaoh.”

Race became manifest for kindred was made known, Authorized Version.

“Kindred” is a much better word here, because Joseph’s “race” was already

known to Pharaoh (Genesis 41:12); “was made known” is a far better

phrase than “became manifest.”


14 “Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his

kindred, threescore and fifteen souls.”  And Joseph sent for then sent Joseph,

Authorized Version; called to him Jacob his father for called his father Jacob

to him, Authorized Version. Three score and fifteen souls. In Genesis 46:26-27,

the statement is very precise that “all the souls of the house of Jacob, which came

into Egypt, were three score and ten,” including Joseph and his two sons. Moreover,

the accuracy of the number is tested in two ways. First, the names of the sons and

daughters of each patriarch are given, and they are found, on counting

them, to amount to exactly seventy. And then the totals of the descendants

of each of Jacob’s four wives is given separately, and again the total is

exactly seventy (33 + 16 + 14 + 7 = 70). It is true that the computation in

v. 26 does not agree with the above, for it makes the number of Jacob’s

descendants, exclusive of Joseph and his two sons, sixty-six instead of

sixty-seven, which is the number according to the two above computations,

and consequently the total number (when Joseph and his two sons are

added) sixty-nine instead of seventy. But this is such a manifest

contradiction that it seems almost a necessity to suppose a clerical error,

שֵׁשׁ for שֶׁבַע caused perhaps by the preceding שִׁשִׁים. It is also a singular

anomaly that, in the enumeration of Leah’s descendants, as well as in the

general enumeration, Er and Onan are distinctly reckoned as well as

mentioned. Jacob himself is nowhere reckoned in the Bible, though he is in

the commentaries. But when we turn to the Septuagint, we find that in

Genesis 46:20 there are added to Manasseh and Ephraim Machir, the

son and Gilead the grandson of Manasseh; and Suthelah and Taam the

sons, and Edom (meaning Eran, Septuagint - Eden, Numbers 26:36) the

grandson, of Ephraim, making the descendants of Rachel eighteen (it

should be nineteen if Huppim, Genesis 46:21, is added) instead of

fourteen; the number sixty-six of v. 26 is preserved; the number of

Joseph’s descendants is given as nine (Huppim apparently being now

reckoned), which, added to sixty-six, makes seventy-five; and accordingly in

v. 27 the Septuagint read ψυχαὶ ἑβδομηκονταπέντε psuchai ebdomaekontapente

seventy-five souls, instead of “three score and ten.” But except in the addition of

these five names of Joseph’s grand and great-grand-children, the Septuagint

support the Hebrew text, even in the strange sixty-six of v. 26. Stephen,

as a Hellenist, naturally follows the Septuagint. But the question arises — How

are we to understand the lists? Genesis 46:8 says, “These are the names

of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt;” and one naturally expects

to find the names only of those who are described in vs. 5-7 as the

migratory party from Canaan to Egypt. This expectation is somewhat

disturbed by Er and Onan being included in the enumeration. This may,

however, be accounted for by Pharez and Zerah being reckoned as their

seed. But is it likely that Hezron and Hamul the sons of Pharez, and the

other great-grandsons of Jacob, were born before the descent into Egypt?

The answer to this is that, as Jacob was a hundred and thirty years old

when he came down to Egypt (Genesis 47:28), there is no

improbability in his having great-grandchildren (allowing forty years for a

generation); on the contrary, every likelihood that he should. But on the

other hand, as Joseph could not have been above fifty when Jacob came

down to Egypt (30 + 14 + X.), Genesis 41:46, 29-30, it does not seem

likely or possible that Joseph should have had grown-up grandsons and a

great-grandson, as the Septuagint make him have. Indeed, to all appearance

Manasseh and Ephraim were unmarried young men at the time that Jacob

blessed them (Genesis 48:11, 16; 50:23). Therefore we may conclude

certainly that the additional numbers of the Septuagint are incorrect, if

understood literally, of these who came down with Jacob from Canaan to

Egypt. But there is nothing improbable in Benjamin having ten children.

Judah, to whom grandchildren are attributed, was Jacob’s fourth son, and

might be forty or fifty years older than Joseph and Benjamin. Asher, to

whom also grandsons are attributed, was the eighth son, and might be

twenty years older than Joseph and Benjamin. Still, considering that Er and

Onan are reckoned among those who came down to Egypt, it would not be

surprising to find that some of those mentioned in the list were born after

Jacob’s arrival, but included on some principle which we do not

understand. In other words, a literal interpretation of the statement of the

Hebrew Bible involves no impossibilities, but a literal interpretation of the

statement of the Septuagint does.


15 “So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers,”

And for so, Authorized Version; he died, himself for died, he, Authorized Version.


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.” And they were for and were, Authorized Version; unto Shechem for into

Sychem, Authorized Version, i.e. the Hebrew for the Greek form of the name

(Genesis 34:2); tomb for sepulcher, Authorized Version; a price in silver for a

sum of money, Authorized Version; Hamor for Emor, Authorized Version.

(Hebrew for Greek form); in Shechem for the father of Sychem, Authorized Version

and Textus Receptus. As regards the statement in the text, two distinct transactions

seem at first sight to be mixed up.  One, that Abraham bought the field of Machpelah

of Ephron the Hittite for a burial-place, where he and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebekah,

and Jacob and Leah, were buried (Genesis 24:16-17,19; 25:9-10; 35:27-29; 49:29-31);

the other, that Jacob “bought a parcel of a field..., at the hand of the

children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for an hundred pieces of money,”

where the bones of Joseph were buried by Joshua (Genesis 33:19; 50:25;

Joshua 24:32), and where, according to a tradition still surviving

in the days of St. Jerome, the other patriarchs were also buried

(‘Epistol.’86,” She came to Sichem, now called Neapolis (or Nablous), and

from thence visited the tombs of the twelve patriarchs”). See also Jerome,

‘De Optimo Genere Interpretandi. All Jewish writers, however, are wholly

silent” about this tradition, perhaps from jealousy of the Samaritans

(Lightfoot, vol. 8. p. 423). And Josephus affirms that all but Joseph were

buried at Hebron (‘Ant. Jud.,’2. 8:2); and that their beautiful marble

monuments were to be seen at Hebron in his day. In the cave of

Machpelah, however, there is no tomb of any of the twelve patriarchs

except Joseph; and his so-called tomb is of a different character and

situation from the genuine ones (Stanley’s ‘Lectures on Jewish Church,’

1st series, pp. 498-500. See also ‘Sermons in the East’: ‘The Mosque of

Hebron’). But on looking closer at the text it appears pretty certain that

only Shechem was in Stephen’s mind. For first he speaks of Shechem at

once, And were carried over unto Shechem. And adds and were laid in

the tomb that Abraham bought for a price in silver of the sons of

Hamor in Shechem. Except the one word “Abraham,” the whole sentence

points to Shechem. What he says of Shechem is exactly in accordance with

Genesis 33:18-19. And what he says of their fathers being carried over

and buried at Shechem is exactly true of Joseph’s bones, as related in

Joshua 24:32. So that the one difficulty is the word “Abraham.” It

seems much more probable that this word should have been interpolated by

some early transcriber, who saw no nominative case to ὠνήσατοonaesato

bought; purchases -  and who had in his mind a confused recollection of

Abraham’s purchase, than that Stephen, who shows such thorough knowledge

of the Bible history, should have made a gross mistake in such a well-known

and famous circumstance as the purchase of the field of Machpelah, or that

Luke should have perpetuated it had he made it in the hurry of speech. It

cannot be affirmed with certainty that Stephen confirms the story of the

other patriarchs being buried at Shechem, though possibly he alludes to the

tradition. The plural, “they were carried,” etc., might be put generally, though

only Joseph was meant, or “the bones of Joseph” might possibly be the subject,

though not expressed. Lightfoot — followed by Bishop Wordsworth, who thinks

that Abraham really did buy a field of Ephron in Sychem, when he was there

(Genesis 12:6) would thus be right in supposing that the point of

Stephen’s remark was that the patriarchs were buried in Shechem.


17 “But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn

to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt,”  As for when,

Authorized Version; vouchsafed unto for had sworn to, Authorized Version

and Textus Receptus. Vouchsafed; ὡμολόγησεν homologaesen -  in the sense

of “to promise,” as in Matthew 14:7, and not unfrequently in Greek writers,

for ὀμνύεινomnuein -  to swear.



Stephen’s Address: Lessons of the Patriarchal Time (vs.1-17)


Stephen’s view of Jesus and His mission rests, as every sound and thoughtful view

must do, on the whole past history of the nation — as a nation called to a spiritual

destiny in the purposes of God.



Her God is the “God of glory.” Power, holiness, perfect

freedom, are included in this idea of the “glorious God.” History is a

Divine revelation, because it unfolds His counsel. In times of doubt the

rulers of a nation, the guides of a community, should retrace the past to its

beginnings, for a Divine idea lies at the basis of the national life and of

every sacred institution.


Ø      The self-revelation of God to Abraham. Every new epoch in religious

history starts with a fresh self-revelation of the spiritual nature and

attributes of the glorious God. Amidst idolatrous scenes, the depths of

Abraham’s spirit were stirred, and a light from above shone in. From

idols, from Sabaean fetish-worship, he turned, “to serve the living and

the true God.”


Ø      The call to Abraham. He was to be the reformer of religion, the founder

of a nation, whose life was to root itself in the acknowledgment of

a living and a holy, spiritual Being as their God.


o        Such calls involve ever sacrifice. Home must be quitted; its loved

associations in fancy and feeling torn up; kindred left behind. It is the

type of those moral changes and those consequent sacrifices which

accompany God’s call to souls at every time.


o        They involve the exercise of faith. Future good, in the shape of a new

home and land, are promised to the patriarch, but the when and the

how of their possession are left — as we say to imagination; as the

Bible says, to faith. He went out, not knowing whither he went.”

It has been said that life is an education by means of “illusions;”

were it not better to say that life is an education by means of ideals?

They are of their nature future, indefinite, must be left for time to

unfold, as with the prospect of good vaguely shadowed forth before

the mind of Abraham.


o        They require unquestioning obedience. Such was that of Abraham. He

had nothing to rely on but the promise of God; all else was against him.

When he came to the “land,” he found no inheritance in it, no resting-

place for his foot. Spiritual trials consist in the perplexity of the will,

caused by the contradiction between the unseen truth and the opposition

of appearances to it. Facts stubbornly resist our ideals; the world,

perhaps, scoffs at the ideals themselves. To “endure as seeing Him

who is invisible,” is part of the certain calling, and at the same time

the high joy, of the called soul. And faithfulness is certain to know

repetitions and confirmations of the assuring — promise.


o        The light of promise ever leads, on. It is to be remarked that the Divine

forecast of the future is not of unmixed brightness. A sorrow and a

struggle for the young nation is to prepare for its enjoyment of freedom.

It is to be cradled and rocked in slavery. By the stern and cruel

knowledge in itself of the tyrant’s oppression, Israel will learn to fly

to Jehovah its Deliverer, and find in His service emancipation from

every secular yoke.


o        Divine institutions confirm Divine promises. Israel had its peculiar

sacramental institution of circumcision. A sacrament is a species of

religious language, the more impressive because addressed to the eye

than merely to the ear. In it an act of God and an act of man are

expressed; surrender on the side of man, acceptance and blessing

on the side of God.


Thus the sacrament becomes the channel of tradition; the tribe and the

nation have a common and visible bond of union. Such were the Divine

beginnings of Israel’s life.


  • THE STORY OF JOSEPH. His career was in many points typical of

that of Jesus.


Ø      He was the object of envy and unnatural hatred on the part of his

brethren. So was Jesus envied and hated by the rulers of the nation, and on

the like grounds — the manifest favor of God which was with Him. Such is

the law — superior spiritual energy at first arouses opposition (II Timothy 3:12).

And especially from those nearest of kin (Matthew 10:36). Such, too, was the

experience of Jesus. Nothing is more painful to the heart than to see one,

hitherto supposed an equal, rising to eminence above our heads. The best

will suffer from jealousy; how much more those whose evil is thus set in

the light of contrast, exposed and condemned!


Ø      But he enjoyed Divine compensations. “God was with him,” “delivered

him from all his troubles,” imparted to him grace and wisdom in the

presence of the earthly great. So was it with Jesus. Hate and envy may be

defied by force or intellect; but better is it when the envious and hateful are

themselves revealed in their hideousness by the bright shining of God’s

grace upon the good man’s life.


Ø      Again, the wrath of men is often made the instrument of good to them.

The force which would undermine is made to exalt. Joseph becomes

prime minister to Pharaoh; the crucified Jesus is, through His cross,

exalted to be Prince and. Savior.


Ø      The living soul will find an opportunity of overcoming evil with good.

The famine in Canaan gave Joseph the opportunity of a glorious revenge.

The account of his recognition of his brothers, and forgiveness of them, is

most touching and rich in typical suggestiveness. Those who love

allegories may find much food for fancy in the details. Those who prefer

broad spiritual lessons may also find in the figure of Joseph the very ideal

of the gentle side of Israel’s national character, which was fulfilled in the

suffering Savior, who triumphs over His foes by the might of forgiving love.


Ø      The result of the chain of events. The settlement of Israel in Egypt. How

strangely is the web of destiny spun! How deeply laid the train of causes

and effects which result in great histories and revolutions! Any course of

events is highly improbable beforehand, which after it has taken place

unfolds a providential logic and profound design. So with Christianity

Nothing can seem beforehand more improbable than the whole story of its

foundation. At Athens the story of the crucified One was folly, and at

Jerusalem a scandal. Yet in it lay hidden the wisdom and the power of

God. Hatred to Joseph was the first moving spring of a long religious

history and triumph.  Hatred to Jesus was now being proved the spring of

His triumph and the mighty prevalence of His religion. God works through

the evil passions of men as well as through the good; and all powers in

rivalry with love must sooner or later be brought submissively to follow in

the wake of her eternal progress of blessing. In humiliation and in

exaltation Joseph presents a lively type of Jesus. And the Sanhedrin must

have felt this as they listened to the old familiar story of the origin of the

nation. They are face to face with the fact of a new origin. Will they learn

the lesson of the past for the present? Do we learn the lessons of the past

for our present?


18 “Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph.”

Over Egypt, Received Text; there arose another king for another king

arose, Authorized Version.


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.”

Race for kindred, Authorized Version, as in v. 13; that they should cast out

for so that they cast out, Authorized Version; babes for young children,

Authorized Version.



Israel and Egypt: Divine Providence (vs. 8-19)


The connection of the people of God with the land of Egypt is profoundly

interesting, and suggests valuable lessons for all time. We are reminded by

the text of:



the eventful experiences of Joseph (vs. 9-10). First rejoicing in his

father’s peculiar favor, then sold into Egyptian slavery, then rising to a

position of trust in the house of his master, then cast into prison, then

raised to the premiership; up on the height of comfort, down into the depth

of misfortune, up again on the crest of honor, then down again into the

trough of shame, etc. So with Israel the man and Israel the people (vs. 11-19).

The patriarch at first in a position of relief and advantage, then in

one of distress and disadvantage; the nation falling into the dark gulf of

bitter bondage until raised up with a strong hand and stretched out arm

into liberty. Thus is it with men and with nations. With none does the

course of things prove to be a straight line, either of ascent or of descent. It

is always undulatory. Light and shadow, sweetness and bitterness, hope

and fear, joy and sorrow, alternate from the cradle to the grave.



felt that his distresses had been overruled by the Divine hand, we know

(Genesis 50:20). We can also see how the descent into Egypt and even

the long slavery in that land of bondage were a discipline which wrought

ultimate good, of the most solid and enduring kind, to Israel. By the

sufferings which they endured together in those broiling brickfields, under

those cruel taskmasters, and to which in happier times their sons looked

back with such intense emotion; by the marvelous deliverances which they

experienced together in the land of the enemy and in the “great and terrible

wilderness,” and of which their descendants sang with such reverence and

such rapture; — by these common sufferings and common mercies they

were welded together as a nation, they became rich in those national

memories which are a people’s strength, they became a country for which,

through many a succeeding century, patriots would cheerfully risk all their

hopes and proudly lay down their lives. We learn these lessons.


Ø      Be prepared for coming changes in circumstance. No man has a right

      to feel secure in anything but in a wise and holy character, in that which

makes him ready for any event that may happen. At any hour human

prosperity may pass into adversity, joy into sorrow, honor into shame;

or at any hour straitness may be exchanged for abundance, lowliness for

elevation, gloom for gladness. We all urgently need the fixed principles,

the rest in God, the attachment to things eternal and Divine, the

heritage in the heavenly future, which will keep us calm in the most

agitating vicissitudes of earthly fortune.


Ø      Trust God when things are at their worst. In the first days of Egyptian

slavery, and still more in Potiphar’s prison, things must have looked dark

indeed to Joseph. “But God was with him” (vs. 9-10). It was a terrible

time, too, for the children of Israel when the king which knew not

Joseph” dealt subtly with and, evil entreated them, slaying their young

children at their birth (vs. 18-19); but God saw their affliction (vs. 34-35;

Exodus 3:7), and was preparing to send the deliverer in due time. And

to the upright in any scene of disappointment and distress there will arise

light in the darkness” (Psalm 112:4). Trust and wait; the longest and

severest storm will pass, and the sun shine again on the waters of life.


Ø      Realize that God has large and long purposes in view. Jacob died far off

from the promised land, but his bones were to rest there in due course,

and there his children were to have a goodly heritage. It matters little

what happens to us as individuals; enough if we are taking a humble

share in working out His great and beneficent designs.


20 “In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up

in his father’s house three months:” At which season for in which time,

Authorized Version; he was nourished three months in his father’s house for

nourished up in his father’s house three months, Authorized Version. Exceeding

fair  (ἀστεῖος τῷ Θεῷ - asteios to Theo – handsome to God). In Exodus 2:2

it is simply ἀστεῖος (a goodly child) Authorized Version, and so in Hebrews 11:23,

rendered “a proper child,” Authorized Version. Josephus  (‘Ant. Jud.,’ 2.9:5, 7)

describes Pharaoh’s daughter as captivated by the size  and beauty of the child,

and as speaking of him to Pharaoh as of Divine beauty.  And Justin (quoted by

Whitby) says that the beauty of his person was greatly in his favor.


21 “And when he was cast out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him up, and

nourished him for her own son.  22  And Moses was learned in all the

wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.”

Instructed for learned, Authorized Version; he was mighty for was mighty,

Authorized Version; in his words and works for in words and in deeds,

Authorized Version and Textus Receptus.  The statement of Moses being

instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, though not found in Exodus,

was doubtless true. Josephus makes Thermeutis speak of him as “of a noble

understanding;” and says that he was “brought up with much care and diligence.”

And Philo, in his life of Moses , says he was skilled in music, geometry,

arithmetic, and hieroglyphics, and the whole circle of arts and sciences.


23 “And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit

his brethren the children of Israel.” Well-nigh for full, Authorized Version.

When he was precisely forty years old.  The exact meaning seems to be “when

he was in the act of completing forty years.” The account in Exodus 2:11 only says,

“When Moses was grown” (μέγας γενόμενοςmegas genomenoshad  grown up –

Septuagint); the age of forty years, and the number of years, forty, that he sojourned

in Midian, as given below, vs. 29-30, are traditional. There are that say that “Moses

was forty years in Pharaoh’s palace, forty years in Midian, and forty years in the

wilderness.”  (Tauchum, in Exodus 2). “Moses was forty years in Pharaoh’s court,

and forty years in Midian, and forty years he served Israel” (Beresh. Rabb.),

both quoted by Lightfoot (‘Comment. and Exercitations upon the Acts’).

The sum total of the three periods of forty years is given as the length of

Moses’ life, viz. a hundred and twenty years (Deuteronomy 34:7).


24 “And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and

avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian:”

 Smiting for and smote, Authorized Version.


25 “For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God

by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.”  And he supposed

that his brethren understood for for he supposed that his brethren would have

 understood, Authorized Version; was giving them deliverance for would deliver

them, Authorized Version.


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 to another?”  The day following for the next day,

Authorized Version; he appeared for be showed himself, Authorized Version.


27 “But he that did his neighbor wrong thrust him away, saying, Who

made thee a ruler and a judge over us?  28 “Wilt thou kill me, as thou

diddest the Egyptian yesterday?” Wouldest for wilt, Authorized Version;

killedst for diddest Authorized Version.


Moses is premature in his actions  and for his rashness two days relegates

him to forty years’ absence from the scene and the holy enterprise into

which he had flung himself with zeal so passionate (vs. 24-28).  What will

forty years do for him? What will they make of him? They will temper him,

subdue much the confidence of self, and will make him more meet for the

Master’s service, at the very time that he shall appear less zealous for it.


29 “Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of

Madian, where he begat two sons.”  And Moses fled for then fled Moses,

Authorized Version; became a sojourner for was a stranger, Authorized

Version; Midian for Madian, Authorized Version.



Israel in Egypt: The Rise of Moses (vs. 17-29)


We may view these events as typical of the Christian time or as expressive

of an inner meaning, a Divine logic of history. We may learn, then, from

this passage:



WITHOUT STRUGGLES, The people grew and increased, but a sudden

check was given to their prosperity by the accession of a new king. Israel

might have settled in Egypt and have achieved no great thing for the world,

had not persecution compelled her to struggle for existence and for liberty.

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of

patriots and tyrants."  (Thomas Jefferson)  Times of national danger throw

the nation back upon its true consciousness. They vivify and purify that

consciousness. It was England’s struggle against a tyrant which made England.

So the War of Independence made America into a nation. The truth applies

to the individual also. We may depend upon it that permanent good must

sooner or later be struggled for — either that it may be gained, or, if

gained, that it may be kept.



FOR DIVINE INTERPOSITION; or, man’s extremity is God’s

opportunity. “When the tale of bricks is full,” says the proverb, “then

comes Moses.” Great stirrings among the people, movements towards

liberty and purity of religion, seem to produce at the right moment the

patriotic leader and the reformer. When the hour comes the man is not

wanting. It may be argued that until the leader appears the movement is not

ripe. God reveals His will for change in the words and work of great men.



was divinely fair. He was wonderfully preserved from death; rescued by the

very daughter of the persecutor, and cradled in the very house of his foes.

His education among one of the most richly civilized of ancient peoples

was complete; and the influence of his person was most commanding. God

does not bestow such graces for nothing. Whenever we see such a one

marked out by beauty, knowledge, intellectual power above his fellows, we

are entitled to ask — What is his significance for the world? What does

God mean to do with him for the good of mankind? Again, the life-ideas in

such great men are often of slow ripening. Not till he was forty years of

age did his thoughts turn to the condition of his nation, and the delivering

purpose come to fruit in his heart. Some men conceive much earlier the

ambition and the call of their life, and move toward the goal with

extraordinary velocity and energy. Others appear to be long dormant, like

the oak that tarries to put forth its leaf in the woodland. Great careers have

been run, great works achieved, by the age of thirty-seven: Alexander,

Raphael, Byron, arc well-known examples. Cromwell, on the other hand,

was about the age of Moses when God called him from the fens of

Huntingdon to save our nation. The age matters little; men in this respect

resemble plants — “Ripeness is all.”



CAUSES. A single spark is sufficient to fire the train of powder which is to

explode the mine. When the mind is full of an idea, a trifling circumstance

may stimulate all its energies to action. A forming purpose waits only for

the decisive action to fix and crystallize it. Thus the act of Moses in

delivering the individual Israelite from his oppressor fixed him in his

national design. In everything let us follow the lead of God. Let us

remember that we are here first to be acted upon by Him, that we may then

act from Him upon others. If we are really in earnest, the opportunity will

never be wanting. God makes His servants ready for great enterprises by

first inspiring them for lesser duties. The large and distant project may hold

the mere visionary’s view; but the practical and really useful man begins

with his neighbor next door. The man who actually helps his friend in need

is the man who may be trusted to help a community or a nation. But how

many dreamers are there whose projects of amelioration begin and end

with eloquent speeches or articles in newspapers! The old lesson comes

back from Moses’ life to all who would do and be something in the world:

“Do the thing that lies nearest to thee; the second will have already become




MISCONCEPTION. There is much pathos in the simple word that he

thought his brethren understood that God was delivering them by his hand;

but they did not understand. So mighty is the strength derived from the

sympathy of numbers, the common soldier becomes a hero at its electric

touch. So chilling is misconception and want of sympathy on the part of

friends, it damps the spirit of the Heaven-born leader. For this reason,

when we sift the examples of moral courage presented by any time, those

are the bravest and the greatest, and most prove their call of God, who

show that they can go on, if needs be, not merely in spite of their open

enemies, but in spite of their friends. The misconstruction of friends will be

most felt when the action is in the conscience known to be most

disinterested and sincere. Moses aims to reconcile contending brethren;

unity among themselves is now above all necessary. His action is

misconstrued as ambition (v. 28). Thus does the sick man turn on the

kindly physician, the subject on his prince, the slave on his deliverer. Man

often ignores the day of his salvation. Moses, like his great Antitype, was

baffled in his saving designs by the ignorance and folly of those who would

not be blessed. But he simply uses prudence and waits for a future

opportunity. We can hardly construe the flight of Moses otherwise than as

an act of prudence. He saw his life and with it his design endangered. To

have remained would have been foolhardiness, often confounded with true

courage. He took the course of prudence, which is the course of the higher

courage. Far easier to rush on an heroic death than to nourish a noble

purpose under disappointment, solitude, and exile. The history of a nation’s

greatness is summed up in that of its great men. And in the life trials and

struggles of great men God reveals Himself from age to age as the

persevering, unvanquishable, and loving SAVIOUR OF MANKIND!

His undying purpose, manifested in all His heroes, is to set us free; and

this in the knowledge of Him and obedience to His laws.


30 “And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the

wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a

bush.”  Fulfilled for expired, Authorized Version; an angel appeared for there

appearedan angel, Authorized Version; an angel for an angel of the Lord,

Authorized Version and Textus Receptus; Sinai for Sina, Authorized Version.


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,”  And when for when,

Authorized Version; behold for behold it, Authorized Version; there

came a voice of the Lord for the voice of the Lord came unto him, Authorized

Version. There came a voice. The Authorized Version is surely right. The Lord

has only one voice; and φωνὴ Κυρίουphonae Kuriou -  the voice of the Lord –

is that voice.  The grammatical effect of Κυρίου (Lord) upon φωνὴ (voice) is to

make it definite, as in ἄγγελος Κυρίου angelos Kuriouangel of the Lord –

(see ch. 5:19, note). 



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.”

Saying, Authorized Version, is omitted; of Isaac and of Jacob for the God of

Isaac and the God of Jacob, Authorized Version and Textus Receptus; and for

then, Authorized Version.


33 “Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the

place where thou standest is holy ground.” And the Lord said unto him for

then said the Lord to him, Authorized Version; loose the shoes for put off by shoes,

Authorized Version. Loose the shoes, etc. In Exodus 3:5 it is λύσαι... ἐκ τῶν ποδῶν

σου..- lusai….ek ton podon sou… - take…off of your feet -  Iamblichus, quoted by

Meyer, refers the Pythagorean precept, “Sacrifice and worship with thy

shoes off,” to an Egyptian custom. The custom of Orientals to take off

their sandals on entering mosques or other sacred places, as existing to the

present day, is noticed by many travelers (see also Joshua 5:15).


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.”

I have surely seen (literally, seeing I have seen — the wellknown

Hebrew idiom for emphatic affirmation) for I have seen, I have

seen, Authorized Version; have heard for I have heard, Authorized Version;

and I am for and am, Authorized Version, the change is in accordance with

the Authorized Version of Exodus 3:7-8.



The Call of Moses (vs. 30-34)


  • THE MESSAGE BY FIRE. Fire is the sign of the presence of Jehovah.

It denotes spiritual agency in its intensity. Fire penetrates and it purifies. It

is, therefore, harmful to evil and conservative of good. Darkness of

mystery is round about God, and when He comes forth from it to reveal

Himself to men it is in the form of fire. It is an emblem of the Holy Spirit. In

the bosoms of men He glows, and the musing poet bursts forth into inspired

song, and the prophet into “words that burn and thoughts that breathe of

truth and power.” When we ask that God will answer us by fire, we ask

that be will make known His presence in the most vivid manner in feeling,

and with the most mighty effect on the life. Specially the vision of the

burning bush was a type of Israel unconsumed notwithstanding its fierce

persecution in Egypt; of the glory of his great Representative, the Messiah

— a bright flame springing from the lowly bush; of the Church amidst its

age long conflicts and trials; lastly, of all truth, which “like a torch, the

more it’s shook, it shines;” the more the breezes of controversy blow about

it, the purer and clearer its illumination.


  • THE LIVING VOICE OF THE ETERNAL. The sense of hearing as

well as that of sight is addressed. So ever in the disclosures of the Divine.

What we have felt in part through the hearing of the car is illustrated and

confirmed by the evidence of the more skeptical organ, the eye. Or what

we have witnessed with a certainty not to be gainsaid, in actual fact is

presently interpreted and connected with the great principle to which it

belongs by some similar voice of teaching. The utterance here is simple. It

is a declaration that the God of history is THE EVER-PRESENT GOD!

He who was with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob is here with Moses. Faith

has always its past to fall back upon; it can renew its life in moments of

weakness out of the living fount of memory.



PRESENCE. First, Moses wonders at the burning bush. Wonder is the

reflection in feeling of the extraordinary, and it is the parent of curiosity.

Why and whence, the spirit asks, this interruption into the course of nature? It

is the appearance of the living God, is the only answer to the question.

Here wonder passes into fear and trembling, which betray man’s sense of

utter dependence in the presence of the Almighty and the All-holy. The

sight of the unspeakable glory is shrunk from. In ordinary life nature and

custom conceal God, and mercifully; for how could one glimpse of

absolute truth, of Divine perfection, be endured? But terror passes into

reverence, which is the blending of fear with love and confidence as the

mind becomes more inured to the experience. The sandals are thrown off,

as in the presence of an august sovereign. How good to feel that nature,

the daily scene of a wondrous drama, the occasional theatre of magnificent

spectacles, as in the tempest, the thunder-voices and fiery revelation

betokening the presence of creative might, — is holy ground! But the mind

becomes deadened by custom. And well is it, therefore, that in those places

specially consecrated to meetings with God — the church, the private

oratory — habits of outward submission and reverence should be cultivated

which may have their right influence on the whole moods of the soul.




Ø      The call of man by God is ever to service on behalf of the suffering. All

human suffering has an echo in the heart of God. He is the God of all

compassion. He is not merely love, but love as an active will. He

determines to save. Now it is a nation from outward captivity, now a

generation from bondage to ignorance and fear. Light and health are the

images of His energy and influence.


Ø      The called man is a man sent. He has a mission, and it is ever a mission

to the lowly and the meek. So has it been with all the great prophets; so

above all with the Christ. “I send thee into Egypt.” “Where lies the Egypt

to which I am sent, and where the fulfillment of my life-call must lie?” the

Christian may ask. John Howard found his Egypt in the prisons of Europe,

and “trod an open but unfrequented path to immortality.” Our Egypt may

be close at hand. Wherever we see an obsolete custom, a corrupt habit of

thought, an ignorance of any kind, a spell laid upon the imagination, or a

vice tyrannizing over the will of others, there is a house of bondage. God

needs the co-operation of many finite deliverers that His design of an

infinite deliverance may go forward. If we, like Moses and like Elijah and

Isaiah, are ready with our “Here am I; send me,” it will not be long before

we receive our directions and our marching orders.


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.”

Him hath God sent for the same did God send, Authorized Version.; both a

ruler for a ruler, Authorized Version. and Textus Receptus; with the hand for by

the hand, Authorized Version and Textus Receptus (σὺνsun -  for ἐνen - ),

but giving no clear sense in English. The meaning seems to be that Moses was

to rule and save with the strength given him by the angel but it is much simpler

to take ἐν χειρὶ - en cheiriin hand - as equivalent to the common Hebrew phrase

בְיָד, meaning instrumentality, “by means of,” “through,” and to join it with

“did send.” The angel who spake to Moses in the bush in

the Name of God was God’s instrument in sending Moses. When an angel

gives a message from God, the words are always given as spoken by God

Himself (see e.g. Joshua 1:1-3). In this verse Stephen, having with great

oratorical skill entranced their attention by his recital of God’s marvelous

revelation of Himself to Moses, now takes them off their guard, and shows

how their fathers treated Moses just as they had treated Jesus Christ; and

how God in the case of Moses had chosen and magnified the very man

whom they had scornfully rejected; just as now He had exalted Jesus Christ

to be a Prince and a Savior, whom they had crucified.


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.” 

This man for he, Authorized Version; led them forth for brought them out,

Authorized Version; having wrought for after that he had showed, Authorized

Version; Egypt for the land of Egypt, Authorized Version and Textus Receptus.


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.”  God for the Lord your God, Authorized Version and Textus Receptus;

from among for of, Authorized Version. The Received Text omits the words

Him shall ye hear, which follow in Deuteronomy 18:15, and seem to be referred

to in Matthew 17:5 (αὐτοῦ ἀκούσεσθε αὐτοῦ ἀκούετεautou akousesthe autou

akoueteHim ye shall be hearing Him be ye hearing). The addition of the words

adds much to the point of Stephen’s  application (see above, ch. 3:22).



A Prophet like Moses (v. 37)


The reference is to Deuteronomy 18:18, and, as introduction, the

difficulties which Moses found in executing his mission may be vividly

described. In Stephen’s day it was the fashion to exalt Moses and the

Mosaic system, but this was done in forgetfulness of the facts connected

with Moses’ career. Again and again his leadership was refused. The stiff-

neckedness and unspirituality of the people tried him very sorely; once, to

so great an extent, that he spake unadvisedly with his lips, and threw down

the tables of the Law. This Moses, in whom now they trusted, they were

not really willing to heed, any more than their fathers had been; for Moses

had himself prophesied of the Messiah, and any one who chose could make

the comparison between Moses and Jesus of Nazareth, and see that the one

answered to the other just as the great lawgiver had indicated. Some of the

points of similarity between Moses and Messiah may be considered and



  • EACH HAD A DIVINE CALL. Both in childhood: Moses in his

mysterious preservation; Messiah in His mysterious birth. Both in early

manhood (each early relatively to the age they lived): Moses in the vision

of the flaming bush; Messiah in the dove-vision and heavenly voice at His



  • EACH HAD A SPECIAL PREPARATION. Moses in the experience

of the Egyptian court and in the solitudes of Horeb; Messiah in the

experiences of the carpenter’s house at Nazareth, and in the temptations of

the Jordan desert.


  • EACH FOUNDED A DISPENSATION. Moses, one which was both

an advance and a decline from the older patristic dispensation; an advance

as a fuller revelation of God’s will, and a decline as imprisoning spiritual

truth, for a time and purpose, in stiff religious rites and ceremonies.

Messiah, one which was in every way an advance, liberating men from all

ritual bonds, and bringing to open hearts the fuller revelations of the



  • EACH WAS A NEW SPIRITUAL FORCE. As bringing God near to

men; exhibiting afresh His claims, and revealing Himself. Every man who

sees God thereby becomes a power on his fellows. Moses, in a surprising

manner, saw God on Sinai; and with his vision there may be compared our

Lord’s vision on the Mount of Transfiguration.


  • EACH WAS A TEACHER. Precisely of that which man could not gain

by any studies and inquiries of his own. Both were:


Ø      moral teachers;

Ø      religious teachers;

Ø      teachers of a specific Divine truth;

Ø      each enabled, by the power of miracle, to attest their teaching




made it continually known that God sent him and God spake by him.

Messiah made it fully known that He did not speak of Himself, but the

words which the Father gave Him He gave forth to men. This claim, based

on Divine authority, Stephen presses on the attention of the Sanhedrin,

urging that it makes their rejection of Christ positively criminal.



v. 35 and compare the rejection of Messiah. Impress that the many-sided

and abundant proofs that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of God, and

the Savior, bring His personal claims closely home to us, and make great

indeed the guilt of our rejecting Him. “How shall we escape, if we neglect

so great salvation?”  (Hebrews 2:3)


38 “This is He, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel

which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who

received the lively oracles to give unto us:”  Sinai for Sins, Authorized Version.

(Hebrew for Greek form); living oracles for the lively oracles, Authorized Version.

In the church. Stephen probably used the word ἐκκλησία ekklaesiachurch –

without any reference to its special meaning, “the Church.” It is used in a secular

sense in ch.19:32, 39, and of the congregation of Israel in the Septuagint of

I Chronicles 13:2; I Maccabees 2:56; Ecclesiasticus. 44:15; and elsewhere. In

Stephen’s time it could hardly have become widely known as the designation of

the flock of Christ. On the whole, the marginal rendering, “the congregation,”

seems best, but with the idea attached that it was the Lord’s congregation.

The angel which spake.  It may be doubted whether the phrase, “the angel which

spake to him in the mount Sinai,” refers to the angel spoken of in v. 30, or to the

angel by whose mouth God spake the words of the ten commandments on Mount

Sinai, as recorded in Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:1-22.  Chrysostom and most

commentators seem to understand it of the angel who gave the Law; but Whitby,

not without reason, thinks the reference is to the burning bush. Living oracles. In

like manner, Paul calls the Holy Scriptures “the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2),

and in Hebrews 5:12 we read again of “the first principles of the oracles of God,”

and Peter says, “Let him speak as the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11). For the

force of the living or lively oracles, see ibid. vs. 23, 25. Stephen magnifies Moses

by reminding his hearers how he had received the Law from God to give to

the people.


39 “To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them,

and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt,”  Obedient for obey,

Authorized Version; turned back in their hearts unto Egypt for in their hearts

turned back again into Egypt, Authorized Version. Our fathers

would not be obedient, though God had bestowed such signal marks of

favor upon them. Turned back in their hearts. A striking instance of their

rejection of God’s chiefest mercies.



The Divine and the Human (vs. 20-39)


  • DIVINE INTERVENTION. The hand of God is sometimes visible

though it is usually unseen. We see the Divine working in


Ø      the creation of such a mind as that of Moses;

Ø      the fashioning of such a frame as was his (v. 20; Hebrews 11:23);

Ø      the deliverance of the child from the dangers of the river;

Ø      his being confided to the guardianship and instruction of Pharaoh’s

            daughter, where he would learn “all the wisdom of the Egyptians”

            (v. 22), and thus be prepared for future work.


We can have no doubt as to the operation of Divine wisdom in such a case

as this. May we not say — Ex uno disce omnes? (from one thing you can

discern all).  May we not conclude that there is the handiwork of God

in all our lives, if we could but discern it; that He is directing our course;

and that, though it is evidently best for us that we should not see so much

of Divine intervention as to be unwisely waiting for it or injuriously

dependent on it, we may console ourselves with the belief that “we are not

driftwood on the wave,” but rather as noble ships which a heavenly hand is

steering to the desired haven?  (Psalm 107:30)


  • HUMAN NOBLENESS. (vs. 23-28; see Hebrews 11:24-26.) It

was “in Moses’ heart to visit his brethren,” and he took their cause in hand

in a very practical and decisive way (v. 24). He may have been mistaken

in the method which he adopted, but that is of very small moment. The

great thing is that it was in his heart to sympathize with and succor his

brethren. The temptation to become naturalized as an Egyptian must have

been great indeed. High honors, great wealth, abundant gratification of the

lower instincts, — these prizes and pleasures, which are dear to men in

general, were well within his reach. He deliberately chose to forego them

all that he might play a nobler and braver part. Well has the event justified

his choice. For as a rich and powerful Egyptian, he would have achieved

nothing of any value to mankind; he would long ago have been forgotten;

but as it is, he has rendered a service to the human race second to none that

lived before the Savior, and has a name that will never die while the world

has any place in its memory for its heroes and its martyrs. Not on the same

splendid scale, but in the same estimable spirit, can we emulate his nobility,

preferring an honorable affliction to unholy pleasure, a sacred and useful

life among the lowly to ungodly distinction among the great, the service of

Christ anywhere to the smiles and favors of the world.


  • DIVINE MANIFESTATION. (vs. 30-33, 38.) God there revealed

Himself to the bodily senses in a wondrous form; in such form that Moses

felt that, in a very unusual degree, he stood near to his Creator. Jesus

Christ now manifests Himself to us as He does not unto the world:


Ø      in the privileges of His house and table;

Ø      in the inspiration and indwelling of His Spirit;

Ø      in the spiritual wonders He works in the hearts and lives of men with

whom we have to do.


  • DIVINE COMPASSION. (v. 34.) To the toiling and suffering

Israelites God must have seemed very far away. It must have appeared to

them as if He were blind to their miseries, deaf to their sighs and groans,

indifferent to their wrongs. But they were mistaken. All the while He was

observing and pitying them, and was ready to interpose at the right time on

their behalf. When to our fainting and distrustful heart it seems as if our

Divine Lord were unobservant or unmoved, we may rest assured that:


Ø      He sees,

Ø      He compassionates, and

Ø      He holds Himself ready to put forth His redeeming strength on

     our behalf when the hour for our deliverance has struck.


  • HUMAN INAPPRECIATIVENESS. (vs. 35-39.) If we were to

contend that the best and noblest men who have rendered the most signal

and splendid service to our race are certain to be appreciated according to

the height of their virtue and the value of their help, we should go in the

teeth of human history. Some of the very best and wisest have been least

understood, most despised and ill used. Moses, one of the very greatest,

“attaining to the first three,” most eminent in privilege, in character, in

accomplishment, was one “whom they refused” (v. 35), “whom our

fathers would not obey” (v. 39). We may work, hoping to be appreciated

and honored of men, accepting gladly and gratefully the esteem and the

love they award us; but we must not build upon it as a certain recompense

of our endeavor. We must be prepared to do without it, to be able to say,

“I will work on, ‘though the more abundantly I love the less am I loved.’”

(II Corinthians 12:15)  Our true reward is in the smile of the Savior, the

approval of our own heart (I John 3:21), the consciousness that we are

serving our generation, the blessing which awaits the faithful in the land

of promise.



that should come was to be “like unto” the faithful servant in the house of

God (Hebrews 3:5). As He was to be like one of us, so we are to strive

to be “like unto Him.” And we may bear His image, breathe His Spirit, live

His life, do in our sphere the work He did in His: “As He is, so are we in this

world.” (I John 4:17)  “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.”

            (John 20:21)


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.”Which shall go for to go, Authorized Version;

led us forth for brought us, Authorized Version.


41 “And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the

idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.”  Brought a sacrifice

for offered sacrifice, Authorized Version (see Exodus 32:6, with which the

Authorized Version agrees best); hands for own hands, Authorized Version.


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?”  But for then, Authorized Version; to serve

for to worship, Authorized Version; did ye offer unto me slain beasts and

sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? for O ye house of

Israel, have ye offered, etc., by the space of forty years in the wilderness?

Authorized Version. The passage which follows is nearly verbatim et literatim

the Septuagint of Amos 5:25, 27, except the well known substitution of “Babylon

for “Damascus” in Amos. This was in accordance with a very common practice of

readers in the schools and pulpits of the Jews, to adapt and accommodate a text

to their own immediate purpose, keeping, however, to historical truth. Here

Stephen points to the Babylonish Captivity as the punishment of the sins of

their fathers, thus warning them of more terrible judgments to follow THEIR



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.”  And for yea, Authorized Version; the god Rephan

for your god Remphan, Authorized Version and Textus Receptus; the figures for

figures, Authorized Version. The god Rephan. Rephan, or Raiphan, or Remphan,

as it is variously written, is the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Chiun in

Amos 5:26. The best explanation of this is that Rephan is the Coptic name of the

planet Saturn, well-known of course to the Septuagint, and that Chiun is the

Hebrew and Arabic name of the same star, which they therefore translated by

Rephan. With regard to the difficulty which has been felt by many that there is

no mention of any such worship of Moloch and Chiun in the wilderness, and that

sacrifices were continually offered to the Lord, it seems to arise from an entire

misconception of the passage in Amos. What Amos means to say is that because

of the treacherous, unfaithful heart of Israel, as shown in the worship of the

golden calf and all their rebellions in the wilderness, all their sacrifices were

worthless. Just as he had said in Amos 5:22, “Though ye offer me burnt

offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I

regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts;” “I hate, I despise your feast

days; Take away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the

melody of thy viols” (Amos 5:21, 23): just as Isaiah also says, “To

what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me?... I am full of the

burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts ... Bring no more vain

oblations; ... it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting” (Isaiah 1:11-13,

etc.); and again, “He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that

sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation,

as if he offered swine’s blood” (Isaiah 66:3): so all the sacrifices

offered up during forty years in the wilderness were no sacrifices at all, and

their hypocrisy was clearly seen when they reached the land of Canaan,

and, according to Moses’ prophetic declaration, “forsook God which made

them… and sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew

not” (Deuteronomy 32:15-18), such as Chiun and Moloch, Baalim and

Ashtoreth. This later idolatry was the fruit and the judicial punishment of

their first declension and apostasy in the wilderness, and led to THE

CAPTIVITY IN BABYLON!   It was on seeing their unfaithfulness in the

wilderness that “God turned and gave them up to serve the host of heaven.”



Moses, and Israel’s Bearing towards Him: A Figure of Christ.

                                                  (vs. 35-43)



OF GOD. The Israelites refused Moses as their ruler and judge; and God

sent him as ruler and as emancipator to the people. Moses went into exile,

and there was honored by a revelation of the glory of God; and with a

special mission Jesus had been slain in Jerusalem, and in that very city had

come back in the power of the Spirit, to clothe the disciples with fiery

eloquence, to vibrate through their hearts with power, and to put forth

mighty power to heal through their means — thus being proved Leader and

Savior of the people. Human blindness and folly only bring a new reaction

of the power and mercy of God. So often with us all. We resist the leading

thoughts of the day. We hate the new truth which brings change with it, the

fresh revelation which calls us to larger freedom. We think to silence the

new teacher by contempt. But lo! in some unexpected quarter power

breaks forth to seal the teacher and his message, and we are silenced.



THAT OF CHRIST. Grandly the figure of the desert lawgiver rises before

us in the sketch of Stephen.


Ø      His mighty works. Those in Egypt, when he outdid the profound

magicians, and established the supremacy of Jehovah over Pharaoh and all

the gods of Egypt, were one of the originating causes of Israel’s freedom.

The memory of those deeds lived in the heart, could never be forgotten.

They laid the foundation stones of the great structure of their history. So

did Jesus lay the foundation of His kingdom in works, the power of which

and the purport of which He could appeal to as evidence of His Divine



Ø      His prophetic forecast and its fulfillment. The memorable prophecy of

the great Teacher to come, found in the Book of Deuteronomy, was one of

Israel’s lights shining in a dark place. Though Stephen does not identify the

prophet to come with Jesus in so many words, his meaning is evident to all

the Sanhedrin. Was there a hint in that prediction which was wanting in

the actual character of Jesus? And if the Sanhedrin had rejected Him, how

could they fail to incur the judgment threatened in that great passage of the

Law? Some of the later parables of Jesus (as that of the wicked

husbandmen) were also, perhaps, fresh in the recollection of many. Thus

did the lines of ancient and recent evidence converge upon the present, and

give to it a solemn significance.


Ø      The renewed contrast of the divinely accepted and the humanly

rejected. (vs. 38-39) Moses was the channel of ancient revelation. He

received loving words to give to the people. And Jesus had said that the

words He spake were not His, but the words of Him that sent Him. Yet Israel

in the desert and Israel now were found alike unwilling to obey. The Divine

presence was manifestly with Moses. In the desert the angel of God was

ever at his side. So had it been with Jesus. Had not one of this very

Sanhedrin confessed to Jesus that God must be with Him, seeing the works

that He did? Yet both Moses and Jesus had been rejected. And in both

cases, when the voice of God said, “Forward!” the heart of Israel turned

back. In the one case they longed for the comfort and the luxury of Egypt,

in the other for the sensual joys of an earthly kingdom. Better to retain

power and position than to go on the idle chase after the ideal and the

spiritual; so the low mind, the carnal heart, argues in every age. It was

the choice of the flesh and the denial of the Spirit that was in each case

the cure of the sin, as it is everywhere and always.


Ø      The lapse into idolatry. The worship of a visible form is far easier than

the lifting of the spirit to an invisible God. Idolatry is the making to one’s

self a god; spiritual religion is the constant exertion to rise to HIM who

cannot be reproduced in finite forms of the intelligence or of art. The

element of self-denial or of self-pleasing predominates in each and every

form of worship. An upward and a downward movement is always

proceeding in the religious life of a people. Some are ever trying to bring

God into the service of their passions and interests; while true religion tries

to mold all life into conformity with God’s will. Idolatry brings penal

consequences. Men are given up to their hearts’ desire. (Romans 1:24,26,28)

The moral nerve decays. Spiritual energy being lost, they become weak in

the presence of their enemies. Those touches of reminiscence from the past

were enough to touch tender chords in the minds of Stephen’s hearers. Well

they knew idolatry had been the curse of the nation. Defeat, slavery, exile,

all came in its train. All might be traced back to the bitter root of disobedience,

as that to unbelief in the living God. And what if now a similar vista of

calamity were opening; if history were to repeat itself, and disobedience to

the voice from heaven in Jesus should lead to  A FINAL DOWNFALL!

Our history mirrors our sins and our mistakes. If we do not heed its warnings,

nothing can avert our fate. No act of disobedience to conscience has passed

unpunished in our lives. The worst of madness is deliberately to repeat old

errors and stereotype our moral failures. If the ghosts of the past, as they

appear in memory and reflection, do not deter us, what will or can?

                        (“Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it!”

                           George Santayana)


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.”  The testimony for witness,

Authorized Version; even as He appointed who spake for as He had appointed,

speaking, Authorized Version; figure for fashion, Authorized Version.

Chrysostom calls attention to the mention of the wilderness, as showing

that God’s presence and service were not confined to Jerusalem.


45 “Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into

the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face

of our fathers, unto the days of David;”  In their turn for that come after,

 (διαδεξάμενοι diadexamenoiones succeeding him), Authorized Version;

Joshua (the Hebrew form) for Jesus (the Greek form of the name), Authorized

Version; when they entered on the possession of the nations for into the possession

of the Gentiles, Authorized Version; which God thrust for whom God drave,

Authorized Version. In their turn; more literally, having received it in succession.

It only occurs here in the New Testament. Meyer quotes IV Maccabees 4:15,

“On the death of Seleucus, his son Antiochus received the kingdom in succession ;”

and classical writers. When they entered, etc. There are three ways of

construing the words ἐν τῇ κατασχέσει τῶν ἐθνῶνen tae kataschesei ton ethnon -

in the tenure of the nations.


(1)   as the Authorized Version, taking ἐνen – in -  in the sense of εἰςeis -  

      into - and making the phrase synonymous with the land of Canaan, the

      land which the Gentiles then possessed;


(2)   in (their) taking possession (of the land) of the Gentiles, i.e. when they

            took, taking κατάσχεσις  - katascheisispossession - in a transitive sense,

            which seems to be the sense of the Revised Version:


      (3)  during the holdings or possession by the Gentiles of the

            land, that, viz. into which their fathers brought the tabernacle.

            The first seems the most simple and in accordance with the Greek

            of the New Testament, and with what follows of the expulsion of the

            nations before the Israelites.


46 “Who found favor before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for

the God of Jacob.” In the sight of for before, Authorized Version (ἐνώπιον

enopionin view before; sight of before); asked for desired, Authorized

Version; habitation for tabernacle, Authorized Version (σκήνωμα skaenoma

tabernacle). Habitation. In Deuteronomy 33:18 σκήνωμα stands in the Septuagint

for אִהֶל, and in II Peter 1:13-14, for the human body as the tabernacle or

temporary dwelling of the soul or spirit. And the idea of a temporary or movable

dwelling seems to suit Stephen’s argument better than that of a fixed one.

The מִשְׁכָנות of Psalm 132:5 (to which perhaps, as well as II Samuel 7:1-6,

Stephen refers) is equally applicable to a tent.


47 “But Solomon built Him an house.” A house for an house, Authorized Version.

The οϊκος oikos - the house -  which Solomon built, seems to be almost in contrast

with the σκήνωμα (the tabernacle).


48 “Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith

the prophet,” Houses (in italics) for temples, Authorized Version and Textus

Receptus. The word ναοῖς naois - temples (here, but not in ch.17:24) is omitted

in the Received Text. In Isaiah 16:12.  In the Septuagint χειροποίητα cheiropoiaeta

hands (plural) is used without a substantive for the “sanctuary” (מִקְדּושׁ) of Moab.

For the sentiment that the infinite God, Creator of heaven and earth, cannot be

contained in a house built by the hands of men, see also II Chronicles 6:18, as well

as the passages above quoted. Stephen justifies himself from the charge of

having spoken blasphemous words against the temple by citing Isaiah 66:1.


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?”

The heaven for heaven, Authorized Version; the earth the footstool of my

feet for earth is my footstool, Authorized Version; what manner of house f

or what house, Authorized Version.


50 “Hath not my hand made all these things?”

Did not my hand make for hath not my hand made, Authorized Version.



Sin and Righteousness. (vs. 39-50)


These verses suggest to us some thoughts on the nature and the award of

sin and of righteousness.



Stephen says that the children of Israel “in their hearts turned back

again into Egypt;” they were as guilty before God as if they had actually

faced round and marched back into bondage. The sin was in the spirit of

disloyalty and disobedience which dwelt within them. “Out of the heart

proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, blasphemies” (Matthew

15:19). “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). It is

the secret thought, the hidden motive, the cherished purpose, the lingering

desire, the burning passion, that constitutes the essence of the evil in the

sight of Him who looketh on the heart, and not on the outward appearance.

Beneath a fair exterior some men hide a false and guilty heart; beneath a

broken and faulty behavior others have a soul that is struggling on and out

— on to a better life, out of the entanglements of an evil but regretted and

repudiated past.



DETERIORATION IN WHICH IT ENDS. (vs. 41-43.) For their

rebelliousness the children of Israel were punished by being made to

wander in the wilderness, instead of being at once admitted to their

inheritance; also by being subjected to the rule of foolish and faulty kings

like Saul, instead of wise and righteous prophets like Samuel; also by being

sent away into captivity, even “beyond Babylon.” But the worst effect of

their sin was in their being led into darker and more aggravated evil. Their

culpable impatience — “We wot not what is become of him” — led them

to an act of positive idolatry: “Make us gods go before us;” and “they

made a calf… and offered sacrifice unto the idol;” and this act of theirs led

on, in course of time, to idolatrous actions more flagrant and. heinous still

(v. 42); and their wrong-doing culminated in the worship of Moloch, an

iniquity of the very deepest dye. This is the course and penalty of sin. One

wrong act leads to another and a worse; one sin to a number of

transgressions; and these to a habit of iniquity; and this to a dark, baneful

life and a hateful and odious character. By far the worst penalty which sin

has to pay is the spiritual damage and deterioration to which it leadsthe

blinded eyes of the understanding, the weakened will, the enfeebled

conscience, the masterful unbridled passions, the foul soul. Suffering of

body, exile, loss of worldly prospects, the death of the body, — all these

are nothing to this spiritual ruin.




not consist in the possession of privilege; otherwise the fathers of the

Jewish race — having “the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness” and

afterwards in the land where the Gentiles were driven out before them (v.45),

all things having been made according to the fashion” which Moses

had seen — would assuredly have been godly and holy men. True human

righteousness is rather found in such Godward aspiration and endeavor as

we find in David, the man “who found favor before God” (v. 46). And

how came he to enjoy this Divine regard? Not because he was faultless in

behavior — we could wish he had been far less blameworthy in certain

particulars than he was — but because he strove earnestly to worship and

serve God, repenting bitterly when he sinned, struggling on again with

contrite spirit, continually seeking to gain God’s will from His Word, and

honestly endeavoring, spite of inward imperfection and outward

temptation, to do what he knew to be right. This is human goodness; not

angelic purity, not flawless rectitude, but earnest seeking after the true and

good, hating the evil into which it is betrayed, casting itself on God’s

mercy for the past, facing the future with devout resolve to put away the

evil thing and walk in the paths of righteousness and integrity.



NEARNESS OF GOD TO OUR SPIRIT. (vs. 47-50.) David was not

permitted to “build an house for the Lord.” It was a deep disappointment

to him, but he had a very real consolation. God was near to him

everywhere. Was He not, indeed, much nearer to the father who did not

build the house, than to the son who did? David might have written (if he

did not), “I am continually with thee” (Psalm 73:23). “The Most High

dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (v. 48), and though we do not

build Him costly and splendid sanctuaries, though we should be deprived of

the opportunity of meeting Him in His house at all, yet when we survey “all

these things” His hand has made and is sustaining, we may feel that He is at

our right hand, and that we stand “before the Lord.” Nay, if we be “in

Christ Jesus,” we know that, though no magnificent temple can contain

Him, He dwells abidingly within our hearts, to sustain and to sanctify us.


51 “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the

Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” Stiff-necked; hard of neck, inflexible.

The word σκληροτράχηλος sklaerotrachaelosstiff-necked ones -  only occurs

here in the New Testament. But it answers in the Septuagint to the Hebrew קְשֵׁה־עֹרֶף

(hard of neck); see Exodus 33:3, 5, and elsewhere. In applying this expression to his

hearers, Stephen was using the identical language of Moses when he conveyed

God’s rebuke to them. Considering that they professed to be standing on Moses’

side against Stephen, this must have made his words doubly cutting to them.

Uncircumcised in heart; ἀπερίτμητος aperitmaetosuncircumcised ones –

only occurs here in the New Testament, but it is found in II Maccabees 1:51; 2:46;

and in the Septuagint of Exodus 12:48; Judges 14:3; I Samuel 17:26, and elsewhere

for the Hebrew עֹרֵל. The word, in its application to his Jewish audience,

contains a whole volume of rebuke. They prided themselves on their

circumcision, they trusted in it as a sure ground of favor in the sight of

God; but all the while they were on a level with the heathen whom they

despised, and were to be reckoned among the uncircumcised whom they

loathed. For they were without the true circumcision, that of the heart.

Here again Stephen was teaching in the exact spirit and even words of

Moses and the prophets. See Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16

(where Stephen’s two reproaches occur together); Jeremiah 9:26;

Ezekiel 44:7; and many other passages. Compare the teaching of Paul

(Romans 2:28-29; Philippians 3:2-3; Colossians 2:11; and elsewhere).


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:”

Did notpersecute for have notpersecuted,; killed for have slain,

Authorized Version; righteous for just, Authorized Version; have now

become for have been now, Authorized Version; betrayers for the betrayers,

Authorized Version. The close resemblance of Stephen’s words to those of

our Lord recorded in Luke 13:33-34; Matthew 5:12; 23:30-31, 34-37, lend

some support to the tradition that he was one of the seventy, and had heard

the Lord speak them. But the resemblance may have arisen from the Spirit

by which he spake, “the Spirit of Christ which was in” him.


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

Ye who received for who have received, Authorized Version; as it was ordained by

angels for by the disposition of angels, Authorized Version; kept it not for have not

kept it, Authorized Version. Ordained by angels. This phrase, thus differently

rendered (εἰς διαταγὰς ἀγγέλων eis diatagas angelonby prescription, mandate

 of messengers, angels), is one of extreme difficulty:  διαταγή - diatagae

ordinance, disposition -  means properly appointment,” or “ordinance,” as in

Romans 13:2; and εἰς eis, which has a great variety of uses in the Greek of

the New Testament, means “at,” or “upon,” or “on the occasion of,” as

Matthew 12:41, “At the preaching of Jonah.” So here they received the Law

“at” or “on the occasion of,” the “ordering” or “appointing” of angels.

When the angels, who were commissioned by God and spoke in His Name,

gave the Law, the Israelites so received it. The Authorized Version,

“by the disposition of angels” very nearly expresses the true sense.

Another sense of εἰς “in view of” comes to nearly the same thing.

Paul speaks of the part taken by the angels in the giving of the Law, and in

language strikingly resembling the text. He says of it, that it was “ordained

through [‘by,’ Authorized Version] angels.  God ordained or appointed the

Law, but the angels were the instruments or ministers of its promulgation.

And it is also distinctly referred to in Deuteronomy 33:2, where the Septuagint

reads, “On His right hand the angels were with Him.” In the foregoing verses

the application which Stephen had all through been contemplating is hurled with

accumulated force at the consciences of his hearers, and cuts them to the heart,

but does not bring them to repentance.



   The Recital of a Nation’s Spiritual Pedigree — Its Leading Suggestions.

                                                (vs. 1-53)


Technically the description of a defense may very justly be applied to the

long stretch of these verses. They no doubt do stand for Stephen’s formal

defense. He has been very mildly challenged by the high priest to say

whether the “things” laid to his charge “are so.” And he loses not a minute

in replying. He replies, however, in his own way. That way is somewhat

indirect. His tone betrays some sense of his being in some sense also master

of the situation. He tempts us much to feel that much may be read between

the lines, and we soon come to convince ourselves that the real drift of the

personal defense is laid on the lines of a national indictment — and that

national indictment very little else than the barest recital of the pedigree of

the nation in question. Stephen does not make it too apparent at first —

any mere than once on a time Nathan did, when he appeared to condignly

judge David (II Samuel 12) - but he puts before himself and hearers the nation

of Israel as it now is, and takes in hand to say what it came from and along

what way it has come to this present. The places of judge and judged almost

seem turned, both in the matter and the manner of Stephen. It is very

possible that (as Stephen never lived to put in writing nor to repeat what he

now said) there is some disjointedness in the language as it is now before

us, and some interval, and (though many doubt the suggestion) that

interruptions, especially just at the close, determined the form of some

parts of Stephen’s strong accusation. On the other hand, we have to

remember that probably nowhere do we read language fresher from the

dictate of the Holy Spirit. The recital of the spiritual lineage of this nation




MARKED CHARACTER. These occur in more shapes than one.


Ø      There is the originating sovereign choice and sovereign call of Abraham

(v. 2).


Ø      The express command to him whither he is to go and where awhile to

dwell (v. 3).


Ø      Express promises vouchsafed to him and his seed, and covenant, made

with him (vs. 6-8).


Ø      An unfailing, providential guidance of him and his linear descendants,

Isaac and Jacob and Joseph. This name Joseph does not fail to lead

Stephen to recite:


o        the providence that wonderfully overruled the worst of the work of


o        the providence that exalted Joseph, an alien, to Egypt’s highest place;

o        the providence that was aiming at and that did secure the more remote

result of settling awhile the nation in Egypt.


Ø      The providential saving of the life of the infant Moses, educating of him,

endowing him with a spirit of both goodness and power, preparing him

well by chastening delay and discipline, and finally calling him to see and

know and take up his mission, after an interval of forty years (vs. 23, 30,

35). The name of Moses, again, does not fail to lead Stephen to



o        the chief features of his work, in leading the people of Israel out of

Egypt and through the Red Sea, and in his own life’s remaining

forty-years wanderings with those people in the wilderness;

o        the distinct prophecy with which his lips were charged, relating to

      the Prophet,” the Messiah, the late well-known Jesus (v. 37);

o        the typical “tabernacle in the wilderness,” so carefully and in

      minute detail designed in heaven, yet so temporary in its use for

      the service of the wilderness and the early settlement under

      Joshua in “the possession of the Gentiles”


Ø      By two hurried touches, the reason of which is scarcely far to find,

Stephen implies rather than mentions the providence which raised up David

to conceive and Solomon to execute the building of the temple (ch. 6:14;

v. 48); when, for whatever exact reason, the climax of the occasion

is reached. The moment has come for the dropping of the mere recital of

history, every step of which, however, was telling its own very plain and

very significant tale. In words of flame and impassioned thrusts, the

solemn, unanswerable, conscience-stinging charge is flung at the packed

body of accusers and sympathizers. And the force came, not of bad spirit,

but of the Spirit, the Spirit of truth and conviction, of light and life, and,

when needs be, of “consuming fire.” So far Stephen’s recital of the moral

lineage of the people is crowded with the tokens of providence, Nay, it is

one chain of tokens of Divine love and Divine care. But on reading again

the recital we find:



OF SINNERS,” To us the things working in the mind of Stephen are not

obscure, but even to those who heard him, light must have glimmered in

before the final disclosure. When this came, no man doubted what it meant

nor to what it was equivalent. Not exactly side by side, and not exactly

pari passu(hand in hand) with the originating, directing, overruling, and

protecting “dispositions” (v. 53) of Heaven, but certainly in many a most

mournful and untoward conjuncture appeared the perverseness of human

insubordination and ingratitude and presumptuous opposition. The worst

growths of ingratitude sprang up where had fallen the richest showers of

heavenly grace. The worst forms of resistance assorted themselves in front

of the kindest and most distinguished of heavenly leading. And it had been

thus too systematically. It had been so once and again, and the indications

were to the effect that,” So my people love to have it.” (Jeremiah 5:31)

Thus the whole length of exceptional and most beneficent

grace was disfigured by the intrusion of surprising ingratitude and

rebellion; and of late, Stephen has to show, things have grown worse, nay,

they are come to a climax. The seed of evil grew up into plain sight.


Ø      In those “patriarchs, moved with envy,” who “sold Joseph into Egypt

(v. 9).


Ø      In the two cases, that grew upon one another in degree of blindness,

when Moses himself was so taken by surprise in that his own brethren did

not perceive his mission, and that it was one for their benefit, at

whatsoever risk to himself (vs. 25, 28, 35).


Ø      In the rebellion and fickleness of Israel under Mount Sinai,” and their

patent idolatry there, a career of crime, Stephen implies, which begun there

never got purged out of their system, but brought on THE CRUSHING

PUNISHMENT OF THE CAPTIVITY!  This was a marvelous stroke

of Stephen’s just rhetoric — suggestion of the Spirit’s light and force —

to run up in the compass of one sentence that initial act of idolatry into

the flourishing continuation of it which both courted and caused the

captivity of ever MEMORABLE SHAME!  (vs. 38-43).


Ø      But never so plainly, never so terribly as now; the present generation

complete the circle of the evil works of their fathers. They “resist the Holy

Ghost;” they are “the betrayers and murderers” of him for prophesying of

whom men were both persecuted and slain by their fathers; they have not

honored their own “Law,” so boasted in, in the only acceptable way of

honoring it, viz. in the “keeping” of it; and they have branded themselves

with the names stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and in” their very

“ears.” These are the formidable interruptions to the purity, honor, nobility

of their lineage. They are stains on their escutcheons — ineffaceable in

themselves. But even all this is as nothing, for they now drag their glory in

the dust, and are for flinging it away FOR EVER!  The recital shows:



subject, it may be supposed, Stephen purposed to keep in some check for a

time. Yet:


Ø      It is implied, for those who certainly well knew all the history of Joseph

and his brethren, in the allusion to the exaltation of Joseph, and his

brethren’s repairing to him for corn, and finally his father and family

becoming as it were his permanent guests (vs. 9-14).


Ø      It is again implied (see the manifest hint of some kind of v. 35) in the

justifying of Moses’ unconscious taking up of his role as reformer and

deliverer of his brethren (vs. 24-26), and in the parallel condemnation of

those whose blindness, not seeing it, led them to say tauntingly, “Who

made thee a ruler and a judge over us?”


Ø      It is most emphatically stated of the idolatrous Israelites. God turned,

and gave them up (v. 42).  (Can you not see what God is doing in

the 21st century?  Is not He giving America up for the same reasons

stated in Romans 1:24,26,28? – CY  - 2016)  And the fact of this being able

to be viewed either as one long-continued course of retribution or retribution

frequently repeated shows that, as Stephen approaches the end of his speech,

he is preparing to give greater prominence to this matter. So far, then, the

striking moral features of this history consist of unparalleled opportunity,

reckless disregard of it and Heaven’s own distinct and most impressive

kind of warnings. But the whole case of Stephen is not over till it is

observed how he either purposely exhibits or is made the means of







Ø      The aim and use of all, if they had not been absolutely lost, would have

obviated the necessity of any defense at all on the part of Stephen; and in

particular would have rendered unnecessary his allusion to David, to

Solomon, and to the nature of the dwelling-place of the “Most High,” as

also his quotation of the prophet’s rapt, inspired, and foreseeing language

(vs. 46-50). It seems evident that Stephen was far from being supremely

anxious on the subject of his own personal defense; he is bent on

something far beyond and above this. But so far as he was at all anxious

about it, it was here that the point of it lay. Whatever he had said about

“this place,” and about the customs of Moses,” and about “this Jesus of

Nazareth,” who had power to “destroy this temple and build it up in three

days,” and who was the end and aim and substance of all “the Law and

the prophets,” was near to finding its solution, for those who had “ears to

hear,” at the point at which Stephen is found quoting that prophet (v. 50).

But all was lost on those whose nation had been educating fourteen

hundred years if haply they might see this very thing and not lose it.


Ø      The lessons of a moral and individual nature are now to be yet more

shown spilled on the ground. Yes, spilled, as Stephen’s blood itself was

spilled. Instead of having learned or now learning, they are “cut to the

heart;” they gnash with their teeth; they cry out with a loud voice; they

stop their ears; they run upon Stephen with one accord; they cast him out

of the city; they stone him. It was the evening of hope for many of that

audience when Stephen began to speak. When he has ended evening has

declined into a mournful, dark, despairing night. A hundred times they have

been warned in their own family history, and their fathers cry to them from

the very tombs. But what can they hear who “stop their ears”? And what

can any hear who do likewise?



Lessons of Sacred History (vs. 44-53)




Ø      The tabernacle. It was the tent of witness or of attestation; otherwise

the “tabernacle of the assembly,” or of the congregation. It was the visible

center of Israel’s natural and spiritual life, the hearth and home of the

people and the altar of God. He met with them to declare His will, to make

known His laws, and they with one another as a community having a

common weal. Religion is the true foundation of society. She is the” oldest

and holiest tradition of the earth.” When a house of God is erected in the

wilds of Australia or of America, a center of civilization is fixed. It is the

earthly representation of a heavenly reality. Moses made the tabernacle

after a Divine archetype or model given to him. So worship on earth must

ever aspire to and reflect the “life above,” the risen life, the life of spiritual

freedom and victory. God is ever saying to new societies, as to the new

society in the desert, Make me a house after the pattern you have seen;”

that is, have a place and a recognition in your life for the holiest ideals, the

most sacred purposes of life.


Ø      The temple. Both the tabernacle and the temple were designed and

constructed after the analogy of human dwellings; the tabernacle was but a

more richly furnished tent. As the wealth and power of the nation

increased, it was fitting that this should be reflected in the greater

magnificence of the house of God; and as they became settled in the Holy

Land, that the tent of the nomad should give way to the palace of a King.

The temple of Solomon represented in its magnificence the greatness of the

victorious kingdom of David. The outward institutions of religion in a

people should keep pace with its growth in material prosperity. It is

miserable that the church should be worse furnished than the ordinary

dwellings of the worshippers, or that the minister of religion should fare in

poverty while he supplies their spiritual wants. A rich man can surely afford

to contribute as much to the pastor’s necessities as he pays in stipend to his

cook. But there are higher truths. The tabernacle passed away; the temple,

as Stephen had predicted, was to pass away; the spiritual verities eternally





Ø      The dwelling of God in visible temples is a symbolic thought, the reality

to which it points is His intercourse with the soul of man. This was the

great truth of prophetic teaching. The prophets were themselves living

illustrations of it. God dwelt in them, spake through them, breathed upon

them, turned their hearts unto His shrine, communed with them face to

face, as a man with his friend. “The true Shechinah is man,” said a great

Father of the Church.


Ø      It is the spiritual indwelling which is at the heart of all true religion.

When it is once grasped, great consequences follow. The priest and the

ritual and the fixed place are no longer necessary. Every one who has a

truth from God, and feels that it must be spoken, is a prophet. New oracles

may be opened at any moment, new witnesses may arise, the truth find a

fresh utterance from unexpected lips. If this truth be not recognized, the

sacred building becomes an empty shell, the priests mere mummers, the

ritual a pantomime. To believe that God can care for splendid temples and

ritual, for themselves, is imbecile superstition. To believe that He values all

the expressions of living and loyal hearts is a part of rational piety. But at

the highest point of religious intelligence it may be well asked, “What need

of temple, when the walls of the world are that?”


Ø      The denial of the spiritual truth is the source of error, superstition, and

crime. The earlier Jews killed the prophets, leaving posterity to find out

their value and raise their monuments. Posterity did the like. The very men

who waved the torch of truth more brightly in darkened ages, and those

who had the best news to tell their times, were silenced and suppressed.

The culmination of all was the betrayal and murder of Jesus. Such a story

of miserable persecution and suicidal hatred of the good carries its deep

and permanent warnings. How dishonest if we take occasion from this

passage to form an idle opinion of the peculiar bigotry of the Jews! Was

ever a corporation, a body with vested interests, or a Church, known to act

otherwise towards the new truth and the new teacher? Has any great

teacher in the Christian Church been received at first with welcome and

owned as “sent from God”? Grudging toleration is the most he can expect.

Only those who know that religion is an affair of the individual soul, not of

the Church or the formal confession, will welcome him in whom religion

now embodies itself, and through whom, in the decay of systems, God

speaks with freshness and power to the world.



Stephen’s Address in the Sanhedrin (vs. 1-53)


The charge was blasphemy and revolution against consecrated authority.

The answer was, God by His Spirit has been preparing for this time. Jesus is

the Messiah. As in former days our fathers resisted the Holy Ghost, so now

this highest manifestation of His grace in “Jesus Christ.” An appeal to

repentance and faith, Notice:


  • THE TESTIMONY TO THE WORD OF GOD. Christianity is no

novelty discarding the past. Yet not a mere development, but a new gift in

Christ. A great lesson on the study of the Old Testament, which is too

much neglected. A help to trace the line of the spiritual manifestations. A

warning against unbelief. A declaration of the grace of God, apart from

human merit.



man. Courage of deep conviction. Freedom from Jewish prejudice. Gospel

liberty not rationalistic license. Spiritual conception of God and His

worship. Charge of the Jews.


  • THE POSITION OF CHRISTIANITY plainly set forth as the final

revelation, and the challenge founded upon it. Receive the gospel or you

resist THE SPIRIT.   This position evidently rested on the person and work

of Christ, “the righteous One,” whose message was above that “ordained by

angels” (see Hebrews chapters 1 and 2). The circumcision of the Old Testament

was declared worthless in view of the new circumcision of the “heart and ears,”

otherwise the sign of the new covenant, the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

Although evidently broken off by the murderous riot which ensued, the

address was advancing to an appeal to faith on the basis of the new

outpouring of the Spirit: “Now is the accepted time; now is the day of

salvation.” A great example to us to lead men through conviction of sin to

acceptance of grace — through the sense of what they are to the hope of

what they may be in Christ.



Stephen’s Defense (vs. 2-53)


It was usual in the court of the Sanhedrin to allow an accused person to

plead guilty or not guilty, and to speak in his own defense. As this address

of Stephen’s is his defense, we must know of what he was accused.

Generally it may be said that he was a blasphemer of God and the Law;

but, to understand how such a charge could possibly be made, we must

appreciate the intense and superstitious feeling concerning Mosaism which

characterized the rulers of that day. The more manifestly that the spiritual

life faded out of the older system, the more intensely the people clung to its

mere forms and traditions; jealousy of it as a national system had taken the

place of faithfulness to it as a revelation of God and a means of grace.

Stephen was “the first man who dared to think that the gospel of Jesus was

a Divine step forward, a new economy of God, which the existing Hebraic

institutions might indeed refuse to accept, but which, in that case, would

not only dispense with, but in the end overturn, the Hebraic institutions.”

So far as a charge was brought against Stephen, it closely resembled that

brought against our Lord. The false witnesses declared that they had heard

him say “that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place [i.e. the

temple], and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.” But

while this was the definite charge, we find that the real offence must have

been his bold and unqualified assertion of the Messiahship and divinity of

Christ. Stephen’s crime, in the eyes of bigoted Jewish rulers, was his

discernment of the spirituality of Christ’s mission; but this Stephen saw on

its antagonistic side, and therefore we cannot wonder that he should excite

such prejudice against himself. The Jews, with a disposition of mind that looked to

outward things, did not rightly comprehend the thoughts of Stephen, but took a

distorted view of them.  What he had represented as a consequence of the operation

of the Spirit of Christ, whose design it was to consecrate the world as a great temple

of God, and to guide religion from externals to the heart, that the Jews

conceived as a purpose to be accomplished by violence, and thus they

ascribed to him the destruction of the temple and the abolition of Jewish

usages — things which he had never attempted.


He was accused of teaching what would materially change the old Jewish

customs. He replies in effect:


(1) that God had given a new revelation, and that he was only asking them

to hear God’s message and receive God’s Messenger; and


(2) that, in rejecting a new message from God, they were only acting as

their fathers had done in all the previous generations. This Stephen, in a

very subtle way, hinted at by his historical references; but he reserved the

full unfolding of it until the close of his speech.


Then he presses two points home upon the heart and conscience of his



(1) In reference to the charge that he proposed the destruction of the

temple and its ritual, he urged that God’s direct spiritual dealings with men

were and always had been strictly independent of forms, or ritual, or

temple. And


(2) in reference to the Jewish rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, he urged

that the Jews, under every succeeding form of Divine revelation, had

resisted the Spirit. As often as it had pleased God, through chosen messengers

of His will, to lead Israel forward through a new moment of change into a fresh

spiritual epoch of blessing, so often had:


a.       God’s thoughts been misunderstood,

b.      His purposes hindered, and

c.       His messenger rejected by the bulk of Israel.


This had been their national failing — to cling to the present and material,

whenever God was calling them to higher spiritual good. This they had done

 so often that their doing it now, by rejecting a spiritual Christ and idolizing

a material temple, was only of a piece with their entire history. We must suppose

that the excitement of the Sanhedrin, who detected his point, and the clamor

of the crowd, who followed the cue given by the council, reached at last such

a height that Stephen could only close his speech suddenly with the few intense

words given us in vs. 51-53. It was a noble boldness and a sublime testimony,

but we cannot wonder that it fed the flame of excitement and made a

violent death for the heroic champion almost a certainty. There are times in

life when what colder natures call imprudence is the immediate duty to

which men are called. Stephen’s burning words have carried their

conviction to human consciences through the long Christian ages.

Literature has no more intense warning against losing the spiritual by

doggedly clinging to the bare and formal and literal.


54 “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they

gnashed on him with their teeth.”  Now when for when, Authorized Version.

They were cut to the heart (see  ch. 5:33 and notes).


55 “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven,

and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,”

Looked up steadfastly (ἀτενίσας atenisaslooking intently); see ch. 6:15; 3:4,

and note. The glory of God; i.e. the visible glory which surrounds and

proclaims God’s near presence (see Exodus 24:10, 16-17; Isaiah 6:1-3;

Ezekiel 1:28; Revelation 21:23). Jesus standing.  Sitting at the right

hand of God is the usual attitude ascribed to our Lord in token of His victorious

rest, and waiting for the day of judgment. Here He is seen standing, as rising

to welcome His faithful martyr, and to place on his head the crown of life

Revelation 2:10). Whether Stephen saw these glorious things in the flesh or

out of the flesh he probably knew not himself. 


In every darkest hour of God’s people there is some point of light which holds the

future within it. Saul is in that scene. His conversion partly the fruit of it. The Spirit

began to work, goading him with conviction. So the blood of martyrs has always

seed of truth to water: the blood of Stephen watered conviction in Saul’s heart.


56 “And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man

standing on the right hand of God.”  The Son of man. Our Lord’s usual

designation of Himself (see Matthew 8:20; 26:64; etc.; and also Daniel 7:13),

but only here and Revelation 1:13, spoken of Jesus by any other.



Visions of the Risen Christ (vs, 55-56)


It is hardly to be doubted that Paul preserved the record of these

incidents; and we may realize how such a cry from the persecuted

Nazarene, as we have in the text, would fix itself in the thought and

memory of one so religious and so impulsive as Paul. It would be most

vividly recalled to mind when he too was smitten down with the glory on

the Damascus road, and himself heard the voice of Jesus, the risen and

exalted One. Evidently the thing that most impressed Paul was

Stephen’s firm conviction that the crucified Jesus WAS RISEN, EXALTED,

LIVING AND GLORIFIED, DIVINE!  However intensely Paul resisted this

conviction at first, it had more power on him than he estimated. And the scene is a

most impressive one. The howling mob; the reverend officials, borne away from

all their proprieties by fanatical excitement; the young Pharisee, too

aristocratic to take any actual part in carrying off the victim, or throwing

the stones, helping to raise the excitement with stirring words; and amidst

all the noise and the violence, the man of God, calm, rapt beyond present

scenes, seeing the unseen, and uttering a last splendid testimony: to the one

truth he had labored to declare. Say what men may of the Impostor of

Nazareth, who was shamefully crucified, Stephen saw him living, and

“standing on the right hand of God.” We need not think that there was any

“external spectacle;” the vision was that kind of internal vision men have

had when in a state of ecstasy. The fact of the vision was “inferred partly,

we may believe, from the rapt, fixed expression of the martyr’s face, partly

from the words that followed, interpreting that upward gaze.” The vision

may be treated as;


  • A COMFORT TO THE PERSECUTED ONE. Recall the promises of

the Savior’s presence always with His people, but especially when they

should be brought before kings and governors for His Name’s sake. Even

making due account of the excitement produced by the surroundings of

martyrdom, and its power to raise a heroic spirit, it has never been found

an easy thing to face torture and death. But the story of the martyrs

provides abundant illustration of the varied ways in which Christ has

comforted His witnesses. Stephen was comforted by the vision in three



Ø      It assured him that what he had testified was true. Christ was living

and exalted.

Ø      It declared that he was not suffering alone. The Christ was in fullest

sympathy with him.

Ø      And it encouraged him to full trust in all his Lord’s promises of strength

and grace for the enduring and final triumph over his foes. The vision

seemed to say, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with

thee.”  (Isaiah 43:2)



times different parts of the Christian truth have been the citadel or the

redan round which the chief fighting has raged, and on which the issue of

battle has depended. In the early Church the conflict was mainly over the

question of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead. Two things were seen

to depend on this resurrection.


Ø      Our Lord’s claim to Messiahship.

Ø      The spiritual character of our Lord’s mission. If risen and exalted, His

kingly authorities are declared to be no coarse earthly dominion; He is:


o       King of souls,

o       Deliverer of sinners,

o       the living One who SAVES!



the witness was effective is shown in its increasing their rage. A dying

testimony that was more effective than anything he had spoken in life. But

the hated name, spoken of as being at God’s right hand in the glory, let

loose the tide of rage which awe had for a moment frozen, and with illegal

tumult, councilors and bystanders, turned through sheer passion into a

mob, swept him from the chamber with a rush, and hurried him for

execution beyond the northern city gate.  His dying testimony sealed

the witness of Stephen’s life.


57 “Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and

ran upon him with one accord,” But for then, Authorized Version; rushed

for ran, Authorized Version. (ὥρμησαν hormaesanthey rush).


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.”

They cast for cast, Authorized Version; garments for clothes, Authorized Version;

the feet of a young man for a young man’s feet, Authorized Version; named Saul

for whose name was Saul, Authorized Version. They cast. We have here the

identical phrase of Luke 4:29. The witnesses. According to Deuteronomy 17:7,

“the hands of the witnesses were to be first upon” the idolater “to put him to death.”

They took off their clothes, their outer garments, so as to be free to hurl the

stones at their victim with greater force. The feet of a young man. The

word νεανίουneaniouof young man - is found only here and in ch. 20:9;

23:17-18, 22; and frequently in the Septuagint. for the Hebrew נַעִר.  A man

might be called a νεανίας (a young man) probably to the age of thirty. This

appearance of Saul upon the stage of Luke’s narrative is an element which

will soon change the whole current of the narrative, and divert it from

Jerusalem TO THE WHOLE EARTH!  Nothing can be more striking than

this introduction of the young man Saul to our view as an accomplice

(albeit “ignorantly in unbelief” – I Timothy 1:13) in the martyrdom of Stephen.

Who that stood there and saw him keeping the clothes of the witnesses would 

have imagined that he would become the foremost apostle of the faith which

he sought to destroy from off the face of the earth?



            Our Introduction to the Greatest of Apostles (v. 58)


It is only casually mentioned that “the witnesses laid down their clothes at

a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul,” and yet how much is declared

in the brief sentence! It is our first sight of the zealous young Pharisee from

Tarsus. It is at once an indication of his character and spirit. We see the

impulsiveness that has taken up so violent an opposition to the Nazarene

impostor and all His followers. If Saul cannot be allowed to throw the

actual stones, seeing he was not one of the witnesses, he will do the next

thing — he will hold the clothes of the men who have stripped themselves

in order to do more efficiently their deadly work. It was the occasion on

which Saul gained an impression which he never afterwards lost, and which

resulted in what would surprise no one so much as it did himself, in leading

him to take up and carry on that very witness and work for which the

heroic Stephen died. The age of Saul at this time cannot be certainly

known. We may assume that he was under thirty years old. Three points

may receive consideration in the picture that our text presents to us.


  • SAUL SHARING BY HIS PRESENCE. He “was consenting unto

            Stephen’s death.” “He gave his voice against him.” He watched over the

            clothes. He regarded the scene with satisfaction. A delusion sometimes

            possesses men that they cannot be guilty of a crime unless they took actual

            part in it. Saul had nobler moral sentiments. The approver is as guilty as the

            actor; for he also would have done the thing had opportunity served. But

            how searching and how serious becomes the consideration that, before

            God, we may be judged guilty on the ground of our approval and consent!

            With what limitations and qualifications must this point be pressed?

            Paul does not hesitate to take on himself the guilt of Stephen’s death,

            though he never lifted a stone.



            explained on one or other of the following grounds:


Ø      The law of the execution, which required the witnesses against the

                        victim to effect and complete the death.


Ø      The position Saul occupied as one of the judges. He gave his vote,

      and it is never regarded as becoming in a judge to execute his own

      sentence.  Whether Saul was a member of the actual Sanhedrin, or

      of some committee appointed to deal with these followers of

      Jesus of Nazareth, does not appear.


Ø      Aristocratic sentiments might keep Saul from actually engaging in

      the stoning. Nothing could free Saul from his share of the guilt of

      Stephen’s death.



            Endeavor to estimate his conflict of feeling. While actually watching, rage

            and hatred may have prevailed, but his mind was receiving its picture of the

            calm and heroic sufferer; and presently Saul lost sight of judges, witnesses,

            and crowds, and the vision on his soul alone was before him. He saw the

            saintly man fall asleep; he heard again those dying cries; he seemed to look

            through and see what Stephen saw, the Son of man glorified; and, strive

            how he would to blot out the vision, it was there; rush desperately into

            persecuting ways how he might, still the vision was there. Stephen, we may

            fairly say, awakened Saul to anxiety, and prepared the way for that vision

            of Christ which bowed down Saul’s pride and won him to penitence, to

            faith, and to service. Better than the fable of the phoenix is the truth of

            Saul. Out of Stephen’s death he sprang to a nobler, longer life of witness

            for the living Christ than Stephen could have lived. Death is often found

            the way, and the only way, to life. “Dying, and behold we live.”

            (II Corinthians 6:9)


59 “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord

Jesus, receive my spirit.”  The Lord (in italics) for God (in italics),

Authorized Version. The Authorized Version is certainly not justified by

the context, because the words which follow, “Lord Jesus,” show to whom

the invocation was made, even to Him whom he saw standing at the right

hand of God. At the same time, the request, Receive my spirit, was a striking

acknowledgment of the divinity of Christ. Only He who gave the spirit could

receive it back again, and KEEP IT SAFE UNTOT HE RESURRECTION!

Compare “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).


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.”

Cried with a loud voice. Compare again Luke 23:46, and with Stephen’s

prayer, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge, compare ibid. v. 34.

He fell asleep. Blessed rest after life’s toilsome day!  Blessed contrast with

the tumult of passion and violence which brought him down to the grave!

How near, too, in his dying was that likeness to his Lord advanced, which

shall be perfected at His appearing! (I John 3:2)  “Blessed are the dead

which die in the Lord,... that they may rest from their labors, and their

works do follow them.”  (Revelation 14:13)  St. Augustine (‘Sermons in Festo

Sti. Stephani;’ Conybeare and Howson, vol. 1. p. 82) attributes Saul’s

conversion to the prayer of Stephen: “Si Stephanus non orasset, Ecclesia

Paulum non haberet.”


A wonderful testimony to the reality of the work of the Spirit. How the signs increased.

From the gifts of Pentecost to this manifestation of Divine glory to a dying man, calling

upon Jesus to receive his spirit, and so confirming, as with a light coming down directly

out of heaven, all the facts of the gospel — a risen and glorified Redeemer, able to

forgive sins, receiving the spirits of His disciples into heaven, giving them complete

victory over the sufferings and darkness of their last hour. May we die the death of

the righteous!




The First Martyrdom (vs. 1-60)


When we look at the Lord Jesus as our Exemplar, though we are conscious

that all His excellences of life and character were strictly human, and within

the range of those human faculties which we possess in common with our

Lord, yet are we also conscious that the transcendent perfection of His

human life is what we can never reach. Our Lord’s goodness was the

goodness of man, and yet it is a goodness that we never can attain to.

Where His feet stood firm, our feet will slip. Where His love triumphed,

ours breaks down. Where His will moved on undaunted in obedience to His

Father’s will, ours faints and halts and stumbles to its fall. The temptations

that He crushed, crush us; where His spirit was clear as sunlight, ours is

clouded and mixed. Where He soars in glory, we are heavy with sleep; and

where He wrestles in an agony of prayer, we fall asleep for sorrow. His

courage, His faith, His humility, His meekness, His constancy, His patience,

His firmness, His love, His zeal, His self-consecration to God, His loving

obedience, His transparent truth and purity, — we see them, we look upon

them with adoring wonder, but when we try to imitate them, it is like trying

to climb up to the stars; do what we will they are at an immeasurable

distance above us, inaccessible and unapproachable. It is, therefore, a great

help and encouragement to us that, besides the infinite perfection of

Christ’s human nature, we have other examples of saintly men set before us

in the Word of God, which we may hope to follow more closely, treading

even in their very steps. The apostle, the evangelist, the martyr, the holy

woman, the faithful disciple, all stand out before us on the pages of

Scripture, and we ask ourselves why should not we be like them, seeing we

have the same Holy Spirit which dwelt in them to sanctify us also. The

chapter before us invites us to study the character of a true martyr, as

exemplified in Stephen. The model martyr thus is:


  • A WISE MAN AND ONE OF GOOD REPORT. Not an empty fanatic

catching up every folly that is started, and carried away by every blast of

doctrine; but a man of solid and approved wisdom, discerning things that

differ, holding fast that which is good, and rejecting the pernicious error

though it be the fashion of the day; one whose steady and quiet walk in the

paths of godliness has earned him a good report among his neighbors. He

is well spoken of because he does good quietly, and seeks not the praise of

men. He is of good report because he is never hurried, into ill-advised

action under the influences of temper or self-will, or the contagion of

example, or any corrupt or selfish motive, but is known constantly to do

the thing that is right.



not only wise and upright in all his dealings with men, has not only wisdom

and discretion in the affairs of this life, but, being filled with the Holy Spirit

of God, he has all spiritual wisdom likewise. His enlightened reason and his

elevated affections soar above the world, and are deeply engaged in the

things of God and the affairs of the kingdom of Christ. He lives a life of

faith in the Son of God, who loved him and gave Himself for him.



LIFE OF EASE AND INDOLENCE. He is ready at the call of the Church

to undertake any office or work, however burdensome or responsible, for

the good of the whole body and the comfort of the brethren. He does not

seek dignity, or emolument, or the praise of men, as the price of his labor,

but simply gives himself as Christ’s servant to work for Christ and for

Christ’s people. Impartial, fair, equal, and kind in his administration, he

soothes irritation, allays jealousy, and promotes peace and love.


  • HIS SPIRIT KINDLES WITH HIS WORK. Being placed on a higher

platform, he sees more of the spiritual wants of men around him. Having

received higher gifts, he looks for wider opportunities of exercising them.

Every soul won to Christ is as fuel to the flame of his love. Every victory

over Satan stirs him up to war more resolutely as a good soldier of Jesus

Christ. Failures do not daunt him, and success cheers him on. Nothing

seems impossible with Christ on his side. Everything must be attempted

which may snatch the prey from the destroyer and enlarge the kingdom of





world crosses swords with the wisdom of the spirit. Formalism, Pharisaism,

priestcraft, superstition, self-righteousness, self-importance, ignorance,

combine to resist the gracious teaching which would strip men of

selfishness to clothe them with Christ. At first it is argument against

argument and reasoning against reasoning. But when the sword of the

Spirit begins to cut through the shield of carnal disputation, and the sword

of the worldly logic becomes blunted against the martyr’s shield, and the

Word of truth becomes too strong for the lying lips to answer, then begins

a new form of contest. The defeated disputant throws aside his reasoning

and his caviling, and takes up the weapons of force and fraud. Prison and

rack, fire and faggot, the wild beast and the sword, shall answer the

arguments which were too strong for the reasoner. And how then will the

martyr act? Will he be silenced and dismayed, or will he stand to his truth

and die? He gathers up his courage, he looks up to God, he confronts his

accusers, he lifts up his calm voice, and his speech is as the song of the

dying swan. For:





THE PAGES OF HOLY SCRIPTURE. Has he preached Jesus Christ

whom they denied? Did not their fathers deny Moses their lawgiver and

deliverer from Egypt? Had he said that the majestic presence of the living

God was not confined to the walls of temples made with hands? Did not

Isaiah say the same? Had he denounced the vanity of sacrifices and

offerings when offered by uncircumcised hearts and unclean hands? Had

not their prophets done so likewise? He could not retract what he had

spoken according to the oracles of God. He had spoken the truth, and by

the truth he would stand. But were they there to judge him? Nay, but he

would judge them. They had, indeed, received the Law, but they had

broken it. The Holy Ghost had spoken to them, but they had resisted Him.

God’s Christ had come to save them, and they had betrayed and crucified

him. Let them fill up the measure of their fathers; he was ready to receive

death at their hands.


  • And then comes THE CLOSING SCENE. The faith as firm as a rock

with the waves dashing upon it; the vision of invisible glories swallowing

up all things in its brightness; the rapturous confession of Jesus Christ; the

calm committal of his spirit to His safe keeping; the free forgiveness of his

cruel murderers; the devout prayer of his parting breath; the peaceful death

like an infant’s sleep; earth exchanged FOR HEAVEN; — and the martyrdom

is complete. Complete, but not ended; for the witnessing voice is still ringing

in our ears, and tells us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God,

and that we have life THROUGH HIS NAME!



Illustrations (vs. 51-60)


We have some of the best and one of the worst things illustrated in this passage.



REPROACH. (vs. 51-53.) Stirred (as we suppose) by the impatient

interruptions of the senators, who at this point showed themselves

unwilling to listen, Stephen rebuked them in the strong and stringent

language of the text. They who imagined themselves to be “the cream of

the cream,” the very best specimens of the holiest people, were setting

themselves to resist the gracious dealings of God, who was willing to bless

them with His fullest blessing (see Psalm 81:10-16); they were resisting the

“Holy Ghost” and injuring, in the worst of all ways, the people they were

chosen to serve.  Unqualified condemnation is sometimes the duty of the

servant of God.  Not often, indeed; for usually it is our wisdom and our duty

to hold our feelings of indignation in check. But there are times when holy

resentment should overflow in words of unmeasured indignation, when we

shall not “deliver our soul” unless we denounce the wrong that has been

done and warn against the evil which impends.  (See Ezekiel 33:5)



Sometimes sin is checked and cowed by the strong voice of holy censure,

and it holds its hand if not its tongue. At other times it is only driven by

exasperation to say and do its very worst. So here, it:


Ø      yielded to frenzy;

Ø      proceeded to unmannerly exhibitions of rage — ‘‘they gnashed on him

with their teeth;” and

Ø      ended in brutal and fatal violence “they stoned him.”


There is something, not only painful and horrible, but also contemptible in this

resort to physical violence. It seems to say, “We cannot answer your

words; we cannot resist your influence. We will do the only thing we can

do; we will break your bones and draw your blood.” Such a fearful sight is

sin driven to its worst. How needful to keep clear of its dominion!



To hHis devoted servant in this trying hour God vouchsafed an

exceptional manifestation of Himself, an extraordinary proof of His Divine

favor and assurance of support. We do not look for anything of this kind.

But to us, if we are true and loyal to our Savior’s cause, when the time of

special trial comes, our Lord will grant some tokens of His presence and of

His sympathy. He will not leave us alone; He will come to us. And if the

heavens be not opened, and if a vision of the Son of man be not granted us,

we shall have “the comfort of the Holy Ghost,” and the strong inward

assurance that He who was with Stephen at this solemn scene is laying

beneath us “the everlasting arms.”



“They stoned Stephen… and he cried… Lord, lay not this sin to their

charge.” We can hardly conceive a nobler end than this: a man sealing his

testimony to Christian truth, with his life-blood, and with his last breath

praying for mercy to be granted to his murderers. To few of us is it thus

given, “not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” But in

the course of every Christian life there are offered many opportunities of


Ø      showing the martyr spirit, and of

Ø      acting in the spirit of large-heartedness.


Though we may gain no applause for so doing, and expect no notice to be taken

of it by any chronicler, we may remember that “great is our reward in heaven,”

that we have the approval of the Divine Master, when in any sphere and in any

degree we cheerfully “bear his reproach” and show a generous spirit

toward those who do us wrong.


  • A CHRISTIAN EXODUS. (vs. 59-60.) In the midst of such

agitating scenes Stephen was perfectly trustful; he said, “Lord Jesus,

receive my spirit.” In the midst of such tumult he was calm; it seemed

natural to the historian to write of his death as if he were going to rest —

“he fell asleep.” We often look on to the time of our departure, and perhaps

wonder what will be the manner of our “going out into the light.” If we

nourish our faith in Christ as we have the means of doing, by use of sacred

privilege and seizure of manifold opportunity, then when the end shall

come, in whatsoever form it may appear, our hearts will be


Ø      trustful in our Divine Savior — we shall tranquilly resign our spirits to

His charge, as into the hands of our Almighty Friend;

Ø      peaceful — our death will be to us as a pleasant sleep.


Weary with the toil and strife of earth, we shall lie down to die as those who

commit themselves to the darkness of the night, to the restfulness of the couch,

in sweet assurance that the eyes which close on this side the grave will open

on the other side, to be filled with the light and to behold the glories of

immortality. Live in Christ, and you will die in reverent confidence and

unbroken serenity of soul.



The Martyrdom of Stephen (vs. 54-60)



with the pain of the sense of guilt, though judges, they gnashed with their

teeth upon Stephen, “like chained dogs who would bite those who would

set them free.” “Contempt pierces through the shell of the tortoise, says the

Indian proverb. On their high seat they were reached by the stinging words

of the servant of Jesus; their obstinacy exposed, the contradiction between

the part they were playing as the representatives of the Law and outwardly,

while their spirit and aims were deadly opposed to its spirit, brought into

the most glowing light. The most hellish of wrath is that where the mind is

felt to be at variance with itself and seeks a victim on which to discharge its

fury. If the truth does not convert men, it turns them into its foes.


  • THE INNER JOY OF THE MARTYR. The martyr is he whose life-

      interests are bound up with the truth, to whom nothing in the world can

afford satisfaction in which truth and reality are not. He cannot separate his

consciousness of life and its sweetness from his consciousness of God’s

light and love in him, which are dearer than life. With this clear light within

his breast, he” sits in the center and enjoys clear day.” “No greater thing

can man receive, no more august boon can God bestow, than truth,” said

one of the noblest of heathen writers, Plutarch. This is the feeling in which

the martyr lives, in which he is willing to die. And he may be and doubtless

is often favored with peculiar visions, which foretell the triumph of truth

and of faith. Stephen sees the heaven opened, and the crucified One, the

“Son of man,” standing in the place of glory and power, at God’s right

hand. There are secrets in the life of individual piety which if known, might

go far to explain the cheerfulness with which privation or persecution has

been borne. God opens an inner door into heaven to others inaccessible,

and speaks of things, which cannot be uttered, and offers visions, which

cannot be described. We know little more than the outside of others’ lives.

The bad man in power, the good man in weakness and suffering, each has

another side to his life.


  • CONVICTION STIFLED IS VIOLENCE. Here are two resources of



Ø      To pretend indignation against the person of an opponent. It is easy to

feign a pious horror of sentiments we do not care to examine, and to cast

obliquely the reproach of blasphemy upon one who utters truths which are

evil in their bearing upon us, Jesus, Stephen, Paul, and in their turn all

reformers, have had to incur this reproach.


Ø      To end the matter by violence. Cast the offender out of the synagogue;

hand him over to the civil power; or put him to death under the show of

law and justice. So was Stephen done to death. The worst crimes have

been done in the name of law and under the cloak of religion.


  • THE MARTYR’S END. In many features it repeats that of the



Ø      Stephen is thrust out of the city, like him who suffered “without the

gate.” Nor can any man expect to live at all places and times the true life,

without having to suffer some form of social expulsion. In suffering for our

convictions we come to know the deeper fellowship of the spirit of Jesus.

Better to go with Jesus “without the gate” and suffer, than to tarry within

the city and to purchase ease at the expense of compliance with evil.


Ø      Life is yielded up in prayer. As he had sighed, “Father, into thy hands I

commit my spirit,” so His servant, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” As He,

“Father, forgive them,” so Stephen, “Lay not this sin to their charge.” Love,

the animating principle of the Christian in life, the secret energy which

prompts all, his words and deeds, in the cause of truth, — love is the

temper in which he dies. Christ s religion, in teaching us this love and

making its practice possible, proves itself Divine. And this active love is

rooted in the sense that we have been loved and sought of God. He who

has once found us and blessed us with fatherly hand, gives courage for

struggle and resignation in defeat.


Ø      The effect on others. We think of the young man Saul who stood by.

What effect upon him had not this spectacle of love in death? And what

evidence amidst wild scenes of savage life has not the end of the good man

blessing, not cursing his foes, given to the love of God and what it can

accomplish in the human heart! The Red Indian, as he binds his captive to

the stake, expects him to prove his manhood, when escape is hopeless, by

bitter taunts and blasphemies to the last. And this is the fruit of cruelty in

many lands. It is the marvel in human nature, the appearance of the lamb

where we looked for the lion — the reaction of love against hatred, which

betokens the presence of a power and a will beyond experience. The life of

the world had passed into a new phase when men could die in the very

arms of love and fall asleep with the smile of blessing on their brow.


The Holy Spirit had long commanded life for Stephen and for his work. This had

made him “full of faith” and “full of power,” and able to “work great wonders

and miracles among the people.”  This commands all Christian life, energy, and

usefulness. It is the secret of life, but, more than that, the strong, sure force of it.

And as the Holy Ghost had been the mighty Quickener of spiritual life and

“work and wonder “for Stephen while he lived, so He is with him the strong

Director and Supporter when he must face death.  Here is something very

different — a man with the splendor of the glory of God and the realities of

heaven and the exalted Jesus bursting on his vision, and yet, amid storms of

stones, recalled to prayer for himself and the trustful committing of his soul

to the charge of Jesus, and to intercession on bended knees for his murderers.

The last thing we know of Stephen in this world, we shall know this — that his

death was as though a “sleep,” and his yielding to it as though he yielded to

Heaven’s gracious remedy for nature’s deepest need — sleep! “He fell

asleep “ — in Jesus (I Thessalonians 4:14). “Well done, good and

faithful servant” — “faithful unto death.And in death also faithful — a

faithful witness of the Lord’s faithfulness to His own.


“He fell asleep in Christ his Lord;

He gave to him to keep

The soul his great love had redeemed,

Then calmly went to sleep.

And as a tired bird folds its wing

Sure of the morning light,

He laid him down in trusting faith,

And dreaded not the night.”



                                    Noble Dying Cries (vs. 59-60)


Some account may be given of the mode of securing death by stoning. The

practice is first heard of in the deserts of stony Arabia, this mode having

been suggested probably by the abundance of stones, and the fatal effect

with which they were often employed in broils among the people.

Originally the people merely pelted their victim, but something like form

and rule were subsequently introduced. A crier marched before the man

appointed to die, proclaiming his offence. He was taken outside the town.

The witnesses against him were required to cast the first stones. But the

victim was usually placed on an elevation, and thrown down from this,

before he was crushed with the stones flung upon him. For full details, see

Kitto’s ‘Bibl. Illus.,’ 8:63. It was the mode of execution usual for the

crimes of blasphemy and idolatry (see Deuteronomy 13:9-10; 17:5-7).

Stephen’s dying cries should be compared with those of our Lord Jesus

Christ, in order that the measures in which Stephen caught the Christly

spirit may be realized.



            DEAD TO THE PRESENCE OF HIS FOES. In this we learn the secret

            of our elevation above the world, care, suffering, or trouble. It lies in our

            being so full of Christ and things Divine as to have no room for them.

            Our hearts may be so full of God’s presence, and so restful in the assurance

            of His acceptance and smile, that we may say, “None of these things move

            me.” (ch. 20:24)  “If God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

            One of the greatest practical endeavors of life should be to bring and to

            keep Christ closely near to heart and thought. If outward circumstances

            reach to such an extremity as in the case of Stephen, we shall then say

            with him, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  (One of the prayers of my

            life has been, “Lord, help me to seek thee in times of happiness so when

            times of trouble come, that I might find thee precious to my soul!” – CY –




            HIMSELF. Observe that:


Ø      His prayer indicates submissive acceptance of the fact that he must die.

                        He does not ask for any bodily deliverance, any miracle-working for

                        his personal release. Compare in this our Lord’s submission when His

                        life came to its close.


Ø      His prayer indicates superiority to bodily suffering. There is no

      petition for relief from pain or even for speedy release. Exactly

      what was God’s will for him he would bear right through. Compare

      our Lord’s triumph in Gethsemane, and His going forth to bodily

      sufferings calm and trustful.  Stephen fulfilled his Lord’s words that

      His disciples should drink of the “cup” that He drank of.


Ø      And his prayer indicates supreme concern, but absolute confidence

                        concerning his soul and his future. There is no tone of questioning;

                        with full faith in the Lord Jesus, he commends his spirit to Him —

                        a last and unquestioning testimony to his faith in the living,

                        spiritual Christ.



            FOR HIS FOES, Compare our Lord’s words, “Father, forgive them; for

            they know not what they do.” In the older days of political execution by

            the axe, the headsman used to kneel and ask the forgiveness of the victim,

            before proceeding to place his head upon the block. Stephen knew how

            blinded by prejudice and false notions of religion his persecutors were, and

            he gives a beautiful illustration of heavenly, Divine charity in thus pleading

            for his very murderers. One point should not be lost sight of. Even in this

            last word of the noble man he asserted his characteristic truth once more.

            The Lord Jesus is living, and the exalted Savior, for He controls the

            charging and the punishing of sin. “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge”

            an unmeaning prayer if he had not fully believed that Jesus had power

            on earth to deal with, to punish, and to forgive sin. Note the wondrous

`           calmness and the exquisite tenderness of the words of the narrative,

            “He fell asleep.” We hear the howlings of the people, the whirr

            and smash of the stones, but amid it all and “in the arms of Jesus,” the

            saint and hero and martyr softly “falls asleep” — asleep to earth, waking to

            heaven and peace and the eternal smile of the LIVING CHRIST, for whose

            sake he died.


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