Ac 7:1-60. DEFENSE AND MARTYRDOM OF STEPHEN.
In this long defense Stephen takes a much wider range, and goes less
directly into the point raised by his accusers, than we should have
expected. His object seems to have been to show (1) that so far from
disparaging, he deeply reverenced, and was intimately conversant with,
the whole history of the ancient economy; and (2) that in resisting the
erection of the Gospel kingdom they were but treading in their fathers'
footsteps, the whole history of their nation being little else than one
continued misapprehension of God's high designs towards fallen man and
rebellion against them.
2-5. The God of glory--A magnificent appellation, fitted at the very
outset to rivet the devout attention of his audience; denoting not that
visible glory which attended many of the divine manifestations, but the
glory of those manifestations themselves, of which this was regarded by
every Jew as the fundamental one. It is the glory of absolutely free
appeared unto our father Abraham before he dwelt in Charran, and said,
&c.--Though this first call is not expressly recorded in Genesis, it is
clearly implied in
and Ne 9:7;
and the Jewish writers speak the same language.
4. when his father was dead, he removed into this land--Though Abraham
was in Canaan before Terah's death, his settlement in it as the land of
promise is here said to be after it, as being in no way dependent on the
family movement, but a transaction purely between Jehovah and Abraham
6-8. four hundred years--using round numbers, as in
Ge 15:13, 16
7. after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place--Here
the promise to Abraham
and that to Moses
are combined; Stephen's object being merely to give a rapid summary of
the leading facts.
8. the covenant of circumcision--that is, the covenant of which
circumcision was the token.
and so--that is, according to the terms of this covenant, on which
the twelve patriarchs--so called as the founders of the twelve
tribes of Israel.
9-16. the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt, but God
was with him--Here Stephen gives his first example of
Israel's opposition to God's purposes, in spite of which and by means
of which those purposes were accomplished.
14. threescore and fifteen souls--according to the Septuagint
which Stephen follows, including the five children and grandchildren of
Joseph's two sons.
17. But when--rather, "as."
the time of the promise--that is, for its fulfilment.
the people grew and multiplied in Egypt--For more than two hundred
years they amounted to no more than seventy-five souls; how prodigious,
then, must have been their multiplication during the latter two
centuries, when six hundred thousand men, fit for war, besides women and
children, left Egypt!
20-22. In which time--of deepest depression.
Moses was born--the destined deliverer.
exceeding fair--literally, "fair to God" (Margin), or,
perhaps, divinely "fair" (see on
22. mighty in words--Though defective in utterance
his recorded speeches fully bear out what is here said.
and deeds--referring probably to unrecorded circumstances in his
early life. If we are to believe JOSEPHUS, his
ability was acknowledged ere he left Egypt.
Ac 7:23, 30, 36,
the life of Moses is represented as embracing three periods, of forty
years each; the Jewish writers say the same; and though this is not
expressly stated in the Old Testament, his age at death, one hundred
(De 34:7), agrees with it.
it came into his heart to visit his brethren--his heart yearning with
love to them as God's chosen people, and heaving with the consciousness
of a divine vocation to set them free.
24. avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian--going
farther in the heat of his indignation than he probably intended.
25. For he supposed his brethren would have understood, &c.--and
perhaps imagined this a suitable occasion for rousing and rallying them
under him as their leader; thus anticipating his work, and so running
but they understood not--Reckoning on a spirit in them congenial
with his own, he had the mortification to find it far otherwise. This
furnishes to Stephen another example of Israel's slowness to apprehend
and fall in with the divine purposes of love.
26. next day he showed himself unto them as they strove--Here, not
an Israelite and an Egyptian, but two parties in Israel itself, are in
collision with each other; Moses, grieved at the spectacle, interposes
as a mediator; but his interference, as unauthorized, is resented by
the party in the wrong,
whom Stephen identifies with the mass of the nation
(Ac 7:35), just as Messiah's own interposition had been spurned.
28, 29. Wilt thou kill me, as thou didst the Egyptian
yesterday?--Moses had thought the deed unseen
but it now appeared he was mistaken.
29. Then fled Moses, &c.--for "when Pharaoh heard this thing, he
sought to slay Moses"
30-34. an angel of the Lord--rather, "the Angel of the Covenant," who
immediately calls Himself JEHOVAH (Compare
35-41. This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and
a judge, &c.--Here, again,
"the stone which the builders refused is made the head of the corner"
37. This is that Moses which said . . . A prophet . . . him shall ye
hear--This is quoted to remind his Moses-worshipping audience of the
grand testimony of their faithful lawgiver, that
he himself was not the last and proper object of the Church's faith, but
only a humble precursor and small model of Him to whom their absolute
submission was due.
38. in the church--the collective body of God's chosen people; hence
used to denote the whole body of the faithful under the Gospel, or
particular sections of them.
This is he that was in the church in the wilderness, with the angel
. . . and with our fathers--alike near to the Angel of the Covenant,
from whom he received all the institutions of the ancient economy, and
to the people, to whom he faithfully reported the living oracles and
among whom he set up the prescribed institutions.
By this high testimony to Moses, Stephen rebuts the main charge for
which he was on trial.
39. To whom our fathers would not obey, &c.--Here he shows that
the deepest dishonor done to Moses came from the nation that now professed the greatest jealousy for his honor.
in their hearts turned back . . . into Egypt--"In this Stephen would
have his hearers read the downward career on which they were themselves
42-50. gave them up--judicially.
as . . . written in the book of the prophets--the
twelve minor prophets, reckoned as one: the passage is from
have ye offered to me . . . sacrifices?--The answer is, Yes, but as
if ye did it not; for "neither did ye offer to Me only, nor always, nor
with a perfect and willing heart" [BENGEL].
43. Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Molech, &c.--Two kinds of
idolatry are charged upon the Israelites: that of the golden calf and
that of the heavenly bodies; Molech and Remphan being deities,
representing apparently the divine powers ascribed to nature, under
carry you beyond Babylon--the well-known region of the captivity of
Judah; while "Damascus" is used by the prophet
whither the ten tribes were carried.
44. Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness--which
aggravated the guilt of that idolatry in which they indulged, with the
tokens of the divine presence constantly in the midst of them.
45. which . . . our fathers that came after--rather, "having received
it by succession" (Margin), that is, the custody of the tabernacle
from their ancestors.
brought in with Jesus--or Joshua.
into the possession--rather, "at the taking possession of [the
territory of] the Gentiles."
unto the days of David--for till then Jerusalem continued in the
hands of the Jebusites. But Stephen's object in mentioning David is to
hasten from the tabernacle which he set up, to the temple which his son
built, in Jerusalem; and this only to show, from their own Scripture
(Isa 66:1, 2),
that even that temple, magnificent though it was, was not the
proper resting-place of Jehovah upon earth; as his audience and the
nations had all along been prone to imagine. (What that resting-place
was, even "the contrite heart, that trembleth at God's word," he
leaves to be gathered from the prophet referred to).
51-53. Ye stiffnecked . . . ye do always resist the Holy Ghost,
&c.--It has been thought that symptoms of impatience and irritation in
the audience induced Stephen to cut short his historical sketch. But as
little farther light could have been thrown upon Israel's obstinacy
from subsequent periods of the national history on the testimony of
their own Scriptures, we should view this as the summing up, the
brief import of the whole Israelitish history--grossness of heart,
spiritual deafness, continuous resistance of the Holy Ghost, down to the
very council before whom Stephen was pleading.
52. Which of, &c.--Deadly hostility to the messengers of God,
whose high office it was to tell of "the Righteous One," that
well-known prophetic title of Messiah
&c.), and this consummated by the betrayal and murder of Messiah
Himself, on the part of those now sitting in judgment on the
speaker, are the still darker features of the national character
depicted in these withering words.
53. Who have received the law by the disposition--"at the appointment"
or "ordination," that is, by the ministry.
of angels, and have not kept it--This closing word is designed to shut
up those idolizers of the law under the guilt of high disobedience to
it, aggravated by the august manner in which they had received it.
54-56. When they heard these things they were cut to the heart,
&c.--If they could have answered him, how different would have been
their temper of mind!
55. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into
heaven, and saw the glory of God--You who can transfer to canvas such
scenes as these, in which the rage of hell grins horribly from men, as
they sit condemned by a frail prisoner of their own, and see heaven
beaming from his countenance and opening full upon his view--I envy you,
for I find no words to paint what, in the majesty of the divine text, is
here so simply told. "But how could Stephen, in the council-chamber, see
heaven at all? I suppose this question never occurred but to critics of
narrow soul, one of whom [MEYER] conjectures that he saw it through the
window! and another, of better mould, that the scene lay in one of the
courts of the temple" [ALFORD]. As the sight was witnessed by Stephen
alone, the opened heavens are to be viewed as revealed to his bright
and Jesus standing on the right hand of God--Why "standing," and
not sitting, the posture in which the glorified Saviour is elsewhere
represented? Clearly, to express the eager interest with which He
watched from the skies the scene in that council chamber, and the full
tide of His Spirit which He was at that moment engaged in pouring into
the heart of His heroical witness, till it beamed in radiance from his
56. I see . . . the Son of man standing, &c.--This is the only time
that our Lord is by human lips called
MAN after His ascension
(Re 1:13; 14:14
are not instances). And why here? Stephen, full of the Holy Ghost,
speaking now not of himself at all
but entirely by the Spirit, is led to repeat the very words in which
Jesus Himself, before this same council, had foretold His
(Mt 26:64), assuring them that that exaltation of the
which they should hereafter witness to their dismay, was already begun
and actual [ALFORD].
57, 58. Then they cried out . . . and ran upon him with one accord--To
men of their mould and in their temper, Stephen's last seraphic words
could but bring matters to extremities, though that only revealed the
diabolical spirit which they breathed.
58. cast him out of the city--according to
1Ki 21:13; and see Heb 13:12.
and stoned--"proceeded to stone" him. The actual stoning is recorded
and the witnesses--whose hands were to be first upon the criminal
laid down their clothes--their loose outer garments, to have them
taken charge of.
at a young man's feet whose name was Saul--How thrilling is this our
first introduction to one to whom Christianity--whether as developed in
the New Testament or as established in the world--owes more perhaps than
to all the other apostles together! Here he is, having perhaps already a
seat in the Sanhedrim, some thirty years of age, in the thick of this
tumultuous murder of a distinguished witness for Christ, not only
"consenting unto his death"
but doing his own part of the dark deed.
59, 60. calling upon God and saying, Lord Jesus, &c.--An unhappy
supplement of our translators is the word "God" here; as if, while
addressing the Son, he was really calling upon the Father. The sense is
perfectly clear without any supplement at all--"calling upon [invoking]
and saying, Lord Jesus"; Christ being the Person directly invoked and
addressed by name (compare
Even GROTIUS, DE
WETTE, MEYER, &c., admit this,
adding several other examples of direct prayer to Christ; and
PLINY, in his well-known letter to the Emperor
Trajan (A.D. 110 or 111), says it was part of the
regular Christian service to sing, in alternate strains, a hymn to
Christ as God.
Lord Jesus, receive my spirit--In presenting to Jesus the identical
prayer which He Himself had on the cross offered to His Father, Stephen
renders to his glorified Lord absolute divine worship, in the most
sublime form, and at the most solemn moment of his life. In this
commitment of his spirit to Jesus, Paul afterwards followed his
footsteps with a calm, exultant confidence that with Him it was safe for
60. cried with a loud voice--with something of the gathered
energy of his dying Lord (see on
Lord--that is, JESUS, beyond doubt, whom he had just before addressed
lay not this sin to their charge--Comparing this with nearly the same
prayer of his dying Lord, it will be seen how very richly this martyr of
Jesus had drunk into his Master's spirit, in its divinest form.
he fell asleep--never said of the death of Christ.
How bright the record of this first martyrdom for Christ, amidst all
the darkness of its perpetrators; and how many have been cheered by it
to like faithfulness even unto death!