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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
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 himself.
7. after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place--Here the promise to Abraham (Ge 15:16), and that to Moses (Ex 3:12), 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.
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 version of Ge 46:27, which Stephen follows, including the five children and grandchildren of Joseph's two sons.
17. But when--rather, "as."
22. mighty in words--Though defective in utterance
his recorded speeches fully bear out what is here said.
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
agrees with it.
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
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 (Ex 2:12), but it now appeared he was mistaken.
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.
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.
42-50. gave them up--judicially.
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
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.
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 (Isa 53:11; Jer 23:6, &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.
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
56. I see . . . the Son of man standing, &c.--This is the only time that our Lord is by human lips called THE SON OF 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 (Ac 7:55), but entirely by the Spirit, is led to repeat the very words in which Jesus Himself, before this same council, had foretold His glorification (Mt 26:64), assuring them that that exaltation of the SON OF MAN which they should hereafter witness to their dismay, was already begun and actual [ALFORD].