On the Acts of the Apostles.

Chapter 7:1-7.

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 325 - June 1883


Chapter 7:1-7.

The remarkable testimony of Stephen comes before us. It was fitting that the devoted Hellenist, rather than any of the twelve, should break fresh ground and pave the way for the wider outgoing of the truth, just after the mention of so striking a witness to its attractive power from the bosom of Judaism in the faith of a crowd of priests.

Stephen was accused of disparaging what was most sacred in Hebrew eyes—the sanctuary and the law. He was charged with attributing to the Nazarene a purpose of destroying "that place," and of changing the customs delivered to them by Moses. What can be of deeper interest and instruction than his way of meeting so malignant a perversion of his meaning? Grace is never the enemy of law; though incomparably higher, it rather establishes law. The prophetic word did not conceal that of the stately buildings of the temple not one stone should be left on another; but was Jesus a destroyer, because He was a prophet and more than a prophet? Under His reign the law shall go forth out of Zion; and even in humiliation He came not to destroy but to fulfil it. But unbelief is deaf and blind, and is apt to impute its own evils to those who love the truth. Certainly Stephen said nothing but what the prophets and Moses declared should come.

"And the high priest said, Are these things so? And he said, Brethren [lit. men brethren] and fathers, hear. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said unto him, Go out of thy land and out of thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee." (Ver. 1-3.)

"The God of glory" is no mere Hebraism for "glorious God," but directs the heart from the beginning to One altogether above the world not only in Himself but in His purposes, whatever His ways meanwhile on the earth. "Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood [river] in old time, even Terah the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor; and they served other gods." (Joshua xxiv.) It was in sovereign grace that God thus appeared. Even the line of Shem, the father and kindred of Abraham, were idolaters. Grace gives, not finds, what is good. Not only did the God of glory appear: it was to Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, and thus when he was at the farthest point of his distance from "the land," as well as in idolatrous associations. How little the Jews understood the God of glory or His servant Moses! Stephen, full of grace and power did. Nothing was more foreign to him than "speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God."

Even Abraham, blessed as no was, moved slowly in the path of faith at first. He did not quit Mesopotamia to dwell in Canaan all at once. Before this he dwelt in Haran. He got out of his land, but not so quickly "out of his kindred," so that there was a remarkable delay in coming into the land which God was to shew him. "Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Haran; and thence, after his father died, He removed him into this land in which ye now dwell." (Ver. 4.)

It is rather a daring comment to say that "the Jewish chronology which Stephen follows was at fault here, owing to the circumstance of Torah's death being mentioned, Gen. xi. 32, before the command to Abram to leave Haran; it not having been observed that the mention is anticipatory. And this is confirmed by Philo having fallen into the same mistake," &c1. The truth is that the favourite Jewish hypothesis (Aben Ezra, Rashi) is that Terah did not die till sixty years after Abraham had left Haran. And in all probability the Samaritan Pentateuch has changed 205 into 145 (Gen. xi. 32), in order to meet the supposed difficulty. The source of the error among ancients or moderns is the assumption that Abraham was Torah's eldest son, for which there is no more ground in the order of the names than in the case of Noah's sons, where we know that not Shem but Japheth was the eldest. But, for an adequate divine reason, not the elder but. the younger is repeatedly named first. To Terah at 70 years Haran was born, Abraham at 130, who therefore could be married to Haran's daughter, Sarai or Iscah, ten years younger than himself. See Usher's Works, viii. 21-23, Clinton's Fasti Hellen. i. 289 et seqq. One may not agree with Bengel's suggestion; but an upright help towards understanding the word which is held fast as perfect is to be respected: "truly lamentable" is the pandering to the enemy on the plea of the spirit, not the letter, of God's word. That Terah who had Haran at 70 might have begotten Abraham at 130 is simple enough, dying at 206; that Abraham should at 99 regard it as beyond nature to have by Sarah a son is no less simple. Hagar had borne him a son at 86; and the natural interpretation of Gen. xxv. is that after Sarah's death Abraham had by Keturah, his wife or concubine, six sons sent away from Isaac while he lived, that Isaac only should be his heir without dispute. There is no handling of the word of God so deceitful as the unbelief which treats it as if it were not His, or as if He could lie.

Terah was a dead weight, as long as he lived, on Abraham's obedience. As we are told, "Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan." (Gen. xi.31. ) But Canaan, in these circumstances, they never reached. God told Abraham to quit his kindred as well as his country; and till this was done, he failed to reach Canaan. It would have scarcely been proper for Abram as the son to take Terah his father. So "Terah took Abram," &c. This, however, was not at all according to the call of God to Abram. Hence "they came unto Haran, and dwelt there." When Terah' died there, "Abram departed as the Lord had spoken unto him." Then the language is pointedly different:—" And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and all the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land . of Canaan they came." (Gen. xii. 3.) There was no failure, now that his faith was not hampered by the incumbrance of nature which almost necessarily took the upper hand; and therefore the movement lacked the power of God to give it effect. That gone, the blessing immediately followed.

There is a question in verse 4 whether the subject be Abram or God understood. If verse 43 points to the latter, the construction of 1 Chron. viii. 6 (in the LXX.) favours the former: so that some may and do abide with the Authorised Version instead of following the Revisers, and the Vulgate, Syrr., Ar. Cop., if not Aeth. The connexion with verse 5 would lead one to prefer God. "And He gave him none inheritance in it, not so much as a foot's tread, and promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when he had no child."

It is wholly incorrect to say that God did afterwards give him a possession in Canaan, namely the piece of land which he purchassd of Ephron as a  burial-place, Gen. xxiii. 17; for the gift of God is absolutely future, and that it is so is confirmed, not weakened or trenched on, by the purchase of a burial-place from the Hittite. For who that possessed this land or any other would think of buying *his own possession? There he lays his dead in land so evidently not his own that he has to buy it for the purpose, the pledge to faith that he will-have it another day. So far from occasion to wrest our text here or anywhere in order to produce accordance with the history, the language is as plain arid perfect as possible. The fact is stated to show how truly the patriarch was a pilgrim in the very land whose present possession had, to say the least, such exaggerated moment in the eyes of his seed, because they walked not in the faith of their father. God will surely give "this land" to Abram's seed. They will buy it of no stranger in that day. No intermediate confusion can touch His promise. "By faith he (Abraham) sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise." Abraham and his seed will have the promise in the day when glory is to dwell in that land (Ps. lxxxv ), a truth which Gentile theology makes even believers forget. Indeed all the earth shall then be filled with the glory of Jehovah; but pre-eminently is the glory to rest on Zion, a defence en all, when God shall have accomplished the cleansing of Jerusalem, not by the gospel simply as now, but by the spirit of judgment and of burning. Then shall the children of Abraham, not by nature only but by grace also, enter on the promised inheritance, he himself being in resurrection glory, when Jesus is revealed from heaven and there come the times of restoration of all things, whereof God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since time began.

There is no ground for regarding "not," as "riot yet," nor " gave" and " promised " as pluperfect in sense, nor " and " as "yet," with learned men who did not understand or believe the scripture before them.

Further, Stephen draws attention to the fact that " God thus spoke, that the seed of Abraham should be a sojourner in a land not theirs, and that they should enslave and ill-treat them, four hundred Yeats. And the nation, to whom they shall be in slavery, will I judge, said God; and after these things shall they come out and serve me in this place." (Ver. 6, 7.) It is a free citation of Gen. xv. 13, 14, with a few words, more or less, from Exod. iii. 12 instead of the closing phrase. The God of glory thought of His people in Egypt and in the wilderness, before the holy place or even the law, and will never give Israel up till He has made good His promise, engaged when Abraham had no child. God called Abraham alone, and blessed and increased him. How wrong they all were then in making so much of themselves, and of their privileges, to the slight of His grace and Himself, the God of glory, who appeared to Abraham alone when there was absolutely nothing to boast, nothing but sin and shame in man, and Israel as yet unborn. For as with the father so with his seed. As he went about a stranger in Palestine, so they were first seen in bondage in an alien land; and this for no brief moment,—for in round numbers 400 (strictly 405) years intervened from the birth of the child of promise till God judged the nation that had them in slavery.2 When they did come out, it was not even into the land, but into the desert, where they wandered 40 years. He had indeed delivered them to His own glory; but His dealings were not according to their thoughts and prejudices. Were they the people to claim indefeasible and even exclusive rights? To do so, they must disbelieve their own history, yea, God's word.



1) Philo (Ed. Richter, iv. 20) is all wrong in denying that God appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia, confining the vision to Gen. xii. 7, just like the Jews who assailed Stephen. Dean Alfοrd's remarks are worse than "inaccurate."

2) It was as exactly as possible 400 years from the dismissal of the Egyptian bondwoman and her child Ishmael, the beginning of that "persecution" of the line of promise which culminated in Egypt and closed in the Exodus of Israel, when divine judgments had broken the power and pride of their oppressors.