On the Acts of the Apostles.

Chapter 7:38-50.

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 329 - October 1883


Chapter 7:38-50.

The parallel is yet farther pursued in what follows. "This is he that was in the assembly in the wilderness with the angel that spoke to him in the mount Sinai, and with our fathers; who received living oracles to give us: to whom our fathers would not be subject, but thrust [him] away and turned in their hearts unto Egypt, saying to Aaron, Make us Gods who shall go before us; for this Moses, who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him." (Ver. 38-40.)

Moses is presented in his mediatorial position, between the angel of Jehovah on the one hand, and "our fathers" on the other. In the "church" is suggestive of thoughts and associations altogether misleading. The children of Israel are meant in their collective capacity. It has not the smallest bearing en what in the New Testament is called the church of God, the body of Christ; indeed this is only noticed here in order to .guard souls from an error so grave. The church is part of that "great mystery" or secret which the apostle was given to reveal, the mystery hidden from ages and generations but no* made manifest to the saints. What God was then doing by Moses was part of His ordinary dealings, when Israel so readily overlooked the promises to the fathers end took their stand, to their speedy sorrow and inevitable ruin, on their own obedience as the tenure of their blessings.

Immense indeed was the privilege vouchsafed not only then in works but in words of God henceforth given to man in permanence. It was not merely that the angel spoke to Moses, but he "received living oracles to give us "—an unspeakable been, yet more characteristic of the greater than Moses, whose coming was followed by a fresh, complete, and final revelation of divine grace and truth. Indeed the citation of Moses' own prophecy in ver. 37 prepared to way for new communications with a yet higher sanction. In vain then would Jewish unbelief idolise the servant in sight of his Master. But on the one hand "lively" is too slight here, as also in 1 Pet. i. 3 and ii. 5; on the other " lifegiving" goes too far, and at any rate is not the epithet intended, for this is to characterise the oracles themselves, not their effect on others. I know not why Mr. Humphry should have endorsed the error which Kuhnol adopted from Grotius. And why "saving"? This is but to change, not to translate or expound, any more than the opposite lowering of the sense by J. Piscator and J. Alberti, as if received visa voce! "Living" alone is right and sufficient.

And how did the children of Israel treat one thus signally honoured in that day? "They would not be subject" to him. If the fathers so treated Moses, was it surprising that their children did not receive the Messiah of whom he prophesied, and was besides so striking a type? Thus the simple recall of scripture history vividly presents the actual guilt of the Jews where any had ears to hear. If their fathers of old thrust Moses from them, what of that incomparably more honoured Prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, so recently delivered up to be condemned and crucified? That their hearts were gone from God and turned to Egypt was plain enough then from their appeal tο Aaron and his shameless compliance. But was it less true now when a robber was preferred to " the anointed of the Lord?" "Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber." "Ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you." The difference between the fathers and the children was not in favour of those then alive, ever dull to estimate the present race, and self above all, which it most concerns men to judge aright. Yet is it exactly what the Spirit of God effects in every soul that comes to God: if there is living faith, there is true repentance.

But unbelief craves a present and visible guide. " Make us gods who shall go before us. For this Moses, who brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him." Israel was rebellious, when Moses was en high; and so is the Jew now that Christ is gone to heaven. But is it only the Jew? Does the Gentile stand in the truth? Only by his faith can it be, as the apostle declares. Is not Christendom high-minded, instead of humbly and heartily hearing? Is it not lifted up with pride, instead of abiding in goodness? And what must be its end? Thou also shalt be cut off." Christendom, little thinking it, is doomed. If God spared not the natural branches, the Jews, He will certainly not spare the presumptuous wild olive graft.

Alas! the baptized soon forsook their own mercies and denied the special testimony for which they were responsible to God's glory before the world. They got weary of dependence on an exalted but absent Lord; they ceased to wait for His return from heaven; they practically superseded the presence and free action of the Holy Spirit in the assembly; they gave up their bridal separateness for worldly influence and favour; and they swamped grace under έ system of law and ordinances; so that the word of God became of little or no effect through tradition, as departure from the truth became more and more the state of those who professed the name of the Lord. In subjection to Rim speedily bred alienation, and the heart soon turned toward that world out of which grace calls and severs to God. Men are even mere naturally idolatrous than sceptical, unbelief being the mother of both these enemies to God and His truth. Men love to have gods to go before them. The true Deliverer being irksome passes readily out of mind: "we know not what is become of him." Is not the wilderness history prophetic? Did not these things happen as types of us that we should not be lusting after evil things, as they also lusted, nor be idolaters, as some of them? Indeed all the things recorded happened to them as types, and were written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the ages are come.

"And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. But God turned and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven.; as it is written in. [the] book of the prophets, Did ye offer me victims and sacrifices in the wilderness, 0 house of Israel? Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of your god Remphan, the forms which ye made to worship them; and I will transport you beyond Babylon" (verses 41-43). So prone is the incredulous man to abandon the living God in spite of daily standing witness of Isis power end grace, as well as solemn occasional judgments before all eyes; so readily does he take up that idolatry which he had so lately known to dominate the high and mighty, the refined and learned—the world, in short, where he himself had been enslaved. So powerful an adversary is " public opinion" to the will and glory of God, even in the face of the grandest exhibitions of His favour to His people, and of stern unmistakeable punishment on their enemies, and, not least, of shame on their gods who could neither help their votaries nor screen themselves. Nor did the "calf," the abomination of Egypt, satisfy Israel; they craved after objects higher than the works of their own hands, whatever the charm of this to man's vain heart. Once yielding to the snare, Israel must outdo Egypt. So "God turned and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven." Grovelling idolatry aspires to higher things and inflates itself with its heavenly imaginations. Not Stephen is the authority for so withering a charge, but Amos. In the prophets' book it is written: would an Israelite gainsay them too? or tax scripture itself with saying blasphemous things against Israel? The forms of Moloch, "horrid king," and of Remphan, they made to worship, and they did worship.

And not the least repulsive feature of this early corruption among the chosen nation was that they offered all the while victims and sacrifices in the wilderness to Jehovah. The poorest can afford to be lavish in honour of false gods, who complain of what is due to the true God, as if He were a rigid exactor and not the giver of every good and perfect gift.

But divine judgment is sure if it seem to slumber, and the prophet at a far later day pronounces the sentence for the sin perpetrated in the desert. Whatever may have been the aggravation afterwards, it is the first sin which decides. Evil never gets better, never works itself out, though it may easily and always does wax worse. The evil heart of unbelief departs more and more from the living God. Patience may go on for ages in ways admirable in the eye of faith; but judgment, however deferred, is certain, and in due time is revealed, it may be long before it is executed. Neither Damascus, the head of Syria, nor Babylon, the golden city, is the limit of Israel's deportation from the land they had defiled: "I will transport you beyond"—saith the Lord. To say that "Βabylon," true in fact, was an error in quotation is a statement Mr. Humphry should have left to sceptics.

"Our fathers had the tabernacle in the wilderness, as he that spoke to Moses commanded to make it according to the model which he had seen; which also our fathers having in succession received brought in with Joshua, in their taking possession of the Gentiles whom God drove out from [the] face of our fathers, until the days of David; who1 found favour before God and asked to find a habitation for the God2 of Jacob; but Solomon built him a house." (ver. 44-47).

Yet all this while of idolatrous iniquity "our fathers of Israel" had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, made as they were assured according to the model Moses had seen and God commanded. That the heathen who know not . God could serve idols is not surprising, however sad their sin and inexcusable; seeingt hat their fathers once knew God, but glο rifying Him not as God, nor thankful, they became vain in theirimagiiiations andwith darkened heart in their folly changed His glory into an image of the creature which they worshipped and served rather than the Creator who is blessed for ever, Amen. And for this cause God delivered them up to vile affections and the most unnatural evil, as well as to a mind void of judgment; so that knowing the judgment of God against all who do such things worthy of death, they not only practise the same but have pleasure in those that do them.

How much more guilty were those who knew far better, stood in national relationship with God as His own peculiar and favoured people, and had the the very tent of the testimony for Rim and against their ways! They bore it not only in the wilderness from father to son, but into the goodly land whence God by Joshua drove out the old heathen inhabitants that Israel might be in the possession of it, adding thus gross hypocrisy to their greedy idolatry. There is no corruption so grievous as that of God's people; and therefore His proportionate chastenings. "You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." In the days of David, the favour which God showed him wrought in the heart of the king, who asked to build a house for Jehovah, but had as his answer that Jehovah would make him a house, and that his son, Solomon should build a house for his name, as Stephen here recounts.

Here then, thought the Jew, must Jehovah restrict Himself to that "magnifical" palace of His holiness. For unbelieving man must have an idol somewhere. "But the Highest dwelleth not in [places]3 made with hands; even as the prophet saith, The heaven [is] my throne, and the earth a footstool of my feet: what sort of house will ye build me, saith [the] Lord, or what [is] my place of rest? Did not my hand make all these things?" (ver. 48-50). Superstitious exaltation of the temple detracts from His glory who gives it all its distinctive grandeur. Jehovah did deign to hallow and glorify it, so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud; for the glory of Jehovah had filled the house of God. But Solomon himself on that august had owned consecration that heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him, much less the house he had just built! Ana so afterwards spoke the prophet Isaiah, long before Babylon was allowed to burn and destroy the object of their pride. It was no afterthought to console the Jew iii his subjection to Gentile masters: so had Israel's king spoken to God, and so had God spoken to Israel long before the Chaldeans had become an adversary to chastise their idolatry.

It was right and pious to own the condescending grace of Jehovah, it was presumptuous to limit His glory to the temple He was pleased to make His dwelling. The Creator had made all and was immeasurably above the universe. From such a point of view what was Jerusalem or the temple? 'V/ho was now in accord with the testimony of Solomon and Isaiah? The accusers,, or Stephen? The answer is beyond controversy, and their enmity without excuse.



1) 2) אp.m. Β D H join against all other witnesses in reading τῷ οἴκῳ "to the house," instead τῷ θεῷ "the God," and  Tichendorf actually accepts it!—"a habitation for the house of Jacob "!

3)  The best authorities א Α B C D E, some cursives, and all the ancient versions, save the Armenian, &c., have no such addition, as "temple" in the Received Text and most junior MSS., &c.