On the Acts of the Apostles.

Chapter 7:8-19.

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 326 - July 1883


Chapter 7:8-19.

At first sight it may appear to some singular that Stephen should introduce circumcision. But he, in fact, simply follows the divine record; so that there is not only instruction conveyed, but it is increased by paying heed to the order impressed on the facts, and so on the history, by the wisdom of God.

"And He gave him a covenant of circumcision, and thus he begat Isaac, and circumcised [him] on the eighth day; and, Isaac, Jacob; and Jacob the twelve patriarchs" (ver. 8).

Thus does Stephen draw marked attention to the covenant of circumcision given of God to Abraham, instead of slighting the institution incorporated in the law. It was thus Isaac was begotten, and those who followed; all submitting to a rite which indicated the corruption of the flesh, and put death on it as the only deliverance from it. But the promise was already long before the law; and the father of the faithful had enjoyed the election and call of God anterior even to circumcision. The truth is a whole, and only suffers from the misuse of one part to enfeeble or destroy another. The Spirit, using the word in view of Christ's glory, puts all in its place, as He alone can. Hence the speaker, being a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, saw and presented things according to God, whereas the unbelieving Jews understood in no wise the true bearing of their own institutions, misusing them for self-righteousness and pride, and hence blindly rejecting the Light of Good to whom all pointed.

Alas! it is an old story. Their fathers wore not really better than they; and God has not told us of their doings in vain, if we have but an ear to hear. For how does Stephen sum up the history of that early twelve? "And the patriarchs through jealousy sold Joseph into Egypt; and Clod was with him, and delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharoah, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house" (ver. 9, 10). A beloved son, or a God-fearing slave, a guiltless prisoner or a wise vicegerent, Joseph had God with him everywhere and in all. circumstances. Yet who of the twelve was so tried of his brethren? who so plotted against as he? Who seemed to fare worse in spite—yea because—of his unsullied purity? Nevertheless, even in prison, "Jehovah was with him, and that which he did, Jehovah made it to prosper."

Was there no voice, from Joseph and his brethren, to the Jews who surrounded Stephen? " Joseph brought unto their father their evil report.". . ." And when his brethren saw that his father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.". . "And his brethren said, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his deeds and for his words." . . "And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him." . . " And they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver; and they brought Joseph into Egypt." If so the fathers dealt with the type, who that believes could wonder that they should deal worse with the great Antitype? For it was what was of Christ in Joseph, what the Spirit wrought in and by him, which irritated the fathers of the nation against him. Was it so wonderful, then, that "this generation" had rejected a greater than Joseph; who being sold convicted them of enmity against God, drawn out by hatred of divine goodness in His own person, ways, and words? Let them not forget, that the rejected of his brethren was exalted to the right hand of power for the blessing of others, and even (specially at the end) of his brethren, to whom he is only thus made known after his long separation from them. Thus did he prefigure Christ in His sufferings, as well as in the glories that should follow them.

"Now there came a famine over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction; and our fathers found no sustenance. But Jacob, having heard that there was corn in Egypt, sent forth our fathers for it; and at the second time] Joseph was made known to his brethren, and his [or Joseph's] race became manifest unto Pharoah. And Joseph sent and called to him Jacob his father, and all his kindred, seventy-five souls." (Ver. 11-14.)

It was a pathway of righteous suffering which led to glory; and when exalted, Joseph administers in the wisdom of God what the same wisdom exalted him to provide in days of plenty for those of dearth. Tinder the mighty hand of God, the dearth pressed not only over all Egypt but over Canaan, where the heads of Israel tasted of that cruel affliction, for they found no sustenance, and in divine providence sought corn in Egypt. This, "at the second time," gave occasion for their great discovery, not without self judgment, when Joseph was made known to his brethren, and the line of promise became no longer a secret to Pharoah. And the fathers, with Israel their father, went down into Egypt, where they in lengthened and retributive sorrow were to pay the penalty for their heartless wrong to their brother, who was exalted of God where Jew and Gentile had both put him to shame, which he repaid in nothing but grace to all, but especially to Israel.

The bearing of all this on Christ is unmistakeable; but Stephen does not apply—he only states—facts, so much the more striking because they were familiar, and now set in a light which shone on Messiah as well as the Jews; that the people might thereby know God and themselves. How little they knew anything as they ought was plain from this, that they had hitherto never thought of seeing in Joseph the Christ, nor in the guilty fathers themselves, the still guiltier murderers of the Lord of glory. Their ignorant boast was their shame. And He that was sold no less than Joseph, and lifted up on high from a worse pit and a deeper dungeon, was waiting to bless them; as they themselves were to taste the bitter fruits of their sin in a dispersion worse than a captivity; whatever the mercy that awaits them in the latter end, when they bow repentant before Him in glory.

It will be noticed that Stephen speaks of seventy-five souls, where the Hebrew has seventy; he cites here, as elsewhere, the Septuagint. Calvin (in loco) considers that this discrepancy came not from the Greek translators themselves, but crept in through the fault of copyists, and that Stephen did not say so; but that it was foisted in here to make the speech agree with the Greek version of Gen. xlvi. 27. But this appears to me an unreasonable way of accounting for what is simple enough; and that the apostle's caution against endless genealogies has nothing to do with the matter. The fact is, that both the Hebrew and the Greek version might both be true; one reckoning in five sons of Manasseh and Ephraim born in Egypt (1 Chron. vii. 14), according to a latitude of various forms, by no means uncommon in such lists.

There is more difficulty in explaining the next verse but one. "And Jacob went down into Egypt and died, he and cur fathers; and they were carried over unto Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor in [son,or father οf1] Shechem." (Ver.15,16). The late Dean of Canterbury had no hesitation in pronouncing him who spoke, full of the Holy Ghost, as guilty of "at least two demonstrable historical inaccuracies"; which, he is pleased to assure his readers, do not affect the inspiration or the veracity of the writer! On the other hand, Bengel, following Fl. Illyricus, &o., seeks to clear the passage up by the supposition that a double purchase and a double burial were intended, with intentional omissions on either side. He therefore maintains the integrity of the reading "Abraham," and declares the conjectural " Jacob" unnecessary; compendious brevity, when the particulars were all known, accounting for a method which to us seems surprising. The facts are that Abraham bought a burial-place of Ephron the Hittite at Machpelah or Hebron, where the three patriarchs were buried, as well as Sarah; and that Jacob bought a field of the sons of Hamor in Shechem, where Jacob was buried. Where the rest of Jacob's sons were laid, does not appear in the Old Testament: Josephus says in Hebron; the Rabbis, in Shechem, as Jerome also reports. Moderns argue for some here and some there; and one at least maintains a transfer from Shechem to Hebron. I prefer to leave the passage; but in the circumstances the least worthy hypothesis is that this blessed and mighty witness of Christ fell into a confusion of Hebron with Shechem, and of Abraham with Jacob. beneath an ordinary Sunday-scholar. Is it not a safer conclusion that we may be ignorant of facts which, better known, would dispel this mist, or of some peculiarity in the reference, as in Matt. xxvii. 9, Mark i. 2, to which Westerns are not used, but understood without cavil among Jews? One is disposed (when surveying a speech of surpassing score, and power of insight from first to last into principles of Jewish history) to doubt that the speaker was ignorant of circumstances lying on the surface of the earliest book of Scripture, and familiarly known to every Jew; or that the inspired writer of the book did not see the discrepancy which must strike the most careless reader. And one may question whether it would riot be better, these things being so, to amend cur manners instead of assuming to amend the text.

"But as the time of the promise was drawing nigh which God vouchsafed2 to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt, till there arose another king over Egypt who knew not Joseph. He dealt craftily with cur race and evil-intreated our fathers, that they should expose their babes to the end they might not be preserved alive." (Var. 17, 19.)

It is always thus. There is ever war between God and the enemy, and nowhere does it rage so hotly as where His people are concerned, and when a distinct manifestation of divine mercy is imminent. God's approaching favour to Israel drew out the enmity of Satan, who stirred up a suited instrument for his malice in the prince of the world of that day, " another king who knew not Joseph." The verses are a pithy summary of Exod. i. 7-20, which gives the details of Pharoah's wiry, aggressive, and unscrupulously cruel efforts to depress, yet just as signally defeated of God; for, say or do what he might, " the people multiplied and waxed very mighty." The edict to destroy the males failed, not only through human pity, but through the fear of God, who honoured those who honoured Him, and brought to nought His adversaries.



1) The chief various reading in this verse is a question between ἐν and τοῦ: the former supported by אρ,m. B C, several cursives and ancient versions (and with τοῦ before ἐν א corr. A E and more cursives, &c.); the latter (which is the commonly received text) by inferior authorities. The whole phrase is omitted by the Pesh. Syr. end Erp. Arabic.

2) There can be scarce a question that ὠμόλοεγησεμ is the right reading, as in א A B C, &c., with most of the old versions; and not the vulgar reading ὤμοσεν "swore," as as in HP, moat cursives, the Penh. Syr., Cop., &c.