Acts of the Apostles
14 - Acts 7:1-39
Acts of the Apostles: 14 - Acts 7:1-39
In this class we will discuss Acts 7:1-39 and look at the background of Stephen being arrested and then examine his sermon to the Sanhedrin.
[Mr. Darris McNeely]: Well, welcome back to Acts. We are continuing to move along here in a very slow glacial pattern, but there’s a lot to cover here. And those of you that are watching online, never fear, we will get through the book of Acts and get everything accomplished here. But we are at a point where we are at chapter 7. And we kind of introduced it last time with the story of Stephen, as one of the seven deacons who... well, we called them deacons just to use that term that we’re familiar with, but that’s not the term used in Acts 6 as they were selected to take care of a lot of the physical details of the Church in Jerusalem.
But Stephen is listed as the first one here in verse 8 of chapter 6, just to go back to that. And it says that he was “full of faith and power and did great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8 Acts 6:8And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.
American King James Version×). Keep in mind that the conflict that we are entering into here, as Stephen kind of goes far beyond a role of a physical servant in the Church, he now becomes, in a sense, an evangelist, maybe not even a prophet, or not an apostle but more like a prophet by what he does. He really jets forward with what he does before the Council of the Jews in proclaiming a truth that they are not able to see and understand. And that puts him, as we’re going to see, kind of in almost the role of a prophet. He’s not a deacon, he’s not a pastor. He’s not even, in a sense, an apostle, but more of like an Old Testament prophet in the indictment that he lays down before the Jews in a unique way, and it’s going to cost him his life. And he becomes the first martyr here within the setting of the Church.
And so, we brought it down to where he was arrested. In verse 15 of chapter 6, he’s brought before the council. This is the same council that John and Peter had been brought before, and the same council before whom Christ Himself had appeared, and who had sentenced Christ to death. And so, it’s a pretty serious situation, the Sanhedrin that he’s come before now. We’re at some point in the, let’s say, mid-30s in terms of the chronology of the Book of Acts, if we take A.D. 31 as the beginning of the story in Acts with Christ’s death and the beginning of the Church, we have come forward. Most commentators feel not having any specific reference here, mid-30s, which could put us anywhere from 34 to 37 or so, A.D. Hard to tell that, but let’s just call it the mid-30s A.D. in terms of a reference the Church has been growing and developing.
As a little bit of a background to what is happening here and to understand, I think, better Stephen’s sermon or the address that he gives as Luke records it, let’s back up just a moment. And let me give a little bit of a background in regard to the setting of the Jews, and Rome, and the land of Judea in the first century period here. The Jews that were occupying the land under the Roman rule, they had basically three beliefs that kind of tied them together or they agreed on. Now, we have moved forward, if you remember, we’ve just gone through Daniel 11. We talked about the time of the Maccabees in the second century, B.C. And the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks and the Seleucid empire, the time of Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabees who rose to power.
The Maccabees gave rise to a ruling dynasty called Hasmoneans. I’ll go ahead and put that on the board here, just for historical reference. Their descendants who kind of ruled Judea was a Hasmonean dynasty, they descended from the Maccabees. They were not a very good ruling class of people among the Jews. These were the Jewish ruling leaders along with the high priests and all. And I’ve mentioned previously how in the year 63 B.C., the Roman general Pompey the Great came into the land at the invitation of the Jews. Pompey the Great was a Roman general. Rome already annexed Syria. Remember, we talked about that annexation? And it kind of figures into, again, the Daniel story, because when Rome annexed Syria, the king of the... North. Okay, look, bringing in the Daniel story here for a moment. The king of the North, that becomes Rome.
And in 63 B.C., a Roman General Pompey, who’s in the area of Syria, the king of the Northland is invited into the land of Judea, Jerusalem because the Jews can’t get along under the Hasmoneans. But Rome really doesn’t annex completely all of the Holy Land at that time. They continued to allow the Hasmoneans to rule, more or less, as client kings. And they eventually put… Rome puts on the throne Herod the Great, this man named Herod, who is the Idumaean leader. He’s not really Jewish, he comes from the southern regions below Judea. And he founds the Herodian dynasty. This is Herod the Great who is the king when Jesus is born. And remember, in the story, because of his fear, he kills all the firstborn sons in an effort to kill the Messiah. And so Herod rules as a client of Rome. Rome hasn’t completely annexed it. But then Herod dies. He dies in the year 6 B.C. I’ll just put it there. And he dies.
The land of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Galilee, the whole area that we call Israel, the Promised Land, is divided among his three sons. All right? This is where we get the name of the television movie, “My Three Sons.” Not really, but he has three sons. Now, I’m not going to go through all of these sons. That’s not necessarily important to the story, except for he has one son whose name is Archelaus. And Archelaus receives Jerusalem, Judea, and that area. And he is not a very good ruler administrator. And the Jews petition Rome to go ahead with a full annexation of the land, at least of that part. And so they do. And so we moved to about, let’s say, the year 4, maybe 6 A.D. And this is many years after 63 when Pompey has kind of come into the land and Judea has become a client state of Rome. Herod rules, he builds up Jerusalem. And then his son really kind of drops the ball. And the Jews ask to become a full colony, if you will, of Rome.
Now, why is that important? That’s important because it is the final annexation, and that is when we find something that takes place. If we were to turn back to Luke 2, you’ll find that, at the time of Christ’s birth, Luke, he ties it to an event in Luke 2 that is connected to a governor named Quirinius. And in verse 1 of Luke 2, “It came to pass in those days, the decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world would be registered” (Luke 2:1 Luke 2:1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
American King James Version×). This census took place where Quirinius was governing Syria. Quirinius is a Roman governor, and so he issues a census. And the only reason for a census is for taxation, money. And this is what ties into the story of Mary and Joseph, Christ’s birth. And this happens after the son of Herod Archelaus has to abdicate or is removed because of incompetence, and Judea becomes a full client of Rome.
Now, why is that important? This is important because we’re talking here about something called “the Land,” and it’s the Holy Land, it is the Promised Land, it is the land given to Abraham and his descendants, and the land is important. So, we come back to where we are now with the time of Acts. All right? The Jews, for all their disagreements, at least agreed on three things. Number one, they agreed that there was one God and that God was Yahweh, their God. All right? They knew that. They also believed and agreed that Israel was the covenant-chosen people. All right? And they, the Jews, were the remnant or the part of that whole nation that now was in the land. And that’s where we come to the third thing they could agree on, and that was that the land was theirs. I’m just going to put the word land there. The land promised to Abraham by God, that whole land that they had occupied under Joshua, that was their land. And it was only when they had full control of that land and were free that they could worship the one God in the right way.
Now, this is where the rub comes in, this is where the problem comes in. And we’re going to read about that in chapter 7 as Stephen develops his sermon and his address. And all this helps us to kind of understand what he’s saying and why he’s saying it, and why he takes the approach that he did. Because the idea that the land must be free, it must be free of Roman control. They wanted the Romans out. This is what led to so many different Jewish insurrections in the history of this time. Now, there’s one we’ve already studied. And if you go back to Acts 5, you remember when the apostles were before the Sanhedrin, again, and this Jewish or Pharisee leader, Gamaliel, rabbi, stands up and says basically, “Leave these guys alone. If it’s of God, you don’t want to be fighting against it. If it’s of men, it is going to come to nothing.”
And in verse 37 of chapter 5 of Acts, Gamaliel references a person named Judas of Galilee, who rose up in the days of the census. Note that, verse 37, in the days of the census. What census? It’s the census we just read about in Luke 2:2 Luke 2:2(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
American King James Version×, the census of Quirinius, a Syrian governor. And what happened then, and Luke brings it in, and we know that the full story comes from Josephus, not necessarily here but Josephus tells the story of the rebellion of this Judas from Galilee. He’s actually from a city of Gamala within Galilee. But he led an insurrection because Judas persuaded enough people who believed that there was one God, Israel was His people, and they were free, and they must have control of the land, free of Roman influence, to worship God in the right way. This is what they held to their belief.
Judas here of Gamala or Galilee, he basically said to the rest of the Jews, “If you submit to the census, if you submit to Roman taxation, if you submit to the Roman governor, that is a sin, a sin against Yahweh and His people and the covenant.” This is how fervent they were in their belief. And so he led an insurrection. And go back to Acts 5 when Gamaliel brings this up, he said, “This man, he rose up in the days of the census, drew away many people, but he also perished. All who obeyed him were dispersed” (Acts 5:37 Acts 5:37After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.
American King James Version×). And that’s what happens. And so Gamaliel brings this up. And so, it’s understanding this fervent desire to be rid of the Romans that is the background to what Gamaliel said about Judas, even really what we find Luke beginning to trace even back in his gospel with the story of Christ and His birth.
And now, when we come to chapter 7 and what Stephen says. Stephen is going to drill deep into this idea of the land and the Jewish belief, which some historians say that this idea of the land created a kind of fourth philosophy among the Jews at the time. The other three being, that of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. And we talked about those several times as we’ve identified the various groups of people or the religious leadership of Judea at this time, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. Josephus kind of calls it a fourth philosophy, and that it would be those that were really the rabid insurrectionists, like this Judas of Galilee, who wanted to get rid of the Romans. And this is what will lead in a few years later, in the year A.D. 66, when the Jewish revolt erupts in Galilee. And Josephus is actually a general at that time, and he’s leading a group of Jews against the Romans. And that ultimately leads to A.D. 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Roman legions.
There’s another one early in the second century, another Jewish revolt that essentially finishes the Jewish presence in the land. But it’s all tied back to this idea that the land had to be free. So, with that as a background, and it’s important in understanding what is being developed here, let’s look at what Stephen here begins to talk about. It’ll help us, then, to understand why he puts it this way, because Stephen is now going to put forth an idea that the land, as important as it is, isn’t the critical factor, that God’s not tied to any piece of land. God’s not tied even to one people necessarily beyond the covenant that He made with Abraham. Stephen is beginning to help, or through his preaching, say that, “God’s concerned for all people.” And he’s going to do it by telling the story that they really have never thought about of their most revered patriarchs, beginning with Abraham. And he’s going to basically show that God’s dealt with all of his people apart from the land, the Promised Land. And it’s that lack of discernment that the Jews don’t have at this time. And as a result, they couldn’t identify Jesus when He was in front of them as the Son of God, and they killed Him. And now they are going to kill one of the servants in the Church because they can’t stand this message.
And so, let’s dive into it here. As we look at chapter 7, when the high priest said, “Are these things so because the charge is....” going back to verse 13 of chapter 6, “That this man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law” (Acts 6:13 Acts 6:13And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceases not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law:
American King James Version×).
All right? And so that gets back to these principles that undergirded the whole Jewish philosophy at this time. It’s not true, but this is the charge that has been presented. Verse 2, now of chapter 7, “Stephen says, ‘brethren and fathers, listen, the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia before he dwelt in Heron. And He said to him, get out of your country from your relatives and come to a land that I will show you’” (Acts 7:2 Acts 7:2And he said, Men, brothers, and fathers, listen; The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelled in Charran,
American King James Version×). This goes back to Genesis 12. This is a quote in verse 3, right out of Genesis 12 verse 1, where God appeared to Abram and said, “Get out of the land and go to a place that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1 Genesis 12:1Now the LORD had said to Abram, Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you:
American King James Version×). Where was Abram at that time? Well, Abram was way over in Mesopotamia.
I don’t have that map up on the board here today, but he was over in the area of the land between the waters, the area of Babylon, that former empire there. That’s where he was. He wasn’t anywhere near what would become Jerusalem, and Judea, and the Promised Land when God appeared to him. And that’s the point. That’s when God began to work with him. The idea is, and Stephen is saying, “Look, God began working with our patriarch, Abraham, when he was in a foreign land, i.e., gentile land. He was not in a holy place or a Holy Land, and yet God began to deal with him.” That’s the point Stephen here is making. And so he says in verse 4, “He came out of the land of the Chaldeans, dwelt and Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, he moved with him to this land in which you now dwell” (Acts 7:4 Acts 7:4Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelled in Charran: and from there, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein you now dwell.
American King James Version×), which is the Promised Land, the Holy Land, Jerusalem, Judea. That’s the land. And so he’s tracing history, but in big, broad strokes. He’s jumping really long periods of time here as he moves through his story.
Now, understand this about Stephen’s sermon. Let’s just go ahead and call it a sermon. That’s what it is. It’s an indictment as well. It’s a speech, it’s a long one. Some say, I think, that this is the longest one in the book of Acts. But it is a sermon that is one for the ages here. In verse 5, then he says, “And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on it. But even when Abraham had no child, He promised to give it to him for a possession and to his descendants after him” (Acts 7:5 Acts 7:5And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child.
American King James Version×). Remember, when Abraham died, he didn’t even have a place to bury his wife, Sarah. He had to go buy a plot, a cave, a cave of Machpelah, in the area of Hebron, south of Jerusalem. “And so God spoke in this way,” in verse 6, “that his descendants would dwell in a foreign land and that they would bring them into bondage and oppress them for 400 years” (Acts 7:6 Acts 7:6And God spoke on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years.
American King James Version×). Now, that’s referring to the foreign land as Egypt, that’s the foreign land of verse 6, Egypt.
So, he’s jumped now from Abraham over Isaac, and to the time of Jacob where Jacob, as you know, from the story, goes down to Egypt during the time of famine. Joseph is already there, who’s actually the next story we’ll talk about here. But he says the descendants of Abraham dwelt in a foreign land, they went into bondage and oppression for 400 years. At this point, let me just make a reference here. There’s a reference here to 400 years. It’s 430 years back in the book of Exodus. And this is something about Stephen’s address that you should know. He is not precise in years and even in some of the chronology here, even of Abraham. We’re not going to go into the details of that. You can read about that in a commentary. And commentators try to align and make all of this fit. And probably the better one that I read in looking at different commentators is the idea that, don’t get hung up on the dates and what might be a discrepancy. Luke’s not writing that way. And as he writes the sermon of Stephen, because, again, Luke wasn’t there to hear it. It’s not a firsthand account. He gets it later from a source who, obviously, was there. But again, he’s writing in broad strokes here, and he’s writing for effect. And it’s not anything that will discredit the biblical record and the truth of Scripture. The events and the people are real. He’s writing to a larger lesson. And that’s what’s critical to understand here. Even in this story, there are things that Luke records of Stephen, as we’ll see, about Moses that are not found in the Scripture. He got it somewhere else. He may have got it out of Josephus or some other source, and that’s legitimate. Even if it’s in the Scriptures, then we will accept that as truth. But recognize that it’s not something that you will find elsewhere. We’ll see that when we get to that.
Verse 7 then says, “And the nation to whom they will be in bondage, I will judge,” again, this is Egypt, “Said God. And after that, they shall come out and serve me in this place” (Acts 7:7 Acts 7:7And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place.
American King James Version×). This is, again, recounting the prophecy of what would happen to the people and that they would even be returned to this place. And this place is Judea and the whole land, which they were with Moses, and ultimately with Joshua. And verse 8, “And then He gave him the covenant of circumcision,” this goes back to talking about Abraham. “And so Abraham begot Isaac circumcised on the eighth day, and Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot 12 patriarchs” (Acts 7:8 Acts 7:8And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs.
American King James Version×).
So, it’s a history lesson. This part is obviously accurate, and it doesn’t do away with any part of the, not only the historical but, more importantly, the spiritual or the theological teaching that would be drawn from the story of Abraham, and Moses, and the law. Keep in mind that he is being charged with blasphemous words against this holy place and the law. And that’s something that... those are fighting words for a Jew in Jerusalem at this point in time. That is grounds, because it violates everything that they agree on and is at the core of the legitimacy of the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, and this ruling body. And so, yet, he’s not contradicted anything.
And so verse nine, so we have Abraham, and he’s established the point that Abraham, God began to deal with him before he ever came into the land. The promise, the central core of the promise was made before he came there. And God had, in a sense, plucked Abraham out of that story. If we have time, we’ll come back a little bit more and focus on some of what is marvelous about the story of Abraham, but let’s go on. Verse 9, “The patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt, but God was with him” (Acts 7:9 Acts 7:9And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him,
American King James Version×). So, now he jumps to the story of Joseph, which all of us know the story of Joseph and his amazing technicolor dream coat. Even Broadway and Hollywood knows the story of Joseph today from that production that ran for a long, long time when told the story quite well.
But we all know that story, sold by his brothers into Egyptian slavery. And God works with him. He brings him out of prison. He comes up to become the second in command of Pharaoh and is instrumental in not only saving Egypt from death during a famine, as he prepared seven years in advance for seven years of famine, he then saves his own family, his brothers and Jacob who come down.
It’s a remarkable story. It’s a timeless story. Let’s say, for a story that is that old to be retold in modern terms of modern culture and entertainment speaks volumes in itself to the timeless qualities of that story of inter-family problems, betrayal, redemption. You got the great themes of any novel right there in the story of Joseph. And for many of us, probably one of the favorite stories there.
Verse 10, he says, “He delivered him out of all of his troubles and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and made him governor over Egypt and all of his house” (Acts 7:10 Acts 7:10And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.
American King James Version×). Now, again, keep in mind what Stephen is doing is he’s now pulled forward the story of Joseph in Egypt, of all places, the type of sin, and the place of bondage. And for a Jew in the first century, no worse place to go than Egypt, no worse place to be than that in Egypt. But he’s making a point that God can work with anyone anywhere, that it is not tied to a piece of property, and that the promises are spiritual, eternal, and they transcend ethnicity, they transcend location, and so many of the things that have become a part of, the Jewish thinking at this time.
Verse 11, “A famine, great trouble came over the land of Egypt and Canaan, and our fathers found no sustenance. But when Jacob heard there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers first. And the second time, Joseph was made known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to the Pharaoh” (Acts 7:11-13 Acts 7:11-13  Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan, and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance.
 But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first.
 And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brothers; and Joseph's kindred was made known to Pharaoh.
American King James Version×). Great story, just great story there. When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. You read through that story and, you know, how do you keep a dry eye when you read through that part of Joseph? I mean, told well, told right, it grabs your attention and it’s so poignant.
“Then Joseph sent and called his father, Jacob, and all of his relatives to him, seventy-five people. So, Jacob went down to Egypt and he died, and he and our fathers, and they were carried back to Shechem. They come back into the land. Shechem was in the land of the promise, laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem” (Acts 7:14-16 Acts 7:14-16  Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, three score and fifteen souls.
 So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers,
 And were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulcher that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem.
American King James Version×).
So, again, he’s tracing the story that they all knew. You read through this and you might begin to imagine in your mind, here’s... if we’ve got, what? Three, four rows of students here. If you were the Jewish leadership, and I’m up before you telling a story that you can recite from memory, which they all could, and you know it, and you don’t like me, and I’m Stephen, and I’m telling you the story of Abraham and Joseph that you dream about, know about, and can recite from memory, you’re sitting there drumming your fingers, “Get on with your point. You know, we already know this.” You know, how it is when you’ve heard a sermon for the fourth time or the idea within a sermon, and “Oh, I know this. He’s going to talk about this today.” And we have to, you know, get through our human nature and realize that, yeah, because God knows that we need that sermon for the fourth or fifth time because there’s some point on prayer or whatever, we need to learn.
Stephen’s got a point for these Jewish leaders, and they’re probably beginning to get impatient, they’re squirming in their chairs. If they could, they’d look at their watches. And they can’t look at their smartphones because even the Sanhedrin put their smartphones in a place outside the room, right? You didn’t know that, did you? No. Yeah, yeah, they did. So, we’ve got precedent for what we do here at ABC. For those of you online, here at ABC, we have a place outside the room for smartphones so that students are not on them or distracted by them or whatever, during class time. But that comes right here from the Sanhedrin. We discovered that in an archeological dig in 1971. And no, just kidding you here.
All right. So, verse 17, “When the time of the promise drew near, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt” (Acts 7:17 Acts 7:17But when the time of the promise drew near, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt,
American King James Version×). And so, he is back into that story, bringing it forward, “Then another king arose who did not know Joseph. This man dealt treacherously with our people, oppressed our forebearers, making them expose their babies so that they might not live” (Acts 7:18-19 Acts 7:18-19  Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph.  The same dealt subtly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live.
American King James Version×). And so, again, all drawn from Genesis, accurate.
“At this time, Moses was born” (Acts 7:20 Acts 7:20In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father's house three months:
American King James Version×). So, again, now this is the third character. We’ve had Abraham, we’ve had Joseph, now we have Moses. Abraham born in a foreign land. Joseph sold into a foreign land, and yet, God was with him. Now, Moses born in a foreign land, his life is in danger. He was well-pleasing to God. He was brought up in his father’s house for three months, and that verse 21, it says, “When he was set out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and brought him up as her own son” (Acts 7:21 Acts 7:21And when he was cast out, Pharaoh's daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son.
American King James Version×).
And getting into that chronology, I don’t know if, as you go through the Pentateuch, how much Dr. Dunkle takes you through that. But, you know, looking at and trying to pull together the chronology of who the Pharaoh was at the time of Moses and the Exodus, and who his daughter was, that is recorded in Scripture. And what she did is an interesting study to align that chronology, right? And when it’s done, it helps to really understand a lot. And it’s not the picture that you get in “The Ten Commandments” by Cecil B. DeMille. They put you forward a few 100 years because they date a later Exodus there. But that’s another story for another time. But what it says in verse 22, “Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was mighty in words and deeds” (Acts 7:22 Acts 7:22And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.
American King James Version×). Now, that is a point Stephen brings out we do not receive from the story back in Exodus. That’s not recorded there.
And, again, if you saw the movie, the Cecil B. DeMille movie of “The Commandments,” you find that Moses, certainly is a son of Pharaoh and part of the court, but he is also a general. Well, that comes out of Josephus. And we take that as true, that indeed as he was raised in the household of Pharaoh, he did rise high, and was a general of the Army. Josephus records those incidents. But that comes from extra-biblical history. And it says that, “He was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and mighty in words and deeds.”
I’ll just pause and tell you a little bit here, a little bit of background. Do you ever go to Egypt? And you need to go to Egypt. And when you go to Egypt, you need to go up the Nile. And girls, if you marry somebody that’s got enough money, he’ll put you on a boat and you’ll sail up the Nile, like something out of an old movie. Okay? And you will put in at a place called Karnak, and you’ll walk through the ancient temple site of Karnak in Egypt. It is fabulous. This is where Moses was raised. This is where the Pharaohs ruled from, Karnak. And the temples of Karnak, you know, the ruins are there and they’re magnificent. Across the river are the tombs of the kings, Hatshepsut, who could very well be the daughter of the Pharaoh that is referenced here in the book. Her tomb, and it’s where they discovered King Tuts’ tomb and all that, that’s on the other side.
When they take you through there, as they did with the group that I was with back several years ago on a tour, you’re going through what were huge halls in rooms in this vast temple complex. And I remember the tour guide stopping us at one point, as we were walking through this room. It was old stone and stone columns. And he showed us a spot off, it was to our right as we were walking through, which would’ve been a large room, second room there. And he said, “That is where the children of Pharaoh were taught.” In other words, it was a school. And then he said, because we were a Christian group being toured by... and he said, “That is where Moses would’ve been taught.” And I remember, you know, everybody goes, “Oh, wow.” And snap, snap, snap. You start taking pictures, like that. And it’s interesting, and then you walk on and I’m thinking, “I wonder if he just told us that because we’re a Christian group and he knows that that’s going to sell more tourists for him and make us happy, and he gets a bigger tip at the end of the tour, or if it’s really true.”
Well, it’s one of those things where it gives you at least a good visual. You don’t know if it is or not. It could very well be as the Egyptologists identify these ruins and what was there. But it’s certainly the temple area, and it’s where the house of the Pharaoh was. Moses would’ve been a part of that in his day. Would he have been taught in that room? Maybe, maybe not. But again, it just helps you to kind of understand and visualize some of these things.
And what Stephen is saying is that, this man, Moses, who is a huge giant of a figure, then and now in Israelite Jewish world history, he was taught in the schools of the Pharaohs. I mean, today, we got a lot going on in our public-school system, don’t we? And a lot of things being taught, a lot of people opt out, they opt for homeschooling. Many of you were homeschooled for many reasons, and we’ve got, you know, some problems today that caused that. But think about going back to this time, Moses, in a sense, was homeschooled in the house of the Pharaoh. But it is... what does it say? That he was in learning in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. That’s not God’s truth. That was the wisdom of the Egyptians.
Now, they understood astronomy, and they understood mathematics. They did build a few buildings that are still around today. You have seen pictures of those. So, they knew what they were doing. Moses, obviously, went on to become the lawgiver and is anchored in the story and in history in that way. But again, Stephen’s point is that God took this man. He took a detour from his Jewish Hebrew household into the house of a Pharaoh. And when you, again, you read about what he would’ve been brought up around, the religion, the culture, the ideas of the Egyptian pharaonic household, not nice, not what we would call Christian righteous or anything biblical in that sense. He was learned in all of it, and not all of that is something that we would want to carry through.
And so, this is, in the minds of the Sanhedrin here, as Stephen gives this address, they’re being reminded of something that, in a sense, they knew but they don’t like his point. Maybe by this time now, as he’s gone from Abraham to Joseph, now to Moses, maybe they’re beginning to get the point of what his real point is. And they’re beginning to get a bit more agitated as they are sitting there listening to what he has to say.
Well, he goes on, he says, “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed and struck down the Egyptian” (Acts 7:23-24 Acts 7:23-24  And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers the children of Israel.
 And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian:
American King James Version×). That story is told back in Exodus. So, he jumps, he tells this story in 40-year increments here. “The next day he appeared to two of them as they were fighting and tried to reconcile them, saying, men, you are brethren, why do you wrong one another? But he who did his neighbor wrong, pushed him away saying, who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you did the Egyptian yesterday?” (Acts 7:26-28 Acts 7:26-28  And the next day he showed himself to them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, you are brothers; why do you wrong one to another?  But he that did his neighbor wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?  Will you kill me, as you did the Egyptian yesterday?
American King James Version×).
And again, in Stephen’s view, as he tells this part of the story, the effect again would be that, upon the Jewish leadership, they’re having their nose rubbed into it, that the Hebrews devolved over a period of time as they were slaves taking on, absorbing habits and ways that were unrighteous. And Stephen’s point is going to be that this will happen wherever you are, whoever you are. Again, keep in mind that the idea... one of the things that they all agreed on is that Israel had a covenant with God. They were His special people. And they, the Jews at this time in the first century were the one remnant holding to that. And they had endured the Greeks, they had endured a Babylonian captivity. And they were, in their own form, holding onto it. But they have a past and that isn’t commensurate with all that they presently held.
Verse 29, “then, at this saying, Moses fled, became a dweller in the land of Midian, where he had two sons. And when forty years had passed, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush in the wilderness of Mount Sinai” (Acts 7:29-30 Acts 7:29-30  Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons.
 And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush.
American King James Version×). So, again, he jumps forward again to the appearance and the time out of Exodus 3, where Moses, as a shepherd, is out looking for some of his flock, and he comes across this burning bush and has this encounter with God. Now, you’ll know from that story that when he even comes upon that... what is he told by the voice out of the burning bush, which is the voice of God? Anybody remember? “Remove your shoes, the place on which you stand is holy ground.” Now, this is way down in the Sinai, and what is happening here is he brings this story forward, “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush in the wilderness of Mount Sinai. When Moses saw it, he marveled at the site, he drew near to observe. The voice of the Lord came to him saying, I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses trembled and dared not look. And the Lord said, take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I have surely seen the oppression of my people who are in Egypt, I’ve heard they’re groaning. I’ve come down to deliver them, and now come, I will send you to Egypt” (Acts 7:30-34 Acts 7:30-34  And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush.  When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the LORD came to him,  Saying, I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and dared not behold.  Then said the Lord to him, Put off your shoes from your feet: for the place where you stand is holy ground.  I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you into Egypt.
American King James Version×).
He has to go back. We know that part of the story. “This Moses, whom they rejected saying, who made you a ruler and a judge is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. He brought him out and he brought them out after he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years.” And so, he tells the story of the burning bush and the voice from God. And Stephen in this recounts, almost verbatim out of the story of Exodus, the Angel, the word for angel that is used here to describe this Angel of the Lord, in verse 30, is the word “Angelos,” and it means messenger. And it is a word that it can mean an angel, it can mean a messenger, and in this case, the messenger is God. As it just says here, you know, in verse 32, he’s quoting out of Exodus 3, which very clearly shows that God spoke to him out of that bush. And it is that member of the God family that we understand was the word who became incarnate as Christ who dealt with Moses and that whole episode of the Egyptians.
And Stephen affirms it here. And he uses the word, it’s called the angel of the Lord. But it is not speaking in a sense of an angel like Gabriel or a Michael, as we studied in Daniel, but in the sense of the word meaning a messenger, which it can mean... And the context helps us to understand how it is applied here. The Word, the one who became Christ, then, is the messenger through whom all of that was then communicated to Moses and, ultimately, to the children of Israel. Many other scriptures bring this out. We’ll get back into this particular study here when we get into the study of the nature of God, and Christ, and the Holy Spirit in a few days in our “Fundamentals of Belief” class. We’ll touch on this once again.
But verse 36 says, “He brought them out after he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years” (Acts 7:36 Acts 7:36He brought them out, after that he had showed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years.
American King James Version×). And so he goes on here to show, verse 37, “This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, ‘the Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren, him you shall hear’” (Acts 7:37 Acts 7:37This is that Moses, which said to the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up to you of your brothers, like to me; him shall you hear.
American King James Version×). Now, he’s transitioning here to point them to the fact that, again, Moses born in Egypt, raised in the house of Pharaoh, chosen by God to be the great lawgiver and deliverer, and the one who brings them to the threshold of the Promised Land. But again, the point is, God’s not tied to any land and His servants can be in and from anywhere that God will choose according to His purpose and His will. And then he says that this is the same Moses that said, “I’m going to raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren,” quoting from Deuteronomy 18, “and him, you shall hear.”
Now, Stephen’s getting down very much to the more pertinent episode for this group of Jews that he’s standing before. This is the group who condemned Christ and sent Him to the Romans, who then crucified Him. And they still are not able to see what they did and understand that. Verse 38, “This is he who was in the congregation, in the wilderness with the Angel, who spoke to him on Mount Sinai and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give us, whom our fathers would not obey but rejected. And in their hearts, they turned back to Egypt” (Acts 7:38-39 Acts 7:38-39  This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spoke to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give to us:
 To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt,
American King James Version×). They wanted to go back. And as you know from the story, they rejected Moses, and belly-ached, and criticized him, all during that period of time, they wanted to go back to Egypt. “Why have you brought us out here to die?” They wanted the leeks, and garlics, and food, and the certainty of Egypt rather than the uncertainty of the wilderness and whatever might lie ahead for them.
You know, there’s something about Egypt; Israelites wanted to go back to Egypt because Egypt, at least in their slavery, they knew who they were, they knew that they would eat. They didn’t have to walk miles and miles and miles. They had water and they had a roof over their head. And there was certainty. There’s one thing about Egypt. It was certain. The heavens were laid out, charted, and mapped. The seasons, the Nile rose and fell on a regular basis to provide the means of an abundant crop. There was a regularity about Egypt that they had grown used to in their 400-plus years. That’s kind of the way the world works, and sin works. And sin has a certain certainty to it, even if it’s misery at times, which is why it’s hard for people to come out of sin. And the path that God calls us to is a path of faith. And we have the promise out ahead, but we don’t always know what we’re going to have to go through, just like the Egyptians [Israelites] didn’t as they went through their wilderness. We have a spiritual wilderness to go through.
And so the Jews that were listening to this, were probably, again, just becoming a bit more agitated. And they were being reminded of something like in verse 39, “That your fathers would not obey, and they rejected. And in their hearts, they turned back” (Acts 7:39 Acts 7:39To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt,
American King James Version×). And these Jewish leaders were probably, you know, beginning now to really... their blood is beginning to boil. And they’re thinking, “He’s talking about us. He’s saying that we’re disobedient and we won’t obey.” And this is the scene now as he’s bringing it down to his final conclusion, which we’re going to have to stop right now and pick up in the next class. And to get to the final punchline of Stephen’s sermon. And believe me, it’s got a punch to it. So, we’ll study that next time when we get into class and finish on through this and meet the man who’s going to become the apostle Paul at the end of the story.