Stephen's Address: "The Call of Abraham"
Then the high priest said, "Are these things so?" And he said, "Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, 'Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you. Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell. And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on. But even when Abraham had no child, He promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his descendants after him. But God spoke in this way: that his descendants would dwell in a foreign land, and that they would bring them into bondage and oppress them four hundred years.'And the nation to whom they will be in bondage I will judge,' said God, 'and after that they shall come out and serve Me in this place.' Then He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham begot Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot the twelve patriarchs.
Concerning the "Patriarchs" ...."Joseph in Egypt"
And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him and delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house. Now a famine and great trouble came over all the land of Egypt and Canaan, and our fathers found no sustenance. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first. And the second time Joseph was made known to his brothers, and Joseph's family became known to the Pharaoh.Then Joseph sent and called his father Jacob and all his relatives to him, seventy-five* people. So Jacob went down to Egypt; and he died, he and our fathers. And they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem.
Introduction: Accusations Against Stephen and His Response the Sanhedrin Council
In Chapter 6 the powerful impact the Holy Spirit began to have in the life of the members of “The Way” began to really spread after 7 deacons were called, consecrated and appointed to handle the business of making sure the Grecian widows were not discriminated against in the distribution of receiving food and other supplies form the relief fund. The apostles were now free to focus exclusively on praying in preparation to preaching and teaching of the Word. Out of the 7 chosen men 2 stood out: Stephen and Philip. Stephen , a man full of faith became so powerful because of the anointing of the Holy Spirit that he did great miracles and wonders among the people. This caused a great stir from a certain synagogue called the Synagogue of the Libertines who , being stubborn men accused Stephen of blasphemy against God, Moses and the Temple . In this chapter, we will examine the trial of Stephen and the fiery address and history lesson he gave the Sanhedrin Council on that faithful day…
- Their Ultimate Charge: Accusation of blasphemy (6:11-15)
- They lied on Stephen
They accused Stephen of blasphemy: speaking against the Mosaic Law and against God based on their opinion of what they thought he said: basically they twisted his words to make the truth he spoke sound like a blatant lie.
And they stirred up the people (vs. 12)
They stirred up the people and excited their fears causing a great commotion.
Their actions caused the elders, scribes (lawyers) and Great Council (Sanhedrin) to arrest Stephen and bring him before them in a trial hearing.
They set up false witnesses against Stephen (vs. 13)
False witnesses said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: He is constantly speaking against the temple and the Mosaic Law. For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.
They claimed Stephen said Jesus of Nazereth abolished all the ceremonial rites, observances of sacrifices, festivals and everything else Moses said we are to observe and have observed even up to now. And even worse, He was going to desegregate the temple and allow non Jews the right to worship in our temple.
The truth is the Antichrist will do these things during the time of the Abomination of desolation when he shall sit down on the throne of the yet to be built new temple in Jerusalem and declare himself god. This will occur in the second half of the Great Tribulation Period.
The False witnesses made four accusations against Stephen on the charge of blasphemy: They said Stephen blasphemed because he……
1. Blasphemed Moses because he implied that Jesus Christ was greater in statue and importance than Moses (Acts 6:11, 14)
2. Blasphemed God because he exalted Jesus Christ as being greater than the temple and law (Acts 6:11, 14)
3. Blasphemed the temple by saying that Christ will destroy it (Jesus spoke of His body, not the building. The temple was destroyed by the Gentiles in 70 A.D.. Titus the general of the Roman army destroyed the temple in 70.A.D.. (Acts 6:14) Compare what Jesus said in Matthew 24:1-3 and Luke 21:20-24 , then compare what Daniel said in Daniel 9:26)
4. Blasphemed the law by saying that Christ had abolished the law and made a new covenant (Acts 6:14) Compare what Jesus said in Matthew 26:28…what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 3:6-15 and in Colossians 2:14-17)
And all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel. (vs. 15)
Everybody sitting on the council fixed their eyes intently on him. They focused on his facial expression and saw his meekness, his calm and collected fearlessness, and the proofs of conscious innocence and sincerity.
The expression “saw his face as it had been the face of an angel” is used to explain the impression produced on the countenance by communion with God; the calm serenity and composure which follow a confident committing of all into his hands. Simply put, it meant that Stephen had confidence in God and wasn’t worried about the outcome of the trial.
- The Trial of Stephen:Part One: (Chapter 7:1-22)
Everybody sitting on the council fixed their eyes intently on him. They focused on his facial expression and saw his meekness, his calm and collected fearlessness, and the proofs of conscious innocence and sincerity
High Priest asked: “Are these things so?” (vs. 1)
Stephen Responded: (1) “About the Call of Abraham” (vs. 3-8)
And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of Glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran. (Based on Genesis 12:1-9) God told him to “Get out of his native country and kinsmen and go with HIM to a land the Lord would show him”. (vs. 1- 4)
God in His splendor, magnificence and majesty appeared to Abraham at the time he lived in Mesopotania, also called Ur of the Chaldees or Chaldea. Mesopotania is the region between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. At the time of God’s calling of Abram , He lived in Ur and moved with his father and Lot to Haran until his father died. Then God called him again to leave his relatives and go to a place God would guide him to.
- It was customary to address the Sanhedrin in the manner Stephen did, thereby showing respect to their position as religious leaders in Jerusalem.
- Stephen used the phrase “father Abraham, because the Jews as a race and a nation regarded their kinship to Abraham as something real special like a badge of honor because the Jews as a nation of people were blessed as being the seed of Abraham.
(a). While in Haran, Abram owned no land except a burial site he purchased from the children of Heth. Abram and his caravan at this point were wanderers. (vs. 5)
(b). Generations later one of Isaac’s sons (Jacob’s lineage) because of Joseph authority and protection would live in a strange land temporarily…(Egypt).
At some point the honored guest of Pharoah would become slaves, because a future Pharaoh (Ramses) would arise after the death of Joseph and become very cruel to the Israelites because this Ramses was fearful of the size of the Israelite population and concluded that if a war broke out with Egypt’s enemies, the Israelites might side with their enemies. They would spend 430 years in Egypt. (vs. 6)
And 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. (vs. 7)
As the 430 years come to an end, God will judge Egypt and (through Moses) the Israelites will exodus from Egypt, inherit Canaan and serve the Lord.
(c). Concerning Abraham: God gives the Covenant of Circumcision (vs. 8)
And 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.
Note: Concerning the Covenant of Circumcision:
“Circumcision” was appointed as the MARK or INDICATION that Abraham and those designated in his house were the persons God included in the gracious purpose and promise. It’s purpose served to SEPARATE them as a special people; a people whose unique characteristic it was that they obeyed and served God (Yahweh) who had made the promise to Abraham. The phrase "covenant of circumcision" means, the covenant or promise which God made to Abraham, of which circumcision was the distinguishing "mark" or "sign."
Out of the basis of this "Covenant of Circumcision", God chose a “covenant people” (Jacob , renamed Israel and formed a new nation out of the 12 sons of Israel) Jacob “the covenant child” was one of 2 seeds of Isaac (Esau was the other) who himself is the “covenant child” of Abraham, who had 2 seeds (Ishmael being the other) .
(d). Concerning Joseph: “Victim of Sibling Jealousy” (vs. 9-16)
And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him. (vs. 9)
Joseph’s 11 brothers became jealous of him because of the favoritism Jacob their father showed him and the dreams Joseph shared with them that indicated that one day, he would be elevated to high honors above them and their parents. (Genesis 37:3-11) They initially sought to kill him, but God protected him, and overruled their wicked plans,(prevailing in the minds of Ruben and Judah to keep this from happening) so that he was raised to extraordinary honors.(in Egypt)
They sold him to an Ishmaelite Caravan (Midianite merchants) for 20 shekels of silver, so he would be taken to Egypt. (Genesis 37:28)
Note: Scholars believe here that it was Stephen’s aim to use this part of the history to eventually rebuke the Great Council. It is possible that Stephen, by revealing this fact, might have designed to prepare the way for a severe rebuke of the Jews for having dealt in a similar manner with Jesus the Messiah.
And (God) 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. (vs. 10)
Despite being sold into slavery, God restored him to liberty from his servitude and humiliation, and as promised in the dream, raised him up to high honors and offices in Egypt. God gave him favor with Potiphar who made him his house administrator, then, after being falsely accused of rape by Potiphar’s wife, Joseph was thrown into prison. While in prison, God made those dreams a reality by giving Joseph wisdom and the ability to interpret dreams. Ultimately, God gave him favor with Pharaoh and after he interpreted the dream of Pharaoh, Pharaoh appointed him governor of Egypt, making him second in command over the Egyptian government. (Genesis 41)
Family Reunion Israel united in Egypt (vs, 11-14)
Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan (Haran), 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 brethren; and Joseph's kindred was made known unto Pharaoh. Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls.
Stephen here does not go into detail about the famine or what Joseph suggested for the solution that would cause Egypt to survive it and still remain a profitable nation. His initial purpose at this point is to show that the famine did come and God protected the Jewish ancestors in the midst of it. Jacob was living in Canaan when it came with no food and no means of living. When the word got to Jacob that there was wheat in Egypt, he sent “our forefathers” (10 of his sons) to buy grain and kept Benjamin home with him. His other purpose was to convince the Council he was not speaking against or disrespecting Moses in any way and believed Moses account of the history of the Jewish people.
(This covered Genesis Chapter 41 to Chapter 45:4 when Joseph revealed himself to all his brothers including Benjamin in Egypt that he was alive and what they had done against him was used by God to bless all of Egypt and them.)
Finally here (Genesis 45:16 to Genesis 46:26) all of Jacob (Israel’s) kindred totaling 75 in all moved to Egypt and were favored by Pharaoh and permitted to live in the Land of Goshen to raised their herds.
So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers, (vs. 15- 16)
- Before the Exodus, the Israelites dwelled in Egypt 215 years .
- From the time God revealed to Abraham the future plight of his descendants (the Israelites)
- Stephen rounded the years to 400. Rounding numbers was common place and was not done to contradict facts.
- All of the sons of Jacob were already deceased before the Exodus began.
- Their living ancestors left Egypt to sojourn to the Land of Canaan.
- Jacob was buried in the field of Macpelah by Joseph and his brethren.
- Even though Joseph died in Egypt, the bones of Joseph were carried out of Egypt by the Israelites when they went into the land of Canaan, and buried in Shechem. (Joshua 24:32; Genesis 50:25).
- Although the patriarchs died in Egypt, their bodies were brought back to Palestine and were buried in the land God had promised to Abraham and his seed.
Stephen’s Purposes in sharing the History at his trial:
a. He reminded them of the meaning of the Jewish historic beginning to keep them from priding themselves in the glories of that nation.
b. He did it to remind them and that it was by a miracle of God’s mercy that they were raised up out of nothing to what they were now; how they came from so small a number to be so great a nation.
c. He did it to warn them if they refused to answer God’s intention for Israel being so raised, they can expect to be destroyed just like any other disobedient wicked nation.
d. The prophets in past history frequently reminded them how God brought them out of Egypt, as a aggravation of their contempt of the law of God. Stephen urged upon them now as an aggravation of their contempt of the gospel of Christ.
e. He reminded them of the wickedness of their ancestors, the patriarchs of their tribal past who, spiritually moved in envy against their brother Joseph and sold him into Egypt; and how that same spirit was still working in them now in how they treated Jesus Christ in the past when he was physically alive and now treat the mention of His name spiritually because He is being preached still as Messiah and his ministers because they dare to preach about Him now.
In the final analysis, Stephen wanted them to know that their holy land, which they doted over so much upon, and how in the past their forefathers were long kept out of the possession of it, and both met with famine, drought and great affliction in it.
He did this to remind them not think that things will be strange if, after it has been so long polluted with sin, that at some point that the promise land could be destroyed.
Finally, he shared the history with them to show that the faith of the patriarchs in desiring to be buried in the land of Canaan plainly showed that they had an eye to the “heavenly country”, to which it was the design of Jesus Christ whom they had crucified to lead them.
Dr. William Edward Boddie