Acts Lesson Fifteen: Acts 7:17-43 – Stephen’s Sermon Part 2
17 “As the time was drawing near to fulfill the promise that God had made to Abraham, the people flourished and multiplied in Egypt 18 until a different king who did not know Joseph ruled over Egypt. 19 He dealt deceitfully with our race and oppressed our ancestors by making them leave their infants outside, so they wouldn’t survive. 20 At this time Moses was born, and he was beautiful in God’s sight. He was cared for in his father’s home three months, 21 and when he was left outside, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted and raised him as her own son. 22 So Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his speech and actions.
23 “As he was approaching the age of 40, he decided to visit his brothers, the Israelites. 24 When he saw one of them being mistreated, he came to his rescue and avenged the oppressed man by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He assumed his brothers would understand that God would give them deliverance through him, but they did not understand. 26 The next day he showed up while they were fighting and tried to reconcile them peacefully, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why are you mistreating each other?’
27 “But the one who was mistreating his neighbor pushed him away, saying:
Who appointed you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me, the same way you killed the Egyptian yesterday?
29 “At this disclosure, Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he fathered two sons. 30 After 40 years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight. As he was approaching to look at it, the voice of the Lord came: 32 I am the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. So Moses began to tremble and did not dare to look.
33 “Then the Lord said to him:
Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have observed the oppression of My people in Egypt; I have heard their groaning and have come down to rescue them. And now, come, I will send you to Egypt.
35 “This Moses, whom they rejected when they said, Who appointed you a ruler and a judge?—this one God sent as a ruler and a redeemer by means of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man led them out and performed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness 40 years.
Israel’s Rebellion against God
37 “This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your brothers. 38 He is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors. He received living oracles to give to us. 39 Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him, but pushed him away, and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron:
Make us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we don’t know what’s happened to him.
41 They even made a calf in those days, offered sacrifice to the idol, and were celebrating what their hands had made. 42 Then God turned away and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:
House of Israel, did you bring Me offerings and sacrifices
40 years in the wilderness?
43 No, you took up the tent of Moloch
and the star of your god Rephan,
the images that you made to worship.
So I will deport you beyond Babylon! (HCSB)
In this lesson, we’ll continue Stephen’s defense before the Sanhedrin, concentrating on Israel’s
initial rejection and acceptance of Moses as a deliver. Stephen’s discussion is broken into
three forty-year sections, covering the three major portions of Moses’ life.
- Moses’ upbringing in Pharaoh’s house, verses 17-22.
- The initial rejection of Moses and his life in Midian, verses 23-29.
- God’s calling at the burning bush and the Exodus period, verses 30-43.
Just as Joseph bore similarities to Jesus, Moses also shares similarities.
- He was persecuted and almost killed as a child.
- Exodus 1:22.
- Matthew 2:13-20.
- He refused a life of comfort in order to save his people.
- Hebrews 11:24-26.
- Matthew 4:8-10.
- He was rejected the first time he tried to save Israel.
- Exodus 2:11-14.
- Isaiah 53:3.
- He became a shepherd.
- Exodus 3:1.
- John 10
- He took a Gentile bride during his rejection.
- Exodus 2:21.
- The church, including Gentiles, being the bride of Christ.
- He was accepted by his people the second time.
- Exodus 4:29-31.
- Acts 7:5.
- He delivered his people from bondage through the blood of the lamb.
- Exodus 12.
- 1 Peter 2:24.
- Moses was a:
- Prophet – Deuteronomy 18:15-19.
- A priest – Psalm 99:6.
- A king – Deuteronomy 33:4-5.
Moses Early Life: Verses 17-22
Although Israel’s early time in Egypt was relatively easy and prosperous, the situation had changed radically by the time of Moses. Pharaoh became increasingly alarmed by the ever-increasing number of Israelites and was determined to limit their influence. Pharaoh also enslaved the Jews to perform manual labor in Egypt and committed infanticide to reduce their numbers. However, even as the Jews were being oppressed, God showed His favor in protecting and preparing Moses for his future role.
- Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as her own son.
- Moses was thoroughly trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.
- Extra-biblical historical records indicate that the best teachers were used to train Moses.
- The reference to Moses being powerful in speech may come as a surprise since Moses told Yahweh that he lacked in eloquence. The passage is probably a reference to Moses’ writing ability, but there is no conclusive evidence supporting or denying that position.
- Stephen’s point in listing these details to a story familiar with the Sanhedrin is that God can and has used non-Jews for His purposes.
The stage is now set for the second phase of Moses’ life. Israel was being oppressed, but God was faithful to His promises. A deliverer had been raised and trained for the role. God was walking with Moses.
The initial rejection of Moses and his life in Midian; verses 23-29.
There are two major themes presented in this section.
- Israel’s rejection of its divinely appointed deliverer, Moses.
- Moses’s time as a pilgrim away from his people.
There is a critical interpretative point that is missing in the translation from Greek to English. The issue is with the word “visit.” Luke uses it in both his gospel and here to indicate someone sent by God to oversee and care for His people. As God’s emissary, Moses went to look after his fellow Israelites and, upon seeing one of his brothers being abused by an Egyptian, he went to that man’s defense and ended up killing the Egyptian. It should be noted that the Old Testament account does not make a reference to Moses “avenging” the Israelites. Instead, this was Stephen’s interpretation of the event. In the role of God’s emissary, Moses applied divine vengeance to the offending Egyptian. Moses assumed the Israelites would see that he was a rescuer sent by God, but they didn’t interpret it that way.
The following day Moses attempted to mediate a dispute between two Israelites. The Old Testament makes no mention of Moses being a reconciler. Once again, this is Stephen’s interpretative account to emphasize Moses’ role as God’s representative. Verses 27b-28 are a direct quote from Exodus 2. Stephen’s point is that God made Moses the ruler and judge for Israel as His appointed leader.
Although Moses fled because of Pharaoh’s wrath, it was the knowledge among the Israelites that Moses had killed an Egyptian that alerted him to the danger that he faced and that his life was in the balance. This emphasizes that Moses’ flight was tightly connected to Israel’s rejection of him, putting his life in danger and forcing him to flee Egypt. Stephen once again stresses that God can’t be tied down to a single place or people.
God’s calling at the burning bush and the Exodus period: verses 30-43.
Stephen focuses on God’s revelation to Moses. Stephen has two main points in mind in these verses.
- The revelation takes place outside the holy land.
- Holy ground can be found anywhere, even far from the temple in Jerusalem. God is not tied to a location.
- God reveals Himself as the God of the patriarchs.
- Moses had fearful reverence for God.
- God chose Moses as the deliverer for Israel.
- God had promised to deliver Israel.
- God was faithful to His promise. Now, He had chosen the man to deliver them.
The relation between Moses and Jesus is now connected.
- God had chosen him as the means for deliverance.
- Moses was the redeemer of Israel.
- Moses performed signs and wonders in Egypt.
- The people rejected him as God’s appointed deliverer, “Who appointed you a ruler and a judge?”
- God the Father sent Jesus as the means to deliver Israel from the bondage of sin and death.
- Jesus is the eternal redeemer.
- Jesus performed signs and wonders and then empowered the apostles to continue that work.
- Israel rejected Him as the divinely sent redeemer.
Moses was more than a foreshadowing of Jesus.
- Moses prophesied the coming of Christ.
- Moses was in the congregation, ekklesia, in the wilderness and gave the “living oracles” to Israel.
- Ekklesia is the usual word for the assembly of Israel in the Septuagint.
- It is also the term used by Christians for New Testament church assemblies.
- Just as Jesus mediates for us with the Father, Moses was the mediator between Israel and the angel of God.
- The “living oracles” (Law).
- This was given to Moses by the angels through the direction of God the Father.
- Christ would be the fulfillment of the living oracles.
Here Stephen highlights the apostasy that Israel committed in the wilderness, specifically the incident with the golden calf and the rejection of Moses as their deliverer.
- The nation of Israel, in general, had pushed Moses away and rejected him as their deliverer.
- They claimed they didn’t know what happened to Moses, and they showed no desire to discover his fate.
- Their “hearts” turned back to their previous place of bondage, Egypt.
- Instead of following the living God, they were determined to follow idols.
- Rejecting God’s messenger is rejecting God.
- The calf was described as an idol.
- Idolatry is following the things made by human hands.
- Stephen is now getting ready to tie the temple into the discussion.
- In the wilderness, Israel, along with Aaron, the priest, had distorted the pure worship of God.
- The temple in Stephen’s day was also guilty of distorting the pure worship of God.
This section tells how God handled the apostasy of Israel. The phrase “host of heaven” in the original Greek is not referring to angels. The reference here is to stars, suns, and moons. It literally means that the people can worship the sky and not the living God. Paul makes a similar reference in Romans 1:24-28. It is one of the most fearful judgments when God turns us over to our sinful desires and lets our rebellious nature lead us to ruin.
Stephen quotes from Amos 5:25-27 to show the idolatrous practices of Israel while they were in the wilderness. His point in quoting the passage from Amos is, “did you bring me sacrifices?” Israel made sacrifices in the desert to golden calves and heavenly bodies, but not to God. The wilderness days of Israel were days of apostasy, which ultimately resulted in exile. There is likely a veiled charge against the Sanhedrin that the same fate awaited them unless they turned from their rejection of Christ.
As we review Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin so far, three main themes are stressed.
- God’s activity is not confined to the geographical land of Israel.
- God spoke to Abraham in Mesopotamia and Haran.
- He blessed Joseph in Egypt.
- He spoke to Moses in the desert.
- He performed signs and wonders in Egypt, the Red Sea, and the desert.
- He gave Israel the Law at Mount Sinai.
- Worship acceptable to God is not confined to the Jerusalem temple.
- The burning bush was holy ground.
- Moses encountered God at Mount Sinai and was giving “living oracles.”
- The tabernacle was a suitable place of worship for the nation of Israel.
- To suggest the suppression or destruction of the temple was not blasphemy because God was independent of any temple.
- The Jews have constantly rejected God’s representatives.
- The patriarchs rejected Joseph.
- Moses was rejected when he tried to mediate a dispute between two Jews.
- The message of Moses was rejected, and the Israelites made a golden calf.
- We need to remember that God is not confined to a location. No nation, church, or denomination has a monopoly on God. He is omnipresent and can use people across the globe to accomplish His purposes. God is just as likely to be active in a remote area as in a fancy church building.
- Don’t limit worship to 1 1/2 hours on a Sunday morning at a building. Our lives should be an example of worship. As we work, interact with others, or go about our business, we should do it in a worshipful manner, shining the light of Jesus to those around us. Being a follower of Jesus is a lifestyle, not a once-a-week event.
- Be careful before rejecting the teaching or message of those involved in ministry. We should carefully examine it against what is contained in Scripture to make sure it isn’t false. If the religious leaders of Israel had done that, they would have discovered who Jesus was, and instead of rejecting Him, they would have followed Him. We need to have a spirit of discernment regarding those who preach and teach us. If it lines up with Scripture, follow it. If not, challenge them or find a new church.