Matthew Poole's Commentary
Then said the high priest, Are these things so?Acts 7:1-8 Stephen, called upon to answer the charge against him,
relateth how God called Abraham, and gave him and his
seed the land of Canaan by promise,
Acts 7:9-16 how Joseph was sold by his brethren, and Jacob with
his family went down into Egypt,
Acts 7:17-36 how, when they were oppressed by the Egyptians, Moses
was born, and sent to deliver Israel out of Egypt,
Acts 7:37-43 that this same Moses witnessed of Christ, received the
law, and experienced the disobedience and idolatry of
Acts 7:44-50 who had the tabernacle of witness, till Solomon built
Acts 7:51-53 He reproacheth his hearers with imitating their
fathers’ rebellion against God, and persecution of his
prophets, by having themselves murdered Christ, and
transgressed the law they had received,
Acts 7:54-60 Stung with reproach, they stone him, looking up with
faith unto God, and calling upon Jesus to receive his
soul, and forgive his persecutors,
Then said the high priest; who was resolved to condemn any, right or wrong, that should profess Christ, as appears John 9:22.
Are these things so? That he might seem just, he gives him a kind of liberty to answer for himself; not to defend his doctrine, but; to know out of his own mouth whether he preached it, or not.
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,Brethren; to take away any prejudice they might have conceived against him, and to recommend, not his person as much as his doctrine to them, he calls them brethren;
1. As hoping in the same promises with them;
2. Observing the same law;
3. Worshipping the same God.
Fathers; a word of respect; especially the elder amongst them, or his judges: thus the Roman senators were called fathers; and magistrates ought to be reverenced as the fathers of their country.
The God of glory; who is also called, Psalm 24:7, the King of glory; from whom all glory descends to angels or men. By this, and what follows, St. Stephen would show that he honoured the true God, and thought respectfully of the law, the temple, and the patriarchs, whom he was accused to contemn and disgrace. He names Abraham, because he was accounted the first father and patriarch of the Jews, and had the first clear promise that the Messiah should come of his seed.
Mesopotamia is sometimes taken strictly for that country which lies between the two rivers, Tigris and Euphrates, from whence it had its name; sometimes more largely, including Chaldea; and so it is taken here.
Charran; a city of the Parthians, in the borders of Mesopotamia, towards the land of Canaan.
And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee.This command given unto Abraham we read of, Genesis 12:1,5,6; and it is here the rather spoken of by St. Stephen, to prove that Abraham was in the favour of God, and did truly serve him, before he ever saw the land of Canaan, and before the ceremonial law was given by Moses, and, much more, before the temple was built; and therefore it could not be blasphemy in him to hold that God might be served without those ceremonies, and worshipped elsewhere than in Jerusalem.
The land which I shall show thee; this was the glory of Abraham’s faith, that it submitted absolutely to God, and enabled Abraham to go he knew not whither, Hebrews 11:8, for God did not so much as name the place he would have him go unto.
Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell.Abraham had as great a love to his kindred and native country as others have; but he had a greater faith, which made him yield to God’s call and command, and follow from place to place the will of God, who is said here to have removed Abraham, and does choose the inheritance and habitation for his people, Psalm 47:4.
And 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.He gave him none inheritance in it; it is true that Abraham had a field, and the cave of Mach-pelah, Genesis 23:9; but that was of no use to Abraham whilst alive, but to bury him in when dead; besides, it was not as an inheritance by God’s gift, but it was purchased with his money.
Not so much as to set his foot on; whereby the least parcel of ground is meant: hence St. Stephen would prove, that Abraham’s happiness, and theirs too, if they rightly understood it, did not depend upon the enjoyment of that place and country.
And to his seed after him; faith met with a double difficulty, not only Abraham must believe he should have all that country given him for an inheritance, in which he had not a foot of land, but he must also believe that it should be his seed’s after him, whenas he had no children; but thus faith is
the evidence of things not seen, Hebrews 11:1.
And God spake 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.Should sojourn in a strange land, as men which dwell in houses that are not their own; which seem to contradict the promise mentioned in the foregoing verse; but it is only to make Abraham the more believe against hope in hope, as it is said, Romans 4:18: though there were never so many difficulties more, for what God hath promised faith would overcome them all. This very space of
four hundred years is also mentioned, Genesis 15:13; which is thus computed: from the birth of Isaac (the promised seed) to the birth of Jacob, sixty years; from Jacob’s birth to his going into Egypt, one hundred and thirty years; from thence to their deliverance out of Egypt, two hundred and ten years; this period is accounted, Exodus 12:40,41, to be four hundred and thirty years; which also St. Paul reckons by, Galatians 3:17; but then thirty years is added unto the account, being the space of time between the first promise made unto Abraham of this seed, and the birth of Isaac, in whom the promise was to be fulfilled; St. Stephen here reckoning only from the birth of Isaac.
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.Will I judge, or punish; and so the Egyptians were punished, not by human means, but by Divine power, and with God’s own immediate hand, and that in the fulness of time, the very night in which God’s promise was to take effect: and therefore it is a night to be much observed, Exodus 12:42, as showing, that the sabbath of his people, and the destruction of his enemies, slumber not, 2 Peter 2:3.
Serve me in this place; in Mount Horeb. The reason why God delivers his people is, that they may serve him, as Luke 1:74,75; and so long as God hath any work for them to do in this world, he will preserve and deliver them.
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.He gave him, Abraham, of whom he was speaking, the convenant of circumcision; of which covenant, circumcision was the sign and seal by which, on the part of Abraham and his seed it was stipulated, that they should put off all carnal affections.
Begat Isaac, after the promise: so that the promises were not given for Isaac’s sake, but Isaac was given for the promise’ sake; which made these things more fit to represent gospel grace, of which St. Stephen was preaching.
The twelve patriarchs; the heads of the tribes, from whom they were denominated. Of this genealogy, see Matthew 1:1,2, &c., and the history of it in Genesis.
And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him,Moved with envy; enraged: the holy martyr accommodates his apology so, as that they may yet have occasion to reflect on themselves; for as they had sold our Saviour unto strangers, so had their fathers
sold Joseph. But God was with him, to favour and bless him; for God’s presence brings all good along with it: with this he comforts himself and others, that it was not without example or precedent that God should be with such whom their persecutors could not endure.
And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.And delivered him out of all his afflictions; the effect of God’s presence with him, which to his people is always in an especial manner, not only as he is with all other creatures, but as the soul is with the body, most effectually, so is God with them.
And gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh: thus God brought Daniel into favour, Daniel 1:9, and hath all hearts in his hands.
Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan, and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance.A dearth; this is mentioned, Genesis 41:54, &c.
And great affliction; as seldom any mischief comes alone, rapine and many diseases follow famine.
Found no sustenance; any coarse diet, grass or herbs.
But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first.The history is known, Genesis 42:1-38. Our fathers; our progenitors, Jacob’s sons, from whom we are descended.
And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph's kindred was made known unto Pharaoh.Upon their second coming into Egypt, Genesis 45:3,4,16, Joseph made himself known unto them.
Joseph’s kindred was made known unto Pharaoh; for the continuance of their sustenance, and fulfilling of what was foretold.
Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls.All his kindred; his affinity, and not consanguinity only, which may be the reason why, though in Genesis 46:26 it is said, that all
the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt were threescore and six, ( it being then added, they were all such as came out of his loins), yet it is said they were seventy persons, Genesis 46:27, Jacob, Joseph, and Joseph’s two sons (who were also of the promised seed) being added unto the number. In this account of St. Stephen, his sons’ wives might be added, which make up seventy-five. There are other accounts of this difference; but it is not of any consequence as to faith and holy living, which are only necessary unto salvation: the wonderful increase to so many hundred thousands of men, besides children, spoken of, Exodus 12:37, notwithstanding the barbarous cruelty of the Egyptians, is to be admired.
Souls; the nobler and better part, by which they are numbered, and according unto which they are esteemed by God.
So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers,Which St. Stephen puts them in mind of the rather, that he might insinuate, no country, nor place, nor temple, were so necessary, but that (notwithstanding they had none of them) their forefathers did live and die in the fear and favour of God, although in Egypt, out of the Promised Land, &c.
And were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem.That they carried Joseph to bury him in Canaan, according to the oath he made them take, Genesis 1:25, is certain; and that this was desired to be done for him out of faith, Hebrews 11:22; but is not so certain (unless this place be so understood) that the rest of the patriarchs were so translated after their death: yet it is very likely; for, first: They had as much reason to desire it as Joseph had; they believed the same promises, and had an interest in that land as well as he. Secondly: Their posterity bore the same respect unto them that Joseph’s family did to him. Thirdly: It seems alike reasonable, that none of those twelve heirs to the land of Canaan should be left in the land of bondage. This place is acknowledged to be most difficult, and the difficulties are better not to be mentioned than ill solved, which the nature of these notes (not to mention other reasons) might occasion: whosoever will consider the intended shortness of the story, with the usual idioms of the Hebrew language, from which it was deduced, may take this as a paraphrase upon the whole verse: And Jacob and our fathers died, and were removed to Sychem, and were laid in sepulchres, in that which Abraham bought for money, and in that which was bought of the sons of Emmor, the father of Sychem. Dr. Lightfoot, in locum.
But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt,Of the promise; of the fulfilling of the promise, either of the increase of his seed, or of their deliverance out of bondage, for both were promised, Genesis 22:17; though at that very time there were the greatest endeavours to hinder either when God accomplished both.
Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph.These words are taken from the Septuagint, Exodus 1:8.
The same dealt subtilly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live.Pharaoh resolves to deal (as he thought) wisely, Exodus 1:10, and it is acknowledged that the Egyptians dealt subtilly with them, Psalm 105:25. For they do not at once destroy them, which might have been hazardous, the Israelites being so numerous; neither could Egypt well spare at once so many inhabitants; (too great and sudden evacuations cause swoonings); but they endeavour their ruin by degrees:
1. Wasting them by hard labours.
2. Commanding the midwives privately to kill their males.
3. Casting out, or exposing, any whom they found spared.
Yet this people, attempted upon by so many secret and open means to bring them to destruction, God did preserve; and so he will his church, (which they did typify), maugre all the endeavours the most potent malice can use against it.
In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father's house three months:Exceeding fair, or, fair to God; which though some understand of the inward beauty of the mind, (which is indeed the most admirable), yet in this place there is no more to be understood by it, than the wonderful beauty of his body, which God bestowed in an extraordinary measure upon him, that it might be a means to attract the care and pity of Pharaoh’s danghter, as it afterwards came to pass: besides, that which is eminent in any kind, is, by a Hebraism, said to be of God: upon this account Nineveh is called a city of God, Jonah 3:3; and we read of Rachel’s great wrestlings, or wrestlings of God, Genesis 30:8. Josephus says, that Moses was so beautiful, that all who passed by left the business they were about to gaze at him, Antiq. ii. 5.
And when he was cast out, Pharaoh's daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son.Was cast out; exposed and left, Exodus 2:2, &c.; now was the time for God to take him up, as in Psalm 27:10.
Pharaoh’s daughter, an enemy to God’s Israel; yet God did make use of her to bring tip and educate Moses, who was their deliverer, adopting him for her son, Exodus 2:10, and giving him education accordingly.
And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.Learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians; the Egyptians were anciently famous for learning, especially in astronomy, and some other parts of philosophy.
Mighty in words; he was eloquent.
And in deeds; his deeds were equal to his words; he could do, as well as say, what became him.
And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel.Forty years old; this age of Moses is not set down in his history, but they might have it by tradition, which is here confirmed unto us by the holy penman: these forty years Moses spent in Pharaoh’s court.
It came into his heart; it speaks these thoughts and resolutions to have been from God, that such a great courtier should so far debase himself; therefore this is deservedly attributed unto his faith, Hebrews 11:24, which is the gift of God, Ephesians 2:8.
And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian:This fact of Moses some defend by the law of nature, which allows us to protect the innocent; but many things we know were done by an extraordinary warrant, which we are not to imitate; nor by our own authority to avenge ourselves or others.
For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.This they might have inferred,
1. From his extraordinary deliverance out of the Egyptians’ hands, and out of the river, when young.
2. From his readiness to defend them: it was wonderful, that such a one as he was, and might have been, should mind them.
3. From the drawing near of the time of their deliverance, which they could not, without negligence, be wholly ignorant of.
By his hand; by his means and ministry.
But they understood not: stupidity is frequently charged upon this people: they then did not receive Moses, as these now would not receive Christ.
And the next day he shewed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another?He showed himself; as one appointed by God to deliver them, which he had evidenced before.
Would have set them at one again; with great earnestness, and as far as words could do, he compelled them.
Saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; these words are not mentioned, Exodus 2:13, but something otherwise than here; but the sense is here and there the same.
Brethren, not so much being all descended from Abraham and the patriarchs; but in that they all worshipped one and the same God, which is the greatest obligation to concord and agreement that can be; and if any offence to be given, or trespass committed, it obliges us as much to pass it by and pardon it: Forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father, Genesis 1:17.
But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?The injurious are most averse from peace, and one sin makes way for another. This was a causeless cavil, especially from such a one as had known what Moses had done, as an essay of his being the deliverer of God’s Israel.
Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday?He charges this great crime upon Moses, to hinder him from further reproving of him: though recrimination do not make him, or any other, more innocent; yet men ordinarily use it, as if it were some satisfaction to them that they are not wicked alone, but that others are as bad or worse: this better befits an Egyptian than an Israelite.
Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons.Then fled Moses; knowing that what he had done to the Egyptian would be discovered to Pharaoh, and his life in danger.
The land of Madian; inhabitant by the posterity of Midian, Abraham’s son by Keturah, Genesis 25:1,2. Moses was forty years in Egypt, forty years in Midian, with Jethro or Jether, who was called also Reuel, Exodus 2:18, and Hobab, Numbers 10:29, and the other forty years in the wilderness, which make up the hundred and twenty years of his life, Deu 34:7. This makes to St. Stephen’s purpose, to prove that God is always with them that fear him, in what country or place soever; as he was with Abraham in Mesopotamia, and with his people in Egypt, so with Moses in Midian.
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.Forty years; so long it pleased God to try Moses’s faith, and his people’s patience.
Mount Sinai, in the desert of Arabia, where the law was afterwards delivered, Exodus 18:5 19:3.
An angel; not a created, but the uncreated Angel; the Angel of the new covenant, as may be seen Acts 7:32, and by Moses putting off his shoes because the place was holy, Exodus 3:2,5; he is also in Exodus 3:4 called the Lord. God still appeared in such a manner as was most instructive to them he appeared to, and to us; as here in a flame of fire in a bush to show that he was with his people in all their sufferings, and would so provide, that they should not be consumed by them; they might be purified, but should not be destroyed.
When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the Lord came unto him,He wondered at the sight; seeing the bush on a flame, and not consumed, contrary to the nature of devouring flames; that he might be convinced of God’s presence, and made the more attentive to what God should say, and prepared to yield obedience unto it.
Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold.I am the God of thy fathers; that he might know from whom he had his commission, and by whom he was to be sent.
The God of Abraham, &c.; mention is made of these, because God had made unto them the promise of delivering their posterity, which he was now about to do, the time being fully come.
Moses trembled: all great admiration hath some fear joined with it: God’s appearing, though in mercy, was ever full of terror and amazement; what will his appearing be, when he shall come in judgment to render vengeance! Who then shall be able to abide?
Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground.Put off thy shoes; either out of reverence to the Divine presence, as Joshua 5:15, or that thereby he might show that he resigned himself wholly to God’s will and disposal; as in Ruth 4:7, the kinsman, by pulling off his shoe and giving it to Boaz, did resign all his right he might have had to Ruth and the inheritance.
Holy ground, whilst God manifested his presence there.
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 thee into Egypt.I have seen, I have seen; seeing I have seen, I have attentively seen and considered; it is doubled to show the certainty of it: if earthly parents, especially, look after their children when weak, much more our heavenly Father.
I have heard their groaning; though but sighs, and scarce framed into words.
Am come down; spoken after the manner of inch, according unto which God is said to come down unto any when he delivers them from their troubles, and to go from them when he leaves them in them: see Exodus 3:7,8, from which place, according to the reading of the Septuagint, these words are taken.
This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush.A deliverer; or, a redeemer; but only as a type of Christ, in whom alone we have redemption through his blood, Ephesians 1:7; as Moses by the blood of the paschal lamb brought forth and saved the people of Israel.
The hands of the angel; the power of the angel; it was not Moses, but God, that wrought so great salvation.
He brought them out, after that he had shewed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years.After that he had showed wonders and signs: God could with the least word or motion of his will save his people; but he chooseth so to do his wonderful works, that they may be had in remembrance.
In the Red sea; it is not agreed why it is so called; but this name of that sea is mentioned in profane authors. This whole verse, as divers others, refer to the history of it in Exodus, from Exodus 1:1-14:31.
This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear.St. Stephen would show, that he was so far from speaking against Moses, as they falsely imagined, that he recommended none but him, whom Moses had so long before spoken of.
A prophet; Christ the Messiah, and Head of the prophets: see Acts 3:22.
Him shall ye hear; or obey.
This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:In the church in the wilderness; or congregation; with the rest of the people in all their difficult journey.
The angel; see Acts 7:30.
The lively oracles; God’s law and word is so called, as the only rule to walk by unto life, Deu 32:47: it is there said to be our life; and it is the only ordinary means of a spiritual and holy life, which it begets and preserves.
To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt,Their glory being in their fathers, St. Stephen reminds them that many of them rebelled against God and his servant Moses; as they (their posterity) now were rebellions against Christ, who came to save them, as Moses before had done; but from a greater bondage, and by more valuable means.
In their hearts turned back again into Egypt; not so much towards that country, or food they had there, (garlick and onions), as towards their idolatry and superstition; as in the following verse appears.
Saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us: for as for this Moses, which brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.Make us gods; according to the Egyptians, who held that there were many gods, and divers degrees of gods; they therefore speak in the plural number.
This Moses: though they confess the great deliverance wrought by Moses’s means, yet how contemptibly do they speak of him!
We wot not what is become of him: they could not but know that Moses was gone up into the mount unto God, at his command, and had not forgotten them, but had left Aaron and Hur to govern them; yet they soon forgot both God and Moses, notwithstanding the large and late experience they had of his wonders: this is left upon record against them, Psalm 106:13,21.
And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.They made a calf; in imitation of the Egyptians, who worshipped their god Apis in that, or the like form of an ox.
The idol; the calf which they had made, which they could not be so sottish as to terminate their worship in, knowing that they themselves had made it, and it had not made them; yet they are for this charged to have committed idolatry, 1 Corinthians 10:6,7.
Rejoiced; which joy they express by feasting, singing, and dancing, Exodus 32:6.
The works of their own hands; so this idol, and idols generally, are called, Psalm 115:4 135:15 which is enough to speak their emptiness and vanity; vain man can make but vain gods.
Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness?Then God turned, from being as a Father to them, to be a Judge over them, to punish them; whereas formerly he had blessed them.
And gave them up; this was indeed to deliver them to Satan; God withholding his grace which they had abused, Romans 1:21,25, and giving them up, (to fall from one sin unto another), though not positively, yet permissively.
The host of heaven; the angels are so called, Luke 2:13; but it is rather here to be understood of the sun, moon, and stars, which are called so, Deu 17:3 Isaiah 40:26.
In the book of the prophets: the words here referred to are in Amos 5:25. It is said to be
in the book, in the singular number, because the twelve small prophets are by the Jews mentioned but as one book.
Have ye offered to me slain beasts, &c.: this positive question does vemently deny that they had offered any sacrifices unto God whilst they were in the wilderness; but at the same time they had offered sacrifices unto idols; for when they had corrupted God’s worship, their sacrifices were as no sacrifices unto him, Isaiah 1:11 Isaiah 43:23.
Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babylon.Took up the tabernacle, on their shoulders, as they did the ark.
Of Moloch; the idol of the children of Ammon, which the Israelites were especially forbidden to worship, Leviticus 18:21 20:2 yet they did ordinarily worship him, 2 Chronicles 28:3 Jeremiah 7:31 and there was a high place built by Solomon for him, 1 Kings 11:7.
The tabernacle of Moloch was either a chest or press in which that idol was put, or the chapels into which the worshippers of Moloch were admitted, according to the quality of the offering which they brought. Which of the planets they intended to honour hereby, whether the sun, or Mars, or Saturn, it matters not so much; any of these, or any other of their gods, might be called Moloch, taking the word appellatively.
Remphan, in the place here cited, is called by the prophet, Chiun; which is one and the same idol in both places, the prophet calling it by its name then in use; and St. Stephen, like unto the name the Septuagint had called it by: whether Saturn was intended by this, as some think, or Hercules, as others, it is not our present business to inquire.
Figures; images and representatives of the hosts of heaven, or of the planets.
Beyond Babylon; the prophet Amos saith, beyond Damascus, Amos 5:27: here St. Stephen does not contradict the prophet, for they who were carried away beyond Babylon must needs be carried away beyond Damascus, as the ten captive tribes were, unto whom this was threatened.
Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen.The tabernacle of witness; called also the tabernacle of the congregation, Exodus 33:7, because about it on all solemn occasions the people assembled. Here it is called the tabernacle of witness, because God here testified or witnessed his glorious presence; and especially because in it the ark of the covenant, the law, and the testimony were kept.
According to the fashion that he had seen, Exodus 25:40 Hebrews 8:5. Moses was charged not to vary from the prescript; God being jealous of his own appointments. Now this is the rather spoken of by St. Stephen, that he might prove that the place where God was worshipped in had varied, and therefore night also now be changed.
Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David;Jesus, or Joshua, it being the same name, as appears also, Hebrews 4:8, only Jesus is more according to the Greek use: Joshua was a type of Jesus, and agreed with him in his name, and in the reason of his name; he having also saved the people, and brought them into the promised rest; yet the difference is as great between them as betwixt the heavenly Canaan and the earthly.
Before the face of our fathers; they were not able to look upon an Israelite, whilst God was for them.
Who found favour before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.Found favour before God; as Luke 1:30.
Desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob; it was David’s earnest request, that he might any ways glorify God, especially in his worship, and that he might know where the ark should rest, and where the temple was to be built, its Psalm 132:1-18 declares throughout.
But Solomon built him an house.1 Kings 6:9 2 Chronicles 3:1,2. An house; a fixed and stable structure, not movable, as the tabernacle was.
Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet,This is also St. Paul’s doctrine, Acts 17:21, which divers amongst the wiser heathens were persuaded of; for God cannot be comprehended in any place, no, not where he is worshipped; and therefore they did foolishly conceive that the worship of God was so tied to the temple, as if he himself had been included in it.
In temples; the primitive Christians abstained from calling the places of their assembling by the name of temples; and were charged by their pagan enemies for having no altars, or temples, or images.
Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest?The place referred unto, is Isaiah 66:1. What house will ye build me, that shall be big enough for one so great as God is? 1 Kings 8:27.
Hath not my hand made all these things?As appears in the history of the creation, Genesis 1:1. It is spoken unto our capacity after the manner of men, and implies that God is too great to stand in need of temples or offerings; and that what worship he requires, is not for his own sake, for our righteousness cannot profit him; but for man’s sake, that he might be exercised in the duties of religion and devotion.
Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.Stiff necked; a metaphor taken from heifers that are unaccustomed to the yoke.
Uncircumcised in heart; such as had still depraved affections, which they ought to have put away rather than the foreskin of their flesh; for they were commanded to circumcise their hearts, Deu 10:16, which also God promised to do for his people, Deu 30:6. And St. Paul was not the first who spake of a twofold circumcision, Romans 2:28,29 but God looked always to the inward and spiritual part of his own ordinances, and men’s observance of them.
And ears; such as were not so much as willing to hear and know their duty.
Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost, speaking by his prophets and ministers, and exhorting to true and serious piety: by this St. Stephen would abate their glorying in circumcision, which they so much boasted of,
As your fathers did, so do ye: thus the prophet Ezekiel, Ezekiel 16:44, unto which may be here alluded, As is the mother, so is her daughter.
Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? This is the rather said to stain all their glory from succession, and their ancestors, Matthew 5:12 23:31,37.
The Just One; our Saviour deservedly, and by way of eminence, is so called; as not only being himself just, and fulfilling all righteousness, but being The Lord our Righteousness, Jeremiah 23:6, and is of God made unto us, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, 1 Corinthians 1:30. This word is used in a forensic sense, and is the same with innocent, and opposite to guilty; whereby St. Stephen vindicates our Saviour, notwithstanding the unjust sentence passed here upon him.
The betrayers, in hiring Judas, and murderers, in that they excited Pilate to condemn him, and abetted the soldiers and others in executing of him.
Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.The disposition of angels: or ministry of angels; the commandments were published from them ministerially; or the Son of God, (called an Angel, Acts 7:35), accompanied with the militia of heaven, (for it is a military metaphor), did in the midst of that glorious retinue give the law, Deu 33:2 Psalm 68:8 Galatians 3:13,19.
And have not kept it; they transgressed the law, though so gloriously delivered by angels; and therefore it was no wonder if they despised the gospel, that was published by so mean and contemptible ministers.
When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.See Acts 5:33.
They were cut to the heart; they were angry to madness.
They gnashed on him with their teeth: gnashing of teeth is the curse of the damned, Matthew 8:12, which men by their sins do prepare for. This corrosive was applied by a skilful hand, would they have endured the cure.
But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,Full of the Holy Ghost; filled with grace suitable to his present trial and suffering.
The glory of God; the glorious God, or so much of the throne and glory of God as mortal eyes are capable for to see.
Jesus standing on the right hand of God; being justified by God, though condemned by Pilate; and
standing ready to assist and comfort all that should suffer for his sake.
And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.I see the heavens opened; God not suffering any distance to hinder this refreshing sight.
The Son of man; so Christ is frequently called; and St. Stephen would by this inform them, how vain they were in striving against Christ or his truth.
Standing on the right hand of God, as an Advocate, Soldier, or Captain for Stephen; or as one showing the prize unto him, which he was now running for, and had need to be encouraged with the sight of. But it seems strange that St. Stephen should tell the Jews of this heavenly vision, being they did not see it, although in the same place with him; but this he might do.
1. Out of his ardent love to Christ, desiring to magnify him.
2. To invite his enemies to repentance, now heaven was opened, and Christ’s arms were stretched out to receive them.
3. To hinder any from being afraid to own Christ and his truths.
4. To terrify the most obdurate amongst them, by showing them their Judge, and minding them of his avenger.
5. That he might assert himself to be an eye witness of Christ’s being risen again from the dead, which they made such difficulty to believe.
Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,They cried out; the rabble, or multitude.
Stopped their ears; that they might show their great detestation of what was said, and might not contract any guilt from it.
And ran upon him with one accord: this violence and fury was both against the law of God and the law of the land; and the number of zealots (there were some amongst that people eminently so called) provoked the Romans to destroy both city and temple.
And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.Cast him out of the city; that the city might not be polluted with his blasphemy.
Stoned him; this punishment was appointed for such as seduced them to the worship of false gods, Deu 13:6,10; and though all power of capital punishment was taken from them, as they themselves confess, John 18:31, yet what will not popular rage attempt?
The witnesses; who were by the law to cast the first stones, Deu 17:7, whereby the witnesses, if they had not testified true, did take upon themselves the guilt of the blood that was spilt, and freed the people, who only followed them in the execution.
Laid down their clothes; their upper garments, that they might carry and cast down the heavier stones.
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.Stephen called upon him whom he saw standing, and that was our Saviour.
My spirit; or, my soul: thus our Saviour commended his spirit into his Father’s hands, Luke 23:46 and this disciple imitates his Master, and comforts himself with this, that to be sure his soul should be safe, whatever became of his body.
And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.He kneeled down; a posture used in most earnest prayers; and if so, he prayed at least as earnestly for his enemies as for himself, he praying for them kneeling, and for himself standing.
Lay not this sin to their charge; do not weigh it, reckon or impute it, that it may not remain against them, to hinder their conversion. This our Saviour commanded, Matthew 5:44, this he practised, Luke 23:34 and whosoever can thus pray for his enemies, and do good for evil, hath a great evidence that the Spirit of Christ is in him.
He fell asleep; he died; his death being thus expressed, in that,
1. He died quietly, as one fallen into a sleep.
2. Because of his certain hope of the resurrection.
3. As easily to be raised again by Christ, as one that sleeps is to be awaked by us.
4. It is an ordinary Hebraism to express death by sleep; which made St. Luke use it amongst them, with whom it was frequently thus expressed.