This page is a verse by verse study of Acts 7:1-19. These verses describe Stephen’s narrative of Israel’s history from Abraham to Moses. .
From Abraham to Moses —Stephen’s narrative
¶ "The high priest said, “Are these things so?” Stephen then spoke: Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. God said to Abraham, “Get out of your land, and leave your kindred, and come into a land which I will show you.” Then Abraham went out of the land of the Chaldeans, and lived in Haran. Later, when Abraham’s father was dead, God moved Abraham out of there and into this land here, the very land where you now dwell."(Acts 7:1-4).
Are these things so? Stephen, one of the seven men appointed as deacons, has been arrested. He stands accused before the Sanhedrin. False witnesses say he has blasphemed against God and Moses, and preached that Jesus the Nazarene would destroy the temple and change the laws and customs that Moses taught (Acts 6:8-14). [We discussed these accusations in our previous lesson]
Our father Abraham. About 2000 years before Christ, God called Abram out of Ur where he lived in the land of the Chaldeans near the Persian Gulf. Abram moved and settled in Haran, at the other end of the Euphrates river. However, God led him down to Canaan, east of the Mediterranean Sea where the river Jordan flows.
This land where you now dwell. God promised that Abram’s descendants would possess that land. Stephen begins his speech with the story of Abraham because it is common ground upon which to build his case that whilst God always keeps his promises, those who have the promises don't always believe and obey God as Abraham did.
The faith and hope of Abraham, stood on two immutable things —the promise about Christ and the oath that confirmed it. The Times of Israel series on simplybible.com looks at the sojourns and adventures of Abraham (Genesis 12-22).
¶ "God gave Abraham no inheritance in this land at that time —not so much as a foot to call his own. However God
promised that this land would eventually belong to Abraham and his descendants, even though Abraham at that time had no child. God told Abraham that his descendants would live as aliens in a foreign land, and be enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years. God said, “I will judge the nation to which they will be in bondage, and after that they'll leave there and come to serve me here in this place.” "(Acts 7:5-7).
And after that... The promises of God are not always about what will happen today or tomorrow. They take a distant view. Abraham, at the time God made the promises, did not even have a child. His wife Sarah was “barren”. Nevertheless God is faithful. Abraham did have descendants. Although they dwelt for generations in Egypt as slaves, they did come to possess the promised land. And here were the Sanhedrin, the descendants of Abraham, in that very land where Abraham sojourned at God’s command. Yes, God is faithful.
¶ "God gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. So Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day. Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of the twelve fathers."(Acts 7:8).
God gave Abraham the covenant. The covenant of circumcision was given to Abraham long before the covenant of Mount Sinai was given through Moses. Stephen mentions this to show that Abraham was under a covenant from God and was faithful to it.
Note on circumcision. Circumcision is the removal of the foreskin from the penis. This is normally done when the baby is eight days old. Female circumcision was never required or approved by God.
The twelve fathers. Jacob, also named Israel, was Abraham’s grandson through Isaac. Jacob fathered twelve sons who became the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. The twelve sons and their mothers are listed in
Genesis 35:23-26. Note that the names of the tribal territories apportioned in the promised land do not match exactly with the twelve sons of Jacob. That's because the sons of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) gained separate territories, whilst the Levites had no single territory as such, but were allotted various towns.
¶ "The fathers, moved by jealousy against Joseph, sold him into Egypt as a slave; but God was with him. God saved Joseph from all his afflictions, and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Pharaoh made Joseph governor over Egypt and all Pharaoh’s house. Then a famine came over all the land of Egypt and Canaan, causing great affliction. Our fathers found no food. Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, so he sent our fathers there for the first time. When they went the second time Joseph was recognized by his brothers, and Joseph’s origins were revealed to Pharaoh."(Acts 7:9-13).
Moved by jealousy. The fathers, meaning Joseph’s brothers, were not only moved against Joseph but against God. Their treachery, born of jealousy, is the first hint that Stephen gives of the main point he makes: God is faithful to his promises, but the very heirs to them often rebel against his cause. This isn't because God has left them disposed toward evil or denied them the ability to be faithful like Abraham. Therefore they are deserving of condemnation.
God saved Joseph. The adventures of Joseph in Egypt demonstrate the truths that God is faithful and that people can be faithful to him. God looked after Joseph through many tribulations, and Joseph chose to bear his afflictions and be faithful and righteous. Joseph’s story is told in Genesis 37-50
Grain in Egypt. There was grain in Egypt because God, in his good providence, blessed Joseph who was faithful to him. On the other hand there was no grain in the promised land where Joseph’s unfaithful brothers were (Genesis 42:3-7). Such irony! They had to go down to Egypt, the land of their ancestors’ enslavement, to buy grain. Canaan, the land that their descendants have been promised, is barren of providence because of their unfaithfulness.
Behind Joseph's story is the faith that he showed in God by his determination to do what was right. Joseph may have found this a most difficult course at times. Joseph certainly experienced many ups and downs. But he always clung to the promises and commandments of God. The Times of Israel series on simplybible.com looks at the adventures of Joseph (Genesis 37-50).
¶ "Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five souls, to come and live in Egypt. So Jacob moved down into Egypt, and lived there till he died, as did our fathers. Their remains were brought back to Shechem, and laid in the tomb that Abraham, for a price in silver, purchased from the children of Hamor in Shechem."(Acts 7:14-16).
Joseph’s great heart. How easy it would have been for Joseph to take revenge on his brothers. Instead he forgives all, and invites them to dwell in the land of Egypt with him. Joseph is a figure of Christ who is willing to forgive all who rebel against him and to grant them a place with him where he reigns.
Seventy-five persons. Moses gives a figure of seventy. Fortunately Moses clarifies exactly whom he is counting: sixty-six children and grandchildren of Jacob; Jacob himself; Joseph already in Egypt; and Joseph’s two sons. Moses also mentions that he excludes from his count any wives of Jacob’s sons (Genesis 46:26-27). Stephen, on the other hand, counts “Jacob and all his relatives, seventy-five souls” whom Joseph invited to live in Egypt. We would therefore expect it to be a different number, or the same by coincidence only. It would include the wives whom Moses excludes, and exclude Joseph and his two sons whom Moses includes. [By the way, for some reason not understood, the Septuagint translation of Genesis has 75 not 70.]
Tomb in Shechem. Abraham, in an act of faith, had purchased a burial site in Canaan. Abraham was then a stranger in that land, but he knew it was the promised land. He believed God’s promise that his numerous descendants would one day possess the land of Canaan. Abraham ensured that they would find their ancestors already buried there. This burial site was in Hebron, and purchased from the sons of Heth (Genesis 23).
Stephen, however, speaks of another tomb that Abraham had purchased in Shechem from the sons of Hamor. We read that Jacob purchased a piece of land at Shechem from the sons of Hamor (Genesis 33:18-20). It is assumed that Stephen made a mistake or an early copyist made an error, putting “Abraham” instead of “Jacob”. Why not assume instead that Abraham had purchased a burial place in Shechem just as he had done in Hebron, and that Jacob many years later pitched his tent at the site in Shechem, and while there purchased another piece of land from the same family?
¶ "As the time of the promise drew near, the promise that God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt. A new Pharaoh arose in Egypt, who knew nothing of Joseph. The new king took advantage of our people, and mistreated our fathers. He even forced them to throw out their babies to die. At that time Moses was born..."(Acts 7:17-19).
Generations later. Stephen has spoken of faithful Abraham and faithful Joseph. Now he moves on to speak of faithful Moses. These verses mark a transition in time and fortune, but not in the principles Stephen wishes to press upon the Sanhedrin.