This page is a verse by verse study of Acts 7:20-41. These verses describe Stephen’s narrative of Israel’s history during the time of Moses..
The Story of Moses —Stephen’s narrative
¶ "Moses was born at this time and to God he was beautiful. For the first three months of his life, Moses was nourished in his father’s house. When he was thrown out, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and reared him as her own son. Moses was taught in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. He was mighty in his words and deeds."(Acts 7:20-22).
Birth of Moses. Moses was born at a time when a new Pharaoh ruled Egypt, and this king had no knowledge of Joseph. So he mistreated and enslaved the Israelites. They were multiplying and becoming numerous, so the new Pharaoh forced them to throw out their babies to die (Acts 7:17-19).
Moses thrown out. Moses’s parents took a risk in hiding and keeping him for three months, time for him, on his mother’s milk, to gain some strength. The parents then had to “throw him out” but they did this in a most lovely manner, setting him among the reeds in a specially made floating cradle, and committing him to the providence of God. And Pharaoh’s daughter, no less, was the one who found him, took pity on him, and raised him as her own child (Exodus 1-2). Here again, we see people showing faith in the most trustworthy God.
Mighty in word and deed. Moses became mighty in word and deed not only because of the amazing education he received, but because he was aware of his roots and believed in the God of his fathers.
¶ "When Moses was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. Seeing one of the Israelites suffer wrong, Moses defended him, and avenged him by striking the Egyptian who was opressing him. Moses assumed that his brothers understood that God was giving them deliverance through him; but they didn’t understand."(Acts 7:23-25).
Defended and avenged. Moses showed courage and strength in going to the aid of the oppressed. Moses probably didn't intend to kill the Egyptian, since that would hardly be a mighty deed or wise.
They didn't understand. Stephen here contrasts Moses with his fellow Israelites who had no real interest in God and his plan for their deliverance.
¶ "The next day Moses came upon his brothers as they were fighting each other. Moses urged them to reconcile and be at peace. Moses said, “Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong one another?” But the one who was mistreating his neighbor pushed Moses away and said, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you want to kill me, like you killed the Egyptian yesterday?” When Moses heard that, he fled, and became a stranger in the land of Midian. There he became the father of two sons."(Acts 7:26-28).
Moses rejected. Next day was a shock for Moses. He finds his brothers fighting each other, and one oppressing another. They didn't need an Egyptian to make them miserable apparently. Worse, when Moses tried to reconcile them he was pushed away and insulted with the words, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?”. Indeed God intended to make Moses exactly that. So in rejecting Moses they were rejecting God. Stephen had no need to say that Christ was like Moses, and the Sanhedrin were like the stupid brothers.
The Egyptian you killed. Moses gets another shock. It was probably news to him that the Egyptian he'd struck had died. But it was news well known to everyone else including Pharaoh who was then out to kill Moses.
A stranger in Midian. Moses had to flee from Pharaoh. By God’s grace and his own, Moses found refuge in the country, at the home of the priest in Midian. Moses married one of his daughters, and inconspicuously worked as a shepherd.
¶ "Forty years passed by. One day, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses, in a flame of fire in a thorn bush. Moses wondered at the sight. As he came close to see, the Lord’s voice came to him: “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses trembled, and dared not look anymore. The Lord said to him, “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I have surely seen the affliction of my people in Egypt, and have heard their groaning. I have come down to deliver them. Now come, I will send you into Egypt.”"(Acts 7:30-34).
Forty years. Moses’s life was split into three periods each of 40 years: His time living as an Egyptian from his birth until he fled to Midian; the time he spent in exile; and his leading a generation of the children of Israel around the wilderness. Moses was 120 years old when he died (Deuteronomy 34:7).
Moses trembled. First Moses wondered at this bush, aflame but not burned. Next, Moses investigated. Then the bush spoke, and Moses trembled. For the first third of his life Moses was interested in God despite his pagan education. In the second third of his life, as part of a quiet priestly family, he no doubt worshipped God faithfully. Now, marking the final third of his life, God starts speaking to him —a privelege not granted many. No wonder he trembled.
I will send you. God assures Moses that he is hearing the true God of Moses’s ancestors. God then informs Moses that where Moses stands is holy ground. The mountain of Sinai would be the most special place where Moses would commune with God as he shepherded God’s people. Then God calls Moses to go to Egypt to free those people with God s help.
¶ "This Moses, rejected by his brothers when they said, “Who made you a ruler and a judge?”, is the very one God sent as both a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. This man Moses led the Israelites out of captivity, and during forty years worked wonders and signs in Egypt, in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness. This same Moses said to the children of Israel, “The Lord our God will raise up a prophet for you from among your brothers, a prophet like me.” "(Acts 7:35-37).
A Prophet like Moses. Now Stephen drives home his main point. He makes no attempt to defend himself. Why waste words on that? The hypocritical Sanhedrin is giving him a mere show trial. Stephen instead preaches Jesus through the mouth of Moses whom his accusers say he blasphemes. Moses foretold that God would raise up a prophet of whom Moses is a likeness. That prophet was Jesus who also worked miracles as Moses did.
¶ "This is the same Moses who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel that spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us. But our fathers wouldn't obey him, but instead rejected him, and in their hearts turned back to Egypt, demanding of Aaron, “Make us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses, who led us out of the land of Egypt, we don't know what has become of him.” They made a calf idol in those days, and brought a sacrifice to it, and rejoiced in the works of their hands."(Acts 7:38-41).
Make us gods. Now Stephen presses home his other point. The fathers rejected Moses and wouldn't obey him. Indeed they blasphemed him. Having no loyalty to Moses or his God, they demanded idols. They made their golden calf and rejoiced in it. And God denied the promised land to all of them.
Living oracles rejected. Moses received the words of the living God to give to the people but they refused to listen and obey. Jesus likewise received the words of the living God to give to the people. Would the Sanhedrin listen and obey? No, they rejected Jesus as their fathers had rejected Moses. The Sanhedrin knew that this was Stephen’s counter accusation against them. And they knew it was no trumped up accusation. It was true. And the truth hurt.