Acts 7:16

I have no idea why I took this picture. It’s Texas. Yee haw.

Friday, 22 April 2022

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. Acts 7:16

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

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The previous verse noted Jacob going down to Egypt, dying, and then also the fathers (meaning the sons of Israel) also died. Now Stephen turns to something that is out of order in the chronology, but it is a point that reflects an event that occurred with the fathers after their deaths, and so he mentions it now. However, it is a verse that is exceedingly confusing, even to the point where many scholars state it is actually a contradiction or a mistake. Stephen begins by saying, “And they were carried back to Shechem.”

The question here is, “Who is this referring to?” If it is referring to Joseph, Jacob, and the fathers, then there becomes a great difficulty in the text. If it is referring to Joseph and the fathers, then there is much less difficulty in what is said. In the previous commentary, this translation of the prior two verses was suggested, offsetting Jacob (who represents all of Israel) in parenthesis –

“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 [Joseph] died, he and our fathers.” Acts 7:14, 15

For now, first and foremost, this is referring explicitly to what is noted as the book of Genesis ends –

“And Joseph said to his brethren, ‘I am dying; but God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’ 25 Then Joseph took an oath from the children of Israel, saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.’ 26 So Joseph died, being one hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.” Genesis 50:24-26

What Joseph requested is noted as fulfilled in Joshua 24 –

“The bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel had brought up out of Egypt, they buried at Shechem, in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of silver, and which had become an inheritance of the children of Joseph.” Joshua 24:32

Nothing is said in the Old Testament concerning the bones of the other fathers being carried back. The promise was only made to Joseph, and it was right that Joshua recorded it. However, it is logical that all of the fathers would be carried back for burial, and there are extra-biblical writings that state this is so. The fact that Stephen says it, and that the council did not object, also stands as a witness that it is so. Hence, it can be agreed upon that Stephen’s words reflect what occurred. With that noted, Stephen continues with, “and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought.”

Abraham’s name being included here is the problematic portion of the words. Only one purchase of a tomb by Abraham was recorded in Scripture, and that is found in Genesis 23. It is referring to the purchase of the cave of Machpelah in Hebron from Ephron the Hittite. Because of this, Jacob is almost always figured into the commentary of scholars. That would be erroneous. Jacob’s burial is clearly recorded in Genesis 50. He was buried prior to the years of bondage. But because Abraham is mentioned, the assumption is that it is somehow speaking of the cave of Machpelah in Hebron. But then Stephen continues, by saying, “for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem.”

The purchase of land from Hamor, the father of Shechem, has already been noted above in the quote from Joshua. But it was Jacob, not Abraham, that was mentioned. So, the logic is that either Stephen used the wrong name (Abraham), or that he used the wrong location (the land bought in Shechem). However, if Jacob is excluded from the thought of those whose bones were carried back and buried, as should be the case, it resolves the first problem. It is only speaking of the fathers (meaning Joseph and his brothers), and it is only speaking of the land in Shechem.

Understanding this, the only confusion is why it says “Abraham” instead of “Jacob” in regard to the purchase. In Genesis 12, it says the following –

“Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land.
Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.” Genesis 12:6, 7

As such, it can be inferred, even if it is not stated, that Abraham purchased the land before building an altar. But even if he did not, Stephen has noted Abraham concerning the land and the future inheritance several times. He will note him again in the coming verse as well. With that understood, Genesis 33 says this of Jacob –

“Then Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan Aram; and he pitched his tent before the city. 19 And he bought the parcel of land, where he had pitched his tent, from the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. 20 Then he erected an altar there and called it El Elohe Israel.” Genesis 33:18-20

This is the same location as where Abraham was, and Jacob probably erected his altar in the same location as did Abraham. In this, and because Jacob is descended from Abraham, his building of the altar and buying of the land is an act of confirming what Abraham had done. As such, the purchase by Jacob can be said to have been made by Abraham.

And this is not without precedent elsewhere in Scripture. Abraham gave a tenth of his spoils to Melchizedek in Genesis 14. And yet, the author of Hebrews says that because of this, the tithes of Israel are paid through Abraham to Melchizedek.

“Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.” Hebrews 7:4-10

A similar type of event has occurred now with Abraham and Jacob. Being so, the purchase of the land by Jacob is a confirmation of the right to the land. It is considered a purchase by Abraham – this would be true whether Abraham originally paid money for the land or not. Abraham, by building an altar, was making a claim on the land for the Lord.

The author of Hebrews didn’t just arbitrarily make up the thought of a son paying through the loins of his father, but it would have been an understood precept because of its logical nature. The evidence of this is that the council did not argue the matter. They understood that the land was claimed by Abraham as an altar for the Lord. Jacob confirmed this by first buying the land and then building (rebuilding) the altar of Father Abraham.

Life application: Jacob was in the loins of his father Abraham when Abraham erected the altar in Genesis 12. In this, what Abraham has done belongs to Jacob, and thus it belongs to his descendants unless it is transferred from him somehow, such as being sold, given away or lost in war, or so on.

If Abraham was considered to have owned the land, that land will be passed to the son when it is either gifted to him or when the father dies. But if there is no record of a purchase of the land, there may be a sum later paid to confirm the ownership of that land. If so, that payment would be credited to the past times when the claim had been made by the father.

Jacob may have said, “Hamor, I am paying for this land my grandfather claimed when he built an altar on it. I would now like to build an altar on it. To ensure that there is no conflict with you, I am confirming Abraham’s claim by buying the land from you, which you also claim as yours.” In accepting the money, Hamor confirms the land is now Jacob’s. Thus, it would settle all disputes as to who owned it. But the original owner would still be considered by Jacob to be Abraham. Hence, Jacob’s money is credited by him to his grandfather Abraham.

In this, we can see that there is no contradiction or conflict in Stephen’s words. What he has said was fully understood by the council. They allowed him to continue with his discourse without correction or interruption, demonstrating that they accepted his words.

Lord God, Your word is filled with wonder and delight. It is a treasure house of wisdom and joy! Thank You for Your word that challenges us to seek out its depths, and to more fully appreciate the wisdom and care You put into it. Yes, thank You for Your precious word. Amen.