Striking a noble pose in marble.
Sunday, 29 May 2022
who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” Acts 7:53
Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)
Stephen’s words of this verse should be taken in connection with the previous verses to get the full context –
“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”
Understanding the context, this verse begins with, “who have received the law.” The word translated as “who” is “Stronger than the simple relative who, and emphasizing their sin by contrast with their privileges: inasmuch as ye were those who received, etc.” (Vincent’s Word Studies).
Stephen is clearly pointing his finger at the council and pointing out their hypocrisy. They have been entrusted with the law and they are the guardians of it. As such, they are responsible to ensure others keep it accordingly. It is the law, as he next says, given “by the direction of angels.”
Here, Stephen introduces a word into the Bible, diatagé, that is found only here and in Romans 13:2. It signifies an ordinance or disposition. Reading it in Romans 13 will help understand the meaning –
“Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” Romans 13:2
As for the meaning, it is quite common for scholars to cite Jewish references that claim the Law of Moses was received from God through angels as if they mediated the law to the people of Israel. This is not found in the account of Exodus, nor anywhere else. To simply cite Jewish commentary in this manner is not responsible because it does not match what the Bible says.
Rather, and quite simply, the word translated as “angels” means “messengers.” This is the same as the Hebrew where the word translated as “angel” means just the same thing as in the Greek. It can refer to a supernatural angel (see Zechariah 1:9, for example), the Angel of the Lord, meaning the eternal Christ – Jesus (see Numbers 22:22, for example), the coming Messiah (see second use of the word “Messenger” in Malachi 3:1, for example), or even mere human beings who bring messages (such as John the Baptist – see the first use of “messenger” in Malachi 3:1 and in Mark 1:2).
In this case now presented by Stephen, it is a clear reference to Moses and Aaron, the “messengers” who were designated to receive the law and transmit it to the people. They acted as the angels, or messengers, of the Lord. Later during the time of the law, it is seen that angels, such as Gabriel and Michael, also spoke out words to certain people. Further, prophets and seers continued to receive the word, passing it along to the people.
The point of what is being said here is that the law was “received by the direction of angels.” The Lord spoke, and His chosen messengers – be it Moses and Aaron, the prophets, or heavenly angels – relayed His word to the people. This same thought is seen in Galatians 3:19 and in Hebrews 2:2. Despite this, Stephen accuses those in the council. They had received this law “and have not kept it.”
The council sits in authority over Israel. The words he speaks are not just pointing at the men sitting before him, but they refer to this council over the entire dispensation of the law. He says that in the entire history of Israel, this council had failed to uphold the law and to administer it properly. The Scriptures themselves testify to this fact, and it was no less so now when they had dismissed, rejected, and crucified the very One that those Scriptures testified to.
These men were just the recipients of the final expression of what God was doing under the law. As such, they were more accountable than any others for failing as they had. They had turned their responsibilities into a point of shame, and they would turn their nation into a people set for destruction, as warned in the very law they administered.
Life application: The dispensation of the law was intended to teach Israel that they, as a people, needed God’s grace and mercy. If nothing else, the sacrificial system that accompanied the law should have taught them this. Though the law is based on works, including the mandatory sacrifices, the fact that sacrifices were given for sins committed under the law are their own mark of grace. And the fact that the entire nation, without exception – including Israel’s high priest – needed to observe the Day of Atonement told them that they had failed to meet the demands of the law. Hence, they needed the grace and mercy offered on that day.
But because of a perceived self-righteousness that came from having the law, they could not see this. They thought (and still think to this day) that the law elevated them as a people to a special status that brought them an inherent righteousness. What does one need the sacrifice of the Messiah for if the law has been given? Without seeing that the law only pointed to Jesus, it became a supposed means to an end.
This is the problem with churches that mandate the law (in part or in whole) today. “I give ten percent.” “I don’t eat pork.” “I observe the Feasts of the Lord.” “I observe the Sabbath.” The focus of each of these is on the subject, “I.” That is the problem with such doctrine. It makes the same error as is held by Israel. It is not about us. It is about Jesus. Despite all of the “I haves” or “I ams” that Israel possesses, they are no closer to God than the worst pagan without the grace and mercy of God.
Come to God through His full, final, and forever offer of Jesus. Then you can do acceptable good stuff all day long. Get things in the proper order and never rely on “I” to get you to heaven. You will never make it. Come to Jesus, and you are guaranteed to make it.
Lord God, thank You for Jesus Christ our precious Savior. Amen.