Acts 7:7

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Wednesday, 13 April 2022

‘And the nation to whom they will be in bondage I will judge,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and serve Me in this place.’ Acts 7:7

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

You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).

The previous verse referred to the dwelling of Israel in a foreign land, being brought into bondage, and the time frame – four hundred years – in which this would occur. With that stated, Stephen now continues quoting the Lord, saying, “And the nation to whom they will be in bondage.”

This is referring to Egypt. Approximately half of the period referred to will be in Egypt. And for a period of that time while in Egypt, they were brought into bondage –

“Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, ‘Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; 10 come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and it happen, in the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us, and so go up out of the land.’ 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh supply cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were in dread of the children of Israel. 13 So the Egyptians made the children of Israel serve with rigor. 14 And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage—in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field. All their service in which they made them serve was with rigor.” Exodus 1:8-14

As can be seen, the bondage was not the entire span of four hundred years. Only a part of the time was spent in Egypt. Further, only a part of the time in Egypt was a time of bondage. With the reference understood, Stephen’s words continue, quoting God, and saying of this nation, “I will judge,’ said God.”

That is explicitly stated in Genesis 15 –

“Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then He said to Abram: ‘Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. 14 And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. 16 But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.’” Genesis 15:12-16

So far, as long as the proper reference is understood, the words of Stephen have followed the narrative logically and without any real difficulty. But, as with the previous verse, there is debate about the next words. Stephen finishes verse 7 saying, “and after that they shall come out and serve Me in this place.”

It is not uncommon for scholars to change the reference here from Abraham and Canaan to Moses and Mount Sinai. This is because Stephen’s words closely match the words of Exodus when Moses spoke with the Lord on Sinai –

“So He said, ‘I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.’” Exodus 3:12

This is problematic, however, because the reference immediately returns to Abraham in Stephen’s next words of verse 7:8. As such, this is not speaking of Moses and Mount Sinai at all. Rather, it is still referring to the conversation between the Lord and Abraham. That is found later in Genesis 15 –

“And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. 18 On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying:
To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates— 19 the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.’” Genesis 15:17-21

By the Lord giving the land to Abraham’s descendants after they are brought out of Egypt, it implies that they will serve the Lord in Canaan (“this place”), rather than on Sinai (“this mountain”). Stephen’s terminology varies from both Genesis 15 and Exodus 3. As such, determining which is the proper reference must be done apart from direct quotes. In this case, the reference being Abraham has not changed, and Stephen’s words – though not a direct quote – are implied in (and fully supported by) the text.

Life application: There are difficulties in Scripture that are easy to simply pass over with the most expedient explanation. We hear it, it sounds ok, and so we move on. But this only confuses the narrative. Thus, it is better to consider that the first, and easiest, explanation may not be the correct one. Unless the issue is clear and without any controversy, we should consider all of the options we can think of, or refer to.

By doing this, we will keep things in their proper context. As noted above, Abraham was the reference in the text, and Abraham will continue to be the reference in the text. Thus, contemplating the difficulty in the intervening words, and considering them from Stephen’s perspective, will eventually lead to what was on his mind.

On the other hand, there was a difficulty in the previous verse where both Canaan and Egypt were being referred to, while certain words only applied to Egypt. Then, in this verse, only Egypt is the reference. As such, it is expedient to just say, “everything is referring to Egypt.” However, in doing this, the timeline of the actual Genesis narrative is then completely botched up.

Real care needs to be taken concerning this precious word. Let us be willing to spend the time to make sure that what we are presenting is actually properly aligned with what God has already presented.

Glorious God, Your word is big, difficult at times, and filled with things that take a lot of mental exertion to figure out. But it is worth the effort. At the end of the day, may we say, “I have done my very best to properly and rightly divide this sacred treasure.” To Your glory! Amen.