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Friday, 15 April 2022
“And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him Acts 7:9
Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen).
Stephen’s speech, detailing the history of the Jewish people, quickly moved from Abraham to Isaac, to Jacob, and then to the twelve patriarchs. With them noted, he will move on again. Before looking at his words, the overall context of Stephen’s speech should be evaluated.
The God of glory appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia where he was called to another land. After the death of his father, and as is recorded in Genesis, he was called to move again. While in Canaan, but while Canaan was still under the rule of other people groups, Abraham was promised the land as a possession for his descendants. It was at this same time that Abraham was given the covenant with circumcision as a sign.
During all of this time, there was no temple and no law. And some of the time was outside of Canaan, the land of promise. Despite this, there has been a faithful obedience to the Lord. Now the narrative continues with the words, “And the patriarchs.”
This is referring to those just mentioned in the previous verse, meaning the twelve sons of Israel. The word patriarch was first seen in Acts 2:29 when referring to David. It is a word that signifies the head or founder of a family.
Of these twelve patriarchs, it now refers to all but one of them, saying they were “becoming envious.” The first overarching premise of Stephen’s speech was just noted. It is that the workings of God had occurred, and continued to often occur, outside of the land of promise, apart from the Law of Moses, and apart from any physical temple. As will be seen, even when those things come into the narrative, there is a rebelling against the Lord by the people of Israel.
For now, the envy of the patriarchs has been noted. Of these men, their jealousy was displayed in their actions being specifically directed against their own brother, saying that they “sold Joseph into Egypt.”
This introduces the second overarching premise of Stephen’s speech. Starting in Genesis 37, and apart from some relevant side stories, Joseph became the main focus of the redemptive narrative for an extended period. And yet, there was a jealousy that was displayed toward him and an active working against him by his brothers. As they are noted as patriarchs, they stand as representative of the people of Israel who descend from them. There is a working against God’s chosen order, leaders, prophets, and law. This theme will continue right down to the time of Jesus.
Some try to find a contradiction in the narrative here by saying that Joseph was not sold into Egypt, but to Midianite traders, as is recorded in Genesis 37 –
“Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.” Genesis 37:28
That is a shallow argument at best. The traders were heading to Egypt as a part of their trading. But more, the words of Stephen reflect the words of Joseph himself as are recorded in Genesis 45 –
“And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Please come near to me.’ So they came near. Then he said: ‘I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.’” Genesis 45:4, 5
Joseph noted that God had sent him before the brothers. That is noted by Stephen to close out this verse, saying, “But God was with him.” This is noted of the one who was rejected by his brothers, and it is noted of him having God with him, even outside of the land of promise. While the brothers anticipated that they had cast off any chance of Joseph ruling over them (for it was by his dreams that this became known – Genesis 37:1-11), God was working through their rejection of him to accomplish a great salvation.
At this time, Stephen does not draw out any actual connection to Jesus, but even the dullest of dimwits could not help but notice the parallel if they were willing to open their eyes. As for the council, it says nothing at the time of their state of mind. Stephen is carefully and methodically laying out his defense of Jesus while the council sits and takes each connection without a word.
Life application: Jesus said to the woman at the well in John 4 –
“Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:21-24
It is hard to imagine that people who say they are following Jesus forget that He said these words. Stephen is telling the people of Israel that there is a redemptive process and a faith that goes beyond a place, a land, and a set means of religious rites. Jesus had already said as much to a non-Jew in a place that was considered “out” of the proper religious life of those accepted by God. And more, of the people of this location, it later says –
“And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ 40 So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of His own word.
42 Then they said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.’” John 4:39-42
This comes the chapter after Jesus’ words of John 3 –
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:14-17
Likewise, His words to the woman at the well come in the chapter before His words to the leaders in Jerusalem –
“And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. 38 But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. 39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” John 5:37-40
Immediately after that, Jesus continued saying “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me” (John 5:46).
Jesus is the end of what Moses spoke of. In Him is the final, full, and forever-after revelation of all of the prophetic writings. And yet, innumerable Christians fall back on Moses, in part or in whole, in order to attempt to merit status before God. Jesus warns us, Stephen admonishes us, and all of the rest of the New Testament directs us to pay heed. It is in Jesus alone, belief in Him, that we find our salvation.
Glorious and wonderful God, You sent us Jesus! Thank You for Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.