17. “But when the time of the promise drew near which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt
Stephen moves on from Genesis to Exodus, and begins setting forth a summary of the events that happened in that book. Now the time for the promise of God to Abraham to be fulfilled drew near, even as the time had grown near in the days when Stephen was speaking. The four hundred years were passing quickly, and the people had grown and multiplied into a nation in Egypt.
18. till another king arose who did not know Joseph.
We would take this to mean a new dynasty, not related to the one that had been politically allied with Joseph and his family. This king did live after Joseph was already dead, but the point of the statement that he did not know Joseph is that he did not recognize him and the authority given to him and his people. It cannot be that he did not know about Joseph, for he certainly was an important part of the history of the land. The point is he did not experience God’s power working through Joseph, and feared the influence the people of Israel had over the country. Israel had been closely allied with the former dynasty, and this usurper king probably feared them and their size and might for that reason.
19. This man dealt treacherously with our people, and oppressed our forefathers, making them expose their babies, so that they might not live.
This new king betrayed the people of Israel and their alliance with Egypt by oppressing them and forcing them to expose their babies to the elements so that they would die of exposure. Again, Stephen is summarizing facts, bridging the gap to his next powerful parallel between what had happened with Israel in the past and the Sanhedrin’s current rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
20. At this time Moses was born, and was well pleasing to God; and he was brought up in his father’s house for three months.
At this terrible time Moses was born, the man whom all the religious leaders at that time looked up to and claimed as their predecessor. They had claimed that Stephen was blaspheming him, but Stephen will show them that they are the ones who are acting against Moses by rejecting the one Moses spoke about just as Moses had been rejected in the past.
Moses was well pleasing to God. Otis Sellers says that this Greek phrase means that he was divinely handsome. His parents seemed to realize that this child was sent from God, and they brought him up in their house three months contrary to the king’s commandment.
21. But when he was set out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and brought him up as her own son.
As he got older he would have gotten more active and noisier, so that it was no longer possible for them to hide him. But God watched over Moses so that, when they did have to set him out, Pharaoh’s daughter found him. The word translated “took him away” here usually means to take away the life, and thus to kill, but that is not what Pharaoh’s daughter did with Moses in this case. Being less hard-hearted than her father, she took him away and took care of him, bringing him up as her own son. When we understand that a son was a representative, we can realize that Moses was brought up to share the kind heart of this commendable Egyptian princess rather than the cruel and calculating heart of her father. Thus, the one who would be Israel’s deliverer was brought up and learned some of his character from the daughter of one of the very enemies that God planned for him to defeat!
22. And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.
Not only was Moses handsome, but he was also well-educated and a great speaker and doer of deeds. This was a man who could persuade people, and who could get the job done. It would seem obvious from a worldly standpoint that Moses was the type of man that Israel would desire to have as their deliverer.
23. “Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel.
It seems that the plight of his people started to weigh upon Moses’ heart, and his unique position and ability to help them must have occurred to him. Thus it came into his heart to visit them. This was probably something that was placed on his heart by the Lord. He probably wanted to determine what he could do for them, and how he might aid their plight.
24. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian.
While performing his survey of his people, he saw one of them suffer wrong at the hands of an Egyptian. Moses stepped in to defend his oppressed brother and struck down the Egyptian. Many have condemned Moses for doing this, and certainly it does not seem that this is the way God would have chosen to make Moses the deliverer. Yet we really do not know the whole situation, and the Bible does not offer us God’s judgment of what Moses did.
25. For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand.
When Moses acted in this way, he supposed that his brother Israelites would have seen that he was acting courageously for them, and would have understood that God was planning to deliver them by his hand. That is what he thought would happen, yet that is not what happened, for Israel did not understand. They were far slower in recognizing the hand of God than Moses gave them credit for.
26. And the next day he appeared to two of them as they were fighting, and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren; why do you wrong one another?’
The next day Moses came upon two of the Israelites as they were fighting. He stepped in according to his newfound role as Israel’s deliverer from God, and attempted to mediate this fight. He wanted them to remember that they were brothers and reconcile them to each other, probably believing that Israel needed to band together if they were to be freed from the oppression of Pharaoh under Moses’ leadership.
27. But he who did his neighbor wrong pushed him away, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?
The man of these two who did the wrong pushed Moses away, asking this insolent question. Indeed, this was the very question that the religious leaders had asked of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?” Yet they were wrong, for God had set the Lord Jesus to be both their ruler and their judge. Yet the Sanhedrin no more understood that than this Israelite understood that God had chosen Moses at that time in the past.
28. Do you want to kill me as you did the Egyptian yesterday?’
Thus it was actually through uncomprehending Israel that Moses was betrayed to Pharaoh, the Gentile king who wanted to take his life. In the same way, it was through Israel that the Lord Jesus was delivered up to Pilate and the Romans for them to take away His life. Stephen is emphasizing the parallels between their revered lawgiver Moses and the Lord Jesus. They all knew that the one God would send to them would be a prophet like unto Moses. And the Lord Jesus was like unto Moses in all these respects. They were the ones who deserved condemnation for rejecting Him!
29. Then, at this saying, Moses fled and became a dweller in the land of Midian, where he had two sons.
When Moses realized that Pharaoh knew what he had done, he was forced to flee from Egypt into Midian, where he lived for a long time and had two sons. And the parallels continue, for in the same way, the Lord Jesus has left the earth at this time. However, this did not end His mission, as He will yet be revealed as the Deliverer of Israel.
30. “And when forty years had passed, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai.
Forty years passed with Moses living in the wilderness far from Egypt. Yet at the end of that time, a Messenger of the Lord appeared to him. I believe that this Messenger was in fact the Lord Jesus in His pre-incarnate form, though of course Stephen was not going to share such a thing with the Sanhedrin at this point, for there were other, more important things for them to consider and believe first. This angel appeared in a flame of fire in a bush in the wilderness of Mount Sinai. Again, these are just the facts of the story as one could read them from the Old Testament.
31. When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he drew near to observe, the voice of the Lord came to him,
We know from Exodus that Moses marveled because the bush was not being consumed by the flames. As he drew near to observe this bush that burned but was not destroyed, the voice of the Lord came to him. Moses was not the only one who was confirmed by a voice, for the Lord spoke similarly at the baptism of the Lord by John the Baptist, and many of the religious leaders heard it. They were not willing to accept the testimony of such a voice, however.
32. saying, ‘I am the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and dared not look.
These were the Lord’s words to Moses, revealing to him Who it was Who talked with him. Moses trembled and dared not look when he realized Who it was Who spoke to him. Should not the Sanhedrin tremble when they realized the truth about the Lord Jesus? Someday they will tremble, at least, when they stand before Him in judgment!
33. ‘Then the LORD said to him, “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.
The LORD by saying this lets Moses know that the place where he was standing has been set apart to God. It is not that the ground upon which he was standing was somehow different in composition from other ground. The dirt he was standing upon was the same as any other dirt. What made this ground special was that it was set apart by the LORD’s presence. It is the same with all holy things. It is not that these things are different in composition from other, mundane things around them, but rather the fact that they are set apart by God and His presence with them that makes them what is called “holy.” The same is also true of holy people. They are no different from other men, but they are set apart by the LORD’s presence with them.
34. I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt; I have heard their groaning and have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.”’
By these words, the LORD indicated His choice of Moses. He had seen and considered the oppression of His people in Egypt, He had heard their groaning under the heavy burden of their servitude, and now He had come down to deliver them. Yet He had made choice of a man through whom He was going to carry out that deliverance, and that man was Moses.
35. “This Moses whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush.
The very same Moses who was rejected by those he wished to deliver is the one God sent to be the ruler and deliverer. The Sanhedrin could not help but get the application here. The One they had rejected as their Ruler and Judge God had now declared to be both, and to be the One through Whom they were to be delivered.
36. He brought them out, after he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years.
When God sent Moses, he did not fail as the deliverer. With God’s power, he brought them out of Egypt after showing signs and wonders in that land, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years. In the same way, the Lord Jesus had shown signs and wonders in the wilderness, though that had not convinced these leaders to believe in Him, any more than Moses’ signs and wonders kept the people from complaining and threatening rebellion against him. And in the same way, the Lord will succeed in saving Israel when the time comes and their kingdom is restored to them at last.
37. “This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, ‘The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.’
Stephen reminds the Sanhedrin that that same Moses had said these words, recorded in Deuteronomy 18:15, and had told them that the Lord would raise up a Prophet like him from among their brethren, and they were to hear (that is, listen to and obey) that Prophet. The Lord Jesus was that very Prophet, and even now Stephen was calling upon the Sanhedrin to turn from their stubborn rebellion and to hear Him. If they did not, then they were the ones acting contrary to Moses, not Stephen, for they would be disobeying Moses by refusing to hear this Prophet.
38. “This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us,
This is the same Moses, Stephen reminds them, who was in the congregation in the wilderness. But the New King James Version is very dishonest in their translating here. The word that is translated “congregation” is the Greek word ekklesia, which in just about every other occurrence (with a few exceptions) is translated “church” in the New Testament. It seems that, in their attempt to maintain the theological teaching regarding “the church” as being something separate from Israel, and as being only a New Testament phenomenon, the translators chose to hide this use of the word by translating it as something other than “church.” Yet this is nothing but dishonest translating, and an attempt to maintain incorrect doctrines and ideas by translating away the Biblical evidence against them.
The fact is that Moses was in an ekklesia in the wilderness. Yet this verse shows us that an ekklesia is not a “church,” and has absolutely nothing to do with our modern conception of a “church.” A modern-day church is a man-made religious organization that has no precedent in Scripture. But a Biblical ekklesia was an out-called company of people.
Those who attempt to salvage the orthodox position from this passage will argue that what is being called an ekklesia here is the entire congregation of Israel. They teach that, since this word means “out-called,” that it is referring to Israel being called out of Egypt. Yet this is not the meaning of the Greek word for “out” in this passage. The Greek word for “out” here means “out” as in “my arm is out of my body.” This word does not mean “severed.” It cannot be referring to Israel as an ekklesia because they came out of Egypt.
The Greek word ekklesia comes from the words kaleo, which means “to call,” and ek, which means “out.” Putting these together, the ekklesia are the out-called ones. Yet what does it mean to be called? Most scholars suggest that kaleo as it relates to ekklesia means “to invite,” or sometimes “to bid.” Yet an examination of the 146 occurrences of the word kaleo in the New Testament would show that only in about a third of these occurrences does it actually mean this. In about two-thirds of these occurrences it means “to name or designate,” and so to place someone in some position. So, which of these meanings applies to the word ekklesia? The one that is used about a third of the time, “to invite or bid,” or the one that occurs about two-thirds of the time, “to name or designate”? I believe that an examination of the word ekklesia will reveal that it is the second meaning of kaleo, not the first, that applies to ekklesia. This word is speaking of those who are named, designated, or positioned out, not those who are invited or bid out.
Now when this is spoken of Moses, and it is said that he was in the ekklesia in the wilderness, this is nothing strange or unusual. Of course, the word ekklesia was not used in the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures, for ekklesia is a Greek word, and would not appear in a Hebrew book. Yet there is a Hebrew word that is the equivalent of ekklesia that is used in the Old Testament. We find this when the book of Hebrews in chapter 2 verse 12 quotes an Old Testament passage from Psalm 22:22 and uses the word ekklesia to translate a word found in the Hebrew Bible. This word is the Hebrew word qahal, or kahal as it is often put in more modern resources. (In English, a “q” without a “u” following it is always pronounced as a “k”.) This word is used many times in the Old Testament, and is used in connection with Moses in the wilderness.
The fact is that Moses had an ekklesia, a kahal, with him in the wilderness. This ekklesia was made up of those who were positioned out of the common people of Israel to rule over the people with Moses. One such group was the seventy elders spoken of in Numbers 11:16-17. “16. So the LORD said to Moses: “Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you. 17. Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone.” So these seventy men became an out-positioned group of people along with Moses. Also, there were the rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens spoken of in Exodus 18, who ruled over the people along with Moses.
This ekklesia then was with Moses and ruling with him in the wilderness. Yet also with Moses in the wilderness was the Angel, that Divine Messenger Whom I believe was a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ Himself. For He was the One Who was with Moses, and Who spoke to him on Mount Sinai. Here, too, the Lord Jesus was parallel with Moses, for He was now calling His Own ekklesia, His Own out-positioned rulers from among the people of Israel, among whom Stephen had a place.
Moreover, Moses was with their fathers, even as the Lord Jesus had been with them, and Moses had delivered to them the living oracles of God, even as the Lord Jesus had similarly delivered living oracles to them. In all these ways He was like Moses, the one whom they claimed to so honor. So why, then, would they not honor the Lord Jesus?
39. whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt,
Now Stephen shows that they are treating the Lord Jesus just as their fathers had treated Moses. They would not obey him, but rather rejected him, and in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, though, of course, they never physically returned there, at least not while Moses was still alive. So they rejected Moses, the one God had sent, just as the Sanhedrin was rejecting Jesus Christ, the One God had sent. Yes, they were proving themselves to be true sons of their fathers. Yet even now, if they would listen to Stephen’s words and repent of their rebellious actions, they could change this pattern and prove themselves to be better servants of God than their fathers had been. Alas, they were not to do this, but would prove themselves to have changed not at all since Moses’ time.
40. saying to Aaron, ‘Make us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’
When Moses ascended the mountain to God, the people quickly forgot him, and looked to Aaron to make them another god. In the same way, the Lord Jesus had now ascended to God from among them. Would they as quickly forget Him and turn to false worship?
Again Stephen’s story emphasizes that, even if the people of Israel rejected a man, this did not mean that he was not God’s man. This is demonstrated by the fact that they had even rejected Moses, the one whom the Israelites of Stephen’s day most highly honored. Thus, these religious leaders could not use their own rejection of Christ as proof that He was not really Who He said He was. They had merely treated Him as so many prophets sent from God had been treated before Him.
41. And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.
Their rejection of Moses, the man sent from God, in this past time resulted in their making a calf and offering sacrifices to this idol, rejoicing in the works of their own hands. Though the Sanhedrin may not have been making an idol and rejoicing in it, did they not rejoice in many traditions and teachings of their own, written into law by their own hands, and often contrary to the Word of God?
42. Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets:
‘Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness,
O house of Israel?
God eventually turned from that generation of Israelites, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven. Even today, many seem to look to the stars to determine their fate. They may not make sacrifices to them or proclaim them to be gods, but they will look to this so-called “astrology,” as if it had some kind of power to affect their lives. For us believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we trust in Him and Him alone to affect our future, and we think nothing of the stars and the host of heaven. Others can consult their horoscopes if they wish, but for us to find our future we look only to the Word of God.
The Lord asks Israel if they really offered slaughtered animals and sacrifices to Him during the forty years in the wilderness? And the sad answer appears to be that they did not. When God gave them up to wander forty years until they died in the wilderness, it seems that many of them gave Him up as well, and worshipped the heavenly hosts.
The quotation here is from the book of Amos, which here is called the “book of the Prophets.” That is because what we call the twelve “minor prophets” were originally grouped together into a single book. Amos was one of these prophets, and Stephen quotes him here from Amos 5:25-27.
43. You also took up the tabernacle of Moloch,
And the star of your god Remphan,
Images which you made to worship;
And I will carry you away beyond Babylon.’
Whether this is a reference to Israel in Moses’ day, or to Israel in the days of Amos, it is difficult to say. However, the teaching that the Lord is bringing forth through this portion is clear. Their fathers, whom these religious leaders so honored, had time and again been unfaithful to God and had turned from Him. Even at Sinai, where the law was given, they had turned from the law to worship a golden calf. This showed the folly of one of the cherished beliefs of these leaders. They thought that simply the fact that they had been given the law meant that they were all right in God’s sight. They must be pleasing Him, they thought, since they had the law. Stephen here shows how foolish this attitude was. From the very beginning, those who were given the law had failed to please God and to live up to it. The mere possession of the law was no guarantee of any blessing from God.