Stephen, Session #10 (All quotes generally ESV)

“I’M SORRY—I THINK I HAVE THE WRONG NUMBER”

Stephen’s speech is recounting the history of the Jewish people from Abraham onwards.  Part of his history includes these verses:  Acts 7:6 And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years. 

Sounds good…no problems?  But look at Genesis 15:13  “Then the Lord said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.’”   Exodus 12:40 “The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years.”  And St. Paul in Galatians 3:17 says “This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.

What is correct—400 years or 430 years?  It all boils down to whether or not Exodus is a corrupted text, and the original was “400.”  Or, it might depend on the starting point for counting years!  Maybe Stephen rounded out the number?

We can take some comfort in the fact that the first century Jewish historian couldn’t make up his mind either:  Josephus, Antiquities, Book 2 in two different places: 9:1 “And 400 years did they spend under these afflictions.”   But only a few pages later, we find this:  15:2  “They left Egypt in the month Xanthicus, on the fifteenth day of the lunar month; 430 years after our forefather Abraham came into Canaan, but two hundred and fifteen years only after Jacob removed into Egypt.”  

While many of the “solutions” have been fatuous at best, for our purposes we need to know that the Samaritan Pentateuch (that’s a Semitic version of the Old Testament) says 400 years, and this figure is probably correct.  St. Paul in Galatians is using a Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint—we can tell by his wording) and uses 430, probably a preferred choice of the Rabbis, since Paul was trained by Gamaliel.

Clearly the Samaritans believed the correct number was 400.  Paul uses 430.  And the Jewish historian Josephus just throws up his hands hopelessly, and uses both!  Once again, Stephen has “sided” with the Samaritan version of history.  Stephen just keeps aggravating his opponents.

SHECHEM AS GOD’S CHOICE FOR ISRAEL’S COVENANTS

A “picture paints a thousand words!”  If you have an internet connection, here is a link to a copyrighted photograph (so I can’t copy it) which makes things much clearer.  This picture is showing the geography of Shechem, Jacob’s well, the two “mountains”:  

https://sourceflix.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Shechem-Pano-with-Text-4w-1600x.jpg

Today’s Samaritans (and there are about 700 of them) live in Shechem (modern  “Nablus”), their “holy city.”  Shechem in Hebrew means either “shoulder” or “saddle.” The town sits in the saddle between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal.  It has been suggested that “Stephen is rewriting the Bible.  He knows Shechem was never important in the history of the Jewish people, but Stephen is trying to alter what happened.”  

What becomes evident—no matter which version of the Bible is used—is that the Samaritans have a REALLY GOOD POINT:  Shechem/Mt. Gerizim is the location of everything important in the patriarch era, NOT Jerusalem.  Stephen agrees!

  • Acts 7:5  “…promised to give it to him as a possession.”  (Gen. 12:6-7 God promises “this land” to Abraham—where?  Shechem!  And Abraham builds an altar to God where God appeared to him, and worships him—where?  Shechem!)
  • Acts 7:7  “They shall come out (of Egypt) and worship me in this place.”  (At the time, God was speaking to Abraham in Shechem!  Take the time to read Genesis 15:1-20!  God makes a covenant with Abraham at Shechem!)
  • Acts 7:16  “and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb.”  (Joshua 24:32  And Joseph’s bones …were buried at Shechem,”)

Can you detect a pattern here?  Stephen is reviewing Israel’s proud history, and his opponents are unable to argue!   Everything points to Shechem!  It actually is even worse than what Stephen is saying.  He could have added more references:

  • Deut. 11:29  “When the Lord your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses.” 
  • Joshua 24:25  “On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws.”

   In the first century, Judaism referred to the “Patriarchs” as the 12 sons of Jacob who were the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel.  Stephen uses the term to emphasize Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph—people who are central to the religion of the Samaritans, but are of only passing interest to the Jerusalem crowd.  Another group who are interested specifically in Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph are the separatists living in the Dead Sea area, who left many of their scrolls in jars.  This Qumran community have overlapping interests with the Samaritans.  

   Of some note is the Jewish attitude toward the Samaritans as an ignorant bunch of fools who don’t understand Scripture.  Ecclesiasticus 50:25-26 says “There are two nations that my soul detests, the third is not a nation at all:  26 the inhabitants of Mount Seir, the Philistines, and the stupid people living at Shechem.”  Maybe the Samaritans living at Shechem aren’t so stupid after all!

   (Ecclesiasticus is also known as The Wisdom of Sirach.  It’s an apocryphal book written in about 175-200 B.C. in Jerusalem.  It is in the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Bibles.  Do not confuse it with Ecclesiastes–a book in our Lutheran Bibles.)

THE SHAMERIM—THE PEOPLE WHO KEEP THE LAW

Before we study Stephen’s words about Moses, we need to summarize the basic teachings of the Samaritans—”the Shamerim” as they call themselves.

Of foremost importance is Moses!  The 5 books of Moses are their only Scriptures.  They reject all the other books.  Their Samaritan-language version of these books differs slightly but most importantly in this:  The Samaritan 10th Commandment is Deut. 18:15:  “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen  This is their Messiah—the “Taheb.”  Do you remember the Samaritan woman at the well?  Jesus told her of her sinful life, and she quickly changed the subject—to what?   John 4:19The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see you are a prophet.’”  These words are not accidental!

Samaritans also believe that they are the true remnant of the lost tribes of Israel, descendants of Joseph and his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.  2 Chronicles 34:9 “They came to Hilkiah the high priest and gave him the money that had been brought into the house of God, which the Levites, the keepers of the threshold, had collected from Manasseh and Ephraim and from all the remnant of Israel and from all Judah and Benjamin and from the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”  Does our Bible suggest that the Samaritans truly ARE the remnants of the lost 10 tribes?