Stephen, Session #7 (All quotes generally ESV)
POSSESSION VS. INHERITANCE
Acts 7:3 “Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I willshow you.”(δείξω–dekso) and Acts 7:5 “Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child.”
This is like the line from the Wizard of Oz: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” The casual reader will miss what is going here. Stephen is pointing out that the idea that “the Holy Land is a Jewish inheritance and that Jerusalem is the center of it all” is nothing but a myth. Stephen emphasizes a word that really is not in the Genesis story: “show.” God will show Abraham the land, but Abraham won’t get any of it.
But that’s not what the Old Testament says. Genesis 12:6-7 “Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give (δώσω–doso) this land.” If you read Genesis 12, you will see that Abraham never got anything but a promise that his children would live in this land. Genesis 13:15 “for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.” But WHERE is this promise made? Shechem—the place that the Samaritans said was the place to worship God. And what did Abraham do when he heard this promise? He built an altar and he worshipped God—at Shechem! This is some 34 miles north of Jerusalem. Those who heard Stephen say “God promised to give Abraham this land” knew very well that God didn’t make that promise in Jerusalem but right in the middle of Samaria! Stephen, by emphasizing “promise” rather than “inheritance” is suggesting that the Jews possess this land NOT by legal right BUT by the grace of God.
When Stephen points out that Abraham got “not even a foot’s length” of this land (we would call it “a square foot of land”), he is subtly suggesting that if Abraham had a “right” to this land, why didn’t he ever get any of it during this lifetime? So, Stephen says that God “showed” him the land rather than “gave” him the land—he got to see it but he never owned a square foot while he was alive.
Judaism tried to say “We earned this land by being God’s obedient children!” To Stephen’s listeners, God’s promises are dependent upon keeping the Law! Stephen says “You didn’t earn anything—God’s grace is behind this gift, not your self-righteous behavior.
GOD PREDICTS THE FUTURE; DOES STEPHEN MISQUOTE THE BIBLE?
Acts 7:6-7 “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.‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’”
You’ll notice that Stephen almost always uses “God” rather than “the Lord” when speaking of the deity (verses 6, 7, 9, 17, 20, 25, 35, 41, 45, 46). “The Lord” is typical of the way in which Jerusalem Jews speak of Yahweh (changed to “Jehovah”). Stephen’s more Hellenistic way of referring to “God” MAY indicate that Stephen wasn’t born and raised in Jerusalem, but has moved there from elsewhere.
Note Stephen’s near-quote of Exodus 3:12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” Stephen changes the wording from “on this mountain” to “in this place.” Why?
It would be easy to say that Stephen has misquoted the Bible, but what he says is absolutely true! To Moses, God spoke through the burning bush to say that when the Jewish people escape from bondage in Egypt, they will worship God “on this mountain” (which they did; they came back to that spot and worshipped God; they also worshipped the Golden Calf—but that’s another story!). Mount Sinai is identified with Mount Horeb, and is thought to be Jebel Musa today. In any event, Moses was in modern-day Arabia at the time, and God’s prediction came true.
But Stephen has no interest in that event. His reference is to the promises given to Abraham. And Abraham is standing in the middle of Samaria, at the base of Mount Gerizim, and Stephen says that God told Abraham that the Jewish people “will worship me IN THIS PLACE!” And they did. Abraham’s descendants would come back and worship him at Shechem—which is why the Samaritans said Shechem, not Jerusalem, is the place to worship. Jacob dug a well there—and “Jacob’s Well” still there. (Remember the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4?)
FAST-TRACK ABRAHAM, ISAAC AND JACOB—BUT INTERESTED IN JOSEPH!
Acts 7:8 “And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.”
When I was a teenager, I remember often watching Warren and Coburn, nicknamed “The Ridge Route Terrors,” who had a Top Fuel slingshot dragster coming out of Bakersfield. They would tow it 100 miles down the “Ridge Route” (sometimes known as “The Grapevine.” This was before I-5 was built!) through Tejon Pass and Castaic to Long Beach and give their competition a severe beating at Lion’s dragstrip. They were some of the quickest racers on the West Coast.
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his 12 sons were “The Ridge Route Terrors” of their day, living in Hebron far south of Jerusalem and “running the ridge route” to Shechem in the north! This spine of hills was the watershed for the Holy Land. “The Ridge Route” turned into one of the major trade routes, the others being “The King’s Highway” (east of the Jordan River, through Damascus) and “The Way of the Sea” (Via Maris) on the coastal plain. The Ridge Route was “Patriarch Country,” land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The Old Testament is loaded with “Ridge Route stories” about the Patriarchs. Some of them are very interesting: God appearing to Abraham to promise Isaac on the “ridge” just north of Hebron in Gen. 17, the sacrifice of Isaac on Mt. Moriah on the ridge (Jerusalem area?) Gen. 22, , Jacob being cheated by Laban (in Haran, where Abraham’s father died!) and ending up marrying two wives Gen. 28, Jacob and Esau revenging the rape of sister Dinah with mass murder at the Shechem ridge (Gen 34), God orders Jacob to build an altar at Bethel (near Shechem on the ridge) Gen. 35.
But Stephen skips over this material. He wants to talk about Joseph being sold into Egypt. Where did that take place? Shechem says the Bible, Gen. 37:13 Why is Joseph so important to Stephen? He certainly was not that important to the Jews!
In our next session, we’ll get more deeply into the pattern which Stephen wishes to paint, a pattern which ties Joseph and Jesus together. But for now, let us note that Joseph is one of the 10 tribes which “disappeared” when Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom. The story goes that the tribe of Joseph was exiled to Haran and then returned some years later and settled in Shechem, calling themselves Samaritans!