Stephen, Session #8 (All quotes generally ESV)

ONE MORE NOTE ON ABRAHAM 

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.”

Before we leave verse 8 and get to Joseph, a comment should be made about the covenant of circumcision.  Remember that a “covenant” had to be sealed in blood (e.g. the Words of Institution we hear in church:  “This is the new covenant in my blood.”).  A covenant is a unilateral promise from God sealed in blood.

What was Abram promised in Gen. 17?  God changed his name from Abram to Abraham (possibly meaning “their strength”—scholars are not sure), and also promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations.  This is BEFORE he is even promised the birth of Isaac!  Circumcision “sealed the deal” in blood.  (Hopefully, these lessons have encouraged you to get your Bible out and start reading a lot of these stories in the book of Genesis.)

Thus, Abraham was circumcised–so what?  Why is this a big deal to Stephen?  Circumcision was an act which specifically marked a man as a “Jew.”  By circumcision, Yahweh became his personal God.  It made the child a part of a special group.  Judaism taught that God had chosen the Jews to be His special people because He KNEW that they were the only people capable of keeping the Law.  

Such a crazy statement linked circumcision with Moses and the giving of the 10 Commandments.  Stephen here is reminding them that 1) becoming a Jew was not an act connected with Moses but rather Abraham, and 2) circumcision came to them through Abraham—and it was NOT an act of worthiness, but an act of God’s grace!

Of interest, also, is the word “patriarch.”  This word does not appear in the Old Testament.  It is a Greek word.  We cannot be sure of the extent to which the Samaritans used the word “patriarch” to describe Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, etc.  But we do know that their entire religion is centered around these men, and the patriarchs are ALL linked to Shechem!

NOTE:  It would be unlikely that a Samaritan would mention the “12 Patriarchs.”  This is an indication that Stephen is probably not a Samaritan.

SIDE BAR:  WHY IS JOSEPH NOT LISTED IN THE “12 TRIBES?”

Why isn’t Joseph one of the shevatim (“Sheh-vah-TEEM” or 12 tribes)?  Jacob had 12 sons.  But the third son, Levi, gets no land—all Levites are automatically dedicated to God as the priestly class. (Exodus 29)  Their commitment to the worship of God, all the sacrificing, and the protection of the Tabernacle/Temple serves to replace God’s demand that the firstborn son of all births in all tribes belongs to God.  

That leaves 11 tribes with land.  Joseph is one of the eleven, but Joseph’s two sons are Ephraim and Manasseh, so the two boys are counted instead of Joseph as part of the twelve; Levi and Joseph are not counted as part of “the 12 tribes.”  Where is the land located which is given to Joseph’s boys, Ephraim and Manasseh?  Samaria!

JOSEPH BECOMES CENTER STAGE! 

Acts 7:9-10  And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him10 and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.”

Stephen begins a litany of explaining a pattern in the Old Testament:  people are debased, rejected, pushed out the door, suffer and in some way “hit bottom” before they are then exalted—not by their own value and worthiness, but by the grace of God!  It is as if Stephen is asked in his local synagogue “How can Jesus of Nazareth be the true Messiah, when he was scorned, rejected and crucified?”  Stephen’s response seems to be:  “Read your Bible!  Isn’t this the way God always treats the people He wants to exalt?  Wasn’t this what happened to our forefathers?”

Notice what the Bible says about Joseph in Gen. 41:38-41 38 And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?”  39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are.40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command.  Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.”41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.”

The Memar Marqah (remember this?  It is the teachings and commentary of the Samaritan rabbi Marqah) says this about Genesis 41:38f:  “There is no king like Joseph, and no prophet like Moses.  Moses is king of the prophets, andJoseph is king of theblessed mountain.”  Believing that they are descendants of Joseph, they have elevated him substantially to the status of High Priest of Mount Gerizim, Shechem’s Holy Mountain where God was first worshipped in the Holy Land by Abraham.

Stephen continues to paint a picture of how Samaritans must be approached if the Gospel is going to take root there.  Samaritans are not Jerusalem Jews.  Peter’s sermon on Pentecost (see Acts 2:14ff) stressed King David.  Samaritans don’t care about King David!  But they will care if Jesus is our new High Priest like Aaron (Exodus 28:1, 41, 29:7-9); they will care if a Prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:18) has come as our Savior.  It is a lesson in meeting people where they are, not where we want them to be!

JOSEPH SAVES THE FAMILY WHO REJECTED HIM

Acts 7:11-14 ”Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food.12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit.13 And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh.14 And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-fivepersons in all.

From prison to throne!  Here is the story of God using an individual to accomplish His own purposes.  Compare Stephen’s speech with Nehemiah 9.  The Prophet Nehemiah gives us a brief history of God’s people from the opposite point of view:  God accomplishes his goals DESPITE people.  Stephen sees history as God using the people rather than working around them.  Evil things happen to good people like Joseph, but God uses catastrophe for the good of those He loves!

Stephen’s view is comparable to Joseph’s view.  When Joseph’s brothers realize that it is the brother which they sold into slavery who is now running Egypt, they are afraid.  Here are the words with which Joseph comforts his brothers:   Genesis 50:20  “As for you, you meant evil against me, but Godmeant it for good, to bring it about that many peopleshould be kept alive, as they are today.”

Now who else was rejected by His own people, went through hell for them, and ended up saving them in the end?  The name is on the tip of my tongue….