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words against Moses and against God: and of affirming that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and change the customs which Moses had delivered.
This accusation he meets, in the first place, by going back to their early history, and showing the origin of that favour which his countrymen had so long enjoyed. God had called their ancestor Abraham, not because he dwelt in Canaan, but for the purpose of settling him there. Abraham was living in Mesopotamia ;? went from thence, under God's providence, to Haran, and thence to Canaan. There was no reason, from an origin like this, to suppose that God's favour was irrevocably fixed upon them and their country, and that their place and nation should never be destroyed.
From this opening, it seems to have been in Stephen's mind to show the assembly how many mysterious things had taken place in the dispensations of God; how little it could have been discovered at many periods of their own history what his intentions were. That he, whom God had sent to be the Saviour of the world, should be allowed to suffer death, appeared to the Jewish nation unaccountable and inexplicable. Now Stephen, being thus placed before the council, does not confine himself to the mere ground of accusation made against him : but takes the opportunity of recalling to the minds of his hearers many things which were likely to shake their self-confidence, change
1 At Ur of the Chaldees, his birth-place. See Gen. xi. 31, and xii. 4.
the current of their thoughts, and so remove their unbelief. Abraham had obeyed the call of God; had left his country and his kindred : and it might be supposed that in the land which God should show him a large and rich inheritance would be granted him. It was not so.
5. And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on : yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child
6. And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and intreat them evil four hundred years.
7. And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage, will I judge, said God; and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place.
8. And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day: and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs.
Not only, ther, had Abraham no inheritance, but a long period of trial and affliction was to be endured, before the expected blessing should be given. The seed of the faithful Abraham must sojourn in a strange land: must suffer all the hardships of bondage, and that for many years; and not till all this had come to pass, should the promise be fulfilled. It was, however, secured by covenant : the time should come, when the nation to which they had been in bondage should be judged: and the people should come forth in the
way that God had designed, and serve him, and be his “chosen nation, his peculiar people.”
From all this the Jews might infer, that there might be something in the divine mind, which man may neither expect nor comprehend. His counsels are accomplishing in a way that we know not. And so, in their present conduct regarding the Gospel of Christ, they might be speaking peace to themselves, whilst sudden destruction was coming upon them unawares. The very means which they took to secure themselves, might bring about the evil which they feared.
To this purpose, there was a remarkable instance in the case of Joseph, of which Stephen next reminds them.
9. And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt : but God was with him,
10. And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.
11. Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt, and Chanaan, and great affliction : and our fathers found no sustenance.
12. But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first.
13. And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph's kindred was made known unto Pharaoh.
14. Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls.
15. So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he and our fathers,
16. And were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor, the father of Sychem..
Stephen adverts to these facts, without drawing out the inference to which they might lead. But we cannot help remarking how nearly the case of Joseph resembled the case of Jesus.
Joseph was innocent, yet in trouble: nay, in trouble for this very reason, because he was innocent. The envy of his brethren, whom he so greatly excelled ; the malice of the wife of Potiphar, which he refused to conciliate,-these were the cause of the affliction into which he was thrown.
So whilst the Lord Jesus was upon earth. Had he not convicted the Scribes of their covetousness, and the Pharisees of their hypocrisy, and the chief priests and rulers of unfaithfulness to their trust, he would have been unmolested by them. “For envy they delivered him” to Pilate.3
It was, however, through the injustice done to Joseph that the purpose of God was answered. In the sight of men, it might appear that Joseph “ was smitten of God, and afflicted.” But on the contrary we are told, that God was with him, and delivered him out of all his afflictions. It was part of the plan, which God had before revealed to
* In the course of copying, an error has crept in here, and the name of Abraham has been inserted instead of that of Jacob. It appears by Gen. xxxiii. 19, and Joshua xxiv. 32, that Jacob was the purchaser of the sepulchre in which Joseph's bones were laid.
See Matt. xxvii. 18. Mark xv. 10.
Abraham, that his seed should sojourn in a strange land. His brethren's malice sent Josepb down to Egypt. His captivity in Egypt saved his father and his brethren from famine.
And so it was by the death of Jesus, procured through false and malicious accusation, that God was preparing salvation : salvation even for some out of those very enemies who had before despised and rejected their deliverer. As the family of Jacob would have perished, if Joseph had not been sold into Egypt, and imprisoned in Egypt:--so if Christ had not died, that reinnant of the family of Jacob, and of Isaac, and of Abraham, would have perished everlastingly, concerning whom we lately read, that they were “ added to the church daily,” became “obedient to the faith,” were “converted” and “ baptized,” were “saved.”
Things so remarkable and unexpected, strongly remind us of the conclusion to which St. Paul is brought, after a similar strain of reflection. (Rom. xi. 33.)
“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God ! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out ! For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counsellor ? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”