“The high priest said, “Are these things so?” And he said, “Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.’ Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living. But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him.”
Two accusations have been made against Stephen: speaking against the temple, and changing the customs of Moses. Stephen defends himself on the charge that he was changing the customs of Moses and by doing so he was able to present the Gospel clearly to these religious leaders using stories and analogies that they would understand. He will show in his message that Moses spoke about the Lord Jesus Christ and prophesied the coming of Christ. He also demonstrated that Jesus Christ was the God of Israel. This same Jesus Christ had been crucified by the Sanhedrin, by the same people who sat in judgment of him; the same people who just a few weeks ago were responsible for the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, the Sanhedrin will not understand this all at once, but as they gradually become aware of the fact that Stephen is speaking of Jehovah Who is Jesus Christ, and is the Person of the Godhead Who was revealed to mankind. He was also the One who founded the Jewish race, and He was the One about whom Moses prophesied.
Stephen did not attempt to recount the entire history of Israel but he did demonstrate some very important principles which would eventually have fruit among certain people who sat on the Council. To make the issue clear Stephen gave a resume of certain factors in Jewish history, and in so doing he demonstrated the fact that he was not speaking against the Temple but for the Temple because the Temple revealed the Person and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ (Jehovah).
And he said, “Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.” His message began with the Lord Jesus Christ: “the God of glory.” He is the revealed member of the Godhead, the God to whom all glory belongs. All glory belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ, not only because He is Savior but because He is the head of the Church and also the founder of Israel.
Abram (Abraham) was a believer leaving in Ur of the Chaldees when Jehovah appeared to him with a message. At this time there were absolutely no Jews on the face of the earth. So Stephen was saying to the Sanhedrin that it was actually Jesus Christ Who appeared to Abraham. It was Jesus Christ Who formed the Jewish race in Abraham and therefore Jesus is the God of Israel.
To get to Palestine where God had directed him to go Abram went north to Haran first, but became bogged down because he disobeyed the command to leave his family. “Leave your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.” He was suppose to separate himself from his father, and later on from Lot. Stephen’s message is still pertinent to us today. Haran represents the human viewpoint of life because it was not where God wanted him, so Abram started out with a failure. However, he eventually became one of the greatest believers of all time, and the reason is because of what God did, not what Abram did. It was all grace: we never earn or deserve anything from God. Abram was out of the geographical will of God. It took the death of his father before Abram woke up. And when he woke up he moved to the place where he should have been in the first place—Canaan.
Stephen was saying something that was directed toward the Sanhedrin, all the time. It was not recognized by the Sanhedrin at first because of their blindness to the truth. But when they did realize that everything that Stephen was saying pertained to them they were furious. They finally realized that just like Abram in Haran [they knew what Haran meant, that it was the dried up place not the promised land] Stephen was saying that they were “dried up,” and that there would be no spiritual heritage for them unless they recognized Christ their Messiah (Savior).
But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him. The point of this verse is that God did not give Abram the land of Haran. When God formed the nation of Israel with Abram and changed his name to Abraham it included all of this land where they were living (Palestine) and to his heirs. Yet Abraham didn’t even have any heirs yet. As soon as he got into the land there was a famine, and he panicked and went down to Egypt. He failed again. God promised him the land, so all he had to do was recognize that it was the land that God promised and then stand on faith.
So Stephen was saying that these Jewish leaders needed to realize that God had not exhausted His promises to Abraham or his descendants. There was greater inheritance to come. Specifically it would come to those who continued to follow Abraham’s good example of faith by believing in Jesus. God’s promises to Abraham were based on the fact that he had believed in Christ not because he had become a Jew. (Galatians 3:6-9; Galatians 3:29).
“But God spoke to this effect, that his descendants would be aliens in a foreign land, and that they would be enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years. ‘And whatever nation to which they will be in bondage I Myself will judge,’ said God, ‘and after that they will come out and serve Me in this place.’”
Aliens and bondage mean maximum adversity. 400 years of bondage and adversity was discipline for the nation of Israel for turning their backs on God and promises. And it was in part the fault of their religious leaders who had distorted God and His Word into a system of legalism for personal gain. It was God’s plan to wake this nation up and get them back on the right track. But the nation of Israel was stiff-necked and negative and failed as a nation to properly represent God to the nations of the world and Stephen was in effect saying this was still the case in his day.
One of the most important things in orienting to the plan of God is to know prophecy (what the future holds) without getting distracted by it, as well as to understand your own status in time. The promises given to the Jews were a long time before they went into bondage in Egypt. They had heard about the Abrahamic covenant that they had a spiritual heritage, but soon forgot. But God doesn’t forget His promises and they had a promise from God that even though they would be in slavery at the proper time they would be delivered.
“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.”
Circumcision was the rite whereby the Jews recognized their separation from the other nations and their responsibility to them. Circumcision was practiced on the eighth day of physical birth to remind the Jewish males of their spiritual heritage. The Jewish race is the only race which is founded on spiritual regeneration. The Jewish race has a marvelous spiritual heritage. A spiritual heritage, however, is no good unless the individual is a believer. The members of the Sanhedrin are religious unbelievers for the most part. They were religious unbelievers which is the worst type of unbeliever. They were antagonistic to anything which concerned the grace of God, and therefore the plan of God. Their antagonism was now compared in a subtle way to the patriarchs. The patriarchs had a covenant of circumcision, a reminder to them that it was faith in Jehovah (Jesus) that counted, and that to enter the plan of God you had to be a believer.
The covenant of circumcision was to remind them that God had separated the Jewish race for a particular reason—a spiritual reason. They were the custodians of the Word of God, and they were responsible for the dissemination of the Word (starting with salvation) to the nations of the world. The concept of circumcision was separation and they had this marvelous heritage whereby they were reminded of their responsibility. But you can have the best of heritage and unless you are a believer it becomes a useless factor. This was exactly what Stephen was implying by reviewing only this section of the history of the patriarchs.
Every Jewish male was circumcised, and it had two concepts. It was a reminder all of his life that his spiritual heritage was tied up with his responsibility before God, and that he could only achieve this spiritual heritage through salvation. Circumcision could not save but circumcision was a reminder that the only reason for the existence of the Jewish race was to fulfill a responsibility before the Lord in Old Testament times—custodianship of the Word, perception of the Word, dissemination of the Gospel to the other nations. Stephen was addressing himself to unbelievers, and since they had not personally received Christ as Savior, circumcision was meaningless to them.
There are three main events that surround the life of Abraham. The first is the formation of the Jewish nation, the second is the story of the deliverance of his nephew, Lot, from Sodom and Gomorrah and the third is the miraculous birth and command from God to sacrifice his son, Isaac. God chose Abram to establish the nation of Israel and the Jewish race. Abram (whose name was changed to Abraham) had left his home in Ur of the Chaldees with his father, his wife and his nephew Lot and settled in Haran. While Abram was still in Haran, God made a covenant with him, which we call the Abrahamic Covenant.
This unconditional covenant was given to Abraham in seven parts:
Because this covenant was unconditional, nothing was required on the part of Abraham in order to enjoy its promises. The Abrahamic Covenant coincided with the Age of Promise in the Dispensation of Israel.
Even though Abraham made some bad choices and at times doubted God, he became a great testimony of faith, to the point of being called the “friend of God.” God doesn’t use perfect people to accomplish His purposes; he uses faithful people, as He did with Abraham.
God begins with who believe in Christ by giving a lot of promises. The promises help in the early stages of growth to declare the plan of God. Promises are the way you get started in the Christian life. Eventually you begin to see that a promise is based on doctrine and the doctrine is always about God’s grace. Grace is how we are provided salvation, grace is how we execute the Christian life and grace is how we grow spiritually. This was true of Abraham as it is with each one of us. (Titus 2:11-12)