The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 7:30-34

30 “Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. 33 Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’

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My previous post, published before Holy Week, continued an exposition of Stephen’s self-defence in the form of an apologetic, possibly the first Christian one, to the temple court.

Stephen, one of the first deacons who was also divinely given the gift of ‘doing great wonders and signs among the people’ (Acts 6:8). He also spoke openly about Jesus in Solomon’s Portico (Porch) at the temple. For this, he was arrested on charges of blasphemy: blaspheming God, Moses, the law and the temple. Acts 7 contains his address and the council’s action against him.

Stephen first got the council’s attention by saying he had revered the same traditions as they and respected the history of the people of Israel. He related the story of Abraham, then of Joseph.

At that point, he accomplished two objectives: holding his audience’s attention and defending himself against the charge of blaspheming God.

As Stephen related his scriptural knowledge of the early patriarchs, he also indicted his audience for rejecting Jesus. His reason for mentioning Joseph was to get them to realise that Joseph’s brothers treated him the same way the Jews treated Jesus.

Stephen went on to discuss Moses scripturally, to show that he had not blasphemed him. He began with Moses’s childhood, then his early adulthood, which included self-exile to Midian.

Today’s verses are a continuation of the discourse.

Although we all know the story of Moses and the burning bush, there is a lot to look at here.

These verses tie in with Exodus 3, which tells us that when this took place, Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro. Moses’s wife’s name was Zipporah.

One day, 40 years after Moses left Egypt, he was in the wilderness of Mount Sinai — the same as Horeb, the mountain of God (Exodus 3:1). John MacArthur says the two names are used interchangeably.

An angel appeared to Moses in a burning bush (verse 30). Although it does not happen frequently, spontaneous combustion has been known to occur in that part of the world. Some modernist theologians think that the bush self-combusted, however, Matthew Henry tells us (emphases mine):

the bush, in which this fire was, though combustible matter, was not consumed

Henry explains that the bush was a symbol not only of the state of God’s children at the time and a revelation of God’s presence — what MacArthur says is the Shekinah Glory — but also a foretelling of the Messiah:

it represented the state of Israel in Egypt (where, though they were in the fire of affliction, yet they were not consumed), so perhaps it may be looked upon as a type of Christ’s incarnation, and the union between the divine and human nature: God, manifested in the flesh, was as the flame of fire manifested in the bush.

Moses was amazed at the sight and approached the bush (verse 31).

Incidentally, John MacArthur says that the Greek word for ‘sight’ is oramah. The Greek word pan means ‘all’. This is the etymology of the word ‘panorama’.

When the Lord God announced Himself, Moses looked away (verse 32). His awestruck state moved from wonder at a natural phenomenon to the fear of God.

Henry says the fire was the Son of God:

He trembled, and durst not behold, durst not look stedfastly upon it; for he was soon aware that it was not a fiery meteor, but the angel of the Lord; and no other than the Angel of the covenant, the Son of God himself. This set him a trembling.

MacArthur explains why God introduced Himself as He did:

God was establishing the covenant again. God said, “I promised Abraham, ‘I’ll bring you into the land and it’ll be yours.’ I repeated it to Isaac. I repeated it to Jacob.'” God is coming back to Moses as the covenant God, you see? He’s coming back to Moses with the promise of the fulfillment of the covenant that He made that they would go into the land.

Henry gives the same explanation but goes further, emphasising the words ‘I am the God’, which means that after Abraham, Isaac and Jacob departed this mortal coil, they were only physically dead. Their souls are still alive. Henry explains that Jesus said the same in Matthew 22:31-22, about which I wrote in 2016:

For if the death of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, cannot break the covenant-relation between God and them (as by this it appears it cannot), then nothing else can: and then he will be a God, (1.) To their souls, which are now separated from their bodies. Our Saviour by this proves the future state, Matthew 22:31,32. Abraham is dead, and yet God is still his God, therefore Abraham is still alive. God never did that for him in this world which would answer the true intent and full extent of that promise, that he would be the God of Abraham; and therefore it must be done for him in the other world … (2.) To their seed. God, in declaring himself thus the God of their fathers, intimated his kindness to their seed, that they should be beloved for the fathers’ sakes, Romans 11:28,De+7:8.

Henry points out that the Apostles and, here, Stephen, the Hellenist (Greek) Jew who converted, was actually showing respect for Moses and understood the love of God — much more than his Jewish audience:

Now this is that life and immortality which are brought to light by the gospel, for the full conviction of the Sadducees, who denied it. Those therefore who stood up in defence of the gospel, and endeavoured to propagate it, were so far from blaspheming Moses that they did the greatest honour imaginable to Moses, and that glorious discovery which God made of himself to him at the bush Now the preachers of the gospel preached up this covenant, the promise made of God unto the fathers; unto which promise those of the twelve tribes that did continue serving God hoped to come, Acts 26:6,7. And shall they, under colour of supporting the holy place and the law, oppose the covenant which was made with Abraham and his seed, his spiritual seed, before the law was given, and long before the holy place was built? Since God’s glory must be for ever advanced, and our glorying for ever silenced, God will have our salvation to be by promise, and not by the law; the Jews therefore who persecuted the Christians, under pretence that they blasphemed the law, did themselves blaspheme the promise, and forsook all their own mercies that were contained in it.

The Lord told Moses to remove his sandals because he was standing on holy ground (verse 33). Henry tells us that this was because Moses was about to deliver his people from captivity, therefore, fulfilling the Covenant that God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob:

When God had declared himself the God of Abraham he proceeded, 1. To order Moses into a reverent posture: “Put off thy shoes from thy feet. Enter not upon sacred things with low, and cold, and common thoughts. Keep thy foot, Ecclesiastes 5:1. Be not hasty and rash in thy approaches to God; tread softly.” 2. To order Moses into a very eminent service. When he is ready to receive commands, he shall have commission. He is commissioned to demand leave from Pharaoh for Israel to go out of his land, and to enforce that demand, Acts 7:34.

The Lord gave Moses his divine commission (verse 34). The Lord saw the suffering of His people. He heard their cries for freedom. He descended to Moses that they might be delivered. And Moses would fulfil that plan.

Henry tells us that this holds true today for the Church:

Observe, (1.) The notice God took both of their sufferings and of their sense of their sufferings: I have seen, I have seen their affliction, and have heard their groaning. God has a compassionate regard to the troubles of his church, and the groans of his persecuted people; and their deliverance takes rise from his pity.

Henry reminds us that Christ delivered us, bringing us to salvation:

(2.) The determination he fixed to redeem them by the hand of Moses: I am come down to deliver them. It should seem, though God is present in all places, yet he uses that expression here of coming down to deliver them because that deliverance was typical of what Christ did, when, for us men, and for our salvation, he came down from heaven; he that ascended first descended.

Furthermore, God’s plans are sovereign. They will succeed:

Moses is the man that must be employed: Come, and I will send thee into Egypt: and, if God send him, he will own him and give him success.

What an encouraging thought to ponder during the week ahead. God does not ignore our plights. God is fully aware of what we are going through.

With regard to Stephen, as Matthew Henry’s commentary states, he understood the role of Jesus as Messiah. Stephen explained that to his audience in light of Scripture and with reverence. The men in the temple court accused him of multiple counts of blasphemy. Yet Stephen was not the blasphemer. They were.

Stephen had not finished his discourse. There is more to his apologetic which my next two posts on consecutive Sundays will discuss in more detail.

Next time — Acts 7:35-43

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