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Bible spine dwtx.orgThe 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 7:44-50

44 “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. 45 Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, 46 who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.[a] 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,

49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
    or what is the place of my rest?
50 Did not my hand make all these things?’

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This post concludes the apologetic of Stephen, who defended himself against charges of blasphemy in the temple court.

Stephen, one of the first deacons, 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. After 40 years, an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush and told him he would be going to Egypt to deliver the Israelites.

Last week’s post discussed the next part of the apologetic: the Israelites’ rejection of Moses and their turning to idolatry, which was part of their way of life for generations to come. God had left them to their own devices.

What Stephen did throughout his entire apologetic — case for, defence of religious doctrine — was to demonstrate that God’s chosen people had rejected those He sent to them. Similarly, they had rejected Jesus. Stephen exhorted them to consider those rejections very carefully.

In this final part, Stephen had to defend himself against charges that he blasphemed the temple. Therefore, he gave a true, scriptural account of its history, beginning with the tent in the wilderness, crafted according to God’s instructions to Moses (verse 44).

Exodus 25 documents those instructions fully. Although it was portable, God commanded parts of it to be made out of gold, silver, bronze and semi-precious stones.

There was the Ark of the Covenant:

16 And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.

On top of the Ark was the mercy seat of pure gold:

21 And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.

God also commanded that a Table for Bread be made out of acacia wood and gold:

29 And you shall make its plates and dishes for incense, and its flagons and bowls with which to pour drink offerings; you shall make them of pure gold. 30 And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me regularly.

Finally, there was the elaborate Golden Lampstand.

God was preparing the people of Israel — His chosen — for Christ. The Table for Bread had the holy bread of the Presence, a precursor to the Christian Holy Communion.

The Golden Lampstand was to be tended such that its light never went out, suggesting the light of Christ: the Light of the World.

Recall that in Revelation 1, Christ tells St John of the seven lampstands: the seven churches.

GotQuestions.org has a good article on the lampstand in the Bible, excerpted below (emphases mine):

In the tabernacle, the lampstand was to be placed in the first section, called the Holy Place (Hebrews 9:2). The lamp was to be tended by Aaron and his sons so that its light never went out. The lampstand was to give forth light day and night (Exodus 27:20–21). The lampstand’s being the only source of light points directly to Christ as being the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5). Jesus is the “true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9) and the only way anyone can come to the Father (John 14:6).

Jesus also calls His church the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), not of their own doing but because Christ is abiding in the church (John 1:4–5). A Christian who is shining with the light of Christ will live a godly life (1 Peter 2:9). Scripture is overflowing with references that compare and contrast light and darkness, believer and unbeliever, right up through the book of Revelation. In Revelation 1:20 Christ says the “seven lampstands are the seven churches.” The churches of Christ are to walk in the light of God (1 John 1:7) and spread the light of the gospel so that all people will glorify God (Matthew 5:16).

There is other symbolism in the lampstand: it was made of one piece, as Christ is one with His church (Colossians 1:8); the six branches (6 being the number of man) plus the main shaft equals seven lights (7 being the number of completion)—man is only complete in Christ (John 15:5).

Returning to Stephen, he said that when Joshua led the Israelites, God had cleared the Promised Land — Canaan — of Gentiles so that it could be theirs. The tent of witness continued (verse 45).

What follows are verses of interest about the Promised Land.

Joshua 3:10:

10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites.

Joshua 23:9:

9 For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day.

2 Chronicles 20:7:

Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?

Acts 13:19:

19 And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance.

Returning to Stephen’s apologetic and the tent of witness, he said that the people continued to use it for worship until the time of King David, who found favour with God and wanted to build a dwelling place for Him among His chosen (verse 46).

Stephen wisely omitted mentioning David’s sins, of which he had later repented. One of these, which relates directly to the history between the tent of witness and the first temple is documented in 1 Chronicles 21, where David disobeyed God and took a census of Israel. God then used David’s seer Gad and an angel to bring the king to repentence by building an altar to Him:

1 Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.

But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel. And David said to God, “I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly.” And the Lord spoke to Gad, David’s seer, saying, 10 “Go and say to David, ‘Thus says the Lord, Three things I offer you; choose one of them, that I may do it to you.’” 11 So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Choose what you will: 12 either three years of famine, or three months of devastation by your foes while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the Lord, pestilence on the land, with the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’ Now decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.” 13 Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”

14 So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel, and 70,000 men of Israel fell. 15 And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the Lord saw, and he relented from the calamity. And he said to the angel who was working destruction, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the Lord was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

18 Now the angel of the Lord had commanded Gad to say to David that David should go up and raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

25 So David paid Ornan 600 shekels[a] of gold by weight for the site. 26 And David built there an altar to the Lord and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the Lord, and the Lord[b] answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering. 27 Then the Lord commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.

Returning to Stephen and his apologetic, he said that it was King Solomon, David’s son, who built the first temple (verse 47). That is documented in four places in the Old Testament, one of them being 2 Chronicles 3:1:

1 Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord[a] had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

Stephen then gave his audience a warning about the temple: that God does not dwell in manmade houses (verse 48). To support his argument, he cited Isaiah 66:1-2 (verses 49-50). God’s throne is in heaven. The earth is his footstool. Anything man can build to honour God comes from things God Himself created.

John MacArthur analyses this. Ironically, the words in verse 48 came from Solomon himself:

Solomon said, when he built the house for God, “It’s not going to hold Him.” And Stephen’s saying, “I’m not blaspheming the Temple, friends. I’m saying God is bigger than the box you’ve got Him in, and I’m only saying what Solomon said. So don’t accuse me of blaspheming your temple. Solomon would be accused of it, too. Look what he said.”

Stephen’s citing Isaiah 66:1-2 offered further support for Solomon’s words and the fact that whatever we build in homage to God is, really, nothing much in His eyes.

Matthew Henry’s commentary points out that what matters is making God’s world a place that honours Him in all things, beginning with us and the state of our souls:

And as the world is thus God’s temple, wherein he is manifested, so it is God’s temple in which he will be worshipped. As the earth is full of his glory, and is therefore his temple (Isaiah 6:3), so the earth is, or shall be, full of his praise (Habakkuk 3:3), and all the ends of the earth shall fear him (Psalms 67:7), and upon this account it is his temple.

Acts 7:51-60 are in the three-year Lectionary for St Stephen’s feast day, December 26. However, they bear discussion here to give you the end of the trial and what happened next.

Stephen ramped up his indictment of the temple leaders, accusing them and their people historically of persecuting anyone God sent to them up through and including Christ. He charged them with a continuous, stubborn, historical rejection of the Holy Spirit. Just as bad, he accused them of not keeping the law:

51 You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

That was the final straw:

54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.

Death by stoning was on its way. Stephen became the Church’s first martyr.

Stephen had held a figurative mirror up to them, making them look at their hypocrisy and spiritual blindness. They could not respond in any way other than with murderous anger. Even then, they never repented.

MacArthur offers this insight regarding Jesus’s words coming to fruition:

Jesus, speaking to Israel, Luke 13:28, “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth when ye shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrown out.”

See, the Jews had waited all along for the kingdom. They had dreamed of the kingdom. The King came, offered them the kingdom, and what did they do to the King? They killed the King. They forfeited the kingdom. Jesus says, “You’re going to spend forever grinding your teeth at God when you see you didn’t get into the kingdom.”

And in Matthew we have it again, in chapter 8 and verse 12. Listen to these words. They’re fearful words. “But the sons of the kingdom,” you know who that is? That’s Israel, the rightful heirs to the kingdom. “Shall be cast into outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Then you go on in Matthew to chapter 13, and you have it all over again. Whenever you hear something once in the Bible, it’s absolutely important. Whenever you hear it repeated over and over again, it is extremely important. Matthew, chapter 13, and verse … 41, “The Son of Man shall send forth His angels and they shall gather out of His kingdom all those that offend and them who do iniquity and cast them into the furnace of fire. There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” You know, hell’s going to be full of mad people, angry people. Verse 50, “and shall cast them into the furnace of fire. There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Chapter 22 of Matthew, verse 13, Jesus isn’t finished. He says, “Then said the king to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, cast him into outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'” You find it again in chapter 24 of Matthew as He’s still talking about the kingdom. Verse 51, “shall cut him asunder, appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

God was merciful to Stephen before he died. Note how St Luke describes him and the moment before the Jewish leaders took him out of Jerusalem to be stoned to death:

55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

Stephen was brimming with faith — and forgiveness — until the horrific end. What a role model for Christians:

59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

In closing, it’s worth pointing out verse 58:

58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.

MacArthur does not mention Saul in his sermon. However, Matthew Henry states that this is the Saul who would convert and become Paul, the last Apostle, who actually referred to Stephen in his ministry:

Now, the stoning of a man being a laborious piece of work, the witnesses took off their upper garments, that they might not hang in their way, and they laid them down at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul, now a pleased spectator of this tragedy. It is the first time we find mention of his name; we shall know it and love it better when we find it changed to Paul, and him changed from a persecutor into a preacher. This little instance of his agency in Stephen’s death he afterwards reflected upon with regret (Acts 22:20): I kept the raiment of those that slew him.

Saul and Stephen, incidentally, are the subjects of next week’s verses.

Next time — Acts 8:1-3

Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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 7:35-43

35 “This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. 37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ 38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us. 39 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. 42 But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:

“‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices,
    during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
43 You took up the tent of Moloch
    and the star of your god Rephan,
    the images that you made to worship;
and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’

—————————————————————————————————————————–

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. After 40 years, an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush and told him he would be going to Egypt to deliver the Israelites.

Today’s verses are a continuation of the discourse. What Stephen did throughout his entire apologetic — case for, defence of religious doctrine — was to demonstrate that God’s chosen people had rejected those He sent to them. Similarly, they had rejected Jesus. Stephen exhorted them to consider those rejections very carefully.

The angel led Moses — the man the Israelites had rejected — back to Egypt to free them from bondage (verse 45). Note that Stephen quotes the Israelites. They said the same things to Moses that the Jews of Jesus’s time said to Him. Matthew Henry explains:

Now, by this example, Stephen would intimate to the council that this Jesus whom they now refused, as their fathers did Moses, saying, Who made thee a prophet and a king? Who gave thee this authority? even this same has God advanced to be a prince and a Saviour, a ruler and a deliverer; as the apostles had told them awhile ago (Acts 5:30), that the stone which the builders refused was become the head-stone in the corner, Acts 4:11.

Stephen gave full praise to Moses throughout his discourse, thereby proving that he was not blaspheming him at all.

He pointed out that Moses performed ‘wonders and signs’ in Egypt, at the Red Sea and in the wilderness (verse 36).

Stephen then reminded the temple court that Moses told the Israelites that one day a prophet would come from their midst (verse 37). That was a clear reference to Jesus.

John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

You say, “Well, how does that present Christ?” Listen, they knew everything about Christ, and if they looked at the facts they’d see that Christ paralleled Moses in every way. You see? That’s the point. They knew all the facts. For example, Moses was a deliverer from among his own people, a Jew. So was Jesus Christ. Moses came down from a palace to release men in bondage. He condescended. So did Jesus Christ. Moses offered himself to Israel and was rejected and then went and raised up seed among the Gentiles …

Moses was rejected the first time but accepted the second time, and so will be Jesus Christ. Moses was a great redeemer. So was Jesus Christ. Moses leads people out of bondage. So does Jesus Christ. You can talk about Moses as a type of Christ over and over and over. Moses is even a shepherd. So is Jesus Christ. So Moses said, “You look, and when you see one like me, you listen to him. He’s your Messiah.” And they had looked, and they had not seen. And Jesus said of them, “You are blind leaders of the blind.” They couldn’t see anything. Blind. So the history of Moses is the foreshadowing of the history of Christ.

Stephen continued, saying that Moses was the one appointed to be with the Israelites in the wilderness. It was Moses who received the oracles — the Ten Commandments — which he then gave to God’s people (verse 38).

Note that Stephen said ‘living oracles’, thereby demonstrating that he knew the Commandments are still to be obeyed. Therefore, Stephen defended himself successfully against the accusation that he blasphemed the law.

With regard to verse 38, in some translations, ‘church’ is used instead of ‘congregation’. John MacArthur explains that the Greek word used was ‘ekklesia’, meaning ‘called-out ones’, or God’s chosen people who were called out of Egypt.

MacArthur says that we mustn’t confuse ‘church’ with the Christian church. It’s more of a congregation:

The New Testament church doesn’t start until the Day of Pentecost. There was no church in the wilderness as we know it … The reason he calls the group of Israelites the called-out ones is because they were called out of Egypt, not because they were the body of Christ, the church. So let’s call them a called-out congregation.

Stephen then pointedly related to the temple court audience that the Israelites rejected Moses a second time, turning to Egyptian pagan ways (verse 39):

 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside …

This happened when Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive God’s law. He stayed there a long time, long enough for the Israelites in their disobedience to ask Aaron for idols (verse 40). They were so impatient for Moses’s return, saying they didn’t know what had happened to him, that they wanted false gods instead.

Stephen mentioned this as a clear indictment that the Jews had not changed.

MacArthur explains:

This is a shot. “Whom our fathers would not obey.” He says, “You want to talk about disobedience to God’s laws, then check your own history. You’re always going back to the sanctity and sacredness of your forefathers. They were the ones that were disobedient. “Whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt.” They said “Nuts” to Moses. “We want to do what we did in Egypt.”

Remember what they did? Moses was up there getting the law, and what are they doing? Making false gods that they learned about in Egypt and worshipping them at the foot of the mount where Moses is getting the law. Israel’s not so sacred. Their fathers weren’t so to be esteemed. They sure couldn’t boast of the fathers’ loyalty to Moses or the law. They weren’t loyal to Moses or the law. They rejected Moses even at Sinai. They rejected God’s law even while it was being given. They didn’t even wait to hear it. They rejected it before they even knew what it was.

MacArthur tells us that the Israelites knew what they were doing. Oral tradition about their forefathers had been passed down through the generations, from earliest times. Consider Abel:

Listen, they knew enough of the law to know you don’t worship the gods of the Egyptians. Abel knew that. Abel knew to make a sacrifice to the true God, didn’t he? … He knew it, and if he knew it, he did it by faith, and if he did it by faith, faith is based on revelation. “Faith cometh by,” what? “Hearing.” Therefore, he had to hear something. He operated on faith. They knew to worship the true God, and they knew to sacrifice only to Him.

Stephen went on to describe the Israelites’ heinous disobedience while Moses was receiving the law from God. They constructed a golden idol then celebrated their handicraft (verse 41).

MacArthur tells us that Aaron tried to dissuade them from constructing this calf, or young bull:

He said, “If you’re going to do this, then you’ll have to bring all your earrings, your gold earrings and your gold ornaments.” And it may have been that he wanted to stop them from doing it by putting the price so high they wouldn’t want to give up those things. But they did. Maybe he figured that if I’ll get them to do that, they won’t be willing to. But they did. They brought it all, melted it all down and made a golden calf, a golden bull.

MacArthur explains the significance of the golden calf:

the young bull would be the fact that the Egyptians worshipped Apis and Mnevis, two bulls. One was supposed to be Osiris reincarnated. The other was the sun god reincarnated. And so they worshipped these two bulls, and this is Egyptian worship. They had learned this in Egypt.

This ‘rejoicing’ that Stephen spoke of was more of an orgy. MacArthur says:

the Book of Exodus tells us that they took their clothes off and they were in naked shame, carrying on a sexual orgy in the worship of this young bull. All the time, Moses is up there communing with God. Boy, you talk about contrast, friends. You’ll never see a more stark one than that.

Stephen is just absolutely indicting the land of Israel and the nation of Israel for rejecting God all the way through.

Upon his return, Moses was furious to see all that had gone on while he was receiving divine law. God was even angrier. God wanted to destroy His people, but Moses prayed, asking for His mercy instead. So, God ‘turned away’ and left them to their own devices (verse 42). The ‘host of heaven’ refers to the stars and planets.

MacArthur reminds us:

God said, “I’ll only slay 3,000, and let the rest live.” But none of them ever entered the Promised Land. All they did was live 40 years wandering all over the place. And Moses was so mad he slammed down the tablets of stone and broke them all over everywhere and had to go back up and get another set.

Matthew Henry points out that when God left the Israelites to their own devices:

they walked in their own counsels, and were so scandalously mad upon their idols as never any people were

Stephen, in relating this history lesson, went on to quote Amos 5:25-27 (verses 42, 43):

25 “Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 26 You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god—your images that you made for yourselves, 27 and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.

‘Damascus’ in Amos 5:27 is ‘Babylon’ in Stephen’s context, by the way. It is thought Stephen said ‘Babylon’ to emphasise the captivity of Israel.

Henry offers a detailed analysis of these last two verses — Acts 7:42-43. God asked if His people had offered Him sacrifices during their time in the wilderness. Notice how He addressed them as ‘O house of Israel’, implying He had chosen them and they, in turn, rejected His law for them:

No; during all that time sacrifices to God were intermitted; they did not so much as keep the passover after the second year. It was God’s condescension to them that he did not insist upon it during their unsettled state; but then let them consider how ill they requited him in offering sacrifices to idols, when God dispensed with their offering them to him.

As for Stephen’s audience:

This is also a check to their zeal for the customs that Moses delivered to them, and their fear of having them changed by this Jesus, that immediately after they were delivered these customs were for forty years together disused as needless things.

Henry then explains the horrors of the Israelites’ gods and idols, which they worshipped from that point until their much later captivity in Babylon ended. This lasted for generations:

Moloch was the idol of the children of Ammon, to which they barbarously offered their own children in sacrifice, which they could not do without great terror and grief to themselves and their families; yet this unnatural idolatry they arrived at, when God gave them up to worship the host of heaven. See 2 Chronicles 28:3. It was surely the strongest delusion that ever people were given up to, and the greatest instance of the power of Satan in the children of disobedience, and therefore it is here spoken of emphatically: Yea, you took up the tabernacle of Moloch …

Then there is the matter of the universe:

Some think Remphan signifies the moon, as Moloch does the sun; others take it for Saturn, for that planet is called Remphan in the Syriac and Persian languages. The Septuagint puts it for Chiun, as being a name more commonly known. They had images representing the star, like the silver shrines for Diana, here called the figures which they made to worship. Dr. Lightfoot [a Bible scholar of Henry’s era] thinks they had figures representing the whole starry firmament, with all the constellations, and the planets, and these are called Remphan–“the high representation,” like the celestial globe: a poor thing to make an idol of, and yet better than a golden calf!

God’s ultimate punishment was to send the Israelites to captivity in Babylon. After that, their idol worship ended.

MacArthur sums this up for us:

So in a short little statement, Stephen recites the history of idolatry in Israel, from Sinai to Babylon. And you know they had the law all that time? They had the law. All those years they had the law. They had teachers of the law, scribes and everybody. They just kept rejecting, rejecting, rejecting, rejecting. So Stephen says, “Don’t accuse me of blaspheming the law. Check your own history.”

MacArthur says that nothing has changed, even today:

If Jesus had been our Messiah, all of those great Jewish leaders would’ve known He was our Messiah. We wouldn’t have missed it.” That’s one of the things that Jews even argue about today. “Why, with all of the great rabbis and teachers of the past, they would know if the Messiah came. They wouldn’t have missed him.”

That is why Stephen framed his apologetic the way he did:

And Stephen says, “Guess what? You missed Moses. Guess what? You missed Joseph. You never picked up on Joseph until the second time around, and you never picked up on Moses until the second time around.” And when is it they’re going to pick up on Jesus? The second time around. That’s no argument at all. “We would’ve known.” Your history proves you didn’t know. “You do always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers have done, so do you.” “You’re right on schedule. It always takes two times to get through to you.”

Scripture says that the second time around will be too late.

Let us pray for those who reject Christ, whoever they might be. Let us pray for them to be delivered from spiritual blindness and carnal captivity.

Stephen’s discourse continues in next week’s instalment.

Next time: Acts 7:44-50

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

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 7:23-29

23 “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. 26 And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ 27 But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.

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Today’s verses are a continuation of Stephen’s address to the temple court.

Stephen was one of the first deacons, whom the Apostles appointed along with five other holy and wise men from the Hellenist (Greek) Jews. Acts 6 gives us the account of how and why the Apostles chose them.

As the Church at this time was centred at the temple in Solomon’s Portico, the Jews, including the religious leaders, could see and hear thousands of converts every day. They knew that the Apostles were teaching and doing miraculous healing, the way Jesus did. The threat to the Jewish authorities was expanding. It was bad enough that Jews from Jerusalem were becoming followers of Jesus, but now Jews from other nations were, too.

Stephen was brought before the temple council to defend himself against four 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 this 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 offered the first Christian apologetic: a defence of — reasoned case for — Jesus, in this case, as Messiah.

In last week’s verses, Stephen began his scriptural account of Moses: from the time of his birth through to his early adulthood. Please read that linked post if you haven’t done so, as it will help clarify today’s reading.

By the time Moses was born, several generations had passed since Joseph’s time. A new Pharaoh came to rule. He did not know the history of how the Israelites came to be there. Nor did he know the story of Joseph. Hence, he enslaved the descendants of the twelve patriarchs of Israel.

Despite having been adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and educated in all the best Egyptian traditions, Moses never forgot that he was an Israelite. Aged 40, he decided it was time to meet his family members (verse 23).

Matthew Henry tells us of Moses at this point in time, as described in Acts 7:22: ‘mighty in his words and deeds’. Emphases mine below:

He became a prime minister of state in Egypt. This seems to be meant by his being mighty in words and deeds. Though he had not a ready way of expressing himself, but stammered, yet he spoke admirably good sense, and every thing he said commanded assent, and carried its own evidence and force of reason along with it; and, in business, none went on with such courage, and conduct, and success. Thus was he prepared, by human helps, for those services, which, after all, he could not be thoroughly furnished for without divine illumination. Now, by all this, Stephen will make it appear that, notwithstanding the malicious insinuations of his persecutors, he had as high and honourable thoughts of Moses as they had.

Stephen did not speak of Moses’s stammering, only his greatness. This was to clear himself of the charge of blaspheming Moses.

However, as with his account of Joseph, Stephen was trying to tell the Jewish court that their ancestors rejected leaders such as Joseph and Moses to their detriment. Stephen was using Joseph and Moses as comparative figures for Jesus. The Jews rejected Joseph, Moses and Jesus.

Through his apologetic, Stephen wanted to convince his audience that Jesus is Messiah.

Back now to our reading. Stephen said that Moses saw one of the Egyptians — probably a foreman — oppress one of the Israelite slaves. Moses, in turn, fatally struck the man (verse 24). Moses saw the Egyptian abuse one of his family members and wanted to avenge his kinsman.

Moses knew:

that his commission from heaven would bear him out

However, he also worked on the assumption that his kith and kin would recognise that he was one of them and that he was sent to deliver them from bondage to the Promised Land (verse 25):

he supposed that his brethren (who could not but have some knowledge of the promise made to Abraham, that the nation that should oppress them God would judge) would have understood that God by his hand would deliver them; for he could not have had either presence of mind or strength of body to do what he did, if he had not been clothed with such a divine power as evinced a divine authority.

But that was not the case.

The incident elicited a lot of talk because, when Moses returned to the slaves the next day, they were quarrelling (verse 26). Some must have been saying, ‘He did a good thing. Could he deliver us? Is he fulfilling the promise made to Abraham?’ Others no doubt took the opposite view, ‘Who does that guy think he is?’

Moses, wanting them to make peace, asked why they were quarrelling. Instead of responding rationally, the Israelite contending with his neighbour pushed Moses aside and asked who made him judge and ruler over them (verse 27). He went further by asking if Moses was going to kill him, too.

Henry warns us about people like this:

Proud and litigious spirits are impatient of check and control.

That response was Israel’s rejection of Moses. That Israelite who spoke to him so aggressively was stubborn and spiritually blind. That is what Stephen was trying to convict the Jewish court of: a similar but infinitely more serious rejection of Jesus.

John MacArthur says of Moses:

He had done the first thing. He had shown that he was going to defend them. But they didn’t get the message. They understood not. So blind, they were blind to their own redeemer, their own deliverer, the one who was going to take them to the Promised Land. It was the time of promise, verse 17 said it, and it was time to go, but they weren’t going to go because they weren’t going to accept the deliverer.

Jesus came and offered a kingdom. They didn’t accept the King. Did they get the kingdom? No, it was postponed. Moses came and said, “I’ll give you the Promised Land.” Did they get the Promised Land? Forty years later they got it. No, 80 years later, because they didn’t believe when the redeemer came the first time. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Verse 26, “And the next day he showed himself to them as they strove.” He came down there and two of them were arguing. He not only came to defend them from their enemies, he came to make peace among them. He was the truest kind of deliverer. His plans were not only political, they were personal. He not only saw the deliverance of Israel as a nation, he saw himself as a peacemaker between individuals. That’s the heart of a real deliverer, isn’t it? Great man.

Thus rejected, Moses exiled himself to Midian, where he fathered two sons (verse 29). MacArthur tells us:

Remember his wife, Zipporah? He married her over there and he fiddled around in the desert for 40 years herding sheep.

Stephen’s point to the court about Moses was that God postponed Israel’s deliverance because they were stubborn, blind, aggressive and disobedient. He punished them with 40 more years of slavery and another 40 in the journey to the Promised Land. Many Israelites died during that time because they rejected Moses in the first place. Had they accepted him, they would have adhered to God’s timetable.

Although Stephen did not know this — he was the first martyr — their rejection of Christ resulted in the destruction of the temple decades later by the Romans in 70 AD: God’s punishment. It was never rebuilt.

Yet, although he was convicting his audience of spiritual blindness and brutal rejection, Stephen wanted to open their eyes, to give them insight into Jesus as Messiah. Stephen was saying, ‘Accept Jesus as I accept Him as the Deliverer, the Promised One, the Messiah’.

Henry says that, with this apologetic, Stephen cleared himself of blaspheming Moses. Furthermore, he indirectly warned the court not to reject his message about Jesus, the way their ancestors rejected Moses. Finally, he warned them, again indirectly, that if they did reject Jesus as Messiah, God would take Him away from them in favour of the Gentiles.

The next reading continues Stephen’s discourse on Moses.

Forbidden Bible Verses continues after Easter.

Next time: Acts 7:30-34

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 7:17-22

17 “But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt 18 until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph. 19 He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive. 20 At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, 21 and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. 22 And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.

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Acts 7 is about one of the first deacons of the Church, Stephen, who became the first martyr.

Acts 6 tells us how the Apostles chose Stephen and six other men to serve as deacons: ensuring charity was dispensed and handling any donations.

All of these deacons were beyond reproach and were Hellenistic — Greek — Jews.

As the Church at this time was centred at the temple in Solomon’s Portico, the Jews, including the religious leaders, could see and hear thousands of converts every day. They knew that the Apostles were teaching and doing miraculous healing, the way Jesus did. The threat to the Jewish authorities was expanding. It was bad enough that Jews from Jerusalem were becoming followers of Jesus, but now Jews from other nations were, too.

Stephen was brought to the temple council to defend himself against four 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 this point, he accomplished two objectives: held his audience’s attention and defended himself against the charge of blaspheming God.

As Stephen relates his scriptural knowledge of the early patriarchs, he is also indicting his audience for rejection of Jesus as Messiah. His reason for mentioning Joseph was to get them to realise that Joseph was treated by his brothers the same way the Jews treated Jesus.

Stephen offered the first apologetic — defence of, reasoned case for — that Jesus is Messiah.

In today’s verses, Stephen begins his talk about Moses. Recall that Joseph was Pharaoh’s right hand man when a famine hit Israel and Egypt. Joseph’s brothers and his father Jacob were in Israel. The brothers went to Egypt for grain, the supply of which Joseph managed. Pharaoh invited the brothers to bring their families and Jacob to live in Egypt.

The historical setting for today’s verses is many generations later. The leaders of the twelve tribes have long since died. So has the kind Pharaoh. The people of Israel are still in Egypt, but greatly multiplied, so that they are now the size of a small nation. God was ready to return them to their own land, as He had promised Abraham (verse 17).

There was a problem. A new Pharaoh came to rule, one who did not know the great things that Joseph had done (verse 18). Consequently, he cared nothing for the Israelites. This new king made slaves out of the people of Israel and made them kill their children (verse 19) probably as a means of genocide.

Stephen mentions this because he is indicting the Jewish leaders of trying to kill the infant Church.

Matthew Henry offers this analysis (emphases mine):

Now Stephen seems to observe this to them, not only that they might further see how mean their beginnings were, fitly represented (perhaps with an eye to the exposing of the young children in Egypt) by the forlorn state of a helpless, out-cast infant (Ezekiel 16:4), and how much they were indebted to God for his care of them, which they had forfeited, and made themselves unworthy of: but also that they might consider that what they were now doing against the Christian church in its infancy was as impious and unjust, and would be in the issue as fruitless and ineffectual, as that was which the Egyptians did against the Jewish church in its infancy. “You think you deal subtly in your ill treatment of us, and, in persecuting young converts, you do as they did in casting out the young children; but you will find it is to no purpose, in spite of your malice Christ’s disciples will increase and multiply.”

This period in Israel’s history was the time when Moses was born (Exodus 2). Stephen described him as ‘beautiful in God’s sight’ (verse 20). Moses’s parents brought him up for three months hidden away at home. Then his mother placed him in a basket, which she made waterproof, and set him in the reeds by the river bank.

Pharaoh’s daughter found the basket and a servant opened it to find a crying baby. Moses’s sister was on the sidelines watching. She approached Pharaoh’s daughter, who was quite taken by this beautiful infant, and offered to find ‘a nurse from the Hebrew women’ to feed the baby (Exodus 2:7). This canny girl fetched her mother — Moses’s mother — and took her to Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses’s mother was paid to nurse her own son and when he was old enough, she took him to live in Pharaoh’s opulent palace. Pharaoh’s daughter took Moses as her own son and gave him that name because it sounds like the Hebrew for ‘draw out’, i.e. she drew him out of the water.

Now back to Acts, where Stephen said that Moses grew up to be well educated in Egyptian ways and very accomplished as an adult (verse 22).

John MacArthur describes Moses, saying that the ancient Jewish historian:

Josephus says that the history tells him that when Moses walked down the street, everybody stopped doing what they were doing just to look at him, because he was so striking and so handsome. So he was quite a man. But even as a baby he was exceedingly fair, handsome child.

So Moses was adopted as the son of Pharaoh, with all the benefits. You can imagine what kind of benefits went with being the son of Pharaoh. So he lived in the palace …

He was an amazing person. Not only exceedingly fair and handsome, not only with all of the ability that was his just by virtue of his birth and his inheritance physically, heredity, but what was his by the education that he got in Egypt. I mean, the Egyptians, they tell us, knew geometry and medicine and astronomy, and they were very advanced, and Moses was a remarkable man, with all of that natural ability coupled with the finest and most comprehensive education available in the ancient world. And he was going to be God’s deliverer, to lead Israel to the land of promise. He was mighty.

With this introductory discourse on Moses, Stephen cleared himself of the charge of blaspheming him. He paints a highly positive picture of the man. Of course, Moses was far from perfect as a leader of the twelve tribes, and there were times when he disobeyed God in memorable ways. However, MacArthur says:

But, you see, Stephen stays away from all that. He’s defending himself against blaspheming Moses, so he just praises him.

So far, so good. Stephen had more to say about Moses, which I’ll cover in future posts.

Next time: Acts 7:23-29

Bible read me 2The 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.

Matthew 19:7-9

They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”[a]

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This week’s verses continue our Lord’s discussion on divorce with the Pharisees.

There is much to unpack here.

To recap, the first part of Matthew 19 explains where Jesus is at this time. Last week’s post covered God’s plan for Adam and Eve as well as the covenant of marriage, based on His creation of the couple.

This week’s verses are the middle of Jesus’s teaching on divorce. The Pharisees were known to divorce their wives for any reason, no matter how trivial. I wrote about this at length in 2014 when discussing Luke 16:18. Therefore, it is interesting that they interpret Moses’s position on divorce as a ‘command’ (verse 7), when our Lord clearly saw it as something which is ‘allowed’ (verse 8).

The passage the Pharisees were referring to was Deuteronomy 24:1-4:

Laws Concerning Divorce

24 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.

In short, John MacArthur says that ‘indecency’ (verse 1) refers to something just short of adultery. Contrary to what the Pharisees believed, it had nothing to do with burnt dinners, sloppy housekeeping or disagreements with the mother-in-law. Under Mosaic Law, adulterers were to be stoned to death, although there were many who never received that sentence. MacArthur surmises that there were too many adulterers at the time; therefore, handing out death sentences would have been rank hypocrisy. It would certainly have thinned the population, if true.

In any event, a woman’s former husband cannot remarry her if he’s divorced her (verse 4). That is the real takeaway message here — and the one command!

Divorcing for anything other than adultery defiles the woman. Therefore, the ex-husband may not remarry her on those grounds. This is why verse 4 speaks of not bringing sin upon the land that the Lord has given in inheritance.

No Old Testament passages on divorce command it. In fact, in some instances it was strictly forbidden. Where a man has sexual congress with a virgin to whom he is not married (Deuteronomy 22:18-19, emphases mine):

18 Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip[b] him, 19 and they shall fine him a hundred shekels[c] of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin[d] of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days.

Later on, it says the same in verses 28 and 29:

28 “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.

We read in Leviticus 21:7 of priestly marriage:

They shall not marry a prostitute or a woman who has been defiled, neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband, for the priest is holy to his God.

And, again, in verse 14:

A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, or a prostitute, these he shall not marry. But he shall take as his wife a virgin[b] of his own people,

Going back to Deuteronomy 24, MacArthur sums it up this way:

Deuteronomy 24 does not command divorce.  It commands that you not remarry an illegitimately divorced person.  It’s a very strong word, my friend.  You don’t want to marry an illegitimately divorced person because you’re marrying someone who is defiled

This is because God intended for the holy covenant of marriage among His people:

Now, you see, God is protecting marriage.  And He’s saying this: you can’t just divorce your wife for anything you want, or you’re going to turn her into an adulteress, whoever marries her into an adulterer, yourself and who you marry into one, so just know that, and that ought to help you when you think about getting rid of your wife.  Because you’re just going to become an adulterer, and whoever you marry is going to fall into that category, and so is everybody else.  And you see, God is, in a sense, trying to insulate that one man, one woman, monogamous, lifelong relationship by making the alternative one of disaster.  And so, this text does not command divorce; it commands that you do not remarry an illegitimately divorced person.

Some may ask if the Bible explains how Moses decided, with God’s help, to allow divorce as a realistic way of dealing with the Israelites’ ‘hardness of heart’ (verse 8). There is no such verse:

Frankly, dear friends, we don’t know where in the Old Testament Moses actually permitted it because it doesn’t say that, but we do know that it must have been permitted for a legitimate basis or it wouldn’t have been discussed for illegitimate basis in Deuteronomy 24.  But the Old Testament does not give us a text where it says I permit you to get a divorce on the basis of this.  So, we have to sort of draw that out.  And I think there’s a reason for that.  I think God avoided saying it.  It is a permission, but it’s sort of way behind the scenes, it’s not overtly stated lest people hurry to that passage to justify themselves

God is also merciful and does not want to see innocent parties penalised by forbidding them to remarry:

… when there was an irreconcilable problem, in other words, you’ve got a partner in a marriage who is in an adulterous relationship and will not sever it and will not sever it, and there’s no way to bring it back, there’s no way to restore it.  God may be gracious to that adulterous person, but where that hard heart is not softened, God permitted divorce for the innocent party to be free to remarry.  I believe where you have an unrepentant, irreconcilable adultery, you have a hard heartAnd you are pursuing your adultery in a hard-hearted way, then Moses allowed, not condoned, not commended, and not commanded, but allowed divorce, when God was gracious and didn’t bring death.  That’s all we can understand about it, otherwise nothing makes sense. 

We cannot give any more latitude than the Word of God does.  It was a concession on account of sin to make life more bearable for one sinned against

In the case of death, the marriage covenant comes to an end. As such, the widowed party can remarry:

In other words, let’s say in the Old Testament your husband commits adultery, he’s dead.  He has no chance to repent.  If he’s unredeemed, he’s in hell forever.  Are you free to remarry?  Sure, because death breaks the marriage

There were, however, times when divorce was allowed. Ezra 10 describes what happened when men of Israel married pagan women then repented. They came up with the idea to divorce them: they were not of their culture which was known to be adulterous. They were defiled women in the first place. Ezra gave the men his permission to divorce.

MacArthur says:

They had temple prostitutes, both male and female.  And when they went to worship, for example, the people who worshiped Baal would go in and actually engage in sex orgies.  And I believe the reason that the reason there can be legitimate grounds for divorce here, is because their spouses were pagan adulterers and idolaters, okay?  And on that basis, God is permitting them to shed those wives, or husbands, who are engaged in that incessant, unceasing worship of false gods connected not only with idolatry, but with adultery.  And so, you see implied here then that they were to be divorced because of the spiritual intermarriage with idols, and the physical union they were having with the prostitutes who carried on the idolatrous worship.  Now this is a hint, then, at the fact that there is legitimate divorce where there is adultery involved, a very important text. 

Isaiah 50 is interesting as it records God’s asking Israel for her divorce certificate for adultery — sinfulness via idolatry. That ‘certificate’ does not exist. Only God can make that decision. And, because He is loving and merciful, He did not divorce Himself from Israel.

He threatened it later, only after 700 years of continual hardness of heart and worse behaviour from Judah, as chronicled in Jeremiah 3. Even then, God called his adulterous (sinful) people to repentance!

Returning to Matthew 19, this is what Matthew Henry has to say about the ‘hardness of heart’ that Jesus — and Moses — referred to:

their being hardened against their relations they were generally violent and outrageous, which way soever they took, both in their appetites and in their passions and therefore if they had not been allowed to put away their wives, when they had conceived a dislike of them, they would have used them cruelly, would have beaten and abused them, and perhaps have murdered them. Note, There is not a greater piece of hard-heartedness in the world, than for a man to be harsh and severe with his own wife. The Jews, it seems, were infamous for this, and therefore were allowed to put them away better divorce them than do worse, than that the altar of the Lord should be covered with tears, Malachi 2:13. A little compliance, to humour a madman, or a man in a frenzy, may prevent a greater mischief. Positive laws may be dispensed with for the preservation of the law of nature, for God will have mercy and not sacrifice but then those are hard-hearted wretches, who have made it necessary and none can wish to have the liberty of divorce, without virtually owning the hardness of their hearts. Observe, He saith, It is for the hardness of your hearts, not only theirs who lived then, but all their seed. Note, God not only sees, but foresees, the hardness of men’s hearts he suited both the ordinances and providences of the Old Testament to the temper of that people, both in terror.

Henry adds an excellent concise explanation of the difference between the messages of the Old and New Testaments:

The law of Moses considered the hardness of men’s hearts, but the gospel of Christ cures it and his grace takes away the heart of stone, and gives a heart of flesh. By the law was the knowledge of sin, but by the gospel was the conquest of it.

That’s a marvellous way to explain the Bible. So many unchurched and unbelievers press the importance of Mosaic Law, when, in fact, Christ lifts that burden from us and brings us to life — in every sense of the word.

Ultimately, Jesus repeats what has been written throughout the Old Testament (verse 9). He knew the Pharisees were divorcing their wives wrongly, thereby defiling them. This is MacArthur’s take:

He silenced the Pharisees.  In fact, He made them appear as adulterers.  So, when they came to Him, they really walked into a buzz saw.  They were trying to discredit Him and before the conversation is half over.  They’re standing there, a whole stack of adulterers in public gaze.

Next week’s post concludes Jesus’s teaching on divorce.

Parallel passages for today’s verses are Matthew 5:31-32, Mark 10:10-12 and Luke 16:18.

Next time: Matthew 19:10-12

Bible spine dwtx.orgContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (The Gospel: Self-love or Self-Hate?, The Gospel in Perspective, Who’s Ashamed of Whom?, A Glimpse of the King’s Return — Part 1) .

Luke 9:25-27

25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

—————————————————————————————

The preceding verses to this passage are:

23And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

It is noteworthy that already Jesus has mentioned the cross — and our own personal cross of trial and tribulation in this world.

Matthew Henry says (emphases in bold mine):

1. We must accustom ourselves to all instances of self-denial and patience, Luke 9:23. This is the best preparative for martyrdom. We must live a life of self-denial, mortification, and contempt of the world we must not indulge our ease and appetite, for then it will be hard to bear toil, and weariness, and want, for Christ. We are daily subject to affliction, and we must accommodate ourselves to it, and acquiesce in the will of God in it, and must learn to endure hardship. We frequently meet with crosses in the way of duty and, though we must not pull them upon our own heads, yet, when they are laid for us, we must take them up, carry them after Christ, and make the best of them.

2. We must prefer the salvation and happiness of our souls before any secular concern whatsoever.

In verse 25, Jesus asked how a person benefits if he seeks after the pleasures and trinkets of this world whilst forfeiting his soul. No doubt we can think of any number of people who must have the latest ‘must have’ item as soon as possible. They think mainly in terms of buying things and going on holiday.

Yet, spiritually, they are bereft. Most abandoned their faith — if it ever existed — a long time ago. For them, the final breath they draw will mean the end of their physical life with no afterlife. No wonder they see fit to enjoy themselves with such abandon.

Yet, Jesus’s words tell us otherwise. In verse 26, He clearly tells us of His Second Coming. People who are ashamed of Him during their lifetimes will not share in eternal life in His presence. Clearly, not all of us will be entering the Kingdom of God. Yet, universalism persists.

Who is ashamed of Jesus? Those who lost their faith when they married an atheist. Those who refuse to investigate the truth of Scripture because their spouse is an unbeliever. Those who place more value on family, pleasure or work than in Christ. And there are likely to be churchgoers in this group.

When Jesus spoke, He had an immediate message for his Jewish audience. John MacArthur explains:

If you’re not willing to come to Me with such complete abandon, such total commitment that it might cost you your father, your mother, your wife, your children, your brothers, your sister, and your life, you’re not coming on My terms. What He means, of course, by that is you’re stepping away from their religion and it’s going to cost you that relationship. Many people know this, of course. You become a Christian, everybody else in your family who’s not a Christian is immediately alienated. It is especially severe if you happen to come out of a family like these people were in, in the…steeped in the midst of historic Judaism, the price was high. And so this is another way of Jesus saying it will cost you everything. And if you’re not willing to pay that price, although He may not require it, if you’re not willing to pay, you’re not desperate enough, you don’t understand the narrowness. You’re coming through without the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, the baggage you’ve always carried, you’re coming through without holding on to all the relationships, you can’t drag everybody with you through the narrow gate, it’s…you come alone. You can’t even consider your life something to hold on to because the Lord may require that.

Today, in Europe, the challenge is to admit one is a faithful Christian. It is as difficult for us as it was for Jews following Christ. It is a narrow road and one must be prepared to be denounced, to be denied work, to be forced to the margins of society in subtle and unsubtle ways. My advice to American parents is to prepare their children for this eventuality in the United States; it is surely on its way within the next generation or so. To that end, pray and study Scripture with them. Make sure they know what they believe and why they believe it. Too many Sunday school lessons are bereft of biblical messages, which makes it all the easier for adolescents and young adults to drift away from Christ.

In verse 27, Jesus makes what must have been a curious statement at the time. He said that some would see His Kingdom before they died. They were already seeing great manifestations of it in His creative miracles, although it wasn’t registering quite as it should in their minds. In the near future, they would know of His crucifixion and His rising from the dead. He would then ascend into Heaven and send the Holy Spirit. More immediately, however, another manifestation of the Kingdom came roughly a week later with the story of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). Jesus chose Peter, John and James to see Him with Moses and Elijah.

MacArthur analyses this heavenly and marvellous event for us:

Why Moses and Elijah? Well I thought about this and I thought…well, if I could go back to the Old Testament and think of which two characters most prominent in the Old Testament had unusual demises, or unusual exists out of this world, the first two that come to my mind are Moses and Elijah. Most people, they died and he was buried with his fathers, right? You go through Genesis, he died and he was buried, he died and he was buried. You know, it’s kind of a routine thing. It’s still going on, obviously. But not Moses and Elijah. Moses had a very unusual death and his body was never found. His body was never found because there was a battle over his body between Satan and Michael and they were fighting over the body of Moses. Satan wanted to do something really bad with the body of Moses. We don’t know what because he didn’t succeed. They were contending for the body of Moses and it tells us in Deuteronomy 34:6 that God just took his body and buried it Himself. Nobody knows where…nobody knows where. So somebody could raise the question…well what happened to Moses? We’re not sure what happened to Moses? Well good news, he’s over there on the other side. You may not be able to find his body, you may wonder about where it is and why he disappeared in such a strange way, but the good news is he’s over there because here he is appearing on the other side.

Deuteronomy 34 describes Moses’s death and Joshua’s ascent to leadership. What follows is Deuteronomy 34:4-8:

4And the LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” 5So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD, 6and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. 7 Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated. 8And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.

Jude 9 explains:

9But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”

Calling all wishy-washy Anglicans — especially clergy: note the mention of the devil, the one whose existence is theologically difficult to justify.

Back now to MacArthur and his analysis of the Transfiguration:

And Elijah, Elijah, do you remember what happened to him? He didn’t even die … He went to heaven in a chariot of fire. That’s what it says in 2 Kings 2:11, he just…God just picked him up in His private chariot and shwissh, he was in heaven. Never died. So that’s the second person who had the sort of strange exodus …

What follows are excerpts from 2 Kings 2, which describe Elijah’s and Elisha’s dramatic final walk together and what happened to Elisha afterward:

6Then Elijah said to him, “Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. 7Fifty men of the sons of the prophets also went and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8Then Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground.

 9When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” 10And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” 11And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 12And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.

   Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. 13And he took up the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14Then he took the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and struck the water, saying, “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” And when he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

Elisha went on to cleanse — ‘heal’ — the local water in the Lord’s name. At the end of the chapter, a group of boys ridicules him:

23He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” 24And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. 25From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.

MacArthur says:

Now if there were two Old Testament witnesses that the people of Israel would trust more than any others, it would probably be Moses and Elijah. Moses was the most revered, still is the most revered among the Jews. The greatest leader in Israel’s history led them out of captivity, that’s why he’s their final hero. He was a king in authority, he was a prophet in message, he was a priest in service to God for His people. He gave the Pentateuch, the five books that set down the law. I mean, he was trustworthy. As a witness to the other side, couldn’t get better than Moses and running a close second to Moses would have to be Elijah. Elijah was such a godly person that like Enoch, the only other person who was so beloved by God that he didn’t die, and Moses stands for the law and Elijah stands for the prophets and the Old Testament was always called the law and the prophets. And what was Elijah’s distinction? He had fought against idolatry. Moses gave the law, and Elijah guarded it. He was probably the primary guardian of the law of God among the people. First Kings 17 through 19, 2 Kings chapters 1 and 2, he fought for the law, he fought for the honor of God against idolatry. God validated his prophecies with miracles, you remember. Moses the prominent lawgiver, Elijah the prominent prophet, they represent the Old Testament. They represent the saints. And there they are standing in the presence of Jesus having a discussion about Jesus’ upcoming exodus. There couldn’t be anybody give more assurance to Peter, James and John than Moses and Elijah ...

Here the men representing the Old Testament and what they’re saying is as those who represent the Old Testament, isn’t it wonderful, Lord, that You’re on schedule. This is not an interruption. Your departure is coming and down the way, so is Your glory. The very men from inside the Kingdom representing the law and the prophets standing with Jesus in His glory is a confirmation of His messiahship, confirmation of His deity, confirmation that the plan of God is on schedule, confirmation that it will ultimately end in glory. They appear, verse 31 says, in glory. That is to say they’re a part of that whole majesty, that whole glory, that whole essential life that’s characteristic of that eternal kingdom. And they’re talking about the departure which he was about to accomplish. That’s wonderful. The word accomplish means to fulfill. It wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t a breach in the plan, it was a fulfillment of the plan.

Jesus, as ever, has given us much to consider in these verses. He warns us about lukewarm or convenient belief; He tells us that the road to salvation is indeed difficult but He also gives three blessed Apostles a glimpse of what Kingdom life will be like.

May we never be ashamed to confess Jesus as Lord.

Next time: Luke 9:37-43

Almost every atheist bangs on about Moses and Christians.

This is incomprehensible to most Christians, because Jesus Christ put an end to the 613 tenets of Mosaic Law.

Yet, the atheist’s bravo sierra persists: ‘So, how is it you can eat seafood and wear mixed fabrics?’

Why are they not asking this of Reform Jews instead?

My suggestion to atheists is to stop reading the ignoramus Dawkins and begin studying the Bible and proper Christian theology.

My ‘go to’ man for biblical Christianity is the Reformed minister and Westminster Seminary California professor, Dr R Scott Clark, author of several theological books and the website Heidelblog, devoted to the eponymous catechism and the Reformed confessions.

If every town and city had an R Scott Clark, we would have much less unbelief and a more intelligent articulation of Christian faith.

Take, for example, Dr Clark’s ‘Abraham was not Moses’. Most professing Christians know the difference between the two. All of us will acknowledge both as being biblical greats. However, for Christians, one outshines the other in spiritual terms.

Clark explains (excerpts follow, more at the link, emphases mine):

The covenant theology underlying the Reformed view of baptism does not understand Abraham to have been, strictly speaking, an “old testament” character. He was a typological character in the history of redemption (John 8:56; , Matt 3:9; 22:2; Acts 3;13, 22; 13:26; Rom 4; 9:6; Gal 3; Gal 4:21; Heb 2:16; 6:13-15; ch. 7; 11:8; 11:17;  but not an “old covenant” character. He lived in the period of, as Hebrews puts it, “types and shadows” (Heb 8:5;  10:1. see also Col 2:16).

We distinguish Abraham from the old covenant because Paul does so consistently. He does so in 2 Cor 3:14 when he applies the language “old covenant” not to Abraham but to Moses. Of course the pattern for this was established in Jeremiah 31:32, which describes the new covenant as not like that made with the fathers when they were led out of Egypt. In other words, Jeremiah connects the old covenant to Moses and not to Abraham. Paul also makes this identification in Galatians 3 and 4, where he explicitly distinguishes between Abraham and Moses. In Gal 3 Paul argues that the Mosaic covenant did not change the Abrahamic covenant which is fundamental to God’s administration of saving grace in the world. The Mosaic covenant was a codicil added to the Abrahamic covenant 430 years later and it has expired with the coming of Christ. The Abrahamic covenant, however, has not expired.

The NT appeals consistently to Abraham and to the promise given to Abraham, not in earthly terms but in spiritual terms, not with respect to the land promises (which has expired with the expiration of the national covenant with Israel) but it consistently regards Abraham as our spiritual father in the faith. Abraham was looking forward to the heavenly city.

This is true not only of the Reformed — Calvinist — denominations but of Catholic and the other earliest Protestant ones as well: Lutheran, which came before Calvinism, then the Anglican Church.

Liturgical prayers, particularly during the Holy Communion service, often refer to ‘Abraham, our father in faith’.

None refers to Moses. And Christ’s abolition — fulfilment — of Mosaic Law (ritual, hygienic, ceremonial) is the reason why.

Although other smaller denominations came later, hardly any of these — including piestist-oriented churches — observe Mosaic Law. Those which do, do so in error. Those are not true Christian congregations.

Abraham’s story is one of absolute faith and hope in the Almighty. God asked him to sacrifice his only son Isaac. When God saw Abraham’s faith as he brought Isaac forward, He had confirmation of the man’s belief. Does this occur now? No. However, God works everything to His divine plan. Abraham is a role model for us. God blessed him richly because of his obedience to Him.

Today obedience is a bad word, even when it concerns God our Creator and Father. However, Christians cannot consider themselves as such unless they recognise His sovereignty.

Certainly, Dr Clark would have expressed my thoughts more eloquently.

Suffice it to say that Abraham’s belief was one of hope. He did not see Christ Jesus on Earth. He lived thousands of years before the arrival of the Messiah. Yet, without knowing the detail, he believed in God’s salvific plan which would embrace all of mankind.

This brings us to the everlasting covenant of God’s grace and what Protestants refer to as the solas. As Clark explains:

The chief benefit  of the covenant of grace is righteousness with God and it is by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide) which looks to the righteousness of Christ alone (solo Christo). This was true for Abraham and it’s true for believers today. Abraham believed as a gentile and he believed as a Jew. Circumcision did not do anything more or less than signify and seal his faith, i.e. it was visible word or proclamation of the coming obedience and death of Jesus (through the shedding of blood) and a seal or a promise to those who believe that what the gospel offers is really true for them.

Clark goes on to cite the book of Hebrews in the New Testament, specifically chapters 7 – 10 and 13. Essentially:

The comparison and contrast is not between Abraham and the new covenant but between Moses and the new covenant. The covenant that God made with Abraham was a covenant of grace, the covenant he confirmed with the “blood of the eternal covenant” (Heb 13:20).

Therefore, with Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the Cross:

The Mosaic covenant, the old covenant, is, in the language of 2 Cor, fading. According to Hebrews 8:13 it is “obsolete.” These things are not said about Abraham’s faith or the promise of salvation given to and through Abraham.

Thus, the Reformed covenant theology sees the promises and commands given to Abraham as still in force. The typological elements (bloodshed in circumcision) have been fulfilled in Christ but the promises and commands (to initiate children of believers into the visible covenant community) remain. This is why God said through the Apostle Peter, “the promise is to you and to your children….” The promise is the very promise he gave to Abraham: “I will be a God to you and to your children.

I hope that this explains briefly why the Mosaic Covenant is no longer in force for Christians. It was to prepare the Jews for the Messiah’s coming. It had a time limit. Jesus was meant to fulfil it, which He did on what we recognise as Good Friday. He died for our sins, and rose on the third day — Easter Sunday.

Atheists might wish to step back from Dawkins and read the Bible for themselves, along with worthwhile biblically Christian sites as well as solid biblical commentary.

Heidelblog is a good place to start.

Carl Gobelman is the author of New Creation Person (see Blogroll).  You can read all about his background and his journey with Christ at his site.  He’s got great posts about the Bible which certainly give pause for thought.

On January 4, 2010, he blogged on the life of Moses.  We rightly think of Moses as being iconic, an image reinforced in the popular mind thanks to Charlton Heston’s portrayal of the great man in the Ten Commandments.  Whilst Moses was indeed great, for reasons which Carl explains, he also had the same human faults that the rest of us do.  Carl tells us more in an inspired post, excerpts of which follow.  I hope he won’t mind that I’m excerpting it here with my own subheads. 

The point is to give each of us more confidence as we do the Lord’s work and obey His will.  Let us not say, ‘I can’t, because I’m not talented enough’ or ‘Sorry, I’m too old’.  Some of what we see as negative qualities of the human condition can work positively for God’s purposes when we put our lives in His hands. We can pray that God burnishes our failings and brings us to do His will. You can see below how God shaped Moses.  Now, read on.  But don’t miss the original!

Impulsive and hot-headed

As the plight of the Hebrews began to gnaw at his soul, Moses takes it upon himself to be the savior of his people. As Stephen says before the Jewish ruling council, “[Moses] supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand” (Acts 7:25). From this incident in his life, we learn that Moses was a man of action as well as a man possessed of a hot temper and prone to rash actions.

Impatient

Moses, whether or not he was truly cognizant of his role in the salvation of the Hebrew people, acted rashly and impetuously. He tried to do is his timing what God wanted done in his timing. The lesson for us is obvious: We must be acutely aware of not only doing God’s will, but doing God’s will in his timing, not ours. As is the case with too many other biblical examples to count, when we attempt to do God’s will in our timing, we make a bigger mess than originally existed.

Wanting too much too soon

Moses needed time to grow and mature and learn to be meek and humble before God, and this brings us to the next chapter in Moses’ life — his 40 years in the land of Midian. During this time, Moses learned the simple life of a shepherd, a husband, and a father. God took an impulsive and hot-tempered young man and began the process of molding and shaping him into the perfect instrument for God to use.

Gun shy

Another thing we see from Moses during his time spent in Midian was that when God finally did call him into service, Moses was resistant. The man of action early in his life, Moses, now 80 years old, became overly timid. When called to speak for God, Moses said he was “slow of speech and tongue.” Some commentators believe that Moses may have had a speech impediment. Perhaps, but it is odd considering that Stephen said Moses was “mighty in words and deeds.” I think Moses was gun shy; he didn’t want to go back into Egypt and fall flat on his face again. This isn’t an uncommon feeling. How many of us have tried to do something (whether or not it was for God) and failed, and then been hesitant to try again?

Disobedient

Moses’ life also teaches us the lesson that there are certain sins that will continue to haunt us all throughout our lives. The same hot temper that got Moses into trouble in Egypt also got him into trouble during the wilderness wanderings. In the aforementioned incident at Meribah, Moses struck the rock in anger in order to provide water for the people. However, he didn’t give God the glory, nor did he follow God’s precise commands. As such, God forbade him from entering the Promised Land. In a similar manner, we all succumb to certain besetting sins which plague us all our days; sins that require us to be on constant alert.

Yet, God worked through Moses and, consequently:

– Moses’s faith in God helped him reject a comfortable life in Pharaoh’s court to liberate his own people.

– Moses consistently petitioned God on behalf of the Israelites.

– Moses is the principal author of the Pentateuch — the first five books of the Bible — the basis of Jewish law. 

– Moses’s life presaged that of Jesus, in that he was the mediator of a great covenant with God and delivered his people from slavery. 

– Moses, like Jesus, was a prophet to his people. He foretold of Jesus, who referred to this prophecy in His own teachings.

Carl reminds us that although Moses did not see the Promised Land during his life on Earth, he joined God in the ultimate Promised Land.  Along with Elijah, he appeared to Jesus and the disciples at the Transfiguration.

So, when you’re feeling a bit down about your faults and failings, take heart.  Think of Moses.  Pray that God infuses you with grace to do His will here on Earth.  Ask Him for patience and the ability to work whatever you do to His purpose.

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