Acts 7: 17 – 29 Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin – Part 2
‘As the time drew near for God to fulfil his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt had greatly increased. Then “a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt”. He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our ancestors by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die.
‘At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for by his family. When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.
‘When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his own people, the Israelites. He saw one of them being ill-treated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defence and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. Moses thought that his own people would realise that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not. The next day Moses came across two Israelites who were fighting. He tried to reconcile them by saying, “Men, you are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other?”
‘But the man who was ill-treating the other pushed Moses aside and said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?”
When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons.
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Stephen had been seized and taken before the Sanhedrin. He had been charged with preaching that Jesus of Nazareth would destroy the temple and change the customs established by Moses. In the first part of his defence, he summarised the story of Abraham and his descendants, as far as the patriarchs. This showed that when it came to the foundation of Israel, he was preaching an orthodox faith. It also established Abraham’s faith and obedience as a benchmark of piety.
Next, Stephen spoke about Moses. He recounted his miraculous preservation when exposed as an infant. If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s well worth reading in Exodus 2: 1 – 10. As a result of this deliverance, Moses was brought up in Pharaoh’s household, as the child of Pharaoh’s daughter. Stephen says, “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.”
Then, when he was a mature man, forty years old, Moses decided to visit his own people, the Israelites. When he visited them, he found an Egyptian ill-treating an Israelite, and he killed him. Once again, Stephen is basing his argument on scripture: “Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” (Exodus 2: 12)
Stephen continued, telling the Sanhedrin that the following day Moses visited again, and this time he found two Israelites fighting. When he tried to reconcile them, the aggressor pushed him aside and said “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?”
Knowing that he’d been found out as the Egyptian’s killer, Moses fled from Egypt to Midian.
Why did Stephen choose this particular detail of his life?
Four out of five books of the Pentateuch (the Jewish scriptures, which are also the first five books of our Old Testament) are about Moses’ story. That’s a substantial amount of detail from which Stephen could have chosen.
I think this sentence might contain at least part of the answer. “Moses thought that his own people would realise that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not.” This comment doesn’t appear in the account of the incident given in Exodus 2: 11 – 15. It may have been the way the Jews of Stephen’s day viewed Moses’ motivation, or it may have been inserted by Stephen. It makes Moses a forerunner of Jesus as a man sent from God to rescue his people.
When Moses tried to intercede between two Israelites who were fighting, he is rejected with the words, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?” – and these words do appear in the account in Exodus.
Stephen is making the point that the Israelites, despite their loud protestations of faith in Moses as prophet and Law-giver, actually rejected him when he first took up their cause. Every member of the Sanhedrin would have understood that Stephen was telling them that they had rejected Jesus just as their ancestors had rejected Moses.
What can this passage mean for our own lives?
When Moses interceded between the fighting Israelites, he wanted to help them be reconciled. He wanted them to feel a sense of brotherhood. He wanted them to feel they had a common purpose as God’s people.
When Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, prompts our conscience, he wants us to be reconciled with God. He wants us to experience God’s love, and share it with each other. He wants us to feel a common purpose as God’s people.
Let’s not be like the Sanhedrin, antagonistic and feeling threatened. Let’s be like Stephen, full of faith. Let’s welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives with joy!
Thank you that you love us and want only the best for us. Please fill us with your Holy Spirit and make us bold in telling people about Jesus.
In Jesus’ name, Amen