Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, by John Wesley, [1754-65], at sacred-texts.com
act 7:2And he said - St. Stephen had been accused of blasphemy against Moses, and even against God; and of speaking against the temple and the law, threatening that Jesus would destroy the one, and change the other. In answer to this accusation, rehearsing as it were the articles of his historical creed, he speaks of God with high reverence, and a grateful sense of a long series of Acts of goodness to the Israelites, and of Moses with great respect, on account of his important and honourable employments under God: of the temple with regard, as being built to the honour of God; yet not with such superstition as the Jews; putting them in mind, that no temple could comprehend God. And he was going on, no doubt, when he was interrupted by their clamour, to speak to the last point, the destruction of the temple, and the change of the law by Christ. Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken - The sum of his discourse is this: I acknowledge the glory of God revealed to the fathers, Act 7:2, the calling of Moses, Act 7:34 &c; the dignity of the law, Act 7:8, Act 7:38, Act 7:44; the holiness of this place, Act 7:7, Act 7:45, Act 7:47. And indeed the law is more ancient than the temple; the promise more ancient than the law. For God showed himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their children freely, Act 7:2, &c; Act 7:9, &c; Act 7:17, &c; Act 7:32, Act 7:34-35 and they showed faith and obedience to God, Act 7:4, Act 7:20, &c; Act 7:23 particularly by their regard for the law, Act 7:8 and the promised land, Act 7:16. Meantime, God never confined his presence to this one place or to the observers of the law. For he hath been acceptably worshipped before the law was given, or the temple built, and out of this land, Act 7:2, Act 7:9, Act 7:33, Act 7:44. And that our fathers and their posterity were not tied down to this land, their various sojournings, Act 7:4, &c; Act 7:14, Act 7:29, Act 7:44 and exile, Act 7:43, show. But you and your fathers have always been evil, Act 7:9 have withstood Moses, Act 7:25, &c; Act 7:39, &c; have despised the land, Act 7:39, forsaken God, Act 7:40, &c, superstitiously honoured the temple, Act 7:48, resisted God and his Spirit, Act 7:50, killed the prophets and the Messiah himself, Act 7:51, and kept not the law for which ye contend, Act 7:53. Therefore God is not bound to you; much less to you alone. And truly this solemn testimony of Stephen is most worthy of his character, as a man full of the Holy Ghost, and of faith and power: in which, though he does not advance so many regular propositions, contradictory to those of his adversaries, yet he closely and nervously answers them all. Nor can we doubt but he would, from these premises, have drawn inferences touching the destruction of the temple, the abrogation of the Mosaic law, the punishment of that rebellious people; and above all, touching Jesus of Nazareth, the true Messiah, had not his discourse been interrupted by the clamours of the multitude, stopping their ears, and rushing upon him. Men, brethren, and fathers - All who are here present, whether ye are my equals in years, or of more advanced age. The word which in this and in many other places is rendered men is a mere expletive. The God of glory - The glorious God, appeared to Abraham before he dwelt in Haran - Therefore Abraham knew God, long before he was in this land. Gen 12:1.
act 7:3Which I will show thee - Abraham knew not where he went.
act 7:4After his father was dead - While Terah lived, Abraham lived partly with him, partly in Canaan: but after he died, altogether in Canaan.
act 7:5No, not to set his foot on - For the field mentioned, Act 7:16, he did not receive by a Divine donation, but bought it; even thereby showing that he was a stranger in the land.
act 7:6Gen 15:13.
act 7:7They shall serve me - Not the Egyptians.
act 7:8And so he begat Isaac - After the covenant was given, of which circumcision was the seal. Gen 17:10.
act 7:9But God was with him - Though he was not in this land. Gen 37:28.
act 7:12Sent our fathers first - Without Benjamin.
act 7:14Seventy - five souls - So the seventy interpreters, (whom St. Stephen follows,) one son and a grandson of Manasseh, and three children of Ephraim, being added to the seventy persons mentioned Gen 46:27.
act 7:16And were carried over to Shechem - It seems that St. Stephen, rapidly running over so many circumstances of history, has not leisure (nor was it needful where they were so well known) to recite them all distinctly. Therefore he here contracts into one, two different sepulchres, places, and purchases, so as in the former history, to name the buyer, omitting the seller, in the latter, to name the seller, omitting the buyer. Abraham bought a burying place of the children of Heth, Gen. 23:1-20. There Jacob was buried. Jacob bought a field of the children of Hamor. There Joseph was buried. You see here, how St. Stephen contracts these two purchases into one. This concise manner of speaking, strange as it seems to us, was common among the Hebrews; particularly, when in a case notoriously known, the speaker mentioned but part of the story, and left the rest, which would have interrupted the current of his discourse, to be supplied in the mind of the hearer. And laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought - The first land which these strangers bought was for a sepulchre. They sought for a country in heaven. Perhaps the whole sentence might be rendered thus: So Jacob went down into Egypt and died, he and our fathers, and were carried over to Shechem, and laid by the sons (that is, decendants) of Hamor, the father of Shechem, in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money.
act 7:17Exo 1:7.
act 7:18Another king - Probably of another family.
act 7:19Exposed - Cast out to perish by hunger or wild beasts.
act 7:20In which time - A sad but a seasonable time. Exo 2:2.
act 7:21Pharaoh's daughter took him up - By which means, being designed for a kingdom, he had all those advantages of education, which he could not have had, if he had not been exposed.
act 7:22In all the wisdom of the Egyptians - Which was then celebrated in all the world, and for many ages after. And mighty in words - Deep, solid, weighty, though not of a ready utterance.
act 7:23It came into his heart - Probably by an impulse from God.
act 7:24Seeing one wronged - Probably by one of the task masters.
act 7:25They understood it not - Such was their stupidity and sloth; which made him afterward unwilling to go to them.
act 7:26He showed himself - Of his own accord, unexpectedly.
act 7:27Who appointed thee - "Under the presence of the want of a call by man, the instruments of God are often rejected."
act 7:30The angel - The Son of God; as appears from his styling himself Jehovah. In a flame of fire - Signifying the majesty of God then present. Exo 3:2.
act 7:33Then said the Lord, Loose thy shoes - An ancient token of reverence; for the place is holy ground - The holiness of places depends on the peculiar presence of God there.
act 7:35This Moses whom they refused - Namely, forty years before. Probably, not they, but their fathers did it, and God imputes it to them. So God frequently imputes the sins of the fathers to those of their children who are of the same spirit. Him did God send to be a deliverer - Which is much more than a judge; by the hand of - That is, by means of the angel - This angel who spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai expressly called himself Jehovah, a name which cannot, without the highest presumption, be assumed by any created angel, since he whose name alone is Jehovah, is the Most High over all the earth, Psa 83:18. It was therefore the Son of God who delivered the law to Moses, under the character of Jehovah, and who is here spoken of as the angel of the covenant, in respect of his mediatorial office.
act 7:37The Lord will raise you up a prophet - St. Stephen here shows that there is no opposition between Moses and Christ. Deu 18:15
act 7:38This is he - Moses. With the angel, and with our fathers - As a mediator between them. Who received the living oracles - Every period beginning with, And the Lord said unto Moses, is properly an oracle. But the oracles here intended are chiefly the ten commandments. These are termed living, because all the word of God, applied by his Spirit, is living and powerful, Heb 4:12, enlightening the eyes, rejoicing the heart, converting the soul, raising the dead. Exo 19:3.
act 7:40Make us gods to go before us - Back into Egypt. Exo 32:1.
act 7:41And they made a calf - In imitation of Apis, the Egyptian god: and rejoiced in the works of their hands - In the god they had made.
act 7:42God turned - From them in anger; and gave them up - Frequently from the time of the golden calf, to the time of Amos, and afterward. The host of heaven - The stars are called an army or host, because of their number, order, and powerful influence. In the book of the prophets - Of the twelve prophets, which the Jews always wrote together in one book. Have ye offered - The passage of Amos referred to, Amo 5:25, consists of two parts; of which the former confirms Act 7:41, of the sin of the people; the latter the beginning of Act 7:42, concerning their punishment. Have ye offered to me - They had offered many sacrifices; but God did not accept them as offered to him, because they sacrificed to idols also; and did not sacrifice to him with an upright heart. Amo 5:25.
act 7:43Ye took up - Probably not long after the golden calf: but secretly; else Moses would have mentioned it. The shrine - A small, portable chapel, in which was the image of their god. Moloch was the planet Mars, which they worshipped under a human shape. Remphan, that is, Saturn, they represented by a star. And I will carry you beyond Babylon - That is, beyond Damascus (which is the word in Amos) and Babylon. This was fulfilled by the king of Assyria, Kg2 17:6.
act 7:44Our fathers had the tabernacle of the testimony - The testimony was properly the two tables of stone, on which the ten commandments were written. Hence the ark which contained them is frequently called the ark of the testimony; and the whole tabernacle in this place. The tabernacle of the testimony - according to the model which he had seen - When he was caught up in the visions of God on the mount.
act 7:45Which our fathers having received - From their ancestors; brought into the possession of the Gentiles - Into the land which the Gentiles possessed before. So that God's favour is not a necessary consequence of inhabiting this land. All along St. Stephen intimates two things: 1. That God always loved good men in every land: 2. That he never loved bad men even in this. Jos 3:14.
act 7:46Who petitioned to find a habitation for the God of Jacob - But he did not obtain his petition: for God remained without any temple till Solomon built him a house. Observe how wisely the word is chosen with respect to what follows.
act 7:48Yet the Most High inhabiteth not temples made with hands - As Solomon declared at the very dedication of the temple, Kg1 8:27. The Most High - Whom as such no building can contain. Isa 66:1.
act 7:49What is the place of my rest? - Have I need to rest?
act 7:51Ye stiff necked - Not bowing the neck to God's yoke; and uncircumcised in heart - So they showed themselves, Act 7:54; and ears - As they showed, Act 7:57. So far were they from receiving the word of God into their hearts, that they would not hear it even with their ears. Ye - And your fathers, always - As often as ever ye are called, resist the Holy Ghost - Testifying by the prophets of Jesus, and the whole truth. This is the sum of what he had shown at large.
act 7:53Who have received the law by the administration of angels - God, when he gave the law on Mount Sinai, was attended with thousands of his angels, Gal 3:19; Psa 68:17.
act 7:55But he looking steadfastly up to heaven, saw the glory of God - Doubtless he saw such a glorious representation, God miraculously operating on his imagination, as on Ezekiel's, when he sat in his house at Babylon, and saw Jerusalem, and seemed to himself transported thither, Eze 8:1-4. And probably other martyrs, when called to suffer the last extremity, have had extraordinary assistance of some similar kind.
act 7:56I see the Son of man standing - As if it were just ready to receive him. Otherwise he is said to sit at the right hand of God.
act 7:57They rushed upon him - Before any sentence passed.
act 7:58The witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man, whose name was Saul - O Saul, couldst thou have believed, if one had told thee, that thou thyself shouldst be stoned in the same cause? and shouldst triumph in committing thy soul likewise to that Jesus whom thou art now blaspheming? His dying prayer reached thee, as well as many others. And the martyr Stephen, and Saul the persecutor, (afterward his brother both in faith and martyrdom,) are now joined in everlasting friendship, and dwell together in the happy company of those who have made their robes white in the blood of the Lamb.
act 7:59And they stoned Stephen, invoking and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit - This is the literal translation of the words, the name of God not being in the original. Nevertheless such a solemn prayer to Christ, in which a departing soul is thus committed into his hands, is such an act of worship, as no good man could have paid to a mere creature; Stephen here worshipping Christ in the very same manner in which Christ worshipped the Father on the cross.