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.’
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.’” – Acts 7:30-43 ESV
Forty years after having fled from Egypt to Midian, Moses received a visit from God. For four long decades he had been a recluse, living in relative isolation, tending sheep and trying to forget that initial stirring in his heart to redeem his people from their slavery in Egypt. But when his first attempt to rally to the cause of the Israelites had failed, he had fled. His own people had rejected him, shouting, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us?” (Acts 7:27 NLT). Now it was time for him to return. But he would be doing things God’s way. He would be acting on behalf of God, speaking His words, and performing signs and wonders in His power. God had a commission and a mission for Moses.
“I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groans and have come down to rescue them. Now go, for I am sending you back to Egypt.” – Acts 7:34 NLT
Moses had been rejected by the people, but “this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer” (Acts 7:35 ESV). His initial efforts to rescue them had been rebuffed and his motives questioned. His own people refused to see him for who he was: God’s redeemer. But the second time, when he showed up, he would have God’s Good Housekeeping seal of approval and “by means of many wonders and miraculous signs, he led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years” (Acts 7:36 NLT).
The crowd to whom Stephen spoke revered Moses. They saw him as their deliverer and law-giver. They held him in very high-esteem. And the whole reason Stephen was having to give this speech was because he had been falsely accused of speaking against Moses and the law, teaching that the customs the held near and dear were no longer valid.
“This man is always speaking against the holy Temple and against the law of Moses. We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the Temple and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” – Acts 6:13-14 NLT
But Stephen clearly states his respect for Moses. He had no intention of undermining his role as Israel’s deliverer and law-giver. But he did want to point out that Moses had done far more than just give the people the law. He had prophesied that another prophet would come. “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers” (Acts 7:37 ESV). Moses had known that he was not the end-all. He had been used by God to deliver the people out of bondage, but there was another who would come after him. Peter had picked up on this very same topic in his address to the crowd in Solomon’s Portico.
17 “Friends, I realize that what you and your leaders did to Jesus was done in ignorance. 18 But God was fulfilling what all the prophets had foretold about the Messiah—that he must suffer these things. 19 Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. 20 Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and he will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah. 21 For he must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your own people. Listen carefully to everything he tells you.’ 23 Then Moses said, ‘Anyone who will not listen to that Prophet will be completely cut off from God’s people.’” – Acts 3:17-23 NLT
Moses and the law were never intended to be the end-all. Moses was a deliverer, but not the deliver. The law was given by God, but was never intended to be the means by which people gain acceptance from God. The apostle Paul tells us quite plainly why the law was given.
Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. – Galatians 3:19 NLT
20 God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. 21 So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. – Romans 5:20-21 NLT
And despite the high value the people of Israel placed in the law, they had never managed to keep it. In fact, while Moses had been on the mountain top receiving the law from God, the people of Israel had been busy coercing Aaron to make them an idol. Moses was up on Mount Sinai receiving “living oracles” from God, and they were worshiping a false god. Stephen flatly states, “Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt” (Acts 7:39 ESV). While the people of Israel revered Moses, Stephen reminded them that their ancestors had actually turned against him. In essence, they had not only rejected Moses, but God Himself. They had turned back to worshiping one of the gods they had served in Egypt.
For forty long years, the people of Israel would be led by God through the wilderness. He would cloth them, feed them, and guide them. He would protect them from their enemies and bless them with His presence. But all the while they would “serve the stars of heaven as their gods” (Acts 7:42 NLT). And God would indict them for their unfaithfulness during those years.
42 “Was it to me you were bringing sacrifices and offerings
during those forty years in the wilderness, Israel?
43 No, you carried your pagan gods—
the shrine of Molech,
the star of your god Rephan,
and the images you made to worship them.
So I will send you into exile
as far away as Babylon.” – Acts 7:42-43 NLT
Try to imagine how the high priest and the members of the Jewish council are receiving these words from Stephen. He is recounting some of the less-than-flattering days of their history. He is reminding them of their long track record of unfaithfulness to Moses and, ultimately, to God. They had a long-standing tradition of disobedience. And Stephen would not let them forget that “our ancestors refused to listen to Moses. They rejected him and wanted to return to Egypt” (Acts 7:39 NLT).
What’s his point? What is it that Stephen is attempting to do? He is simply reminding them that God had sent them a redeemer and rescuer before, and they had rejected him. And now, God had sent them another Redeemer, the very one Moses had prophesied about, and they had rejected Him as well. Not only that, they had put Him to death. And it seems that the high priest and the members of the Sanhedrin had made idols out of the law and the Temple, worshiping them rather than the One whom God had sent to redeem them. They idolized the city of Jerusalem, the glory of the Temple and the “living oracles” given to them by Moses. But they refused to recognize and receive the Savior and Redeemer sent to them from God. Jesus addressed this very issue in a discussion He had with some Pharisees who had accused His disciples of breaking the Sabbath law.
3 Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He went into the house of God, and he and his companions broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. 5 And haven’t you read in the law of Moses that the priests on duty in the Temple may work on the Sabbath? 6 I tell you, there is one here who is even greater than the Temple! 7 But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ 8 For the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” – Matthew 12:3-8 NLT
Jesus was greater than the Temple. He was more important that Moses or the law. In fact, He was the fulfillment of the law, having kept it to perfection and satisfied the just demands of God. And what Stephen seems to be pointing out is that, while the Jews had rejected Jesus, He had returned in the form of His Spirit-filled disciples, offering His own people yet another chance to receive salvation and freedom from slavery to sin. But they would have to recognize Him as the returned Redeemer and receive Him as their long-awaited Messiah.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.