Stephen's Sermon: Part 3; Lesson 6 of 8
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
And earth is my footstool.
The picture is of the Lord seated on His throne with His feet comfortably resting on the earth (His footstool), meaning everything—nature, man, animals, etc.—is subject to Him, and at His disposal, and which he makes use of as He pleases. These things are not to be taken literally; they are images and figures, representing the majesty, sovereignty, and immensity of God; who is the maker of all things, the governor of the universe, and is above all places, and not to be contained in any of them.
What house will ye build me? saith the Lord.
For anyone to imagine that they could build a house for the Almighty is pure vanity. What would the thought process be? Where can I build a house for Him, since he already takes up the heavens and the earth? What kind of house can be built by men, or with hands, that can hold him, or is fit for him to dwell in? The futility of it is obvious.
Or what is the place of my rest?
I know the answer to this question! He will not live in any house made with hands, but in the church among His saints, who are each and every one temples of the living God; and this where He will rest forever, and here He will dwell, because he has chosen and desired to do so, and He has built them up for a habitation for himself—“For the LORD hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation” (Psalm 132:13).
50 Hath not my hand made all these things?
This is not a question, but a factual statement, because God “made all these things”; the heavens, and the earth, and all that is in them; and therefore what can be made for God, or what house can you build for him? Certainly, there is nothing that men can build that would be a suitable dwelling for the Lord, who has heaven for His throne: “But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne” (Matthew 5:34); and the earth for His footstool, “Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King” (Matthew 5:35).
Stephen certainly had not finished his sermon at this point, nor had he drawn his conclusions from the facts already stated; but it is likely that, as they perceived he was about to draw conclusions unfavorable to the temple and its rituals, they immediately raised an uproar against him, which resulted in the following very cutting remarks by Stephen.
51 Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.
“Stiffnecked” is a term that is not used very often today. I am a Marine, so it reminds me of one of our nicknames, leatherneck. The two words have nothing in common. “Stiffnecked” is a characteristic frequently given to the Jewish people—“And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people” (Exodus 32:9; also see Exodus 33:3, 5; Exodus 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:6,13;Deuteronomy 10:16)It is a figurative expression taken from oxen that are unmanageable, and that will not submit to be yoked. When stiffnecked is applied to the Jews it means they are hard or impossible to manage; stubbornly disobedient: they would not submit their necks to the yoke of God's law, and be obedient to His commands.
When Stephen called these proud Jews stiffnecked, he was using the identical language that Moses used when he conveyed God's rebuke to them—“Unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the way. . . For the LORD had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiffnecked people. . .” (Exodus 33:3, 5). These religious leaders professed to be standing on Moses' side against Stephen, so this must have made his words doubly cutting to them.
Stephen’s sermon has every appearance of having been interrupted by the uproar and hostility of the Sanhedrin, which was probably preceded by symptoms of impatience and irritation in the audience. This verse has no immediate connection with what precedes it, and appears to have been spoken in the midst of anger and tumult. If we may speculate in this situation, it would seem that the Jews saw the drift of his argument; that they interrupted him; and that when the tumult had somewhat subsided, he addressed them in the language of this verse, showing them that they retained a character very similar to their rebellious fathers.
And uncircumcised in heart and ears.
Circumcision was a sign of being a Jew—of acknowledging the authority of the laws of Moses. It was also emblematic of purity, and of submission to the Law of God. The expression "uncircumcised in heart" denotes those who were not willing to acknowledge that Law, and submit to it. They had hearts filled with vicious and uncontrolled feelings and desires. Uncircumcised in heart; only occurs here in the New Testament, but it is found several places in the Old Testament (Exodus 12:48; Judges 14:3; 1 Samuel 17:26, and elsewhere).
Uncircumcised ears denote unwillingness to "hear" what God says (see Leviticus 26:41; Jeremiah 9:26; Romans 2:28-29).
Stephen’s accusation was that the Jews had the mark of circumcision in their flesh, of which they boasted; yet they did not have the true circumcision of the heart; their hearts were not circumcised to fear and love the Lord, nor their ears to hear the word of the Lord and the Gospel of Christ; so, they were uncircumcised persons as far as their relationship with the Lord is concerned.These words angered his Jewish audience, because they contained a whole volume of rebuke. They prided themselves on their circumcision, they trusted in it as a sure method of gaining favor in the sight of God; but all the while they were on a level with the heathen whom they despised, and were to be reckoned among the uncircumcised whom they loathed. For they were without the true circumcision, which is that of the heart. Here again, Stephen was teaching in the exact spirit and words of Moses and the prophets (see Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 9:26; Ezekiel 44:7; and many other passages).
Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost.
You resist the Holy Ghost—you oppose the message which is brought to you by the authority of God and the inspiration of His Spirit; and by Moses, by the prophets, by the Saviour, and by the apostles—all by the infallible direction of the Holy Spirit, which they and their fathers opposed.
Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost:
1. Because they were uncircumcised in heart, they always resisted the influences of the Holy Spirit; thus, preventing Him from bringing light and conviction to their minds. The consequence is that they became hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, and would not repent at the preaching of John, nor believe the glad tidings told them by Christ and the apostles.
2. Because they were uncircumcised in ears, they would neither hear nor obey Moses, the prophets, Christ, nor the apostles.
These men did not resist the Spirit of God in them, since they didn’t have the Holy Spirit, but they resisted the Spirit of God in His ministers, in His apostles, and particularly in Stephen. They didn’t resist the internal operation of His grace, but the external ministry of the word, and all that light, knowledge, evidence, and conviction that it gave of Jesus's being the Messiah. And all those who resist Christ's ministers, resist Him, and those who resist Him, are said to resist His Holy Spirit. The idea expressed here is more physical than spiritual, and signifies a rushing against, and falling upon, in a hostile way, and suitably expresses their ill-treatment of Christ and His ministers, by assaulting them and putting them to death; which is the type of resistance meant here, which is also the idea expressed by the following verse. This passage should NOT be used to show the resistance of the Holy Spirit, and the operations of his grace in the conversion of sinners, since it does not appear that He was in these men, and there is no way to know if He was acting in them, with the purpose of converting them, and if he was, it would be difficult to prove that they resisted Him. One thing we do know, however, is that one of them, Saul, was really and truly converted, but we don’t know about the others. While it is true that the Holy Ghost may be resisted, that is, opposed, He cannot be overcome or caused to cease His work of conversion, so that it comes to nothing.