Pisidian Antioch, Paul's Sermon & the Reaction, Part 1, Section D
by John Lowe
17 The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it.
The God of this people of Israel
“The God of this people of Israel”—this implied a belief that He had been for the most part their God; a favorite doctrine of the Jew. It will be observed that Paul, as far as the formulation of his sermon is concerned, follows in the footsteps of the martyr Stephen, and begins with a recap of the main events in the history of Israel. It was a theme which Israelites never tired of listening to. It showed that the Apostle recognized it as the history of God’s chosen people.
“The God of this people of Israel (the Jews)”— who has shown Himself to be the special friend and protector of this nation. Such a commemoration of the blessings of God to their fathers, as he gives here, was designed to improve the goodwill of the people toward the speaker, to convince them of their duty to God, and to invite them to believe His promise and its accomplishment in Jesus Christ. This passage contains a summary of the events of the Old Testament.
God was the God of Israel in a unique manner.He “chose our fathers”— Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their seed after them, to be a peculiar people to Himself; therefore He is often, as here, called their God, and whom He set apart and blessed with many blessings, civil and religious, above all people upon the face of the earth. The apostle seems mainly to address himself to the Gentiles, the inhabitants of Antioch, and the proselytes of righteousness, now in the synagogue—“And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles sought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath” (Acts 13:42).
He “chose our fathers” from among all the nations upon the earth, to be His special people, to make Himself known to them, and to be served and worshipped by them—“For you are an holy people to the LORD your God: the LORD your God has chosen you to be a special people to himself, above all people that are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6-7). He chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to be the objects of His special favour, and for their sakes He was pleased to promise the most important blessings to their offspring;
The resemblance of this oration to that of Stephen's speech in Acts 7 must strike every one. The natural conclusion is that that speech of Stephen’s made a deep impression upon the Apostle Paul when he heard it at Stephen's trial. The common purpose in the two speeches is to placate and gain the attention of the Jewish hearers by dwelling upon the great events of the history of their fathers, of which they were proud, and claiming for Christians an equal heritage in that history. The speeches diverge in that Stephen sought to show in that history instances of the same stubborn unbelief in their fathers which had led the children to crucify the Lord of glory; but Paul wanted to show how the promises made to their fathers had their fulfillment in that Jesus whom he preached unto them, and how the crucifixion of Christ by the Jerusalem Jews was an exact fulfillment of the Law and the prophets which had just been read to them in the synagogue. In both speeches it is a great idea to exhibit Christianity as the bona fide development of Judaism—“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1).
And exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt
“And exalted the people”—this refers either to the great honour and luxuriousness Joseph was raised to, and to the goodwill and privileges conferred on Jacob and his family after he was appointed second in the land, behind Pharaoh; to the great increase of the Hebrew population towards the close of their sojourn in Egypt, and it came at the time when they were the most oppressed and afflicted; or to the astonishing miracles done in their behalf, which raised them up from a low and depressed state of bondage, to freedom, and to special privileges as a nation.
The word “exalted” is frequently used in the New Testament in the sense of exalting from a low to a high estate (See Matthew 11:23; Matthew 23:12; Luke 1:52; Luke 10:15; Luke 14:11; Acts 2:33; Genesis 41:52; Genesis 48:19). The word for “exalt” may have cropped up in the lesson that had just been read.
“When they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt,” as they did for many years, and as the Lord predicted to Abraham they would—“And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years” (Genesis 15:13). They were always strangers while living in Egypt. It was not their home. They never mingled with the Egyptian people; never became an integral part of the government; never used their language; never adopted their customs and laws. They were a strange, separate, depressed people there. (See Genesis 36:7; Exodus 6:4; Exodus 22:21; Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 10:19.)
And with an high arm brought he them out of it
“And with an high arm”—this expression denotes "great power." The arm denotes "strength," because the arm is used to do almost everything. A “high arm,” is an arm lifted up, or stretched out, and denotes "strength exerted to the utmost." The children of Israel are represented as having been delivered with an "outstretched arm" in Deuteronomy 26:8 and Exodus 6:6. In Exodus 6:1, the expression "With a strong hand," refers to the plagues inflicted on Egypt, by which the Israelites were delivered; to their passage through the Red Sea; and to their victories over their enemies, etc.
“And with an high arm He brought them out of the land of it” (Egypt), and out of the oppression they were under, which was a wonderful display of His mighty power and great strength, expressed here by an "high arm" for nothing short of that could have brought deliverance for them— In spite of all the efforts of Pharaoh and his host to detain them in slavery. The apostle wanted them to remember that they owed everything which they obtained from their ancestors to the grace and blessing of God only, and that God may do with His own as He pleases.
18 And about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness.
And about the time of forty years
It was “forty years” from their coming out of Egypt, to their entrance into the land of Canaan: “The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan” (Exodus 16:35; also see Numbers 33:38).
Suffered he their manners in the wilderness
“Suffered he their manners,” which were very rebellious and aggravating; such as their murmuring for water, their rebellion against Moses and Aaron, their idolatry and the false report made by their spies against the land of Canaan; and yet the Lord fed them, and led them, and kept them as the “apple of His eye;” He nourished them; rained manna, and gave them quails from heaven, and furnished a table for them in the wilderness: and though there were instances of God's patience and leniency with them, He was also tempted and tried by them. And they grieved Him during the forty years in the wilderness, which often led to Him taking vengeance upon them, by taking the life of great numbers of them; and even the carcasses of all that generation that came out of Egypt fell in the wilderness; and none of them entered into the land of Canaan, except Joshua and Caleb.
This clause has been translated in various ways, such as; "He nourished them," and "He blessed them, and nourished them.” It properly means to tolerate, or endure the conduct of anyone, implying that that conduct is evil, and tends to bring about punishment. This is doubtless its meaning here. Probably Paul had in mind the passage in Deuteronomy 1:31, which says, "And in the wilderness, where thou hast seen how that the LORD thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went, until ye came into this place;” and does afar better job of reflecting the conciliatory drift of Paul’s teaching. Furthermore, it is not probable that Paul would have begun a sermon by reminding them of the obstinacy and wickedness of the nation. Such a tactic would tend to exasperate rather than to conciliate; but by reminding them of the mercies of God to them, and showing them that He had been their protector, he was preparing them for his main purpose—that of showing them the kindness of the God of their fathers in sending a Savior to them.