Stephen's Sermon: Part 3; Lesson 2 of 8
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Moses received the oracles from God, and delivered nothing as an oracle to the people except what he had first received from God. The lively oracles which he received from God he faithfully gave to the people, to be observed by them and preserved by them for future generations. It was the foremost privilege of the Jews to have had the oracles of God committed to them; and it was by the hand of Moses that they were committed. But just as Moses did not give them that bread from heaven, neither did he give them that law from heaven (John 6:3211), but God gave it to them; and God who gave them those customs, rites, and ceremonies by his servant Moses, has every right to change them by his Son Jesus, who received more lively oracles to give unto us than Moses did. 39 To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt,
To whom our fathers would not obey.
The Israelites often grumbled against Moses, and were disobedient to him, and to the oracles he delivered to them, and therefore they were also disobedient to God, whose oracles they were. Here Steven shows his hearers that the fathers they came from were disrespectful and rebellious against the same Moses they held in such high regard. Although they were generally disrespectful to him, Stephen may have been referring to what they said about him when he was in the mount,(Exodus 32:1,2312). The point he is developing is that the rejection of Christ harmonizes with their past history (See Exodus 16:313; Also see 17:04, 32:1-14, and Deuteronomy 4:19). Their fathers would not be obedient, even though God had bestowed such remarkable marks of favor upon them. They not only refused to obey Moses, but they turned away from him and God and returned to worshipping the god’s of Egypt and said they desired the customs and ordinances of Egypt to the hardships in the wilderness; which was shocking, since they had suffered so grievously there. They would not obey him, but thrust him from them. They griped about him, mutinied against him, refused to obey his orders, and sometimes were ready to stone him.
But thrust him from them.
They disrespected Moses and showed it in their treatment of him; by disobeying his orders and even physically thrusting him from them as one of the two Hebrews did, when he intervened to try to stop their quarreling (Acts 7:2714); and which was a symbol and indication of what the Hebrew people would do afterwards.
And in their hearts turned back again into Egypt.
They wished to return to Egypt. They regretted that they had come out of Egypt, and desired to have the things which they had there, since they were better than the manna they had in the desert (Numbers 11:515)—they yearned for the fish, the cucumbers, the melons, leeks, onions, and garlic there. Most Bible scholars do not think that they desired literally to "return" to Egypt, but that their hearts were stirred by thoughts of the habits and morals of the Egyptians. This desire became so powerful that they forsook God, and imitated the idolatries of the Egyptians. Some even wished to return there and went so far as to appoint a captain to lead them back. They became idolaters, and preferred their Egyptian bondage and their idolatry to the Promised Land and the pure worship of God. For this part of their History see Exodus 32:1-35.
They may have longed to go back, but they did not dare to do it. But they returned there in their minds to those corruptions they experienced. To some extent, this is understandable, since they had been in Egypt for a long time, and had grown up with Egyptian god’s and ceremonies—as a people they may have been very like the society they just recently came out of. Perhaps that is why God did not let them enter the Promised Land, until that generation had died out. Israel needed that forty years to lose their desire for the perversions of Egypt, and the knowledge of Egyptian deities.
40 Saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us: for as for this Moses, which brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.
Saying unto Aaron, make us gods to go before us.
Though the Jews rebelled in other ways and at other times, yet Stephen chose this one notable example over all the rest. It shows their filthy and detestable treachery, namely, when they made themselves a calf, with the intention of worshipping it instead of God (Exodus 32.112). Could they have done anything that would appear any more thankless? This is a proof
of their disobedience to the Law of Moses, and of their rejection of him, and of the predisposition of their hearts to the idolatry of the Egyptians; and it shows the gross stupidity, as well as ingratitude of this ancient generation, to think that gods could be made; and that those that are made could go before them, guide them back to Egypt, and protect them; when they have eyes that don’t see, hands that can’t grip, feet that can’t walk, and heads that can’t think.
For as for this Moses.
You can imagine the curl of the lip, and hear the great contempt in their voices. There could not have been anything they could have invented that was filthier or would show greater unthankfulness. They made a golden calf, which besides the affront that it was to God, it was a great indignity to Moses: this was their object when they made the calf, because"as for this Moses, who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him; therefore make us gods of gold;’’ as if a calf was capable of taking Moses’ place, and as competent of leading them into the Promised Land.
Which brought us out of the land of Egypt.
They give Moses the credit for bringing them to their present location; but they don’t mention it with gratitude.
We wot not what is become of him.
They acted as though he was dead, that he was consumed by fire on the mount which constantly flamed with fire. They pretend they could not tell what had become of Moses. But they knew full well that he was on the mount. They saw him with their eyes when he went up, until the Lord took him unto himself, by concealing him with a cloud. Again, they know that Moses is absent for their sake, and that he had promised that he would return, and bring with him the law which God would give them. He asked them to be patient for a while. They could not wait peacefully, and in only a little time they raised an uproar, and without any justification. They wanted gods with them like the Egyptians had. Idols with the form of a cow were worshipped by some of the Egyptians, and it must have been in their minds to have the same familiar god. They did have a God with them, and it wasn’t as if that God had not showed them any tokens of His presence, since His glory appeared daily in the cloud and pillar of fire. So, we see how quickly they commit idolatry and show God wicked contempt, and unthankfulness. They seem to have so soon forgotten those miracles which they ought to have remembered even until the end of the world. Therefore, by this one backsliding, they show what a stubborn and rebellious people they were.
41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.
And they made a calf in those days.
Israel had turned from God to idolatry, and her high priest had helped her do so. One of Stephen's concerns in this speech then was false worship. The Israelites rejoiced in their idolatry in the wilderness and more recently since Jesus was out of the way. God had turned from them for their apostasy in the past, and He was doing the same in the present. They did not really offer their sacrifices to God, and He did not accept them since they had rejected His anointed Ruler and Judge. The Israelites were heading for another wilderness experience. They adopted a house of worship and an object of worship that were not God's choice but their creations. God would remove them far from their land in punishment (It would happen in A.D. 70).
“And they made a calf” while Moses was on the mount; this was done in imitation of the Egyptian idol Apis or Serapis, which was an ox or a bullock; and it was made from the golden earrings and ornaments of the people (Exodus 32:2-416
), which were melted down, and cast into the form of a calf, and graved by Aaron with a graving tool (Exodus 32:217
). This was a shameful and outrageous instance of idolatry. The Jews themselves were aware of the horribleness of it, and they felt the guilt of it, and the result is that it is common for them to say, "there is not a generation, or an age, in which there is not an ounce of the sin of the calf.” Or, they might say something like, “There is no punishment that has come to Israel in which there is not an ounce of the sin of the calf.”