Stephen's Sermon: Part 3; Lesson 3 of 8
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Stephen introduced this event to remind his audience how prone the nation had been to reject God, and to walk in the ways of sin. This verse is a quotation from Amos 5:25-2718 and although the outright rejection of God and the widespread idolatry during the period of the monarchy came much later, Stephen's application of Amos' prophecy shows that even during the period of the wilderness wanderings they had already rejected God in their hearts. As Hervey expressed it: “What Amos19 means to say is that because of the treacherous, unfaithful heart of Israel, as shown by the worship of the golden calf, and all their rebellions in the wilderness, all their sacrifices were worthless. Observe, the Israelites turned from Moses to idolatry, and their high priest, Aaron, helped them do it. Consequently, God gave them over to what they wanted (Romans 1:2420). He also determined to send them into captivity as punishment (Amos 5:25-2718). By implication, turning from the revelation that Jesus had given amounted to idolatry. Stephen implied that by rejecting Moses' coming prophet, Jesus, his hearers could expect a similar fate despite the sacrifices they brought to God.
Stephen had answered his accusers' charge that he had spoken against Moses (See Acts 6:11andActs 6:13) by showing that he believed what Moses had predicted about the coming prophet. It was really his hearers, like Jesus' hearers earlier, who rejected Moses since they refused to allow the possibility of prophetic revelation that superseded the Mosaic Law.
And offered sacrifice unto the idol.
The people built an idol and made a proclamation that the next day would be the feast of the Lord. Early in the morning, the people offered both burnt offerings and peace offerings, Exodus 32:521and rejoiced in the works of their own hands (their hands made it): their rejoicing included eating, and drinking, and singing, and dancing.
Notice that the proclamation said there would be a “feast of the Lord”; but God would not honor such a feast with his presence; however, the devil would certainly attend (Psalm 106:36-3922). They pretended to worship Jehovah,(Exodus 32:521). Their idol, if it would not make a god, would make an excellent devil.
And rejoiced in the works of their own hands.
Rejoiced (Revelled), as it is used here, refers to the lustful rites of heathen worship.
42Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness?
Then God turned.
“Then God turned” away from them, that is, He withdrew his presence, and his favor from them, and abandoned them to their own desires. This is an expression of divine disfavor caused by the rebellion described earlier—“But our fathers refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt” (Acts 7:39).
And gave them up to worship the host of heaven.
“The host of heaven” refers to the sun, moon, and stars, sometimes called heavenly bodies. The word “host” means “armies.” It is applied to the heavenly bodies because they are very numerous, and appear to be “marshaled” or arrayed in military order. In another place, the term “heavenly host” is used for the angels who appeared to announce the birth of Jesus, but that is not the meaning here.
History confirms that Israel, during an earlier age, worshipped idols. From the worshipper’s point of view, the sun, moon, and stars are considered as living beings, therefore, they made up stories where their gods fought among themselves for power and prestige; they had love affairs, bore children, and interacted with men, etc. This is certainly true for Greek mythology, but it is unclear to what extent this golden calf was assigned human characteristics.
God reacted to their idolatry in righteous judgment by giving them up to their reprobate minds, to commit all the idolatry of the Gentiles—an act of true divine retribution (Romans 1:2420).
As it is written in the book of the prophets.
The twelve minor prophets were commonly written in one volume, and were called the Book of the Prophets; that is, the book containing the prophecies of Daniel, Hosea, Micah, etc. Separately they were small books or articles, especially when compared to the Major Prophets—Jeremiah, Isaiah, etc. The twelve Minor Prophets were bound together, since they were liable to be lost if kept separately.
O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness?
“Ye house of Israel” could be stated as “Ye people of Israel.”
The interrogative (questioning) form used here is often used in an emphatic way to denote that the thing had “not” been done. But it is certain that the Jews did offer sacrifices to God in the wilderness, though it is also certain that they did not do it with a pure and upright heart. They kept
up the form of worship generally, but they frequently forsook God, and offered worship to idols. Throughout the space of forty years of wandering in the wilderness, they often departed from Him, and worshipped idols.
This clause is a quotation from Amos 5:25-2618, though it is not quoted literally; it is evidently made from memory; but in its main spirit it coincides with the passage in Amos, yet in some important respects it varies from it. The question asked,“Have ye offered me slain beasts forty years”does not necessarily require a negative reply. It is not equivalent to an assertion that during the forty years Israel was in the wilderness they had not offered sacrifice to God. The significance of the question and the reply in the following verse is this: “Have you offered to me, the true God, sacrifices for forty years? Yes, without a doubt, but you have worshipped the false gods also.” They made offerings to devils, and not to God (Deuteronomy 32:1723
)and though there were some sacrifices offered to God; they were not offered very often, nor were they offered freely, and with all the heart, and with faith, and without hypocrisy—they were looked upon by God as if they were not offered at all.
43 Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babylon.
Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch.
“Yea, ye took up,”that is, you transported, or you carried with you, for purposes of idolatrous worship.
The word “tabernacle” is used here to mean a “tent”; but it is also applied to the small tent or house which contained the image of the god; the shrine, box, or tent in which the idol was placed. It is customary for idolatrous nations to take their idols with them, enclosed in cases or boxes of various sizes, usually very small, since their idols were usually small. Probably they were made in the shape of small “temples” or tabernacles; such as the “silver shrines” for Diana, made at Ephesus (Acts 19:2424
). These shrines, or images, were carried with them as a type of amulet, charm, or talisman to defend them from evil. The Jews seem to have carried such images with them.
The word “Moloch” comes from the Hebrew word signifying “king.” Moloch, Remphan, and Baal were all names for the god which was extensively and extravagantly worshipped by the polytheistic idolaters of that day. This was initially a god of the Ammonites, to whom human sacrifices were offered. Moses in several places forbids the Israelites, under penalty of death, to dedicate their children to Moloch, by making them pass through the fire (Leviticus 18:2125
; Leviticus 20:2-526
). It is highly probable that the Hebrews were addicted to the worship of this deity after they entered the land of Canaan. Solomon built a temple to Moloch on the Mount of Olives(1Kings 11:7); Manasseh made his son pass through the fire in honor of this idol (2Kings 21:3,2Kings 21:6); Ahaz burned his children (2 Chronicles 28:3), and Samaria was judged for this sin (2 Kings 17:17). The image of this idol was made of brass, and his arms extended so as to embrace anyone; and when they offered children to him, they heated the statue, and when it was burning hot, they placed the child in his arms, where it was soon killed by heat. It is not certain what this god was supposed to represent. Some suppose it was in honor of the planet Saturn; others, the sun; others, Mercury, Venus, etc. What particular god it was is not material. It was the most cutting criticism that could be made to the Jews, that their fathers had been guilty of worshipping this idol.
The following description of Molech and the worship of it was found, though the author is unknown: “it was made an hollow image, placed within seven chancels or chapels; and whoever offered fine flour, they opened to him the first; if turtle doves or two young pigeons, they opened the second; if a lamb, they opened the third; if a ram, they opened the fourth; if a calf, they opened the fifth; if an ox, they opened the sixth; but whoever offered his son, they opened the seventh: his face was a calf's, and his hands were stretched out, as a man opens his hands to receive any thing from his friend; and they make him hot with fire, and the priests take the infant and put it into the hands of Molech, and the infant expires: and wherefore is it called Topher and Hinnom? Tophet, because they make a noise with drums, that its father may not hear the voice of the child, and have compassion on it, and return to it; and Hinnom, because the child roars, and the voice of its roaring ascends.” This account agrees with the Biblical account. I know you agree with me that it sounds pretty gruesome.