Stephen's Sermon: Part 3; Lesson 4 of 8
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
I cannot accept the notion that the Israelites publicly took up, and carried a tabernacle of Molech during their forty years of traveling in the wilderness; for whatever they might have done during the few days they worshipped the golden calf, it cannot be thought that Moses would have permitted such a practice; therefore, it must have reference to other times, when they sacrificed their children to him, and took up and carried his image in little shrines and tabernacles. No doubt, many of them worshipped Molech in their minds, and secretly carried their idols with them. The offering of human sacrifices persisted during the periods of apostasy and idolatry in Israel, until the days of Josiah. Here Stephen declares that Israel practiced these idolatries, carrying with them the little images throughout all of their journeys in the wilderness. When they crossed the Jordan, Joshua put a stop to all this idolatry, administering to them the rite of circumcision, which was symbolical of their right to sanctification, during their great holiness camp meeting held at Gilgal, immediately after crossing and before they began the conquest of the land.
Unfortunately, after arriving in Canaan they never did utterly purge the land of idolatry, hence the surviving Canaanites proved a snare to them, leading them into idolatry and the sad and mournful downward trend of four hundred and fifty years of backsliding, recorded in the book of Judges, and developing the long-established alienation of Jehovah that culminated in their awful Babylonian captivity.
And the star of your god Remphan.
"Raiphan", "Raphan", “Milchom”, “Chium”, "Rephan", "Rephon", "Rephom", "Rephaim", "Rephan", and "Remphan" are all names given to the god we just discussed, Molech. "Remphan," though was the name used when it was in its gigantic form. "Remphan," was said to have a massive crown on his head, which had precious stones that weighed a talent of gold (see 2Samuel 12:30).
“And the star” in the Hebrew is “Chiun your images, the star of your god.” The expression, as it is used here, leads us to suppose that this was a star which was worshipped, but what star it is, is not easy to ascertain; nor is it easy to determine why it is called both “Chiun” and “Remphan.” Stephen quotes from the Septuagint translation. In that translation, the word “Chiun” is rendered by the word “Raiphan,” or “Rephan,” which is easily changed into “Remphan.” Why the authors of that version adopted this is not known. It was probably, however, from one of two causes:
1. Because the word “Chiun” in Hebrew meant the same as “Remphan” in the language of Egypt, where the translation was made.
2. Because the “object” of worship called “Chiun” in Hebrew was called “Remphan” in the language of Egypt. It is generally agreed that the object of their worship was the planet “Saturn,” or “Mars,” both planets were worshipped as gods of evil influence. In Arabic, the word “Chevan” denotes the planet Saturn. Probably “Rephan,” or “Remphan,” is the Coptic name for the same planet, and the Septuagint adopted this because that translation was made in Egypt, where the Coptic language was spoken.
3. From this clause, we understand that the declaration of Stephen that God "gave them up to serve the host of heaven" was accurate.
Figures which ye made to worship them.
“Figures which ye made” means “the images of the god which they made.” In Amos, it is said, "Which you made for yourselves," meaning both the image and the tabernacle in which it was kept, which they made for their own use.
And I will carry you away beyond Babylon.
In Amos, it has “beyond Damascus,” not “beyond Babylon,” as Stephen stated here. His statement to the council was that Israel was carried away for their idolatry beyond Damascus and to the farthest parts of Babylon—actually, they were taken as far as the cities of the Medea, Halah, and Habor, by the river Gozan. This is not a contradiction, since Amos (Amos 5:27) doesn’t say how far past Damascus they were carried. And if they were carried beyond Babylon, they must have been carried beyond Damascus, and so the words of the prophet were fulfilled. Stephen, who lived after the fulfillment of the prophecy, knew how far they were carried; therefore the Jews have no reason to quibble with Stephen, as if he misrepresented the words of the prophet, and related things that were not true.
44 Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen.
Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness.
The two charges against Stephen were: first; that he had spoken blasphemy against Moses or his Law; and second, that he had blasphemed against the temple (Acts 6:13-1427). In the aforementioned part of this defense, he had shown his respect for Moses and his Law. He now proceeds to show that he did not intend to speak of the temple, or their holy places of worship, with disrespect: he does so by expressing his belief that both the tabernacle (vv. 7:44-46) and of the temple (v. 7:47) were divinely designated.(Verses 44-50 includes the transition from the old Tabernacle to the Temple under Solomon.) But instead of either directly admitting or denying the charge of blasphemy against the temple, he commences to show the true religious value of that building—it was the visible witness or proof of God‘s presence with them; the evidence that he to whom it was devoted was their protector and guide. He does it by first mentioning the portable and perishable nature of the tabernacle, which came before the temple, and then, by showing, from the prophets, that the presence of God is not limited to temples made with hands. By this statement, Stephen entrenches himself behind undisputed facts of their own history, and the opinions of their own prophets, in reference to the temple. He is about to spring upon them all of the concealed power of the carefully arranged facts from the life of Moses and of Joseph.
It was while the Israelites were at "Sinai" that God ordered the building of the tabernacle, and there it was built and set up for the first time. It was a type of portable temple, which was carried from place to place; but what made it special was that Jehovah took up His residence there. Exodus, Chapter 25, has a record of the design of the tabernacle and its furniture.
The tabernacle had various names. It is sometimes called “Ohel Moed”, or "the tabernacle of the congregation", because the people of Israel gathered there to meet with God; and sometimes "the tabernacle of the testimony", or "witness", as it is here (see Exodus 38:21; Numbers 1:50), because the Law, which is also called “the tables of the testimony”, and “the testimony”, since it is a declaration of the will of God, was put into an ark; which for that reason is called “the ark of the testimony”; and it was placed in the tabernacle; and for that reason, the tabernacle was called, “the tabernacle of testimony.” The Jewish writers say, it is called the tabernacle of testimony, “because it was a testimony that the Shekinah dwelt in Israel”; and another says, “it was a testimony to Israel that God had pardoned them concerning the affair of the calf, for, lo, his Shekinah dwelt among them.”
This tabernacle, in which was the testimony of the will of God, what He wanted them to do, and how he should be worshipped, and was a token of His presence, was with the Jewish fathers while they were in the wilderness; and is mentioned here to exacerbate their sin, since afterwards they would carry the tabernacle of Molech. The tabernacle probably lasted until the time of David. Though it was a movable structure it became the model for the building of the temple.
As he had appointed, speaking unto Moses.
It may be clearer to say, “As God appointed, ordered, and commanded Moses” (Exodus 25:4028).
That he should make it according to the fashion he had seen.
God was the architect of the tabernacle, and when He was with Moses on the mount, He didn’t just give him verbal instructions for building the tabernacle, and its furniture and vessels, so that he might form an idea of it in his mind; but there was a visible structure for him to study; a pattern, or model of the whole thing (Exodus 25:9, 40; 26:3029). Everything appeared exactly as God wanted it made, so that nothing was left to the imagination of men; which teaches us, that everything in matters of worship ought to be according to His will, as it is expressed in the Bible (Hebrews 8:530).
This is an additional inspired testimony regarding the "pattern," called here "the fashion," that Moses had received from God and according to which he was commanded to "make all things" (Hebrews 8:530). It is immensely important for us to understand that God has given us a pattern which we must follow if we want to please our Creator.
45 Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David;
Which also our fathers that came after.
None of the generation that came out of Egypt was permitted to enter into the Promised Land (Canaan), except Caleb and Joshua (see Numbers 14:22-24; Numbers 32:11-12). Hence, it is said here that their fathers who “came after,” that is, after the generation that built the tabernacle. What Stephen means to say here is that the tabernacle was not brought into Canaan by that generation—that is, by those that died in the wilderness, and never saw nor entered into the land of Canaan; the children of that generation whose carcasses fell in the wilderness—instead, it was brought in by the generation that came after them.