Stephen's Sermon: Part 3; Lesson 5 of 8

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

Brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles.
Stephen is rapidly outlining the history of the tabernacle, which served as the sanctuary not only in the wilderness, but also in the land of Canaan, until the time of King Solomon—it was more than four hundred years before there was even a thought of building a Temple. Here he is merely saying that after they received the tabernacle from their fathers, they brought it into the land of Canaan, which was possessed by the Gentiles, and when they entered Canaan, Joshua was their leader. He is called Jesus here, as he is in Hebrews 4:8, seeing that, Joshua and Jesus are the same names (Jesus is the Greek mode of writing the name “Joshua.”), and both signify a saviour—because Joshua was a savior to the people of Israel; and was a celebrated type of Jesus Christ, the captain of our salvation.

Our fathers, he says, received it (the Tabernacle) from Moses, and brought it into the Land of Promise, when, with Joshua as their leader, they commenced to take possession of the nations then occupying Canaan, however, the expulsion of these nations (the Canaanites) was not completed until the days of David.

Whom God drove out before the face of our fathers.
The Gentiles, who possessed the land of Canaan, were driven out by God through Him giving victory after victory to Israel to pave the way for their settlement there. To whom else but God can the success of those victories over the Canaanites be ascribed, but to God. For example, God knocked down the walls of Jericho, so that the army of Israel could enter the city and gain an easy victory. He continued to drive out Israel’s enemies until the time of David, when they were completely expelled.

Unto the days of David.
This clause is a little bit confusing when reading in connection with the words immediately preceding it, since that makes it seem as if the inhabitants of Canaan were driven out of their land until the time of David, and then they returned and resettled in the land, which, of course, is incorrect. The important issue in this section is the duration of the tabernacle and the transition to the real temple. The meaning, then, is that the tabernacle which the Israelites received from their fathers, and brought into the land of Canaan with them, was there until the time of David.

46 Who found favour before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.

Who found favour before God.
“Who found favour” means that God granted him great prosperity, and delivered him from his enemies. David desired the favour and love of God, was chosen by God, raised up to do His will, and declared a man after His own heart. He had the grace of God implanted in him, and was acceptable, and well pleasing to God through Christ; the same is said of Noah (Genesis 6:831).

And desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.
This repetition (found and find) creates a significant contrast. Inasmuch as David found favourwithGod, so would he find a tabernacleforGod. The Greek word for tabernacle here is different from the tabernacle ofActs 7:44. This one signifies a permanent residence, and that one a movable tent.

“The God of Jacob” denotes that the Israelites descended from their famous ancestor, Jacob.

David had a great love of God, and the grace of God fashioned in his heart desired to find a place for the building of a house, or fixed habitation for God. It’s true, there was a tabernacle already, which had existed since the time of Moses, and which the children of Israel brought with them into Canaan. It was moved from place to place; sometimes it was at Gilgal, sometimes at Shiloh, and then it was at Nob, and Gibeah, and later it was brought by David into his own city, Jerusalem; but he wanted to build a magnificent and stable house for the Lord. In Deuteronomy 16:232, there was a hint given that the Lord would choose a place where He would put his name, but it seems that that place was not known; and therefore David very anxiously searched for the proper place for it. His dedication to this undertaking is evident from Psalm 132:3-5, where it reads, “Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed; I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids, until I find a place for the LORD, a habitation for the mighty God of Jacob.”

David desired to prepare a permanent dwelling-place for the “ark,” and for the visible symbols of the divine presence—“David said to Solomon: ‘My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the LORD my God.’” Up till then (more than four hundred years) the ark had been kept in the tabernacle and taken from place to place.

47 But Solomon built him an house.

David was not permitted to build the temple, because he had been a man of war—“But this word of the LORD came to me: 'You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight” (1Chronicles 22:8). He did, however, prepare the principal materials for the temple, but Solomon built it—“In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites had come out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, the second month, he began to build the temple of the LORD” (1Kings 6). He built it according to God's command, but not under any condition that the majesty of God should be enclosed within it.

48 Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet,

"The most High" is one of the names of God—“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God” (Genesis 14:18).

Stephen summed up his argument by expressing here the same thought contained in this prophecy of Isaiah—“Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? (Isaiah 66:1), which set forth the impossibility of Almighty God actually dwelling in any house made by human hands. The great temple of the Jews had become in time a house of thieves and robbers; and, although God had allowed it through the ages to be thought of as typical of the greater temple yet to be revealed in Christ, it was never anything except a crude likeness. Needless to say, such sentiments as these were enough to release the savage fury of the whole Sanhedrin against anyone who might dare to utter such thoughts, since they foolishly believed that the worship of God was tied to the temple, as if he himself had been included in it. The fact that Isaiah had said the same thing in their sacred scriptures made no difference; they were experts at rationalizing the scriptures they did not like.

The Lord did dwell in the temple Solomon built, but he was not confined to it, which Solomon himself suggested, when, at the dedication of the temple, he expresses his wonder at God dwelling on earth, seeing that the heaven of heavens could not contain him, and much less the house which he had built—“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded” (1 Kings 8:27)?

The Apostle Paul says the same thing about God’s dwelling as Stephen does here—“God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24)

On a more familiar level, many Christians do the same thing. It may not be the worship of a church building (though certainly, that does take place from time to time), but it is the confinement of God to one place. In other words, the only place they meet God is at the church. As far as they are concerned, God is absent from the rest of their lives. God may as well only live at the church!

49 Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest?

Heaven is my throne.
Heaven is the seat of His government, and where the divine Majesty sets upon a throne; there his glory is most conspicuous; there He keeps His court, and that is His palace. His attendants, the angels, are around the throne; and from there He governs the universe of suns, and stars and planets, giving special attention to where we live; He watches over the affairs of men, and even keeps track of the number of hairs on my head.

Solomon had shown that he had respect for the temple, by declaring that it had been built by the command of God. But “now” he adds that God does not need a temple. Heaven is his throne; the universe his dwelling-place; and “therefore” this temple might be destroyed. A new, glorious truth was to be revealed to mankind, that God was not “confined” in his worship to any age, or people, or nation. In view of that revelation, and with all proper respect for the temple at Jerusalem, it might be said that the time would come when that temple would be destroyed, and when God might be worshipped by all nations.

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