Read: Acts 6:8 – 7:60
False accusations have been brought against Stephen and he had been dragged before the high council of the Jews.
While most would react in anger, screaming out in their own defense, not Stephen. As the Jewish council glared at him they saw the face of an angel.
When they demanded that he respond he gives them a very precise history that shows God’s hand in the salvation, sins, birth, and bondage of a nation.
Two things caught my attention.
- Acts 7:38 .. our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give to us: ….The phrase lively oracles in Greek is: logia zonta, meaning: living doctrines that give life upon obedience to them. Here, the term applies to Moses’ law.Logia zonta, used in Romans 3:2 refers to the Old Testament in general. In Hebrews 5:12 and 1Peter 4:11 it encompasses all of scripture.Conceptually: The idea of living doctrines conveys: teaching or instructions that are alive.We perceive the word alive as something that breathes, moves, has some variable aspect, like tree growth.A tree might be an outstanding example in that it, from a simple start, develops into a foundational plant with miniscule characteristics of what it’s potential can be.Does the tree change as it matures? Not in it’s designed characteristics. Initially it could look no different from any other tree until it leafs out. The changes that we can see are in growth enlargements as it gets taller, wider, stronger, and with maturity, if that is it’s purpose, produce fruit.Most trees go through seasons during which they leaf out, produce fruit, drop their leaves, and go dormant for a time, until it is time to repeat that cycle again. In Horticulture, an oddity might be the Sasanqua Camellia for during the dormant season, a time of presumed bleakness, is when it produces it’s spectacular floral displays. Consider that aspect when you compare this to our lives in Christ.If we have grown and allowed God and time to mature us, then when a time of dormancy occurs all the internal work involved may now be producing some fruit or foliage in the life of someone who is out of our view.
Moloch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Acts 7:42Still looking at Stephen’s recap of Israel’s history. Moses comes off the mountain and finds most of Israel worshiping a gold calf they created. If only it were that simple.Stephen gets rather specific about the identities of these gods: Molech, and Rephan. Stephen quotes from the law, to the Jewish council which returns to him no argument, “you have lifted up the shrine of Molech and the star of your god Rephan, the idols you made to worship.”Dr. Chuck Misler has referred to Stephen’s discourse, as one of the most astounding passages in scripture, for it gives us an insight into Israel’s history that we do not find anywhere else.Stephen gets rather specific with the identities of these gods that Israel was dancing around. Molech and Rephan. Stephen quotes saying, “you have lifted up the shrine of Molech and the star of your god Rephah, the idols you made to worship.”Molech was especially detestable, for its worshipers would sacrifice their children to it. Do not in any way sanitize this scenario for it is pure horror. When you contrast the sacrificing of children with Jesus actions toward children, you can begin to picture why God so despises this idolatry.Although the impact is not immediately seen their actions got them sent into exile in Babylon. A key to God’s response is found in Acts 7:42, “but God turned away and gave them over to the worship of the heavenly bodies.”I find it interesting that Stephen does not mention that God brought an immediate judgment, for the earth opened to swallow multitudes as they danced around their idols.Israel’s only salvation at this point was Moses interceding for them.For God to turn away does not imply an overlooking of bad behavior. The implication would seem to be rejection, as though he had looked face to face. Think about this for a moment; this is the early stages of their wanderings. Was there ever a time that God left them and walked away? NO. The passage then, requires some thought.Another aspect to look at is this turning them over to, what? - The worship of the heavenly bodies.(AMP) But God turned [away from them] and delivered them up to worship and serve the host (stars) of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: Did you [really] offer to Me slain beasts and sacrifices for forty years in the wilderness (desert), O house of Israel? [Jer. 19:13.]Worship – the rendering of religious homage.Host – the celestial luminaries.Heaven – the sky and stars.They were already worshiping Molech and Rephan!Molech – Look this up in Leviticus 18:21; 20:2; 2Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 32:35Leviticus 18:21 KJV And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.2 Kings 23:10 KJV And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech.Jeremiah 32:35 KJV And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.God turning them over to worship the heavenly bodies does not sound all that bad when you first hear it. Again, there has to be something more.Contrast this Paul turning a brother over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh so that his soul could be saved, but that does not seem to be the case here. These are not “saved souls” like those who are covered by the blanket of Christ’s blood. These people are subject to the law of God, a rigid following of God’s guidelines. Based upon what we know they did as they danced around the god Molech, and what they continued to do, in offering their children as sacrifices to some pagan god. No wonder God placed them under such strict guidelines.Read the story about how Paul dealt with church discipline, in the New Testament, from1 Corinthians, Chapter 5.I want so badly to have a solid scriptural backing for the next assertion.God did not turn his back on us! I know this is true because, “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” I want so much to say with confidence that God will not turn his back on us, in this age.Some would say, God cannot look upon sin, and this may well be what we saw on the cross when Jesus cried out that the father had abandoned him. To place that attribute upon us is wrong because Christ’s blood paid the price for all sin, once, for all. Though we all continue to sin God will not judge the world for sin, but for refusing to accept the price paid for our sin, effectively demonstrating our non-acceptance of God as the Father.If we use this experience Stephen describes to validate God’s turning his back on us, then we are not paying attention.Stephen said in Acts 7:38 that God gave them logia zonta, living doctrines that produce life upon obedience. Now just a minute, didn’t we talk about the restrictive laws that Israel had to follow to obtain righteousness?See what I mean about not paying attention. If we do not investigate God’s word for ourselves then we are subject to the fallacies that false teachers feed. God gave them living principles, that when followed produced life in them. Because they were living, we can extrapolate that this was the life of God in them. (Try to imagine where this might take you.)Israel chose to:
- Build an image of Molech and offer worship to it.(Molech, from historical record, had the head of a cow and the body of a man. With arms outstretched and a hollow body they would heat this atrocity up and lay their children in its arms. A “priest” would blow a trumpet loudly to drown out the sounds of the screaming children, as the onlookers danced wildly around the statue and others partook of sexual acts as part of the festivities. This is what Moses hears and sees as he comes off the mountain that day. He did not merely dash the tablets to the ground, he threw them at their heads.)
Reverting back to the ways of Egypt, so familiar while in bondage, they also worshiped Repham. Repham is also mentioned in Amos 5:25. It represented an Egyptian star god and was apparently small enough to carry around with you.So God has reacted to their blatant and horrific disobedience.What would it take to get your attention and get you to stop some self-destructive behavior?
As I got into the car to go to lunch one day, a radio pastor says, “God will occasionally lead you on a destructive path.”
If we use Christ as our pattern for who God is, then we come to know that Christ is the good shepherd.
A shepherd in our commercial world is interested in making money, and leading his sheep on a destructive path is counterproductive. The only way I can see that happening on purpose is to get us quickly to safety on greener pasture, and I can guarantee that suffering loss is not what the shepherd desires. Nothing about this picture coincides with the kind of imagery that Stephen's dissertation portrays. Israel, and them alone, put themselves on this destructive path.
If the shepherd turns his back on the sheep intentionally, he subjects them to their own stupidity and whatever hazards may lie in their path, potentially death. And for what purpose? This certainly does not qualify you as a good shepherd, which Christ is.
A former pastor told us that it was traditional for a shepherd to break the leg of a sheep that would continuously stray. And that was supposed to be my image of God? I believe it was his image of God, for this pastor had very little understanding of human nature, nor compassion upon people. Try presenting this aspect the pastor presents as a selling point for the Christian life.
I have spent a tremendous amount of time pursuing an understanding of end times events, and one of the things that most people associate with end times is God’s wrath and vengeance upon earth. What I have come to understand is that though wrath is clearly an aspect, it is also a time of mercy, as God continues to await and welcome all who will come to him. He is a God of mercy, but you will never know that without pursuing him, and coming to him. Ask Jesus Christ to make himself real to you and he will. If you will let him, he will come into your life and give you a hope of life with him, and hope is something that very few of you have. Come to him.