Online Bible Commentary
They Did Not Understand
Acts 7:17 "But when the time of the promise drew near which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt 18 till another king arose who did not know Joseph. 19 This man dealt treacherously with our people, and oppressed our forefathers, making them expose their babies, so that they might not live. 20 At this time Moses was born, and was well pleasing to God; and he was brought up in his father's house for three months. 21 But when he was set out, Pharaoh's daughter took him away and brought him up as her own son. 22 And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds. 23 Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian. 25 For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand. 26 And the next day he appeared to two of them as they were fighting, and tried to reconcile them, saying, 'Men, you are brethren; why do you wrong one another?' 27 But he who did his neighbor wrong pushed him away, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me as you did the Egyptian yesterday?' 29 Then, at this saying, Moses fled and became a dweller in the land of Midian, where he had two sons. (NKJV)
The time is the early days of the New Testament Church, in A.D. 30 or 31. The disciple Stephen has been brought before the Jewish religious leaders that made up the Sanhedrin Council.
Stephen is being falsely accused of blaspheming the temple and the law of Moses (also known as the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible) while preaching the gospel in a synagogue. The false witnesses testified that Stephen had said that “Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”
The High Priest questions Stephen asking "Are these things so" (v. 1)? Stephen responds with a lengthy sermon which covers Acts 7:1-53, of which this passage is part.
Stephen has just recounted the story of Joseph. Joseph represented the first time the Jewish people rejected a savior. Joseph was rejected by his brothers, the sons of Israel, and was sold into slavery. He ultimately became a leader in Egypt and saved his family from a drought in Canaan.
Joseph brought them to Egypt where they were treated well until Joseph’s death, some thirty years later. Meanwhile the Jewish “people grew and multiplied in Egypt” (v. 17). Then “another king arose in Egypt”, one who did not know of Joseph’s contributions to the country (v. 18). This new Pharaoh made the Jews slaves and treated them poorly.
About the time Moses was born, the Pharaoh, concerned that the Jewish slaves might join with his enemies, decided to control their numbers. He ordered all newborn Jewish babies to be killed (v. 19). Moses, who “was well pleasing to God”, was saved by his mother when she placed him in a basket in the Nile River when he was three months old and the Pharaoh’s daughter found him “and brought him up as her own son” (Vv. 20-21). Raised as Egyptian royalty, Moses “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds” (v. 22).
When he was forty years old Moses was drawn to his own people, the Jewish slaves (v. 23). Seeing one being mistreated by an Egyptian soldier, Moses killed the soldier (v. 24).
Moses thought the Jews would understand that God had sent him to be their savior, “but they did not understand” (v. 25). His people rejected him and Moses fled to “the land of Midian, where he had two sons” (Vv. 26-29).
So Stephen has now spoken of two saviors, Joseph and Moses, who had been sent by God as saviors of the Jews, only to be rejected by them. He was setting them up to realize that Jesus was the third savior they had rejected. If they were wrong about the other two, they could also be wrong about Jesus.
Christians also are often wrong about the things of God. He sends His message to us, and we reject it. We read the Bible or hear a message from one of God’s representatives, perhaps a pastor or a Bible teacher, and we reject it. We think that the message applies to other people, when in fact God meant it for us. God’s message does not have the desired effect. We are not changed. We did not listen to God. We rejected His message.
When it comes to the things of God, there are no accidents. God has placed each of us in this place at this time in history. He speaks to us through His word, His representatives, and through circumstances He brings into our lives. We need to listen to Him. The Jews did not. They did not understand. We Christians must not make the same mistake.