Typology in Stephen’s Speech Stephen the table waiter of chapter 6 now becomes an angel of God (cf. 6:15), that is, a messenger of the Lord. The theme of Stephen’s sermon is Israel’s resistance to the Holy Spirit throughout its history (see Acts 7:51-53, especially v 51). But behind this theme is the typological lesson that the OT prefigures the rejection of Christ. It is wrong to study Stephen’s speech without reference to this deeper, divinely intended symbolism.
Of course, not everyone will agree with every typological application made here. But keep in mind that Stephen himself was conscious that Israel’s history was a foreshadowing of her treatment of Christ, especially in reference to Joseph and Moses. As Richard Rackham observed years ago, “Though the name of Christ is not once mentioned, Stephen is all the time ‘preaching Jesus.’ He preaches him in his types…” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 93).
Moreover, Stephen’s speech is—at least as recorded here—inspired. Thus its potential significances and applications are greater than the conscious intent of Stephen himself. It is a basic postulate of inspiration that its ultimate meanings are to be found in the intentions of its divine Author, as these are perceived from revelation as a whole.
Israel’s History of Resistance to God
7:1-4. “Brethren and fathers, listen.” The resistance of their fathers to the Holy Spirit is traced back to the very beginning of their history, to the very first man of that history (“our father Abraham”), and to the very first recorded words of that history (“Get out of your country and from your relatives”).
Stephen makes explicit what can only be inferred from the OT, namely, that the call of Genesis 12 came before Abraham “dwelt in Haran.” Abraham thus obeyed the first part of the command, but failed to go into the land God was going to show him. Partial obedience is actually disobedience (e.g., Saul and the Amalekites, 1 Sam 15:1-35).
Stephen also makes explicit another fact that could only be inferred from the OT, namely, Abraham did not leave Haran “until his father was dead.” Thus Abraham did not obey God until his link with his father was broken. Likewise, the Jews to whom Stephen spoke were too closely linked with their fathers (cf., “As your fathers did, so do you,” v 51).
A Time of Delay
7:5-7. “And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on.” These verses emphasize delay. God does not yet give Abraham an inheritance in the land, only a promise. Even the son must be waited for since “as yet he had no child.” There was even delay for Abraham’s descendants—“four hundred years”—as well as “bondage and oppression.” Only then would God judge the nation that afflicted them and bring Abraham’s seed into the land again. Thus we see that the man who keeps God waiting (v 4) must learn to wait himself.
Was there a cause and effect relation between the delay in Haran and the delay in the inheriting of the land?
Note Gen 15:16, which ascribes the delay here quoted as due to the fact that “the iniquity of the Amorites [was] not yet full.” The Amorite invasions up to BC 2000 depopulated Canaan, after which there was a repopulation in part by the Amorites themselves. Surely the depopulation was a work of God, using the Amorites to prepare Canaan for Abraham. As all of God’s works are perfectly timed, it is not unlikely that the sojourn in Haran was just long enough to see the Amorites and others settle in the depopulated area. Thus when Abraham reached Canaan, the Amorites had beaten him to its possession. God was effectively saying Abraham must wait until their course is run.
At any rate, the juxtaposition of these two principles in Stephen’s message—delayed obedience and delayed promise—presents a potent lesson to the rulers to whom he spoke. The Jews had delayed obedience to God’s call to repentance through John the Baptist, Christ, and the Apostles. Their time was running out. The kingdom, though still near (cf., Acts 3), was about to be withdrawn. And the nation, like Abraham’s seed, was to be removed from the land “wherein you now dwell” (v 4) and was about to become a sojourner among the nations of the world. They were to be afflicted, and only after long delay would they return and “serve” (v 7) God.
Note that the word serve (latreusousin) is an interpretation, not a quotation. It does not occur in Genesis 15 of God’s intention in bringing Israel into the land. Yet Stephen’s interpretation was true to God’s intention.
The religiously charged word serve is also relevant to the charges laid against Stephen concerning the temple (6:13-14). Only after a great delay—during which the temple will be desolate—will Israel return to serve God in their land.
The lesson here is that delayed obedience to God is incalculably costly—both to ourselves and to our children. Note its effect on Abraham’s seed, as upon the seed of those to whom Stephen spoke.
The Danger of Envy
7:8. “Then He gave him the covenant of circumcision.” These rulers, are proud of circumcision in the flesh, but are uncircumcised in heart and ears (v 51). So Stephen traces the history of circumcision.
“So Abraham begot Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day.” Stephen traces the history of circumcision and arrives at a dreadful example of uncircumcision of heart among the twelve patriarchs.
7:9-10. “But God was with him and delivered him out of all his troubles.” The hatred and envy for Joseph, mentioned here, actually arose from his father’s love for him (Gen 37:4), as well as from his dreams (Gen 37:5-11). No doubt the patriarchs, like men of their times, put great stock in dreams, and so must have felt Joseph’s dreams to be a revelation of God’s Spirit. In which case, in envying Joseph, they were resisting the Holy Ghost (v 51).
No doubt Stephen was thinking of the Lord Jesus who was also envied by His brethren and delivered to the Gentiles (cf. Matt 27:18). The religious authorities envied Him for His miracles, which were a token of the Father’s love (John 5:19-20). And while they knew the miracles were of God (John 3:2), they still blasphemed the Holy Spirit in their resistance to Him (cf. Mark 3:22-30). They also envied Him for the lofty claims of His Person and, like Joseph’s brethren, hated the thought of bowing down to Him. Thus the cross stands as a terrible monument to man’s envy of God.
Human envy of God began in Eden when the woman was lured into envying God’s knowledge of good and evil. And the fall of Satan himself was prompted by his envy of God’s superiority, and the worship given to Him. Envy is, in a sense, the fountainhead of all the wickedness in the universe. It is a terrible sin of which all are guilty. How can any sinner expect access to heaven while being guilty of the sin of Satan, of Eden, and of those who crucified our Lord?
“And delivered him out of all his troubles.” Joseph’s triumph parallels our Lord’s.1 God delivered the Lord Jesus from all possibility of affliction, of suffering, or of death through resurrection (cf. Rom 6:9).
Joseph found “favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh,” just as our Lord in ascension found in the sight of the Father infinite personal favor and wisdom. For the counsel of our Lord, who has been through all the experiences of earth, is always hearkened to by the Father.
Moreover, Joseph was a representative and forerunner for his brethren in their time of need. This was why God placed him in this position before Pharaoh. Likewise, our Lord’s ascension is on behalf of His brethren (John 20:17). And He is our forerunner (Heb 6:19-20).
The ideal personal representative to a ruler would be one in whom the ruler might be personally delighted and whom the ruler respected for discernment. In other words, the ideal representative must find favor and wisdom in the sight of the ruler. Our perfect representative, the Lord Jesus, possesses these very qualities in infinite measure in the sight of God.
As Joseph was made governor over Egypt and over Pharaoh’s house, so our Lord has all authority over God’s creation (Matt 28:18-20), and over God’s house, the Holiest of all (Heb 10:21-22). His authority over the world gives us courage to go out (in witness), and His authority over God’s house gives us courage to come in (in prayer). Given how they had betrayed him, Joseph might have been ashamed to own his brethren after his exaltation, but was not (cf. Heb 2:11).
Note the typological parallels to Christ in this verse: “delivered him” = resurrection; “gave Him favor and wisdom” = ascension; “made him governor” = seated at God’s right hand.
7:11. “Now a famine and great trouble came over all the land.” Resistance to the Holy Spirit issues in spiritual famine and affliction. This is equally true of believers when they are unyielding to God. There is no “food” to be found for the soul out of touch with Christ, the greater Joseph.
Note the “great trouble” (thlipsis megalē) of this verse. Like v 6, it anticipates the judgment upon Israel in their resistance to the Holy Spirit, both in 70 AD and in the future Great Tribulation.
7:12-13. Famine and affliction are designed by God to drive His people into the presence of, and dependence upon, the greater Joseph (i.e., the Lord Jesus).
The family was sustained by Joseph the first time without them knowing it. But the second time (en tō deuterō) Joseph is revealed to them. Likewise, Israel has been sustained by an exalted Christ over the centuries, since being driven from their land in 70 AD. But like Joseph’s family, they do not acknowledge His help. But when great trouble strikes them again according to prophecy, and when they are dispersed, Christ will be made known to them and they will be again acknowledged by God (cf. “and Joseph’s family was made known to the Pharaoh”).
Note that Jacob heard simply that “there was grain in Egypt.” He did not hear that Joseph was there. However, if Joseph had not been there, there would have been no grain. Hungry souls are often driven to seek the “grain” of religion without being aware of their need of a permanent relationship with a Person. Like the patriarchs, they may find a temporary satisfaction, but complete satisfaction can come only as Christ is “made known” to them.
7:14. Once Joseph is revealed, he invites the patriarchs to a place of nearness to himself in his glory and provision. Likewise, a Risen Lord invites those to whom He has been made known in salvation to a life of nearness to His glory and of provision by His grace.
Joseph’s invitation involves the welfare of the whole family. So those who live near our Lord so often find His blessing extended to their family and household. What an error it would have been for Jacob to refuse Joseph’s invitation (as some Christians do Christ’s)—an error for himself and for his family.
7:15-16. Those to whom Joseph was revealed found a blessedness in life (v 14), and a blessedness in death (v 15). So do those to whom Christ is made known.
“And laid in the tomb that Abraham bought.” In death the patriarchs are removed to Abrahamic property. The OT tells us that Jacob bought this property and that Joseph was buried there (Gen 33:18-20; Josh 24:32). The Spirit, through Stephen, informs us that Abraham had also bought it, meaning Jacob’s transaction was a repurchase.
The phrases “they were carried” and “were placed” refer to “our fathers” and not to Jacob. He was buried in the cave of Machpelah (cf. Gen 50:13). Symbolically the death of Jacob and the twelve patriarchs suggests the future setting aside of Israel’s fleshly nature, so that the nation may enter upon its Abrahamic possessions.
While the Christian lives, he is a stranger in the world (he is in “Egypt”), even though living near an exalted Savior. But at death he is “carried back” into heaven. Like Jacob and the patriarchs, the sphere of his true possession and inheritance must await the resurrection for the full possession of that inheritance.
Pharaoh and Satan
7:17-19. Pharaoh typifies Satan who has ever “dealt treacherously” with the Jewish race in an effort to destroy it, and to prevent Christ’s birth. Moses was born just as Abrahamic promises drew near (v 17), and as Satanic hatred periled his own life. Likewise, Christ was born just as the time for the blessings of Abraham on the Gentiles, as well as the Abrahamic covenant about the land, were drawing near, and when Satanic hatred endangered His life through Herod.
7:20-21. “Moses…was exceeding fair…But when he was cast out…” These verses may be viewed in two ways, always remembering that it is ultimately the mind of the inspiring Holy Spirit, not Stephen’s mind, which is the key that unlocks the fullest meaning of this speech.
First, Christ too is “exceeding fair,” and was, as it were, “cast out” of His Father’s eternal house by the divine love and redemptive purpose. He then became a woman’s son, as did Moses, for He was “made of a woman” (Gal 4:4).
Second, Christ, though “exceeding fair,” after His birth into the Jewish house is “cast out” by the nation’s rejection. It is the Church which “took Him up” (symbolized here by Pharaoh’s daughter, taking up Moses), and made Him her own.
Note that Moses is received by one related to Pharaoh, his enemy. Likewise, the Church is composed of those whose previous moral connection was with the prince of this world, but who have now “taken up,” i.e., received (cf., John 1:11-12) the One cast out of the Abrahamic, Davidic house (cf. “his father’s house”). Just as Pharaoh’s daughter has a son, so too the Church—and each member of it—has the Son (1 John 5:12).
7:22. After becoming the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, “Moses was learned in all the wisdom of Egypt.” Likewise, Christ grew in wisdom (Luke 2:52). No doubt we ought to think, in our Lord’s case, of the Jewish wisdom (of the OT) on which he was nurtured up, as well as the wisdom of practical experience (but even that is captured in the book of Proverbs). And as a result, like Moses, Jesus also became “mighty in words and in deeds.”
By way of application to us, only as we apply our hearts to wisdom will we ever become, to any degree, mighty in words and in deeds. Today’s powerlessness is not a little due to lack of wisdom.
7:23-24. “Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel.” Our Lord’s gracious heart also went out toward His brethren, and it also came into His heart to visit Israel.
Moses “struck down” the Egyptian oppressor, just as the Lord struck the oppressor of His brethren on the Cross, thereby annulling Satan (Heb 2:14). This He did both for His brethren after the flesh (the Jews) and for us whom He calls brethren (Heb 7:11).
Note that one oppressed individual was the object of Moses’ delivering action. So the Cross may be viewed from an individual standpoint, i.e., “the Son of God who… gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20, emphasis added).
7:25. “He supposed that his brethren would have understood.” Moses’ brethren did not understand “that God would deliver them by his hand.” Likewise, though the prophets spoke of the deliverance to be wrought by Christ in His death (e.g., Isaiah 53), yet “they understood not.” Hence, the blindness of Israel towards Christ is symbolized in the experience of her blindness towards Moses.
7:26. “And the next day he appeared to two of them.” Two appearances of Moses to “brethren” are here cited: vv 24-25 in connection with smiting the Egyptian, and vv 26ff, the day following.
So also our Lord, having smitten Satan at the cross, appeared again after the resurrection to His Jewish brethren (cf. John 17:23 and Eph 2:17).2 The deep unity of that early band of Christians was also a manifestation of the risen Lord to Israel.
“…as they were fighting, and tried to reconcile them…” Acts 4 marks the beginning of the intense strife between Israelite brethren, reaching its highpoint in Stephen’s martyrdom and the first persecution. The Lord Jesus, appearing in the Church and in His servants (Peter, John, and Stephen), would have set Israel at one again.
Often the “appearance” of the Lord Jesus—in a home, for example—is at a time of strife or even arouses it, though He seeks the oneness of that home in faith.
7:27. “But he who did his neighbor wrong pushed him away.” It was the guilty segment of Israel—the unbelieving segment—which now thrusts the Lord Jesus away, refusing to acknowledge Him as a Ruler and a Judge over them. In the strife aroused by Christian witness, it is ever the guilty party who rejects Christ’s authority and thrusts Him away.
Note that v 25 speaks of ignorance (“they did not understand”) and v 27 speaks of rebellion (“pushed him away”). Rejection of our Lord’s rightful authority, even over our life, is ever due to the fact that we “understood not,” i.e., we are blind.
The rejection in Moses’ day cost Israel 40 more years of misery and servitude. And so the rebellious heart, in thrusting Christ away, only succeeds in losing its blessing and prolonging its sorrows.
7:28. “Do you want to kill me as you did the Egyptian yesterday?” They taunt Moses with the very act he had performed to deliver his brethren. So too our Lord was mocked for the very act by which Satan was smitten for the sake of saving His people from their sins (cf. Matt 27:39-44). The cross was ever a stumbling block to the Jews, and an excuse for rejection and unbelief.
7:29. As with Moses, so our Lord has become a “stranger [paroikos] in the land of Midian”—i.e., Gentile land. However, Jesus is only a sojourner temporarily dwelling there till the day of His return to Israel.
“Moses fled.” Because He is One with the Church in its experiences (cf. Acts 9:4), Christ flees in the Church’s flight (cf. Acts 8:1). However, though Israel lost its blessing, Christ, like Moses, is fruitful in the land of His sojourn “where he had two sons” (cf. Isa 8:18 with Heb 2:13). Believers are the children God has given the Lord during His rejection. The salvation of Gentiles are signs and wonders to provoke Israel to jealousy (cf. Rom 11:11).
If any soul thrusts away the Lord Jesus, He will go elsewhere to bear fruit and to bless.
1. Hodges sees in Joseph a type of Christ. See the last paragraph in his discussion of Acts 7:10 where he says so explicitly.
2. Moses is also viewed by the author as a type of Christ.