God loves truth (Jo 17:17). But we, at times, twist or corrupt it through lies, half-truths or in other ways. This results in us deceiving others and, even, ourselves. Such self-deceit may leave both individuals and groups with false ideas and memories. In his speech, Stephen is having to tackle just that problem. His Jewish hearers have a mistaken view of their history which encourages sin in them when, instead, they should have learnt from the past about the sins they are prone to, and so repented of them. Jesus had also previously warned them of this blindness (Lk 11:47-52).
Stephen is speaking to the Jerusalem council (Ac 6:15) to answer charges of slandering God and Moses (Ac 6:11, 7:1). His words, however, act not only as a defence for him but also as teaching for the Jerusalem church. Already, Stephen has undermined the pride his accusers have in their land and markers; now he turns to Moses in whose time the Israelites flourished in Egypt (v17). Though growing as a nation, their lives were also a misery due to a Pharaoh who had forgotten all that their forefather Joseph had done (v18; Ge 41:37-57) and so enslaved them, even resorting to infanticide (v19; Ex 1:8-22). However, God raised up the wonderful Moses (v20), so loved by the Jews. Rescued by an Egyptian princess and raised in the royal household (v21; Ex 2:1-10), Moses received a fine education (v22). An amazing story! But also a weird one. How peculiar for God to prepare the great man of Israel, by settling him among pagans for four decades.
Even more striking, however, is to see how his own people reacted to him. When he finally came to show them his loyalty and act for their rescue, they rejected him (v23-25; Ex 2:11-14)! His intervention in a fight was resented and his leadership denied (v26-27). So rather than saving them, he had to flee to save himself, settling in a foreign land (v28-29; Ex 2:15-22). The revered Jewish hero ended up with a Midianite wife and half-Jewish, uncircumcised sons (Ex 4:24-26)! Stephen’s audience have forgotten just what an unexpected and unwanted hero Moses actually was to their forefathers – they’ve changed the story. But if they had remembered those sinful attitudes, then maybe they would have learned how not to fall into the selfsame sins. After all, they’ve just treated Jesus in similar fashion because, like Moses, he didn’t fit their assumptions about how God works! Jesus too was unexpected and unwanted.
It’s vital we don’t make this mistake. We must learn from God about his ways, not decide for ourselves. Stephen’s hearers need that. So does the Jerusalem church because they’re about to see God drawing in Samaritans and Gentiles (Ac 8 & 10). And so do we. Christians today should beware falling into the error of deciding how God ought to build his church. The fact is that he often uses people that others dismiss as insignificant (1Co 1:26-29). The world may despise their love and service but the Lord does not (Mt 25:31-40) and neither should we. And, indeed, we should desire the same Christ-like attitude, of humble service and love for others, in ourselves.
Well, after he fled, Moses spent another 40 years being of no apparent use to Israel (v40). But it just when his life appeared used up, that the Lord’s angel found him. He heard the Lord’s voice from a burning bush in a wilderness (v31; Ex 3:1-5). The God of Israel’s wandering ancestors – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – met with Moses in a remote place (v32) and it became holy ground (v33). From there he was sent back to rescue the Israelites (v34) who had so scornfully rejected him (v35). As an old man, Moses performed miracles and led the nation for another forty years, finally dying at 120 (v36; De 34:5-7). Such an unexpected saviour. But remember, says Stephen, he promised another to come just like him (v37) – surely a pointer to Jesus!
Each Christian life is valuable. Though the world may not see it, if we live for Christ and in his ways, then we will have used our life well. And we shouldn’t write off possibilities before our time is up. God may have ways for us to serve him when we no longer expect them. We must look for such opportunities, however small, and pray that we’ll glorify God in them.