God’s Word for You
Acts 7:1-3 The God of glory appeared to Abraham
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, December 10, 2019
7 Then the high priest said to Stephen, “Are these things true?” 2 He said, “Brothers and fathers, hear me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. 3 ‘Leave your land and your relatives,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’
The high priest asked a legally phrased opening question: “Are these things true?” This is the ancient equivalent of “Do you plead guilty or not guilty”? The council had heard the charges. They assumed Stephen’s guilt, and now they would listen while he defended himself.
Stephen sets aside his own personal freedom from the very beginning. Instead of defending himself, he effectively accuses the Sanhedrin of being guilty of the same crimes for which he was accused. He does this masterfully, beginning with the physical beginning of Judaism and the grandfather of Israel himself: Abraham.
Since Stephen is accused of speaking against Moses and the temple (Acts 6:14), he begins with the faith of their ancestors before there was ever a Moses or a temple. He retraces the location of Abraham and his faith (the faith which he has and which the men of the Sanhedrin claim to have) to a point far outside their country. He takes them back to the city in the far south of Mesopotamia, on the shores of the Euphrates some one hundred miles from the place where it empties into the distant Persian Gulf: Ur of the Chaldeans. Actually, Stephen accurately describes the journey from there to Canaan along the geographic arc known as the fertile crescent, by mentioning that Abraham lived in Mesopotamia “before he lived in Haran.” God called Abraham while he was living in Ur (Genesis 12:1), and then lived on the northern rim of the fertile crescent before coming to Canaan.
Using passages from the Scriptures, especially the genealogies and some other verses, we can assemble a timeline of Abraham’s life up to this point. Such timelines are not always interesting for every reader, but Luther points out more than once that counting the years given by the Bible can be a useful tool for study (all dates are of course B.C.).
2166 Birth of Abraham. He is the descendant of Noah through Shem. Both Shem and Noah are still living at this time. Abraham’s father Terah is the great-great-great-grandson of Eber, the great-grandson of Shem. Eber is the last of the very long-lived patriarchs who far outlived their two hundredth year (he died at 430 in the lifetime of Jacob and his sons). He seems to be the one meant when people talk about this large family as the “Hebrews” (Genesis 14:13) rather than the Terahites or the Abrahamites.
2156 Birth of Sarah, half-sister and wife of Abraham. They have different mothers (Genesis 20:12).
2119? Death (about this time) of Abraham’s brother Haran. Haran has at least three children, a son (Lot) and two daughters, Milcah and Iscah. Milcah marries her uncle Nahor, Abraham’s brother, and they have a long list of children including eight sons (Genesis 22:21-23). Milcah and Nahor are the grandparents of Rebekah (who will marry Isaac) and her brother Laban. Luther suggests that this was about nine years before the death of Noah.
2108 Death of Noah (950 years old, Genesis 9:29).
2089 Abraham called out of Haran to move to Canaan. He is 75 years old (Genesis 12:4). Abraham was extremely wealthy. He and Lot will have to separate so that their shepherds will not quarrel over the large flocks (Genesis 13:8-9).
Stephen begins his defense with these facts. The true worship of God does not begin with Moses or the temple, but with the word of God and the promises God makes to his people. Abraham believed God; this was credited to him as righteousness by God (Genesis 15:6; Galatians 3:6). So Abraham was not saved from his sins by his obedience, even though he was obedient. He was saved by his faith in God, and especially by his faith in the promise of the coming Savior. The Savior would come through Abraham’s descendant, the seed of Abraham who is Jesus Christ (Genesis 12:7; Galatians 3:16). In the same way, everyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness has the saving faith God gives and which God counts or credits as our righteousness. He looks for this faith, and he himself is the one who gives it. The Lord works faith “where and when he wishes” (Augsburg Confession V); man does not cause himself to come to faith by a decision or a matter of his own will. Since God chooses to work through external means (the gospel in word and sacrament) it is to his glory that we have come to faith just as he willed it to be. His word has done its work in us, just as it did in Abraham. The faith you and I have is no less a miracle than Abraham’s faith. God spoke to him through his own miraculous appearance all those years ago in a distant land, but he spoke to us through his Holy Word which brought us to trust in Christ for our forgiveness, for our justification, and for our eternal salvation.
Pastor Timothy Smith