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God’s Word for You

Acts 7:4-7 Strangers in the land

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, December 11, 2019

4 “So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After his father died, God sent him to this land where you are now living,  5 but he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground. But God promised to give it to him and to his descendants after him as their possession, even though Abraham had no child.

Some commentators and others find a problem here with Stephen’s chronology, since he says that Abraham stayed in Haran until his father Terah died. This is really a question that can be answered by noting that Abraham might not have been Terah’s eldest son. Although the order of the sons in Genesis 11:26 is “Abr(ah)am, Nahor and Haran,” Abraham might be listed first because he is the carrier of the promise, and not because he was born first.

When God sent Abraham into Canaan, he did not give him any land at all. Stephen says, “not enough space to set his foot” (translation: “not even a foot of ground”). The land Abraham bought from the Hittites to bury his wife (Genesis 23:7-20) was not a gift; Abraham very clearly and intentionally purchased it for a fair market value from Ephron the Hittite. This makes God’s promise to give all of Canaan to Abraham all the more incredible, because when God made the promise Abraham and Sarah had no child and were old. Yet the promise was made, and God kept his promise.

6 God said that his descendants would be strangers in a country belonging to others who would enslave and mistreat them for four hundred years.  7 God said: ‘But I will punish that nation that will enslave them, and after that they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.’

By saying that Abraham’s descendants would be “strangers in a country belonging to others” (verse 6), Stephen seems to be quoting Abraham’s words to the Hittites: “I am an alien and a stranger among you” (Genesis 23:4), but actually he is foreshadowing what would happen to Israel when they were in the land of Egypt many years later. He uses the Greek word ethnos (“Gentile”) when he says: “I will punish that ‘nation’ that will enslave them.” (For the ten plagues with which God punished and instructed the Egyptians, see Exodus 7-11) He doesn’t belabor this point, because he is making his point about Canaan and how the Jews came to live there, even though the promise was first made elsewhere and to a man who never had a permanent place to live in Canaan.

Why make this point? Stephen wants his hearers to understand that it is not residence in Israel that makes us children of God. It is the promise of God that makes us God’s children. There could be no Jews in the Sanhedrin or in any synagogue today who would deny that Abraham is a part of the people of Israel, and yet he had none of the things about which Stephen had been accused. He never had the law of Moses, nor did he have the temple, nor even “enough space to set his foot.” Yet Abraham had faith, and faith is what connects us to God’s promises.

Of course, Stephen is building up to drawing us right up to the feet of Jesus. He is the seed, the descendant of Abraham, through which all the spiritual children of Abraham are saved. God said: “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:22), and again: “In the LORD all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult” (Isaiah 45:25). It is not the land that saves us, nor the marble walls of a temple, nor the law of Moses. The land has passed out of the hands of God’s people entirely. The marble walls are torn down and are a ruin. The law has no power to set aside the covenant already established with Abraham (Galatians 3:17). We are saved through Jesus’ blood, and so we put our trust in him alone.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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