Acts 7:1-5a (NIV)
Then the high priest asked him, “Are these charges true?”
To this he replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’ “So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. He gave him no inheritance here, not even a foot of ground.
It might seem strange that Stephen, in his defense before the Sanhedrin, would start with the book of Genesis and work his way forward to the present time. But, in obedience to Jesus’ command to not worry about what to say, and his faith in the promise that the right words would be given to him when they were needed (Matthew 10:19-20), he simply started speaking God’s words as they were given to him. In reality, this is God’s defense of him.
Instead of answering the high priest’s question directly, since the question did not allow for a simply yes or no because any truth in the accusations against him had been intermingled with falsehood, exaggerations and twists, he took a different approach. He went back to the very beginning of Jewish history, beginning with Abraham, to weave a case that ultimately revealed not only the real truth, but the ultimate source of the persecution that was being brought to bear on him.
Under God’s inspiration, Stephen brought out more to the story of Abraham that what is contained in the book of Genesis. For example, he revealed that the call to Abraham to leave his country and his people had been received when he was living in Mesopotamia, in Ur of the Chaldeans. As Genesis 11:31 notes, when his whole extended family left Ur, they were on their way to Canaan, but stopped short of the destination at Haran. It wasn’t until Abraham’s father, Terah, died that he determined to follow through on God’s calling and finish the journey to Canaan.
But even though Abraham was not given even a bit of land to possess at that time (he purchased a tomb to bury his wife in from some of the people of the land), he was given use of the whole land, grew wealthy from its resources, and was promised that his descendants, more numerous than the stars, would conquer the land some four centuries in the future, and would live in it (Genesis 13:14-17, 15:13-16).
Stephen’s point in this section of his testimony was that God has always had a plan for the good of His people, but many times, the people, even Abraham, delayed in taking advantage of what He was offering.
Father, it is interesting to put these two sections of Scripture together and to see the more complete picture. Abraham initially delayed his obedience, apparently out of familial pressure. What greater blessings might have come his way, or come much sooner, if he had gone all the way to the Promised Land at Your first call, regardless of what his extended family chose to do? Unfortunately, we will never know. Help us, Lord, to never delay in our obedience to Your commands, so that we can receive Your blessings in all their fullness. Amen.
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