The In-Between Years - Part 36

Series: The In-Between Years

May 09, 2021
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

The In-Between Years — Part 36

Stephen, the Greek-speaking Jew in the early church chosen to minister the daily food distribution to widows, was a powerful and bold gospel preacher. He proclaimed Christ in the Greek-speaking synagogues. He was wise and persuasive, but his audience was hostile. He was accused of blasphemy before the ruling council of Jewish elders called the Sanhedrin.

When asked to answer the charges, he instead preached a sermon, a sermon that retold the history of the Jews through the lens of Jesus. His message centered on the big players in Israel’s history. The first was father Abraham. All Jews were proud to trace their lineage back to him. We saw how Abraham was saved by believing in Jesus just like all of us on this side of the cross. So he was not only the father of the Jews, but also the father of all those who come to God by faith, believing in his promises.

29 So if you belong to Christ, you are now part of Abraham’s family, and you will be given what God has promised.  Galatians 3:29 (CEV)

The next big player Stephen focused on was Joseph. Joseph was one of twelve sons born to Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. Those twelve sons would become the twelve tribes, and thus the nation, of Israel. Jospeh’s brothers rejected him and sold him into slavery. Eventually he would become the second most powerful man in the civilized world at that time, with the king of Egypt putting everything — save himself — under Joseph’s authority. God providentially ordered his tragic circumstances in such a way that incredible good was accomplished. Looking back Joseph was able to say…

20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.  Genesis 50:20 (ESV)

That’s enough to shout about right there, but we also were amazed at how Joseph foreshadowed Jesus in so many ways. Stephen would have saw that as he looked at it all through that lens. 

You remember that Joseph brought his father and brothers and their families to Egypt where they settled down. Here’s how the story ends in Genesis…

22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. 

24 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.  Genesis 50:22, 24–26 (ESV)

But that’s far from the end of the story. We can’t forget that Stephen mentioned something about how Israel’s time in Egypt would be a detour on their way to experiencing the fulness of God’s promise to make them a great nation in their own land, something God had revealed to Abraham…

6 And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years. 7 ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’  Acts 7:6–7 (ESV)

This is the focus of the next part of his message. Israel in Egypt. Just in case we all aren’t familiar with it, we’re going to cover firsthand what Stephen summarizes (since it’s just two chapters and it has to do with that critical detour thing God had providentially arranged and it’s where we’re introduced to the next big player in Israel’s history). 

So things pick back up and proceed in the Book of Exodus…

1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, 3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, 4 Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. 5 All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. 6 Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. Exodus 1:1–6 (ESV)

Now we are up to what we already know. Here’s what happened next…

7 But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. Exodus 1:7 (ESV)

These are God’s people. The beginnings of his chosen nation. They are guaranteed to prosper. God was with Abraham, God was with Isaac, God was with Jacob, God was with Joseph and his brothers, and God was with their descendants because he had made promises. That was great for the Hebrews, but it made them a target among the Egyptians…

8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Exodus 1:8-10 (ESV)

While Joseph became nothing more than a memory in Egypt the Jews became so prosperous, it made the king of Egypt at that time nervous. What if they decided to rebel against them and join their enemies in a takeover? It would be an inside job they couldn’t put down. So…

11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. 13 So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves. Exodus 1:11–14 (ESV)

Pharaoh’s plan didn’t work. It made things worse from his perspective. The harder he pushed, the more resilient they became. Well, he pushed even harder, so hard the only thing you could call what he did is evil…

15 Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” Exodus 1:15-16 (ESV)

It’s so difficult to expand on this, but for the sake of understanding what’s happening here in light of the ancient culture in which it occurred, I will. Tragically, horribly, it wasn’t that unusual for babies to be disposed of back then and even for many, many hundreds of years later. It also wasn’t uncommon for children to be offered as sacrifices to the gods.

We have archeological evidence in the form of a personal letter, closer to the time of Jesus in the 1st Century, of an Egyptian business man writing to his wife from Rome. He wrote: “Hope things are going well” (she was pregnant). “If the child comes before I get there, fine. If it’s a girl, kill it.” Unwanted babies due to deformity or sickliness or just their gender were abandoned in garbage dumps and even gutters. Just saying that makes my stomach turn.

This is one reason why the early Christians mystified ancient Greco-Roman culture. They sought out these abandoned babies and took them in. And they did that because they knew every human being was made in the image of a Creator God.

Back to that part about gender having something to do with being abandoned. That wicked Egyptian man didn’t want a girl. God have mercy, but girls were of lesser value to the ancients. It was almost always girls who were done away with. But here, it’s the opposite. Pharaoh commands the baby boys be killed. This was to weaken the Israelites. What a wicked, cruel, thing. We are in no place to judge them, though. If you think about that long enough you’ll know why I say that.

And just in case you’re wondering, ancient Jews were known for being monotheists, worshipping the one true God in a world that worshipped a pantheon of gods. But they were also unique in that, as a part of their faith, all children were of value. God declared through the prophet Jeremiah…

31 And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.  Jeremiah 7:31 (ESV)

It doesn’t look good for the poor, baby Hebrew boys. But check this out…

17 But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. 18 So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”  Exodus 1:17–22 (ESV)

And boom, just like that we’ve covered 400 years of the detour God told Abraham about and Stephen mentions. This detour begins to come to an end in chapter 2…

1 Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. 3 When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. 4 And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him. Exodus 2:1–4 (ESV)

Remember how the providence of God worked in Joseph’s life? It’s about to happen in this little baby’s life...

5 Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”  Exodus 2:5–10 (ESV)

Do you see what happened here? The baby abandoned to the Nile was rescued by an Egyptian princess who told the baby’s sister to find a nursemaid. The baby’s own mother became that nursemaid, and he lived with his biological parents until he was possibly five to eight years old. They taught him who he was and where he came from. They instilled within him a knowledge of the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph. 

Then he was raised in the house of pharaoh. He was taught the wisdom of the Egyptians, something they were famous for. He became familiar with their culture, their way of life. In effect, he was man with two identities.

And now we get to the next and undoubtedly biggest superstar in Jewish history Stephen includes: Moses. Abraham was the Jews’ father. But Moses was the great deliverer and law giver, the one through whom they became fully God’s covenant people. And this is his origin story.

Stephen’s retelling of Israel’s history will hit close to home now. The ruling council of elders consider themselves the keepers of the Law given through Moses. And rightly so. That’s what they were supposed to be doing. But they weren’t doing it from the heart….

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.  Matthew 23:1–3 (ESV)

Don’t forget Stephen’s alleged crime…

10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.”  Acts 6:10–11 (ESV)

Conclusion: The council’s ears would have tingled when Stephen summarized what we’ve just covered this way…

17 “But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt 18 until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph. 19 He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive. 20 At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, 21 and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. 22 And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.  Acts 7:17–22 (ESV)

Moses will take God’s people one step closer to fulfilling God’s promises to Abraham. And just like Abraham and Joseph, if you look at Moses’ story through the lens of Jesus, you see him standing right there. And we’ll get more into that… next time.

God is a God who keeps his promises. And the greatest promise he’s ever made is personal and powerful. And it speaks to us right where we are. 

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Romans 10:13 (ESV)

God knows this world is awful. He knows it’s full of suffering and pain. He hates death and evil. That’s not how it was when he first made it. But he has addressed it through Jesus, the God-man who came to live the life we should have lived and die the death we should have died. He is the one through whom God will save us if we call on him, if we take him up on his promise. He will save us from our own sins but also from the sins of others and the evil in this world when he remakes it.

Content Copyright Belongs to Pleasant View First Baptist Church