Summary: Wherever God meets His people is a holy place, not just in the Temple or in a Church building.
Standing before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council in the Temple of Jerusalem, false witnesses alleged that the Christian deacon Stephen had claimed that ‘Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and change the customs which Moses delivered us’ (Acts 6:14). Stephen's accusers argued that he had spoken against Moses and God (Acts 6:11), and against this holy place and the law (Acts 6:13).
Stephen's response was an historical exegesis of the Old Testament in which:
1. he would demonstrate the peripatetic nature of God's relationship with Israel;
2. he would show that far from changing the law of Moses, Jesus had fulfilled it;
3. and, in a masterly stroke, he would turn the tables on his accusers.
(a) God spoke to Abraham in Mesopotamia.
“The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia before he dwelt in Haran” (Acts 7:2).
This reflects the correct rendering of Genesis 12:1 - ‘Now the LORD had said unto Abram’ to get out of his country, and from his kindred, and from his father's house to a land which God would show him.
The journey began when his father Terah took his family out of Ur of the Chaldees, and they settled together in Haran (Genesis 11:31), but the past tense in Genesis 12:1 demonstrates that Abraham had heard God calling him forth before that. It was not until his father died in Haran that Abraham moved into the promised land (Acts 7:4).
Let us be careful, however, not to take this as a precedent. If we delay to obey the voice of God we may miss our opportunity to respond to the gospel ourselves, or to proclaim it to others.
(b) God was with Joseph in Egypt.
As Abraham ventured forth into the promised land, a land in which he had no possession, there was a shadowing forth of his people's oppression in Egypt (Acts 7:5-6). It was into Egypt that the patriarchs sold Joseph, “but God was with him and delivered him out of all his troubles” (Acts 7:9-10).
This echoes Psalm 105:19: ‘Until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him.’
God was with Joseph, even when he was a slave in Egypt, and would hear the cry of His people, even when they were later slaves in Egypt (Exodus 3:7). It is reassuring to know that, wherever God's people are, He hears their cry.
Stephen emphasises that Jacob went down into Egypt. There he died, “he and our fathers” (Acts 7:15). Their only possession in the holy land was the tombs in which they would be laid.
(c) God appeared to Moses in the wilderness of Midian.
Stephen spoke of a new Pharaoh “who knew not Joseph,” and of his oppression of the children of Israel (Acts 7:18-19). Then he introduced Moses with a complimentary euphemism (Acts 7:20), and spoke of his upbringing, learning, wisdom, and mighty words and deeds in the house of Pharaoh's daughter.