Acts 7.1-19 – Suffering in the history of Israel
Posted: 16 August 2010 in Acts

Then said the high priest, Are these things so? And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell. And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child. And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years. And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place…. And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him…. Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls. So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers…. Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph. The same dealt subtilly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live.

Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 is an extended essay upon the history of Israel and God’s providence within it. The future Israel was to experience much suffering during the early years of the Hebrew nation, but that suffering was never understood to be incompatible with God’s love, either for the nation, or for particular individuals whom he called to serve him. If they seem incompatible to us, that may suggest that our own understanding of God’s love needs a make over.

God’s love is that of a Creator for his creation. He loves it because he created it for a purpose, and at the end of time that purpose will be fulfilled. Whilst Creation is being brought to its consummation, many things will happen, and not all of them will have happy consequences for individual members of the human race. But at no point in that process will God cease to love his creation, and nor will he cease to love those of his servants who are being called upon to suffer for his sake. Perhaps they will be especial recipients of his love (and grace). Our love, in the meanwhile, should ideally resemble that of Jesus, in a willing submission to the will of his (and our) Father.

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