This is the same Moses whom they had rejected with the words, “Who made you ruler and judge?” He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself …
This is that Moses who told the Israelites, “God will send you a prophet like me from your own people.” He … received living words to pass on to us.
But our fathers refused to obey him. Instead they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. (verses 35-39)
At the heart of Stephen’s chapter-long summary of Israel’s history comes this focus on Moses. He had stood on holy ground in the crackle of fire-light before the presence of the Lord. In that place he received divine commissioning to go back to Egypt and rescue God’s people.
But this great hero of faith, whom the rulers of Stephen’s day honoured and revered, had experienced rejection by God’s people, both in Egypt and the wilderness. Twice over Stephen quotes the question that was thrown in Moses’ face, “Who made you ruler and judge?”, holding it up in stark contrast to the fact that Moses “was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself” (verse 35). Not only so, but he was given “living words to pass on” to God’s people. Yet they turned away. By ultimately rejecting him, the people spurned God’s own provision, and the Lord himself turned away, giving them over to the worship of false gods.
Stephen doesn’t explicitly state it, but the parallels are clear. Moses, this hero of Israel’s history, is a lens through which they might perceive present reality. Just like him, Jesus has been sent as ruler and deliverer to his people. He is that “prophet like me” (verse 37), promised by Moses. Just like Moses, he came with “living words.” Just like Moses, he was despised and rebuffed.
Likely the impact of the comparison doesn’t immediately strike home. How could it, since they prided themselves on holding tightly to Moses, yet were blind to the coming one he prophesied. But when Stephen later looks to heaven, declaring that he sees Jesus himself standing in glory at the right hand of God, the narrative is complete. The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.
It is marvelous in our eyes.
Lord Jesus, thank you that though despised and rejected by men, you persevered, taking up our infirmities and carrying our sorrows, securing forgiveness for us.
Thank you that though coming to your own, you pressed forward even when they did not receive you, bringing light and life and salvation to all who would believe and receive.
Thank you for the opportunity to look up and follow you now, just like Stephen.
Reflect: In what ways, either big or small, are you tempted to turn aside from the one who “was sent to be … ruler and deliverer by God himself”? Confess. Repent. Recommit to Jesus – Lord and Saviour, ruler and deliverer.