Stephen's defensive argument began with a brief history of Abraham's life, firmly establishing the importance of maintaining faith in God's word, no matter the circumstance, distance or time it takes for God to fulfill His promises. This legacy of faith was passed from father to son, culminating in Abraham's great-grandson, Joseph.
Joseph had risen from slave to ruler of Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh. But decades passed, Joseph died and the tide of favor faded.
"But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph." Acts 7:17-18 (ESV)
The new Pharoah oppressed the people of Israel, made them slaves, forcing the abortion at birth of all Israeli male infants. (Exodus 1)
This was the fulfillment of God's warning to Abraham:
"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." Acts 7:6 (ESV)
Now, Stephen submits the life of Moses as exhibit number two in his defense against charges of heresy and blasphemy.
"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, and when he was exposed, Pharaoh's daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds. Acts 7:20-22 (ESV)
Moses should have been murdered at birth by the midwives, under the strict law of the Pharoah. But Moses was beautiful.
BEAUTIFUL: asteios (urbane or handsome); from astu (a city)
WHAT DO YOU THINK? There seems to be many things which could be described as beautiful, many things which could inspire a description of beautiful or handsome. What difference would it have made if root of the Greek word for beautiful would have been a mountain, or a flower, a woman or a warrior? What implications could be drawn from a word meaning beautiful with a root word inspired by a city?
The ESV has Stephen saying that God considered Moses beautiful. The KJV says it differently:
"In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father's house three months." Acts 7:20 (KJV)
EXCEEDING: theos (a deity or magistrate)
Combining the thought of ESV and KJV, we can probably describe Moses as divinely beautiful, that the baby appeared completely whole, unblemished, strong and healthy.
This word for beautiful is used only twice in the New Testament, both instances describing Moses.
The Old Testament account uses a similar word:
"The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months." Exodus 2:2 (ESV)
FINE: tob (good or well); from tob (to be good, to do good or make good or well)
This is the same Hebrew word used to describe God's enjoyment of His creation. The light was "tob", the Earth and Seas were "tob", the herbs and trees, the sun and moon and every living creature were "tob".
My first reaction to God's special treatment of handsome Moses is to think, "Unfair!" Thousands of babies murdered by the Egyptians saw no miraculous intervention by God because they were homely in appearance?
But God created humans especially in His own image, and image includes, if not emphasizes, appearance. To recognize beauty in the human body is to recognize the beauty of God.
Beauty, physical appearance, is as much a part of perfection as intellect, love and strength. It should not surprise us that God treated handsome Moses with favor. The greater surprise should be that God grants favor to us who lack physical beauty or mental intelligence or strength of body and heart.
Much of the world's pursuits, even its insatiable lusts, seem to be desperate attempts to reclaim a lost divine beauty, as if we are striving to recapture even a shadow of a once wonderful glory.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? What excesses of the world's population could be traced back to a deep, God-given desire for something good?
God created the baby Moses with extraordinary symmetry. His appearance was pleasingly balanced, blemish-free, reflecting an attitude of healthy intelligence, skill and influence.
The parents of Moses recognized the special appearance of Moses, and it moved them to do all they could to protect the child from the murderous law of Egypt.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews cites this incident as a great example of faith:
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict. Heb 11:23 (ESV)
WHAT DO YOU THINK? According to Hebrews 11:25, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." In what promises of God did the parents of Moses see hope? What formed the basis of their conviction, despite outward circumstances?
Stephen says that the baby Moses was "exposed", discovered to be a Hebrew male infant, liable for death. This is a bare description of the event:
"Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. 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. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him.
"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. 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. - 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? - And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, - Go.
"So the girl went and called the child's mother. 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.
"When the child grew up, 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 2:1-10 (ESV)
The discovery of the baby in the basket seems a remarkable miracle in itself.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Was this a last-resort, act of desperation on the part of the parents of Moses, or a carefully considered act of faithful devotion? What modern-day religious convictions or practices could be seen as either desperation or devotion?
The divinely handsome baby Moses caught the eyes and heart of Pharaoh's daughter. It doesn't, however, seem that his beauty tugged at her heartstrings. The baby's tears brought her to compassion and pity:
PITY: hamal (to commiserate, to spare)
It's possible that the princess had been sheltered from the consequences of the horrific, murderous law mandated by her father, the Pharoah. Perhaps Moses was the first Hebrew baby she'd seen, and the infant's tears broke open her innocent heart's capacity for compassion.
Perhaps she had heard of the law, but never looked into the face of a Hebrew mother who had lost her child to murder. Living as royalty, she would have little occasion to experience any part of the life of her father's subjects.
She claimed the infant as her own son, raising him to be an Egyptian:
"Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds." Acts 7:22 (ESV)
WISDOM: sophia (wisdom, higher or lower, worldly or spiritual); from sophos (wise); akin to saphes (clear)
There is another Greek word that often translated as wise:
"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock." Matthew 7:24 (ESV)
WISE: phronimos (thoughtful, sagacious or discreet; implying a cautious character); from phren (the midrif, the feelings, the mind); from phrao (to rein in or curb)
Sophia, the word used to describe Moses, means practical skill and ability. This sort of wisdom is different from that deeper sense of caution also called wisdom.
Moses learned the essential skills of living as Egyptian royalty, and his family, friends and servants respected his strength and self-control. They saw him as the ideal Egyptian.
But Moses remained Hebrew in heart and soul.
"When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, - Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?" Acts 7:23-26 (ESV)
Moses had forty years to study the books of history in the Egyptian libraries. He had royal authority to search out and question anyone. He most likely found his parents and required of the Pharoah their protection and support. As he grew older, his questions took him farther afield, understanding his heritage as a descendent of Abraham, seeing clearly the oppressive rule of Egypt over his own people.
Moses was Egyptian only in wealth, influence, language and custom. In his heart he was Hebrew. In his heart he was The Deliverer. He struck a blow against evil oppression. He took a step toward bringing his people into the promised land so many miles northward.
The apostle Peter's first message as a preacher of Christ described the powerful self-awareness driving Moses, his intense loyalty to God's plan for his life:
"Moses said, - The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people." Acts 3:22-23 (ESV)
This unshakeable faith in God's hand upon his life did not happen instantly. Moses argued, complained and bargained with God...in the beginning. But God brought Moses into, and through, difficulties and disappointment that resulted in deep, heartfelt faith and conviction.
Peter cited the faith of Moses in his appeal to non-believers to worship Christ, persuading religious Jews that Jesus was the long-awaited Savior-Prophet come in the power and likeness of Moses.
Stephen is declaring the same truth.
Moses failed in his first attempt deliver his people from oppression and into their God-given promised land.
"The man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, - Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?" Acts 7:27-28 (ESV)
The just revenge exacted by Moses, killing the Egyptian oppressor, resulted in nothing but exile. His fatherly intervention between two of his quarreling brothers crumbled into an acrimonious threat thrown back at him: imprisonment for murder.
"At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons." Acts 7:29 (ESV)
The land of Midian was east of Egypt, named after a son of Abraham, by his second wife, Keturah. (Genesis 25)
Midian must have been a long distance from Egypt, or perhaps the route was rough...Pharaoh sought to kill Moses for the murder and defection, but failed to capture him.
On the map, Midian appears to have been desert, but at the time Moses lived there, it provided water and pasture for sheep at least. Moses became a shepherd and lived there for forty years, marrying and fathering two sons.
Moses appears to have passed on to his sons the legacy of their great ancestor, Abraham. Moses named his first son Gershom, from a word meaning a refugee, one driven out from a possession. The Old Testament account records Moses saying, "I have been a sojourner in a foreign land." Exodus 2:22 (ESV)
The second son was named Eliezer, meaning God of help. Moses said, "The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh." Exodus 18:4 (ESV)
Moses regarded Egypt as a foreign country, one in which he grew up, but now one to which he belonged. Moses continued to hold tightly to the heritage of faith in the God of Abraham, trusting God to fulfill His promise of land in Canaan.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Compare your own life right now with that of Moses, especially at the time when Moses was exiled from Egypt, herding sheep hundreds of miles from the land promised by God. Little wealth, little influence and only his small family with him. What similarities can you describe between your life and his, physical or spiritual?
After forty years of lonely exile, God spoke to Abraham.
"Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord." Acts 7:30-31 (ESV)
Forty years of waiting for Moses...over four hundreds of years for the nation of Israel.
God had warned Abraham of 400 years of affliction and oppression in a foreign land:
"The Lord said to Abram, - Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions." Genesis 15:13-14 (ESV)
The nation of Israel, the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, began their sojourn in Egypt when Jacob, by then renamed Israel, moved with his family to Egypt to live with his son, Joseph.
The move was not without sorrow and reluctance, even fear. God spoke to Jacob/Israel on the eve of leaving his cherished land of promise:
"God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, - Jacob, Jacob. - And he said, - Here am I. - Then he said, - I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph's hand shall close your eyes." Genesis 46:2-4 (ESV)
This must have been intensely intimate and encouraging for Jacob. God promised to be with him, even in a foreign land, and promised to keep all His promises, including that of the land of Canaan.
Jacob's family at that time, the nation of Israel, consisted of 70 persons, including children. (Genesis 46:27)
Over 400 years later, Moses would lead the nation out of oppression:
"The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt." Exodus 12:40-41 (ESV)
By this time, Israel would number well over a million strong, with 603,550 soldiers alone. (Numbers 1:45-46)
Abraham's descendents spent over 400 years in a foreign land, most of that time as oppressed and low-caste, forced laborers. Moses spent forty of those years as disappointed, lonely sheepherder.
Until God spoke.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Can you describe your conversion as Christian as "God spoke to me?" How does God speak to you now, after years of being in Christ?