Learning for the Future, from the Past
In my New Testament class this week we discussed Stephen’s discourse to the Jewish priests in Jerusalem. He gave an account of the history of the children of Israel as an example of people choosing faith, as well as people choosing to ignore faith. Stephen taught these priests principles that they did not know (or at least did not follow) from their history that they knew very well.
Stephen recounts the story of Abraham. He shares how Abraham acted in faith despite being commanded to leave his homeland. Furthermore, Abraham had faith in the Lord’s promise of an inheritance while Abraham’s father had no inheritance to give (Acts 7:5). This must have been difficult for Abraham to have faith that his children would be as numerous as the sands of the sea, yet he had no children.
Joseph in Egypt
After the account of Abraham, Stephen talks about Joseph who is sold into Egypt by his brothers. Faith was necessary for Joseph in order to thrive as he did. Even though Joseph entered Egypt as a slave, he ended up becoming one of the leaders in Egypt.
Joseph- Type of Christ
In Stephen’s account, he shares how during the famine in Egypt, Joseph’s family comes to Egypt to receive food. The first time they come they do not recognize Joseph, but the second time they can’t help but recognize him. This is similar to Christ and His two comings. The first time He came He was not recognized, and like Joseph, he was rejected and sold. However, in His second coming there will be no question as to who Christ is, and what His character will be.
Stephen now relates the story of Moses, who is the most iconic prophet in Jewish history. His example of transforming and leading a faithful life is inspiring to all. In beautiful semitic imagery, Moses’ life is divided into three 40 year segments. This is significant because the number 40 in the semitic tradition signifies a period of preparation.
“As your fathers did, so do ye”
The priests that Stephen was teaching must have been familiar with all of these accounts, especially the ones concerning Moses. However, I can imagine that they were expecting that they would be compared to these great figure heads of the Jewish faith, but this was not the case. Stephen stated:
Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. (Acts 7:51)
Stephen shared these accounts from Jewish history to rebuke the current priests, that they were not living up to the potential of their heritage. It is clear that the priests felt this way as well for two reasons:
- The priests were “cut to the heart” (Acts 7:54)
- They reacted to Stephen’s rebuke by stoning him to death (Acts 7:58)
How do we learn from the past? Are we living up to the potential that our heritage provides? How do we react when someone recognizes and tells us about our faults? What do we do when we recognize that we are doing something incorrectly, or that we can just improve? Do we simply get angry, or do we do something about it?
I believe that we are all here to help each other. Sometimes it takes someone in the present to look into the past of our life to show us how we can improve. When this does happen, we should be grateful that someone loves us enough to tell us something that hurts. If a surgeon never performed a surgery because it hurts a lot, he would not be fulfilling his duty. Let us fulfill our duty to not only say the hard things in life, but also hear the hard things in life.