In Acts 7 a guy named Stephen tells the story of Abraham’s Offspring. It’s a fascinating & lamentable anomaly of a story. It starts out with the God of Glory revealing Himself to a pagan fella named Abraham. God tells Abraham to leave the only land he’s ever known (leaving behind his family, friends, culture, familiar customs and religious practices), and trust that God will – in due time – show him a new and better place (with radically different family members, friends, cultural norms, values, and traditions).
Let’s pause here for a moment and acknowledge the obvious …you’d have to be a fool (absolutely “out of your mind” and “irrational”) to stick around and even listen to an offer like this – let alone obey it! …That is of course assuming your mind and heart aren’t being completely transformed – dominated & defined – by the God of Glory; who – when He calls Abraham to this revolutionary new way of life – finds the summons irresistible!
Okay, back to the story – – – > God removes Abraham from everything he’s ever known, and makes outlandishly lavish and wonderful promises to Abraham of a new and better heritage; and YET God gave Abraham no inheritance in his earthly life, not even a foot’s length …but promised to give it to Abraham as an eternal possession and to his offspring after him. So now we’ve been introduced to the main character in the tale told by Stephen – – – > Abraham’s Offspring! But here’s the rub – Abraham didn’t have any children when God gave Him this grand and glorious promise (the fact was, Abraham & his wife were unable to have kids). Without missing a beat – God goes on to share a few more things with Abraham about his blessed offspring. God assures Abraham that they will be sojourners enslaved in a land belonging to others; they would most certainly be afflicted and oppressed for 400+ years. …and THEN, God promises to bring the offspring of Abraham out of slavery and into a blessed environment where they will worship Him. A primary part of their praise and worship of the God of glory involves a excruciatingly painful and bloody birthright called circumcision (a tremendously significant sign and seal of their relationship to the God of glory).
So – just to make sure we’re all on the same page – the story thus far can be summed up as follows: the God of glory irresistibly removes a pagan out of his wretched native culture and in no-uncertain-terms promises him something intrinsically and infinitely new and better (thereby ostracizing & offending anyone & everyone who clamors for tolerance and inclusivity). The new & better country is not something Abraham will see in his lifetime. The good news is that Abraham’s offspring (a great number & nation) will apparently have access to benefits of the promise in ways Abraham never did, but Abraham and his wife don’t actually have a child …not even a single child at this point, let alone many children. But at least – one day, when they DO have children – Abraham’s offspring will MOST CERTAINLY be enslaved and oppressed for 400+ years! And this enslavement will apparently serve as their Call to Worship, because after being enslaved 400+ years God will then bring them to a place where they may worship the God of glory! …and a major rite of worshiping the God of glory is circumcision (an agonizingly painful & bloody procedure).
Eventually Abraham did become a father! His son was named Isaac (who – we are expressly & explicitly told – was a recipient of the sacramental birthright of circumcision! …for some reason Stephen insists of highlighting and emphasizing this sacrament whenever he can). Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob had twelve sons (now we’re getting somewhere! …now we can truly begin to see the offspring of Abraham starting to materialize)!
Now, I know what you’re wondering, “How did this sweet, loving, family – Abraham’s offspring – wind-up enslaved in a foreign land?” Well, you may have difficultly believing this, but – Stephen says – Abraham’s offspring were a rather contentious and jealous lot …they were – in fact – a dysfunctional family. How dysfunctional you ask? 11 of Jacobs sons – enraged with envy – turned against 1 of Jacob’s sons (Joseph) and sold him to slave traders heading for Egypt. But don’t panic – this was ultimately the Lord’s doing! Ultimately this was God’s plan – this was God’s way of smuggling His inside man (Joseph) into the nation of Egypt so that – via a course of enslavement and imprisonment – God could situate His inside man as ruler over Egypt and the entire household of Pharaoh. Why did God want an inside man running the most powerful nation on the planet at that time? Well, because God had ordained a worldwide famine of course, and He needed to keep the offspring of Abraham from going extinct (what with all of His promises wrapped up in their lineage and what not). So contingent on God’s use of the sin of envious brothers, and His work of smuggling a slave into a position of profound prominence in the most powerful nation on earth, and the supernatural work of forgiveness and relational reconciliation and restoration – – – > God brings the offspring of Abraham to reside in the land of Egypt.
And then Stephen comes to this part of the story where he says, “as the time of the promise drew near” (and he talks about how Abraham’s offspring are increasing and multiplying), and you’re thinking, “Great! At last! Finally, we have arrived at the glory days! The Golden Era! …The Promise is near!” But Stephen – though you may accuse him of being somewhat misleading with his aforementioned preface – goes on to say, “there arose in Egypt another king who did not know Joseph, and he dealt shrewdly with Abraham’s offspring and forced them to expose (i.e. abort) their infants.” Now – I think we can all wholeheartedly agree – that this is a very bad predicament, and IF you had the ability to send a savior (a liberator) to rescue Abraham’s offspring you would most certainly want to avoid sending them in the form of an infant (not only because infants are inherently WEAK and HELPLESS and UTTERLY UNABLE TO DO ANYTHING FOR THEMSELVES – let alone for others – let alone deliver a nation out of 400+ years of oppression …but also because at this particular moment in time there is an extremely enforced bit of legislation that calls for the execution of all infants belonging to the offspring of Abraham). …Guess what God’s plan is? At this time of legalized – and fiercely enforced – genocide against all infants belonging to the offspring of Abraham – a chap by the name of Moses is born (the man ordained by the God of glory to lead the offspring of Abraham out of slavery and into the promised land).
Moses’ parents did all they could to keep him hidden from the Egyptian authorities for 3 months, but alas they despaired and in their last-ditch desperation they exposed their 3 month old (i.e. left their infant utterly without human care – without which an infant will quickly die) by putting him in a basket and watching him float helplessly down the Nile river. Pharaoh’s daughter wound-up discovering this member of Abraham’s offspring floating helplessly in the basket and decided to ADOPT him and bring him up as her own son – instructing him in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. This is the second time God has smuggled Abraham’s offspring into a profound place of prominence in the most powerful nation on the planet (not to mention, God seems to be radically & dramatically confronting Pharaoh’s bigotry against the offspring of Abraham …it must have come as quite a shock to hear that he was to be the grandfather of one of these “undesirable”, “only 1/2 human“, Hebrews!).
Fast forward 40 years. Moses is ready to step-up and deliver Abraham’s offspring from their 4-century-long period of persecution. But Abraham’s offspring didn’t understand that he was the ordained leader of the exodus (apparently it didn’t make sense to them …and as we all know – if things don’t make square-up with our baseless but despotic sense of entitlement, and align with our arrogant and pompously privileged expectations then we “cannot” believe them). The response of Abraham’s offspring was, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us!?”
Moses ran away. He was gone for 40 years. He lived in exile (dominated by a fear of Pharaoh and failure) in a land called Midian. These are some long stretches of time. I don’t know about you, but when I got a hanker’n for relief …I want it FAST! If the liberator leaves after his first failed attempt, I would like him to come back within the week …not settle in another land for 40 years! I don’t want him entrenching himself in an entirely different context, embedding himself in a completely different vocation, and marrying into a totally different culture. In Acts 7:22 Stephen says, “Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was MIGHTY in his words and DEEDS.” In other words, the days of Moses’ first attempt – were the PRIME YEARS of Moses’s life! He was 40 (not 80). The Egyptian education he had been privileged to receive was FRESH on him …recall and command of Egyptian diplomacy was at an all-time high! I get it …failure is never fun. But come’on!!! …Moses! Just because you strikeout once – you’re going to run off and pout for 40 years! Think of all the momentum that will be lost! Just think about it! …if you allow yourself to hunker-down in Midian for 40 years, you’ll become a stammering, stuttering, 80-year-old shepherd without any confidence and only a foggy memory of all the nuances and layers of Egyptian statecraft and negotiation that you once had!
Suffice it to say – if you don’t use it you lose it – and after 40 years in Midian, working as a shepherd, Moses was thoroughly resigned to his way of life; and he was – without a doubt, most certainly, convinced that he was NOT fit for the gig of Liberating Abraham’s Offspring from 400+ years of slavery. But, the God of glory said otherwise and this Moses, whom they rejected, saying, “Who made you a ruler and a judge?” – this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. This man led the offspring of Abraham out of bondage – performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years.
Pause! 40 MORE YEARS!? Are you kidding me (and in the wilderness no less)! HOW LONG is this getting to the promise land business going to take!? …Well, at least the offspring of Abraham maintained an agreeable and pleasant disposition and demeanor during these rigorous & irksome decades of wilderness wanderings (right?). Certainly the offspring of Abraham wouldn’t assume a posture of arrogant entitlement or ungratefulness after all the God of glory had done for them via the stammering, stuttering, elderly, shepherd man Moses, and the miraculous orchestration of the exodus (right?). What’s that Stephen? What’s that you say? …the offspring of Abraham made Moses’ life “a living hell”? …they refused to obey Moses, and thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned back to Egypt!?!? …The offspring of Abraham rejected Moses and sought out Moses’ brother Aaron saying, “Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” …And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. And this – as it turns out – was just the beginning of the works of the offspring of Abraham – their varied and prolific adulterous affairs (some with Moloch, some with Rephan, and on & on the list goes). The only real Husband; the only actual Lover of the offspring of Abraham forever and always being the God of glory, and yet the offspring of Abraham chronically insisted upon their adulterous affairs with the work of their own hands.
Stephen ends the story of Abraham’s offspring by saying, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. …Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
The response of the stiff-necked people:
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.