Acts 7:9–16 (NA28)
9Καὶ οἱ πατριάρχαι ζηλώσαντες τὸν Ἰωσὴφ ἀπέδοντο εἰς Αἴγυπτον. καὶ ἦν ὁ θεὸς μετʼ αὐτοῦ
And the patriarchs, because they were jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt and God was with him
- Moved with jealousy (ζηλωσαντες [zēlōsantes]). First aorist active participle of ζηλοω [zēloō], old verb from ζηλος [zēlos] (Acts 5:17), to burn or boil with zeal, and then with envy as here (17:5, etc.) and Gen. 37:11.
Genesis 37:11 (BHS/WIVU)
11וַיְקַנְאוּ־בוֹ֖ אֶחָ֑יו וְאָבִ֖יו שָׁמַ֥ר אֶת־הַדָּבָֽר׃
And his brothers were envious of him, but his father kept in mind the event
- Unlike the first dream, Joseph reported his second to his father, probably because the dream directly referred to him (“sun”). Mention of the “moon,” which Jacob appears to understand as Joseph’s mother (“your mother and I”) is problematic (v. 10b), since Rachel had died in childbirth (35:18–19) and Benjamin must be counted in the “eleven” stars. Genesis Rabbah (84.11) explained that the reference was to Rachel’s handmaiden Bilhah, who reared Joseph as his mother
- importance of dreams. Dreams in the ancient world were thought to offer information from the divine realm and were therefore taken very seriously. Some dreams, given to prophets and kings, were considered a means of divine revelation. Most dreams, however, even the ordinary dreams of common people, were believed to contain omens that communicated information about what the gods were doing. Those that were revelation usually identified the deity and often involved the deity.
- Drawing at various points from the Joseph tradition of Gen 37–46 without quoting any passage directly, Stephen told the story of Joseph’s being sold into Egypt by his brothers, his rise to power in Egypt, the two visits of his brothers in the time of famine, and finally the descent of Jacob’s whole clan into Egypt (vv. 9–15a). Again the selectivity of his material is significant. A sharp contrast existed between Joseph and his brothers. God was with Joseph (v. 9). The Genesis narrative has much to say about Joseph’s suffering, but Stephen chose not to dwell on this. Instead he stressed God’s presence with Joseph. God fulfilled his promises through Joseph, delivering Israel from famine by his hand. God granted him “favor and wisdom” (RSV).
10καὶ ἐξείλατο αὐτὸν ἐκ πασῶν τῶν θλίψεων αὐτοῦ καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ χάριν καὶ σοφίαν ἐναντίον Φαραὼ βασιλέως Αἰγύπτου καὶ κατέστησεν αὐτὸν ἡγούμενον ἐπʼ Αἴγυπτον καὶ [ἐφʼ] ὅλον τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ.
And (God) rescued him from all his afflictions and granted him favor and wisdom in the sight of pharaoh king of Egypt and he appointed him ruler over Egypt and all his household
- Delivered him out (ἐξειλατο αὐτον ἐκ [exeilato auton ek]). First aorist middle indicative of ἐξαιρεω [exaireō], old verb to take out, snatch out. Note repetition of ἐκ [ek]. Pharaoh King of Egypt (Φαραω βασιλεως Αἰγυπτου [Pharaō basileōs Aiguptou]). Pharaoh is not a name, but a title, the Egyptian per meaning great house.
- So the story begins with the jealousy, or rather the envy, of Joseph’s brothers when he had dreams that revealed his future superior position (Gen. 37:11), and goes on to tell how they sold him as a slave (Gen. 37:28; 45:4). But God was with him in his troubles and delivered him from his afflictions (Gen. 39:2, 21). He gave Joseph favour with Pharaoh as a result of the wisdom which he showed in the interpretation of the king’s dreams and in his plans for dealing with the approaching famine (Gen. 41:38f., 41; Ps. 105:16–22). We may note how wisdom was particularly associated with Egypt (7:22); Luke himself associates it with Stephen (6:3, 10), and also with Jesus (Luke 2:40, 52).
- Note how the same characteristics are used of Stephen himself (6:3, 8, 10). Wisdom is a particular sign of God’s favor to his faithful disciples and would characterize Moses as well later in Stephen’s speech (7:22). God gave Joseph favor with people which allowed him to rise in the eyes of Pharaoh, who established him as ruler over Egypt and the royal household (v. 10). The main part of Stephen’s summary, however, does not dwell on Joseph at all but assumes his hearers’ knowledge of the story. Attention is focused on Joseph’s brothers. Though Joseph was characterized by wisdom and favor, his brothers were marked by jealousy, which led them to sell their brother into Egypt (v. 9). Significantly, Stephen did not identify them as Joseph’s “brothers” but rather as “the patriarchs,” the fathers of Israel. God was decidedly not with the jealous brothers. They experienced famine and great distress and were unable to find sustenance (v. 11).
- Notice God was with him, and God rescued him. God gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh. Stephen gives us more than history; he gives us theology. Above all futile actions of pagan rulers in all times from Egypt to the modern world, the Sovereign God controls all of his world, not just those who trust in him.
11ἦλθεν δὲ λιμὸς ἐφʼ ὅλην τὴν Αἴγυπτον καὶ Χανάαν καὶ θλῖψις μεγάλη, καὶ οὐχ ηὕρισκον χορτάσματα οἱ πατέρες ἡμῶν.
And famine came over all Egypt and Canaan and great affliction, and our fathers could not find food
- The next part of the story is concerned to show how the family of Jacob came down to Egypt. Stephen narrates briefly what was no doubt a well-known story to his hearers, telling how the famine which came upon Egypt also caused affliction on a worldwide scale (Gen. 41:57) and affected Canaan in particular (Gen. 42:5).
12ἀκούσας δὲ Ἰακὼβ ὄντα σιτία εἰς Αἴγυπτον ἐξαπέστειλεν τοὺς πατέρας ἡμῶν πρῶτον.
And when Jacob heard there was grain in Egypt he sent out our fathers first.
- A certain judgmental note is in the language itself. The judgment was not final, however, for God delivered them through the hand of Joseph (vv. 12–13). This is not explicit in Stephen’s account, but the Jews on the Sanhedrin knew the story well and could fill in the gaps. What Stephen did emphasize, however, was the seemingly insignificant detail that the brothers made two visits and only recognized Joseph on the second. Why this emphasis? The same would be true of Moses later on in Stephen’s speech. His fellow Israelites did not recognize him either on his first visit but rejected him (vv. 27–28). Only on his second visit did they recognize him as the one God had sent to deliver them from Egypt (vv. 35–36).
13καὶ ἐν τῷ δευτέρῳ ἀνεγνωρίσθη Ἰωσὴφ τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς αὐτοῦ καὶ φανερὸν ἐγένετο τῷ Φαραὼ τὸ γένος [τοῦ] Ἰωσήφ.
And in the second visit was Joseph was made know to his brothers and the family of Joseph became known to Pharaoh
- One is strongly tempted to see here a reference to the two “visits” of Christ. The Jews had rejected him on his first coming. Would they now accept him when confronted by Christ through Stephen’s preaching? In his temple sermon (3:17–23) Peter had made a similar appeal on the basis of Christ’s two comings, and Stephen could have been implicitly drawing the same parallel with his references to the two visits to the Israelites by their former deliverers, Joseph and Moses. Significantly, Israel’s deliverance at this time did not occur in the “promised land.” Indeed, only distress and famine were there. God delivered them in Egypt, where there was food and where their brother was, their divinely appointed deliverer. Indeed, all God’s special acts of deliverance in Stephen’s historical sketch take place outside the borders of Israel.
- Perhaps it is seen as a form of divine retribution on Joseph’s brothers; in any case it was instrumental in sending them down to Egypt to buy corn from the stores which Jacob heard were there (Gen. 42:1–5). On their second visit Joseph made himself known to them (Gen. 45:3).
14ἀποστείλας δὲ Ἰωσὴφ μετεκαλέσατο Ἰακὼβ τὸν πατέρα αὐτοῦ καὶ πᾶσαν τὴν συγγένειαν ἐν ψυχαῖς ἑβδομήκοντα πέντε.
So Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his relatives, seventy five persons in all
- Three-score and fifteen souls (ἐν ψυχαις ἑβδομηκοντα πεντε [en psuchais hebdomēkonta pente]). Stephen follows the LXX which counts some grandchildren of Joseph and so makes it 75 whereas Gen. 46:26 has 66 and then the next verse makes it 70 including Jacob and Joseph with his two sons. The use of ἐν [en] means “consisting in.”
- The figure of seventy-five persons is based on the lxx of Genesis 46:27 and Exodus 1:5, while the Hebrew text has 70. The larger total is arrived at by omitting Jacob and Joseph and including the remaining seven of Joseph’s nine sons. In both cases the number is the total of Jacob’s descendants who went down into Egypt or were born there. And there they all died. Yet, although the promise of return to the land of Canaan was not yet fulfilled, their burial in Canaan could be seen as an expression of faith that in due course God would fulfil his promise
- Threescore and fifteen. Lit. “in (ἐν) threescore and fifteen;” the idiom expressing the sum in which all the individuals were included.
15καὶ κατέβη Ἰακὼβ εἰς Αἴγυπτον καὶ ἐτελεύτησεν αὐτὸς καὶ οἱ πατέρες ἡμῶν,
And Jacob went down to Egypt and died, he and our fathers
16καὶ μετετέθησαν εἰς Συχὲμ καὶ ἐτέθησαν ἐν τῷ μνήματι ᾧ ὠνήσατο Ἀβραὰμ τιμῆς ἀργυρίου παρὰ τῶν υἱῶν Ἐμμὼρ ἐν Συχέμ.
And they were brought back to Schechem and buried in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem
- Here Stephen lapsed for just a moment back to the “land argument” to show that even after God fulfilled his promise by providing the land, his great deliverance and blessing to Jacob’s family occurred in Egypt through the hands of Joseph whom God had sent there to deliver and protect two nations. Not only that, Jacob’s entire family died in Egypt (as did Joseph), and only later were their bodies brought back to Shechem in the land God promised to Abraham.
- Let’s not lose practical reality in this theological history. Our unlimited, omnipotent God accepts no humanly-designed prohibitions on the way he carries out his work. He is not bound to temples, churches, families, nations, geographical districts, or time. The New Testament continues the Old Testament’s emphasis on the sovereignty of the Creator. The men judging Stephen had put God in their little box, and Stephen’s speech vividly and quickly untied the wrappings to let God out. If Stephen had met J. B. Phillips before this day, he might have said to the Sanhedrin, “Your God is too small.”
- The relation of the story of the burial to the Old Testament traditions is complicated. According to Acts they were all buried at Shechem in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor. (1) According to Genesis 49:29–32; 50:13 Jacob was buried in the cave of Machpelah near Hebron which Abraham had bought from Ephron the Hittite (Gen. 23). (2) Joseph was buried at Shechem (Josh. 24:32) in land which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor (Gen. 33:18–20). (3) Josephus states that Jacob’s other sons (and, by implication, Jacob himself) were buried at Hebron (Jos., Ant. 2:199), and this tradition is also found in Jubilees and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. (4) There was a local tradition at Shechem that the twelve sons of Jacob were buried there. It thus appears that Stephen differs from the Old Testament account in that he locates the tomb which Abraham bought at Shechem, not Hebron, and in that he adds the detail about the brothers of Joseph being buried there also. Bruce (Book, p. 149 n.39) suggests that, just as Stephen has telescoped the two calls of Abraham at Ur and Haran in verse 2 and the two divine messages in verse 7, so here he has telescoped the two accounts of purchases of land in Canaan. It seems probable that Stephen has followed a tradition, according to which not only Joseph (he, rather than Jacob, is perhaps meant by he died, himself in verse 15b) but also his brothers were buried at Shechem, and that he has attributed the purchase of the grave there to Abraham by including an allusion to the story in Genesis 23. The interest in Shechem and the emphasis upon it is remarkable in a speech addressed to Jews in Jerusalem, but they certainly could not contest the fact of Joseph’s burial in the hated Samaritan territory. There is nothing sacrosanct about Judea as a place of burial; is there perhaps also a subtle preparation of Luke’s readers for the story of the evangelism of Samaria (8:5–25)?
 Matthews, V. H., Chavalas, M. W., & Walton, J. H. (2000). The IVP Bible background commentary: Old Testament (electronic ed., Ge 37:5–11). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.