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Commentary On Acts Volume 1 by Jean Calvin

Acts 7:9-16

9. And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt. Notwithstanding, God was with him; 10. And he delivered him out of all his afflictions: and he gave him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt, and over all his house.11. And there came a famine upon all the land of Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction; neither did our fathers find food.12. And when Jacob had heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent our fathers thither first.13. And at the second coming Joseph was known of his brethren; and the kindred of Joseph was made known to Pharaoh.14. Then Joseph sent, and called out his father Jacob and all his kindred, seventy-five souls.15. And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, and our fathers; 16. And they were carried into Sychem, and they were laid in the sepulcher which Abraham had bought for money of the sons of Hemor, the son [father] of Sychem.

9. Now followeth the greatest wickedness of the nation of Israel, that they conspired together to oppress their innocent brother, which cruelty is contrary to nature. Neither could the Jews object that it was a private fault of a few; for the infamy reacheth unto all the people. Forasmuch as all the patriarchs, Benjamin excepted, had polluted themselves with that treachery; therefore in that Stephen vouchsafeth to give them an honorable name that redoundeth to the greater reproach of the nation. They boasted proudly of their fathers; he showeth what manner [of] persons the chief of them were; to wit, murderers of their brother, so much as in them laid. For, besides that slavery was a kind of death, we know what they went about at the first and, secondly, what cruel punishments Joseph suffered, of all which his brethren were guilty. Hereby it appeareth that God was bountiful and merciful to those which were, as it were unwilling, and which did resist him. For him (who was about to be the author of health and help ) would they have destroyed. Wherefore they did what they could to renounce all the benefits of God. So he will declare afterward that Moses was rejected when he was offered of God to be a redeemer. Therefore, the Jews have small cause to brag of the excellency of their kindred; but this alone remaineth for them, that, being ashamed, they confess that whosoever they are, they have the same through the mere mercy of God, and that they consider that the law was given to set forth the same.

God was with him. God was not so with him that he did always show forth his power in helping him. For that is no small thing which is said in the Psalm, (105:18,) |That the iron went through his soul.| Surely, it must needs be that he was in great heaviness, when, being destitute of all help, he suffered reproach also together with bonds and the punishment of an ungodly and wicked man; but God useth oftentimes to be present with his in such sort, that he lieth hid for a time. And the end was an evident token of his presence, which Joseph saw not at the first. Furthermore, we ought to remember this every now and then, that Joseph was not delivered because he had called upon God in the [a] temple but afar off in Egypt.

10. Stephen addeth the means, because God gave him favor in the sight of Pharaoh. God could have delivered him by some other means, but his counsel had respect unto a farther thing, that Joseph, being ruler of the kingdom, might entertain his father and all his family. In these two words, favor and wisdom, there is the figure hypalloge. For the wisdom wherewith Joseph was endued was the cause that he found favor; although I confess that they were two distinct benefits. For, though Joseph were a faithful interpreter of dreams, and did excel in divine wisdom, yet the proud tyrant would never have brought him to so great honor, unless God had bent the mind of Pharaoh unto a certain unwonted love; yet, notwithstanding, we must consider that order whereby God useth to bring him into favor. Wisdom doth not only signify the gift of prophecy in interpreting dreams, but prudence in giving counsel; for Moses putteth in both. That which Stephen reporteth of one man in this place is extended unto all. For what aptness and readiness soever is in men, it ought to be reckoned amongst the gifts of God, and that his special gifts. And it is he that giveth good success as it pleaseth him, that his gifts may be profitable to that end for which it seemed good to him to give them. Therefore, although Joseph be made chief ruler of Egypt by Pharaoh, yet is he lifted up to so great honor properly by the hand of God.

11. There came a famine. Hereby it appeareth that the deliverance of Joseph was such a benefit as was common to all the family of Jacob. For, seeing the famine drew on, Joseph was sent before in due time to provide sustenance to feed the hungry; as he himself doth acknowledge the wonderful counsel of God in that point. Nevertheless, the free goodness of God appeareth plainly in the person of Joseph, whilst that he is appointed to nourish and feed his brethren, who had sold him, and by that means sent him far away, and thought that he was gone away quite out of the world. He putteth meat in their mouths who had thrown him into a pit, and had deprived him of the air and the common breath. Finally, he nourisheth and preserveth their life who were not afraid to take from him his life. In the mean season, Stephen putteth the Jews in mind of this, that the patriarchs were enforced to depart out of that land which was given them for an heritage, and that they died in another place. Therefore, forasmuch as they were sojourners in it, they are at length banished out of the same.

14. Whereas he saith that Jacob came into Egypt with seventy-five souls, it agreeth not with the words of Moses; for Moses maketh mention of seventy only. Jerome thinketh that Luke setteth not down, word for word, those things which Stephen had spoken, or that he took this number out of the Greek translation of Moses, (Genesis 46:27,) either because he himself, being a proselyte, had not the knowledge of the Hebrew tongue, or because he would grant the Gentiles this, who used to read it thus. Furthermore, it is uncertain whether the Greek interpreters set down this number of set purpose, or whether it crop [crept] in afterward through negligence, [mistake;] which (I mean the latter) might well be, forasmuch as the Grecians used to set down their numbers in letters. Augustine, in his 26th book of City of God, [De Civitate Dei,] thinketh that Joseph's nephews and kinsmen are comprehended in this number; and so he thinketh that the words went down doth signify all that time which Jacob lived. But that conjecture can by no means be received. For, in the mean space, the other patriarchs also had many children born to them. This seemeth to me a thing like to be true, that the Seventy Interpreters did translate that truly which was in Moses. And we cannot say that they were deceived; forasmuch as [in] Deuteronomy 10, where this number is repeated, they agree with Moses, at least as that place was read without all doubt in the time of Jerome; for those copies which are printed at this day have it otherwise. Therefore, I think that this difference came through the error of the writers which wrote out the books. And it was a matter of no such weight, for which Luke ought to have troubled the Gentiles which were accustomed with the Greek reading. And it may be that he himself did put down the true number; and that some man did correct the same amiss out of that place of Moses. For we know that those which had the New Testament in hand were ignorant of the Hebrew tongue, yet skillful in the Greek,

Therefore, to the end [that] the words of Stephen might agree with the place of Moses, it is to be thought that that false number which was found in the Greek translation of Genesis was by them put in also in this place; concerning which, if any man contend more stubbornly, let us suffer him to be wise without measure. Let us remember that it is not without cause that Paul doth forbid us to be too curious about genealogies. This, so small a number, is purposely expressed, to the end the power of God may the more plainly appear, in so great an enlarging of that kindred, which was of no long continuance. For such a small handful of men could not, by any human manner of engendering, grow to such an infinite multitude as is recorded in Exodus 12:37, within two hundred and fifty years. We ought rather to weigh the miracle which the Spirit commendeth unto us in this place, than to stand long about one letter, whereby the number is altered. There arise other questions (and those which are more hard to be answered) out of the rest of the text, [context.]

16. Stephen saith, that the patriarchs were carried into the land of Canaan after they were dead. But Moses maketh mention only of the bones of Joseph, (Genesis 1:13.) And Joshua 24:32, it is reported, that the bones of Joseph were buried without making any mention of the rest. Some answer, that Moses speaketh of Joseph for honor's sake, because he had given express commandment concerning his bones, which we cannot read to have been done of the rest. And, surely, when Jerome, in the pilgrimage of Paula, saith, that she came by Shechem, he saith that she saw there the sepulchres of the twelve patriarchs; but in another place he maketh mention of Joseph's grave only. And it may be that there were empty tombs erected to the rest. I can affirm nothing concerning this matter for a certainty, save only that this is either a speech wherein is synecdoche, or else that Luke rehearseth this not so much out of Moses, as according to the old fame; as the Jews had many things in times past from the fathers, which were delivered, as it were, from hand to hand. And whereas he saith afterward, they were laid in the sepulcher which Abraham had bought of the sons of Hemor, it is manifest that there is a fault [mistake] in the word Abraham. For Abraham had bought a double cave of Ephron the Hittite, (Genesis 23:9,) to bury his wife Sarah in; but Joseph was buried in another place, to wit, in the field which his father Jacob had bought of the sons of Hemor for an hundred lambs. Wherefore this place must be amended.

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