Today’s passage is part of a larger speech given by Stephen to the Sanhedrin. In it, Stephen traces the history of Israel from the days of Abraham to the present. In so doing, he draws forth lessons which boldly challenge his hearers to create a new future in better keeping with God’s design and purposes for his people.
In this section, Stephen reflects on the life of Abraham. He was a man who was willing to embrace the new thing that God was doing, to undertake the grand adventure of faith rather than clinging to the past. Next Stephen turns to Joseph, a man Stephen describes as being characterized by favor (grace) and wisdom. Like Abraham before him, he saw God at work in new and unexpected ways.
The point seems clear. God often works in surprising ways, in startling places that run counter to what one would predict, always reaching out in love to a larger and larger circle of people. God cannot be locked down to serve the whims, prejudices, and insecurities of a “chosen” few.
I think it is often easy for us as Christians to look back on Israel and say, “That was then but this is now. We’re different.” I think we’d be far wiser to recognize the same tendencies that were present in Israel are very likely present in us as well. We’d do better to look for the ways we’ve tried to lock God down rather than being open to new, startling, and frankly unexpected ways he is working now, just as he has always worked.
Otherwise, we may well find ourselves standing in a long line, a proud history, of stiff necked people marked not by wisdom and grace, but by resisting the Holy Spirit.