Two things we have in these verses:—
I. Stephen upbraids them with the idolatry of their fathers, which God gave them up to, as a punishment for their early forsaking him in worshipping the golden calf; and this was the saddest punishment of all for that sin, as it was of the idolatry of the Gentile world that God gave them up to a reprobate mind. When Israel was joined to idols, joined to the golden calf, and not long after to Baal-peor, God said, Let them alone; let them go on (Acts 7:42): Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven. He particularly cautioned them not to do it, at their peril, and gave them reasons why they should not; but, when they were bent upon it, he gave them up to their own hearts; lust, withdrew his restraining grace, and then they walked in their own counsels, and were so scandalously mad upon their idols as never any people were. Compare Deut. 4:19; Jer. 8:2. For this he quotes a passage out of Amos 5:25. For it would be less invidious to tell them their own [character and doom] from an Old-Testament prophet, who upbraids them,
1. For not sacrificing to their own God in the wilderness (Acts 7:42): Have you offered to me slain beasts, and sacrifices, by the space of forty years in the wilderness? No; during all that time sacrifices to God were intermitted; they did not so much as keep the passover after the second year. It was God’s condescension to them that he did not insist upon it during their unsettled state; but then let them consider how ill they requited him in offering sacrifices to idols, when God dispensed with their offering them to him. This is also a check to their zeal for the customs that Moses delivered to them, and their fear of having them changed by this Jesus, that immediately after they were delivered these customs were for forty years together disused as needless things.
2. For sacrificing to other gods after they came to Canaan (Acts 7:43): You took up the tabernacle of Moloch. Moloch was the idol of the children of Ammon, to which they barbarously offered their own children in sacrifice, which they could not do without great terror and grief to themselves and their families; yet this unnatural idolatry they arrived at, when God gave them up to worship the host of heaven. See 2 Chron. 28:3. It was surely the strongest delusion that ever people were given up to, and the greatest instance of the power of Satan in the children of disobedience, and therefore it is here spoken of emphatically: Yea, you took up the tabernacle of Moloch, you submitted even to that, and to the worship of the star of your god Remphan. Some think Remphan signifies the moon, as Moloch does the sun; others take it for Saturn, for that planet is called Remphan in the Syriac and Persian languages. The Septuagint puts it for Chiun, as being a name more commonly known. They had images representing the star, like the silver shrines for Diana, here called the figures which they made to worship. Dr. Lightfoot thinks they had figures representing the whole starry firmament, with all the constellations, and the planets, and these are called Remphan—“the high representation,” like the celestial globe: a poor thing to make an idol of, and yet better than a golden calf! Now for this it is threatened, I will carry you away beyond Babylon. In Amos it is beyond Damascus, meaning to Babylon, the land of the north. But Stephen changes it, with an eye to the captivity of the ten tribes, who were carried away beyond Babylon, by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes, 2 Kgs. 17:6. Let it not therefore seem strange to them to hear of the destruction of this place, for they had heard of it many a time from the prophets of the Old Testament, who were not therefore accused as blasphemers by any but the wicked rulers. It was observed, in the debate on Jeremiah’s case, that Micah was not called to an account though he prophesied, saying, Zion shall be ploughed as a field, Jer. 26:18, 19.
II. He gives an answer particularly to the charge exhibited against him relating to the temple, that he spoke blasphemous words against that holy place, Acts 7:44-50. He was accused for saying that Jesus would destroy this holy place: “And what if I did say so?” (saith Stephen) “the glory of the holy God is not bound up in the glory of this holy place, but that may be preserved untouched, though this be laid in the dust;” for, 1. “It was not till our fathers came into the wilderness, in their way to Canaan, that they had any fixed place of worship; and yet the patriarchs, many ages before, worshipped God acceptably at the altars they had adjoining to their own tents in the open air—sub dio; and he that was worshipped without a holy place in the first, and best, and purest ages of the Old-Testament church, may and will be so when this holy place is destroyed, without any diminution to his glory.” 2. The holy place was at first but a tabernacle, mean and movable, showing itself to be short-lived, and not designed to continue always. Why might not this holy place, though built of stones, be decently brought to its end, and give place to its betters, as well as that though framed of curtains? As it was no dishonour, but an honour to God, that the tabernacle gave way to the temple, so it is now that the material temple gives way to the spiritual one, and so it will be when, at last, the spiritual temple shall give way to the eternal one. 3. That tabernacle was a tabernacle of witness, or of testimony, a figure of good things to come, of the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not men, Heb. 8:2. This was the glory both of the tabernacle and temple, that they were erected for a testimony of that temple of God which in the latter days should be opened in heaven (Rev. 11:19), and of Christ’s tabernacling on earth (as the word is, John 1:14), and of the temple of his body. 4. That tabernacle was framed just as God appointed, and according to the fashion which Moses saw in the mount, which plainly intimates that it had reference to good things to come. Its rise being heavenly, its meaning and tendency were so; and therefore it was no diminution at all to its glory to say that this temple made with hands should be destroyed, in order to the building of another made without hands, which was Christ’s crime (Mark 14:58), and Stephen’s. 5. That tabernacle was pitched first in the wilderness; it was not a native of this land of yours (to which you think it must for ever be confined), but was brought in in the next age, by our fathers, who came after those who first erected it, into the possession of the Gentiles, into the land of Canaan, which had long been in the possession of the devoted nations whom God drove out before the face of our fathers. And why may not God set up his spiritual temple, as he had done the material tabernacle, in those countries that were now the possession of the Gentiles? That tabernacle was brought in by those who came with Jesus, that is, Joshua. And I think, for distinction sake, and to prevent mistakes, it ought to be so read, both Acts 7:45; Heb. 4:8. Yet in naming Joshua here, which in Greek is Jesus, there may be a tacit intimation that as the Old-Testament Joshua brought in that typical tabernacle, so the New-Testament Joshua should bring in the true tabernacle into the possession of the Gentiles. 6. That tabernacle continued for many ages, even to the days of David, above four hundred years, before there was any thought of building a temple, Acts 7:45. David, having found favour before God, did indeed desire this further favour, to have leave to build God a house, to be a constant settled tabernacle, or dwelling-place, for the Shechinah, or the tokens of the presence of the God of Jacob, Acts 7:46. Those who have found favour with God should show themselves forward to advance the interests of his kingdom among men. 7. God had his heart so little upon a temple, or such a holy place as they were so jealous for, that, when David desired to build one, he was forbidden to do it; God was in no haste for one, as he told David (2 Sam. 7:7), and therefore it was not he, but his son Solomon, some years after, that built him a house. David had all that sweet communion with God in public worship which we read of in his Psalms before there was any temple built. 8. God often declared that temples made with hands were not his delight, nor could add any thing to the perfection of his rest and joy. Solomon, when he dedicated the temple, acknowledged that God dwelleth not in temples made with hands; he has not need of them, is not benefited by them, cannot be confined to them. The whole world is his temple, in which he is every where present, and fills it with his glory; and what occasion has he for a temple then to manifest himself in? Indeed the pretended deities of the heathen needed temples made with hands, for they were gods made with hands (Acts 7:41), and had no other place to manifest themselves in than in their own temples; but the one only true and living God needs no temple, for the heaven is his throne, in which he rests, and the earth is his footstool, over which he rules (Acts 7:49, 50), and therefore, What house will you build me, comparable to this which I have already? Or, what is the place of my rest? What need have I of a house, either to repose myself in or to show myself? Hath not my hand made all these things? And these show his eternal power and Godhead (Rom. 1:20); they so show themselves to all mankind that those who worship other gods are without excuse. And as the world is thus God’s temple, wherein he is manifested, so it is God’s temple in which he will be worshipped. As the earth is full of his glory, and is therefore his temple (Isa. 6:3), so the earth is, or shall be, full of his praise (Hab. 3:3), and all the ends of the earth shall fear him (Ps. 67:7), and upon this account it is his temple. It was therefore no reflection at all upon this holy place, however they might take it, to say that Jesus should destroy this temple, and set up another, into which all nations should be admitted, Acts 15:16, 17. And it would not seem strange to those who considered that scripture which Stephen here quotes (Isa. 66:1-3), which, as it expressed God’s comparative contempt of the external part of his service, so it plainly foretold the rejection of the unbelieving Jews, and the welcome of the Gentiles that were of a contrite spirit into the church.