March 13, 2010

Situating Stephen's Speech at Yom Kippur

Let's cut straight to the chase, and defend the likelihood of this scenario at some other time. For now, just Imagine with me. Suppose Stephen was stoned on the Jewish Day of Atonement. If so, here's a rough sketch of how the events of Acts 6-7 would have naturally played themselves out:

Day One: Yom Kippur

Early AM: ceremony at the Temple in which one goat is slain and another goat (the 'scapegoat') is cast into the wilderness; Jews in attendance disperse afterwards but it is still a Sabbath until sundown; many Jerusalemites fill up the various Synagogues for a special day of prayer and teaching.

Mid-day: many Jews not at the morning assembly still make their way to the Synagogues in town; Stephen arrives at the Hellenists' meeting and hears them discussing topics appropriate to the High Holy Days, including all themes relating to the Feast of Booths, now only 4.5 days away;

Later: Stephen is especially prone for an argument today because of the irony he sees in the present occasion. Having just assembled for Temple rituals, these Greek speaking converts to Judaism now discuss the past times when God's house was a Tent. Having bound themselves to the city of Mount Zion, these foreigners now discuss how God led the Patriarchs across the Earth and met with them in many lands, before Joshua's time, and how God's home could move, until David & Solomon ended that for Him. But Stephen doesn't understand why everyone seems to think Solomon did such a great thing!

Among his other unique views, Stephen happens to see a strong similarity between Solomon's (now Herod's) Temple and pagan idolatrous temples - both are things made with human hands, things which steal the focus that ought to be on God. Stephen knows what it's like to live full of the Spirit, and he can't keep to himself what a contrast he sees between Moses' and Solomon's visions.

Late afternoon or evening: Dragged before the Sanhedrin, Stephen pours out his soul and gets stoned for it. That very day - even though it was Sabbath - the Sanhedrin spearheads a persecution against Jesus-believers. By sundown, Christians are already being forcibly exiled from the city. Hundreds if not thousands of believers are on the road out of town, walking through the night to find safety and shelter.

The Bride of Christ has just been sent 'out of the camp'.

Sent to wander away, into the wilderness.

Sent away to appease the guilt of the people who contrived Jesus' death.

Sent away into exile forever... hopefully not to be seen ever again.

The Church has just become the new scapegoat.

Days Two, Three and Four: Preparing for Sukkot

The morning after Atonement is the first time when many Jews go outside to start building their Sukkahs. These Booths are the physical centerpiece of the week long festival, temporary dwellings in which to eat, but not-to-sleep (except for the most devout), and in which to reflect upon a central theme of the Tabernacles season - of how God in old times led his People to, through and out of the wilderness.

That morning, and all through the day, people in and around Jerusalem were setting up their Sukkahs. Like modern christmas trees begin to go up after Thanksgiving, some Sukkahs go up on Tishri 11th, some on the 12th, and some at the last minute, on the 13th. But all over Jerusalem, for three days, Sukkahs are being put up.

Likewise, during those same three days, God was assembling Sukkahs for himself.

On the morning after Stephen's death - in nearby towns like Bethany and Bethlehem - handfuls of scattered believers were finding one another. Many of them were making plans to keep traveling on, but others determined to stay in that place, binding themselves together. Thus, they not only gathered, they determined to stay.

And the Lord built in that place a spiritual house for himself, out of his holy ones.

Late that day - perhaps as far away as Jericho or Emmaus - similar scenes played themselves out. And the next day, it had spread farther - perhaps to Galilee. For three days, exiles from the church in Jerusalem found one another and gathered together. Again and again, far and wide, across Israel, the scattered fruits of God's harvest were ingathered for His use and purpose.

A glorious harvest had come, having been incubated and multiplied for so long from the one Seed who fell into the Earth. For three days, after Stephen was stoned, the scapegoated christians reassembled themselves, all over Israel. And the Lord put up his Sukkahs in each place.

By the way, I don't care if the church in Capernaum lasted for two, twenty or two hundred years - that spiritual house of God's was still TEMPORARY. It was made out of human beings with spirits. If they died, or if their spirits died, then God's house would cease to exist there. And nothing "of human hands" would yet stand in that place to contradict His reality, of that very matter.

And THAT is what happened just after Stephen got stoned.

But there is still more.

Days Four through Ten: The Festival of Sukkot

In three days, beginning from Jerusalem, any healthy person can have walked beyond Judea. With more time, most people traveling by foot would have time to get farther. By the time of the Booths, then, some - of the Greeks, Foreigners and Diaspora Jews who received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost - some believers had walked on beyond Gaza, Jordan and Galilee. If anyone had a horse, they could have been in Antioch with just twelve days of travel.

The time of Sukkot saw the spread of God's new work beyond Israel!

And still... there is more.

Roughly one thousand years before Stephen was stoned, God allowed Solomon to build and dedicate a Stone Cell, on the Earth. God's words to Solomon (1 Kings 6:11-13, which do not appear in the Septuagint) called for movement. Twice, God said walk, then he mentioned the Tabernacle. But then God consented to descend into Solomon's box.

Prior to that, God's house on Earth had been known as the Tabernacle of Testimony. And God's Ark of the Covenant - which traveled around on the shoulders of priests - it had been known as the Ark of the Testimony. And the Temple of Solomon, so still for so many centuries, is never in scripture referred to as the means of His Testimony. But to all the world for one entire millenium, despite God's own prior wishes, that one spot on Mount Zion WAS His Testimony on Earth. It's what Gentiles knew about Him. And IT WAS NO DIFFERENT FROM ZIGGURATS!

But Now. Now, that Stephen was stoned. Now that the Church had been sent out to wander the Earth, like a scapegoat. Now that the Lord had begun building for himself Many Houses... Houses that were not made by human hands... Houses that could follow his Spirit like the Israelites followed a cloud and a pillar of fire... Houses that could Walk like he told them... could Go, if he told them... could Be, as He led them...


On the Earth.

God's House could Move Again.

Praise the Lord!

Saints, I've just one little detail to add, and then lots more to post as time keeps rolling on. But please realize that IF Stephen was stoned on the Day of Atonement, even if nobody - not even Paul - saw the significance of these things quite so clearly as I've just laid them out. (And yes, I realize how that sounds, but it's entirely possible this very scenario happened without anyone seeing the imagery as starkly as this, at that time.) Even still. IF Stephen's speech was made on that Day, with so much of significance buried in that speech itself AND in all the surrounding events... don't you think Paul would have remembered the general outline of that speech? And many parts of it, perhaps, also word-for-word?

But hopefully, friends, if you've read this far, you realize that arguing for what Paul remembered and defending what Luke wrote in Acts isn't really my motive in saying these things here today. But I've simply been longing to share these things here for about four years. That's not very long to stay silent. But I just told the Lord I couldn't keep it inside anymore. So, by His Grace, today it was time.

I hope this will prove to be much more than a blog post.

Enjoy the Lord. Let Him Move. Let Him Live!

And let's train one another to be better followers.

NOT the end...


Rick Wadholm Jr. said...

That'll preach! Wonderful post Bill! I'm intrigued to see where you take this in developing it further. I agree completely that the temple itself was a condescension of God towards humanity (just as the kingship before it was).

One point of minor clarification concerns your use of "sukkahs". Technically the plural form is 'sukkot' (or spelled 'sukkoth') while the singular is sukkah. Evidently you know the singular because you adopted it and then added the English plural...a bit linguistically anachronistic, but I'm assuming you did so for rhetorical effect??? :-)

Bill Heroman said...

Thanks, Rick.

On sukkot, I don't think most of my blog readers are going to follow the proper plural, so yeah, let's call it rhetorical effect.

Learning all the time. ;-)


mike fox said...

very interesting post. great to connect with you at the SBL meeting today. keep at it, brother

Dr. David Ritsema said...


I enjoyed our conversations at SWCRS/SBL. I hope you will go on and write the book we talked about it. I would buy it!

Bill Heroman said...

Thanks again, David. You've been extremely encouraging. I may yet just pound something out one of these days. It will need improving, but it'll be a start.

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