Bait and switch

I don’t remember if I’ve ever actually pounded a pulpit while preaching. But my hands move a lot. I will gesture or raise my voice to make a point. I’ll use repetition to emphasize something important.

And I’ll use repetition to emphasize something important.

Well, with a bit more finesse than that.

That’s why I appreciate how one translation renders part of Stephen’s speech in Acts 7. The Common English Bible preserves a detail of the Greek that other translations tend to erase. Here’s the passage, with emphasis added: 

This is the same Moses whom they rejected when they asked, ‘Who appointed you as our leader and judge?’ This is the Moses whom God sent as leader and deliverer. God did this with the help of the angel who appeared before him in the bush. This man led them out after he performed wonders and signs in Egypt at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness. This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’ This is the one who was in the assembly in the wilderness with our ancestors and with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai. He is the one who received life-giving words to give to us. (Acts 7:35-38, CEB)

Stephen uses the word “this” at the beginning of five successive sentences. That’s deliberate rhetoric, the kind that preachers might love (apparently, more than translators do). If there had been a pulpit in front of Stephen, he might have pounded it.

This Moses. This man. This one.

Which Moses? The one Stephen’s just been speaking about. The one who tried heroism on his own terms and ended up being rejected by those he wanted to save. The one who was forced to flee into obscurity. The one who tended sheep for forty years, before God met him in the wilderness.

The verses quoted above embody what’s been said in the previous two posts. Though we (or the Sanhedrin) might want to read Moses’ story as heroic in its own right, his true role is to be a character in God’s larger story of redemption. Moses is at first rejected by his own people, but God is the one who chooses, sends, and empowers. It’s by God’s power that Moses leads and does miracles; it is God who will raise up the Prophet that Moses foretells; it is God who speaks words of life from Sinai.

This one, this Moses, is the living instrument of a holy God.

Stephen refers twice to Moses’ initial rejection by the people (Acts 7:27, 35) and twice to God’s appearance through the burning bush (vss. 30, 35). It’s as if to say God has a plan, whatever the people might think. It’s a reminder to the Sanhedrin that God can appear in his holiness anywhere, even outside the Temple, even outside the Promised Land.

I imagine some of the council being captured by Stephen’s pulpit-pounding. Yes! God sent Moses to us. God gave him the Law to give to us, the Law that gives life. Preach it, brother!

That’s the bait.

Here’s the switch: this Moses, this one, is “also the one whom our ancestors refused to obey” (Acts 7:39).

And as we’ll see, Stephen’s only going to get bolder from there.