In the speech recorded in Acts 7, Stephen speaks of “the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness” which God commanded Moses to make according to the pattern he had been given (7:44; cf. Exodus 25:9; Hebrews 8:5).
A full size model of the Israelite tabernacle has been constructed in Timna Park, 17 miles north of Eilat. The original tabernacle was built while the Israelites were at Mount Sinai (Exodus 25-40). The tabernacle was a movable tent of worship which was taken each place Israel wandered during the forty years in the wilderness.
The photo below shows the front of the Tabernacle with the altar of burnt offering in front of it.
When some men from the Synagogue of the Freedmen argued with Stephen, “they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:10). They secured false witnesses to say that Stephen has spoken “blasphemous words against Moses and against God” (6:11). They also charged that he constantly speaks against “the holy place and the Law” (6:13-14).
The following brief summary by the late Princeton scholar, Charles R. Erdman, explains Stephen’s argument in a nutshell.
Stephen had been accused of blasphemy for declaring that God could be worshiped without the Temple and its rites; but, in referring to sacred history, he reminded his hearers in his first sentence that “the God of glory appeared unto … Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia”—surely this was outside the Holy Land and the Temple. So he had revealed himself to Joseph in Egypt, and to Moses in the wilderness. Even when the Temple was finally built, Solomon, in his prayer of dedication, had reminded the people that the Most High could not be confined to the precincts of any building [1 Kings 8:27].
Step by step, the revelation of God had become more perfect, and it had reached its culmination in Christ, so Stephen seems to argue: first God revealed himself through a man, and then a family, and then a nation, and then a ceremonial, and finally in his Son. Toward the appearance of the Messiah all Jewish history had moved as to its goal; and now, through Christ, believers can worship God not only in the sacred mountain and the Temple, but wherever they turn to him “in spirit and truth.” God has a message for each of us even when surrounded by pagans and unbelievers, as Abraham in Mesopotamia; or when imprisoned and alone, as was Joseph in Egypt; or when driven into some wilderness by presumption and anger, as was Moses; or when worshiping by some ritual, as in the tabernacle; or when bowing beneath the beauties of some superb tabernacle, as did Solomon. However, all our experiences should be interpreted as designed to point us to Christ, and to lead us to find fellowship with God in him.
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