By the disposition of angels - Εις διαταγας αγγελων . After all that has been said on this difficult passage, perhaps the simple meaning is, that there were ranks, διαταγαι, of angels attending on the Divine Majesty when he gave the law: a circumstance which must have added greatly to the grandeur and solemnity of the occasion; and to this Psalm 68:17; seems to me most evidently to allude: The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even many thousands of angels: the Lord is among them as in Sinai, in the holy place. It was not then by the mouths nor by the hands of angels, as prime agents, that Moses, and through him the people, received the law; but God himself gave it, accompanied with many thousands of those glorious beings. As it is probable they might be assisting in this most glorious solemnity, therefore St. Paul might say, Galatians 3:19, that it was ordained by angels, διαταγεις δι 'αγγελων, in the hand of a Mediator. And as they were the only persons that could appear, for no man hath seen God at any time, therefore the apostle might say farther, (if indeed he refers to the same transaction, see the note there), the word spoken by angels was steadfast, Hebrews 2:2. But the circumstances of this case are not sufficiently plain to lead to the knowledge of what was done by the angels in this most wonderful transaction; only we learn, from the use made of this circumstance by St. Stephen, that it added much to the enormity of their transgression, that they did not keep a law, in dispensing of which the ministry of angels had been employed. Some think Moses, Aaron, and Joshua are the angels here intended; and others think that the fire, light, darkness, cloud and thick darkness were the angels which Jehovah used on this occasion, and to which St. Stephen refers; but neither of these senses appears sufficiently natural, and particularly the latter.
Who have received the law - The Law of Moses, given on Mount Sinai.
By the disposition of angels - There has been much diversity of opinion in regard to this phrase, εἰς διαταγὰς ἀγγέλων eis diatagas angelōnThe word translated “disposition” does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. It properly means the “constituting” or “arranging” of an army; disposing it into ranks and proper divisions. Hence, it has been supposed to mean that the Law was given “amidst” the various ranks of angels, being present to witness its promulgation. Others suppose that the angels were employed as agents or instruments to communicate the Law. All that the expression fairly implies is the former; that the Law was given amidst the attending ranks of angels, as if they were summoned to witness the pomp and ceremony of giving “law” to an entire people, and through them to an entire world. It should be added, moreover, that the Jews applied the word “angels” to any messengers of God; to fire, and tempest, and wind, etc. And all that Stephen means here may be to express the common Jewish opinion that God was attended on this occasion by the heavenly hosts, and by the symbols of his presence, fire, and smoke, and tempest. Compare Psalm 104:4; Psalm 68:17. Other places declare that the Law was spoken by an angel, one eminent above all attending angels, the special messenger of God. See the notes on Acts 7:38. It is plain that Stephen spoke only the common sentiment of the Jews. Thus, Herod is introduced by Josephus (Antiq., book 15, chapter 5, section 3) as saying, “We have learned in God the most excellent of our doctrines, and the most holy part of our Law by angels,” etc. In the eyes of the Jews, it justly gave increased majesty and solemnity to the Law, that it had been given in so grand and imposing circumstances. It greatly aggravated their guilt that, notwithstanding this, they had not kept it.
As Stephen stood face to face with his judges to answer to the charge of blasphemy, a holy radiance shone upon his countenance, and “all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.” Many who beheld this light trembled and veiled their faces, but the stubborn unbelief and prejudice of the rulers did not waver. AA 99.1
When Stephen was questioned as to the truth of the charges against him, he began his defense in a clear, thrilling voice, which rang through the council hall. In words that held the assembly spellbound, he proceeded to rehearse the history of the chosen people of God. He showed a thorough knowledge of the Jewish economy and the spiritual interpretation of it now made manifest through Christ. He repeated the words of Moses that foretold of the Messiah: “A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; Him shall ye hear.” He made plain his own loyalty to God and to the Jewish faith, while he showed that the law in which the Jews trusted for salvation had not been able to save Israel from idolatry. He connected Jesus Christ with all the Jewish history. He referred to the building of the temple by Solomon, and to the words of both Solomon and Isaiah: “Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool: what house will ye build Me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of My rest? Hath not My hand made all these things?” AA 99.2
When Stephen reached this point, there was a tumult among the people. When he connected Christ with the prophecies and spoke as he did of the temple, the priest, pretending to be horror-stricken, rent his robe. To Stephen this act was a signal that his voice would soon be silenced forever. He saw the resistance that met his words and knew that he was giving his last testimony. Although in the midst of his sermon, he abruptly concluded it. AA 100.1Read in context »
Stephen was questioned as to the truth of the charges against him, and took up his defense in a clear, thrilling voice that rang through the council hall. He proceeded to rehearse the history of the chosen people of God in words that held the assembly spellbound. He showed a thorough knowledge of the Jewish economy, and the spiritual interpretation of it now made manifest through Christ. He began with Abraham and traced down through history from generation to generation, going through all the national records of Israel to Solomon, taking up the most impressive points to vindicate his cause. SR 264.1
He made plain his own loyalty to God and to the Jewish faith, while he showed that the law in which they trusted for salvation had not been able to preserve Israel from idolatry. He connected Jesus Christ with all the Jewish history. He referred to the building of the temple by Solomon, and to the words of both Solomon and Isaiah: “Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” “Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool: what house will ye build Me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of My rest? Hath not my hand made all these things?” The place of God's highest worship was in heaven. SR 264.2Read in context »