It's the grand opening of Solomon's temple! The priests deposit the ark in the Holy of Holies. This apparently makes God happy because his presence fills the temple.
Solomon dedicates the temple with a prayer. In this prayer, we get the first hint that God, who has already evolved from one tribal god amongst many to the one true God, may be evolving further into a universal God:
In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple, then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do. They, too, will know that this Temple I have built honors your name.It makes sense that Solomon, who seems to have been heavily involved in trade with other nations, would be the one to point out the possibility of people from other nations worshiping the God of Israel.
Solomon seems to spend a lot of his prayer of praise reiterating how the temple that he built honors God. Somehow, it does not surprise me that Solomon is the type who would toot his own horn.
Also, lots and lots of animals were sacrificed.
There, before the Ark, King Solomon and the entire community of Israel sacrificed so many sheep, goats, and cattle that no one could keep count!
Solomon offered to the Lord a peace offering of 22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats.
That must have been a disgusting sight.
Stephen gets to his point! But I am not quite sure his claims are quite sound. In particular,
Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you!Jesus said that the Holy Spirit was not among them until after their death, which does not seem consistent with this. Based on his next statements, Stephen may be trying to imply that the Holy Spirit acted through the prophets and the ancestors of the Jews ignored the prophets, but that ruins the parallelism between the resistance to the Holy Spirit of the people that Stephen is talking to and the resistance of their ancestors. I guess what I am saying is that Stephen's either saying something that contradicts Jesus' words or his rhetorical skills suck.
His next sentence is also a little sketchy:
Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute!Let's see, Moses himself, possibly Aaron and Miriam, Deborah, Samuel, and Nathan were all prophets, and that's only in what we have read of the Old Testament so far! Moses, Aaron, and Miriam sometimes had a hard time leading the ancient Israelites, but one can hardly say they were persecuted. Deborah was a successful judge. Samuel had to deal with Saul, it's true, but he was honored throughout his life. As was Nathan (although he may not be dead yet, so there's still a chance for persecution). In fact, I do not think we have yet seen a prophet persecuted by the Israelites. Once again, Stephen is either wrong or guilty of bad rhetoric.
In any case, the Jewish leaders stone Stephen because of his accusations. This serves to introduce the theme of persecution of Jesus' followers as well as the character of Saul (later Paul). Saul, at this point, spends his time persecuting the now scattered Christians.
We also read the story of Phillip and Simon. Phillip, a follower of Jesus, went to preach in Samaria. There he encountered Simon, who
had been a sorcerer there for many years, amazing the people of Samaria and claiming to be someone great. Everyone, from the least to the greatest, often spoke of him as “the Great One—the Power of God.” They listened closely to him because for a long time he had astounded them with his magic.However, Simon is convinced by Phillip's preaching and decides to follow him.
I quoted the interesting bit above. The text takes the time to make sure we know that Simon was revered as a great and powerful magician. This is not to condemn him. It is, rather, to show the reader how convincing Phillip (and, therefore, Jesus) must have been to convert this great and wonderful magician. This means that the author of Acts believed in magicians, and he assumed the belief in magicians was common enough that the conversion of one would act as convincing evidence. And yet we are supposed to take his testimony seriously?
Psalms and Proverbs
We get some great (if gruesome) poetic imagery in today's psalm:
My back is covered with cuts,
as if a farmer had plowed long furrows.