42. And God turned himself, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven: as it is written in the book of the prophets, Have ye offered unto me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness, O ye house of Israel? 43. And ye took to you the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, and figures which ye made to worship them; therefore I will carry you away beyond Babylon.
Stephen will here declare that the Jews did never make an end of sinning, but that they wandered farther in their froward errors; so that that first fall of theirs was unto them as it were an entrance into a labyrinth. And this doth he assign unto the just vengeance of God, that after that time their madness grew so, that they gat for one idol infinity. This example teacheth us to be careful to follow the rule which God hath set down; because, so soon as we are turned even but a little aside from the same, we must needs be carried to and fro with divers dotings, we must needs be entangled in many superstitions, and be utterly drowned in the huge sink of errors; which punishment God in justice layeth upon men which refuse to obey his word. Therefore Stephen saith that God was turned away; which word imported as much as if he should say, that he turned his back. For he had fastened his eyes after a sort upon the people, when he showed his singular care which he took in governing them; being offended with their falling away, now he turneth his face another way.
We may also hereby gather that we can no otherwise follow the right way, save only when the Lord watcheth over us to govern us; but so soon as his face is turned away, we run by and by into errors. The Israelites were forsaken of God even then when they made the calf; but Stephen meant to express the greatness of the punishment, as if he should have said, that they were altogether cast off into a reprobate sense then; as Paul also teacheth, that those which gave not glory to God when he had showed himself unto them, were, by the just judgment of God, given up unto blindness and blockishness, and unto shameful lusts, (Romans 1:28.) Hereby it came to pass, that after that religion began to be corrupt, innumerable abominations succeeded a few superstitions, and gross monsters of idolatry came in place of light corruptions. For because men neglected the light which was set before them, they became altogether blockish by the just judgment of God, so that they had no more judgment than brute beasts. Idolatry surely is very fertile, that of one reigned god there should by and by come an hundred, that a thousand superstitions should flow from one. But this so great madness of men springeth hence, because God revengeth himself by delivering them to Satan; because, after he hath once in hand to govern us, there is no change in his part, but he is plucked away 1 from us by our rash lightness.
Have ye offered unto me slain beasts and sacrifices? This place is taken out of the fifth chapter of Amos, (Amos 5:25.) The speech which Stephen useth showeth that all the prophecies were gathered into one body; and Amos addeth, (after that he had inveighed against the idolatry and sundry sins of the people,) that this is no new evil, that the Jews are rebellious against God, because their fathers had fallen away from true godliness even in the wilderness. Furthermore, he denieth that they offered slain beasts to him, not because there were there no sacrifices at all, but because God refused their corrupt worship; like as he reproveth and chideth the people in Isaiah, because they honored him with no sacrifice,
"Thou," (saith he,) "O Jacob, hast not called upon me, neither hast thou honored me with thy sacrifices, neither have I made thee serve in offering or incense. Thou hast not bought for me calamus, neither hast thou filled me with fatness. But thou hast been burdenous [burdensome] unto me in thy sins, and hast caused me to serve in thine iniquities," (Isaiah 43:22.)
Assuredly the Jews did all these things daily, but God accepteth not the obedience of the wicked, neither doth he approve the same. Again, he abhorreth all that which is polluted with such mingle-mangles as are added. 2 Thus doth Amos speak of the fathers which were revolts. 3 That which is added forthwith may be referred either unto them or unto their posterity.
43. You took to you the tabernacle of Moloch. Some take the copulative for the adversative [particle,] as if he should say, Yea, rather, ye worshipped the idol. It may be resolved also into the conjunction causal, thus, You did not offer sacrifices to me, because ye erected a tabernacle to Moloch. But I expound it somewhat otherwise, to wit, that God doth first accuse the fathers for the more vehemency; and then afterwards he addeth, that their posterity did increase the superstitions, because they gat to themselves new and diverse idols; as if the prophet had spoken thus in the person of God, If I shall rip up from the beginning, (O house of Jacob,) how your kindred hath behaved itself toward me; your fathers began to overthrow and corrupt, even in the wilderness, that worship which I had commanded; but you have far passed their ungodliness, for you have brought in an infinite company of gods. And this order is fitter for Stephen's purpose; for he intendeth to prove, (as we have already said,) that after the Israelites felt away unto strange and bastardly rites, they never made an end of sinning, but being stricken with blindness, they polluted themselves every now and then with new idolatries, until they were come even unto the last end 4 of impiety. Therefore, Stephen confirmeth this sentence fitly with the testimony of the prophet, that the Jews, descending of wicked and rebellious fathers, had never ceased to wax worse and worse. And although the prophet's words be somewhat unlike to these, yet is the sense all one. It is to be thought that Stephen, who had to deal with the Jews, did repeat word for word in their tongue that which is in the prophet; Luke, who wrote in Greek, did follow the Greek interpreter. The prophet saith, Ye honored Succoth your king, and Chiun your image, the star of your gods. The Greek interpreter made a noun common of a noun proper, because of the alliance 5 of the word Succoth, which signifieth a tabernacle. Furthermore, I cannot tell whence he fetcheth that his Remphan, unless it were because that word was more used in that time.
And figures which ye made. The word image, which is in the prophet, doth of itself signify no evil thing. Moreover, the word [tupov]; is taken amongst the Grecians in good part.For the ceremonies which God appointed are called [tupoi]; notwithstanding the prophet condemneth expressly the figures [types] which the Jews had made. Why so? Because God will not be worshipped under a visible and external form. If any man object that he speaketh in this place of stars; that is true, I confess; but I stand only upon this, that although the prophet doth give their idols some honest name, yet doth he sharply condemn their corrupt worship; whereby the foolish and childish caviling of the Papists is refuted. Because they deny that those images which they worship are idols, they say, that that mad worship of theirs is, [eikonodouleia], or serving of images, and not [eidolodouleia], or worshipping of idols. Seeing they mock God sophistically, there is no man that is endued even but with common understanding, which doth not see that they are more than ridiculous even in such toys. For although I move no question about the word, it is certain that the word [tupov]; is more honorable than [eikwn]. But those same [tupoi], or figures, are simply condemned in this place, which men make to themselves, not only [prov thn latreian], or that they may worship them, but [prov thn proskunhsin], that is, that they may give them even any reverence at all. Therefore that filthy distinction falleth flat to the ground, wherein the Papists think they have a crafty starting-hole. 6
Beyond Babylon. The prophet nameth Damascus; neither doth the Greek interpretation dissent from the same. Wherefore it may be that the word Babylon cropt [crept] in here through error; though in the sum of the thing there be no great difference. The Israelites were to be carried away to Babylon; but because they thought that they had a sure and strong fortress in the kingdom of Syria, whose head Damascus was, therefore the prophet saith that Damascus shall not help them, but that God shall drive them farther; as if he should say, So long as you have Damascus set against your enemies, you think that you are well fenced; but God shall carry you away beyond it; even into Assyria and Chaldea.