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Studies on the Women of the Bible
by Davis W. Huckabee


Chapter 16

SAPPHIRA—"Sapphire"



"And a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. And Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things," Acts 5:1-11.

These verses set before us one of the early attempts to introduce the spirit of hypocrisy and self-glorification in the Lord's churches, for such a spirit will almost cer­tainly destroy the effectiveness of a church where it prevails. And yet this is one of the most common of human failings, for everyone is by the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden constituted a totally self-centered sinner. As observed in the first study in this series, woman was originally created to be a "help" to her husband, to fill out what might be lacking in his make-up. But as we also observed in our study on Jezebel, a woman that is wicked will only lead her husband further from God, and into greater evil, so that she will compound the wickedness of an already wicked man.

We know not the true spiritual condition of Ananias and Sapphira—whether they were genuinely saved or not—but it seems obvious that they were part of the Jerusalem church, so that they had professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The name Ananias means grace, or gracious one. And Sapphira is thought to be the same as Shiphrah, (Ex. 1:15), which means beauty, or Zipporah, (Ex. 2:21). Sapphira refers to the sapphire stone which was renowned for its beautiful color. All which only shows, that names may not be appropriate or mean much. This couple had without doubt been highly impressed by the example of "noble Barnabas," whose act of great generosity is recorded in Acts 4:34-37, and they desired to have the same accolades given to themselves that were given to him. However, they did not have the truly generous spirit that he had.

This man, and what he did, has a strong relationship to the story of Sapphira whom we will think about today. It is very obvious that what Barnabas did, and the attention which he received for what he did, had a great effect on all the persons in the early church. He was probably a very kind person, encouraging others by what he did for and with them. That is why they had given him the name of "Barnabas," "son of encour­agement." And the love he showed through what he did made a strong impression on the early believers. That is undoubtedly why Luke, the writer of Acts, recorded this incident. (Robert M. Terhune, Perspectives on Biblical Women, Vol. II, p. 174).

Their evil lay not in what they did, for they did much the same as what others had done. But their evil lay in what they pretended to have done for they pretended to have given all of the proceeds of the sale of their property, and this was both a lie and obvious hypocrisy. As is so often the case, this couple wanted to have the reputation for being people of faith, yet they did not have the faith to believe that God could take care of them unless they squirreled away some of the sale of their property.

Their sin was not against the Church, for it had made no decrees that its members must surrender all their properties to it. The First Church was not commun­istic as the Soviet Union and other communistic countries have claimed, for modern communism is a godless system that forcibly takes all of a people's possessions and distributes them according to its will. No! Only the Jerusalem church practiced this voluntary giving of peoples' possessions as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, and this only for a brief time. No one was compelled to give any of their possessions for the furtherance of the Gospel and the help of the saints. Later Paul would stress the necessity of any giving to special projects being totally voluntary, (2 Cor. 8:12). Tithing for the support of the local ministry has always been the Lord's standard, (1 Cor. 9:13-­14), and is a basic duty in all worship of the One True God. Peter, as an Apostle, had a spirit of discernment regarding what had been secretly agreed upon by this self-centered, pretentious couple, and he argues the point very effectively.

Before it was sold, it was his own proper estate; he had the sole propriety in it, and could have kept it, or disposed of it as he pleased. He was not obliged to sell it, he might have kept it as his own property; for selling of possessions at this time was a voluntary thing. It was what no man was forced to; it was a pure act of liberality, and what was not enjoined by the apostles. Every man was left to his liberty.—John Gill, Commentary On The Whole Bible, Vol. V, P. 832.

It is so very easy to rationalize regarding some action that one is not fully committed to doing, but God is not convinced by human reasoning, but looks to the very heart to determine the sinful motivations for what is actually done. In this instance Peter intimates several things that were involved in this matter. (1) This couple had been made envious by the honor rightly paid to Barnabas. (2) They did not trust God to supply their daily needs if they gave everything to the Church. (3) They had allowed the devil to fill their hearts with a wicked pretense. (4) They conspired together to implement this. (5) As a consequence they lied, not to men, but to God, to Whom this supposed gift of all this possession was devoted. (6) They had been motivated by carnal pride in all this, and pride is always an abomination to God.

The consequence of this interview is that Ananias drops dead for his sin of lying to God. Naturally, the man of the world will discount this, claiming that it was "just an accident" that he died upon his lie being found out, but the First Church did not so view the matter, (v. 5), and young men wrapped him in grave clothes and buried him. Such was necessary in that hot climate where dead bodies quickly begin to deteriorate and return to their original state. Scripture is clear that every person has an appointed time on earth, (Job. 14:14-15; 30:23; Eccl. 3:1-2; Heb. 9:27), et al., and that no one dies before his time except as he lets sin shorten his otherwise appointed time on earth.

God the Supreme Lord, Governor, and Judge of them, set, constituted, and appointed by an unalterable and irrevocable decree, as Lawgiver, and sentence, as Judge, to all of the sinful human race, the corrupt seed of apostate Adam, their grand representative, whom God threatened with this penalty upon his sinning and transgressing his law, (Gen. 2:17); which sentence was denounced upon him, (Gen. 3:19; Compare Romans 5:12, 14 and 6:23). This sentence was but once to be undergone by himself and all his sinful offspring, and by their Surety, and no more; so that the Second Adam needed but once to die by this statute. No man can keep himself from this, it being the general rule of God's proceeding with all persons. The Supreme Legislator may make what exceptions and provisos to his law he pleaseth.—Matthew Poole, Commentary On The Holy Bible, Vol. ill, p. 852, on Heb. 9:27.

But there is another "accidental death" that is about to come about, for shortly Sapphira comes in, perhaps seeking for her husband that was probably overdue to have returned home. Peter immediately questions her as to how much the property was sold for, and she shows that she was in full collusion with her husband in this matter, and she likewise drops dead and is buried. She was a widow for only three hours.

Three hours later, Sapphira returned, unaware of what had taken place. Peter questioned Sapphira, just as he had questioned Ananias, and found that she held to the same story, the one which her husband had told just three hours earlier. Once again, Peter's disapproval, his indig­nation, was evident, for both husband and wife had been in one accord in their deceit. Just like her husband, three hours earlier, she fell down and died. Sapphira was taken out and buried alongside her husband. "And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things." Twice in one day, only three hours apart, the saints of the church at Jerusalem had been stricken with fear, for they had seen His immediate and direct judgment upon sin, the sin of a brother and a sister in Christ—Wendy Gale Barkman, Women of the Bible Compared And Contrasted, p. 118.

Husbands and wives can be great helps to one another in the faith. Or, and this is sadly even more common, they can aid and abet their mates in rebelling against the will of God. Which is done will be based entirely upon whether each has experienced the saving grace of God in actuality and not just in pretense.

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