Don't Be Stiff-Necked

Has anyone ever described you as being stubborn? I have to admit, that adjective has been ascribed to me more than once or twice. I'm afraid almost all of us can be described that way, at least sometimes. The Bible calls it being stiffnecked, and it is a sin against God. Yes, indeed, our stubbornness is not just a character quirk, it is a sin!

Throughout history, mankind has been stubborn. The Jews, God's own chosen people, were stubborn, heard-headed, and hardhearted toward the God who created them and who longed to heap blessings upon them, if they would just yield to His direction. But before we look down on them, we need to understand, we are no different. And we have a great advantage that the Israelites didn't have: we have the Bible, the Word of God. Why do we find it so hard to yield to our Creator, when we know He loves us, His ways are always right and just, and He has nothing but our best interests at heart? Why are we so insistent on doing things our own way, instead of yielding our will to His, knowing His way is always perfect?

From the time God miraculously led them out of Egypt, the Israelites rebelled against God. Instead of following His decrees faithfully, they did what seemed right in their own sight. They hardened their hearts and refused to obey the Lord their God. They even made other gods for themselves, from the very beginning. Their rebellion and disobedience greatly angered the Lord.

And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get you down; for your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves: They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshiped it, and have sacrificed to it, and said, These are your gods, O Israel, who have brought you up out of the land of Egypt. And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may grow hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of you a great nation. (Exodus 32:7-10)

Moses had been up on the mountain for 40 days and nights, receiving the Lord's instructions for His people. He left Aaron in charge. The people had seen God's mighty miracles, delivering them from their slavery in Egypt. Moses was the man God had chosen to lead them out of Egypt and into the promised land. Yet when Moses didn't came back right away, they feared he had perished up on the mountain, and their faith in God faltered. They asked Aaron to make them a god to lead them, since only Moses had communicated with the one true God.

It didn't take much persuasion for Aaron to make them an idol to worship. He told them to take off their earrings and give them to him. We don't see any indication that he tried to talk them out of their idolatry. Perhaps he felt outnumbered and afraid. Perhaps he felt as they did, that they needed a God they could see. Perhaps he thought their love of adornment and finery would prevail, and he might then have a little time to talk them out of their desire for a man-made god. Whatever his thoughts were, he sinned against God right along with them. They gave him their gold, and he fashioned a golden calf for them to worship.

They made sacrifices to this idol, and feasted around it, and then “rose up to play”; which means they engaged in reveling and wantonness, like the pagan forms of worship which gratify the pride, selfishness, and carnal inclinations of men. Moses found them naked, engaging in such pagan practices, and was angry that Aaron had allowed them to be naked in front of their enemies, to their shame. (Exodus 32:25) Such actions brought shame upon themselves, of course, but it also disgraced the Lord in front of their enemies, making Him appear weak and unworthy in their eyes. Again, though, before we condemn the Israelites, we have to ask ourselves: Do our actions always honor and glorify the Lord? Or have we ever dishonored Him, whether with our words or deeds?

Moses drew aside the ones who were on the Lord's side, and had them kill all the others who had sinned so greatly – a total of three thousand men. Then he had them consecrate themselves to the Lord. God was ready to destroy them, because of their stubbornness. Their rebellion had greatly angered God, of course. Think about how it angers you when your children rebel against your rules, even though you know your rules are made out of your great love for them, and for their own good. If we, as flawed and imperfect parents feel angry when our children rebel, how much more do you think God feels, being perfect and without any of the flaws we humans have. However, Moses intervened with God and saved them.

And the LORD said unto Moses, Depart, and go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I swore unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto your descendants will I give it: And I will send an angel before you; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite: Unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the way. (Exodus 33:1-3)

God was so angry with them that He refused to go with them into the promised land, lest He might consume them along the way. We can understand that. Have you ever had someone hurt you so badly, betrayed your love and your trust, to the point where you didn't even want to be in the same room with them? Then you can understand how God felt. But even so, even in His great anger, God made provision for His people's protection: He sent an angel to go before them, and He Himself would drive out all the pagan peoples living in the land.

For the LORD had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiffnecked people: I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee: therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee. (Exodus 33:5)

In times of mourning, it was customary in that culture to put aside all jewels and riches, and dress soberly, without ornamentation. God required this of His people both to demonstrate their repentance and grief over their sinfulness, and to remove the golden jewelry so that they would not consider doing such a wicked thing again. God was being merciful in not already consuming them for their wickedness, but He also let them know His mercy could be revoked if they continued in their stubborn ways.

And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped. And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us; for it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance.
(Exodus 34:8-9)

Moses interceded for the Israelites, begging God's mercy and forgiveness on their behalf. God accepted Moses's prayers, but He let the people know, He was not giving them the promised land because of their own goodness, but rather, because all the nations around them were so wicked. God reminded them they were a stubborn and siffnecked people, and had often provoked Him to wrath.

Not for your righteousness, or for the uprightness of your heart, do you go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God does drive them out from before you, and that he may perform the word which the LORD swore unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Understand therefore, that the LORD your God gives you not this good land to possess it for your righteousness; for you are a stiff-necked people. Remember, and forget not, how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness: from the day that you did depart out of the land of Egypt, until you came unto this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD. Also in Horeb you provoked the LORD to wrath, so that the LORD was angry with you to have destroyed you. (Deuteronomy 9:5-8)

Before we get too critical of the stubborn Israelites, though, think of all the times we ourselves have been guilty of rebelling against the Lord, and failing to obey His commands to us. How many times have our actions provoked God to anger? The Israelites had failed to realize that all of God's commands to them were for their own good. He tried over and over again to teach them the blessings that accompany obedience. He repeatedly told them of His great love for them, that He had chosen THEM to be His people; their fathers before them and their descendants after them. It was an everlasting covenant that God made with them, and all He asked for was for them to love Him and keep His commandments.

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command you this day for your good? Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the LORD'S your God, the earth also, with all that is in it. Only the LORD had a delight in your fathers to love them, and he chose their descendants after them, even you above all people, as it is this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked. (Deuteronomy 10:12-16)

As they were about to enter the promised land, Moses reminded them that their sin had brought the wrath of God upon them, that He had been angry enough to have destroyed them. Moses was instructing them to worship God alone and keep His statutes and commandments, as he knew he would not be entering the promised land with them. Moses reminded them that it was only his own intervention that saved them, in spite of their stubbornness and rebellious ways.

Furthermore the LORD spake unto me, saying, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: Let me alone, that I may destroy them, and blot out their name from under heaven: and I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they. (Deuteronomy 9:13-14)

You have been rebellious against the LORD from the day that I knew you. Thus I fell down before the LORD forty days and forty nights, as I fell down at the first; because the LORD had said he would destroy you. I prayed therefore unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, destroy not your people and your inheritance, which you have redeemed through your greatness, which you have brought forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand. (Deuteronomy 9:24-26)

Unfortunately, nothing changed much. The Israelites remained stubborn and stiffnecked throughout their entire history.

And the children of Israel did secretly those things that were not right against the LORD their God, and they built them high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchmen to the fortified city. And they set them up images and idol poles on every high hill, and under every green tree: And there they burnt incense in all the high places, as did the nations which the LORD carried away before them; and did wicked things to provoke the LORD to anger: For they served idols, of which the LORD had said unto them, You shall not do this thing. Yet the LORD testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn you from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets. Nevertheless they would not hear, but hardened their necks, like the neck of their fathers, that did not believe in the LORD their God. (Deuteronomy (2 Kings 17:9-14)

Unfortunately, people have not changed much since the time of Moses. We are all prone to stubbornness, We all are often guilty of wanting to do things our own way. We all sometimes ignore God and disobey His commands when they interfere with what we want. And like the Israelites, we often think that God will just turn a blind eye to our rebelliousness and disobedience. We neeed to be very careful about thinking that, because God does not turn a blind eye to stubborn willfulness. The Bible contains a very harsh warning for those who refuse to listen to reproof . repent, and humble themselves:

He that being often reproved hardens his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed , and that without remedy. (Proverbs 29:1)

We have to realize that everything written in the Bible is written for our instruction and example. We have to understand that our stubbornness is a sin against our' loving Heavenly Father, And our refusal to repent of our stubbornness over and over again has harsh consequences. At some point, God will have had enough of our rebellion, and will punish us, just as He did with the Israelites. Fortunately for the Israelites, they had Moses to intercede for them. Oh, how I would hope to have someone to intercede for me when I am so stubborn and hard-headed. Fortunately, there IS someone who intercedes for me and for you: Jesus Christ himself! But that's a whole 'nother lesson!

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