A Stiff-necked People
Read: Exodus 33:1-6
For the Lord God said to Moses, “Say to the children of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people.’” (Exodus 33:5a NKJ)
How would you like to be called “stiff-necked?” What an awful thing to say about someone! Where did this term originate? What is it referring to when used in the bible?
The term originated in ancient Israel. The farmers would plow their fields by using oxen. If the ox didn’t want to follow the guidance of the farmer, it would stiffen the muscles in its neck. This would make it impossible to guide the ox where it needed to go.
The dictionary defines a “stiff-necked” person as one who is stubborn, haughty, obstinate, insolent, and arrogant. When a person or a group of people are characterized as “stiff-necked” in the Scriptures it means they refuse to follow the guidance of the Lord.
Was God justified in referring to his people as “stiff-necked?” Yes indeed! Multiple times the leaders and people who left Egypt grumbled and complained about Moses’ leadership. At the Red Sea they said, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” (Ex. 14:11) Again, in the Wilderness of Sin between Elim and Sinai, “the whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness” (Ex. 16:2). The straw that broke the camel’s back, as the saying goes, happened at Mt. Sinai while Moses was up in the mountain getting the Ten Commandments. The people grew restless and came to Aaron demanding that he make them a god to worship in place of Jehovah. How foolish! What arrogance! Unbelievable! This was truly an example of stiff-necked people. God was so outraged that he wanted to eradicate the people, but Moses entreated for them and reminded the Lord of His greatness, grace, and mercy. The Lord relented of his wrath, but warned the people that they would not go unpunished. Moses also grew anger as he approached the revelry and slammed the tablets on the ground indicating that the people had already broken the Law
Have you ever had to deal with stiff-necked people? Sad to say, I’ve experienced that in the ministry on several occasions. People who were so determined that their way was the right way that they would not bend or compromise. It’s like the person who says, “It’s my way or the highway.” How many times has that happened in the ministry of well-meaning servants of the Lord?
Unfortunately, stiff-necked people are not only found among the Jewish people. There are plenty of folks in our churches today who are stubborn, obstinate, and unwilling to follow the leadership that God has placed over them. I know of church situations where the influential members hold back their tithes because activities aren’t going the way “they” think they should.
What are the marks of a stiff-necked person?
1. Refusal to listen to reason.
2. Insistence on having one’s own way.
3. Defensive when criticized.
4. Making excuses for short-comings.
5. Lashing out at others.
6. Prayer without repentance.
One of Stephen’s accusations in his defense of the gospel is found in Acts 7:51, “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.”
Let us replace our attitude of stubbornness with an attitude of conciliation, compassion, and love.
Thought for the Day: God is gracious and merciful, but opposes the proud and obstinate.
Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to have a conciliatory attitude of grace and mercy towards others.