Do you remember when you were a child, and out of defiance to authority, or not getting your way, you stood with your back against a wall with your arms folded as the above picture displays? NO? How about as an adult; have you reacted to a circumstance at work, with your spouse, with the church you have been attending with this stubborn posture?
I have been reading in the Old Testament, the Book of Exodus for sometime now. I came across a word that I decided to investigate its meaning. I uncovered it in Exodus 33:3, 5 and the word is “STIFF-NECKED”.
“Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, for you are a stiff-necked people, lest I destroy you on the way” (Verse 3).
“For the Lord had said to Moses, Say to the Israelites, You are a stiff-necked people! If I should come among you for one moment, I would consume and destroy you” (Verse 5).
Because of the Israelites rebellion, their disobedience and their stubbornness, God was referring to them as “stiff-necked people”. This is not the last time we hear about the stubbornness; “stiff-necked people” in Scripture but it is a good place to start from.
STIFF-NECKED PEOPLE “For I know your rebellion and stubbornness” (Deuteronomy 31:27).
STIFF-NECKED PEOPLE “He who, being often reproved, hardens his neck shall suddenly be destroyed–and that without remedy” (Proverbs 29:1).
STIFF-NECKED PEOPLE “You stubborn and stiff-necked people, still heathen and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always actively resisting the Holy Spirit. As your forefathers [were], so you [are and so you do]!” (Acts 7:51)
THE ORIGIN OF THE WORD “STIFF-NECKED”
Stif’ – nekt (gesheh ‘oreph, literally means, “hard of neck”). The words are used figuratively, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament; meaning “stubborn”, “untractable”, “not to be led”.
This idea was completely familiar to the Jews. The ox was the most useful and common of domestic animals. It was especially used for such agricultural purposes as harrowing and plowing (Judges 14:18; 1 Corinthians 9:9). A plow was drawn by two oxen and the plowman only needed one hand to guide the plow. The other hand carried an “ox-goad”. An “ox-goad” was a light pole, shod with an iron spike on the end. The plowman would prick the oxen upon the hind legs to increase their speed. He would use it on their necks to turn, or keep a straight course when deviating direction.
If an ox was hard to control or stubborn in the doing, it was deemed to be “hard of neck” or stiff-necked (gesheh ‘oreph). Thus the term was used by God’s description in Scripture to express the stubborn, untractable spirit of people not responsive to the guidance of their God. They refused to stay on His course and deviated from His guidance.
In the New Testament, ‘sklerotrachelus’ is the Greek word so translated in Acts 7:51 and Romans 2:5-6.
“But by your callous stubbornness and impenitent of heart you are storing up wrath and indignation for yourself on the day of wrath and indignation, when God’s righteous judgement (just doom) will be revealed. For He will render to every man according to his works [justly, as his deeds deserve]“ (Rom. 2:5, 6).
WHY DID GOD USE THE PHRASE “STIFF-NECKED PEOPLE”?
He didn’t say, ‘stiff-shouldered people’, or ‘stiff-armed’, or ‘stiff-legged people’. Take a moment and think where your neck is located and what function it plays in your life.
Your neck is the vital connecting corridor between the most important parts; your head and torso. The neck is necessary for you to survive as a living human being.
A surgeon will tell you that here are distinct structures in your neck as in the rest of your body; air, food, nerve pathways, life-sustaining fluids like, blood, lymph. All have to pass through this narrow region of your body. Because the structures of your neck are packed close together, it requires an absolute minimum of excess tension to function at their best.
Thus, it’s important for your general well-being and the neck freely allows what might be called, efficient “biological connections” between the head and torso. Your neck has a huge impact on the “mechanics” of your functioning; your posture, your coordination, your ability to move efficiently.
Your head is lightly balance on top of your neck (medical experts say the head weighs between 10-12 pounds). Very little muscular effort is needed to keep it there. If that balance is compromised; having to hold it up with a lot of muscular effort, stiffen your neck to keep it from falling forward or to one side, tightness will cause “compensatory tightening” throughout the rest of your body. It will harm your ability to:
1. Move freely and efficiently.
2. Restrict your breathing.
3. Pressure on your internal organs.
Think for a moment of people you know that have had or have stiff necks. Watch how they sit, stand and move; they move comparatively ‘stiffly’ and ‘awkwardly’. Also, think of how they adjust to changing circumstances in general, how flexible they are in their thinking. In my observation, I’ve noticed a certain mental rigidity which mirrors their physical stiffness.
Often the word “stiff-necked” is translated in the Bible as “stubbornness”. Here are some verses in Scripture that I found in gathering evidence:
Exodus 32:9 “a stiff-necked people”
Deuteronomy 9:6 “…you are a hard and stubborn people”
II Chronicles 36:13 “He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who made him swear by God. He stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord, the God of Israel”.
Jeremiah 17:23 “Yet they [todays churches at times from my observation], would not listen and obey or incline their ears; but they stiffened their necks, that they might not hear and might not receive instruction”.
GOD’S GUIDANCE: “TRUSTING AND OBEYING” IN DIFFICULT CHOICES
We need to learn how to release undue tension in our necks. One of the best things we can do is to improve our overall functioning; how we respond to God’s guidance and direction in these “last days“. Remember God is watching how we respond to difficult choices. And non-believers are also observing our posture, our coordination, our physical ‘stiffness’ toward others and our own stubbornness.
My wife Dianne, has reoccurring stiff necks and I have asked her in the past what she thinks might be the cause. She says it might be a “pinched nerve” in her neck. Maybe the way she was sleeping the night before or a cold draft settled in the muscles of her neck. Now a doctor might tell her not to sit or lie near an open window. Maybe certain muscle relaxers or sedatives might even bring some relief. Then again, our stubbornness might be the cause; not seeking medical treatment; “Oh, I will just have to deal with it. It is what it is! I’m NOT going to the doctor!”
In Bob Mumford’s book, “Take Another Look At Guidance,” he gives some good advice in regards to God’s guidance in difficult choices and circumstances.
There is what he calls a “conditional guidance” and is described in Isaiah 58:10-11: “And if you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday. And the Lord WILL CONTINUALLY GUIDE YOU, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” Now you can ignore His guidance being “stiff-necked” and not trust and obey or pay heed to God’s prevention remedy. Or…
In PART II of “The Hardness of Stubbornness—Stiff-Necked People” I’ll focus on the causes and the guidance remedies that God has given us in His Word.