October 07, 2013

Stiff-Necked

Devotion for the Week...

Have you ever had a stiff neck? I have, for the past four days. Three of those days it was just a little sore, so I noticed it now and then but it didn't interfere with my day. Saturday morning, though, it was really bad. Turn-my-whole-body-to look-to-the-side, hurts-to-turn-over-in-bed bad. Thank God it got better as the day went on.

If you've ever had a stiff neck you know it makes everything difficult. Your whole body becomes tense because you're trying to avoid any movement that will jar your neck. Nathan wanted to sit with me when I was reading a magazine and even turning slightly to put the magazine down and moving over in my chair to make room for him had me wincing. It was awful.

Since odd situations make me think about Bible verses, sometime Saturday I thought, "Doesn't the Bible say something about a stiff-necked people?" Of course it does! According to my NIV concordance in my Bible, there are two references to 'stiff-necked' - Exodus 34:9 and Proverbs 29:1. I found both of them to be interesting.

In Exodus 34:9 Moses says, "O Lord, if I have found favor in your eyes...then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance."

A little background is in order: God has led the Isrealites out of Egypt. He has parted the waters of the Red Sea for them to walk through on dry land, has given them water from a rock and manna and quail from the sky. They have experienced first-hand His power and His care for them. Moses has been on the mountain, hearing directly from God His instructions for how His people are to live, but the Isrealites got tired of waiting for him and so Aaron made them a golden calf and they worshiped it as the god who brought them out of Egypt.

Seriously?

 From our perspective we wonder how they could have thought something so ridiculous. Aaron made the golden calf out of earrings and other bits of gold they gave him! How could they worship something they watched a man make, especially after seeing the awe-inspiring things God had done for them? In that day, though, most of the cultures worshiped idols that were made of wood or stone, so maybe this didn't seem like such a stretch to them.

So Moses is pleading with God, asking Him to continue leading the Isrealites, even though they are stubborn, clinging to what they knew before God revealed Himself to them.

In Proverbs 29:1 we read "A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed - without remedy." I love how Eugene Peterson renders this verse in The Message, "For people who hate discipline and only get more stubborn, there'll come a day when life tumbles in and they break, but by then it'll be too late to help them."

Having a stiff neck isn't comfortable, but being stiff-necked, figuratively speaking, is even worse. If we're stubborn, clinging to ways that are contrary to what God wants for our lives, He tries to correct us. Sometimes we read something in the Bible that makes us understand the wrong we've been doing. Other times someone we trust tells us their concerns about our actions or attitudes. Or maybe a sermon or a song brings something to mind. Whatever method God uses to get our attention, we must carefully consider our response to the rebukes. Getting defensive and denying the issue is not going to help. In fact, that's just remaining stiff-necked, hating the discipline God is using to try to mold us into the people He wants us to be. Though God may give us many chances to change, this verse in Proverbs warns that one day the chances will end, the rebukes will stop coming.

I'm thankful my neck is not hurting today. As for our figurative necks, I pray we all remember to keep ourselves limber, willing to change and adapt as needed, not stiff-necked and stubborn.

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