Waking up with a “Stiff Neck”
Acts 7:51–53 (NIV): 51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him—53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
Our current definition of stiff-necked according to Merriam-Webster:
1: HAUGHTY, STUBBORN
2: FORMAL, STILTED
Synonyms- arrogant, assumptive, bumptious, cavalier, chesty, haughty, high-and-mighty, high-handed, high-hat, highfalutin (also hifalutin), huffish, huffy, imperious, important, lofty, lordly, masterful, overweening, peremptory, pompous, presuming, presumptuous, pretentious, self-asserting, self-assertive, sniffy, supercilious, superior, toplofty (also toploftical), uppish, uppity
Antonyms- humble, lowly, modest, unarrogant, unpretentious
Greek word used: σκληροτράχηλος (sklay-rot-rakh’-ah-los) – hard naped, that is, (figuratively) obstinate: – stiffnecked.
nape: the back of the neck (M-W definition)
This has been an ongoing issue:
Exodus 32:9–14 (NIV): 9 “I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”
11 But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. “LORD,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’ ” 14 Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
קָשֶׁה עֹרֶף – (kaw-sheh’ o-ref’)-
kaw-sheh’- severe (in various applications): – churlish, cruel, grievous, hard ([-hearted], thing), heavy, + impudent, obstinate, prevailed, rough (-ly), sore, sorrowful, stiff ([-necked]), stubborn, + in trouble.
o-ref’- the nape or back of the neck (as declining); hence the back generally (whether literally or figuratively): – back ([stiff-]) neck ([-ed]).
Whether it is the previous Greek or in Hebrew of the latter, both point towards the idea of all of humankind’s inability to bend. The meaning therefore involves antagonism, stubbornness, argumentative, and going into minute (my-newt) detail to distinguish our point of view from others.
Stephen and Moses plead for forgiveness of the people (although the people ended up killing them both, one by stoning and the other over grief and frustration).
Stephen refers to the story of what we read in Acts prior to calling them stiff necked people. Stephen, a deacon, expounds on the story of how people have not changed since the days of Moses, but if you do not slow down, you are going to miss A HUGE TRUTH! Going back to what we read, we understand that about the golden calf that has been made, and God is fully aware of it and yet Moses tells God to forgive them. However, I want us to look at what Moses does.
Exodus 32:19–21 (NIV): 19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.
21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?”
You will notice that Moses took into his own hands to place wrath on the people! He was not ordered by God to do so! He BROKE the 10 Commandments literally and figuratively. Also, notice what takes place in the next few verses:
Exodus 32:25–29 (NIV): 25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him. 27 Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’ ” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.”
Where did God give the command that Moses gives? You will find that conversation nowhere! This was Moses’ idea! He asks God to forgive them and then precedes to break the very commands of God to handle it himself. Kind of assumptive of him to do so and look how devious it was in his orders:
27 Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’ ” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died.
This is so DEVIOUS of Moses. Why? They hid their intentions until the last minute. The Levites, the PRIESTS, went throughout the camps with daggers secured to their thighs, pretending to be a holy friend and then surprises them with a concealed weapon and murders them!
Exodus 32:30–35 (NIV): 30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”
31 So Moses went back to the LORD and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”
33 The LORD replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. 34 Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.”
35 And the LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.
Not up to you Moses to judge the people. It is not what I called you to do!
Now let us go back to Acts because there is another Moses like character in our story…
Acts 8:1–3 (NIV): And Saul approved of their killing him.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Saul, a devoutly religious man, put himself in the position of being judge and jury over people’s lives, especially when it came to this, in his opinion, heretical followers of Jesus!
Mankind, even people like Moses and Paul/Saul, struggle with what is God’s plans and what are mankind’s ideas. Let us look to the word of Jesus in an area unrelated, yet somehow connected to today’s sermon. Found both in Mark (10:5) and in Matthew, but let us read it in Matthew in relationship to the idea of divorce:
Matthew 19:3–9 (NIV): 3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
I could do 3 different sermons out of what Jesus just said as Jesus casted a very wide net of information but there were the laws of God and then there were the laws of Moses, but why? Hard hearts and stiff necks. After Jesus spoke these words with his disciples sitting there and listening, here is the next story:
Matthew 19:13–14 (NIV): 13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Are you getting it yet? God does not need YOUR help when it comes to separating the sheep from the goats, in fact, he is the only one that can miraculously change a goat to a sheep. He did it with both Moses and Paul!
I am reminded of the words of John to close out this message:
John 1:15–17 (NIV): 15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.