Wednesday, April 17, 2019
Several years ago, I had a great time with a missionary family that our church supports. Along with their teenage son, the couple ministered at our church in the morning. After lunch with some church people, they came to our house and we loaded up the boat and headed for the Chippewa River for some tubing fun. We met a couple of other church families at a friend’s house and we had a fabulous time getting everyone worn out hanging on for dear life. The river was crowded so there were plenty of waves to navigate, and there was some serious airtime being experienced by the tubers.
At the end of the day, after driving the boat for everyone else, one of the other families invited me to get in a three-person tube for one last run. I agreed, and it was obvious from the start that the boat driver had it in for me. Everything was done to throw me from the tube, including putting me in a faulty portion of the tube. Finally, after hanging on for dear life, the tube collapsed under me and I was gone. It was a great tumble and the water felt refreshing. We laughed and returned to the dock.
The next morning my shoulders were sore, right across the back of the neck. I must have hit my head funny when I fell into the water at breakneck speed. I have a definite understanding of being stiff-necked. However, mine is for a much different reason than the Israelites. Mine is muscle stiffness: theirs was moral stiffness.
Exodus 33:1-3 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”
The background of the word stiff-necked is agricultural, and comes from a term used to describe a stubborn ox or horse that won’t respond to the yoke or the reins. These animals have their own disposition and refuse to be broken to obey the master.
That is how the people of Israel are described three times by the Lord because of their continual complaining and repeated return to their old ways of sin. So serious is their sin that God, in His mercy, refuses to accompany them on their journey to the promised land for fear that He will destroy them.
Right from the beginning of their deliverance God had said this – Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. (Exodus 6:6-8) Now they were returning to the yoke of the bondage from which they had been delivered.
It is a serious thing to claim to have taken the yoke of God’s leadership onto our shoulders and then replace it with the yoke of self-gratification. It is a serious thing to set our necks stiffly against the leading of God in our lives. It is a serious thing to set ourselves up as being more qualified to determine our outcomes than God. It is a serious thing to oppose the plan of God for our lives. It will lead to serious consequences, and may end in the destruction of all that we once held dear.
But Jesus offers an alternative to that kind of burdensome living. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
This is the cure for a stiff neck that has been caused by the burden of guilt carried on the shoulders of a morally corrupt person. Come to Jesus for forgiveness and healing of the heart. When the heart is overwhelmed with the love of God, the will is broken, and the surrendered soul finds rest.