On being a stiff-necked people

Chapters Read: Exodus 16:1 – 40:38

“The LORD, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. Yet he does not lead the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” ~ Exodus 34:6-7

“Lord,” he said, “if I [Moses] 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.” ~ Exodus 34:9

Perhaps we’re shaking our heads as we read these passages about the stubbornness and foolishness of the Israelites in the book of Exodus, and find ourselves asking how could they have done such an abominable thing—making for themselves a man-made idol to worship—against the God who rescued and delivered them from slavery? Was Moses away too long, or was their faith too shallow?

One thing I realized is that we are not too different from the Israelites— we are constantly seeking for something or someone to worship. I think this is because the Lord created us to be worshippers. However, because of our stubborn and fallen nature, we tend to create our own gods to worship, forgetting the Lord’s original design.

I had an accident a week ago, and until now I’m still recuperating from the resulting neck injury. My neck has been literally stiff. I can’t look sideways, I can’t lift my head, I can’t nod to answer a simple yes or no question. I’m sharing this because this experience made me see the condition of Israelites’ hearts differently. Instead of reading the passage with critical eyes and judging them for their disobedience, I just had this thinking that maybe they weren’t being stiff-necked by choice. Maybe it’s an injury in the heart and will that they were yet to recover from.

Let’s not even go as far back as Exodus and just look at our attitude towards other people today. When we see or hear them doing something that we know is not pleasing in God’s eyes, do we judge them right away? Or let’s just look within ourselves. Are we judging ourselves too much that we feel we’re no longer deserving of God’s love?

Yes, the Lord was furious with the Israelites for being a stiff-necked people, but as Moses appealed to the Lord for forgiveness on their behalf, the Lord listened and withheld the punishment that was meant for them.

Everyone is a “work in progress.” More than an object of judgement, our sins and failures are opportunities for God’s hand of grace to move and heal us. This, though, is not an excuse to be complacent in our obedience. 

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