God called the children of Israel “stiff-necked.” In the context of an agrarian society, this word has relevance. To a modern city boy like me, it means nothing more than, “I need to buy a better pillow.” So I snuck into a pastors’ library to get some help.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia defines “stiff-necked” as stubborn or difficult to lead. In the ancient Near East, the use of oxen was common for farming tasks and, in particular, plowing. An instrument known as an ox goad was used to prick the ox in the neck or hind legs in order to accelerate or steer it in a particular direction. An ox that wouldn’t respond to the prompting of the ox goad was called “stiff-necked.”
God never wastes words and is always pinpoint accurate with what He says. The children of Israel were definitely “stiff-necked” as God described; they refused to be led by God. Despite the spiritual prodding of Moses, everyone turned to their own way.
Moses was tired, disappointed, and overworked. The people were a beastly bunch to lead. Moses was also very aware of his own deficiencies, realizing that sometimes he could be as stubborn as the people he led. But most importantly, Moses recognized that just as oxen wander aimlessly without their farmer, so would Israel be lost without their God. He pleaded with God saying, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here” (Exodus 33:15).
This may be one of the most poignant prayers in all of scripture. If God’s presence doesn’t go with us, we’re lost and our efforts are futile. All of our work, ministry, and creativity is hollow without God's presence. This prayer of Moses should be our daily petition. Each of us experience moments of stiff-neckedness (yes, I just invented a new word…my apologies to the theologians). Whether leading others or carefully guarding our own souls, we need to cultivate a deep desire for and sensitivity to the presence of God.
As worshippers, it is both our burden and privilege to teach others the value of God’s presence and how to draw closer to Him.
The only cure for a “stiff neck” is to cry out for the presence of God.
Listen to “Pour Us Out” from our Find Rest EP.
How often do you stop to ask God for His presence in your life?