A while back I was suffering from one of those painful stiff necks that sends a shooting pain down your body every time you bend or move in the wrong direction. At the same time hurricane Ike was working its way up the state of Texas. Our East Texas home was in the direct line, so we experienced the tropical force winds over the course of 2 days. Now our property is covered with trees hundreds of feet tall. They tower over our home and the surrounding land. I have been known to sit for hours on our back deck and enjoy the effects of a windy day; listening to the sound of the leaves and watching the branches sway back and forth. However, the ‘breeze’ this day was something I had never seen before. This time, there was no rustling or swaying…but roaring and bending. I watched in amazement as these magnificent trees bent almost in half without breaking. And as one gust would end and another would come up, the trees would bend and straighten again and again without a single branch snapping off. I watched most of the first day with expectation and some fear of that moment when a gust of wind would be too much and one of those tall trees would snap and crash to the ground, possibly into our home. Eventually I began to relax and enjoy the ‘ballet’ of wind and trees. I marveled at how God had created these trees with bending in mind. On most days, when the winds are still, those trees tower over the land, looking strong and immovable; but when the strong winds come, their flexible nature is revealed and it is a beautiful thing to watch.
I couldn’t help but compare all of this to the stiff neck I was struggling with that very same weekend. While those trees bent without pain in response to the wind, I could not bend without pain. And then God spoke to my heart and reminded me that I was created to bend like the trees if I would just stop being stiff necked and respond to the ‘wind’ of the Holy Spirit.
You stiff-necked people!......You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!
In this verse, Stephen is rebuking the Sanhedrin, the supreme council of the Jewish nation, for being blind to the prophecy of Christ and not seeing Him for who He is. He calls them stiff-necked and compares them to their ancestors of the Old Testament.
And those ancestors were called stiff-necked many times.
Exodus 32:9 Exodus 34:9 Exodus 33:3,5
Deuteronomy 9:6, 13
In each of these verses, the word stiff-necked is derived from two words in Hebrew. One is to be obstinate and stubborn, implying rebellion and the other means to be hard, harsh or difficult.
One commentary I read compared this stiff-neck to be like unresponsive oxen or horses.
As I considered all of this and asked God to show me what I needed to hear from this word, I couldn’t help but think about that unresponsive ox! The yoke is on his neck and his master is pulling the reigns of that yoke to give him direction; direction that will cause the work of the day to be done. If the ox does not respond, the work is not done. And think about the work a yoked ox typically does…plowing a field to make it ready for planting and harvesting.
Oh my…what a thought. God is calling us to do His work but how often are we stiff-necked. We are called by God to help prepare, plant and bring in the harvest of His fruits, but if we are stubborn or obstinate we are not responding to his leading. The Hebrew word used for stiff-necked said it also implies rebellion. Now, I don’t know about you, but I have never really considered myself a rebellious person. A little stubborn and difficult at times, but not rebellious. When I think of a rebel…I think of skull and cross bone tattoos, street fighting and even prison bars. But God was showing me here that in my stubbornness, I am a rebel; rebelling against the leading of God. As ugly as it may feel to me, I must consider this revelation for myself. And my rebellion is like an ox who deters the progress that needs to be made for the harvest by being unresponsive to the leading of my master.
In fact, Stephen speaks of this when he says in Acts “You always resist the Holy Spirit!”
Stephen may have been addressing a specific group of people about a specific situation in this verse, but there is a word in here for us too. God does not look favorably upon stiff-necked behavior. We saw that in how God spoke in the Old Testament verses listed earlier. In fact in those verses, Moses pleaded on behalf of the stiff-necked people for them to be spared the wrath God had for them.
Today, we have Jesus Christ speaking on our behalf. Today we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit for us to hear for guidance. We are simply called to respond.
And like a stiff neck, when our body does not respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit we can experience pain as a result. God desires us to grow in response to His leading, so our stiff necked rebellion can lead to consequences that are painful. But because He is a loving and gracious God, if we return to His leading and respond to the moving of the Holy Spirit, our pain is eased and the bending of our will to His is rewarded with His peace and His joy.
God Bless and Keep You,