Monday, March 8, 2021

Stiff Necked

Stiff-necked.  It is a Biblical term used for the people of Israel in the Book of Exodus.  The term means stubborn, prone to error and obstinate.  It is highlighted in our story of the golden calf from Exodus 32 and appears eighteen times in Exodus.

The story of the golden calf is a tale we tend to view as one of those "we would never do that" events.  We marvel at how quickly the Hebrews turned away from God's plan.  We recoil at how people dismissed God's servant Moses.  We scoff at how faithless these people were when they substituted the golden calf for the God that "led the people out of Egypt."  But as I look around, I see a lot of golden calves, gladly embraced by people who should know better.  So ... let's see what we can learn from Exodus 32.

The first problems happen quickly.  "When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron ... "Come on" they said "make us some gods who can lead us.  We don't know what happened to that fellow Moses who brought us here from the land of Egypt (Exodus 32:1)."  One verse, several decisions, total calamity!

Impatience set in quickly.  The Hebrews saw Moses was taking some time to return.  They 'gathered around' Aaron.  Have you ever had one of those meetings?  Impatient people want to make a decision, take matters into their hands.  They feed upon each other's anxiety, and ill-conceived ideas are born.  There's a lot of that happening today.  People on all sides of our collective problems are filled with angry, knee-jerk solutions which take us down some hard roads.  Is it an accident that God's word says ... "the fruit of the Spirit is patience?" God and God's plan isn't in the plans of the Hebrews of Exodus 32.

Fear grips people who dismiss God's leadership.  They fear Moses won't return.  Some may want to take over, and they may fear Moses' return.  We have lots of fear going around today.  Some fear the virus.  Some fear being told what to do.  Some fear our leadership.  Some fear the past leadership.  Some fear loss of control.  Some fear lack of guidance.  I have never seen such fears grip people, especially people who claim they aren't fearful.  I wonder if we have forgotten that fear is driven out by perfect love ... love of God's plan, love of God's people, love of the world God loved and love as our main motive (if we are true to our Wesleyan roots)?  Again, love is Spirit-fruit in a world that seems fruitless.

Idolatry is the third problem in Exodus 32:1.  They want a new god.  They want a god they can control.  They even (in verse 4) acknowledge that their golden calf is "the god who brought them out of Egypt!"  WOW!  How quickly they fell.  How quickly their mantra went from "I Surrender All" to "I Did It My Way!"

But before we look down on these wayward Hebrews, I would like you to consider two things.  The first is this.  We live in a time of golden calves.  God willingly and ably offers to lead us, but people tell me ... "That doesn't work in the real world."  God doesn't move quickly enough.  God is somewhere on the mountain and we need a leader now.  So we make golden calves, fashioned out of our biases, our petty definitions of strength and our desire to control things.  We build our gods big and strong, arrogant and haughty, not taking anything off anyone and never compromising!  Money, politics, power, stuff, people and fear all become our golden calves.  They are fashioned by us, so we love them, follow them and hold tightly to them when we are impatient and fearful.  The old song said, "All the people bowed and prayed ... to the neon god they made."

The second thing is to examine the term "stiff-necked."  It relates to a heavy yoke placed on an ox to control it.  The ox's neck must become rigid and stiff to carry the weight of the yoke.  The irony here is that the heavy yoke is placed by the people for failing to follow God and choosing to go their own way.  Being in charge of the world is a heavy yoke to bear.  It is why, I believe, that Jesus told these same "stiff-necked" folks 1,450 or so years later ... "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:29)."

Which of these yokes do you want to bear?  Randy

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