“For they are impudent children and stiffhearted…” (Ezekiel 2:4)
No doubt, the case could be made that the former is a result of the latter; and indeed, when Exodus 32:9 speaks of people who are “stiffnecked” it’s the same bunch. Both passages refer to the nation of Israel, as you know; but I see a distinction between the two maladies. I also see the same proclivity in you and me. Old Testament stories are essentially a history of the nation of Israel, and by extension, our own redemptive history, but they also provide a mirror for us. As 1 Corinthians 10:11 points out, they are examples and admonitions to us, who harbor the same inclinations; and are, therefore, subject to the same foolish actions. And both of these mentioned are just as unacceptable now as they were then.
How then do they differ?
In the first place, a stiff neck is more easily seen. Stubborn, implacable individuals are obvious rebels. These are the people who can always be counted upon to voice resistance, even before an objective hearing on any matter. Probably because it was not their idea; or maybe because they feel even unfavorable attention is better than no attention at all. Whatever the reason, they are hard to work with, hard to serve God with, and harder still to live with.
But even more dangerous, I would contend, is the man or woman who stiffens his or her heart to a plea for mercy or understanding from a Christian brother or sister, or worse yet, a loved one. I realize this is true no matter who the seeker may be; and I also realize some pleas may be insincere or ineligible, for one reason or another. But to ignore or disdain such pleas, out of hand, and especially from someone bound to us spiritually or physically, is hard to excuse. I wonder if such individuals realize the very stiff-heartedness they show to those around them, is there, too, when the sweet Holy Spirit appeals to them?
A stiff neck is external, and though painful, can be worked out. But, a stiff heart—spiritual arteriosclerosis, if you please—is internal, and requires major surgery by a “heart specialist.” If you or I have succumbed to either malady—a stiff-neck or a stiff heart, we should see a physician. I know a good One.
A stiff neck (or a stiff heart) will never bow to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.