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Being Stiff-necked

Read: Exodus 32:9

The book of Exodus presents us with a case study of the character of the people of Israel.  In chapter 32:9 we read of a virtue test performed by God, which results in one main vice: being ‘stiff-necked’ (see also 33:3 and 34:9).

But what does this mean and how does it relate to character?

The term ‘stiff-necked’ (in Hebrew: qasheh’) means ‘resistant to pressure’.  In the case of Israel, what we see is that they were resistant to positive pressures to nourish the virtues of faith and obedience. We have many examples of these positive ‘pressures’:  miracles, punishment, judgement on Pharaoh….  all of these were meant to shape their character. But it was not so.  The story of the Old Testament is marked by their resistance which left them faithless and disobedient. 

Search other texts in Exodus and find answers to the following questions:

  1. What were the factors that negatively influenced the character of Israel and kept them from developing the virtues of faith and obedience?  Find them in these episodes: 13:17, 14:11, 14:12, 15.24, 16.2, 17.3, 16.20,27, 32.8.
  2. Were the Israelites always stiff-necked? Read: 19.8, 24.3,7, 14.31.  What do these episodes say about inconstancy and how it relates to being stiff-necked?
  3. In the overall story of Exodus, can you see God’s grace at work as he deals with this character flaw in Israel?

Now think of your own life. What positive pressures has God put on your life to change your character and nourish virtue?  How and why do you resist them? What is, instead, the appropriate response?


A prayer: Lord, I recognise in myself the tendency to be stiff-necked and to not change.  Give me the grace of being responsive to your call to virtue and constant in my commitment to it.

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