The Bible as Literature: The Stiff Necked Israelites

The Lord set the Israelites out as his people apart as a people special and apart from the nations among which they lived. However the Israelites were not so easily convinced, and demonstrated again and again how they were indeed ‘a stiff necked people’. Their behavior reminds us of an indignant young toddler who just will not listen and believe when we say that something is bad for him. Just as you would punish a young toddler to keep him safe from harm, perhaps from burning his hand upon a hot stove, the Lord punished his people and tried to reason with them through signs, miracles and plague.

The Israelites drug their feet when it came to establishing faith in their God and proving righteous to him because they simply lacked faith in Him. The people were a shortsighted people concerned only with their immediate well being and what it was that they might see immediately before them. When in Egypt under slavery they were upset with their being enslaved, however when freed by the Lord through the hand of Moses they complain about being rescued just to die in the wilderness and they would have been better off left as slaves in Egypt.

The Israelites lack of faith causes the Lord to perform signs and miracles to give evidence as to his divine being and his right to rule them. They serve as reminders to the Israelites as to his power and the fact that they should obey Him as His chosen people.

First, in Exodus chapter 14, we see how the Israelites fear the Egyptians who are pursuing them. The Lord then performs the miracle of parting the Red Sea through the hand of Moses. The Israelites faith soars as they cross the Red Sea on dry land. Even the Egyptians acknowledged the God was fighting for the Israelites. God even goes to the extent of allowing the Israelites to watch as the entire Egyptian army is swallowed whole by the torrent waters. With such a powerful God supporting them surely they would be confident that everything would go well with them, right? No. Their faith is faint and short lived.

Next, we see the Israelites begin to grumble about being hungry. Their words at Exodus 16:3 remind one of children whining to a mother that they are going to ‘starve to death’ because they are so hungry after missing breakfast. So the Lord performs another faith building miracle and causes it to rain bread (manna) from heaven for them to eat. They are instructed to only collect what they can eat each in a day. However the simple minded Israelites hoard large amounts of manna indicating a lack of faith as to whether or not they would indeed be feed again the next day. Once more the Lord goes to a great extent performing a miracle and the Israelites show their reluctance to obey as his people should.

The Israelites were also given the Ten Commandments through Moses and the tablets of stone written by the hand of God. They see Moses and his white face and are fearful of it, and that God might talk to them and they’d die. However, not long after acknowledging his mighty power in this manner they turn against him and convince Aaron to create a golden calf and other molten images to as gods that they may worship by praising it for delivering them out of Egypt. The commandments given to the people had instructed them that they were to have ONE god, and that they must not make gods of their own. This act on Aaron’s part of the people was of blatant disobedience to the Lord and his commandments. 3,000 people die as a result of their disobedience.

The Israelites now come upon the promised land of milk and honey in which they were to dwell, and the Lord knowing his people and their doubting nature has Moses send 12 men to spy out the land. They see a beautiful land, but true to the nature of their people, they tell the assembly that its inhabitants are big and strong and that they would certainly be killed if they try to take it. Again this pitiful people laments that they would be better off in Egypt. Only two spies trust in the Lord and reassure them that the Lord is with them as they are his people, and that they can take the land as it has been promised to them. This reluctance by the people to accept the ‘promised’ land is the final straw for the Lord and he curses them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. Not a single person who doubted or anyone above the age of 20 will enter the land because they had seen all that He had done for them and yet did not trust. Only Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who believed in the Lord and his ability to deliver as he promised his people, would be allowed be allowed to enter from that generation.

It is from this point forward in the story, as the Israelites wander the wilderness, that we finally see their faith find a more firm resolve. With stories of the flowering rod, the copper snake, and the nation’s crossing of the Jordan River, we see the Lord continues to provide signs of his divine appointment of leaders such as Moses, Aaron and Joshua.

Finally the Israelites are a people who are worthy of being the chosen ones, and are ready to accept the promised land. The entire previous generation of doubtful ones have passed, and they stand poised to take land of Canaan as their own. Here the storyteller walks us through the ingenious taking of Jericho using scare tactics with pottery and horns, and the battle in which Joshua, with great faith, calls upon the sun to stand still and the Lord causes it to do so with a complimentary hailstorm to aid Joshua’s men.

In this series of scenes from the Bible we see the Israelites progress from ‘stiff-necked’ people with uncertain hearts and hard heads to a chosen people with faith in the Lord and those who he has direct his people. It was with a little divine sweat and numerous dramatic, unparalleled miracles that their hearts and faith was finally won over. However, let’s see how long that lasts!


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