STUBBORNNESS

“Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him.” – John 12:37 (NIV)

INTRODUCTION

It is one thing not to believe in God; it is another to be so set in one’s unbelief that one is not set even open to anything that might change one’s mind.  The Bible holds out God’s wish that all people will turn to Him – 2 Peter 3:9, but it also recognizes that some – the “stubborn,” – never will.  How are people stubborn toward God?  What does God do about it?  What does this tell us about our relationship with God?

EXAMPLES OF STUBBORN PEOPLE IN THE BIBLE

Many individuals and people in the Bible are described as “stubborn,” but three in particular stand out: 

(1) the king of Egypt during the Exodus; 

(2) the people of Israel throughout their history; and 

(3) the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.  

Each, because of impenitence and hardened hearts, bitterly rejected the constant appeals from God to alter their lives’ paths.

The stubborn have always manifested the same characteristics throughout the ages.  When engaged in evil, they persist in it, refusing to change.  Isaiah tells of their rigidity: “Your neck was like an iron muscle and your head was like bronze” – Isaiah 48:4. Jeremiah condemns their unchangeability this way: Can a leopard change his spots? In the same way, Jerusalem, you cannot change and do good, because you are accustomed to do evil” – 13:23.  The Bible warns us against becoming “hardened” like the stubborn – Hebrews 3:8-15.  The King of Egypt consistently refused to let the people of Israel go – Exodus 4:21. Even when he gave in because of the troubling plagues, he would change his mind and deny their freedom as soon as the plague was lifted – (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:35; 10:20, 27).  Ironically, the people of Israel, in a similar way, would routinely fall into evil once God gave them rest from their enemies – Judges 2:19.  The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were no different, stubbornly refusing at all costs to believe in Jesus – John 5:39-40, insisting that others disbelieve Him, too – John 9:24.  I dare say we too are not different.  How often do we knowingly persist in doing things we know God does not like?

IGNORING THE VOICE OF GOD

The stubborn also routinely ignore the voice of God.  “They tell seers, ‘Don’t see any more visions!  They say to the prophets, ‘Don’t tell us the truth!  Say things that will make us feel good…. Stop telling us about God, the Holy One of Israel’” – Isaiah 30:10-11.   They have a spiritual dullness to them: “They have eyes to see, but they do not see, and they have ears to hear, but they do not hear, because they are a people who refuse to obey” – Ezekiel 12:2 see Matthew 13:13-15.  Not surprisingly, God’s attempts to discipline and correct such people are fruitless – Proverbs 1:22-32; Jeremiah 17:23; Amos 4:6-11.

Amazingly, the stubborn continue in their unbelief even when confronted by displays of God’s power.  Miraculous signs can encourage the small in faith – Genesis 15:8-17; Judges 6:17-24, but they do nothing for the stubborn – Matthew 12:20-24.  It is for this reason that Jesus refused to perform token miracles to satisfy their skepticism – Matthew 12:38; 16:4; see 27:42. The miracles of the Exodus apparently made no long-lasting impact on either the king of Egypt – Exodus 7:3; 10:1; 11:10 or the people of Israel – Nehemiah 9:16-17.  The Pharisees saw the miracles that Jesus performed – John 10:25-26; 12:37, but were so committed to opposing Him that they blasphemously attributed the Holy Spirit’s power to Satan – Mark 3:30.

GOD AND HARDENED UNBELIEF

How does God respond to hardened unbelief?  The Bible presents a multifaceted picture.  • Sometimes it emphasizes God’s anger – Deuteronomy 9:7; Zechariah 7:12; • Sometimes His sadness and compassion – Nehemiah 9:17, 28; Romans 2:4.  • Interestingly, in Jesus, we see both anger and sadness – Matthew 12:39, Mark 3:5; Luke 13:34.  • Sometimes God simply allows the stubborn to take their own course – Romans 1:24; 11:32; • At other times, He intervenes and renews stubborn hearts – Ezekiel 11:9; 36:26-27.  • Sometimes His punishment is for discipline and correction – Nehemiah 9:29-31; Proverbs 1:29-33; • At other times, it is final – Psalm 95:10; 2 Kings 17:14-18; Jeremiah 19:15; Romans 2:5.

In short, God’s response depends on what His purposes are.  It is important to remember that, while humans are responsible and blameworthy for their own stubbornness, God is still in control of their hearts.  He is able to use their unbelief for His own good purposes – Romans 9:18. God’s control over human stubbornness means that we may trust that God can always bring good out of the impenitence of the stubborn.  It also means we may take comfort that there is always hope, as we pray often, that God can change unyielding hearts.

What is your heart like?  Hard or Soft?  Accept God’s offer in Ezekiel 36:26 -27 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. “

NEARER MY GOD TO THEE – MHB 468

1 Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee! 

E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me, 

Till all my song shall be, 

Nearer, my God, to thee; 

Nearer to thee! 

2 Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down, 

Darkness be over me, my rest a stone; 

Yet in my dreams I’d be 

Nearer, my God, to thee; 

Nearer to thee! 

3 There let the way appear, steps unto heaven; 

All that thou sendest me, in mercy given; 

Angels to beckon me 

Nearer, my God, to thee; 

Nearer to thee! 

4 Then, with my waking thoughts bright with thy praise, 

Out of my stony griefs Bethel I’ll raise; 

So by my woes to be 

Nearer, my God, to thee; 

Nearer to thee!

Sarah Flower Adams, 1805 – 1848

Stay Blessed!

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