Issue No. 30 25 - 31 July 2011

The Stiff-neck Syndrome

Mickey Chiang

There is an expression used by God that may seem a little difficult to understand. It is the expression, “stiff-necked”. The first time it appears in the Bible is in Exodus 32:9. The background to this verse is as follows. Moses had just come down from Mount Sinai only to find the Israelites praying to an idol made in the form of a golden calf. Now, I have heard several pastors and preachers say over the pulpit that the golden calf was not really an idol, but was just a pedestal for God. I guess they must have somehow missed reading Exodus 32:1, which says, “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us’.” Aaron then asked the Israelites for the gold earrings their wives and children wore. “He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool” (Ex 32:4). Is there any room for doubt that what Aaron made was in fact an idol?

God had no doubt that it was an idol. He had seen what the Israelites had done and said to Moses on Mount Sinai: “They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt’.” (Ex 32:8) Then God said, “I have seen these people and they are a stiff-necked people” (Ex 32:9).

What is meant by “stiff-necked people”? Had the Israelites, over two million of them, developed stiff necks from sleeping in the cold night air? Was it a condition requiring medical attention or physiotherapy? Or was it something else, requiring a spiritual solution? Let’s see. God used his special term, “stiff-necked”, on the Israelites three times in Exodus 32 and 33 while talking to Moses. Hey, so Moses must have caught God’s meaning, right? How Moses reacted might give us a clue to the meaning.

Ex 34:8 records that “Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshipped. ‘O Lord… Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance’.” Does this give us one, or two, explanations of the term “stiff-necked”?

Well, Moses bowed to the ground. Doesn’t that mean that he bowed from the waist, and presumably, bowed his neck as well to the ground? So his neck was not held stiffly but was flexed? In other words, Moses humbled himself completely before God. The Israelites had similarly bowed down to the idol of the golden calf as we saw in Ex 32:8. Could it be, however, that when they prayed to God they did not bow their heads but held their heads on stiff necks, stubbornly refusing to humble themselves and submit to the will of God? Was that why God reminded Israel in Ex 34:14, “Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God”? Nowadays, during congregational or corporate prayer in evangelical churches, many people merely bow a few degrees at the waist with the neck held almost erect. Some bow slightly at the neck but not at the waist. Are we becoming a stiff-necked people, unwilling to bow sincerely in humble submission to God?

The other point arising from Ex 34:8 is that the Stiff-neck Syndrome is associated with wickedness and sin. Wickedness, as we can see from Genesis 6:5 is associated with doing and thinking evil in defiance of God’s commandments. When we are defiant, don’t we hold our necks stiffly erect, defiantly erect? The phrase “stiff-neck” is also associated with arrogance towards God. Nehemiah confessed to God, “But they, our forefathers, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey your commands” (Nehemiah 9:16). Arrogance and disobedience to God’s commands are also symptoms of the Stiff-necked Syndrome.

God, of course, looks not just at the angle at which we bend our waist and neck when we pray to Him or how stiff our necks are, all of which may be indicators of our attitude towards Him. Most importantly, He looks into our hearts and sees how humble, sincere, and obedient, or how wicked, rebellious, defiant, and arrogant we really are. Let us always approach our God with humility and due respect and examine ourselves for any signs of the Stiff-necked Syndrome.

Book Corner

Old Testament EthicsOld Testament Ethics for the People of God
Christopher J H Wright, IVP 2010
Now in paperback!

Retail Price: $33.85
Book Club Member Price: $28.80
Student Price: $25.40

Some Christians distinguish the moral laws in the Old Testament (which must be obeyed) from the ceremonial and civil laws (which may be disregarded). Others prefer a strictly New Testament ethic. Neither option, argues Chris Wright, does justice to the Old Testament as an essential part of our Bible.
In this lively and readable approach, he develops a comprehensive alternative. First, he proposes a theological, social and economic framework for Old Testament ethics. Then, in relation to contemporary issues, he explores a variety of themes: economics, the land and the poor; ecology and the earth; politics and the world of nations; law and justice; society, culture and the family; the way of the individual.
Since its first appearance in 1983, Chris Wright's 'Living as the People of God' has been widely appreciated. Now fully revised, updated and restructured, it incorporates material from the author's 'Walking in the Ways of the Lord', together with new surveys of historical and contemporary scholarly approaches to Christian ethical use of the Old Testament. This fresh and accessible study will appeal to non-specialists, while the greatly expanded bibliographies will make it a useful resource for students.
Discovering our spiritual identityDiscovering our Spiritual Identity
Trevor Hudson, IVP 2010

Retail Price: $21.40
Book Club Member Price: $18.20
Student Price: $16.05

Each chapter in this workbook by Trevor Hudson is peppered with "holy experiments," simple practices that bring us into God's presence and help us experience life as his beloved. At the end of each chapter is a set of questions which are ideal for discussion with one or two spiritual friends or a small group.  

This practical and winsome book covers topics such as

  • hearing and speaking with God
  • growing in spiritual friendship
  • practicing stewardship of our work and play
  • learning discernment
  • approaching our death and the world beyond
  • living now in the kingdom of God
Coming Event
3rd annual conference
Read More ...
Chapel News
Mr Yap Kim Meng, Director of Missions, The Navigators (S) will be speaking in our chapel on 3 August 2011. Chapel begins at 12 pm. You are welcome to join us.
Courses Commencing in Term 1 & 2, 2011-2012

Christian Biography
(AT151, 1.5cr);
Oct 7, 14, 21, 28, Nov 4; 7.15-10.15pm
Venue: Zion Bishan BP Church
Lecturer: Dr David Wong

Marketplace Theology
(MM255, 1.5cr);
(Group Tutorial) by Prof Paul Stevens / Tutor: Mr Ben Pwee;
Oct 20, 27; 7.15-9.45pm;
Venue: Clarus Centre

New Testament Foundations I
(NT101, 3cr);
Aug 16, 23, Sep 6, 13, 20, Oct 11, 18, 25, Nov 1, 8, 15, 22; 7.15-9.50pm;
Venue: Thomson Rd Baptist Church
Lecturer: Mr Quek Tze-Ming (PhD candidate, Uni of Cambridge)

Understanding Galatians
(NT312, 1.5cr);
Aug 5, 12, 19, 26, Sep 2; 7.15-10.15pm
Venue: Clarus Centre
Lecturer: Dr Oh Boon Leong

Old Testament Foundations I
(OT101, 3cr);
Aug 5, 12, 19, 26, Sep 2, 9, 16, Oct 7, 14, 21, 28, Nov 4; 7.15-9.50pm
Venue: Prinsep St Presbyterian Church
Lecturer: Dr Andrew Lee

Children’s Spirituality & Ministry Formation (ECF502, 3cr);
Aug 16, 23, Sep 6, 13, 20, Oct 11, 18, 25, Nov 8, 15; 7.15-10.15pm
Venue: Clarus Centre
Lecturer: Dr Ng Peh Cheng

*Scripture Recitation & Story Telling (ECF514, 1.5cr);
Oct 7, 14, 21, 28, Nov 4; 7.15-10.15pm
Venue: Clarus Centre
Lecturer: Rev Ng Seng Chuan

Spiritual Retreat Experience: Nature, Purpose, Dynamics
(ECF504, 3cr);
Oct 18, 25, Nov 1, 8, 15, 7.15-9.45pm;
Venue: Telok Ayer CMC
Lecturer: Mr John Chong Ser Choon;
Residential Retreat Nov 17-20 (Additional Cost)

Theological Foundations I (TS211, 3cr);
Zion Bishan BP Church: Aug 25, Sep 1, 8,
Clarus Centre: 15, 22, Oct 13, 20, 27, Nov 3, 10, 17, 24;
Lecturer: Dr Edwin Tay

The Roots of Christianity: The Wisdom of the Church Fathers for the 21st Century (CH260/TS281, 3cr);
Zion Bishan BP Church: Sep 12, 19,
Clarus Centre: Oct 10, 17, 24, 31, Nov 14, 21, 28, Dec 5, 12, 19;
7.15- 9.50pm;
Lecturer: Dr Lai Pak Wah

Courses marked with an asterisk are not offered on audit basis.

The course schedule for Semester I, year 2011-2012 is now available. For more information, please visit our website: http://bgst.edu.sg/courses-and-events

TENT 2011 Modules
Tentmakers Equipping 'N' Training

Religions of Asia
Tues. Aug 2, 16 & 23; 2011 (7.20-10.00pm)
Facilitator: Dr Jeanette Hui

Personal Ministry Skills: Practical Considerations for a Tentmaker’s Ministry
Tues. Sept 6, 13 & 20; 2011 (7.20-10.00pm)
Facilitator: Mr Toh Kai Hua

Tentmakers & Ethical Issues
Sat. Oct 8 & 15; 2011 (9.30-11.30am; 12.00-2.00pm)
Facilitator: A Former Singaporean Tentmaker

Coping with Stress
Tues. Oct 11, 18 & 25; 2011 (7.20-10.00pm)
Facilitator: Mr Yam Keng Mun


All TENT courses will be held at 37 Jalan Pemimpin, #06-05 Blk B Clarus Centre (former Union Industrial Building)

For more information on TENT courses, please visit our website: http://www.bgst.edu.sg/courses-and-events/tent

Church-Based Lay Training Modules
2011 Modules offered at
Yishun Christian Church (Anglican)

The Message of the Song of Songs
Wed. Sep 7, 14, 21, 28 (7.30-9.30pm)
Lecturer: Dr Philip Satterthwaite

2011 Modules offered at
Mt Carmel Bible-Presbyterian Church

Beginnings: Opening the Gospels
Thu. Sep 1, 8, 15, 22 (7.30-9.30pm)
Lecturer: Mr Quek Tze-Ming

For details about the modules & registrations, please visit:
or contact
 Biblical Graduate School of Theology
Tel: 6227 6815 Fax: 6255 3686

Email: cblt-ycca@bgst.edu.sg (Yishun Christian Church)
cblt-mcbpc@bgst.edu.sg (Mt Carmel BP Church)

37 Jalan Pemimpin, #06-05 Block B, Clarus Centre, S(577177).
Tel: 6227-6815 Fax: 6255-3686 Email: bgst@pacific.net.sg
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