The Sin of Stubbornness

By Norman E. Fultz

Now whoever thought of stubbornness as a sin? “Preacher, where did you ever come up with that idea?”, you may be asking. Well, basically from one Old Testament passage which we will consider later:

The word “stubborn” takes on a vividness when broken down. The root “stub” can be defined as “the stump of a tree, the short blunt part of anything after the large part has been broken off or used up.” Picture the stiffness, rigidity or hardness of the stub of a weed which the mower has clipped near the ground. Contrast that stiffness with the former flexibility of the weed as it would sway gracefully in the wind. The idea of “stubborn” thus becomes “fixed, resolute, or unyielding; especially, obstinate . . . difficult to handle, manage or treat; refractory” (Webster).

The word “stubborn” appears five times and the word “stubbornness” twice in the King James version of the Bible. A study of the passages can teach us a great deal about the – shall we call it a malady, an attitude?

1 The Bible uses of the term show it identified with an attitude of rebellion. In Deut. 9:27, Moses pled for God to remember Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and “look not unto the stubbornness of this people, nor to their wickedness, nor to their sin.” Read the entire ninth chapter, and note: “ye have been rebellious” (vs. 7, 24) and, “thou are (it is) a stiffnecked people” (vs. 6, 13). The Psalmist (78:8) called Israel “a stubborn and rebellious generation” because their heart was not set on God’s service. That same relation between stubbornness and rebellion is seen in the case of the uncontrollable son (Deut. 21:18-20).

In Judges 2:19, it is connected with self-seeking – “they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way.” A lack of faithfulness in marriage and playing the part of a harlot led Solomon to call the evil woman of Proverbs (7:6-23) “loud and stubborn.”

But the example of King Saul (1 Sam. 15) is verily a study of stubbornness. Samuel calls Saul’s behavior “rebellion” and shows it to be- the result of “stubbornness.” Read the chapter and let’s consider Saul’s problem.

He had “grown up” in his own estimation – no longer little in his own sight (v. 17). Quite a change had come over him since the time of his anointing (9:21). On another occasion, he had “done foolishly” and “not kept the commandment of the Lord” (1 Sam. 13:8-13). Peace offerings were to be offered at the door of the tabernacle (Lev. 17:1-6). Saul’s power had gone to his head. How often in our day do we see those who cannot become prosperous or powerful without losing their humility and submissiveness?

Saul elevated his-own thoughts over God’s instruction. God said, “utterly destroy.” Saul thought the best of the spoil should be saved (v. 19) and the vile and,- refuse destroyed (v. 9). What he thought to be good was in fact evil; because it was disobedience: He had riot learned that God’s thoughts and man’s thoughts are- often greatly divergent ,Isa. 53:8-9). What of those today who seek to improve upon what God has revealed regarding worship or .the organization and work of the church?

The king sought to justify himself and blame others for his disobedience (v. 20-21). He had understood his mission, for he admitted the spoil “should have been destroyed.”He blamed the people and tried to rationalize their motive -they only did it “to sacrifice to the Lord thy God.” But he learned that partial obedience is disobedience (v. 11, 22) and that he, himself, was guilty.

Samuel’s rebuke of Saul is stern and pointed. “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?” God does not require obedience to one commandment to the point of another being violated. God required sacrifices, but not of the Amalekite spoils – it was to be destroyed. God requires Christians to give (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 8-9), but not to the point that they engage in dishonest effort in order to give, or to give more. “It is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not” (2 Cor. 8:12). Basically, what Samuel is saying to Saul is that God grades “A” for obedience – “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (cf. Ex. 19:5; Hos. 6:6). Samuel likens Saul’s rebellion unto witchcraft or divination, a practice definitely prohibited in Israel (Deut. 18:10). His “stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry,” also disdainful to God (Ex. 20:3-5).

The results of Saul’s stubbornness are far-reaching. The kingdom is taken from him; and Samuel, the seer, departs permanently from him (v. 23, 35). The light he refused is darkened, and the voice he rejected is silenced. Even though Saul confessed his sin and worshiped God (v. 24-31), the effects of his sin were permanent – “The Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day . . . the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent” (v. 27, 29). Many moderns need also to learn the devastating and far reaching effects of their sin, and that though sin may be repented of, the effects may remain. As an instance, the alcoholic who gets “on the wagon” may have permanently impaired his health and wrecked his family.

Now, if it be argued that stubbornness is itself not a sin, only that attitude which may lead to sin, I answer – “a mere technicality!” Look at its company: rebellion, self exaltation, lack of submissiveness, witchcraft, idolatry and iniquity.

The child of God must guard against stubbornness in his own life in all his relationships, and the Christian parent is challenged to do all within his power to keep his child from developing a stubborn will.

Truth Magazine XXIII: 33, p. 530
August 23, 1979