By Joe Neil Clayton
Chosen But Stiffnecked
When Stephen told the Jews of his day that they were “stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears” (Acts 7:51), he was not saying anything new! God had perceived early that this was the perennial condition of His “chosen” people. Only a few days after God had spoken in thunderous tones from the top of Sinai, and had warned His people, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me . . . Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image” (Exod. 20:3-4), they had made a golden calf to worship. God said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people” (Exod. 32:9). He wanted to destroy them right there, but Moses interceded. God placed conditions, however, on the staying of His wrath. They were to put away their ornaments as an act of submission to God (Exod. 33:1-6).
When Moses returned to the mountain with the second set of stone tables, God demonstrated and proclaimed His character before Moses. He declared himself to be both merciful and just, forgiving and condemning. But, Moses worshiped Him and boldly asked that He go “in the midst” of them, even though they were stiffnecked, and in need of constant forgiveness (Exod. 34:1-9). God consented and made a covenant with Israel, requiring them to reject and destroy idolatry in their midst (Exod. 34:10-17).
God once more was roused to such wrath that he threatened to destroy Israel, when they refused to go into Canaan (Num. 13:1-14:35). He forgave them generously, again, but when they came to the point of entering Canaan after 40 punishing years of God’s wrath, that purged multitude was warned against thinking they deserved to have the land. God said, “Hear, O Israel, thou art to pass over the Jordan this day, to . . . disposess nations greater and mightier than thyself . . . Speak not thou in thy heart . . . saying, For my righteousness Jehovah has brought me in to possess this land . . . Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thy heart, dost thou go in to possess their land; but for the wickedness of these nations Jehovah thy God doth drive them out . . . for thou art a stiffnecked people . . .” (Deut. 9:1-7). So, God would not tell the remnant that they were blessed, even though they were certainly purged of hundreds of thousands of the wicked rebels of the past. The prophet Moses warned them that God would choose another nation and people to repay them for their provocations (Deut. 32:21).
Throughout the remainder of the history of God’s relations with the children of Israel, He published clues to His policy of the future. He urged them to look for a day, called “Today,” an opportunity to hear his voice again, and warned them to resist the hardening of their hearts, such as characterized their fathers (Psalm 95:7-11, Heb. 3:7-4:13). He also predicted the change of the covenant, so as to include in it only those who would keep His law in their hearts (Jer. 31:31-34). He would even identify the Gentiles as the “people” to whom he would turn when he could no longer bear the rebellion of the Jews (Isa. 65:1-7). In fact, the work of the longed-for Messiah would be to also save the Gentiles (Isa. 42:1-4, 49:5-6).
When God came to the day that He no longer followed a policy of being a national God to Israel, He accepted into His kingdom only the cream of the crop. In His “nation” there would no longer be only a minority of “heart circumcised” people. Rather, He would win them first to this standard of character before He included them in His fold. It would be learned first by Peter that “in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:35). God sought men who were “ordained to eternal life” (Acts 13:48). They would be those who were susceptible to the “election of grace,” whether Jew or Gentile (Rom. 11:1-7). Finally, they would be those who believed and confessed and called upon God (Rom. 10:913).
Now, does God say He will retain in His favor those who are faithless or disloyal? No. He rejected the nation of Israel because of their unfaithfulness, but he warns those Gentiles who have taken their place that they must retain it by faith (Rom. 11:11-24). So, God now deals with individuals, instead of nations. His standard is such as will include every soul that submits faithfully to His will. He will no longer bear the stiffnecked in His chosen people. The opportunity for salvation is universal, but the standard is high. The glory of being included in the Kingdom of God cannot be comprehended, until God takes the redeemed of all nations into His eternal home. Yet, the enticement of the inadequate descriptions of that glory are enough for those who “by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption.”
Truth Magazine, XVIII:22, p. 10
April 4, 1974