I have always loved the movie “The Wizard of Oz”. I love the characters, the trip, and the happy ever after for Dorothy when she wakes up safely at home in her bed. I think the truth in the movie that each of the characters already possessed what they were seeking from the Wizard of Oz makes me want to ask them, “How are you missing this?” The Tin Man had become stiff-necked in the forest and was in desperate need of oil in order to travel and ask for a heart from the Great Oz, yet he had a heart all along. (Personally, I think he was hindered by his own anger and
unforgiveness toward the witch!)
In Nehemiah 9, the Israelite people are described as “stiff-necked” three times. All three times, the reference was not dealing with any of the pain in the neck; it was dealing with a pain in their heart. The pain in the neck the Israelites were dealing with was pain brought on by rebellion and disobedience.
In Israel, when a farmer was plowing a field and the oxen decided plowing was over, the oxen would harden their neck. Needless to say, the farmer’s work was disrupted and stopped. Working with something or someone’s neck that is hardened (some translations use hardening of the neck as another way of saying stiff-necked) is difficult, tiring, and painful. When one’s neck is stiff everything can be irritating!
I don’t hear the word stiff-necked used on a daily basis, but I do think we reference this condition. When dealing with a rebellious, disobedient, hard-hearted person (think self - my own heart can harden in the middle of God plowing His plan in me), the term stiff-necked could be verbalized…try using that on a person, “You stiff-necked ox!” I am sure a good laugh or strange stare would follow!
Back to Oz. As the Tin Man continued on the road to Oz, he became more confident and comfortable using his already possessed heart, he didn’t need as much oil on his stiff neck. Using his heart to love and help Dorothy and the others kept his neck pliable – he didn’t even have to think about his neck getting stiff because his heart became naturally soft!
I loved the field trip God took me on with the word stiff-necked. I don’t want to be a hard neck ox or a stiff tin man waiting for someone to find me immobile needing oil. My desire is to keep a neck/heart so used that I naturally go the way of the Farmer or encourage all the others along the way of the Yellow Brick Road!
“Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as you did in the rebellion, during the times of testing in the desert.” Hebrews 3:8
“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.”