BY PASTOR T. O. BANSO
There is a sense, in which stubbornness is a virtue. In another sense, however, it is a vice. When stubbornness is used in terms of perseverance, doggedness, determination, tenacity, etc., it is a commendable quality. However, there is another type of stubbornness that doesn’t portray strength, but weakness – a character flaw – in terms of unreasonableness, intransigence, pigheadedness, etc.
The two types of stubbornness are shown in this scripture: “No, I am not sending you to people with strange and difficult speech. If I did, they would listen! But the people of Israel won’t listen to you any more than they listen to me! For the whole lot of them are hard-hearted and stubborn. But look, I have made you as obstinate and hard-hearted as they are” (Ezekiel 3:6-8 New Living Translation). The word “obstinate” also means stubborn. In that passage, stubbornness is used in both disapproving and approving ways. My focus in this message is stubbornness in its disapproving or negative sense.
In 2 Samuel 2:18-23, we find a very pathetic story. A young man died a needless death. Asahel died because he was stubborn. Some may call it exuberance, but I prefer to call it stubbornness. If he had listened to Abner’s warning, he would not have been killed. But he refused to turn back as Abner had warned him. He died an unnecessary death. “Joab, Abishai, and Asahel—the three sons of Zeruiah—were among David’s forces that day. Asahel could run like a gazelle, and he began chasing Abner. He pursued him relentlessly, not stopping for anything. When Abner looked back and saw him coming, he called out, ‘Is that you, Asahel?’ ‘Yes, it is,’ he replied. ‘Go fight someone else!’ Abner warned. ‘Take on one of the younger men, and strip him of his weapons.’ But Asahel kept right on chasing Abner. Again Abner shouted to him, ‘Get away from here! I don’t want to kill you. How could I ever face your brother Joab again?’ But Asahel refused to turn back, so Abner thrust the butt end of his spear through Asahel’s stomach, and the spear came out through his back. He stumbled to the ground and died there. And everyone who came by that spot stopped and stood still when they saw Asahel lying there’” (2 Samuel 2:18-23 New Living Translation).
Note that the Bible says Asahel could run like a gazelle! That was why he began to chase Abner. He depended on his strength and was so sure he would catch up with Abner. But speeding without applying brakes is dangerous! That was the problem of Asahel.
The Bible says despite Abner’s warning, he refused to give up. Abner, a more experienced soldier, told Asahel to fight someone else rather than desperately chasing him to kill him. Abner, because of Asahel’s brother, Joab, tried as much as possible to avoid any confrontation with Asahel that could lead to his death. Nevertheless, Asahel did not heed his warning.
Knowing when it’s wise to retreat
There is a time when a man may need to retreat in order to advance in life! You are giving up not because of cowardice, but because that is the wisest thing, the most expedient thing, to do. If you do not manage your strengths very well, they will create a weakness in your life. That is why you need balance. You may be able to run swiftly, but you should also know when to apply brakes.
In that same scripture, I want us to compare Asahel’s stubborn attitude with that of Joab, his brother – a more experienced person. He knew when withdrawal or ceasefire was the right decision! “Joab and Abishai also pursued Abner. And the sun was going down when they came to the hill of Ammah, which is before Giah by the road to the Wilderness of Gibeon. Now the children of Benjamin gathered together behind Abner and became a unit, and took their stand on top of a hill. Then Abner called to Joab and said, ‘Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that it will be bitter in the latter end? How long will it be then until you tell the people to return from pursuing their brethren?’And Joab said, ‘As God lives, unless you had spoken, surely then by morning all the people would have given up pursuing their brethren.’ So Joab blew a trumpet; and all the people stood still and did not pursue Israel anymore, nor did they fight anymore. Then Abner and his men went on all that night through the plain, crossed over the Jordan, and went through all Bithron; and they came to Mahanaim” (2 Samuel 2:24-29 New King James Version).
Joab responded positively to the peace proposal of Abner, even when Joab’s army (David’s men) had the upper hand. From the way the battle was going, Joab could have continued in hot pursuit of Abner and his army, but he retreated as Abner had requested. As it was discovered afterward, Joab’s army had lost only 20 soldiers, including Asahel, while Abner’s army had lost 360 soldiers (2 Samuel 2:30-31).
Whereas Asahel was stubborn, his brother, Joab, was not. Do not be stubborn! Proverbs 28:14 says, “Blessed are those who fear to do wrong, but the stubborn are headed for serious trouble” (New Living Translation). In this case, the serious trouble for Asahel was his premature death. It was a permanent trouble – the end of his life!
Stubbornness is as bad as idolatry
The Bible compares rebellion to the sin of witchcraft and stubbornness to worshipping idols. Samuel, among other things, told Saul after he had disobeyed God by failing to totally destroy the Amalekites, “Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols” (1 Samuel 15:23a New Living Translation). Most times, rebellion and stubbornness go together. When people are rebellious, they can become stubborn, and vice versa.
Saul was both rebellious and stubborn. He did not obey God’s command to the letter in the war against the Amalekites; he did his own will. After returning from the war, he set up a monument commemorating his victory! He lied to Samuel that he had obeyed God. When Samuel confronted him with his sin, he insisted he had carried out the mission God gave him and shifted the blame to his troops (verses 13-21). Rebellion and stubbornness!
I will limit myself to stubbornness. If worshipping idols (idolatry) is a sin, stubbornness is a serious sin as idolatry! What is God’s attitude towards idolatry or the consequence of idolatry? Hear Deuteronomy 13:12-15: “If you hear someone in one of your cities, which the Lord your God gives you to dwell in, saying, ‘Corrupt men have gone out from among you and enticed the inhabitants of their city, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’’—which you have not known— then you shall inquire, search out, and ask diligently. And if it is indeed true and certain that such an abomination was committed among you, you shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying it, all that is in it and its livestock—with the edge of the sword” (New King James Version). Death is the consequence of idolatry (Numbers 25).
Galatians 5:19-20 lists idolatry as one of the works of the flesh, and verse 21 says anyone who engages in it and the other works of the flesh shall not inherit the Kingdom of God. In 1 Corinthians 10:14, the Bible warns us to flee from idolatry.
However, the Bible tells us that stubbornness is as bad as worshipping idols (idolatry). I have been trying to understand the connection between the two. This is my understanding: Idolatry is the worship of idols; stubbornness is the worship of your own ideas! The idea of a stubborn person is the god he worships! Stubbornness is self-will. A dictionary defines stubbornness as “dogged determination not to change one’s attitude or position on something.” That means even when or if there is the need to change his attitude or position on something, a stubborn person won’t. The Dictionary of Bible Themes defines stubbornness as “Proud and disobedient resistance to God’s will and rejection of his commands.”
Stubbornness leads to death as we have seen in the case of Asahel (2 Samuel 2:18-23), though it was not God’s command that he disobeyed or resisted. The consequence of idolatry is also death, as seen in Deuteronomy 13:12-15. Today, idolaters may not suffer physical death but they die spiritually and will end in hellfire unless they repent. Do not be stubborn!
Stubbornness kills! In the Old Testament, a stubborn and rebellious son reported to the elders of the city by his parents was supposed to be stoned to death! “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city. And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21 New King James Version).
Did you see stubbornness and rebelliousness put together again in that passage? A stubborn and rebellious son! Even though nobody brings a stubborn child to anybody to stone to death nowadays, many children have died because of their stubbornness and rebelliousness. May the Lord touch the hearts of all stubborn and rebellious children, and bring them to repentance in Jesus’ name. May they surrender their lives to Jesus, and not die prematurely and end in hell fire.
It was not Asahel alone that stubbornness killed. Stubbornness also cost Pharaoh so many lives in Egypt, including the lives of all the firstborns in Egypt and his army (Exodus 11:4-5; 12:12, 29; 13:15, 14:28; 15:4; Psalm 136:15). Pharaoh’s heart was stubborn, and he would not allow the children of Israel to go so, God hardened his hardened heart! (Exodus 7:13-14, 22; 8:19; 9:7, 12; 10:1, 20)
God knew ahead that Pharaoh would be stubborn. That was why He told Moses that He would make him stubborn so that he would not let the Israelites go. “And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go’” (Exodus 4:21 New King James Version).
God said Israel was stubborn like a stubborn calf (Hosea 4:16). And the consequence for Israel in that scripture was bad. Israel would stand alone and unprotected, like a helpless lamb in an open field.
Other scriptures refer to Israel as a stiff-necked people or stubborn in their relationship with God (Exodus 33:3, 5, 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:6; 2 Kings 17:14; Psalm 78:8; Jeremiah 6:28; Ezekiel 2:3-5. Zechariah 7:11-12 says, “Your ancestors refused to listen to this message. They stubbornly turned away and put their fingers in their ears to keep from hearing. They made their hearts as hard as stone, so they could not hear the instructions or the messages that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies had sent them by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. That is why the Lord of Heaven’s Armies was so angry with them” (New Living Translation).
The Israelites were ruled and oppressed by their enemies for many years because of their stubborn persistence in sin. Eventually, they were taken into captivity. Do not be like the Israelites who persisted in their stubborn way. “And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them. They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way” (Judges 2:19 New King James Version).
Addressing the Jewish Council in Acts 7, Stephen described the Jews as “stubborn people” (verse 51a New Living Translation). He said that they were heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Stephen declared, “Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? But your ancestors did, and so do you!” Do not resist the Holy Spirit.
The New Century Version renders Acts 7:51 thus: “You stubborn people! You have not given your hearts to God, nor will you listen to him! You are always against what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell you, just as your ancestors were.”
From this scripture, one can deduce four things to do to avoid stubbornness: (1) Give your heart to God (2) Listen to God (3) Do not be against what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell you (4) Do not emulate or follow a bad example of stubbornness.
What has the Holy Spirit been telling you? Have you obeyed the Holy Spirit, or you have hardened your heart? Do not be stubborn! God’s servant, Matthew Henry, said, “None so deaf as those that will not hear.” Anyone who is willing to hear should listen to the Spirit and understand what the Spirit is saying (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Do not be stubborn! Do not let God give you over to your stubborn heart, to follow your own counsel (Psalm 81:12). That’s dangerous!
Zedekiah, the son of King Josiah (a good king), is one of the people the Bible describes as a stubborn man. 2 Chronicles 36:13b says, “Zedekiah was a hard and stubborn man, refusing to turn to the Lord, the God of Israel” (New Living Translation). Nebuchadnezzar installed Zedekiah as king when he was 21 years old. He reigned in Jerusalem for eleven years doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD. He refused to humble himself in the presence of God’s prophet, Jeremiah, who had brought the Word of the LORD to him to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar.
Zedekiah rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, though he had taken an oath of loyalty to him in God’s name. He also stubbornly refused to turn to the LORD. He listened to false prophets instead of taking Jeremiah’s advice.
What was the consequence of his stubbornness? “ Now it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army came against Jerusalem and encamped against it; and they built a siege wall against it all around. So the city was besieged until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine had become so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land. Then the city wall was broken through, and all the men of war fled at night by way of the gate between two walls, which was by the king’s garden, even though the Chaldeans were still encamped all around against the city. And the king went by way of the plain. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king, and they overtook him in the plains of Jericho. All his army was scattered from him. So they took the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, and they pronounced judgment on him. Then they killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, put out the eyes of Zedekiah, bound him with bronze fetters, and took him to Babylon” (2 Kings 25:1-7 New King James Version). Did you learn anything from this passage?
Zedekiah died in Babylon during Israel’s captivity because of his stubbornness. He was the last king of independent Judah. If he had listened to Jeremiah, his end would have been different. He would not have been captured and taken to Babylon! He would not have witnessed the killing of his sons! His eyes would not have been put out and he would not have died in Babylon! Do not be stubborn!
Stubbornness also killed King Sihon of Heshbon. His sons, towns, and people were destroyed. Moses did not have any plan to kill Sihon and his people, but he remained stubborn, not listening to the plea of Moses to allow the Israelites to pass through their land on their journey from Egypt. “And I sent messengers from the Wilderness of Kedemoth to Sihon king of Heshbon, with words of peace, saying, ‘Let me pass through your land; I will keep strictly to the road, and I will turn neither to the right nor to the left. You shall sell me food for money, that I may eat, and give me water for money, that I may drink; only let me pass through on foot, just as the descendants of Esau who dwell in Seir and the Moabites who dwell in Ar did for me, until I cross the Jordan to the land which the Lord our God is giving us.’ But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass through, for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that He might deliver him into your hand, as it is this day. And the Lord said to me, ‘See, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you. Begin to possess it, that you may inherit his land.’ Then Sihon and all his people came out against us to fight at Jahaz. And the Lord our God delivered him over to us; so we defeated him, his sons, and all his people. We took all his cities at that time, and we utterly destroyed the men, women, and little ones of every city; we left none remaining. We took only the livestock as plunder for ourselves, with the spoil of the cities which we took. From Aroer, which is on the bank of the River Arnon, and from the city that is in the ravine, as far as Gilead, there was not one city too strong for us; the Lord our God delivered all to us. Only you did not go near the land of the people of Ammon—anywhere along the River Jabbok, or to the cities of the mountains, or wherever the Lord our God had forbidden us” (Deuteronomy 2:26-37 New King James Version).
Repent of stubbornness
Stubbornness attracts serious punishment. The only way out is repentance. “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will judge everyone according to what they have done” (Romans 2:4-6 New Living Translation).
Repent today! Turn away from your stubbornness – turn towards God, His voice, His correction. Respond to the voice of the Holy Spirit that has been coming to you. “Now therefore, speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you. Return now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good’” (Jeremiah 18:11 New King James Version). May you not experience disaster because of stubbornness in Jesus’ name. Proverbs 29:1 says, “Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery” (New Living Translation).
Your decision not to be stubborn should not be limited to God and His Words. You should also avoid stubbornness and rebellion in your relationship with those in authority, authority figures in your life, and generally in your relationship with others. Nevertheless, you must never compromise obedience to the Word of God. You must stubbornly do what God says! Acts 4:18-22 says, “So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.’ So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done. For the man was over forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed” (New King James Version).
Conclusion: Stubborn resistance to necessary change only ends in failure, stagnation, ruin, etc. Therefore, repent of your stubborn attitude towards your parents, your spouse, your boss, the pleas of others for forgiveness, peace overtures, etc. Do not kill yourself; do not destroy your destiny, marriage, home, or career. “Do not be like your ancestors and relatives who abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and became an object of derision, as you yourselves can see. Do not be stubborn, as they were, but submit yourselves to the Lord. Come to his Temple, which he has set apart as holy forever. Worship the Lord your God so that his fierce anger will turn away from you” (2 Chronicles 30:7-8 New Living Translation).
If you are not born again, you need to give your life to Jesus now. I urge you to take the following steps: *Admit that you are a sinner and you cannot save yourself and repent of your sins. *Confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. *Renounce your past way of life – your relationship with the devil and his works. *Invite Jesus into your life. *As a mark of seriousness to mature in the faith, start attending a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church. There they will teach you how to grow in the Kingdom of God.
Kindly say this prayer now: O Lord God, I come unto You today. I know I am a sinner and I cannot save myself. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to save me and God raised Him on the third day. I repent of my sins and confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I surrender my life to Jesus now and invite Him into my heart. By this prayer, I know I am saved. Thank You, Jesus, for saving me and making me a child of God.
I believe you have said this prayer from your heart. Congratulations! You will need to join a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church in your area where they will teach you how to live your new life in Christ Jesus. I pray that you flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar of Lebanon. May you grow into Christ in all things and become all God wants you to be. I will be glad to hear from you. The Lord be with you.
T. O. Banso is the President of Cedar Ministry International, Abuja, Nigeria.
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