Rebellion and Stubbornness

by Matthew Raley

We’ve been seeing that the sin of rebellion is, at its core, a refusal to deal with reality.

Moses’ description of Israel in Deuteronomy 31-32 shows a nation unwilling to worship the real God, serving only their imagined deities. They were unwilling to face the real past and present truthfully, but fabricated bitter histories. And they were unwilling to face life with humility, preserving a deluded superiority with scoffing.

The fourth characteristic of rebellion in Deuteronomy is foolish obstinacy. Repeated experience of reality will not turn Israel from folly.

Moses calls the people “stubborn” (31:27), noting that their rebellion during his life will only intensify after his death. In his song, he dramatizes their refusal to listen, calling them “foolish and senseless,” and pleading (32:6-7), “[A]sk you father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you.”

Yet again, this is a quality all too familiar in the nation’s history.

The Lord called the people “stiff-necked” after they made the golden calf (Exodus 32:9). Nothing had changed by Ezekiel’s time. The Lord warned him (Ezekiel 3:7), “But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me. Because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart.”

Again, the logic of rebellion dictates this attitude. No rebel can admit having learned from anyone except himself. To learn from experience would be to admit that he was wrong. To listen to others would be to admit that their priorities matter. To be taught, by definition, is to be turned from one’s own way. None of these things are tolerable.

The rebel would rather self-destruct than submit.

Now, there is an important consideration for a parent in this regard. I worry about a child who has no fight.

One of the biggest reasons I am against authoritarian parenting systems that emphasize compliance — systems like Michael Pearl’s, for example — is that they are designed to break a child’s will. Not soften. Break. That is why Pearl describes his system in terms of conditioning animals.

It doesn’t take too much acquaintance with life to realize that a child is going to need his or her will to be strong. Adults have to make decisions, and make their decisions stick. Christ calls us to persevere against the world’s constant wickedness. A Christian’s duty is frequently to stand alone.

In light of this, I am not raising compliant boys. I am fortifying their wills for the days ahead, when they will need every last bit of resolution for godliness.

Is there a difference between resolution and obstinacy?

I believe there is. I’ve noticed that resolute people are able to persist in moving toward their goals because they adapt. They are profound learners, and quick listeners. That is, they do not ignore reality, but find real ways around real barriers.

A resolute leader such as Lincoln offers a good example. He refused to consider any outcome of the Civil War but restoring the Union. But in his drive toward that goal, he adapted to circumstances constantly. He changed his generals, maintained political coalitions, and managed the timing of such pronouncements as the Emancipation Proclamation. He adapted.

So how do we foster a resolve that is tempered by a willingness to learn?

Teaching a high view of God is the answer once again. When our children are taught to listen to him, to learn his ways, and to pursue his goals, they inherit a balance of traits than can only come from reverence. Our awe of God teaches us both what is yet to be learned and what must never be compromised.

Next week, we’ll discover from Deuteronomy what may be the most important point of all about rebellion.

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