Acts 7:51 Ye STIFFNECKED and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always RESIST THE HOLY GHOST: as your fathers did, so do ye.
sklérotrachélos (Greek): stiff-necked, stubborn, obstinate (Strong’s 4644)
oreph (Hebrew): back of the neck, neck (Strong’s 6203)
It’s apparent that we can resist the Holy Ghost by being stiff-necked and walking our own way, and if we take this route it’s obviously against God’s will. Still, there are some of our reformed friends who feel the need to stick to the notion that “nothing that comes to pass happens against the will of God” so they are reluctant to accept the clear meaning of Acts 7:51 and prefer to believe that God has either predestined people to be stiff-necked and/or suggest they are born stiff-necked and will continue to be so until God perhaps decides to open their eyes to bring them out of this spell. If the idea is that nothing happens against God’s will, then people who are born stiff-necked are born that way according to God’s will, but then we are no longer talking about the God of the Bible.
Stephen (who is talking in Acts 7) is making a reference to the fathers of the pharisees and claimed they too were stiff-necked and resisted the Holy Ghost, and we can see in the verses below how painfully true this statement has proven to be. The Bible is a book that describes how people throughout all of our history have turned their backs on God. Not every single individual of course, because there are also examples of some very righteous and just people who have lived in obedience to God, like Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Lot and Job.
Most cases in the Bible where “stiff-necked” people are mentioned can be seen below.
Examples of stiff-necked people during the Exodus
People even made a golden calf to worship and this provoked God to anger, naturally because it was against his will. Israel didn’t get the promised land because they were particularly good people, but rather because the inhabitants were very evil, and because of the promise that God had given to Abraham before them.
Ex. 32:8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.9 And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation
Ex. 33:1 And the Lord said unto Moses, Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it:—3 Unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the way.—5 For the Lord had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiffnecked people: I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee: therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee.
Ex. 34:8 And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.9 And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us; for it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance.
Deuteronomy 9:5 Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.6 Understand therefore, that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiffnecked people.7 Remember, and forget not, how thou provokedst the Lord thy God to wrath in the wilderness: from the day that thou didst depart out of the land of Egypt, until ye came unto this place, ye have been rebellious against the Lord.8 Also in Horeb ye provoked the Lord to wrath, so that the Lord was angry with you to have destroyed you.
2 Kings 17:12 For they served idols, whereof the Lord had said unto them, Ye shall not do this thing.13 Yet the Lord testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets.14 Notwithstanding they would not hear, but hardened their necks, like to the neck of their fathers, that did not believe in the Lord their God.15 And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the Lord had charged them, that they should not do like them.16 And they left all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.17 And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger.
Neh. 15 And gavest them bread from heaven for their hunger, and broughtest forth water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and promisedst them that they should go in to possess the land which thou hadst sworn to give them.16 But they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened not to thy commandments,17 And refused to obey, neither were mindful of thy wonders that thou didst among them; but hardened their necks, and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage: but thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsookest them not.18 Yea, when they had made them a molten calf, and said, This is thy God that brought thee up out of Egypt, and had wrought great provocations
Jer. 7:22 For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices:23 But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.24 But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.25 Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day I have even sent unto you all my servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them:26 Yet they hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck: they did worse than their fathers.27 Therefore thou shalt speak all these words unto them; but they will not hearken to thee: thou shalt also call unto them; but they will not answer thee.28 But thou shalt say unto them, This is a nation that obeyeth not the voice of the Lord their God, nor receiveth correction: truth is perished, and is cut off from their mouth.
Being stiff-necked is something negative, and God tells his people to cease being stiff-necked
Clearly God wouldn’t want his people (or anyone) to rebel against him, refuse to hearken to him, turn their backs on him, transgress his laws, do evil, become corrupted, provoke him to anger, worship idols, harden their hearts, neglect to receive corrections, etc, but this is exactly what his people often did due to their stubborn and evil hearts. God’s will does not always happen and that is because he has given us free will – resulting in that we are responsible for our own actions and will be judged accordingly.
Deuteronomy 10:16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.
Deut. 31:27 For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the Lord; and how much more after my death?28 Gather unto me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears, and call heaven and earth to record against them.29 For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days; because ye will do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands.
Isaiah. 48:3 I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I shewed them; I did them suddenly, and they came to pass.4 Because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass;5 I have even from the beginning declared it to thee; before it came to pass I shewed it thee: lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image, hath commanded them.
2 Chronicles 29:5 And said unto them, Hear me, ye Levites, sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers, and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place.6 For our fathers have trespassed, and done that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord our God, and have forsaken him, and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the Lord, and turned their backs.—.8 Wherefore the wrath of the Lord was upon Judah and Jerusalem, and he hath delivered them to trouble, to astonishment, and to hissing, as ye see with your eyes.
2 Chronicles 30:8 Now be ye not stiffnecked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the Lord, and enter into his sanctuary, which he hath sanctified for ever: and serve the Lord your God, that the fierceness of his wrath may turn away from you.
2 Chronicles 36:11 Zedekiah was one and twenty years old when he began to reign, and reigned eleven years in Jerusalem.12 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord his God, and humbled not himself before Jeremiah the prophet speaking from the mouth of the Lord.13 And he also rebelled against king Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God: but he stiffened his neck, and hardened his heart from turning unto the Lord God of Israel.14 Moreover all the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem.
Neh. 9:28 But after they had rest, they did evil again before thee: therefore leftest thou them in the land of their enemies, so that they had the dominion over them: yet when they returned, and cried unto thee, thou heardest them from heaven; and many times didst thou deliver them according to thy mercies;29 And testifiedst against them, that thou mightest bring them again unto thy law: yet they dealt proudly, and hearkened not unto thy commandments, but sinned against thy judgments, (which if a man do, he shall live in them;) and withdrew the shoulder, and hardened their neck, and would not hear.30 Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit in thy prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands.31 Nevertheless for thy great mercies’ sake thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God.
Jer. 2:26 As the thief is ashamed when he is found, so is the house of Israel ashamed; they, their kings, their princes, and their priests, and their prophets.27 Saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth: for they have turned their back unto me, and not their face: but in the time of their trouble they will say, Arise, and save us.28 But where are thy gods that thou hast made thee? let them arise, if they can save thee in the time of thy trouble: for according to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah.29 Wherefore will ye plead with me? ye all have transgressed against me, saith the Lord.30 In vain have I smitten your children; they received no correction: your own sword hath devoured your prophets, like a destroying lion.
Jer. 17:22 Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.23 But they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction.24 And it shall come to pass, if ye diligently hearken unto me, saith the Lord, to bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but hallow the sabbath day, to do no work therein
Jer. 19:15 Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring upon this city and upon all her towns all the evil that I have pronounced against it, because they have hardened their necks, that they might not hear my words.
Jer. 32:31 For this city hath been to me as a provocation of mine anger and of my fury from the day that they built it even unto this day; that I should remove it from before my face,32 Because of all the evil of the children of Israel and of the children of Judah, which they have done to provoke me to anger, they, their kings, their princes, their priests, and their prophets, and the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.33 And they have turned unto me the back, and not the face: though I taught them, rising up early and teaching them, yet they have not hearkened to receive instruction.34 But they set their abominations in the house, which is called by my name, to defile it.35 And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.
Proverbs. 29:1 He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.2 When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.
Read, Isaiah 5:1-7, Isaiah 63:10, Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34, Romans 13:2 and Ephesians 4:30, for further examples of people who are stiff-necked and act against the will of God.