Know, then, [it is] not because of your righteousness [that] the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.
I live in an age and in a culture of entitlement. This century is marked for my nation not by some great struggle or some noble cause, but by the fact that we are devolving into a bunch of slackers who believe that we are owed something. Worse, the concept is endemic in the entire Western world. I listen to the news and hear how some group or another in some Western nation is yelling about how they’re entitled to something; how they have a right to something. I’ve heard phrases on the radio that never came up in history class, phrases like “right to work” and “entitlements” and “right to marry”. In a time when the divorce rate is between 60-70%, people really want to discuss the “right to marry”? Can we, instead, discuss marrying right and staying that way? We — Western societies — believe we are entitled to something; that we deserve something. God, speaking through Moses to Israel gives a different principle.
Moses tells Israel that it is not because of their righteousness that God is giving them the Promised Land. Their righteousness has nothing to do with it. Later in Israel’s history, God will send a prophet named Isaiah who will tell Israel (and us, by extension) that man’s greatest acts of righteousness are about as desirable to God as feminine hygiene pads. Our righteousness is vile. So, if we really want what our righteousness deserves, I’m sure that God can find some used toilet paper laying around somewhere.
God adds clarification to His statement that Israel’s righteousness has nothing to do with their receipt of the Promised Land by saying that they are stiff-necked (stubborn) people. Anyone who has ever worked at a computer for long periods of time will have some idea what a stiff neck is like. It restricts movement speed, limits range of motion, causes discomfort for the person who has the stiff neck. Does this sound familiar? It does to me. My relationship with God is marked, in places, by these descriptors: restricted, limited, uncomfortable. This is not what God wants for me. This does not mean that I should run out and find a job that does not require me to sit at a computer for long stretches. That’s not really the point. The point is that my efforts at obedience are hindered by my own stiff neck. God wants me to look left, but my neck turns too slowly to see what He was trying to show me. God wants to call attention to something going on alongside the path we’re walking, but my range of motion is too limited to have peripheral vision on the path and see what He’s talking about. God wants me to be able to take a deep breath and enjoy the beauty He surrounds me with, but some of it is outside my view because to see it would be uncomfortable.
It is not my righteousness that inspires God to give me any good thing, it is His goodness and generous heart. If I got what I deserved, I would be a pitiable person indeed.