In First Samuel 15 we read concerning the rebellious actions of King Saul. He was given orders from God, failed to follow those orders, yet returned claiming to have kept God’s commands and blaming the disobedience on the people. The most well-remembered verse of that text is verse 22, where the prophet Samuel replies: “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” However, an observation of the next verse uncovers a very interesting statement. Samuel continues his speaking for God by stating: “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.”
While stubbornness is generally not viewed as the most ingratiating of attributes, most would not take it so far as to equate it with idolatry. Yet, here God does exactly that, and a little bit of closer examination shows why.
Webster defines the term “stubborn” as: “unreasonably or perversely unyielding; performed or carried on in an unyielding, obstinate, or persistent manner; difficult to handle, manage, or treat.” Therefore, by definition, one who is stubborn is one who is being unreasonable, obstinate, or difficult.
But how does that make stubbornness like idolatry? Consider how that comparison is valid. Idolatry is the worship of an image or creation of man’s hands. Is it giving honor and devotion to someone/something other than God and giving that thing greater authority in your life. Thus, it is an accurate comparison to say that stubbornness is like idolatry: except instead of worshiping some hunk of wood or metal, the one who is being placed on the pedestal is self. A stubborn individual is not concerned with what the right answer is, only what his or her answer is. Once the mind is made up, the stubborn individual is unwilling to change the opinion or decision under consideration. This individual is, as the above definition referenced, one who is unreasonable and unyielding. Such a person is not interested in truth, but in remaining true to one’s own previous conclusions.
There is a difference between being stubborn and having confidence. The confident individual is one who is certain that what is believed or done is correct. However, if shown that it is incorrect, a correction must be made in order for that confidence to remain intact. Nevertheless, the stubborn individual will not make such a correction. Uncaring about the proofs that have been given, this individual will continue down the chosen path no matter what is said, because that is the direction that has been chosen.
Unfortunately, the religious world (both inside and outside of the church) is littered with spiritual stubbornness. For many people you could show them 100 verses that tell them they are wrong in their beliefs; define every term to show them their conclusions are erroneous; and lovingly share with them contextual evidence to show that the way they are using a passage is incorrect; yet they will still stand on their prior declarations and convictions because that is what they have always believed or because that is what mom, dad, or the preacher said.
Saul exhibited stubbornness on multiple occasions and it cost him his throne. We need to learn the lesson that God tried to teach the first king of Israel. Let us be confident in our beliefs and persuaded in our convictions, but may we never become stubborn in our beliefs and opinions. If we allow stubbornness to invade we cease learning, uproot humility, and invite destruction.