He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck... - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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Biblical Wisdom
January 3, 2018

He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck...

Proverbs 29:1 – “He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed and that without remedy.”

by Dr. Bill Edgar, Geneva College Board of Trustees Member, Former Geneva College President and longtime pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPNCA)

Beyond their own experience, wise people learn from others, from father and mother, teachers, friends, police, or even enemies. They listen to advice, they watch and observe, and they learn from books, such as Proverbs.

Then there are people who refuse to learn, both the passively aggressive who pretend to listen but change nothing, and the openly defiant. In either case, the proverb notes the frequent “body language” that goes with such defiance, a certain way of holding one’s head with a stiff neck that communicates, “I’m not listening!” Parents see such posture in their children: head held still with stiff neck, while child calculates whether he must comply or not. Note that fools who ignore rebukes are “often rebuked” -- by parents, teachers, elders, even the legal system, everyone hoping they will “wise up.”

Most of the time in this life, God allows us to escape the natural and deserved consequences of our follies – until suddenly He doesn’t. I, and all my sons, remember multiple times when we did things that could easily have gotten us killed, but by God’s grace, did not. Parents, teachers, and the legal system operate the same way, rarely bringing the fully deserved consequence on wrongdoers. But then suddenly, or so it seems to the incorrigible, time’s up. Disaster strikes.

At the high school where I taught, the parents of an incorrigible son changed the locks on their house the day he finished school, put his belongings outside, and told him he did not live there anymore. Incredulous, he broke in to what he still thought was “his” home. The parents called the police. They arrested the boy for breaking and entering. Teachers, who often sympathize with children against their parents, in this case heartily approved the parents’ actions, which were in the spirit of Deuteronomy 21:18-21.

What happens to such fools? Like Humpty Dumpty, they are destroyed beyond remedy. By the time they need a second chance, they have already had dozens of them. There may be hope for them in the next life, if they repent, but they have no more hope in this one. Without repentance, they will enter where the entrance warns, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

For whom is this proverb intended? First, it is for all who refuse rebukes with “stiff necks,” being yet one more warning that stubborn refusal to listen will result in sudden destruction. Second, this proverb is for parents, friends, and teachers, who with unconscious pride take the blame when someone rejects their rebuke: “if I had just said it right, he would have listened.” A high school principal I worked for used to say, “If a child has not learned in your class, he has not been taught.” The blame was all on the teacher. “Not so,” retorts this proverb. Some people just refuse all instruction. They bring their sad fate on themselves.