These “Stiff-Necked” People: Who? What? Why?

How did it come to this?

Who are these “Stiff-Necked” people, just freed from hundreds of years of enslavement under the Pharaohs of Egypt?

How did they end up there?

Why are they now free; granted the escape of millions of people from the absolute control of a regional superpower?

Why are these ragged and debased people given protection, guidance, and even nourishment through a series of dramatic and unrelenting miraculous interventions? All lead by a convicted murder who, after years on the lam in the desert, returns as their spiritual and physical shepherd?


The Israelites had lived in their tribal lands in what is now most of modern Israel, and adjacent portions of today’s Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, since a very unusual man and his wife traveled all the way from Ur Kasdim, in the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, through mountains and deserts, to purchase and settle their family and make a home.


This man, Abraham, rebellious son of an idol maker, challenged all the prevailing beliefs of the time, asserting that all of the universe was from the act of, and under the absolute dominion of, but ONE, unique, all encompassing, incorporeal, limitless, G-d.

This man, Abraham, was directly communicated to by this G-d, first, while being raised hidden in a cave, as a young child, and many times thereafter.

Abraham was a descendant of Shem; the youngest son of Noah a witness to the Great Flood, and the Covenant  renewed at its end

Shems’s grandson, Eber, unique among his siblings, refused to participate in the construction of the Tower of Babel, and thus he retained not only what he learned from Shem, but the original language in which he was taught. This language is Ivrit, what we call in English, Hebrew.

Abraham was the great-great-great-grandson of Eber.

Eleven generations of this family in all had been taught by Shem, before he died. From Shem, via Eber, through Abraham, all the way to Jacob.

Abraham and his wife Sarah braved many challenges, and yet prospered. Together they developed a reputation among the great and small alike for intelligence, morality, and gracious hospitality to all who sought out their tents. Abraham and Sarah recognized that all mankind’s blessings, indeed all of existence, came from G-d.

So, when challenged by G-d with a terrifying, soul-wrenching test; to sacrifice his adult son, Isaac, to this same G-d, both father and son were nonetheless willing. At the last moment, Heaven stayed Abraham’s hand.

Abraham and Issac Rembrandt van Rijn, 1634
Abraham and Issac
Rembrandt van Rijn, 1634

This event, known as the Akedah, established an eternal promise, from G-d himself, to Abraham, Isaac and (through Jacob) their descendants to have title to this good land forever. So long as they loved G-d, and followed his guidance, they would multiply and prosper. A nation of priests; witness to the World that Hashem is G-d and He is “One”.

Indeed, through Isaac and his children, and their children, and their children, the message, devotion to G-d, and their promised prosperity was solidified. So was the unquestioned title to their land. Their HOME. The People of Israel dwelt in the Land of Israel.

Thus it was, that, facing a terrible drought, the children of Jacob; now known as Israel, sought permission of their neighbor, the Pharaoh of Egypt, to feed and water their livestock ,to sojourn, in the outlying fields of Goshen, on the Nile Delta, only a few days walk from their home, TEMPORARILY.

Next: Seduction, Debasement, and Slavery on the Nile


2 thoughts on “These “Stiff-Necked” People: Who? What? Why?”

  1. This is a fabulous series for more than one reason. It gives some history of the land some may not be familiar with. Another is that it may well draw in some readers that are not our usual, they may start with this and stick around to read other columns too. But I am loving this series, just for myself.

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