Q: #459. What did Jesus mean when He told Paul: "it is hard for thee to kick against the goads / pricks" (Acts 9:5)(Acts 26:14)?
A: According to scholars, this interesting saying, found in (Acts 9:5)(Acts 26:14), appears to have been a common Greek proverb that was used in those days, and it can be found in ancient writings from Euripedes, Pindar, Terence, and others.
***Note: In (Acts 9:5), this phrase is used only in the KJV and NKJV versions.
In understanding what it means, we must first know what a “goad” (or “prick”) was. I discuss this in detail in the previous question, however, in short, a “goad” was a long stick, made out of oak or some other hardwood, app. 8′- 10′ long and 6″ in circumference, that generally had a metal point on one end, and a flattened piece of metal on the other end. The pointed end was used to “goad” or prod an ox pulling a plow or cart to move / turn, and the other end was used to remove accumulated dirt from a plowshare.
When the “goad” was used, an ox would sometimes kick back against it, especially if it was a young ox that was new to pulling. If they did this, the result was that the goad would go deeper into their skin, causing them more pain. By “kicking against the goad,” they were only hurting themselves more (kick = Gr. laktizo – “to strike with the heel”). Instead, what they needed to do was submit to the direction their master wanted them to go, and then there would be no pain.
I believe there is a very interesting spiritual lesson to see with this in relation to Paul (and ultimately ALL non-Christians). This lesson has to do with the drawing of the Father, and the conviction of the Holy Spirit in a non-Christian’s life. The Bible says that no one can become a Christian unless they are first “drawn” by the Father (Jn 6:44). The Father does this through the work of the Holy Spirit, who convicts the world of sin (Jn 16:8). The Bible also tells us that God does not wish that ANY man would perish, but that ALL would be saved (1 Tim 2:3-4)(2 Pet 3:9)(Ezek 18:23,32)(Titus 2:11)(Mt 18:14). This being the case, we know that He draws ALL men at some point in their lives.
However, the Bible is also clear in many verses that God’s will can be resisted: (Jn 5:40)(Mt 23:37)(Lk 13:34)(Acts 7:51)(Mt 21:42)(Acts 4:11)(Lk 7:29-30)(2 Th 1:8-9)(Rom 10:21)(2 Kin 17:14-18).
I believe this is what is going on in (Acts 9:5)(Acts 26:14). When Jesus is telling Paul “it is hard for thee to kick against the goads,” He is talking about Paul fighting against the direction his Master (the Father) is trying to “prod or turn” him. In “kicking against the goad,” Paul is fighting against the “drawing” of the Father, and the “conviction” of the Holy Spirit. In doing so, he is driving the goad in deeper, and only hurting himself.
It seems likely that in conjunction with this, things that Paul experienced might also have been at work in his conscience. For example:
1. Remembering his whole experience with Stephen (Acts 6:8 – 7:60) – the “great wonders and miracles” he did, his face being as “the face of an angel,” his impassioned speech before his accusers, his vision of Jesus “standing on the right hand of God,” and his asking God’s forgiveness on those who were murdering him.
2. Seeing Christians over and over willing to go to prison or die for the name of Jesus.
3. Perhaps seeing friends come to Christ. (Some say one of these might have been Barnabas. For example, Easton’s Bible Dictionary says, “They had probably been companions as students in the school of Gamaliel.”)
4. Recalling the counsel of his teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) not to kill the disciples, because if what they do “is of God, you cannot overthrow it- lest you even be found to fight against God.” (Acts 5:34-39)(NKJV).
We can see that after this confrontation with Jesus, Paul stopped “kicking against the goad,” and he gave his life to Christ. He submitted to his Master, and followed the direction He wanted him to go. This same thing happens to all who become “Christians.” We all “kick against the goads” for various lengths of time, but eventually we stop and submit our lives to the Master’s direction. We accept Christ. For those reading this who still “kick against the goads,” I pray you will stop. You can do so here.