When Saul of Tarsus met Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road, Jesus said to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 9:3-6, 26:14). It was after Saul’s conversion to Jesus Christ that he became known as the Apostle Paul. Before Jesus made himself known to Paul, he thought he was doing everything right in his worship of God and his persecution and killing of the new followers of Jesus after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul thought he was on the right road as a well respected Pharisee within the community before Jesus made it clear to him that he was not.
Let’s take a look at what Jesus meant when he said, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (or “pricks” as stated in the KJV). GotQuestions.org gives us this answer:
“It is hard for you to kick against the pricks” was a Greek proverb, but it was also familiar to the Jews and anyone who made a living in agriculture. An ox goad was a stick with a pointed piece of iron on its tip used to prod the oxen when plowing. The farmer would prick the animal to steer it in the right direction. Sometimes the animal would rebel by kicking out at the prick, and this would result in the prick being driven even further into its flesh. In essence, the more an ox rebelled, the more it suffered. Thus, Jesus’ words to Saul on the road to Damascus: “It is hard for you to kick against the pricks.”
Of the better-known Bible translations, the actual phrase “kick against the pricks” is found only in the King James Version. It is mentioned only twice, in Acts 9:5 and Acts 26:14. The apostle Paul (then known as Saul) was on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians when he had a blinding encounter with Jesus. Luke records the event: “And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 26:14 KJV). Modern translations have changed the word pricks to goads. All translations except the KJV and NKJV, omit the phrase altogether from Acts 9:5.
The conversion of Saul is quite significant as it was the turning point in his life. Paul later wrote nearly half of the books of the New Testament.
Jesus took control of Paul and let him know his rebellion against God was a losing battle. Paul’s actions were as senseless as an ox kicking “against the goads.” Paul had passion and sincerity in his fight against Christianity, but he was not heading in the direction God wanted him to go. Jesus was going to goad (“direct” or “steer”) Paul in the right direction.
There is a powerful lesson in the ancient Greek proverb. We, too, find it hard to kick against the goads. Solomon wrote, “Stern discipline awaits him who leaves the path” (Proverbs 15:10). When we choose to disobey God, we become like the rebellious ox—driving the goad deeper and deeper. “The way of the unfaithful is hard” (Proverbs 13:15). How much better to heed God’s voice, to listen to the pangs of conscience! By resisting God’s authority we are only punishing ourselves. (Quote source here.)
While Paul’s story has to do with his conversion experience, there are times in a believer’s life where we “kick against the goads” often unintentionally, too. Our passion and sincerity are very much real, and we think we are doing the right thing. And often this will happen in the “battles” we face in life. In America, we tend to be very independent which is part of what has made our country great. So it comes naturally to a lot of us that when a battle heats up in our lives, we want to fight against it with everything that we’ve got.
We often forget that God’s ways not our ways and, in fact, are far above our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), and that what He is doing in this world of ours we can’t even begin to understand or fathom. When we try to take on our battles ourselves, we really have no idea how big that battle may be in the total scheme of things from God’s viewpoint. For example, while we may rail against the current tide that our society has been swept up in over the past several decades, God is not the least bit surprised.
I think of the world that Daniel (in the Old Testament) lived in “after Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (who reigned 605-562 B.C.), besieged Jerusalem, and chose of Israel’s royal household noble men who were handsome and showed an aptitude for learning, to be trained in the ways of the Babylonians” (Daniel 1:1-6); quote source here). Daniel was one of these young men. GotQuestions.org states the following about the life of Daniel under Babylonian captivity:
Daniel, whose name means “God is my judge,” and his three countrymen from Judea were chosen and given new names. Daniel became “Belteshazzar,” while Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah became “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.” The Babylonians believed that, by giving them new names that were completely disassociated with their Hebrew roots, Daniel and his friends would become subservient to their new rulers and the culture they now lived in.
Daniel and his compatriots proved to be the wisest of all the trainees, and at the end of their training, they entered the service of King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel’s first sign of faithfulness to God was when he and his countrymen rejected the rich food and wine from the king’s table, because they deemed it a defilement, and became vegetarians. As their health improved, they were permitted to continue with their chosen diet. In their education, the four men from Judah became knowledgeable in all Babylonian matters, and Daniel was given by God the ability to understand dreams and visions of all kinds (Daniel 1:17).
In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar was troubled with a dream that he could neither remember nor interpret. His magicians and astrologers were unable to interpret a dream, much less to know what the dream was. The king decreed that all the wise men, including Daniel and his companions, must be put to death. However, after Daniel sought God in prayer, the mystery of the king’s dream was revealed to Daniel, and he was taken to the king to interpret it. Daniel immediately attributed his ability to interpret dreams to the one true God (Daniel 2:28). The key feature of the dream, as Daniel told it to the king, was that one day there will be a kingdom set up by God that will last forever, and that it will destroy all previous kingdoms known to man (Daniel 2:44-45). With this, Daniel was honored by King Nebuchadnezzar and placed in authority over all the wise men of Babylon. At Daniel’s request, his three countrymen were also placed in positions of authority as administrators of Babylon.
In time, King Nebuchadnezzar built a huge golden statue and decreed that all his people bow down and worship it at the given signal. His decree went on to say that whoever refused to bow down to it would be thrown into a blazing furnace (Daniel 3:6). Word reached the king that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were not worshipping his gods or the statue, and so they were summoned to Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Faced with being thrown into a blazing furnace, the three faithfully announced that their God could rescue them from the fire, but even if He did not, they would not bow down to the image (vss. 16-18). The furnace was so hot, seven times its normal heat, that the king’s soldiers were killed while putting the three into it. Then Nebuchadnezzar saw that there were four men in the furnace, completely unbound and walking about and that the fourth figure looked like he was a son of a god (vs.25). When the king called them out of the furnace, he and his governors were amazed to find that not a single hair of their heads had been scorched, nor was there even the merest smell of fire about them.
King Nebuchadnezzar had a second dream, and, not for the first time, he acknowledged that Daniel had the spirit of his holy God within him and was able to interpret his dream (Daniel 4:9). Daniel’s interpretation of the dream was fulfilled, and, after a period of insanity, Nebuchadnezzar was restored to his kingdom, and he praised and honored Daniel’s God as the most High (Daniel 4:34-37).
Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Belshazzar, became the new king, and during a banquet he ordered the gold and silver goblets that had been stolen from the holy temple in Jerusalem to be brought out for use. In response to the defilement of such holy items, Belshazzar sees a hand writing on the wall. Once again, his astrologers are unable to assist him in its translation, and so Daniel is called upon to interpret the writing (Daniel 5:13-16). As a reward for interpreting the writing, Daniel is promoted by King Belshazzar to the third highest position in the Babylonian kingdom (vs. 29). That night, as Daniel had prophesied, the king was slain in battle, and his kingdom was taken over by Cyrus the Great, and Darius the Mede was made king.
Under the new ruler, Daniel excelled in his duties as one of the administrators to such a degree that King Darius was contemplating making him head over all the kingdom (Daniel 6:1-3). This infuriated the other administrators so much that they looked for a way to bring Daniel down. They encouraged Darius to issue a decree forbidding his subjects from praying to any of their gods for the next thirty days. The penalty for disobeying was to be thrown into a den of lions. Daniel, however, continued to pray so openly to God that he could be seen at his bedroom window doing so. With much regret the king gave the order for Daniel to be thrown into the lions’ den, but not without a prayer that Daniel’s God would rescue him (Daniel 6:16). The next day when Daniel was found alive and well, he told the king that God had sent an angel to shut the lions’ mouths and so he remained unharmed. This resulted in King Darius sending out a decree that all his subjects were to worship the God of Daniel. And Daniel continued to prosper throughout King Darius’ reign.
The lesson from the life of Daniel is that he exercised great integrity and, in doing so, received the respect and affection of the powerful rulers he served. However, his honesty and loyalty to his masters never led him to compromise his faith in the one true God. Rather than it being an obstacle to his success, Daniel’s continual devotion to God brought him the admiration of the unbelievers in his circle. When delivering his interpretations, he was quick to give God the credit for his ability to do so (Daniel 2:28).
Daniel’s integrity as a man of God gained him favor with the secular world, yet he refused to compromise his faith in God. Even under the intimidation of kings and rulers, Daniel remained steadfast in his commitment to God. Daniel also teaches us that, no matter who we are dealing with, no matter what their status is, we are to treat them with compassion. See how concerned he is when delivering the interpretation to Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream (Daniel 4:19). As Christians, we are called to obey the rulers and authorities that God has put in place, treating them with respect and compassion; however, as we see from Daniel’s example, obeying God’s law must always take precedence over obeying men.
As a result of his devotion, Daniel not only found favor with those around him, but above all he found favor with God and was held in high esteem by Him (Daniel 9:20-23). Notice also in those verses what the angel Gabriel told Daniel about how swiftly the answer to his prayer was dispatched. This shows us how ready the Lord is to hear the prayers of His people. Daniel’s strength lay in his devotion to prayer and is a lesson for us all. It is not just in the bad times but on a daily basis that we must come to God in prayer. (Quote source here.)
As stated above, “Daniel’s integrity as a man of God gained him favor with the secular world, yet he refused to compromise his faith in God. Even under the intimidation of kings and rulers, Daniel remained steadfast in his commitment to God. Daniel also teaches us that, no matter who we are dealing with, no matter what their status is, we are to treat them with compassion. See how concerned he is when delivering the interpretation to Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream (Daniel 4:19). As Christians, we are called to obey the rulers and authorities that God has put in place, treating them with respect and compassion; however, as we see from Daniel’s example, obeying God’s law must always take precedence over obeying men.”
The seventy years of Babylonian captivity in which Daniel lived under was prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 29:1-14; also see explanation regarding Daniel 9), who lived in the final days of the crumbling of the nation Israel (source here). “Daniel lived in Babylon throughout the entire 70 years of the Jewish captivity. He lived to see the fall of the Babylonian Empire and the sudden rise of the Medo-Persian Empire with its first ruler, Cyrus. One of Cyrus’ first acts was to issue a decree allowing the Jews to leave Babylon.” (Quote source here).
Daniel spent the bulk of his life living under Babylonian rule yet he did not compromise his faith and belief in God, but respected and served the rulers he had been placed under during his lifetime. While he was well aware of the prophecy of Jeremiah (as shown in Daniel 9), he did not try to change or “fight the system” in which he found himself living in but rather he stayed true to God in all of his dealings with others while serving under or with the other administrators and the king.
So how does that relate to us when we are fighting the battles that come our way? Instead of trying to “fight the system” (e.g., “kicking against the goads”), we need to trust God and not try to take matters into our own hands. He can and will guide us if we let go of trying to “steer that ship” on our own. That is not to say that we should compromise our beliefs, but rather depend on God to work it out in His way and His timing.
Several times in these past seven years since I lost my job in Houston I have found myself trying to fight this battle (in my case, long term unemployment and now added to it affordable housing) in my own power (e.g., via an extensive and massive job search for several years, and now adding the affordable housing search that has been ongoing for over two years now). And I have yet to secure either a job or affordable housing. Yet, every time I have needed guidance and trusted God to show me what to do in even the smallest decisions in my daily life, I have been amazed at how He has come through for me (not that I haven’t given Him both my job and my housing search but obviously He has His reasons for the delay). And He has met my needs even if not in the way I was hoping for yet.
Perhaps one of the greatest struggles we face in this life is that struggle between our will and God’s will. And often we don’t see or understand the real struggle going on until He shows us in ways only He can show us how we need to stop trying so hard and trust Him to work out His will in His timing and not just for what we want when we want it. We live in our own world (e.g., work, church, other responsibilities) most of the time but He is orchestrating the entire world, of which we are a small part. What we don’t understand (which often brings about our own efforts to try to “right a wrong” or change a particular unpleasant circumstance) is that what we are experiencing in our own personal battles is part of a much bigger picture that God has always had in mind since the beginning of time as stated in 2 Peter 3:8-9:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
The bottom line is that it’s not about us and yet it is about us. It’s not about us and what we want… it’s about God and what He wants for us–which is that everyone would come to repentance. He places us in situations we can’t understand or fix on our own so that we learn to depend upon Him totally and not in ourselves or our own resources, and in the process He is using it in the lives of others to bring about their repentance, too. And that has always been God’s bottom line.
It’s not that our struggle isn’t real, but it is meant to bring us to total dependence on God and not on ourselves or how smart we think we are or how clever we think we can be in manipulating our circumstances to get what we want. And we all do that on a regular basis whether we realize it or not. And it is in our battles that He shows us our real need . . . and it’s Him, and nothing else.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding . . .
In all your ways acknowledge Him . . .
And He shall direct your path . . . . (Proverbs 3:5-6)
YouTube Video: “Beyond Me” by TobyMac: