God’s Word for You
Acts 26:12-18 Don’t kick against the goads
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, February 16, 2021
12 “During these journeys I went to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, while I was on the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. 14 We had all fallen to the ground when I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
Each time we hear this account, another detail comes out. This is consistent with eyewitness retelling. Luke presented the first version (Acts 9:1-8) with the basic points: Saul was going to Damascus, there was a flashing light, Saul fell to the ground, and the Lord said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Then the Lord identified himself as Jesus, told Saul to go into the city to be told what to do, and Saul found that he was blind.
In the second telling (Acts 22:6-11) Paul condenses the story just a little, but adds that Jesus identified himself more fully as “Jesus of Nazareth,” and what he would he told is described as “what you have been assigned to do.”
In this third telling, Paul says that not only he but all his companions fell down, and that Jesus was speaking in the Aramaic dialect. Finally, Paul recalls that Jesus also spoke the famous words: “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” In some witnesses to the text (Greek, Latin, or other versions) these words also appear in Acts 9:4 or 9:5 (and because of this, in the King James Version), but in most ancient manuscripts they only occur here. A goad is an oxgoad (Judges 3:31), a stick with a point on one end used literally to goad or poke an ox into moving, especially while it is pulling a cart. The point Jesus is making is that he was going to use this man, Saul of Tarsus, for his special purpose, and it would be useless for Saul to “kick against this goad.” It was the “goad” or “sting” Paul had in mind when he quoted the Greek translation of Hosea 13:14 to say, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O grave, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). The goad or sting of death, the thing that pushes us toward death, is sin. But the victory is Jesus, who leads through death itself to what Satan never imagined: the other side of death, which is the resurrection to eternal life.
15 I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 Get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness to what you have seen of me and what I will show you. 17 I will deliver you from your people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
The other two tellings of Paul’s conversion end midway through the sentence we have here in verse 16. The rest of what Paul quotes here may have been spoken by Jesus directly, or through Ananias when Paul’s vision was restored in the city.
Paul’s sermon reaches a climax now as the offer of forgiveness and eternal life as clearly possible for Gentiles as well as Jews. Nothing is held back. Sometimes when God is after a soul to be saved he becomes like a lover, wooing the lost soul with the amazing and overwhelming promise of the gospel. “I am now going to allure her. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. Then she will sing as in the days of her youth” (Hosea 2:14,15). The response of the rescued sinner should be a lifetime of service and obedience. Why would God love me? Why would God forgive me? Why would God save me? Why is it that “God loves me dearly, love even me”? There is no answer, because God loves us for his own reasons. He does not love us because of what we might do for him, or because we are attractive or talented or courageous. These are qualities he gives and fosters; he can give them to anyone he wishes. But we are lost; we are steeped in sin. We pray with the tax collector, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). But “because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed; for his compassions never fail” (Lamentations 3:22). So when God pursues us, taps us with his law so that we flinch or cringe or weep in our grief, he also offers us his gospel, a soothing medicine of relief, comfort, and hope. We respond with joy and willingness to serve. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Don’t kick against the goads. Serve where God has placed you.
Pastor Timothy Smith