What does the bible mean by “kicking against the pricks”?

“The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd” (Eccl. 12:11)

Have you ever had one of those weeks, or months or even years, where you feel like nothing is going the way you want it to? It seems like getting anything to go your way is such a struggle, that you’re walking into the wind or swimming against the current. I think we’ve all been there, and it’s easy to wonder at the reason. It may very well just be that you’re having a bad week, a string of mishaps all coming at once, or that you’re simply going through trials for a purpose. There’s another possibility we should all consider during this sort of experience, though—that we’re resisting God’s will. The apostle Paul tells the story of his conversion a few times in Acts. After seeing the blinding light, he said, “And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the pricks’” (Acts 26:14).

To us, this is kind of an odd statement, but it was a well-known proverb in Paul’s time. A prick (or goad, as it’s translated in the NKJV) can be any sharp point that pierces or stings but is generally known as the ox goad, a heavy, sharp piece of iron used to drive oxen. A stubborn and unyielding ox would kick against the goad, driving the instrument in deeper and hurting no one but himself.

When a person is kicking against the pricks and resisting God’s will, it is not necessarily out of a place of hostile rebellion. Take Paul/Saul, for instance. He was following his path of persecuting Christ’s disciples because he believed they were perverting Judaism (the faith of God’s true people), and leading people astray. His actions were executed through righteous zeal. That didn’t make them right. We often see this in the church, when people decide one particular idea or doctrine is right, and blaze a path of destruction through brethren trying to convince them of the same. Goads are used on oxen to stimulate action, urge onward, or steer in the right direction, as well as to prevent them from going the wrong way, and God has a variety of tactics at His disposal to do the same. When someone tries to forge their own path away from God’s will, God will often try and nudge them back in the right direction; when they’re sitting still in a place of apathy or stagnation, He may prod them into picking up the yoke and moving forward.

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