One of the most interesting places we visited on our trip to Israel was a recent archaeological excavation near the town of Omrit, in the northernmost part of Israel. Newly discovered ruins there have placed this as the location where the main traveled road through Israel turned northeast out of the Jordan River Valley towards Damascus. Archaeologists had never known the exact location of the Damascus Road that Saul was on when he was met and blinded by the Lord Jesus. An ornate temple complex to Caesar Augustus and elaborate colonnaded streets and shops confirm that this was the “doorway” into Israel from the North. This find made for an exciting visit for the New Testament believer because you could imagine this as a place that Saul came by on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus. Just a few miles north and east of here he was blinded by a light and heard the audible voice of Jesus speaking to him. This is one of the seminal events in Christianity and Saul’s life was completely changed by this miraculous encounter. Sitting in the temple ruins, near the paved street running to the northeast, we read Acts Chapter 9 out loud and heard the story of God calling Saul to be His chosen instrument to get his message out to both Jews and Gentiles.
There is a tendency to think of Saul’s Damascus Road experience as a unique and isolated event that God put in motion. However, if you look at the experiences of almost all the prophets in the Old Testament you will see some remarkable similarities. Because Saul knew all these stories, he would have probably identified with what happened to them when they were being called by God. Let’s look at some of these Hebrew prophets and see what the similarities are.
- Exodus 3 – At the burning bush, Moses saw a bright light of fire and hid his face in fear. God told Moses, ”Go, I am sending you”. Moses asked God who He was. Also, God called Moses name twice.
- 1 Samuel 3 – God called Samuel in a vision and called his name twice (See When God Calls Your Name – Twice)
- Isaiah 6 – God called Isaiah audibly to His ministry; there was smoke and an earthquake, and a heavenly being spoke to Isaiah and said, ”Go Tell”
- Jeremiah 1 – God spoke directly to Jeremiah and touched his mouth. God told him not to just tell Israel, but also the Gentiles
- Ezekiel 1-2 – This is very similar to Saul’s experience. A huge storm with lightning, wind, thunder, and a brilliant light prompted Ezekiel to fall face down, unable to speak. God appeared and spoke audibly and said, ”Go Tell”.
- Daniel 10 – Daniel saw the Lord in all His brilliance, but the men with him did not see God. Daniel fell face down as God spoke saying, “Go Tell”.
- Jonah – God appeared and spoke audibly to Jonah and said, “Go Tell the Gentiles”. God appeared in a violent storm and Jonah was plunged into darkness for three days because he was doing the opposite of what God wanted.
The point of this little study is that Saul, a devout student of the text (a Pharisee of Pharisees), would have been familiar with all these prophets and God’s call on their lives. When God spoke out of the heavens in an audible voice, calling his name twice, in the presence of blinding lights and shaking earth and terrified companions, Saul knew that he was being called by God to something special! Then Saul, like Jonah, was plunged into darkness for three days! Saul obediently responded just like all the others after being visited by God. He boldly went and told both Jews and Gentiles without fear of what man could do to him! God met Saul on the Damascus Road and commissioned him in a very familiar way, and Saul was equal to those great prophets of old in every way.