I wanted to write a short story on what I had learned about this little saying that I had heard before and was in a song Johnny Cash wrote (When the Man Comes Around). First of all this saying is found, not in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament, in Acts 26:14. Paul is describing his Damascus Road experience to King Herod Agrippa II. Paul says that God said to him, ”Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (the King James version says, the pricks). I had always wondered what that meant. A little look at the Hebrew meaning gave me some interesting results.
From the study of the various Hebrew words that mean, “to teach”, I learned that the verb “lamad” is a root word and part of the meaning of the word, “ox goad”. The letter “l“ in the Hebrew alphabet is “lamed”, and is formed in the shape of a goad or prod that is used on animals for making them go where you want them to. The letter in the alphabet actually has a hook on it that makes it look just like a goad or prod. The Hebrew word for ox goad is “malmad”, and is an instrument fitted with a nail or sharp point. Ox goad in Hebrew means literally, “the thing that teaches” (see above, lamad). Ecclesiastes 12:11 says, God’s words are” like goads, like firmly embedded nails” to prod us.
When God asked Saul why he was kicking against the goads, He was telling Saul that He had been trying to get him to go where he was prodding him to and he wouldn’t go. Paul had heard Stephen speak yet did not listen and continued to kick against the goads. He had continued to fight against God’s words by doing what he had been doing in persecuting every Christian that he could find. God finally stopped Paul by speaking to him from heaven and blinding him and putting him in darkness for three days.
An interesting side story to this one is, to the early rabbis, Jonah was the classic example of someone who kicked against the goads. He clearly heard the word of the Lord to go to Nineveh but he chose not to obey and went the opposite direction. What did God do to Jonah? He put him in darkness for three days! So, Paul is treated just like one of the other great prophets in the Scriptures! The Bible is such a fascinating book!
Here is a bit more on the word from the Hebrew:
The Hebrew letter for “l” is “lamed” (also the word for the number 30). It can be represented many ways – as shown below:
Like many ancient writing systems, the Hebrew alphabet was originally represented through a series of pictures or pictographs. The original pictograph for lamed represents a goad.