Kicking against the goads?: The meaning and message

Tommy Boland

“It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” What exactly does that phrase mean? “Kicking against the goads” is not something we hear often in our day-to-day conversation! And yet, in Acts 26:14, the master Teacher delivers a powerful life lesson in His exquisite, parabolic style, which is simple, straightforward, self-explanatory, and is designed to sanctify every blood-bought saint. Let’s examine this verse with the goal of gleaning two powerful truths: the meaning and the message of the oxgoad.

Truth #1 – The meaning of the oxgoad

goadFirst, the oxgoad is a long pole or stick with a pointed piece of iron fastened to one end. In the strong hands of a loving master, the ox is gently prodded, guided, steered and driven in the desired direction when plowing the fields. When a stubborn ox attempts to kick back against the goad that is causing it discomfort, the ox will actually inflict more pain, driving the pointed end deeper into its flesh.
Second, the oxgoad is designed for an ox, and for no other beast. When Jesus likened the proud Pharisee Saul (and every child of God) to a brute beast, Saul’s heart likely pounded with incredible indignation. By birth a Jew, by citizenship a Roman, by education a Greek, “as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless” (Philippians 3:6 NASB), Saul was a Pharisee of Pharisees. He sat at the top of the spiritual ladder in Jerusalem, and now Jesus of Nazareth was comparing him to a bovine!
However, when you consider this for a moment, you realize that the comparison to an ox was actually a greater insult to the beast! Oxen did exactly what God created them to do – serve and glorify the One who created them. Oxen bend their necks to the yoke and to the one true God, who has placed man over them as ruler and lord. Man is the only creature who refuses to submit to the revealed will of his Creator.
King David, possessing much greater self-awareness than Saul of Tarsus, freely confessed, “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you” (Psalm 73:21-22).
Here are just a few examples of oxgoads God uses in the lives of His people: sermons, suffering, doctrine, difficulty, adversity, affliction, godly counsel, holy confrontation, conviction of the Holy Spirit, financial reversal, business failure and academic probation.
You might like to take some time to identify other oxgoads you have kicked against in the past. What was the result of your rebellion? Did you find that your pain actually increased as you resisted? What would you do differently today? Remember, all Scripture, rightly understood, is an oxgoad – both to the sinner and the saint.

Truth #2 – The message of the oxgoad

When Jesus rebuked Saul (who would soon become the apostle Paul) for kicking against the goads, He was telling the proud Pharisee that he was only hurting himself in resisting the truth and teaching of Christ. The more he resisted … the more he suffered. The harder he kicked … the deeper the goad drove into his flesh. A modern equivalent to this timeless message is, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you!”
How about it? Is there an area in your life where you’ve been biting the nail-scarred hand that feeds you? How foolish and prideful for us to rebel against omnipotence! But look with me at the great tenderness in Jesus’ words. He does not say, “It is hard for My people” or “It is hard for Me,” but rather Jesus says, “It is hard for you, Saul!” It is startling when we realize that our Savior is always thinking about the sinner, even when we are busily sowing seeds of our own sorrow! I’m sure we would all agree from personal experience that it is, indeed, hard for us when we kick against the goads. It was almost as if Jesus was saying sorrowfully to Saul what we parents say to our children when applying some stern discipline: “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.”
Who but the Savior could think such compassionate thoughts of a man who was intent on persecuting His church? When we see cruel men persecuting Christians, what do we think – compassionate thoughts or condemning thoughts? How quickly we would write off a man like Saul … but not our Savior. No one is beyond the redemptive reach of our Lord! No one has wandered too far, failed too often or sinned too deeply to place himself or herself beyond the reach of Jesus’ promise: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus provides great comfort for us because He has great compassion for us.
So … where has God been applying His oxgoad to your life? Where have you increased your suffering because you continue to kick against the goads? And when will you yield to the truth and teaching of Christ? When Saul finally reached that point, nothing could stop him. He poured out his life to bring the Gospel to the nations, and no earthly obstacles would deter him – not the whip, not false witness, not trials or tribulations, not even an excruciating thorn. Paul, by God’s grace, ran his course and was able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). I pray that everyone will be able to say that in the end! This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. Never forget that. Amen!

Rev. Tommy Boland is the men’s minister and sports minister at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. He also teaches adult Sunday school. For more information, including Bible study resource materials, please e-mail  [email protected] or visit For more articles by Dr. Tommy Boland, visit

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