Sometimes it is easy to forget the fight we are in. Paul says this:
Eph 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (ESV)
The enemy has weaved a pretty complex web of lies and deceit. Or mortal enemy is not God or each other but the devil and his minions:
Gen 3:15 I will make you and the woman hostile toward each other. I will make your descendants and her descendant hostile toward each other. He will crush your head, and you will bruise his heel.” (GWT)
The enemy uses religion to have us focus on ourselves, step into a stoic existence empty of compassion, live by rules that kill us instead of heal us and blame God for everything that the enemy does to us. The devil’s simple plan is to create separation between us and our Father in Heaven. Even at the foot of the cross he has us look at ourselves instead of celebrating the creator and all His goodness. We need to be diligent to pursue the truth of the goodness of God. We need to listen intently to the Holy Spirit as He reveals the love of God in the death of Jesus. We need to celebrate the Grace of God and surrender to His redemptive power. His truth will set us free and transform our thinking.
I want to share one of those amazing examples of the Grace of God that the enemy actually uses to induce fear (there is no fear in love).
You may know the story of Saul (soon to be Paul) on the road to Damascus. He has been hunting down all the Christians so his team of zealots could beat them and kill them. Paul was an extreme follower of God. He was a Pharisee, tought by the best. His knowledge and adherence to the Law were unmatched. So Saul is on his way to find more Christians and Jesus shows up in all His glory.
Acts 26:13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ (ESV)
The question is “who is ‘goading’ who?” Maybe you have heard teaching on this or just accepted that Jesus needed to whack Saul with a big 2×4 to get his attention. That is what I always thought. The goodness of God brings someone to change their mind. God doesn’t use the threat of punishment on this side of the cross. He can’t. Jesus paid for all our trespasses. So I like passages like this one to see if we can “see” it differently.
Did you know that Saul means desire? Jesus says his name twice. It’s like He was saying “you who desires so deeply.” Next the word “persecuting” actually means to chase. Over the centuries of religious teaching we have distorted this word to mean something like “they are picking on me” or the other extreme “they want to cut off my head.” Really the word in the most basic form just means to chase or pursue. What happens when they are caught is a different discussion. Here is the same word used for another pursuit:
1 Cor 14:1 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy (ESV)
Next notice Jesus spoke in Hebrew. I believe there are no trivial details. If Jesus was speaking in Hebrew and used this word “kick” which means “to strike with the heel.” I bet Saul being the scholar that he was would immediately get the reference especially spoken in the Hebrew:
Gen 3:15b He will crush your head, and you will bruise his heel.”
I believe this was an explicit reference to who our enemy is. The last word is “goad.” A goad is something you would use to prod an animal to get a response. Today we call it a cattle prod and it usually has an electric shock as part of the “encouragement” to respond. In Saul’s day the goad was not used for sheep. Sheep needed a shepherd with a staff or rod. It was used to gently coax the animals and scoop them out of danger (with the hook end). It wasn’t a whipping or poking stick. The bullies like goats needed a goad. They were stubborn and independent. I challenge you that Saul wasn’t stubborn. Quite the contrary he was in hot pursuit of God. He was mislead, not doubt but he was zealous for his creator. Here is the word goad in another verse. It is the word translated as “sting.”
1 Cor 15:26 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (ESV)
So who was “goading” Saul?
I believe Saul was a sheep but didn’t know it. I believe Saul, the desirous one, wanted to know his God. I believe Saul was in conflict inside. I bet he had heard the teaching of Jesus and was led the by Spirit to know it was true but it was against every tradition he held dear. I believe the devil used Saul’s zeal and pursuit against him. I believe the goad was the sting of the devil biting at the heel of a zealot. I believe Saul was crying out to God to save him, rescue him, deliver him from this internal struggle. I believe Saul was in conflict between these truth of Grace that appealed to him and the traditions of men that held him captive. Saul wasn’t just a follower of the Law, he was a lawyer. His fallen Adam law thinking was inflamed and confirmed by his love of the Law of Moses. Jesus appeared so foreign to him but unlike the Pharisees that Jesus encountered, Saul’s heart was receptive. Saul was trapped by the human condition that tortures so many of us. He was seeking God but all the way the enemy was prodding him with lies, deceit, pain and conflict.
I believe Jesus was appealing to Saul to deliver him from his fallen human nature. It is the same message we should be hearing today. I believe Saul absolutely encountered the goodness of God on the road to Damascus. I don’t believe he was poked by God with an inhuman spear of pain. I believe he set Saul free from his pain. This is what God does. This is who He is. Even Prodded Pharisees get set free in the presence of Jesus.
If you are feeling prodded these days, take a look around and see who is doing the poking. Ask God for wisdom. He calls us with His goodness and kindness. Look for His peace. Likely the enemy is driving you away from the very thing you need and God is appealing to your pain. The enemy is telling you it is God’s plan for you to hurt. God says the enemy is hurting you. It may be some lie you chose to partner with. If you step in front of a bus it will hurt, but it wasn’t God who was driving the bus. It wasn’t God calling you into the street. I bet some pain pushed you into the street and God was actually calling you from the other direction. Just something to think about.