The northeast part of Oklahoma where I live is cattle country, with real cowboys, horses, spurs on their boots and cowboy hats on their heads. The region is called 'Green Country', for this eastern third of the state if well watered, with many hills and streams and large pastures good for grazing. When cattle are brought in to be separated, they pass through a passageway with a gate that makes the animals go right or left, used to separate young males (bulls or steers) from young females who have never had a baby (heifers). To encourage the animal to move along, a 'cattle prod' or what scripture calls an ox-goad, is used to poke them in their hip or rear end.
The Lord's cattle prod
The Lord says this to Paul when He appeared to him outside Damascus: "Saul. Saul. Why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the pricks (ox-goad, cattle prod)." Acts 26:14
The word 'goad' is the Greek word 'kentron', and means a 'sharp point, a sting'. It was used in that day of bees and scorpions as well as an ox-goad. The Lord was telling Saul to stop kicking against the Lord poking him to move him along. Evidently, Saul had been thinking on the claims of the Christians but resisting what the Lord was showing him, thus the 'It's hard for you to kick against the ox-goad' comment. Give up Saul! Stop resisting!
Yes He is the Great Shepherd, but...He can poke you in the butt now and again when you need it, lol
Many of us have Psalm 23 on a plaque on their wall, highlighting v1: "The Lord is my Shepherd...", but I'd be surprised if any of us have Acts 26: 14 on our wall: "It's hard for you to kick against the cattle prod."
So we must ask, what was the Lord poking Paul with, why, and in what way might He do that to us today?
Context is everything
The Lord does not contradict Himself, and John 10 is true, He is the Good Shepherd, and I'll share more how He leads us later. But for this week, how might He jab us in the rear end?
Hebrews 4: 12-13 tells us the Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing between our soul and spirit, to the joints and marrow, and critiques the thoughts and motives of our heart. But lest anyone reading mistakenly think that is talking about the written Word of God, the writer continues:
"And all things are open and naked before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Seeing then we have such a great high priest, Jesus Christ the righteous...."
It is the Person of the Word, not the written Word, that Hebrews 4:12 tells us is sharper than any two-edged sword, knowing even our deepest thoughts and intentions of the heart. Swords have 2 edges, 2 broad sides, and a point. The point is used to stab, deeply or shallow it doesn't matter, the pointy end is sharp and piercing.
Saul of Tarsus, the future apostle Paul, was persecuting Christians, and no doubt studied their claims that Jesus was Messiah. It would appear from the Lord's words to him, that Paul had been thinking on these things for some time and stubbornly refused to believe, and instead expanded his efforts to stamp out all believers in Jesus as Messiah.
The 'ox goad' he was kicking against, was the Person of Jesus as seen through the body of Christ. "Why are you persecuting me?" Jesus had long since ascended to heaven, but took persecution against His people personally, because we are His body.
The Lord's first efforts to reach us are private, in the heart
No one knew how the Lord was poking Saul of Tarsus in his heart to consider the claims of these believers in Jesus. It was private. The Lord only took it public because it got to the point he was strongly resisting, and not only resisting, but insisting on going the exact opposite direction.
Years ago a noted TV evangelist was caught in a car with a prostitute about half his age. He later admitted that he had a 'porn problem' since he was a teenager. The Lord never changes; The way He dealt with Saul He dealt with this evangelist and countless others - keeping things internal, private, and only going public if the person insists on going the wrong direction - kicking against the ox-goad.
A man has lust in his heart for years, though on the outside his life and marriage seem perfect. But one day in a shock to all, he has an affair with a co-worker - it doesn't matter whether it is a pastor and a worship leader having an affair, or the factory boss and his secretary, the Lord works the same way: Private attempts first to get them to change their ways, then if the person firmly refuses, the Lord allows it to become public.
Jesus taught the same thing in Matthew 18: 11-21 with the Parable of the Lost Sheep. He said if a brother trespasses, keep it private and you who he wronged get with him to seek reconciliation. If he won't be reconciled, take 1 or 2 others who are witnesses (know what is going on) and try to get him to reconcile. If he won't hear those 2 or 3, THEN and only then, take it to leadership, making it public.
Look around at the news, Christian or secular: When secret things come to light, saved or unsaved, know the Father who loves all unconditionally, works the same way with all in the hopes they will come to Him. From unsaved rock star or actor to a small town pastor, He works privately to spare the person the embarrassment and possible collapse of their relationships and lives, in the hopes they will come to Him. He is SO very gracious and loving to all.
He tries first to lead us like a Shepherd, but if we won't follow, there are those times He gets behind us and gives us a good stab in the butt to get our attention - not with sickness or tragic accident, but as He did with Saul - public revelation of what had been up to that point, private. It is much easier to be led, and I will pick it up there next week. Until then, blessings,
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