Acts 9:5
And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
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(5) Who art thou, Lord?—The word “Lord” could not as yet have been used in all the fulness of its meaning. As in many cases in the Gospels, it was the natural utterance of respect and awe (John 5:7; John 9:36; John 20:15), such as would be roused by what the persecutor saw and heard.

I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.—Some of the best MSS. give “Jesus of Nazareth”; or better, perhaps, Jesus the Nazarene. It is probable, however, that this was inserted from Acts 22:18, where it occurs in St. Paul’s own narrative. Assuming the words to have been those which he actually heard, they reproduced the very Name which he himself, as the chief accuser of Stephen, had probably uttered in the tone of scorn and hatred (Acts 6:14)—the very Name which he had been compelling men and women to blaspheme. Now it was revealed to him, or to use his own suggestive mode of speech, “in him” (Galatians 1:16), that the Crucified One was in very deed, as the words of Stephen had attested, at the right hand of God, sharing in the glory of the Father. The pronouns are both emphatic, “I, in my Love and Might and Glory, I am the Jesus whom thou, now prostrate and full of dread, hast been bold enough to persecute.” It was not the disciples and brethren alone whom Saul was persecuting. What was done to them the Lord counted as done unto Himself (Matthew 10:40).

It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.—There is a decisive preponderance of MS. authority against the appearance of these words here, and the conclusion of nearly all critics is that they have been inserted in the later MSS. from Acts 26:14. As they occur in the English text, however, and belong to this crisis in St. Paul’s life, it will be well to deal with them now. In their outward form they were among the oldest and most familiar of Greek proverbs. The Jew who had been educated in the schools of Tarsus might have read them in Greek poets (Æschylus, Agam. 1633; Pindar, Pyth. ii. 173; Eurip. Bacch. 791), or heard them quoted in familiar speech, or written them in his boyhood. They do not occur in any collection of Hebrew proverbs, but the analogy which they presented was so obvious that the ploughmen of Israel could hardly have failed to draw the same lesson as those of Greece. What they taught was, of course, that to resist a power altogether superior to our own is a profitless and perilous experiment. The goad did but prick more sharply the more the ox struggled against it. Two of the passages cited apply the words directly to the suffering which man is sure to encounter when he resists God, as e.g.

“With God we may not strive:

But to bow down the willing neck,

And bear the yoke, is wise;

To kick against the pricks will prove

A perilous emprise.”

—Pind. Pyth. ii. 173.

We ask what lesson the words brought to the mind of Saul. What were the “pricks” against which he had been “kicking”? The answer is found in what we know of the facts of his life. There had been promptings, misgivings, warnings, which he had resisted and defied. Among the causes of these, we may well reckon the conversion of the friend and companion of his youth (see Note on Acts 4:36), and the warning counsel of Gamaliel (Acts 5:34-39), and the angel-face of Stephen (Acts 6:15), and the martyr’s dying prayer (Acts 7:60), and the daily spectacle of those who were ready to go to prison and to death rather than to renounce the name of Jesus. In the frenzy of his zeal he had tried to crush these misgivings, and the effort to do so had brought with it discomfort and disquietude which made him more “exceedingly mad” against the disciples of the Lord. Now he learnt that he had all along, as his master had warned him, been “fighting against God,” and that his only safety lay in the surrender of his own passionate resolve to the gracious and loving Will that was seeking to win him for itself. In his later retrospect of this stage of his life he was able, as by a subtle process of self-analysis, to distinguish between the element of ignorance, which made forgiveness possible, and that of a wilful resistance to light and knowledge which made that forgiveness an act of free and undeserved compassion (1Timothy 1:12-13).

9:1-9 So ill informed was Saul, that he thought he ought to do all he could against the name of Christ, and that he did God service thereby; he seemed to breathe in this as in his element. Let us not despair of renewing grace for the conversion of the greatest sinners, nor let such despair of the pardoning mercy of God for the greatest sin. It is a signal token of Divine favour, if God, by the inward working of his grace, or the outward events of his providence, stops us from prosecuting or executing sinful purposes. Saul saw that Just One, ch. 22:14; 26:13. How near to us is the unseen world! It is but for God to draw aside the veil, and objects are presented to the view, compared with which, whatever is most admired on earth is mean and contemptible. Saul submitted without reserve, desirous to know what the Lord Jesus would have him to do. Christ's discoveries of himself to poor souls are humbling; they lay them very low, in mean thoughts of themselves. For three days Saul took no food, and it pleased God to leave him for that time without relief. His sins were now set in order before him; he was in the dark concerning his own spiritual state, and wounded in spirit for sin. When a sinner is brought to a proper sense of his own state and conduct, he will cast himself wholly on the mercy of the Saviour, asking what he would have him to do. God will direct the humbled sinner, and though he does not often bring transgressors to joy and peace in believing, without sorrows and distress of conscience, under which the soul is deeply engaged as to eternal things, yet happy are those who sow in tears, for they shall reap in joy.And he said, Who art thou, Lord? - The word "Lord" here, as is frequently the case in the New Testament, means no more than "sir," John 4:19. It is evident that Saul did not as yet know that this was the Lord Jesus. He heard a voice as of a man; he heard himself addressed, but by whom the words were spoken was to him unknown. In his amazement and confusion, he naturally asked who it was that was thus addressing him.

And the Lord said - In this place the word "Lord" is used in a higher sense, to denote "the Saviour." It is his usual appellation. See the notes on Acts 1:24.

I am Jesus - It is clear, from this, that there was a personal appearance of the Saviour; that he was present to Saul; but in what particular form - whether seen as a man, or only appearing by the manifestation of his glory, is not affirmed. Though it was a personal appearance, however, of the Lord Jesus, designed to take the work of converting such a persecutor into his own hands, yet he designed to convert him in a natural way. He arrested his attention; he filled him with alarm at his guilt; and then he presented the truth respecting himself. In Acts 22:8, the expression is thus recorded: "I am Jesus of Nazareth," etc. There is no contradiction, as Luke here records only a part of what was said; Paul afterward stated the whole. This declaration was suited especially to humble and mortify Saul. There can be no doubt that he had often blasphemed his name, and profanely derided the notion that the Messiah could come out of Nazareth. Jesus here uses, however, that very designation. "I am Jesus the Nazarene, the object of your contempt and scorn." Yet Saul saw him now invested with special glory.

It is hard ... - This is evidently a proverbial expression. Kuinoel has quoted numerous places in which a similar mode of expression occurs in Greek writers. Thus, Euripides, Bacch., 791, "I, who am a frail mortal, should rather sacrifice to him who is a god, than, by giving place to anger, kick against the goads." So Pindar, Pyth., 2:173, "It is profitable to bear willingly the assumed yoke. To kick against the goad is pernicious conduct." So Terence, Phome., 1, 2, 27, "It is foolishness for thee to kick against a goad." Ovid has the same idea, Tristam, ii. 15. The word translated "pricks" here κέντρον kentron means properly "any sharp point which will pierce or perforate," as the sting of a bee, etc. But it commonly means an ox-goad, a sharp piece of iron stuck into the end of a stick, with which the ox is urged on. These goads among the Hebrews were made very large. Thus, Shamgar killed 600 men with one of them, Judges 3:31. Compare 1 Samuel 13:21. The expression "to kick against the prick" is derived from the action of a stubborn and unyielding ox kicking against the goad. And as the ox would injure no one by it but himself; as he would gain nothing, it comes to denote "an obstinate and refractory disposition and course of conduct, resisting the authority of him who has a right to command, and opposing the leadings of Providence, to the injury of him who makes the resistance." It denotes "rebellion against lawful authority, and thus getting into greater difficulty by attempting to oppose the commands to duty." This is the condition of every sinner. If people wish to be happy, they should cheerfully submit to the authority of God. They should not rebel against his dealings. They should not complain against their Creator. They should not resist the claims of their consciences. By all this they only injure themselves. No man can resist God or his own conscience and be happy. People evince this temper in the following ways:

(1) By violating plain laws of God.

(2) by attempting to resist his claims.

(3) by refusing to do what their conscience requires.

(4) by attempting to free themselves from serious impressions and alarms.

(5) by pursuing a course of vice and wickedness against what they know to be right.

(6) by refusing to submit to the dealings of Providence. And,

(7) In any way by opposing God, and refusing to submit to his authority, and to do what is right.

5. Who art thou, Lord?—"Jesus knew Saul ere Saul knew Jesus" [Bengel]. The term "Lord" here is an indefinite term of respect for some unknown but august speaker. That Saul saw as well as heard this glorious Speaker, is expressly said by Ananias (Ac 9:17; 22:14), by Barnabas (Ac 9:27), and by himself (Ac 26:16); and in claiming apostleship, he explicitly states that he had "seen the Lord" (1Co 9:1; 15:8), which can refer only to this scene.

I am Jesus whom thou persecutest—The "I" and "thou" here are touchingly emphatic in the original; while the term "Jesus" is purposely chosen, to convey to him the thrilling information that the hated name which he sought to hunt down—"the Nazarene," as it is in Ac 22:8—was now speaking to him from the skies, "crowned with glory and honor" (see Ac 26:9).

It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks—The metaphor of an ox, only driving the goad deeper by kicking against it, is a classic one, and here forcibly expresses, not only the vanity of all his measures for crushing the Gospel, but the deeper wound which every such effort inflicted upon himself.

Who art thou, Lord? Saul was in a great consternation and doubting, whether it was God, or an angel.

Jesus whom thou persecutest: though he did not intend this persecution against Christ, yet our Saviour looks upon the good or evil done unto his members as done unto himself.

It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks: this kicking against the pricks is a proverbial speech, taken either from oxen or slaves, whom they used with goads to prick on to their work, which when they kicked against, or opposed themselves to, they did not hurt the goads or pricks, but themselves; so shall all persecutors find that their mischiefs recoil upon themselves; Christ and his members shall be made here glorious by it: this metaphor is common in Scripture, Deu 32:15 1 Samuel 2:29. The pricks Saul had kicked against, were the sermons and miracles of St. Stephen and others.

And he said, who art thou, Lord?.... For he knew not whether it was God, or an angel, or who it was that spake to him; he knew not Christ by his form or voice, as Stephen did, when he saw him standing at the right hand of God; he was in a state of ignorance, and knew neither the person, nor voice of Christ, and yet his heart was so far softened and wrought upon, that he was desirous of knowing who he was;

and the Lord said, I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest. The Alexandrian copy, and the Syriac and Ethiopic versions, "read Jesus of Nazareth"; and one of Beza's copies, and another of Stephens', as in Acts 22:8 whose name thou art doing many things against, and whose people thou art destroying:

it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks; or "to resist me", as the Arabic version renders it; and which is the sense of the phrase; it is a proverbial expression, taken from beasts that are goaded, who kick against the goads or pricks, and hurt themselves the more thereby; and Christ uses it, suggesting hereby, that should Saul go on to persecute him and his people, to oppose his Gospel, and the strong evidence of it, in doctrine and miracles, and notwithstanding the present remonstrances made in such an extraordinary manner; he would find himself in the issue greatly hurt by it, and could not rationally expect to succeed against so powerful a person. This clause in the Syriac version is placed at the end of the fourth verse.

And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is {c} hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

(c) This is a proverb which is spoken of those who through their stubbornness hurt themselves.

Acts 9:5. Τίς εἶ, Κύριε; the title is here used in reverent and awestruck response to the question of a speaker, in whose voice, accompanied as it was by the supernatural light, Saul recognised a divine utterance—it is therefore more than a mere word of respect, as in Acts 16:30, Acts 25:26; it indicates, as St. Chrysostum noted, a purpose to follow the voice, whether it was that of an angel or of God Himself (Felten), “Jam parat se ad obediendum, qui prius insaniebat ad persequendum,” Augustine.—Ἐγὼσὺ: both pronouns are emphatic, and contrasted: Ἰησοῦς, cf. Acts 20:8, and note. For rest of verse see critical notes.

5. And he said, Who art thou, Lord?] Saul is sensible of the Divine nature of the vision, and shews this by his address. The appearance of Christ, though in a glorified body, must have been like that which He wore in His humanity, and since Saul does not recognize Jesus, we may almost certainly conclude that he had not known Him during His ministerial life.

And the Lord said] The best texts have only “And he,” the verb “said” being understood.

I am Jesus whom thou persecutest] In Acts 22:8 St Paul gives the fuller form of the sentence, “I am Jesus of Nazareth.” By using this name, the being whose Divine nature Saul has already acknowledged by calling him “Lord,” at once and for ever puts an end to Saul’s persecuting rage, for he is made to see, what his master Gamaliel had before suggested (Acts 5:39), that to persecute Jesus was to “fight against God.”

it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. 6. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him] These words have been inserted here in some MSS. for the sake of making in this place a complete narrative by the combination and adaptation of the additional particulars given in Acts 26:14 and Acts 22:10. It is easy to understand the desire which prompted such a combination. The best MSS. omit the words here, giving them where they more naturally find place, in the personal narratives of St Paul himself.

Acts 9:5. Τίς εἶ; who art thou?) Conscience itself would readily say, that it is Jesus.—ἐγὼ, I) The very One whom thou persecutest am I, Jesus. [I Jesus am the very One whom, etc.]—ὃν σὺ διώκεις, whom thou persecutest) The verb is repeated, with the emphatic pronoun σὺ, thou. This very verb Saul, when once stricken with terror, often from time to time brought back to his memory. In conversion, the will of a man is broken and melted: the Divine will is taken up [as the ruling principle henceforth]: ch. Acts 16:30. As to the efficacy of such terror, comp. Exodus 20:20; 2 Samuel 6:9; 1 Chronicles 21:30. The most solid arguments for the truth of Christianity are afforded by the conversion of Saul, Acts 9:21 : and he is an extraordinary example of the amplitude of free (gratuitous, undeserved) grace.

Verse 5. - He for the Lord, A.V. and T.R. The rest of ver. 5 in the A.V., "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" and the first part of ver. 6, "And he trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him," are omitted in the R.T. They have, in fact, no manuscript authority (Meyer; Alford); and not much patristic authority, or from versions, and are omitted by all modern editors. They seem to be taken from the parallel narratives in Acts 22:8-10; Acts 26:14. The proverb, "It is hard," etc., is only found in Acts 26:14 (where see note). Acts 9:5It is hard for thee, etc

Transferred from Acts 26:14, and omitted by the best texts.

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