Event(s): The Damascus Road: Saul is Converted
Today’s Text: Acts 9:1-19
Tomorrow’s Text: Acts 9:20-31
Our scene shifts back to Saul, and the persecution is mounting. As if not satisfied enough with the havoc he was wreaking in Jerusalem, Saul now expands his efforts to Damascus. The words used to describe his actions are violent:
“The partitive genitive of apeiles [threats] and phonou [murder] means that threatening and slaughter had come to be the very breath that Saul breathed, like a warhorse who sniffed the smell of battle. He breathed on the remaining disciples the murder that he had already breathed in from the death of the others. He exhaled what he inhaled.” -A. T. Robertson, Bible Scholar
Acts 9:2a “letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus” Damascus was approximately 135 miles to the northeast of Jerusalem, about a week’s journey. We read in chapter 8 that believers were “scattered” due to the persecution they were experiencing in Jerusalem. Damascus was one of the places they fled to, and now Saul was on their heels. But to operate this far outside of his “jurisdiction”, he needed letters giving him the legal authority in order to arrest believers.
Saul genuinely thought he was doing the right thing. He considered his actions religious zeal for God in that he thought he was purging false worship from Israel.
Acts 9:2b “any who were of the Way” In the early Church, disciples of Jesus were known as those who followed “The Way”. This probably goes back to Jesus’ teaching that He was “The Way.” We do not see the name “Christians” introduced until a few years later (in Acts chapter 11).
Acts 9:4 “why are you persecuting Me?” To come against the people of God is to fight against God Himself. This echoes back to the same warning that Saul’s teacher, Gamaliel, had voiced in the courts of the Sanhedrin in Acts 5:39.
Acts 9:5 “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” A goad is a spiked stick that is used for driving cattle. Some animals can be stubborn, resisting this prodding, and will occasionally kick at a goad. However, the more an animal does this, the more likely they will self-inflict wounds as the spikes on the goad stab their flesh.
A deeper study of the language used in this verse implies that Saul, for some time now, had been “kicking back” at the superior authority and power of God that was lovingly trying to steer, or “prod” him towards the truth. It is safe to infer that even though Saul was acting out so violently against the church, for quite some time now, his conscience was being pricked about the terrible things he was doing. God, in his great mercy, intervenes personally to save Saul from his deception.
Acts 9:6 “Arise and go into the city” Notice God’s words to Saul were not of condemnation or judgment.
Acts 9:8 “he saw no one” Saul was struck with blindness. On day 5 of our study, we defined what a sign is. Jesus often used signs in the natural to point to a greater reality in the supernatural. Saul’s blindness was a sign that spoke to what he needed to experience spiritually. His vision had to change. The way he saw the world and Jesus had to change. For the three days he was without sight, a transformation was taking place.
“Ironically while Saul was blind, he would see his own spiritual blindness.” – NKJV Study Bible
Acts 9:17 “Brother Saul…” Ananias didn’t wait to see how Saul would respond to extend his love towards him. He had heard all the rumors about Saul and what he had done to the saints, but because of what the Holy Spirit revealed to him, he was able to see Saul as God saw him, a new creation, and a brother in the faith.
Imagine what Saul’s prayers must have sounded like those three days. Who on earth would be willing to extend this kind of unconditional love and acceptance to him, considering all he had done? God chooses to answer his prayer by sending Ananias, whose name literally means, “Whom God has graciously given.”
Acts 9:18 “there fell from his eyes something like scales”
“The description suggests the thought that the blindness was caused by an incrustation, caused by acute inflammation, covering the pupil of the eye, or closing up the eye-lids, analogous to the “whiteness,” that peeled (or scaled) off from the eyes” –Ellicott’s Bible Commentary
Whenever we resist the authority or instruction of God, we will find ourselves kicking against goads. We can do this directly as Saul did, by ignoring something God is speaking directly to our hearts and convicting us about. Or, we can also do it indirectly, as we rebel against those God has placed in authority over us. Whatever the case may be, kicking against goads only results in self-inflicted wounds. If we continue to harden our hearts in this manner, we will find it increasingly difficult to hear the voice of God and/or sense the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
Today, it would be a good idea to consider if there’s anything God has been talking to us about or convicting us of that we’ve maybe not acted upon. Psalm 32:9 says, “Do not be like the horse or like the mule which have no understanding, whose trappings include bridle and rein to hold them in check, otherwise they will not come near to you.” Let’s not be like a mule, stubborn and hardened to the point where God has to bridle us in order to get us to obey. The better way, the way of maturity, is that we’d be so in tuned and so responsive to Him that He can lead us with His eye. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you [who are willing to learn] with My eye upon you.” Psalm 32:8