An ox goad is a wooden tool, approximately eight feet long, fitted with an iron spike or point at one end, which was used to spur oxen as they pulled a plow or cart. It often had an iron scraper at the non-pointed end to clear clods of earth from the plowshare when it became weighed down.
The ox goad is mentioned only once by that name in the Bible, in Judges 3:31. Shamgar, one of those who judged Israel, killed 600 hundred Philistines using only an ox goad for a weapon. Shamgar’s use of an ox goad shows how low the men of Judah had been brought at that time by their oppressors. Later, Israel was disarmed to the extent that “not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel” (Judges 5:8).
Ecclesiastes 12:11 refers to a goad, which is synonymous with an ox goad: “The words of the wise are like goads, / and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; / they are given by one Shepherd.” In this verse, a comparison is made between the Word of God, its doctrines, and its effects upon the heart of man and an ox goad that pricks, drives, and directs sinners like oxen. The Shepherd uses the Word to prick our consciences, drive us to repentance, and direct us to Christ for salvation.
When an ox was poked with a goad, its response was sometimes to kick out at it in resistance. Naturally, kicking back at the goad was futile, not to mention painful. Jesus used this as an analogy when He confronted Saul on the Damascus Road (Acts 26:14). Jesus asked Saul why he was persecuting Him and reminded him that, just as an ox that kicks against the pricking of the goad can hurt itself, Saul’s continued resistance to the gospel would only result in danger to himself. Saul wisely submitted to the goad and yielded himself to Christ.