Like Jonah— only more so —Saul of Tarsus was working at cross purposes with God. And like Jonah, he had a rendezvous with destiny:
“With this in mind, I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road . . . I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. 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 hurts you to kick against the goads.’ I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting’ ” (Acts 26: 11-15).
Thus, while Saul of Tarsus was very proud of his position and very confident in his beliefs, he did not realize that his obsession with these things was contrary to the living Word of God. Indeed, he received mercy, it is later said, because he had acted ignorantly in unbelief (I Timothy 1:13). That mercy came, on the road to Damascus, when he came to know and trust the living Christ. He received an attitude adjustment, at that point, which not only changed his life, but also changed the course of history:
“If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith” (Philippians 3:4-9).
We have seen, then, that Saul of Tarsus was very confident in the flesh. His egoic mind, as we might refer to it,was very much invested in both his identity as a Pharisee and in his efforts to persecute the fledgling Church. On the road to Damascus, however, he learned that it is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless (cf. John 6:63; II Corintians 3:3-6). From that point forward he is known as the apostle Paul. Unlike the prophet Jonah, the apostle Paul provides an example of whole hearted obedience to the Lord—not in his own strength, but in the strength and power of the Spirit. But this required that he be willing, when necessary, to rethink his personal and traditional beliefs as he grew in grace and knowledge of the truth.