And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.2 Corinthians 12:7 (KJV)
Thorn in the flesh – How many of us think we know what this means? We respond nodding our heads, of course, this is an idiom and our 21st century western worldview knows exactly what Paul is talking about. Right?
Paul is obviously talking about some sickness, or challenging sin in his life.
Frank Voila brings an interesting view to this verse in one of his blog posts. I’d like to sum it up noting his references.
Let’s examine the word “messenger” in light of Occam’s Razor which states, “the simplest solution is probably the right one.” In Hebrew, the word messenger can be a person, an angel, etc. In fact, in Greek, the word for “angel” in 11:14 is the same word used for “messenger” in 12:7.
Did you notice that in chapter 11, Paul references “false apostles” and “deceitful workers” then jumps into this bit about a thorn or “messenger of Satan.” Chapter 11 and 12 tie in together completely.
In the spirit of “soylent green is people,” thorns are people too! Paul’s thorn is not some sickness or burdensome sin. It is a person (or people) striving to interfere with his teachings. A group sent to disrupt his progress.
Another good practice to investigate how Hebrews may have used a specific term is to see if it’s used elsewhere in the text. This particular word is also used in Numbers 33:55.
But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell.Numbers 33:55
Examine Joshua 23:13 and Judges 2:3 as well.
These thorns are the enemies of God sticking into the sides of Israel causing pain. Paul experienced their deception. They followed Paul throughout Galatia (Galatians 1:7) as he visited the congregations. Paul continually spoke out against these false teachers who placed stumbling blocks in front of believers and challenged their ability to join Israel. Paul’s message was that anyone can come back or join Israel by faith. As people grew in the Lord, they would submit themselves to His commandments and enact His will, but they needed to start somewhere.