“There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to torment me…”
I admit that I have had no clue over my years of study… until now. And even now, I cannot declare that my understanding is exact or certain; but I think the veil is being pulled back just a little. So, I hope you will accept my thoughts as those of someone who is earnestly trying to understand God’s Word. Here is where I’m going…
As always, when reading the Bible, we must be careful to interpret Scripture within the context of the passage. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 are all about this thorn that is afflicting Paul and the reasons and consequences of his suffering. I believe that God is revealing to me, within the context of my recent experiences (and what He has been showing me of late), a revelation of these verses.
Let’s take a look at the entire passage (in the Amplified Version of the Bible):
7 And to keep me from being puffed up and too much elated by the exceeding greatness (preeminence) of these revelations, there was given me a thorn (a splinter) in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to rack and buffet and harass me, to keep me from being excessively exalted.
8 Three times I called upon the Lord and besought [Him] about this and begged that it might depart from me;
9 But He said to me, My grace (My favor and loving-kindness and mercy) is enough for you [sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear the trouble manfully]; for My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and show themselves most effective in [your] weakness. Therefore, I will all the more gladly glory in my weaknesses and infirmities, that the strength and power of Christ (the Messiah) may rest (yes, may pitch a tent over and dwell) upon me!
10 So for the sake of Christ, I am well pleased and take pleasure in infirmities, insults, hardships, persecutions, perplexities and distresses; for when I am weak [in human strength], then am I [truly] strong (able, powerful in divine strength).
First, Paul makes it very clear that he has been blessed with an abundance of revelations from God, Himself, and it would only be natural to begin to think more highly of himself – or to start glorifying himself rather than the One from whom they came. So he says that he was given the mysterious thorn – or as he calls it, a splinter. At first that word “splinter” threw me. Why would Paul, who also refers to the thorn as a messenger of Satan, call it a “splinter”? What could they possibly have in common?
Well, I have always understood “messenger” to be an angel, or a spiritual emissary. This one comes from Satan, so it is possible that it is an evil spirit; one of Satan’s fallen angels; a demon – whatever it is, it is associated with Satan. And calling it a splinter indicates to me that it is a smaller unit of evil, broken off of the larger entity, known as Satan. That’s what a splinter is … a breaking off of a sharp fragment from a larger piece.
So whatever this “thorn” is, it is a spirit that has been sent to torment Paul by Satan. But we must remind ourselves that this “thorn”, or spirit, was allowed to afflict Paul because God allowed it, just as He allowed Satan to torment Job. But just like Job, Paul is protected, and it is all for God’s glory.
How do I know this? Because I see in these four short verses, what God has been showing me through our need for spiritual healing. Even though Paul asked God to remove the tormenting spirit, it did not depart from him. That is because God wanted Paul to experience the power of Christ (which is the Holy Spirit) working in him to defeat the tormenting spirit. If God just took it from Paul because he asked Him to, there would be no testimony of experiencing the Holy Spirit working in Paul’s life.
I have seen it first-hand these past few months. Just the other night, I was given the privilege by God to help a beloved person in my life get free of her own “thorns”. When God says, that “His grace is sufficient because His strength is made perfect in our weakness”, here is what I have seen … Because He loves us and shows us favor as His children (His grace), He loves showing us that the Holy Spirit can be our strength when battling the spiritual forces of wickedness that attack us; that it is precisely when we are at our weakest, and most desperate, that the power of Christ can be most evident.
I have personally witnessed the Holy Spirit come in the fullness and power of Christ to help people bind the spirits of anger, pride, rejection, guilt, shame, vanity … you name it; all the thorns that Satan can throw at them. But the Holy Spirit is present and helps them hand over those spirits to Christ to deal with as He wishes, and to receive the freedom and peace of Christ resting on them.
I know that this is not a mainstream interpretation of this Scripture, but I believe that Paul wants us to know that the reason he can “glory” in his infirmities, weaknesses, persecutions, and distresses is because he can testify to the power of the Holy Spirit in defeating the messengers from Satan. When Paul was at his weakest (in his human strength), he experienced the full divine power of the Holy Spirit working in him, with him, and through him to be the strongest he could be.
And another thing, I believe that Paul was able to rid himself of that thorn. Note that he only says a thorn was given to him and he asked God to take it from him, and God’s reply was to send the Holy Spirit to show Paul that there was strength and power from God to help him be rid of his torment. It does not say that he retained the thorn. And I can tell you from personal experience, that we can all rid ourselves of our thorns and tormenting spirits through the authority from Christ by calling upon the power of the Holy Spirit. I have seen it and it glorifies God in this realm, the spiritual realm, and in Heaven. What an awesome God we serve!