Sunday, October 23, 2011
The thorn in the flesh, which Paul testified of in 2 Corinthians 12:7
Over the years I have read where many in our day have made the assumption that the thorn in the flesh, which Paul testified of in 2 Corinthians 12:7, was some physical ailment. These theories are made on the assumptions that we can't really know from the scriptures what the thorn in Paul’s flesh was.
Has biblical hermeneutics digressed so far that comparing scripture with scripture is not longer considered an option? One of the first principles of sound biblical hermeneutics is that the scripture is its own interpreter. i.e., they are not subject to private interpretation. We must carefully examine the passage in question, and then see how the language is used throughout scripture.
In this way, we have God, Word, interpret His Word. In the case of Paul like the rest of the disciples and Jesus, he was very familiar with the figurative language and he surely used it in the same way it has been used throughout Old Testament scripture.
God is the author of these scriptures, and we would "expect" there to be consistency in the use of the word, in like situations. For example, Joshua 23:13 "Know for a certainty that the Lord your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you".
This is not a literal scourge in their sides and thorns in their eyes to signify any bodily disorder (as a man would assume today.) God is using this to illustrate that the people of other nations will be His instrument to trouble them and cause them to fall. In the book of numbers, God uses the same language, but switches the use of the thorn to the side, and scourges to the eyes.
Numbers 33:55 "But if you will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which you let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein you dwell".
A thorn in your side "is" a metaphor thorn in the flesh. And contrary to popular belief, it's not physical. It's people who were if left among the people of Israel, would trouble them. This is what the thorn in the side "signifies" in God's Word. Paul, being a Hebrew of Hebrews and a man of knowledge of scripture would be very familiar with these terms and how God used them in the Old Testament. Another good example is Judges 2:3 "Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you." These men were to be a thorns in their side and their gods shall be a snares and trouble to Israel.
The fact is, we use very similar language to describe people today. For example, we would say someone is, "a pain in the neck." Does this convey that we have literally pains in our necks? No. This phrase conveys the exact same meanings as Paul's thorn in the flesh. He was simply using a common expression of those days, just as we do in our day.
It is a common mistake to assume that the thorn in the flesh was a disease or ailment that Satan gave him. But it is obviously that metaphors, are involved here “since it's not a literal thorn” and when metaphors is involved, we have to let God's Word itself interpret the metaphors. We don’t have to make assumptions, or guess at what it might mean. We compare scripture with scripture to discern God's truth.
Now that we have seen consistently seen what the metaphor thorn represents throughout the Old Testament scripture, we can take what we've learned and see if it will fit consistent with other scriptures. The first thing that we notice is that God further defines the thorn in the flesh as, "The Messenger of Satan!"
This holds true consistently in the New Testament scriptures as well. Jesus speaking to the Jewish leader had this to say. “You are of your father the devil, and the “desires of your father you want to do.” Notice Jesus said they desired to do the will of their father.
Literal disease's and sicknesses are "not" messengers of Satan that come to “BUFFET” Paul. God's scriptural metaphor of thorns in the old testament is totally consistent with the messengers of Satan, and totally consistent with the Judaizers who Jesus said desired to do his will. Thorns in the bible never signify an illness or sickness.
What was Paul’s Thorn in the side? The adversaries of God and his servants who come to trouble them. The Judaizers, who were the enemies of God, and “the saints” were a “thorn in the side of Paul,” because they hated him for teaching against their doctrines. These thorns which were sent to buffet Paul were not of God, but messengers of Satan. Their defining characteristic is that they are thorns and “brier” bushes, not a tree from which to get good fruit. Luke 6:44 "For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of (thorns men) do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes".
As an apostle who was teaching against their doctrines Paul was imprisoned, flogged, and many times was near death. Five times he received the forty lashes minus one. Three times he was beaten with rods, once he was stoned, three times he was shipwrecked and for a night and a day he was adrift at sea. He was frequently on dangerous journeys, in danger from rivers, bandits, from his own people and also the Gentiles. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)
An ancient Jewish writing describes the procedure for receiving stripes in a Jewish court: “The two hands of the criminal are bound to a post, and then the servant of the synagogue either pulls or tears off his clothes till he leaves his breast and shoulders bare. A stone or block is placed behind him on which the servant stands; he holds in his hands a scourge made of leather, divided into four tails. He who scourges lays one third on the criminal’s breast, another third on his right shoulder, and another on his left. The man who receives the punishment is neither sitting nor standing, but all the while stooping; and the man smites with all his strength, with one hand.” (Mishna, fol. 22, 2; cited in Clarke)
Paul speaks of being in prison several times, even though Acts only tells us of one instance to this date (in Philippi, Acts 16:20-24). We know Paul was close to death when an angry crowd tried to execute him by stoning in Lystra (Acts 14:19), but there were many other times as well.
He was in danger in the city, in the wilderness, at sea, and from the falsehood of certain brothers and sisters. He was always working hard, through many sleepless nights, he was hungry and thirsty, many times without food, he suffered cold and was naked. Besides all these things he was also under pressure because of the anxiety he fell for all the Churches. These thorns are totally consistent with the messengers of Satan, and totally consistent with the Judaizers who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (Revelation 2:9)
The same Judaizers that persecuted and BUFFETED Christ, Matthew 26:67 BUFFETED Paul, 1 Corinthians 4:10-11 "We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are honorable, but we are despised. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are BUFFETED, and have no certain dwelling place;"
Likewise, they were a thorn in Paul’s side. They made Paul's life very difficult. Being human, just like the rest of us, Paul wanted to have this thorn, removed yet God would not extract them from him
God's Grace was enough! 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 "And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." Notice Paul ties his infirmities, here with persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake.
In Paul's weakness, he learned to surrender his own will to the will of God. Paul says He would "gladly Glory in his infirmities (2 Corinthians. 12:9)". Yes, rather than somber in his troubling circumstances, he will glory in them, for in them, he has the opportunity to experience the power of Christ. He says "I take pleasure in infirmities, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10)."
In Ezekiel 2:6 we read where God is talking about the house of Israel. "And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though “briers and thorns” be with thee, and thou dost dwell among SCORPIONS: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house." Sound familiar?
Only the people of Israel are ever called a “ rebellious house” in scripture. The briers, thorns, and scorpions are all symbolic of Israel, which come against the Lord and his saints.