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.
And must this mighty apostle, O merciful God, be subject
to trials lest he exalt himself because of his great revelations?
Then how should others, how should such infirm beings as we,
be free from self-exaltation? The thorn stands for something
painful and afflicting. In "a thorn of the flesh" the thought
is not of an instrumentality whereby the flesh stings, but of
something that stings the flesh. The Greek text impels us to
think of a thorn for the flesh. We may imagine Paul as saying :
"As a clog to a dog's neck, as a ring in a bear's nose, a bit in
a horse's mouth, or a gag in the mouth of a swine, so is my
thorn a clog to my body lest I exalt myself."
Paul himself explains the nature of the clog, or thorn. He
calls it "a messenger of Satan," a devil, to "buffet" him, or to
jog him. Hence a spiritual trial cannot be meant. The explanation
appeals to me that the persecutions and sufferings,
which the apostle recounts, constitute the devil's flaying. Thus
his meaning would be: I have received great revelations, for
which reason the clog is bound to the dog; that is, the many
dangers and misfortunes with which the angel of the devil
buffets and humiliates my body will make me forget to exalt
myself. They are the thorn in my flesh, or upon my body; for
God will not permit it to come upon my soul.
The text seems to imply some peculiar work of the devil upon
Paul's body, for it says, the thorn, or clog, is the messenger
which Satan employs to beat his body; also that the apostle
thrice, diligently but unavailingly, besought the Lord to remove
it. I do not imagine him praying for the ending of persecutions
in a spirit of unwillingness to suffer them. But since he
does not specify the affliction, we must let it remain a secret,
a distress only known to himself. It is enough for us to know
that while God had given him great revelations, revelations
beyond human ken, he also bound the clog to him — gave him
a thorn for his body— to prevent the exaltation of himself;
and the knowledge of the buffetings and flaying caused by this
clog, or devil, are likewise beyond human's ability to know.