A thorn can be defined as a stiff, sharp-pointed woody projection on the stem or other part of a plant.
With this in mind, let us consider it’s application as a metaphor in Paul’s letter to friends in Corinth:
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
In scriptures this metaphor was sometime used to describe the nations round about the Israelites. By way of background, the Israelites had been fearful to dispossess all the nations in the area designated to them by God, as a result there were still pockets in the fringes that were inhabited by enemy nations. These nations became a thorn in their flesh, eventually leading to their demise as a nation. In God’s foreknowledge, He inspired Joshua to address this issue in his valedictory speech, with a view to warn the newly established nation of the impending dangers of spiritual, political, and social assimilation with their neighbours. In his words:
Therefore take careful heed to yourselves, that you love the Lord your God. Or else, if indeed you do go back, and cling to the remnant of these nations—these that remain among you—and make marriages with them, and go in to them and they to you, know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the Lord your God has given you.
Needles I say that his warning wasn’t heeded, like cancerous cells they ultimately led to the demise of the nation. But, we find hope dear friends in Ezekiel’s prophetic journal, shaped in these words:
And there shall no longer be a pricking brier or a painful thorn for the house of Israel from among all who are around them, who despise them. Then they shall know that I am the Lord God.
So, with another look at Paul’s statement in our first set of verses, we understand that he was contending with something prickly, sharp, thorny…, that had a place rightfully or not, on the same stem as a beautiful rose. Something he so badly wanted to get rid off, but simply couldn’t. I don’t know about you, but I am not really bothered with what exactly Paul’s thorn was; I’d rather find hope and consolation from his interpretation of the situation, and the response he received from God after seeking deliverance thrice. First, a look at Paul’s interpretation:
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
He saw it as something that kept him in check, something if you like that made him dependent on God’s grace and not in his strength or ability.
Then, God’s response:
My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness
Hmmm… Indeed, no rose without a thorn.
Friends, it really doesn’t matter what our thorn really is, what matters is where we turn to when we feel those sharp prickly pains. In Paul’s case he turned to God, and he found reasons for thanksgiving.
So! Allow me to close this thought with the refrain from an old gospel song by Charles A. Tindley, entitled, We will understand it better by and by.
By and by, when the morning comes, when the saints of God are gathered home, we’ll tell the story how we’ve overcome, for we’ll understand it better by and by.
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