on 2-corinthians 12 :7
And lest I should be exalted - There were three evils to be guarded against:
1. The contempt of his gifts and call by his enemies.
2. The overweening fondness of his friends. And, Self-exultation.
A thorn in the flesh - The word σκολοψ signifies a stake, and ανασκολοπιζεσθαι, to be tied to a stake by way of punishment; and it is used, says Schoettgen, to signify the most oppressive afflictions. Whatever it was, it was τῃ σαρκι, in the flesh, i.e. of an outward kind. It was neither sin nor sinfulness, for this could not be given him to prevent his being exalted above measure; for sin never had and never can have this tendency. What this thorn in the flesh might be has given birth to a multitude of conjectures: Tertullian thought it dolor auriculae, the ear ache; Chrysostom, κεφαλαλγια, the head ache; Cyprian, carnis et corporis multa ac gravia tormenta, many and grievous bodily torments. I believe the apostle to refer simply to the distresses he had endured through the opposition he met with at Corinth; which were as painful and grievous to him as a thorn in his flesh, or his being bound to a stake; for, if he could have devoted himself to destruction, Romans 9:3, for his rebellious and unbelieving countrymen, what must he have suffered on account of an eminent Church being perverted and torn to pieces by a false teacher! God permitted this to keep the apostle humble, and at last completely delivered the Church out of the hands and influence of this deceiver; none, not even the incestuous person, having been turned finally out of the way by the false doctrines there preached.
The messenger of Satan - Another mode of expressing what he calls the thorn in the flesh; and he seems most plainly to refer to the false apostle at Corinth. The apostle himself was, as he styles himself to this Church, αποστολος Ιησου Χριστου, 2 Corinthians 1:1, the apostle of Jesus Christ. The person in question is styled here αγγελος Σαταν, the apostle or angel of Satan. It is almost impossible to mistake the apostle's meaning and reference. Jesus Christ sent Paul to proclaim his truth, and found a Church at Corinth. Satan, the adversary of God's truth, sent a man to preach lies at the same place, and turn the Church of God into his own synagogue; and by his teaching lies and calumnies the apostle was severely buffeted. We need seek no other sense for these expressions. Many, however, think that the apostle had really some bodily infirmity that rendered him contemptible, and was the means of obstructing the success of his ministry; and that the false apostle availed himself of this to set St. Paul at nought, and to hold him out to ridicule. I have shown this, elsewhere, to be very unlikely.
The best arguments in favor of this opinion may be found in Whitby; but I forbear to transcribe them because I think the meaning given above is more correct. No infirmity of body nor corporeal sufferings can affect and distress a minister of the Gospel, equally to the perversion or scattering of a flock, which were the fruit of innumerable labors, watchings, fastings, prayers, and tears.
on 2-corinthians 12 :7
And lest I should be exalted - Lest I should be spiritually proud; lest I should become self-confident and vain, and suppose that I was a special favorite of Heaven. If Paul was in danger of spiritual pride, who is not? If it was necessary for God to adopt some special measures to keep him humble, we are not to be surprised that the same thing should occur in other cases. There is abundant reason to believe that Paul was naturally a proud man. He was by nature self-confident; trusting in his own talents and attainments, and eminently ambitious. When he became a Christian, therefore, one of his besetting sins would be pride; and as he had been especially favored in his call to the apostleship; in his success as a preacher; in the standing which he had among the other apostles, and in the revelations imparted to him, there was also special danger that he would become self-confident and proud of his attainments.
There is no danger that more constantly besets Christians, and even eminent Christians, than pride. There is no sin that is more subtile, insinuating, deceptive; none that lurks more constantly around the heart and that finds a more ready entrance, than pride. He who has been characterized by pride before his conversion will be in special danger of it afterward; he who has eminent gifts in prayer, or in conversation, or in preaching, will be in special danger of it; he who is eminently successful will be in danger of it; and he who has any extraordinary spiritual comforts will be in danger of it. Of this sin he who lives nearest to God may be in most special danger; and he who is most eminent in piety should feel that he also occupies a position where the enemy will approach him in a sly and subtile manner, and where he is in special danger of a fall. Possibly the fear that he might be in danger of being made proud by the flattery of his friends may have been one reason why Paul kept this thing concealed for 14 years; and if people wish to keep themselves from the danger of this sin, they should not be forward to speak even of the most favored moments of their communion with God.
Through the abundance of the revelations - By my being raised thus to heaven, and by being permitted to behold the wonders of the heavenly world, as well as by the numerous communications which God had made to me at other times.
There was given to me - That is, God was pleased to appoint me. The word which Paul uses is worthy of special notice. It is that this "thorn in the flesh" was given to him, implying that it was a favor. He does not complain of it; he does not say it was sent in cruelty; he does not even speak of it as an affliction; he speaks of it as a gift, as any man would of a favor that had been bestowed. Paul had so clear a view of the benefits which resulted from it that he regarded it as a favor, as Christians should every trial.
A thorn in the flesh - The word used here (σκόλοψ skolops) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It means properly anything pointed or sharp, e. g., a stake or palisade (Xenophon, Anabasis v. 2, 5); or the point of a hook. The word is used in the Septuagint to denote a thorn or prickle, as a translation of סיר cı̂yr, in Hosea 2:6, "I will hedge up thy way with thorns;" to denote a pricking briar in Ezekiel 28:24, as a translation of סלון cillôwn, meaning a thorn or prickle, such as is found in the shoots and twigs of the palm-tree; and to denote "pricks in the eyes" Numbers 33:55, as a translation of שׂכיםsikkim, thorns or prickles. So far as the word used here is concerned, it means a sharp thorn or prickle; and the idea is, that the trial to which he refers was as troublesome and painful as such a thorn would be in the flesh But whether he refers to some infirmity or pain in the flesh or the body is another question, and a question in which interpreters have been greatly divided in opinion.
Every one who has become familiar with commentaries knows that almost every expositor has had his own opinion about this. and also that no one has been able to give any good reason for his own. Most of them have been fanciful; and many of them eminently ridiculous. Even Baxter, who was subject himself to some such disorder, supposes that it might be the stone or gravel; and the usually very judicious Doddridge supposes that the view which he had of the glories of heavenly objects so affected his nerves as to produce a paralytic disorder, and particularly a stammering in his speech, and perhaps also a ridiculous distortion of the countenance. This opinion was suggested by Whitby, and has been adopted also by Benson, Macknight, Slade, and Bloomfield. But though sustained by most respectable names, it would be easy to show that it is mere conjecture, and perhaps quite as improbable as any of the numerous opinions which have been maintained on the subject.
If Paul's speech had been affected, and his face distorted, and his nerves shattered by such a sight, how could he doubt whether he was in the body or out of it when this occurred? Many of the Latin fathers supposed that some unruly and ungovernable lust was intended. Chrysostom and Jerome suppose that he meant the headache; Tertullian an earache; and Rosenmuller supposes that it was the gout in the head, kopfgicht, and that it was a periodical disorder such as affected him when he was with the Galatians; Galatians 4:13. But all conjecture here is vain; and the numerous strange and ridiculous opinions of commentators is a melancholy attestation of their inclination to fanciful conjecture where it is impossible in the nature of the case to ascertain the truth. All that can be known of this is, that it was some infirmity of the flesh, some bodily affliction or calamity, that was like the continual piercing of the flesh with a thorn Galatians 4:13; and that it was something that was designed to prevent spiritual pride. It is not indeed an improbable supposition that it was something that could be seen by others, and that thus tended to humble him when with them.
The messenger of Satan - Among the Hebrews it was customary to attribute severe and painful diseases to Satan; compare Job 2:6-7; compare note on Luke 13:16. In the time of the Saviour malignant spirits are known to have taken possession of the body in numerous cases, and to have produced painful bodily diseases, and Paul here says that Satan was permitted to bring this calamity on him.
To buffet me - To buffet, means to smite with the hand; then to maltreat in any way. The meaning is, that the effect and design of this was deeply to afflict him. Doddridge and Clarke suppose that the reference is here to the false teacher whom Satan had sent to Corinth, and who was to him the source of perpetual trouble. But it seems more probable to me that he refers to some bodily infirmity. The general truth taught in this verse is, that God will take care that his people shall not be unduly exalted by the manifestations of his favor, and by the spiritual privileges which he bestows on them. He will take measures to humble them; and a large part of his dealings with his people is designed to accomplish this. Sometimes it will be done, as in the case of Paul, by bodily infirmity or trial, by sickness, or by long and lingering disease; sometimes by great poverty and by an humble condition of life; sometimes by reducing us from a state of affluence where we were in danger of being exalted above measure; sometimes by suffering us to be slandered and calumniated, by suffering foes to rise up against us who shall blacken our character and in such a manner that we cannot meet it; sometimes by persecution; sometimes by lack of success in our enterprises, and if in the ministry, by withholding his Spirit; sometimes by suffering us to fall into sin, and thus greatly humbling us before the world.
Such was the case with David and with Peter; and God often permits us to see in this manner our own weakness, and to bring us to a sense of our dependence and to proper humility by suffering us to perform some act that should be ever afterward a standing source of our humiliation; some act so base, so humiliating, so evincing the deep depravity of our hearts as forever to make and keep us humble. How could David be lifted up with pride after the murder of Uriah? How could Peter after having denied his Lord with a horrid oath? Thus, many a Christian is suffered to fall by the temptation of Satan to show him his weakness and to keep him from pride; many a fall is made the occasion of the permanent benefit of the offender. And perhaps every Christian who has been much favored with elevated spiritual views and comforts can recall something which shall be to him a standing topic of regret and humiliation in his past life. We should be thankful for any calamity that will humble us; and we should remember that clear and elevated views of God and heaven are, after all, more than a compensation for all the sufferings which it may be necessary to endure in order to make us humble.
on 2-corinthians 12 :7
12:7 There was given me - By the wise and gracious providence of God. A thorn in the flesh - A visitation more painful than any thorn sticking in the flesh. A messenger or angel of Satan to buffet me - Perhaps both visibly and invisibly; and the word in the original expresses the present, as well as the past, time. All kinds of affliction had befallen the apostle. Yet none of those did he deprecate. But here he speaks of one, as above all the rest, one that macerated him with weakness, and by the pain and ignominy of it prevented his being lifted up mere, or, at least, not less, than the most vehement head ache could have done; which many of the ancients say he laboured under. St. Paul seems to have had a fresh fear of these buffetings every moment, when he so frequently represses himself in his boasting, though it was extorted from him by the utmost necessity.