In the past two weeks, we have focused on Paul’s suffering as written in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. The first piece was an expository introduction to the contextual background of 2 Corinthians 12. The second piece exposited why Paul was given the thorn. Today’s piece will focus on who gave the thorn to Paul. Be encouraged in Christ, beloved, and trust that whatever God ordains in your life is right.

2. Who gave this thorn to Paul?

If you read verse 7 carefully, it doesn’t tell us explicitly who gave the thorn to Paul. Paul only explicitly tells us in verse 7 that a thorn was given to him. So one natural question that arises is: who gave the thorn to Paul?

At first glance, it looks like this thorn comes from Satan. “… a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me…”

Paul identifies this thorn with a messenger of Satan. Or perhaps we might say a messenger from Satan. So it seems evident that this thorn comes from Satan.

Satan strikes God’s people

And you might even go to Job 2:7 to show a similar case of Satan striking one of God’s people:

“So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.”

Just like Paul is struck by Satan with something painful, Satan struck Job with something painful. So not only do the words of 2 Corinthians 7 seem to indicate that the thorn comes from Satan (“a messenger of Satan” or “a messenger from Satan”), but we have another biblical example (Job 2:7) that seems to confirm that the thorn would come from Satan.

Who is the originator of the pain in Job’s case?

But we have to dig deeper. Notice that in Job 2:7, when Satan comes to strike Job, he comes from the presence of the LORD. So, yes, Job’s pain comes immediately from Satan. But where does it originate from? From the presence of the LORD. It primarily and ultimately comes from God. And this is confirmed just a couple of verses later:

“Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this, Job did not sin with his lips.”

Job 2:9-10

Job and his wife’s assessment

First, we see that Job’s wife holds God responsible for all that’s happening. After all, she tells him to curse God in response. 

“If this is what God’s going to give you, then curse Him and die!” 

It is important to note that Job agrees with her assessment that God is the one who all of this comes from. 

“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” 

It’s a rhetorical question. In other words, Job’s making this statement to his wife: “We should be just as willing to receive good from God as we are willing to receive evil from God.”

And because the Holy Spirit knows that we resist the idea that evil or disaster could come from God to His people, He inspires the biblical author to end in verse 10 with these words: 

“In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” 

No, Job was not sinning to say that God was the source of the evil that came into his life. We have to have a category for God being able to send pain and evil into our lives without Himself becoming sinful in the process because God was, is, and always will be holy and without sin.

We have to have a category for God being able to send pain and evil into our lives without Himself becoming sinful in the process because God was, is, and always will be holy and without sin.

(Back to 2 Corinthians 12-7-10).

So who gave the thorn to Paul? God did. God sent a messenger of Satan to Paul to torment him.

Textual proof of the Source of Paul’s thorn

1. Word used in the original text

And we can see that right here in this passage. One reason is that the word Paul uses when he says that a thorn was “given” to him is a specific word that is almost always associated with God’s favor in the New Testament. There are other words that the New Testament uses when speaking of a burden that doesn’t come from God. Paul doesn’t use any of those words here.

2. To bring people into and keep his people in humble dependence on him.

But the most apparent evidence here in this very passage for the idea that the thorn came from God is found in the reason that Paul gives us for the thorn. Why was this thorn given to Paul? Twice Paul tells us, as we saw earlier, that the thorn was given to him to keep him from exalting himself in pride.

Throughout Scripture, Satan’s goal, which we see especially in the temptation of the first Adam in the garden of Eden, and in the temptation of the last Adam Jesus Christ in the wilderness, is for human beings to exalt themselves in pride. Whether tempting Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or tempting Jesus to turn rocks into bread, Satan’s goal is the same: do it your way instead of God’s way.

God’s goal in our suffering

But, at the same time, we see throughout Scripture that it’s God’s goal to bring His people into and keep His people in humble dependence on Him.

“And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”

Deuteronomy 8:2-3 (The very passage quoted by Jesus when he’s tempted in the wilderness).

But, at the same time, we see throughout Scripture that it’s God’s goal to bring His people into and keep His people in humble dependence on Him.

So, first, we saw that the thorn was given to Paul to break him of his pride because it’s only when he’s broken that Paul remains humble rather than exalting himself in pride. And, second, we’ve seen that it’s God who gave the thorn to Paul because God is the one who wants Paul to be humble.