Over the years (and no doubt over the centuries) much has been made of Paul's comment that he had been given a "thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7). Typically it is used as an example that: "See, God doesn't always heal!" However nothing in the scripture refers to a physical affliction - some have merely assumed through Paul's use of the term "flesh" that he is speaking of a physical ailment.
A few years ago I decided to open up my trusty concordance (bought in the pre-internet era, the thing weighs a tonne!) and see if there was anywhere else in the bible where this term had been used. And lo and behold there was!
"But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell." (Numbers 33:55 NKJV)
"Therefore take careful heed to yourselves, that you love the Lord your God. Or else, if indeed you go back, and cling to the remnant of these nations - these that remain among you - and make marriages with them, and go into them and they into 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." (Joshua 23:11-13)
"thorns in your sides" (Numbers 33:55)
"thorns in your eyes" (Joshua 23:13)
"thorn in my flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7)
Do you detect a pattern? I do. In Numbers and Joshua "thorns in your side" and "thorns in your eyes" were terms used to represent persecution by another people group. God has a tendency to keep the same pattern throughout the bible...so I therefore conclude it is QUITE A STRETCH to think that Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was a literal physical infirmity! As to Paul being persecuted by people...well he certainly experienced a lot of that!