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Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh
WHAT was Paul’s “THORN IN THE FLESH”?
WHY was Paul given a thorn in the flesh?
And was Paul ever delivered from this thorn in the flesh?
These are the three questions we will be looking at in this study of God’s word. Let us begin this study in God's word by reading the passage of scripture that is in question relation to Paul's THORN in the flesh.
Here is 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, which clearly teaches us that this thorn in the flesh is a messenger of SATAN and NOT a messenger from Almighty God himself.
“And 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, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this THING (this messenger of Satan that was buffeting Paul he said) I besought the Lord thrice, (three times) that it might DEPART from me.
And he (Almighty God through his Holy Spirit) said unto me, My GRACE is sufficient for you; for my strength is made perfect in weakness. (or God's strength or power is made known or proven to be real in those who are weak. In other words, Paul UNDERSTOOD that God was saying to Paul to USE the GRACE that he had ALREADY been GIVEN. This is why Paul went on to say to following) Most gladly THEREFORE will I rather GLORY in my infirmities, that the POWER of Christ may rest upon me. THEREFORE (or for this very REASON) I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ sake, for when I am weak, then am I strong.(Not the Paul LIKED to go through TRIALS, but rather that Paul was no longer weak in faith, because now Paul UNDERSTOOD that God's GRACE is SUFFICIENT or MORE than enough to see Paul THROUGH any trial that may come his way. NO worries mate!, as the Australian saying goes)”
First I would like to say that there are several opinions and speculations that have been given for what Paul's thorn in the flesh could be, but all the ones that I myself have heard were with little if any support whatsoever from the scriptures. Some have speculated that Paul’s thorn was a gross sickness that was given to Paul by God to keep him humble. Those who teach this THEORY go on to say that Paul asked God three times for this thorn to be taken from him, but God denied him three times and refused to heal him. I have heard many refer to this verse of scripture using it as an excuse, saying, “It must not be God’s will to heal them or so and so, because God did only not heal Paul of his thorn in the flesh, but also point blank told Paul NO three times”.
But is this THEORY or teaching the TRUTH of the whole word of Almighty God? Let us take a CLOSER more IN DEPTH look at this passage of scripture to learn what this verse is TRULY teaching us in the light of the whole word of God.
First I want you to notice that the word of TRUTH says,
“there was given to me a thorn in THE flesh.”
There is a difference between “THE flesh” and “MY flesh”. You see my dear brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ, there are two different words in the Greek that are translated as FLESH in the New Testament. One Greek word is “kreas”, which ALWAYS carries the meaning of FLESH as pertaining to meat, the actual tissue of the body, the skin, the muscles, and so forth. And the other Greek word is “sarx”, which portrays the meaning of what is external as the means of kindred, that is to say, the nature with its frailties and passions.
More precisely this word that is translated as "FLESH" here in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 concerning the thorn in the FLESH means FLESH as in NATURE. In other words, The thorn in the flesh here is referring to something that is CARNAL or something as being carnally minded or fleshly in nature. Now this Greek word "SARX" can also mean flesh as being the body, but when referring to the actual "body" in most cases it refers more to the meat of an animal than to the human body. This word “sarx” is used 142 times in the New Testament and is found to almost always have the meaning of human NATURE with its frailties and passions. This word “sarx” is the word that is used in the verse of scripture that we are studying and is translated as “FLESH”, or in other words, “thorn in the FLESH” is speaking of Paul's fleshly nature or something that Paul was battling against that was hindering or annoying Paul in his ministry more so than being a sickness of a disease as come Christians dogmatically teach. Please do NOT misunderstand what I am saying here. I am NOT dogmatically teaching that there is absolutely no way that Paul's thorn in the flesh was some kind of sickness or disease. But rather i am just making the observation that the word in the ORIGINAL language that is TRANSLATED as FLESH here mean MORE of a carnal or fleshly nature fight as opposed to a BODILY sickness. But again this thorn CAN indeed mean a sickness, but most likely in this particular incident it does not.
Now if the writer did indeed want without fail the phrase, “a thorn in the FLESH” to mean a sickness or disease in the BODY, then one would think that he would have chosen to use the Geek word “kreas”, which ALWAYS refers to the flesh as being the BODY. However the writer did not chose to use this word, but rather chose to use the word “sarx”, which I have already shown to be fleshly nature as in carnally minded.
Now with these definitions in mind let's pursue this study in the direction of the thorn in Paul's flesh as his fleshly nature and see what we find. And when I say fleshly nature I mean ANY FIGHT of faith that we fight against with God's word, his Spirit, the name of Jesus, his grace or all the God has given us to use against these THORNS in the flesh that come against us. So then, what was this THORN in the fleshly nature of Paul that Paul was warring against?
Let’s take a look at the word that is translated as “thorn” here in this verse to see how the rest of god's word uses or conveys this word "thron"to actually mean in the CONTEXT of where it is found. This is called COMPARING scripture with scripture, which is one of the rules that are used for proper and correct interpretation. The word that is translated as thorn here in the verse in question is “skolops”, which means point or prickle, figuratively a bodily ANNOYANCE, a disabling. The American Standard Dictionary defines thorn as a prickle, anything that causes trouble or annoyance, to beset with difficulties. I believe the last phase of the definition of the word thorn best fits the way this word is used in the Bible, to beset with difficulties. In other words, something was hindering Paul or ANNOYING Paul.
Take a look at Ezekiel 28:24,25, which clearly teaches us that the THORN which GRIEVED the house of Israel were the PEOPLE among whom they were scattered. In other words, the USAGE of the word "THORN" in the Old Testament was NOT that of some kind of SICKNESS or disease, but rather this word "thorn"was used more or a hindrance of an ANNOYANCE and in this particular case it was PEOPLE.
"And there shall be no more a PRICKING BRIER unto the house of Israel, nor any GRIEVING THORN of all that are round about them, that despised them, and they shall know that I am the Lord God.
Thus says the Lord God, When I shall have gathered the house of Israel from the PEOPLE among whom they are scattered. When I have executed judgment upon all those that despise them round about them, and they shall know that I am the Lord God.”
The pricking brier (thorn bush) and the grieving thorn in this scripture are referring to the PEOPLE all around the house of Israel.
Then in Numbers 33:55 we read,
“But if you will not drive out the inhabitants of the land before you, then it shall come to pass, that THOSE which you let REMAIN of THEM shall be PRICKS in your eyes and THORNS in your sides, and shall VEX you in the land wherein you dwell.”
Here again we see that the pricks in their eyes and thorns in their sides were PEOPLE that vexed God's people. The word “vex” means to irritate or to annoy. Vex also means to toss around, to stir up, and to bring up continually. Lot was sorely VEXED by the PEOPLE of Sodom and Gomorrah in that THEIR wickedness was ever BEFORE him, which was a great TEMPTATION that was CONSTANTLY before him. So the word "VEX" carries that meaning of continually being in your face so to speak. Also please notice that such terms for the body were used such as the eyes and the sides to describe how the "THORN" affected God's people, but in all actuality they were not literally the FLESH or actual body parts being vexed.
You see, the people that were actually vexing Israel, God's people, were not literally pricks and thorns in literal eyes and in the literal sides of the BODY of the people of Israel, but rather these PEOPLE were annoyances to them like a literal thorn would be an annoyance to our physical flesh. I have been pricked by a lot of thorn bushes and while they do hurt they are NOT a CRIPPLING sickness or disease. Thorn bushes will certainly SLOW you down, and maybe even cause you to go around another way, but they will not usually stop an out door person from pursuing their task at hand. In much the same way this messenger of Satan was an annoyance to Paul, a thorn in his side, so to speak. It was something that GRIEVED Paul. It was not something that was crippling Paul form preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. But is was something that HINDERED Paul is some way.
Now look at Joshua 23:13.
“Know for a certainty that the Lord your God will no more drive out any of those NATIONS from before you, but THEY (the nations) shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your side and THORNS in your eyes.”
Once again the thorns are referring to people and NOT sickness and disease.
Let us look at yet another scripture found in Judges 2:3 which says,
“Wherefore I also said, I will not drive THEM out from before you: but THEY shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.”
Then in Ezekiel 2:6 we read,
“And you son of man, be not afraid of THEM neither be afraid of THEIR WORDS though briers and thorns be with you and you do dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words nor be dismayed at their look though they be a rebellious house.”
In every instance throughout the word of God the thorn or thorns were people and NOT sickness and disease, so it would be a stretch to say that Paul’s thorn in the flesh is a sickness or disease. But again I am NOT dogmatically demanding that there is absolutely no way that Paul's thorn can possible be a sickness or disease. I am merely resenting you with the EVIDENCE of what these WORDS actually mean throughout the entire word or God. In other words, seeing that the word "thorn" in the Old Testament is never once used to refer to a sickness or a disease, then on WHAT foundation does one have to stand upon, who wrongly dogmatically demand that Paul's THORN in the flesh was without fail a gross sickness or disease that God SUPPOSEDLY told Paul NO three times and therefore is is NOT always God's WILL to heal, because God REFUSED to HEAL Paul's THORN in the flesh.
Just as a side note it is interesting that the word used for scorpions means skeptics. Jesus said I give you power to tread on scorpions or skeptics. There are some Christians who are SKEPTICS who do NOT believe in divine healing at all, and others who incorrectly believe that it is God will to heal ONLY SOME people SOME of the time.
Not to get to far off the main topic here even in the New Testament where the word "thorn or thorns" are found they also as well do not even hint of sickness or disease. Mark 4:7,18,19 refer to thorns as being CARES of this world, deceitfulness of riches, and the lust of other things, but nothing about sickness or disease.
So what do we know thus far? We know for a fact, based soundly upon God’s word that thorns and briers always refers to people that were grievous. They were people that were an annoyance. They were people who vexed God’s people. They were irritating and they caused trouble. Thorns refer to people that bring grief all through the word of God, so on what grounds to we suddenly CHANGE the BIBLICAL meaning throughout scripture of this word thorn mean a vexing of people to now mean a sickness of a disease? I mean to ME we mist be consistent when it comes to interpreting God's word. this is why we must compare scripture with scripture to see what the REST of God's word has to say.
So since the rest of God's word teaches us that the word thorn means some type of GRIEVANCE or an ANNOYANCE of some kind, then when must at least CONSIDER this a POSSIBILITY with Paul's THORN in the flesh. With this in mind let us look at an experience in Paul’s life found in Acts 16:16-18.
“And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying:
17. The same FOLLOWED Paul and us, and cried saying. These men are servants of the most high God, which show us the way to salvation.
18. And this she did MANY DAYS. But Paul, being GRIEVED, turned aside and said to the spirit; I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.”
This verse tells us that Paul was GRIEVED by this damsel who continually ANNOYED him many days. If this damsel grieved Paul many days, then why did Paul not command in the name of Jesus for the spirit to come out of her the very first day? Why wait MANY days?
Perhaps Paul sought the Lord for this annoyance, this thorn in the side, this MESSENGER of Satan that was buffeting or annoying Paul to depart from him. It may be that Paul sought the Lord three times before he was able to be in a position to hear God tell him to use the GRACE that was already given to him. The Lord said,
“My GRACE is SUFFICIENT for you.”
The word sufficient means MORE than enough. I have learned that GRACE is not only God's unmerited favor but GRACE is also is God’s POWER. Now this is a study in and of itself. If you would like to know more on this subject of GRACE being God's POWER please refer to my study on "WHAT IS THE TRUE MEANING OF GRACE?". But for now let us continue this study in God's word concerning this damsel who was possessed with the spirit of divination or the MESSENGER of Satan to see it this was Paul's THORN in his flesh. It may be that this damsel may or may not have been Paul’s thorn in the flesh, but to me it certainly fits better in scriptural sound Biblical sense than some gross eye disease or some kind of sickness that God SUPPOSEDLY refused to heal, which goes cross grain against the WHOLE word of God. What I mean by this is that some Christians as I said early dogmatically teach that it is NOT always God's WILL to heal every person every time and they falsely or INCORRECTLY reason that God REFUSED to heal Paul THREE times.
But this is NOT at all what God is truly saying by the words, "My GRACE is SUFFICIENT for YOU." Again the word "SUFFICIENT" mean MORE than ENOUGH! Paul understood that God was saying to him USE the GRACE that I have ALREADY GIVEN YOU! My grace is far more than even to get rid of that messenger of Satan who is buffeting you. So USE the grace that I have already GIVEN you to use. Why are you asking and begging me to do something that I have already GIVEN YOU the AUTHORITY to do. So STAND in the AUTHORITY that I have GIVEN you. Now I may not be dogmatic about many things, but it just crosses the grain so to speak, when Christians try and use Paul's thorn in the flesh to FALSELY teach that God REFUSED to heal Paul THREE time and then therefore FALSELY conclude that God himself PUT sickness and disease upon his children to TEACH them something. That is to say this damsel that annoyed Paul for MANY days MAY have not been Paul's thorn in the flesh, BUT it is CERTAIN that God did NOT tell Paul NO three times as some FALSELY teach. But rather it is made perfectly clear that God told Paul that his GRACE was SUFFICIENT for us. And the CONTEXT teaches us that Paul used God's GRACE and was DELIVERED from all his trials.
Let us observe the FACTS. This damsel was a person that followed Paul and Silas around annoying them for many days, which brought grief to Paul. This fits perfectly with the meaning of the word thorn throughout the word of God, so why change the meaning now to be a sickness or disease when talking of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, when everywhere else the word of Almighty God the word “thorn” ALWAYS refers to people that annoyed or grieved God’s people?
Again this damsel may or may not have been the thorn in the flesh to which Paul was referring, BUT the word of God CLEARLY lets us know that the thorn in the flesh was a MESSENGER of SATAN to buffet Paul.
A messenger is simply a person, an angel, or a being that is sent to bring a message. One of the meanings of messenger is FOR RUNNER, or HARBINGER, which means to signal the approach of, a presage. This word "presage" means to foretell or perceive in advance or utter a prediction. Does not this sound familiar? Is this not exactly what the spirit of this damsel was doing? This damsel, who had a spirit of divination, was signaling or foretelling the approach of the Paul and Silas that they were men of the most high God, before they ever did any mighty works of God. Certainly a familiar spirit is a MESSENGER of Satan.
Now the word “buffet” means blow after blow. This damsel followed them around many days dealing, if you will, blow after blow, day after day for MANY days continually buffeting or vexing Paul and Silas. This word “buffet” also means to contend or fight against, to bring hardships. If we look at verse 10 of this passage of scripture that we are studying you will see some of these HARDSHIPS that Paul was BUFFETED with; we see infirmities (weaknesses), reproaches, necessities, persecutions, and distresses. And all these things that buffeted Paul were for Christ’s sake to show Paul that when he was weak, then he was strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Not that he was strong in himself or in his own strength, but was strong in the Lord or in the anointing that rested upon him. This is what CHRIST means. It is for the sake of the ANOINTING to show that when I am weak in my own strength, then I am strong in the Lord, or the anointing of God is strong upon me. The anointing of Almighty God is SUFFICIENT for US. God IN us is MORE than enough to over come the enemy that buffets us. The AUTHORITY that we have been given in the NAME of Jesus is SUFFICIENT to over come the enemy. God is telling us to USE the AUTHORITY in the NAME of Jesus that we have already been GIVEN for it is MORE than ENOUGH to over come the enemy.
Look at the previous verse, verse 9,
“And he said unto me, My grace is SUFFICIENT for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I GLORY in my infirmities (weakness), that the POWER of Christ (the anointing) may REST upon me.”
I mean think about this for a moment. Would you or Paul be rejoicing if so be that God REFUSED to answer you prayer THREE times? Would Paul be saying that he was rejoicing because God's POWER would upon him when he did rejoice in his trials IF SO BE that God was telling Paul NO and therefore REFUSING to deliver Paul? NO! A thousand times NO! God is NOT telling Paul NO. Nor is God REFUSING to answer Paul's prayer as some Christians FALSELY teach. the TRUTH of the matter is that Paul UNDERSTOOD when God said My grace is SUFFICIENT for YOU that God was saying USE my grace Paul. Stand in the AUTHORITY that I have GIVEN You in the NAME of my Son Jesus. And we see that after MANY days Paul FINALLY stands in the AUTHORITY of the NAME of Jesus and COMMANDS this spirit f divination to leave. MOT GLADLY therefore from now on I will GLORY when trials come my way because I KNOW that God IN ME is GREATER than the enemy who is in the world.
Then Paul goes on to write in verse 10 and the first part of verse 11 “THEREFORE”. Now whenever you see the word “therefore” find out what it is there for.
“THEREFORE (or for this very REASON) I take PLEASURE in infirmities (weaknesses), in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s (the anointing) sake: (why?) for when I am weak, then I am strong. I am become a fool in GLORYING;…”
The word “glory” here is the Greek word “kauchaomai” and means to boast or to rejoice in, and comes from the Greek word “katakauchaumai”, which mean to boast about, to boast against, to triumph over, to rejoice against or to glory.
Paul figured out the secret of overcoming or triumphing over the enemy. When God told Paul that his GRACE was SUFFICIENT for him, he knew that God was saying to him to stand in your authority that I have already given you. So Paul turned to the damsel and said, “I command you in the NAME of JESUS to come out of her.”
And in the same hour we are told that the spirit left her. There is another whole study about "MUST CHRISTIANS SUFFER" you might also like to read which teaches us that we can and should have JOY in the MIDST of our SUFFERING. Paul says, “I am BECOME a fool in GLORYING (rejoicing against the enemy so that the power of the anointing may rest upon me to bring me the victory). COUNT it all JOY my brothers and sisters in the Lord KNOWING that the TRYING of your FAITH works patience in you. We are NOT rejoicing in the trail itself, but rather we are rejoicing, because we KNOW that GREAT is Almighty God WITHIN US than the enemy who is in the world.
Paul says in Philippians 4:4
“REJOICE in the Lord always: and again I say REJOICE.”
I have said all of this to say EVEN IF Paul’s thorn in the flesh is proven without a doubt by the word of God and NOT just mere speculations to be some kind of sickness or disease, this still does NOT mean that God refused to heal Paul. God did NOT refuse Paul three times or tell him that he would not heal him three times. We only know for sure what the word of God tells us, which is,
“And he (God) said unto me, My grace is sufficient for you, my strength is made perfect in weakness,…”
And we only know for sure that Paul SOUGHT the Lord three times, but we do not know for sure if the Lord spoke to him each time or just after the third time. Personally I would say God spoke to him all three times, but Paul heard God ONLY after the third time Paul sought him concerning this messenger of Satan that buffeted him. God is ALWAYS quick to answer our prayers , but we may not always be in tune to hear his voice. In other words, Paul did not actually UNDERSTAND what God was saying until the THIRD time IF SO BE that God did indeed actually answer Paul THREE separate times. All we know for SURE is that Paul SOUGHT the Lord THREE time. Beyond that is just SPECULATION and OPINIONS without any sound Biblical evidence to support the THEORY that God REFUSED to answer Paul's prayer THREE times.
However, according to Paul’s reaction and response TO God’s words, "my grace is SUFFICIENT for you, my strength is made perfect in weakness," it is obvious that God’s answer to Paul’s prayer was not a NO, as some FALSELY teach, but rather just the opposite is true. God was telling Paul, “use My grace”. So Paul, recognizing immediately what God was saying to him, did just that. He stood in his authority in the name of Jesus and soon became a fool in glorying or rejoicing after having such a VICTORY in using the NAME of Jesus commanding this spirit of divination to leave.
Now the word “strength” in this verse is quite amazing to me. It means force, MIRACULOUS POWER, ability, abundance, might, mightily, mighty, deed, works of miracles, power, and mighty wonderful work. What a wonderful word. And to be made perfect means completed, accomplished, fulfilled, or PERFORMED. So this verse could read as follows in my own paraphrased version using these definitions of what these words actually mean in the original text,
“My grace is sufficient for you, it is more than enough, for my MIRACULOUS POWER is PERFORMED in weakness, in those who are humble and do not boast of their own strength, but who are without pride in their strength.”
The word infirmity in today’s vernacular is often used to mean a type of sickness. This is probably why many Christians feel that Paul's thorn in the flesh is some kind of sickness or disease. However, in the word of TRUTH, the Holy Bible, that is to say, in the original Greek language the word used for infirmity not only means weakness in body as in sickness but also means weakness in morals or the flesh as in the carnal nature of mankind. I have a study called “THE BIBLE MEANING OF INFIRMITY", if you want to go more in depth on this topic. Again I am not ruling out the possibility of Paul's thorn in the flesh being a sickness or disease, but from what I have studied this deduction is rather low on the list of being a scriptural and sound doctrine. Again it is only my opinion that Paul's thorn in the flesh might be this damsel with the spirit of divination. No one can know for absolute certainty, because the word of God simply does not clearly come out and tell us what Paul's thorn in the flesh actually is. So any other study that dogmatically teaches that Paul's thorn MUST BE....??? what ever they demand that it be, then KNOW that they are NOT being totally HONEST with you.
Some other possibilities of Paul’s thorn in the flesh MAY be and again I say MAY be, as in, MIGHT POSSIBLY be the difficulty Paul faced warring against sin. Please read at Romans 7:14-20. Paul starts by saying, “I am carnal.” He goes on to tell how what he wants to do he cannot SEEM to do and that he does not want to do he finds himself doing. PERHAPS or MAYBE as a POSSIBILITY Paul may have sought the Lord three times concerning this weakness, that is to say, this infirmity in the flesh that Paul SEEMED to struggle with in Romans chapter SEVEN. Again Paul did NOT stop writing at chapter seven, but went on to clearly teach us HOW to OVER COME sin, which is to take one temptation at a time and simply OBEY what the Holy Spirit is telling you to do. All I am saying is that IF Paul's thorn in the flesh was indeed Paul's seeking the Lord THREE times to DELIVER him from the messenger of Satan that buffeted him, then God did indeed ANSWER Paul's prayer and Paul OVER CAME this messenger of Satan.
Another possibility of Paul’s thorn in the flesh MAY have been the care of the churches that came upon him daily. Read II Corinthians 11:28. No matter what Paul’s thorn in the flesh MAY have been Paul says in
II Timothy 3:11
“…but out of them ALL the Lord DELIVERED me.”
So no matter what the thorn was that Paul had, God delivered Paul from it. In other words, it is CERTAIN that Almighty God NEVER EVER told Paul NO and therefore REFUSED to heal of deliver Paul from whatever Paul sought deliverance from.
In closing I have to say that I am persuaded to believe that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was indeed a messenger OF Satan to buffet him just as the word of God says. And for me personally, I believe that this MESSENGER of Satan was this SPIRIT of DIVINATION that possessed this damsel that was ANNOYING Paul and Silas these many days where Paul perhaps sought the Lord to deliver him from this ANNOYING fortune teller and God told Paul USE my GRACE, that is what I gave it to you for in the first place. And when Paul UNDERSTOOD this to mean that he was to stand in his God given authority and use the NAME of Jesus to over come the enemy, then Paul did just that and from that point on he rejoiced whenever trials came his way knowing that the name of Jesus is ABOVE every other name.
Now it may or may not be as I believe and have conclude in this study that Paul's thorn was indeed this spirit of divination. And it may be as I say some FALSE teach that it is some dreaded disease. But what I know for sure is that in NO WAY did God ever refuse to heal or deliver him. Paul sought the Lord three times and the Lord ANSWERED Paul by telling him to use the GRACE that you have been given, because it is sufficient, that is to say God's GRACE is MORE than enough to get the job done.
As always I leave it to you the reader and seeker of the truth to examine all the evidence for yourself and then to decide for yourself based upon the clear plain and simple evidence of god's word.
If you would like to know more about the true meaning of GRACE the please refer to the study entitled "WHAT IS THE TRUE MEANING OF GRACE?"
May God bless you richly as you continue to seek the truth of the whole word of Almighty God.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
Always and Forever,
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