avoiding and returning from bitterness

QOTD – “what is your biggest pet peeve?”


Gen 4:3-9 – Cain

The first crime recorded was Cain’s murdering of his brother Abel because God showed favor to Abel’s offering and not to Cain’s. Cain was a farmer while Abel was an animal herder. After God directly confronts him about his anger and “fallen countenance” (bitterness if I ever heard it described), Cain tells Abel his brother {8} – perhaps this was a conversation where Cain wanted to know why Abel was blessed and he wasn’t, or maybe to arrange a trade for his next sacrifice to God, to ask forgiveness, or maybe it was just to vent. Whatever that conversation’s content, it did not go well because Cain murders his brother in the next sentence.

John further expands on what happened with Cain in his first letter, I John 3:12 – “Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.”

Why was Cain bitter? Cain was bitter over his brother’s righteousness.

Gen 27:30-42 – Esau

Rachel and Jacob were sneaky people. At his birth, Jacob’s hand was holding his brother Esau’s heal {25:26} – as if he did not want him to get out first! Come a few years later, Jacob sells his brother a bowl of stew for the right of the first-born. And then the sneakiest of all: Jacob lies to his father, dressing-up like his hairy brother, and steals his father’s blessing on his brother – at the encouragement of his mom. In verse 41, Esau plans to kill his younger brother, just as Cain had done – though, perhaps, this time it could be considered “justified” (Jacob had dealt deceitfully with his family, after all). But at his mother’s urging, Jacob runs away to the land of her relatives to escape Esau’s grudge.


The more amazing aspect of Esau’s bitterness, though, is that he did not pursue his brother over his thievery, cheating, and lying – a decade and a half later he has calmed down, and when his brother returns from their uncle’s plantation with his family and flocks in tow, Esau rushes to meet him (with a small army) and falls on his neck and hugs and greets him – welcoming him home again!

Sadly, the same could not be said of Esau’s descendants: the Edomites actively worked against their distant cousins when the Israelites came out of bondage in Egypt {Num 20:14-21}. Their antagonism was so great, and their lack of compassion so strong, that many years later God sent Obadiah to prophecy against Edom for their downfall.

Why was Esau bitter? What did he do about it? Esau was bitter, but repented.

I Sam 18:6-9, 10-11 – Saul

Saul was Israel’s first king – the popularly demanded ruler Israel complained to God for. Saul had a lot going for him – he was handsome, tall, wealthy, and well liked. God’s plan for Israel, however, was to establish the throne of David for the eventual lineage to Jesus Christ. Saul knew this when Samuel told him that God’s favor was no longer with him, yet instead of bowing to God’s will, and stepping aside for David to take over, Saul got mad.

After David’s unexpected arrival at the army of the Philistines in battle array against the Israelites and hearing Goliath’s challenge, he stepped up to the plate in God’s strength showing the kind of faith and courage one would expect from a battle-hardened warrior: not a shepherd boy delivering some cakes to his brothers. Saul was impressed with the bravado of young David, and bestowed honor on him for even trying to go against the Philistine champion when no one else would.

But Saul’s pride got to him quickly afterwards: after killing Goliath {7-9}, “The women sang as they played, and said, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.’ Then Saul became very angry, for this saying displeased him; and he said, ‘they have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?’ Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on.”

Wow – here is a guy who just got his rear snagged from the fire, and instead of ascribing God glory for His working through David, he gets indignant at the women singing David’s praises above his own. Saul’s ego could not handle another’s accomplishments, and instead of praising God, he plotted to kill David. In the very next verse. “Now it came about on the next day that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he raved in the midst of the house, while David was playing the harp with his hand, as usual; and a spear was in Saul’s hand. Saul hurled the spear for he thought, ‘I will pin David to the wall.’ But David escaped from his presence twice.” David came back to play more, and Saul attacked again!

For the next several years, Saul would have an on-again, off-again, to really off-again, relationship with this “man after God’s own heart” – eventually chasing him all over the countryside trying to kill him just to retain the power God had already removed from him. The saddest part of Saul’s life is his end, though, where {31:3-4} he had become so entranced at David’s greatness that he went into battle against the Philistines unprepared, and was injured. Even in death Saul could not regain any of his former honor, and instead of dying like a man, he asks his armor bearer to kill him – and then just falls on his sword himself to spare the indignation he felt he would receive at the hands of the Philistines.

Why was Saul bitter? What happened to him? Saul’s bitterness cost him his life and his sanity.

Lev 19:18 “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD”

Job 7:11 – Job

Job’s life was thrown into total upheaval by Satan just to get him to curse God. Of course, Job did not have the advantage we do of being able to read the preamble to the story. Nor could Job have realized while it was all going on that the end of the story was going to be so good. Job lays his complaint to God right on the table in chapter 7: “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” Months go by with his “friends” accusing him of having some great sin hidden that God is punishing him for and even his own wife – the one who should be his greatest supporter, cheerleader, encourager, and confidant – telling him to just “curse God and die”. Not the most amazing pep talk ever.

As I just alluded to, though, Job comes out of his despair. It takes God coming right down to his face and setting him straight on all the things he did not know about Himself, but Job listened. One of the most humbling, and eloquent, confessions ever recorded was Job’s to God as an act of repentance for the bitterness he had entertained {42:1-6}: “Then Job answered the LORD and said, ‘I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me. I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.”

God even went so far as to restore Job double {11-17} all of his earthly possessions when he restored him from his time of trial!

Why was Job bitter? What did that bitterness do to him before he repented? Job’s bitterness slowed God’s response to his trial. But he repented and God blessed him.

Luke 15:11-32 – Contrasted Bitterness

Perhaps no other passage in the Bible compares and contrasts two different accounts of bitterness better than the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15.

You all know the story: the younger son gets uppity and demands his inheritance NOW. Dad splits it up. Sonny heads out on his own; loses fortune; grows discontent and bitter at his current circumstances; determines to head home and ask pop’s forgiveness. Dad does. That is the part we all know and love: the picture of the father’s unconditional forgiveness.

But what about the other brother? The older son is grousing. As he is coming in from working in the field, he hears a party going on. When he discovers that his younger brother has returned, and the celebration is for him, he gets angry. He is upset, not because his younger brother, who went off and wasted half of his father’s wealth on profligate living, is back, but because his father is making an enormous fuss over him. {29-30} “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!”

But the father’s response to his older son is as gracious and celebratory as his joy over his missing son’s return, {31-32} “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” {full}

What do you think the older brother did with his father’s rebuke over his bitterness? The older brother’s bitterness was lovingly rebuked – but what did he do with that opportunity?

Avoiding and Warnings

Take no heed of others’ words against you

Ecc 7:20-22 “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. Also, do not take seriously all words which are spoken, so that you will not hear your servant cursing you. For you also have realized that you likewise have many times cursed others.”

None of us here is guiltless of listening to what others have said about us when we should not, or of saying things that were wrong, mean, hurtful, or just ill-thought-through on more than one occasion. If you have, please take over from me right now: you have achieved what James writes is the perfection of mortals: to perfectly bridle the tongue. {Jam 3:8} “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.”

But why do we listen to such things? Why do we put more weight on some things than others – especially when we know it is wrong (either at the time, or afterwards)? At least part of it is a fear of non-acceptance – wanting to fit-in with the crowd around us. And part of it is that sin is enticing – it [almost] never presents itself in its fullest, ugliest form: would Snow White have taken an apple from the evil queen had she come in her full witch’s fury? Of course not! But she came as a kindly, wizened old woman. That is what sin does to us every opportunity it gets. “And I discovered more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are chains One who is pleasing to God will escape from her, but the sinner will be captured by her.” {26}

God’s people will not ever be completely and ultimately mastered by sin and the bitterness it brings. But we can see it grow in us until we feel there is no alternative but to be bitter, angry, and disillusioned with God or ourselves. Solomon wrote of this in the context of a prostitute, but is it not applicable to anything that works to interfere with our gaze on our goal? Pro 5:3-5 “For the lips of an adulteress drip honey And smoother than oil is her speech; But in the end she is bitter as wormwood, Sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, Her steps take hold of Sheol.”

How many of our pet peeves do this to us? They sap energy from good things by distracting us with trivialities. Being a comma and apostrophe Nazi is helpful when proofreading or editing written work. Not wanting to be distracted in the house of God is a good thing – but there are so many ways Satan wants to get us defocused from God and onto other things: if we are not focused on God, it means we are not fighting as hard (or even at all!) in the spiritual war around us. Satan uses those annoyances to his advantage at every opportunity: if we are on the sidelines, he has an easier fight in front of him, and can take more souls to hell will him.

Any examples of times you have listened to the wrong person, or took something way out of context because you only got a snippet, or said something yourself that someone else took wrongly, or said something you regretted?

Rely on God!

“Bitterness plants itself I your heart like a poisonous weed, taking up the same space that could otherwise be home to beauty and color” {Love Dare 244}

The best avoidance of bitterness is full reliance on God. He has promised over and over that His strength is sufficient for us, and that we will never be tempted beyond what we can bear. But it is up to us to take those promises to heart and choose to “walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” {I Joh 1:7}

Bitterness grows over time like yeast in rising bread – “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.” {I Cor 5:6-7}

We are all merely human – on our own.

But with the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit in us, the Comforter-Encourager-Empowerer Jesus promised His disciples, we need not rely on our own strength or opinions – we can call God’s power forth and stand confident He will show Himself through us!

“Every day is like a package. You open it in the morning, the moment you wake up. Then at night, you close up all of its experiences – both the good and the bad – put them away, and prepare to open a new one again at sunrise… We ask only for our ‘daily bread’, not worrying about tomorrow ‘because tomorrow will worry about itself’… keep your sins confessed on a daily basis, while also not letting any offense done against you go unforgiven overnight.” {Love Dare 242}

“But how do you do it? You just release your anger and responsibility for judging the person to the Lord. You recognize that God is the judge, not you, and that He will deal with the offense in His time and in His way.” {Love Dare 241}

“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” {I Pet 4:8}

Confront Wrong

Just because love covers a multitude of sins, though, does not mean we never confront sin: Paul called the Corinthian church out for “covering” the sin of a member who was sleeping with his father’s wife – and they were proud of it!

What if the cause of our bitterness or stumbling is a brother or sister in Christ? What if they are someone we “have” to interact with on a regular basis – a coworker, church leader, family member, etc? What are we to do?

Jesus did not mince words when he spoke of those who cause “these little ones” to stumble: He said, “It would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” {Mat 5:6} Stumbling blocks are inevitable: but they are not unavoidable {7-9}!

So what are we to do? We are to confront our erring brother/sister, with the desire that they be restored to us: “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” {15} and do it again, and again, and again, and again – as many times as he sins against you, forgive him: [Peter] “’how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’”

“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” {I Joh 4:20}

“How do you know you’ve forgiven the offender? You know it when the thought of their name or the sight of their face – rather than causing your blood to boil – causes you to feel sorry for them instead, to pity them, to genuinely hope they get this turned around. You know it when you see their need for mercy and grace before a Holy God. Love begins again where bitterness ends.” {Love Dare 241}


Victory is Sweet

– unknown author, myriad recordings

When I’m broken from the battle, and I’ve lost another round
Satan whispers to my troubled mind, “Just lay your armor down
There are those you loved and trusted; look around you, they’re all gone.”
It would be easy to surrender when you’re standing all alone

Then I bow my head in sadness, as I ponder what to do
I’ve been in God’s army for so long and I’ve been a soldier true
Then I hear a voice from heaven saying pilgrim, it is I
Lift up your head, take new courage, and turn your eyes toward the sky

And I see a great band of angels camped all around me
And I see the captain rising up, the challenge to meet
And I know I’m safe from harm when I’m touching Jesus
Oh, yes, the battle is His, the victory is mine, and victory is sweet