Ever put a cranberry in your mouth, mistaking it for a cherry? As soon as you bit down, you became acutely aware of your mistake. Or you’ve taken a big bite out of an apple that was bad, and immediately spit it out. Far more serious than bitter foods is a bitter heart. The Bible describes bitterness as a seed germinating in the soil of an offended heart, sending down roots, and growing into a bush that bears fruit that can poison every relationship in our lives.
The New Testament speaks to this poison of bitterness in Hebrews 12:14-15, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
It’s easy for us to recognize the bush of bitterness in others, but more difficult to see it in our own lives. In this blog we are going to follow one man who epitomizes bitterness. His name is Absalom, the third son of David, king of Israel. You can read a more detailed story in your Bible at 2 Samuel 13-18.
King David had several wives, and Amnon was his firstborn. He and Absalom had different mothers, but they grew up together in the same palace. Absalom also had a sister named Tamar. One day Amnon raped Tamar. This infuriated Absalom, but neither he nor David confronted Amnon about it. The seed of bitterness was planted in Absalom’s heart that day. His thirst for justice was valid, but stuffing it inside allowed the seed of bitterness to germinate.
For the next TWO YEARS Absalom looks for an opportunity to get revenge on Amnon. He invites his father to a feast celebrating the shearing of his sheep. When David declines, Absalom requests that David send Amnon. David should have been suspect, but he allowed Amnon and his other sons to attend.
At the feast, the fruit of Absalom’s bitterness drove him to order his men to kill Amnon. After the murder he ran away to another city for THREE YEARS. When he finally returned to Jerusalem, his father did not allow Absalom to see him. Another TWO YEARS passed before he was allowed to see David. His bitterness was in full bloom, and now it was directed toward his father.
The rest of the story records how Absalom formed an army to overthrow and kill his own father. Can you imagine? Seven years have passed, in which Absalom had been watering and cultivating his bitterness. His initial desire to see justice for his sister had turned into a hatred for his own dad. The ensuing skirmish with David’s army resulted in Absalom’s death.
What could he have done differently to avoid this tragic end? Instead of stuffing the initial offense of Amnon and fuming about it, he should have said something to his father. Rather than taking vengeance into his own hands, he should have made sure David brought Amnon to justice.
Sometimes we don’t get justice for the offenses that happen to us or to those we love. Whether we get justice or not, bitterness can grow into a thorny bush in our lives. The only way I know to deal with bitterness is to talk about it. Talk to a counselor. Talk to God. Forgive the offender. This doesn’t mean that you disregard the offense, but you are not going to fume about it until that justice is carried out. It may never be carried out. But, for your sake, so that bitterness doesn’t poison you and your relationships, you need to forgive. firstname.lastname@example.org