Genesis 27:41-42a, “And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will slay my brother Jacob. And these words of Esau of Esau her elder son were told to Rebekah:”
The destructive effects of bitterness are easily seen in many families, churches, and individuals. The causes of bitterness are often invisible to the average person. Bitterness is referred to as a root in Hebrews 12:15 and roots are not easily seen. When Esau learned of the plot crafted against him, a bitter root was planted in his heart, but it wasn’t immediately identified. His mother naively sent him away “for a few days” when she was told of Esau’s plan to murder his brother. Rebekah underestimated the bitter root that she was responsible for planting in her son Esau as a result of her deceitfulness. Esau was bitter, yet she could not comprehend it. This ignorance of the presence of a bitter root is very common, and we must look diligently to point it out.
Bitterness is only overcome with the power and grace of God. Esau was never noted for his spiritual dependence upon God, and he never overcame the bitterness in his life. It destroyed him, and it will destroy us if we try to conquer it on our own. We must be aware of the bitterness that causes ruin. We must also be aware of the grace that can enable us to uproot bitterness. Failure to recognize the presence of bitterness in someone’s life is one of the deepest tragedies of ignorance in counseling. How can we help someone with their problem if we are unaware of the root of their problem? Uprooting and removing the root of bitterness from Esau’s heart was the only way to resolve this problem, and that was not an option because the parents never even recognized the problem!
There are many examples in the Bible that demonstrate the difficulty in indentifying the condition of a bitter root. Notice a few from which we can receive instruction:
The bitter waters of Marah are a type of unidentified bitterness. The children of Israel, having recently exited the land of Egypt, were on their way to Canaan in Exodus chapter fifteen. “And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were BITTER: therefore the name of it was called Marah” (Exodus 15:23). Their journey had taken them into a place where there was very little water, and they were on day three without hydration. Eventually God brought them to a place that appeared to have cool, refreshing, thirst-quenching water. Finally, fresh water to drink! But their excitement was turned to horror as they soon realized that this water was bitter in taste and undrinkable. Bitterness is not easily identified because it is like the waters of Marah, and looks are deceiving.
Though you may appear to have it all together on the surface, the root of bitterness may be planted in your heart. Learn to look beneath the veneer of your personality and your mood, and ask God to search your heart for undiscovered bitterness. Pray with the Psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way (bitterness) in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). The unseen roots of bitterness are made evident by the illumination from the Holy Spirit as we subject our hearts to his searching. Will you allow Him reveal the root of bitterness in your life? Consider another example of the condition of a bitter root.
The bitter grapes of Sodom and Gomorrah were an Old Testament analogy used by Moses to describe bitterness. “For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are BITTER” (Deuteronomy 32:32). Sodom and Gomorrah had been destroyed hundreds of years prior to the writing of this verse. God sent brimstone and fire down from heaven, not only killing the inhabitants of these cities, but also chemically altering the soil. Though attempts were made to cultivate crops on this once-fertile soil, the efforts were futile. Though conditions were favorable for planting, developing, and pruning the vines, it was discovered that the grapes were bitter.
Such is the way of the bitter-spirited person. The soil of the soul remains unable to produce sweet fruit because it has been seeded with a bitter root. My family loves grapes, both green and red grapes alike. But when my wife asks me to pick up grapes at the grocery store on my way home from work, I taste the grapes before making my selection of them. Why? Looks are deceiving. Aesthetic observation does not guarantee proper cultivation. Many Christians look sweet and even behave sweet until bitten. Squeeze them, and watch bitterness come to the surface. When you are pressed and squeezed, what comes to the surface? If you are filled with the Spirit, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance will rise to the surface. If bitterness oozes out, there is a bitter root that must be dealt with before there can be spiritual fruit.
Bitterness is a heart issue and is a lot like heart disease. “But if ye have BITTER envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish” (James 3:14-15).
In many cases, long before the pain of a heart attack, problems exist within this complex muscle that are unseen, unnoticed, and undiagnosed. Sometimes we cannot “see” the presence of a heart problem without a “stress test,” an intense, internal examination. So it is with bitterness. It should be no wonder, then, that Hebrews 12:15 commands us to look diligently, “…lest any root of bitterness springing up…” God brings stress tests into our lives, and if we miserably fail them, we are made aware of a root of bitterness. But do not be discouraged. God’s skill as the Great Physician qualifies Him to heal this heart disease and remove this root entirely!