The Destructive Nature of Bitterness

The Destructive Nature of Bitterness

Both Esau and Jacob were members of the covenant family of God, it was not as if these two men were from different parts of the world, they were literally crib brothers. Of course we have to remember that Jacob was obviously not without his own sin. The scheme drawn up by Rebekah is something else, but irrelevant to the situation. Esau is responsible for himself. In one sense it’s not Jacob’s fault that Esau takes the route of allowing the trial of the moment to change the direction of his life. That comes precisely because Esau had allowed the bitterness of his own heart to make everything be seen through that lens of rage and animosity. 

Whenever the Apostle Paul lists out the “vices” in Ephesians or in another one of his letters a particular item which always strikes me as being in some sense the most personally damaging to the soul of an individual is without a doubt: bitterness. Yet the place where it really stands out to me when I am reading God’s word can be found in Paul’s sermon in the epistle to the Hebrews.

There in chapter twelve he says:

Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.

It’s instructive that when Paul is looking for an example to help the people understand what he is getting on about here he goes back almost to the beginning of the history of Israel, the brother of Israel himself. Those familiar with the story know that Esau was hungry. Ironically the great hunter had no food to eat. So, what does he do? Entreat his brother to make him some stew and the price, which in hindsight is more precious than gold, is something which he felt like he did not need at the time. Take a second and think for a moment why this would be an image a Bible writer like Paul would turn to… For it really shouldn’t take much time to see the wisdom here. What Esau did was not just silly in the moment, it was self-defeating in the long term. His hatred of God manifested itself in the way he considered Jacob, and himself.

The larger context of what the apostle is writing about here is the way the believer deals with suffering in the Christian life. His particular concern is that the lover of Jesus recognize that to be embittered towards those who are persecuting them only gives the tormentor power over them. While it is true to say that we are to rise above pettiness that is definitely one of those truths that is more easily said than done. Our minds are not necessarily drawn towards grace as people we are in conflict with are engaged in doing the kinds of things that really get our goat. Of course, no one reading this in America is really going through any kind of real persecution.

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