Root of Bitterness

The second Passover will be observed on the evening of Sunday, May 18th.  "The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs."  (Numbers 9:11 )

Root of Bitterness

Dear Brethren,

What is a root of bitterness?  How many of God’s people truly examine themselves to explore whether or not they have a root of bitterness of which to repent?  Most people assume that a root of bitterness has to do with having a nasty attitude.  What does the Bible have to say about a root of bitterness?  Please, do not assume that this phrase, "root of bitterness," is the same as the warning about not getting bitter over certain situations or circumstances.   They are two different things.  “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. ”  (Ephesians 4:31-32 )

The Biblical use of the phrase, “Root of Bitterness,” has to do with the result of breaking the First Commandment.  Let's look at how this phrase is used by Moses.  He explained to the Israelites that God’s covenant and oath extended to the survivors of the forty years of wandering in the wilderness.  Moses said in effect, “Make sure you stay on course… by following the Lord. (For ye know how we have dwelt in the land of Egypt; and how we came through the nations which ye passed by; You have seen their abominations, and their idols, wood and stone, silver and gold, which were among them:  Lest there should be among you, man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turns away this day from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that bears gall and wormwood."  (Deuteronomy 29:16-18)

This is the first place that the concept of a root of bitterness shows up in the Scriptures.  It is true, God certainly does warn against a root of bitterness.  However, the context clearly shows that the root of bitterness (gall and wormwood) is the result of  turning from God and serving other gods - not the true God.

Here is a Biblical definition of a root that bears bitterness: A root of bitterness is the rejection of God, and His guidance and His Divine intervention in our life.  When we substitute anything in place of God and His Way, that counterfeit worship is the starting place, the root, that yields gall, poison, wormwood, and bitterness.  False worship is the root cause that begins to bring about ruin and devastation in a person's life.  The ultimate consequence of a root of bitterness is eternal death – that is “bitter.”  The result of turning from God and the way of God by breaking the first Commandment, is to produce the bitter fruit of gall and poisonous wormwood in a person's life.

That warning by Moses in Deuteronomy 29 was at the end of the forty years of wandering in the wilderness – not at the time of the giving of the Ten Commandments.  The Israelites had gone into idolatry and set up a golden idol immediately after receiving the Ten Commandments.   "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me."   (Exodus 20:2-5)

We often think that we are secure today and that we would never do what the Israelites did when they came out of Egypt - that is to turn from God and the way of God in idolatry, and receive the fruit of bitter gall and wormwood.  "Aaron received the gold at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt."  (Exodus 32:4)

Today, except for the Pagan religions, we don’t see too much of graven images, molten calves, statues or religious likenesses – so how does this concept of a root that bears bitterness apply to the Church of God?  Let’s understand this:  God is active in the life of a converted person.  " As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the children of God."  (Romans 8:14)  "We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose."  (Romans 8:28)

Paul explained the principles of God's correction and chastening.  These verses show that if God does not discipline us, it is because we are not converted – we are not led by His Spirit, and we are not His children. "You have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:  For whom the Lord loveth he chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. If ye endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chastens not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then you are illegitimate, and not sons... but [God] chastens us for our profit [eternal – spiritual], that we might be partakers of His holiness.  Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby."

Notice the comparing and contrasting of the root that bears bitterness, with the root that bears the peaceable fruit of righteousness. "Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God [we fall from God’s grace when we leave the straight and narrow way that leads to salvation]; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled."  (Hebrews 12:5-15)

What Paul is saying here is that when one member leaves the straight and narrow way that leads to salvation, trouble follows that can corrupt the entire Church of God.  God would never provoke us to anger, rather He is bringing us up spiritually in the admonition of the Lord.  God’s discipline is the root that bears peaceable fruit.  Paul is warning us not to squander our eternal inheritance.

God chastens us, corrects us and disciplines us when we go off course - it is for our own good.   God is directing our lives through His Spirit.  God is never vindictive – but compassionate, generous and benevolent.  Everything that God is doing in our lives is for our ultimate and eternal good.  God is helping and causing us to become like Himself - God!

If we determine or decide that God is not being fair with us... or that He is being too hard on us... or that His chastisement and discipline is uncalled for... or that we don’t need correction because we are so close to getting it right all by ourselves... or we don’t like the way He is handling things, we have planted a seed of bitterness springing forth into a root of bitterness, revolt, resentment, rebellion and self-pity. 

God is the Judge.  Do we desire God’s way?  Do we serve Him, respect, reverence, and revere Him?  Do we understand the first Commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me?"  Do we believe that His way is always righteous?  Do we accept it?   Or, do we question His ways?  Do we make ourselves the Judge?  Do we chafe at God’s correction as though it were an annoying irritation?  When we don’t follow God’s lead – we have a root of bitterness.

Brethren, recognize that God is the righteous Judge of our chastisement.  He is just, fair, and merciful.  When we question God’s right to rule in our lives – we are guilty of breaking the first Commandment.  That is a root that bears bitter results.


Sermon:  "Root of Bitterness"