© 2010


Best Definition For Bitterness:

Bitterness Is The Poison You Drink,

Hoping The Other Person Will Die.

Old Irish Proverb


Bitterness is a Root!

Every year as spring approaches, little green shoots start poking up through the barren ground.  Of course we’re not surprised because we know that there are roots buried in the ground, and these roots are now sending up these first signs of green.  As the plants grow, they become distinguishable one from another, first through their leaves and ultimately when they flower.  We may not understand all the aspects of plant life and growth, but we do know that a daffodil root will produce a daffodil flower and not a tulip!  What develops depends on the root, and the plant is nourished and sustained through the root.

God’s Word applies this principle to spiritual matters as well.  The following quote from Deuteronomy 29:18 illustrates this. 

“so that there will not be among you

a man or woman, or family or tribe,

whose heart turns away today

from the LORD our God,

to go and serve the gods of those nations;

that there will not be among you

a root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood.”   

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews echoes this principle 12:15

“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God;

that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble,

and by it many be defiled.”

We see that what is at the root is manifest in the plant it produces, and there is no more deadly plant that that which a bitter root brings forth!

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The dictionary defines bitterness two ways. 

The first concerns the physical sensation of taste, described as “unpleasant; acrid”. 

The other describes

attitudes and subsequent behaviors.

Words like

“causing pain;



intense antagonism;






are used to describe these. 

This is not a pleasant list to say the least, and one can see how these relate to the physical sensation of bitterness. 

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What Causes Bitterness? 

What Are The Consequences Of Bitterness? 

Is There A Remedy For Bitterness? 

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Some incidents described in the Scriptures can help us answer these questions from God’s perspective.

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What Causes Bitterness? 

Two women in the Old Testament can give us insight into this.  The first appears in the book of Ruth and is called Naomi.  Naomi and her husband and two sons left Israel and relocated to Moab to escape a famine.   Naomi’s husband died and her two sons married Moabitess women and both sons subsequently died. Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem and one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, accompanies her.  When Naomi arrives in her home town some women of the town greet her.  Here is her response (Ruth 1:20-21)

She said to them,

“Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.

“I went out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. 

Why do you call me Naomi,

since the LORD has witnessed against me


the Almighty has afflicted me?”

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Naomi means pleasant or sweet,


Mara means bitter. 

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Naomi was now Mara, and she believed she had good reason to be bitter.

The second woman appears in the books of Samuel and is Michal, the daughter of King Saul.  She fell in love with the young and handsome David who had come into her father’s household (1 Samuel 18:20)

“Now Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David.”  

Saul granted that they would be married.  Saul became increasingly jealous of David though, finally seeking to kill him.  Michal betrayed her father and helped David escape.  Following this, Saul gave Michal to a man named Palti to be his wife, probably out of anger and spite.  Some years went by, and David ultimately triumphed over Saul, and Saul was now dead.  In the interim, David had taken several wives.  As a demand to make peace with the House of Saul, David demanded Michal be returned to him. 

The Bible relates the following tragic scene (2 Samuel 3:15-16)

“Ish-bosheth sent

and took her from her husband, from Paltiel

the son of Laish.

But her husband went with her,

weeping as he went,

and followed her as far as Bahurim.”

We can presume from this that their marriage had been a good one. 

We next encounter Michal and see that her feelings for David had changed dramatically (2 Samuel  6:16)

“Then it happened as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David

that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window

and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD;

and she despised him in her heart.”

Michal was bitter, and like Naomi, she had cause to be.  She had been used as a pawn by men and now her heart was dry and bitter.

What Are The Consequences Of Bitterness?

Here the stories of these two women are different. 

Naomi was able to overcome her bitterness with the help of Ruth and others in her
home town. 

She became a “mother” through Ruth, and an ancestor of both David and ultimately the Messiah, Jesus. 

Michal’s story ends very differently. 

It is literally a dead end.  There is no record of Michal overcoming her bitterness, and her story ends with the following (2 Samuel 6:23)

“Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.”

As is often the case in scripture, a full explanation is not given.  Many interpretations have been given to this, including the judgment of God or the intention of David to end Saul’s line, but it is also reasonable to assume that Michal’s bitterness had not only dried up and poisoned her heart, but her life-giving ability as well.

What Then Is The Remedy For Bitterness,


why do these two stories

that started out similarly

end very differently? 

The only real “cure” for bitterness must come ultimately from the Lord.  When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, they were in a dry wilderness.  As was often the case, they began to grumble.  They came to a water source, but the water was bitter and undrinkable.  They called it Marah, which of course means “bitter”.

The people complained to Moses, and (Exodus 15:25)

“he cried out to the LORD,

and the LORD showed him a tree;

and he threw it into the waters,

and the waters became sweet.” 

We see that while the elimination of the bitterness came ultimately from the Lord, the man Moses played a part and there was the agency of the tree. 

Moses throwing the tree into the waters was an act of faith.  This illustration may help us understand why the stories of the two women ended so differently. 

Naomi was helped to overcome her bitterness by Ruth and others in Bethlehem, and she was willing to act in faith in instructing Ruth what to do to get Boaz as a husband! 

It seems Michal had no such support system, and was never able to let go of all that she thought she had, her bitterness which she was so entitled to!

Is there a “root of bitterness” growing in your heart?

Do you feel it is justified?

It may well be, but it still produces poisonous fruit which can kill both spirit and body. 

Naturally fermented beverages, such as wine, are limited in their alcohol content by the fact that the yeast which produce the alcohol are eventually killed by it! 

Bitterness can be like alcohol, a false remedy to medicate the pain, but like alcohol it can eventually kill. 

We can learn much from the stories of these two women. 

Bitterness Can Kill, 

but it can be overcome, by surrendering it to the Lord and seeking the help of a support system. 

Don’t harbor bitterness in your heart alone,

open up to God and trustworthy others,

and let the bitter waters of Marah become sweet!

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