As I read this morning’s Torah portion (Genesis 44:31 – 45:7), I couldn’t help but focus on what was pouring out of the hearts of Yosef/Joseph’s brothers. Here was the expectation of bitterness and retaliation for the crimes they committed against their brother, many years ago. This story of hurt and pain resonated with me, as I have felt those same emotions, although for different reasons.
These led me to dwell on bitterness and its causes. Deuteronomy 29:18 shares with us: “So let there not be among you a man, woman, family or tribe whose heart turns away today from Adonai our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Let there not be among you a root bearing such bitter poison and wormwood.” A similar sentiment is expressed in Hebrews 12:15 – “See to it that no one misses out on God’s grace, that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble and thus contaminates many”. What does it mean to have a root of bitterness?
Proverbs 14:10 shares a clue with us, The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger can share its joy. Here we receive a suggestion of the source of bitterness – it exists internally and does not have an external source. Much like a piece of leaven, just a little bit of bitterness emerging from internal pain can spread throughout the entire system. So, what is it which causes the root of bitterness to spring up?
A short while ago, I wrote a piece on the dangers of expectation. In that teaching, I shared the understanding expectations arise from egocentric desires, leading to the ‘demand’ they be met. When they aren’t met, there arises anger, resentment and bitterness. In the case of Yosef’s brothers, their shame and guilt, derived from their sinful behaviour towards Yosef, led to their expectations of Yosef’s harbouring anger and bitterness towards them, which would fuel his desire for retribution. Given their investment in the world, these are quite natural emotions and fears. Self-righteousness, the unwillingness to examine one’s responsibilities, can also lead to bitterness.
But Yosef was not invested in the world of fleshy-desires; rather, his investment was in Yahweh’s world – a world ruled by the laws of Love and Grace. Yes, granted he waited longer than he might have, resulting in the growth of his brothers’ fears to a point of emotional paralysis; however, when he realized their emotional state, through Y’hudah’s plaintive plea, as found in Genesis 44:32 – 34 – “If I fail to bring him to you, then I will bear the blame before my father forever.’ Therefore, I beg you, let your servant stay as a slave to my lord instead of the boy, and let the boy go up with his brothers.4 For how can I go up to my father if the boy isn’t with me? I couldn’t bear to see my father so overwhelmed by anguish”, Yosef’s heart opened with Yahweh’s Love and all his forgiveness poured out. There was no bitterness in his heart.
Where bitterness lives, forgiveness and love do not. Where bitterness lives, so abides death. The reality of the cruelty and harshness of bitterness exists in its damage to the heart and the psyche of its holder. If I allow bitterness to control my thoughts and desires, I am inviting my own demise. Yes, I might strike out at others, verbally or physically, but the ultimate victim of my bitterness is myself.
How do I remove bitterness and hatred from my mind and heart? The short and long answer is I can’t – only Yahweh/God can do that. Only He can reach into my very being, remove the decay of bitterness and hatred and replace it with His Love and Grace, if I but ask.
CONSIDER: Beloved, do you harbour bitterness and hatred in your minds or hearts? Do you know someone, a friend or family member who does?
ACTION: I urge you to pray for their peace, for the Love of God to replace the evil fire which consumes them.
PRAY: Beloved Abba, You know the hearts of man; You know those who harbour bitterness and hatred within their hearts and minds. I humbly pray, Beloved Abba, You clean out the all-consuming fire within them, replacing Your Love and Grace. Forgive their sins of extreme anger and bitterness, I pray, in Your Beloved Name.