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Renouncing Bitterness

The family of King David is in horrible disarray. Among other problems, David's third son Absalom launches a rebellion against his dad. David is forced off the throne by Absalom's men. He is fleeing from the city of Jerusalem. What a sad story.

Absalom, it appears, is on his way to victory. So now he turns to Ahithophel, a counselor, who was known for his incredible wisdom. "What should we do next?" Absalom asks.

Ahithophel says:

Show your disdain for your father publicly. And here's how you'll do that. Pitch a tent up there on the top of the palace. And then have your father's concubines, your father's wives who were left behind when he fled the city, have them brought up to the top of the palace in the sight of all Jerusalem, and have intercourse with them. In so doing you will humiliate your father publicly, and then the people's hands will be strengthened. That is, the people will know that there's no possibility that you'll ever have reconciliation with your father.

Absalom heard that part of Ahithophel's advice and went ahead and did just that. He brought David's wives up to the top of the palace and had relations with them, in a way that would humiliate his father, who was fleeing the city that very day. Now it's interesting because having relations with those women in that way actually was fulfilling a prophecy spoken years earlier by the prophet Nathan.

The lesson is simple. What we do in secret will always come out in the open. We think we've covered our tracks. We think we've got it under control. We think nobody will ever find out, nobody will ever know. But God says: Be not deceived. Whatever a man sows that shall he also reap. God declares, "Be sure that your sin will find you out." It's a loving Father who's telling us, his kids, this is the way it works. What you do in secret—you think nobody will know, you think you've got it totally covered—it will come out. The sin itself will track you down and the sin itself will be made known openly. That's why our Father says: Stay away from sin because it will humiliate you terribly. It will embarrass you horribly. Stay away from sin.

Ahithophel said: Absalom, show your disdain for your dad. Humiliate him publicly. Absalom did just that. But then Ahithophel gave another piece of advice. The second thing you do is not only show disdain for your dad publicly, but let me deal with your dad personally. Let me gather 12,000 men, Absalom, 12,000 of your men and let me chase David while he's running away from the city. Then I will kill David personally. If you do this, if you humiliate your father publicly, and let me deal with your father personally, you are going to consolidate your power; and you will control the kingdom totally.

This sounded good to Absalom, but he then said: Does anybody else have some advice? And another advisor gave a different piece of advice, to not chase David right then, to not catch him that day. When Absalom didn't do part two, Ahithophel knew that Absalom was through, that Absalom would not remain in power. Ahithophel knew that the guy he was siding with, Absalom, was not very bright.

And so Ahithophel went home that night, and hanged himself and died and was buried in the sepulcher of his father." Ahithophel realized Since you didn't follow through in this way that I'm telling you to, David's going to come back and get you. I know. So I might as well just go home today, and hang myself, because I'm dead anyway. And that's exactly what Ahithophel did.

Bitterness puts us on the pathway to murder

Now the plot thickens. The story intrigues me, because why was Ahithophel the one that said, "Let me kill David personally"? What was this man's problem? Why did he have this fish to fry, this bone to pick? David says this in Psalm 55, "It was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together and walked unto the house of God in company." That's talking about Ahithophel. Ahithophel was David's closest advisor and one of his closest friends ever.

David says, "We took sweet counsel together and walked unto the house of God in company." We went to church, we could say today, and sat there Sunday after Sunday. We talked with each other. You were my equal, my guide, my friend. How could it be that you would do this to me? Why would you want to be a part of this rebellion, give advice to my rebellious son and desire to kill me, to murder me?

Jesus said in Matthew 5: You've heard it said of old that you're not to commit murder. But I say unto you that whoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment. Whoever shall say to his brother "R¯a'ca," which means empty headed one, shall be in danger of the counsel. Whoever shall say "fool" shall be in danger of the fire of hell. Jesus was saying you've heard it said don't kill, but I say to you if you're angry with another, if you're bitter at your brother, you are on the pathway to murder. You are guilty already of murder. Oh, you might not run a sword through somebody physically, but if you're angry or bitter, you will speak words that will kill. You'll assassinate their character. You'll seek to murder their reputation. You'll want to take them down a level or two or three or ten with the words you say. The gossip you share because you're angry, you're bitter, and you're then guilty of murder.

Ahithophel shows us that is the truth. He was bitter toward David. He was angry with David. He was mad at David for many, many years. And David didn't even know it.

In 2 Samuel 23:34, we read that Ahithophel had a son whose name was Eliam. in 2 Samuel 11:3 we read that Eliam had a daughter. Eliam had a daughter whose name was Bathsheba. That means, if you put the pieces of the Scriptures together, Ahithophel was the grandfather of a woman named Bathsheba. Bathsheba was the one that David had a one-night stand with. Bathsheba was the one that David had an adulterous affair with. David sought to cover up his sin by sending Bathsheba's husband into battle to be murdered in cold blood. Ahithophel was bitter, understandably. How could it be that David would be the one that would do this to my family? Have an affair with my granddaughter and then order the execution of her husband?

It's 11 years later. And this anger, unforgiveness, and feelings of bitterness had been festering in Ahithophel's soul. There in the soil of his soul was what Hebrews 12 calls "the root of bitterness."

If I allow bitterness to be under the surface in the soil of my soil, it will eventually cause fruit that is brutal and bloody and awful to appear. It always will. It might take a month. It might take a year. It might take decades before it surfaces, but it always will.

Wasn't Ahithophel justified in feeling angry? Wasn't he justified in being mad at David? He had a just cause. If your daughter or granddaughter was violated in that way and her husband was murdered in such a manner, we too would have to deal with the issue of anger and bitterness. But what you need to know is the price you will pay for that justifiable bitterness or anger is one that is unbelievable. It will hang you up. Ask Ahithophel. See him in your mind's eye hanging by the neck, swinging from the limb of a tree in the wind. He hung himself, and that's what happens to anybody—to you, to me. See, that's what Jesus was teaching us.

We must combat bitterness with constant forgiveness

In Matthew 18, Peter comes to Jesus and asks a question about forgiveness, the opposite of anger, hostility and bitterness. "And Peter," verse 21, "came to Jesus and said, 'Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? till seven times?'" I'm sure Peter had a smile on his face. I'm sure he felt as proud as a peacock when he said if a guy wrongs me time and again, should I forgive him over and over even up to seven times. For you see, the rabbis in Peter's day taught that you had to forgive somebody three times only. Three strikes, you're out. Jesus said, "I say not unto thee seven times," verse 22, "but seventy times seven," or 490 times.

By the way, Jesus is not saying, "Okay, keep track—488, 489, one more and that's it." But the idea of 490 is don't even keep track. You just keep forgiving and forgiving and forgiving and forgiving and forgiving. You never keep track. You never keep count.

Verse 23, Jesus went on to tell you and me, "Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents … " How much is that? It's an incalculable amount. We would say gazillions of bucks. Verse 25, "Forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made." Sell the family into slavery, sell their property in order to make a beginning payment on this massive amount that he owes me, the king said.

"The servant," verse 26, "therefore fell down, and worshiped him saying, Lord, have patience with me and I will pay thee all." Sure, how are you going to pay gazillions, buddy? But he fell down before the king and begged for mercy. "Then the lord," verse 27, "of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt." He saw the guy on his face worshiping the king and the king said: Okay, I'm canceling the debt completely. You don't owe me a penny. Go your way.

That guy, gets up and he went his way, verse 28, "and found one of his fellow servants, which owed him an hundred pence." How much is a 100 pence? It is three months salary. That's a significant amount. It doesn't compare to the gazillions that he owed his king, but three months salary is a good chunk of change. Think if somebody owed you three months salary, whatever you make. And so he goes and he finds that guy who owes him three months salary, and "He laid," verse 28, "hands on him, took him by the throat, saying": Pay me what you owe me. And this guy who owed him three months salary fell down at his feet and said, "Have patience with me and I will pay you all." Don't choke me to death. I'll get the money to you. But he would not. He cast him, instead, into prison till he should pay the debt. Well, how can the guy pay the debt if he's in prison?

So when the other servants saw what was done, they were sad by this, and they came and told their master the king all that was done. And then the master, verse 32, said: O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt because thou desiredst me. Shouldest not thou also have compassion on thy fellowservant even as I had pity on thee? And his lord the king was wroth and delivered him to the tormentors till he should pay all that was due unto him." Verse 35, "So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses."

Wow. I have reason to be angry. She, he, they owe me three months of salary. Yes, but you've been forgiven gazillions. Show mercy even though it's a significant sum that they owe you. There's a reason to be upset. But, you see, if you grab him by the throat and don't let go of your grip and your gripe about him or with her, you'll end up in prison. You, Jesus said, will be imprisoned. You'll be tormented by your bitterness. The root of bitterness underneath the soil of your soul will eat at you and produce a murderous, bitter spirit within you. This is what bitterness does. It's like taking a bottle of poison, swallowing it, and then waiting for the other person to die.

Like this story from the newspaper, The Chicago Examiner from 1930. The strange story of Harry Havens of Indiana, who went to bed and stayed there for seven years, with a blindfold over his eyes, because he was angry at his wife. Havens was the kind of husband who liked to help around the house—hang pictures, wipe dishes and such. His wife scolded him for the way he was performing one of these tasks, and he resented it. He said, "All right, if that's the way you feel, I'm going to bed. I'm going to stay there for the rest of my life and I don't want to see you ever again." He went to bed, put a blindfold around his head. He stayed there with a blindfold around his eyes in bed for seven years. He got up seven years later when the bed started to feel uncomfortable.

That's what bitterness does. It blinds you. That's what bitterness does. It puts you to bed, not in a place of comfortability but a place of total unproductivity. I'm wiped out. I'm in bed. I'm blinded. I'm dying. I've glugged the poison. That's why Jesus said: I know that you have reason. You have three months' salary coming your way. But the price that you'll have to pay in demanding your way is going to torment you. Let it go. Give it up. If not, you'll be tormented inside. You'll be imprisoned in your soul. It will be awful for you. You can't afford to do what you think is right. And that's Ahithophel, take the sword and run it through David that night. It's not going to work.

Here's the irony. David doesn't die in the story; Ahithophel does. Boy, I'm going to bitter at her, angry with them, upset at those guys because they did this to me or they didn't do that for me. It doesn't hurt them. That's the irony. For a day or two it might hurt, but ultimately they will do better, and you will hang from your neck.

Bitterness doesn't pay, even if it is justified

Anyone who's sitting here today—But she wronged me. But he hurt me. But they abused me. But they weren't good to me—I understand. You do, perhaps, have a justifiable reason to feel that way. But you can't afford the price you're going to pay if you let that bitterness grow in your soul.

Bitterness is when you allow a hurt to become hate. You poke it and you stoke it and you feed it and you fan it and you stir up the flames to relive the pain of the hurt that came your way. That's what bitterness does. I nurse this offense, this hurt, and it grows into a beastie kind of brutal, bloody thing in me. And what is eating at me eventually eats me up entirely.

The Bible says, "A merry heart doeth good like medicine." When a person is bitter, angry, caustic, cynical, the chemicals that are produced in your glands also flow through your body. They affect your stomach. They affect your heart. They affect your whole being from top to bottom. Cancers come your way. Problems attack your systems. We now have much medical research on how emotions can directly affect your physical health, not to mention your mental state.

Bitterness doesn't pay. Even if you have justifiable reason, like Ahithophel did, even if you have reason to be mad like the guy that was owed three months of salary by another. It's a terrible price that you'll have to pay. Ask Ahithophel.

I wonder who's sitting here today who's bitter? She left me. She left me and the kids. How could she? She went off with another guy. How dare she! He abused me when I was just six. They robbed me. I made a business deal with them, and they reneged on their agreement and they ripped me off financially. If you don't hear this story and embrace this understanding, you're headed for a lot of unnecessary hang-ups and heartaches. Ahithophel hangs by his neck. His life is over. Everything is lost.

But wait. It doesn't have to be that way for you and for me. There are two roads to take. Ahithophel or Jesus. Similar, indeed—their counsel rejected, both rode on a donkey into the city, put their house in order, hung from a tree, were buried in a sepulcher. But I now have a choice. Somebody has hurt me. I have reason to maybe be angry or upset or bitter, quite frankly. I can either say I'm going Ahithophel's way and I'll get hung up by my own bitterness, or I can say, there was another, Jesus, who took the bitterness, the sin, the hostility, the abuse, the broken contract, the divorce, whatever it might be. The stuff that I should feel bitterness about, Jesus took on himself. This is the key. As Christians, we do not need to be bitter or angry or upset, ticked off, mad at, disappointed in anybody.

We are free from bitterness if we choose to be. But somebody's got to pay. Jesus did. But it's not fair. Jesus says I know. It killed me. And we can say that's right. That's true. And I never have to be resentful or angry or disappointed in or mad at anybody ever again, because my Jesus paid for all those sins that were done towards me or all those wrongs that came my way unjustifiably.

This is what we call the gospel, the good news. That sin, whether it's my sin or sin done to me, has all been dealt with. Happy is the man whose sins are forgiven. Not just the sins that he's done but the sins that have been done toward him. Happy is the man who goes through a day, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime saying, "No problama, it's covered, it's paid for. I don't have to be stressed or depressed or bitter or angry at anyone ever again, because Jesus, he paid the price for those sins by those guys, and he paid it adequately. Now I'm free."

For Your Reflection

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? ____________________________________________________

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Sermon Outline:


Ahithophel's story instructs us on the dangers of bitterness.

I. Bitterness puts us on the pathway to murder.

II. We must combat bitterness with constant forgiveness.

III. Bitterness doesn't pay, even it it's justified.


We are free from bitterness if we choose to be.