We are part of a bitter generation. Many of us are overwhelmed by past slights and offenses. So overwhelmed that there’s no room for forgiveness and in our zeal for revenge we hurt others and the hurts we inflict on them lead to their own bitterness. This is a generation that demands redress for past hurts…often we are driven by revenge.
In the book Moby Dick there is a violent confrontation at sea, the great whale had sliced off Ahab’s leg. He was then carried to his bunk and forced to endure the trip home; long days and nights, thinking about the pain and suffering laying blame on the whale. Look at Melville’s description of this episode:
For long months of days and weeks, Ahab and anguish lay stretched together in one hammock, rounding in midwinter that dreary, howling Patagonian Cape, then it was that his torn body and gashed soul bled into one another and so interfusing, made him mad.
Ahab responded to this, as a man possessed of bitterness. Obsessed with hate, he set his face to search out and destroy Moby Dick, whatever the cost. He fitted a ship, hired a crew, and mounted a voyage of vengeance, which led to his death, the destruction of his ship, and the loss of all men except one, Ishmael, who lived to tell the tale.
Ahab is a picture of our generation. Road rage is a manifestation of bitterness, as the driver who made an error is pursued and injured or killed. Racism and prejudice are manifestations of bitterness. We aren't accepting people at face value, allowing past hurts and misunderstandings to color our view of another person, judging them on their skin color rather than their character.
We've used bitterness as a way of achieving political goals. Bitterness doesn't unite it divides. Bitterness doesn't heal it undermines. Bitterness is bred by cynicism. Bitterness is a condition of the heart:
Proverbs 14:10 (NKJV)
14:10 The heart knows its own bitterness, And a stranger does not share its joy.
Cynicism and bitterness are a symptom of sin and rebellion. They’re carnal thoughts; they’re of the flesh and when we’re in our flesh we’re enemies of God.
Today I want to post on bitterness from this text:
Genesis 49:5-7 (NKJV)
49:5 "Simeon and Levi are brothers; Instruments of cruelty are in their dwelling place. 6 Let not my soul enter their council; Let not my honor be united to their assembly; For in their anger they slew a man, And in their self-will they hamstrung an ox. 7 Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob And scatter them in Israel.
The Separation of Bitterness
Robertson McQuilkin, first president of Columbia International University, once said:
“The sin of unforgiveness is a cancer that destroys relationships, eats away at one’s
own psyche, and – worst of all – shuts us off from God’s grace.”
Our text takes place as Jacob is preparing to die. He’s called his sons to himself in order to bless them. These are his final words. These are the things that he is trying to speak into their lives. This is the moment when he is trying to impart something personal to each son, he’s speaking to their future; he’s speaking to their character and in what those things will result. He’s prophesying over their lives.
The prophecy that he speaks over Simeon and Levi isn't a blessing, is it? He’s speaking of them being divided, “Let not my soul enter into their council: Let not my honor be united to their assembly.” He’s saying that he doesn't want to be associated with them. He’s their father, why would he seek to be separate them from himself? What’s caused this separation between them? We can look at the story in Genesis 34 and see the problem as it arises. First, there was an offense:
Genesis 34:1-4 (NKJV)
34:1 Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. 2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her and lay with her, and violated her. 3 His soul was strongly attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the young woman and spoke kindly to the young woman. 4 So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, "Get me this young woman as a wife."
Shechem has violated their sister. They’re undoubtedly angry…and rightfully so. Shechem has caused injury to this young woman and they’re righteously angry. We don’t have to stand by and watch as those we love are violated; as we ourselves are violated.
Ephesians 4:26 (NKJV)
4:26 "Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath,
There will be anger in our lives, toward injustice and violation, but allowing that anger to control us is sin. Look at what happens next:
Genesis 34:8-9 (NKJV)
34:8 But Hamor spoke with them, saying, "The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter. Please give her to him as a wife. 9 And make marriages with us; give your daughters to us, and take our daughters to yourselves.
Genesis 34:11-12 (NKJV)
34:11 Then Shechem said to her father and her brothers, "Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. 12 Ask me ever so much dowry and gift, and I will give according to what you say to me; but give me the young woman as a wife."
Shechem violated Dinah, but we see a desire on his part to make it right. Shechem wants to do the right thing here. She’s been defiled and so she’s undesirable for any other man, but Shechem wants to marry her. Look at Simeon and Levi’s response to this situation:
Genesis 34:14-15 (NKJV)
34:14 And they said to them, "We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a reproach to us. 15 But on this condition we will consent to you: If you will become as we are, if every male of you is circumcised,
Genesis 34:25-26 (NKJV)
34:25 Now it came to pass on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, each took his sword and came boldly upon the city and killed all the males. 26 And they killed Hamor and Shechem his son with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem's house, and went out.
Genesis 34:29 (NKJV)
34:29 and all their wealth. All their little ones and their wives they took captive; and they plundered even all that was in the houses.
They destroyed all that was in Shechem, because the bitterness that had arisen in them over the violation of Dinah, had exploded into rage. The whole scene is an act of rage, but it’s in response to bitterness. Look at what happens in the end:
Genesis 34:30 (NKJV)
34:30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, "You have troubled me by making me obnoxious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and since I am few in number, they will gather themselves together against me and kill me. I shall be destroyed, my household and I."
Relationships were destroyed. Jacob became offensive to the people who lived in the area, because of the cruelty of Simeon and Levi. This is an interesting moment in scripture, because they were offended, there was a horrendous thing that was done to their innocent and decent sister. Many times in our lives when things happen to us, we’re justified in our indignation at an event or over some terrible thing that’s been perpetrated on us. Bitterness is not an answer, because it divides, it destroys relationships and often results in even more horrendous things being done. In this situation, innocent men were killed. Children were deprived of their fathers. Women and children were taken into slavery. Now it isn't one person who suffers but many, many more.
A number of years ago, there was a young man who killed thirty-two people at Virginia Tech University. His rationale was that young woman rejected him, she was the first person killed, but he went on a rampage and killed thirty others and finally himself. In the midst of all of this he’d sent a press release to the local television news, outlining and detailing every hurt that he’d received. He focused on wealthy young people and women who had hurt him. His bitterness had coalesced into rage and revenge, and damaged hundreds of people.
Think about his family, his parents. How has this affected them? Think about the families of those innocents who’d been killed. Maybe this young man had legitimate cause for anger. Maybe he was justified in that. Maybe he had been mistreated and beaten down, but the question is, “Has his bitterness and revenge liberated him?” No, he’s been destroyed; killed by his own bullet, and he’s destroyed innocent lives.
What will bitterness buy you and I? We may never commit and act like this. We may never act out on our bitterness is rage like this. We may just store it up, seething at the mention of a name, becoming enraged by this person’s good fortune and as a result isolating ourselves from everyone else.
Think about this for a moment. Have you ever known someone who is consumed with hatred for someone else? How much fun are they to be around? How often do you go looking for them to spend a pleasant afternoon? I find it tedious, at best, to be around people who can’t ever get off the subject of someone who’s hurt him or her. Most people do, and so what we do is stay away from that person. Bitterness isolates.
The Loss of Inheritance
Genesis 49:7 (NKJV)
49:7 Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob And scatter them in Israel.
This portion of our text speaks of our inheritance. We must understand that Jacob is speaking in prophecy here. In other words this is God speaking through the lips of Jacob. Prophetically, he’s speaking of their inheritance. He’s looking into the future. He’s looking into the promise of God to Abraham, that they will be given the land of Canaan. He’s telling them that because of what they’ve done they won’t see an inheritance of their own. Their portion will go to Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manassas. The portions of Simeon and Levi’s descendants will be scattered throughout the land given to other tribes.
In the book of Joshus we see the fulfillment of this prophecy:
Joshua 19:9 (NKJV)
19:9 The inheritance of the children of Simeon was included in the share of the children of Judah, for the share of the children of Judah was too much for them. Therefore the children of Simeon had their inheritance within the inheritance of that people.
Joshua 21:3 (NKJV)
21:3 So the children of Israel gave to the Levites from their inheritance, at the commandment of the Lord, these cities and their common-lands:
The tribe of Simeon was scattered throughout Judah. The same is true of the Levites, they were given cities throughout Israel. Bitterness and rage cost them their own inheritance and it will cost us as well. Bitterness is a spiritual poison that leads to our being bound by iniquity or the “stain of sin.” Look at what Peter says to Simon who has offered money for the gift of the Holy Spirit. He’s seen the power and he wants it for himself for his own gain:
Acts 8:23 (NKJV)
8:23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity."
You are POISONED by BITTERNESS and bound by iniquity.
Do you remember the story of a former KGB agent who received a dose of Polonium? Polonium is a radioactive isotope. It acts like a poison in the system. He lost his hair, his organs slowly shut down, and eventually he died. Bitterness is a spiritual poison that will eventually result in spiritual death. The book of Hebrews also speaks of bitterness:
Hebrews 12:15 (NKJV)
12:15 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;
A root of bitterness defiles us; we are made foul, or filthy. Those that were defiled were unable to enter into the temple or the presence of God. We will be unable to enter in to the kingdom, if we are defiled by bitterness. In other words, straight out, bitterness is sin. The bitter will not receive the inheritance that God has for them. We are living in a generation that is defiled by bitterness.
The Antidote is Forgiveness
Every cat knows, some things must be buried – Ruth Bell Graham
Someone else said, “When you bury the hatchet, don’t bury it in your neighbors head.”
The problem for us is that we have a tendency to dwell on injury and that causes the injury to become larger in our eyes. We had this dog that had a cyst on his foot. It was swollen and I would imagine that it was a little tender. He continued to lick it; he licked it all the time. Any time he wasn’t engaged in something else, he was licking his foot. The result was it became more visible. He licked the hair off it, it seemed larger, and it was shiny and more noticeable. It looked worse than it really was. We took him to the bet and the only way to cure that cyst was to cut it away.
The same thing is true with dwelling on past hurts. The hurt becomes larger and has more impact on us than before. If the dog continued to mess with that cyst it would become an open wound and become infected. The same thing is true of our psyche; we must cut the injury free. The cutting takes place through forgiveness.
We must allow the injury to be removed to rid ourselves of the pain. At some point you just have to let it go, before it destroys you.
A number of years ago a man walked into an Amish school and lined up a number of young girls and killed them. This was a powerful injury to that community. What a horrible thing to face; the death of innocent young girls. If anyone had a right to seek revenge it was this community. If anyone had been horribly wronged it was this community. But they didn’t dwell on the hurt. They grieved; they buried the children and then as a community they forgave this man who murdered their daughters.
Did the forgiveness help the murderer? No, he still suffered the in the guilt of what he had done. He was still prosecuted for the crime and will still face the punishment as set by the courts, but the Amish were released. They were able to get beyond the pain. Do you think those parents felt like forgiving? How would you feel if your child was murdered? Would forgiveness be the first thing you felt for the murderer? Probably not, most of us would want to return the favor wouldn’t we? We love the scripture “an eye for and eye…” don’t we? It appeals to our sense of justice, but what does Jesus say?
Matthew 5:38-39 (NKJV)
5:38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
Jesus says, that we should endure injury without inflicting injury back.
Luke 6:27-28 (NKJV)
6:27 "But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.
These things aren’t easy, though. There not things we would do naturally. He’s telling us we must forgive.
Matthew 6:14-15 (NKJV)
6:14 "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
So we need to make a choice to forgive. It isn’t a natural reaction; it’s a reaction of will. It’s something we must make ourselves do. If you seek forgiveness you must first forgive.
When John Wesley was traveling by ship to America he heard a strange noise in the cabin of General Oglethorpe, the Governor of Virginia. Wesley stepped in to see what was happening. The General’s servant had stolen and drunk the entire stock of the general’s favorite wine.
“But I will be avenged,” the general shouted. Then he ordered the servant bound hand and foot and taken away for severe punishment. “For you know Mr. Wesley, I never forgive.” Wesley replied, “In that case sir, I hope you never sin.”
The general was chastened by Wesley’s rebuke, took out his keys and threw them at his servant saying, “There, villain, take my keys and behave better in the future.”
His natural instinct was for revenge and punishment; he had to make an effort to forgive. Wesley pointed out what it means to live out the scripture. If you can’t forgive how can you expect to be forgiven.
Finally, there is the example of Jesus. He’d been scourged; He’d been beaten. He’d been mocked, ridiculed and humiliated. He’d been hung on a cross to die a slow and agonizing death. As he hung there, there was no repentance on the part of his tormenters and murderers. The Romans didn’t care about his death. The Temple leaders were delighted in His death; they continued to mock Him. Jesus, himself says he could have called down twelve legions of angels to protect Him. Instead of crying out for vengeance, He cried out “Father, forgive them.” He’s not asking us to do anything He hasn’t done himself. We gain nothing by bitterness but more suffering. By forgiving we gain eternal life.