BITTER ROOTS
Exodus 20:12, Hebrews 12:15, Matthew 7:1

(c) Copyright 2010 Rev. Bill Versteeg


20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. (Colossians 3:20)

"Honor your father and your mother that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving to you."

As we have looked at that command, we have found first of all that it is a call for parents to be people who are worthy of honour so that our children will not be hindered in keeping this command. That means that parents ought to be of sound character, with the kind of character to follow through on good intentions, of strong courage - the kind of courage that takes the risks of faith and keeps commitments even when that is difficult, and finally it is a call for parents to listen to a sensitive conscience. We also found that it is a command to all children, young and old, to listen to, obey, respect their relationship with and be patient and forgiving with their imperfect parents. We have discovered that this command applies to the whole family and not keeping this command is often a family dynamic involving both parents and children. You will remember how earlier in the commandments, the sins of the fathers go to the third and fourth generation, parents sin, children learn sin, react in sin and children pay the largest price. This morning, we are going to see that dynamic in Esauís life.

 15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears. (Heb 12:15-17)

I hope you noticed. There is no humour here. This short passage is filled with pain, rejection, desperate tearful actions taken way to late, decisions that would influence not only one son named Esau, but generations that followed him in his descendants named Edom. And all of it started in a family where parents were not worthy of honour and a child in response developed a root of bitterness.

So that we might understand the dynamics of bitterness in our lives, let me start by giving a definition of bitterness this morning.

A bitter root is unresolved (irresolvable) anger in reaction to the unfair (unjust) use of power.

We will get to this definition some more in a little bit. Letís first look at the Esau.

You may remember that his parents were Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age. His name means they laughed, because they couldnít believe that they would receive a child in their old age. Rebekah, the beautiful girl Isaac met at the well near Nahor. It was a match made in heaven. Godís answer to Abrahamís faith in Godís promises.

But a match made in heaven does not keep a marriage and a family from turning into hell. This would become a marriage and a family that was filled with dysfunction, manipulation, lies, favoritism. (Based on Genesis 25:19ff)

The Lord enabled Rebekah to conceive in answer to Isaacís prayer. In her uterus the struggle already started between twin sons. Rebekah prayed and asked the Lord about the struggle and kicking within her. And the Lord gave this word to her.

Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger." (Genesis 25:23)

The first one to come out was red and hairy and so they called him Esau which means "hairy one." His descendants later would be called Edom or "red ones." He would become a virtual banquet of masculinity. A outdoors man, a hunter, a great catcher of wild game. Grasping his heal on the way out was his brother, whom they called Jacob whose name meant "the heal grabber," or idiomatically, the manipulator or deceiver. It appears that Jacob had great people and communication skills.

Now we would assume all is well, but the very next sentence in Genesis 25 is laden is issues.

 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Is this a healthy family? First there is favoritism. A division in parenting. Dad loves one, Mom loves the other son. And on top of that, the Hebrew makes it very clear that Isaac loved his son for the wild meat he could bring home. His love was driven by his taste buds. Did he love Esau for anything else? If it were not for the meat, would he have loved Esau at all? In the same sentence, it is clear that Rebekah simply and completely loved Jacob. The contrast is clear. There are very unhealthy dynamics going on in this family.

Now if you have your bibles open, notice what happens next in the story. Esau sells his birthright.

29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, "Quick, let me have some of that red stew! Iím famished!" (That is why he was also called Edom.d)

31 Jacob replied, "First sell me your birthright."

32 "Look, I am about to die," Esau said. "What good is the birthright to me?"

33 But Jacob said, "Swear to me first." So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

So Esau despised his birthright.

What does it mean that he sold his birthright. Well, he was the oldest son. As the oldest, he was about to inherit the bulk of the spiritual and material blessings of his parents. He was as the eldest called to walk in the footsteps of his parents, in their faith, in their way of life with God, in the blessings that they handed down.

He despised his birthright. He was hungry yes, but by the fact that he ate some red lentil stew, and drank, and by the rush of the verbs in the Hebrew language, got up and went, he was not near death by any means. He was simply hungry. But satisfying his hunger was more important than every heritage his parents could give him. Being the eldest, being identified with his parents, it was not worth much to him. Carrying on the name of Isaac, the faith of Isaac, the character of Isaac or Rebekah, not worth anything. He dishonoured his parents. He despised his birth right.

Later, Esau would go out and marry women who had nothing to do with his parents faith or their God, women whose cultural inheritance ran contrary to what Esauís family stood for, something that caused Isaac and Rebekah a lot of grief. (Genesis 26:34,35). Esau in dishonoring his parents basically said, I want little to do with Mom and Dad.

Parents not worthy of honor, loving poorly, manipulating, parenting with favoritism. Itís hard to honor parents like that. Esau, in response developed a root of bitterness that would cause problems for generations to come and defile many.

15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.

 A bitter root is unresolved (irresolvable) anger in reaction to the unfair (unjust) use of power.

A little more detail around this definition.

First its a response to the unfair use of power. As such it is often aimed at people in positions of authority (like dads and moms), or others in positions of power (perceived or real). Paulís words, Fathers, donít embitter your children.

Fathers, in New Testament times had absolute power over their families. If a father, for whatever reason choose to use that power in unfair ways the child had no recourse. There was no way a child could get back at a father. There was no higher law that a child could appeal to, and disobedience could cost a child his life. If a child chose to respond in anger, it would have to be repressed, swallowed, because there was no way at getting back at dad.

Itís is still true today. Granted, parents don't have such absolute power. Parents still use or apply the power they have in unfair ways. They use power unfairly because they are merely human, they are imperfect, they don't see issues as we see them as children, they are not given all the information. Whatever the reason, in the minds of children, a parents application of power will at times be unfair. I suspect that every parent here has heard at least some of his children give the response: "That's not fair." And if you are young today thinking that when you have kids, you are going to be perfectly fair, I'll dare be prophetic and tell you you will be unfair with your children, maybe not in your eyes but definitely in their eyes.

Throughout history, in Isaacís time, in New Testament times, 40 years ago and today, Children respond to what they perceive to be the unfair use of power over them and sometimes they respond in anger, judging their parents for being the imperfect sinful people they are. And if they do not find a way or choose not to resolve their anger, they bury it and go on with life only to find out they have sown a seed that will turn into a bitter root that will affect them for years to come.

See to it "that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many."

What happens when in response to the unfair use of power we bury our anger? The anger buries itself deep in our character. We think that by pushing it far down, we have gotten rid of it, "out of sight and out of mind," but in truth, it is like a seed that we bury. It becomes a theme that starts writing the story of who we are. Not only does that anger sap the energy of life out of us like roots take nutrition from the ground, that anger starts shaping our character and identity. And because our behaviors arise out of who we are, that root of anger has the power to shape how we interact with others for years to come.

I remember well a young man who I met in college, married with children at a very young age. His father was a pastor. In talking with him, it became quite clear that in his eyes, his father had been to strict, to demanding and unfair in his expectations at different times, and for whatever reason, this boy did not see any way out except to bury his anger. What resulted was years of making decisions in reaction to dad. His bitter root came to expression in a variety of ways. He got into drugs. He got his girl friend pregnant. He got into trouble with the law. If his father stood for certain values, he was not going to stand for them. In those important teen age years his character took shape in reaction to his father . He and his young wife ended up paying for it for years to come. When I talked to him something seemed to be repeating. Now, instead of his father, his wife would be angry at him for what she thought were the stupid reactionary decisions he made. He had judged his father for what he thought were unfair decisions regarding the power he had, now he himself was being judged for the clearly stupid decisions he made. What was happening was a spiritual principle that we find in

Matthew 7, one of the most often misunderstood passages in the scripture.

Matthew 7:1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

The simple truth is, when we judge someone in authority over us and we do not resolve our anger but let it become a bitter root within our lives, what goes around comes around because we have let the very thing that we have judged write our stories and shape our characters so that we also become worthy of judgment. The simple truth is, when we bury anger and let bitterness take root we choose to have that anger shape who we are over time. And as anger shapes our character it affects, it defiles others around us. Because God is an authority, it often causes us to miss the grace of God, and it causes us to make stupid decisions like Esau did who forsook his birthright.

Now I have been making the point that a bitter root, a judgment of anger against someone in authority has the power to write our stories and shape our character, something which does not change easily.

Notice the words of Hebrews 12:17

17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.

This verse appears to refer to two things in Esauís life. First, when he realized that his foolish decision to marry Hittite wives was causing his parents deep grief, he chose to marry a wife from within the community. But it was too late.

And second, he wanted to inherit the Blessing. His Father, Isaac wanted to give it to him, over course on the condition that Esau would give him another great dish to eat. His love was still conditional. But you know the story. Rebekah and Jacob deceived Isaac with some identical cooking, a change of clothing and some goat skin on Jacobís arms. Yes, Rebekah was into deceiving her own husband and causing division in the family. In fact in the entire story, not once is it mentioned or hinted at that the parents and the two sons were ever in the same room together. It was always divisive, plotting, manipulation. In the end Jacob would get the blessing just as the Lord had promised. And when Esau learned that Jacob had received it all, and there was virtually nothing left for him, he wept aloud but it made no difference. And the bitter root turned into the desire to murder his own brother, which in the end caused the entire family to be divided, Jacob had to flee to Laban, Rebekah would never see her beloved son Jacob again.

The biblical truth that we each need to realize is that God gives us this command to honor our parents, and as we find out from other parts of scripture, honor all those in authority over us. God gives us this command for our well being so that is may go well for us in the land the Lord our God is giving to us. And one of the most important ways that we honour our parents is by working hard at forgiving their imperfect and sometimes the unfair ways in which they used the power they had over us. When rather then forgiving we harbor anger, and let it grow into bitterness, we allow that anger to shape our character, influence our decisions, we set ourselves on self destructive pathways that not only hurt ourselves but hurt others. God's desire for our lives is that we live in freedom - free to make choices that are a free response of our conscience before God, free to develop our character with its good intentions, free to exercise our courage as we grow in understanding how strong we can be because God's love for us never changes. Bitter roots bind us like Esau was bound -to making foolish decisions that disregard or dis-value our parent's values. That was what was at the heart of despising his birthright. Esau choose to have nothing to do with what came from his father, a decision certainly made in reaction, a reaction driven by bitterness. When we let bitterness root it destroys the quality of our lives.

The question then becomes: How do we get rid of bitter roots? Is it possible to return to honouring parents so that it will go well with us in the land the Lord our God is giving us? we don't have time to deal with that this morning, we intend to talk about that next Sunday morning as we look at the theme of Returning to honour.

I summarize this message by repeating these points

Bitterness is an unresolved anger response to the unfair use of power, Bitterness shapes our character. Bitterness binds us to reactionary decisions and repeating behavior patterns, Bitterness keeps us from others (and God), Bitterness "defiles" others

Next Message in the series of Honouring Parents:  Returning to Honour

Go to Next Sermon in Series on Honouring our Father and Mother


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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