Bitter Root

Unbelief is ever proud.
— John Calvin

When I think about bitterness, other than the state of my own heart, I think of a few familiar stories that find those words to be their home. Naomi, at the close of chapter one in the book of Ruth, after tragedy and death strikes her home, renames herself Mara, or bitter. Surely, she was not wrong. The situation she began to know as her life left her with a sour taste in her mouth, every source of worldly success and basic human provision gone from her sight. Unlike how we typically view her, most scholars call Naomi the female Job, with lament and wisdom equally set on her shoulders.

The second story I think of is in Exodus 15.

Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.
— Exodus 15:22-25

Within three days from the passing through the Red Sea, the victory cry of the Israelites changed into desperation and clouded sight, looking firmly and holding tightly to the lack they saw and tasted. They could not drink. Thankfully, their leader and priest Moses interceded with his own cry to the Lord, asking that He might make a way where it seemed no way.

What shall we drink?

The lingering flavors of hard circumstances make for dry mouth, grasping blindly for any hope of life.

In both of these stories told, they end with the Lord providing redemption, a redeemer. Boaz is called upon to spread his wings over Ruth, a type, a picture of Christ Jesus and His covering to graft us in. Similarly, Moses tosses a log, a tree, into the water in order for it to be restored into something that saves and quenches the thirst and need of His people. Hopefully, we do not miss once again this picture and type of Jesus so beautifully displayed for us to point to as we see our own Savior on a tree so that we too might be saved.

What shall we drink?

Being bitter is not without reason, but provision has been made. This isn’t a message to be “better, not bitter,” but a message to see redemption that makes a way for water in the harshest desert. Christ drank the most bitter cup that we might have life, while also asking if it would pass from Him, knowing the circumstances meant His death.

His death that our bitter state might die. A new cup for a new covenant in drinking His blood, in remembrance.

What shall we drink?

Out, damned spot.

This bitter root clenched around my heart will not let go, yet I am the one hard pressed to release my white knuckles for wide open hands. Call me Mara. For what do I have that I deserve? For what do I own that is mine? My flesh says much, justifying this belabored wretchedness by given calling and giftedness. This root is unbelief, looking at the things around me that are wrong and messy and chaotic and forgetting that there is redemption to be received that I did not earn.  

Thirst no more. The pride that demands control allows the rot to fester leaving us to flounder. Hope in the promise that what is wrong will be made right will forge a new road that will not weather away. Living water flows freely for those who cry out and are willing to say, “not my will, but yours be done,” where pride and unbelief are choked out, and a table set before us in communion. 

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
— Hebrews 12:12-13

On the topic of bitterness, I also appreciated Wendy Alsup's points on her blog (which points to another blog). We must be careful playing the "bitter card" with people, understanding fully what it is, and becoming part of the solution instead of furthering the problem.