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A bitter root

Look after each other so that none of you will miss out on the special favor of God. Watch out that no bitter root of unbelief rises up among you, for whenever it springs up, many are corrupted by its poison. — Hebrews 12:15

Sibling rivalry is one thing. Ongoing, unrelenting, bitter antagonism between brothers is entirely different. The healthy challenges of brothers vying for attention, relishing competition, and comparing skills serve to develop a young man’s maturity in relationships. But misunderstandings can occur even in the best relationships between brothers.

Even the best relationships can quickly sour if rivalry is allowed to fester and settle into noxious bitterness.

Such was the case between Esau and his brother, Jacob. Jacob was no paragon of virtue, but he had spiritual sensitivity that his elder brother lacked. Esau was an “immoral” and “godless” man. He was immoral in that he insisted on taking two foreign wives who “made life miserable [the word means “bitter”] for Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:35)—so much so that his mother said, “I’m sick and tired of these local Hittite women. I’d rather die than see Jacob marry one of them” (27:46).

Esau was godless in that “he traded his birthright as the oldest son for a single meal” (Hebrews 12:16), an action which might not seem particularly significant in our day and age, but in his time was a monumental rejection of spiritual heritage and privilege.

Esau, of course, was free to live whatever life he wanted to live, but he was not free to choose the consequences of his lifestyle. So when he realized what he had lost—“his father’s blessing”—and went after it with “bitter tears” (12:17), he became deeply embittered. While he subjected his parents to situations which were bitter for them, he became embittered when the things that he had brought on himself came full circle.

His “repentance,” however, was unavailing. What had been done was done and could not be undone. Life is like that! Sin has consequences, and they can be bitter.

Moreover, it appears that Esau’s “bitter tears” were not tears of repentance for sin but of sorrow about consequences. This is not at all uncommon. People are often very sorry that they have to bear the bitter consequences of their actions without being willing to call their sin what it is and turn from it with a deep desire “to live a clean and holy life” (12:14).

An embittered, unrepentant Esau can become “a bitter root of unbelief” which can leave many “corrupted by its poison” (12:15). A bitter root is a disaster because it spreads its bitterness, affecting the perceptions of others, destroying relationships, sowing disharmony, and creating rancor.

The warning here is “watch out” (12:15), because the bitter root may be you!

For further study: Hebrews 12:14-29

Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.