If there were ever a root of bitterness that would grow in the life of an individual, if there were anyone who should be bitter toward his brothers, it would be Joseph. Joseph had every right to be bitter! He was 17 years old when he was sold by Judah and his brothers as a slave to the Midianite merchants . Now he is 37 years old, making it approximately 20 years since he last saw his father Jacob. Joseph, no doubt, had many memories of that ruthless separation from his father and such memories could have driven him to severe anger and bitterness. His brothers, were bearing the terrible guilt of living a lie before their father for 20 years, their bitterness to Joseph led them to sell him as a slave, and there had to be some bitterness between Reuben and Judah for what Judah did to Joseph .
SOME CAUSES OF BITTERNESS: (1) Lack of love: The inability to experience love can result in bitterness. Joseph could identify with this as he was torn from the love of his father at a young age, feeling cheated or robbed of something he knew should be his. Seeds of anger could then germinate, which, if nourished would grow into a root of bitterness toward his brothers. Like Joseph, each of us is equipped with a mental radar that detects whether or not these needs are being met. (2) Personal loss: Losing something valuable or someone we love dearly may seem to be intolerable, impossible to accept. Changes that occur, to which we do not agree causes apparent personal loss, mental revolt occurs causing, then feeds, the bitterness. Joseph could identify with this type of loss and many more like it. He was wrongfully accused by Potiphar’s wife, and was forgotten in jail, and several losses occurring together are especially apt to provoke bitterness. Consider Job: “I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. <Job 10:1 NIV> (3) Sinful attitudes: Harbouring evil thoughts produces sinful actions and bitterness, bitterness acts like an acid or cancer eating away at our emotional, physical, and spiritual health, destroying relationships. When infected with bitterness, the mind instinctively draws on its resources to plan and initiate acts of vengeance. Such had been the actions of Joseph’s brothers.
RELEASE FROM BITTERNESS: How do I dig-out the root of bitterness? (1) Confess the bitterness to God: Joseph had suffered a great loss and was deeply wounded by all that had happened to him but he did not try to justify bitterness, although this would have been a normal reaction; instead he trusted God, knowing that God was in control and had put him in the position to supply the needs of his father and brothers. (2) Seek God’s help to accept the wrong: Joseph sought God’s help to remove the mental revolt connected with his source of bitterness. Often our, minds fixate on what has hurt or offended us. Its memory is replayed incessantly driving away positive, wholesome thoughts, and the bitterness remains. Only God is able to grant the power to accept the wrongs or setbacks, and the only way for us to receive this power is to ask Him for it. Joseph knew God’s help, because Joseph’s life was under God’s control. (3) Seek God’s power to forgive: Joseph sought that power and was willing to forgive his brothers. We too must be willing to forgive those whose actions precipitated our bitterness.
WHY FORGIVE: Joseph’s reaction could have been: “my brothers who hurt me don’t deserve to be forgiven”, and had numerous reasons not to forgive his brothers. We too can have hundreds of reasons not to forgive those who have wronged us. (1) As a child of God I am commanded to do so! I have no other option! God forgives me as I forgive those who have wronged me. “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” . (2) Forgiveness can halt the cycle of blame and pain: to forgive is to release or to free from blame, and forgiveness releases the pressure that can otherwise build up, causing great mental stress. Forgiveness cleanses, heals, and brings increased love, peace, and strength to the mind, it is not a grudging burden but an experience of relief and joy. (3) Forgiveness loosens the stranglehold of guilt: for both the innocent party and the offender. Forgiveness can be expressed, but we can still insist on justice for wrongdoing. However, full forgiveness releases both parties and produces healing placing the forgiver and the wrongdoer on the same side .
JOSEPH WEPT BECAUSE BITTERNESS HAD BEEN REMOVED FROM HIS HEART He was looking for some form of repentance on the part of his brothers. Judah had come to the final step of his repentance for what had happened at least 20 years earlier , so now Joseph could no longer control himself; and all, including Reuben, had already confessed their guilt . In all the previous meetings Joseph had revealed very little emotion to his brothers. They had seen Joseph as a stern, cold-hearted Egyptian ruler ; and previously when Joseph was unable to mask his feelings he excused himself and wept in private. Now he is unable to control his feelings. There were four specific occasions when Joseph wept; all associated with his brothers trips to Egypt; and there were three more recorded before the end of the book of Genesis. These seven incidents are in addition to the numerous times he must have cried himself to sleep after he was so ruthlessly separated from his father and younger brother and sold as a slave, and the trauma of such a separation would normally drive one to severe anger and bitterness. (1) Joseph wept when he saw his brothers’ hearts begin to soften in their relationship to God . So what prompted Joseph’s tears at this time? Possibly painful memories of his own cries for mercy, but more important was the fact that he heard them begin to acknowledge their sin. (2) Joseph wept in compassion when he learned that his younger brother Benjamin was alive and safe : all through the years Joseph had no doubt wandered if his younger brother had been mistreated in the same way so now he sheds tears of relief. (3) Joseph wept because he saw Judah’s true concern for his father Jacob ; Judah, the one who made the suggestion to sell Joseph into slavery, now stands before Joseph willing to become a slave himself. (4) Joseph wept when he was reconciled with his brothers demonstrating that he held no grudges but tears of rejoicing because of true reconciliation . (5) Joseph wept when he was reunited with his father : he wept for a long time. An incredible reunion! (6) Joseph wept at the death of his father 17 years after Jacob arrived in Egypt. (7) Joseph wept when he saw the grief of his brothers’ lingering guilt after the death of his father. : he had already forgiven them 17 years before and it grieved him that they were still suffering from guilt and fear.
BITTERNESS CAUSES FEAR This is evident throughout the written account. “…his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.” . Now his brothers are on trial! Benjamin is accused of stealing Joseph’s silver cup. Judah is pleading for mercy, and they can only conclude that the axe is about to fall! FEAR keeps a wary eye on the possible consequences and wanders what is the next thing to happen; it can only think of evil; it causes the avoidance of others – shrinks away from people, and involves punishment. There was fear of past incidents ; fear of their present circumstances ; and fear of what their future held . Past wrongdoings and dread of the future penalties can cause severe mental stress and fear; “It is not the experience of TODAY that drives men mad – it is remorse or bitterness for something which happened YESTERDAY, and the dread of what TOMORROW may bring”.
LOVE DRIVES OUT FEAR AND BITTERNESS: It looks for opportunities to give; thinks no evil; it is the enemy of fear; and it moves toward others. What is the source of this love? and it is not only in words, but in deeds and attitudes . THERE ARE PRINCIPLES THAT ARE EVIDENT: Bitterness must not be characteristic of believers in Christ because it destroys fellowship, and hinders the work of the Spirit of God. A bitter person cannot enjoy complete unity with Christ; cannot demonstrate love; cannot be humble or consider others better than themselves; has no interest or time for others, and does not have the attitude of Christ. Consider the attitude of Joseph, and the fact that he had every right to be bitter, yet he held no grudge and fully forgave his brothers.
How do you measure up to Joseph’s example? There are those who have nurtured the root of bitterness in their life for many years. Heed Joseph’s example! There are those who are drawn into the bitterness of others by becoming sympathetic to their complaints. Heed Joseph’s example! There are many things in life today that could cause us to become bitter. Heed Joseph’s example! As we consider Joseph’s example we need to ask ourselves: Is there a root of bitterness in my life? What is the cause of that bitterness? Have I confessed my bitterness to God? Have I forgiven my offender? Have I asked God to heal me of my bitterness? Have I fully released my offender from guilt? Have I asked God for His power in my life to accept the wrong I have experienced? Have I committed my life to Christ for His help for victory over my bitterness?