Peace if possible. Truth at all costs. ~ Martin Luther

Overcoming the Death Grip of Bitterness

building gallows“So Haman went out that day joyful and with a glad heart; but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, and that he did not stand or tremble before him, he was filled with indignation against Mordecai ….. so he had the gallows made.”  (Esther 5:9, 14)

The story of this man, Haman, is a stark warning to all of us. He was a man absolutely consumed with bitterness. A bitterness that was actually centuries old in his family, but one that he in turn embraced and nurtured in his own heart. At first it was toward all Jewish people, and then in time it became focused more and more on one man in particular — Mordecai.

On the particular day that the verses above refer to, things could not have been going better for Haman in terms of worldly success and promotion. He was extremely wealthy and second in power only to the king. But he could not enjoy any of it, because of this raging bitterness in his heart. It controlled him so completely that the Bible tells us he was plunged from joy and gladness to seething anger at a single sighting of this man, Mordecai, that he had made his nemesis.

Those words at the end of verse 14 ought to haunt us … “so he had the gallows made”.

It was Haman’s intention to go the very next morning and ask the king to execute Mordecai. He got everything ready — so sure of his ability to exact revenge, so smug in his belief that he was fully justified in doing it.

If you know the story, things didn’t turn out the way Haman planned. Within 24 hours he himself was dead, dangling at the end of the very same noose he’d strung up for his enemy.

And this is inevitably the way. When you harbor bitterness in your heart, you end up hanged on your own gallows! Stay bitter — let that thing go unchecked, eating away at you — and you know what you’re doing? You’re building gallows.

You think you’re punishing that other person you’re mad at, but in the end all you achieve is the poisoning of your own soul. It fogs your judgment, and it drains the life and joy out of you.

I’m feeling drained right now just talking about this guy, Haman, and his bitterness. Let’s turn our attention elsewhere. Haman’s life is a warning, but let me remind you of another man in the Bible.

Joseph

“Then it came to pass, at the end of two full years …” (Genesis 41:1)

This refers to the length of time Joseph continued in prison after he interpreted the dreams of the king’s cupbearer and baker. Two full years passed before he was finally summoned by Pharaoh.

It’s easy to think that these were 2 unnecessary years. What a waste! If only the cupbearer had remembered Joseph.

We mustn’t forget, however, that all the dreams in this story — the cupbearer’s, the baker’s, and then Pharaoh’s own dreams — came from God. So the timing of it all was in God’s hands. God’s children are never at the mercy of men; “the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord”  (Psalm 37:23). It’s all directed in His wise providence.

Nevertheless, 2 years languishing in prison sounds like a long trial. But it was actually even worse than that. The ESV Study Bible comments that Joseph’s total imprisonment, as indicated by the Genesis narrative, was about 12 or 13 years! He went in at around 17 years of age, and was there until around age 30. Almost half his life to that point was behind bars. And when you think about it, his entire adult education and preparation for being Prime Minister was in a prison.

God’s ways are not our ways. Moses may have had a world-class Egyptian education in his youth, but his 40 year “schooling” in God’s hands came in the backside of the desert tending sheep. Surely his preparation consisted of much “unlearning” first; forgetting the world’s wisdom and ways.

God’s tools of education include obscurity, hardship, humiliation, loss, and trials, but in the end He produces men and women that the world can’t. People of faith and patience. Men and women who trust nothing but God.

Joseph could have become a hateful, bitter man during his prison years. It’s certainly happened to others. He didn’t, however. He emerged from that crucible composed, humble, ready to be used by God.  It’s an old, maybe overworked saying, but it is nevertheless true, that tough times can either make you bitter or they can make you better.

It would be easy to reflect on that, and come up with a lesson about your attitude, and how you respond to things. That would be the “self-help” answer.  Christianity, though, is NOT a self-help religion. The truth is that the difference maker in the lives of Joseph and Moses (and countless others) was not in themselves at all. It was Who was with them that made the difference. One was in a prison and the other a wilderness, but the constant companion of both was God.

Haman was living in the lap of luxury, but he did not walk with God at all. He didn’t know that divine difference of God working on him and in him. Paradoxically, his bitterness created a cage and a wasteland around him and ultimately destroyed him. The meekness of Joseph and Moses eventually brought them through their trials, and in God’s hands they were raised to great positions of leadership.ESV Study Bible

Is there any bitterness burrowing it’s way into your heart? It won’t stop, you know. It’ll keep on going until it has a death grip  on you. Ultimately it will drive you to malice and revenge, and you’ll be building gallows before you know it.

Stop. If you don’t, you’ll end up swinging from that rope yourself.