The Bitter Spirit – Lessons from Naomi and Job

Pedro Gelabert - Outline Taken from Russel Kelfer


Rth 1:12-13

(12)  Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons,

(13)  would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me."


How do we know Naomi is bitter?


  • She says: “The hand of the Lord has gone out against me”
  • She blames God for the turn of events in her life.
  • She says, “Don't call me Naomi anymore. Naomi means “pleasant” and my life is not pleasant any more. Call me Mara which means “bitter” because the Lord has dealt bitterly with me.”
  • Her justification: “I went out full and I came home empty. God has testified against me in this way and He has afflicted me, so I am bitter.”


Bitterness is a result of dealing wrongly with grief. Naomi’s grief is understandable. We can understand her loneliness. Her husband and sons died; and she has nowhere to go but back to her estate, and alone! Her grief even made her unrecognizable by her countrymen! Years of grief and dealing wrongly with it can leave traces on your face. We can understand the grief. But her problem was not the result of her grief; it was a result of her bitterness. She had to have an attitude adjustment, a change of perspective, in order to deal rightly with her grief.


Grief is a condition resulting from circumstances, but bitterness is an attitude or response that may or may not accompany the grief. Bitterness is resentful of the circumstances and always looks for a scapegoat. The problem is that you eventually end up blaming God for everything, even if you don’t really believe in Him! Your life is a mess, but it was your parent's fault, you say. But who gave you your parents? So you quietly develop a bitter spirit. Some examples:


  • It was an unavoidable tragedy you say, but God could have intervened.
  • Why did He allow this to happen to you?
  • I wanted so badly to marry that person, and God knew that but it didn't work out.
  • Why did God take her or him away from me?
  • I wanted to be accepted in that school.
  • If only I would have received that honor or promotion.
  • If only my marriage had turned out differently.
  • If only my children had turned out differently.


You may say all the right words in all the right places, but a bitter spirit spreads like cancer through your system and your spiritual life and fruit begin to wither and die.


What is a bitter spirit?


Bitterness is the agony you feel as a result of blaming God or someone else for the work of Satan, sin or self.

  • Most marriage problems are the result of a bitter spirit.
  • Many emotional problems and a high percentage of spiritual problems have at their roots a bitter spirit towards God or others.


People think inside themselves: Why did God make me this way? Why did God let that happen? Why did God single me out to suffer? Why me, oh, Lord, why me?


The amazing thing about a bitter spirit is that those who seem to have the most to be bitter about seem to often have no bitterness at all. Others whose setbacks seem to an outsider to be disappointing but not devastating, may be carrying on their shoulders a load of bitterness that will cause them to stoop and eventually collapse.


So it isn't the depth of the circumstances that cause a bitter spirit, it is the depth of our response to those circumstances.


Heb 12:15  See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;


What the Holy Spirit is saying is this:

“Look after each other so that none of you will fail to find God's best. Watch out, be on the look out. See that no bitterness take root among you for as it springs up it will cause deep trouble and it will wound many in their Christian lives.”


In other words, pay close attention to your own life and those about you if a bitter spirit begins to take root, or it will choke out the garden of the fruit of the spirit.


Let's look at the symptoms, the cause and the cure for a bitter spirit.


The Symptoms.

If you read the book of Job you will come up with most of them.


1- A bitter spirit is characterized by a negative, complaining attitude toward life. It was Job who cried out in chapter 7:11 - I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. Behind grumbling, complaining, and a negative attitude lies a soul that is angry at his lot in life and at God. Your whole personality and character may be infected with the poison (gall) of bitterness. For your sake and the sake of the rest of us, your infection must be stopped. A negative spirit is the first symptom.

2- A bitter spirit cannot seem to love or be loved. Colossians 3:19 pits two opposite truths against each other as conflicting alternatives in a marriage. It says, Husbands love your wives. It then gives this startling antithesis, but do not be bitter against them. In other words, if you really love, you can't be bitter and if you are really bitter you cannot love. The man or the woman who cannot love or refuses to be loved often suffers from a bitter spirit.

3- A bitter spirit sees God as unapproachable and unavailable. Job, in the midst of his anger, cried out in Job 23:2 - I am bitter, how I wish I could find God. In other words Job is saying, “I wish God were available so that I could argue my case and He could see that I am right.” The bitter heart may pray but it all seems so distant, so impersonal.

4- The bitter spirit wears a mask of self-righteousness. James 3:14 says - Here is the worst possible kind of life, to brag about your goodness while harboring a bitter spirit. Bitterness often seeks religious clothes to wear. It loves to surround itself with activity to prove its worth to God enough to solidify its basis for bitterness.

5- A bitter spirit left unchecked may well lead to thoughts of suicide. Job had to deal with that in chapter 3:20. He questions God, Why does God leave us alive? To suffer in our bitterness? The Psalmist echoed the same frantic despair on a number of occasions. Even if a man's bitterness does not lead to thoughts of physical self-destruction, the end is spiritual self-destruction to be sure.


Most of us know our own bitterness. Proverbs 14:10 reminds us - The heart knows its own bitterness. What lies behind the symptoms? The lies of Satan are behind the symptoms. That is the key to it all. So let's look at the traumas of life and their potential effect if the enemy has his way, and listen to the enemy's lies –


The Causes of bitterness

“It wasn't my fault, so it must be God's. I am the innocent victim of the society in which I live and God controls the society. Therefore, God was either powerless to help, or He did not care, or He chose not to get involved, or He delights in seeing me suffer. I deserve a better lot in life than this. I have a basis for bitterness.” Do you see how the argument works? The enemy, through the world, offers three solutions:


  • Shift the blame. “It wasn't my fault. Blame somebody else. Ultimately, blame God”. But that kind of blame shifting always has a funny way of lingering in your conscience – that’s why you’re bitter!
  • Ease the pain. Take something or do something that will try to help you erase or mask the pain. But the problem is; the pain lingers on and on…
  • Get Even. Strike back, get even with God and get even with man. It will make you feel better, so you think…


God's answers however, as always, are diametrically opposed to Satan's lies. He says:


  1. Sin is responsible for all of life's ills. You name any one of the things in your life that you use to justify your bitterness and I can guarantee that you will draw two conclusions.
    1. It never existed before the fall of man.
    2. It will not exist in heaven.
    3. Examples:

                                                               i.      Let's take death as an example. The source of bitterness for many Christians is the "untimely" death of a loved one. Death never existed until sin came into the world. Death will not exist when heaven is complete, it will cease to be. Until then, “it is appointed unto man once to die”. Therefore, there is no such thing as an "untimely" death. Even God's own Son lived to be only 33 years old. He was sinless, but sin, our sin, cost Him His life. Death is the direct result of sin. Don't shake your fist at God. He has arranged for us a day of reunion when death and sin will be swallowed up.

                                                             ii.      You can apply that same yardstick to all the other "enemies" of happiness. Pain: There was no pain in the garden. There will be no pain in heaven. Immorality, conflicts, misunderstandings, sufferings, shattered expectations; the things that cause us to be bitter were not in the garden.

    1. Sin is responsible, not God. You want to be angry? Be angry with Satan. That makes sense!
  1. Satan is responsible for sin. He started it all. His was the original declaration of independence from God. You have a right to be angry with Satan.
  2. We are responsible. We live in a world that we created. We took God's beautiful paradise and turned it into global conflict. We are reaping the fruits of our own rebellion, personally and collectively. What rights have we to be angry with God? He ought to be angry with us. But He is not!
  3. God is grieved. See Jesus weeping over Jerusalem and you see the heart of God. He is not happy over our grief. His grief is greater than ours. When you weep at the grave of a loved one or cry out in anguish and pain, God cries, too. For this is not the world that He intended for us. Man simply chose to go his own way and God is grieved.
  4. God, though He must allow sin to run its course, has good news. It need not take its toll spiritually. The spiritual is all that is eternal. Those blows from life's hammer must not leave bruises of bitterness. The penicillin of God's grace can flood your spiritual bloodstream and God will work those trials into triumphs, spiritually. He may not see the disease checked or the wealth returned or the pain cease, but the miracle of spiritual transformation will overcome the grief. The very tool that Satan uses for bitterness, God will use as vessels for blessings.


Naomi had experienced a series of life's "bad deals." So did Joseph. So have many of you. The question is, do we accept these "bad deals" in life as a part of the “all things in life”, as part of the rain that falls on the just and the unjust, or do we shake our spiritual fist at God and choose to be offended at Him? Do we begin to be offended at Him for personally attacking us unjustifiably or unfairly and then begin to question whether He is a God of love at all?


Praise God there is a cure for a bitter spirit. It does not need to run its ugly course. If your life is showing signs of bitterness, now could be a dawning of a new day for you. Job found the answer and so can you. These principles are eternal.


The Principles of curing the bitter spirit


1- Take another look at God. That is what Job had to do. God said, "Job, sit down for a spell and take a look at who I am. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world, Job, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Job, were you there? Job, I am not at all like you described. You fashioned a god with your own mind and the bitterness of your own soul. Job, you don't even know who I am. I didn't inflict that pain on you," God said, "Satan did. I allowed him to but not because I was angry, but because I love you and I trusted you and because I wanted you to know who I really am. You don't know who I really am yet, Job." My friend, if your heart is a heart filled with bitterness you don't really know who God really is.


2- Saturate yourself with the Word of God. God said, "Job now hush and listen to what I have to say." Let's see what God said:


Job 40:1-5

(1)  And the LORD said to Job:

(2)  "Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it."

(3)  Then Job answered the LORD and said:

(4)  "Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth.

(5)  I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further."


Once you realize that you have a bitter spirit, tell God it is sin and then hush your mouth. Now it is time to listen to Him. The world says to talk it out. The Word says to throw it out.


Eph 4:31-32

(31)  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

(32)  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.


Replace bitterness with the Word of God. Memorize portions of God's word, and as it enters the bloodstream, it will begin to cleanse the soul of bitterness, that is if you do step # 3.


3- Humble yourself before God and repent. Admit that your bitterness is unjustified and that your bitter spirit is (now here's that word again) sin. Only when Job did that, did his bitterness finally disappear:


Job 42:1-6

(1)  Then Job answered the LORD and said:

(2)  "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

(3)  'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

(4)  'Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.'

(5)  I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;

(6)  therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes."


When Job called sin, sin, when he ceased blaming God for being unfair and accepted the responsibility for his bitter spirit, the Great Physician began to release him from the hospital ward of bondage to circumstance which leads us to step # 4.


4- Bury yourself and concern yourself with other people.


Job 42:10  And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.


When Job was able to lose his self-pity and begin to pray for the very ones to whom he had transferred his bitterness, his bitterness vanished. God then restored him to a greater level of usability than he had ever known before.


5- Allow yourself to become vulnerable and accept the love of others. Let's go back to Ruth 1. Here was Naomi, caught up in a web of self-pity and bitterness. She felt unloved and unaccepted by God. So God sent her a package of love she couldn't refuse:


Rth 1:14-17

(14)  Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

(15)  And she said, "See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law."

(16)  But Ruth said, "Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.

(17)  Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you."


How could a bitter spirit survive in the face of love like that?


Ruth's response to Naomi's bitterness with two thoughts in mind.


A- If you live with someone or minister to someone who is bathed in bitterness, commit yourself to love them unconditionally. They will be difficult to love, for they may be negative, untrusting and angry at God. Let God love them through you unconditionally, as Ruth did. It will change them and it will change you.

B- Ruth's commitment to Naomi is but a portrait of God's commitment to you. If you do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, maybe you have even seen Him approach you to walk with you back to Bethlehem, and you have urged Him to go His own way, this is the good news of the gospel. He wants to give you His Spirit. Where ever you go, He will go. Wherever you live, He will live. His people will become your people. His Spirit will control your spirit. When you die, He will be there, for He will have already died for you.


Perhaps the circumstances in your life have been devastating. Don't be angry with God. Sin is responsible. Satan is responsible. We are responsible. God is placing arms of comfort around you right now and wants you to take a fresh look at who He really is. Then He wants you to take His hand and begin again burying your bitterness and accepting His love. He does not want to call you “bitter”. His desire is to call you “Pleasant One”. He says to you softly, "Your circumstances may not change, but I will go with you through the circumstances and you can be changed. For where you go, I will go, wherever you stop to rest, I will stop too. All My people are yours for the asking. They will love you as I love you, if you will let them. Even death will bring us but closer together."