Bitterness: A Festering Wound

A wound, when it is untreated, festers and infects the whole body; Such is the case with Saul’s envy and bitterness toward David. Such is the case, I fear, with many of our own suspicions, hurts, and bitternesses.

Over the past few weeks, we have seen David and Jonathan plan how they might discern Saul’s heart concerning David. Jonathan has now instigated Saul by telling the lie David asked him to tell. Today, we see Saul’s response.

1 Samuel 20:30-42

Then Saul’s anger burned against Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you are choosing the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Therefore now, send and bring him to me, for he must surely die.”

But Jonathan answered Saul his father and said to him, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?”

Then Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him down; so Jonathan knew that his father had decided to put David to death. Then Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and did not eat food on the second day of the new moon, for he was grieved over David because his father had dishonored him.

Now it came about in the morning that Jonathan went out into the field for the appointment with David, and a little lad was with him.

He said to his lad, “Run, find now the arrows which I am about to shoot.” As the lad was running, he shot an arrow past him.

When the lad reached the place of the arrow which Jonathan had shot, Jonathan called after the lad and said, “Is not the arrow beyond you?”

And Jonathan called after the lad, “Hurry, be quick, do not stay!” And Jonathan’s lad picked up the arrow and came to his master. But the lad was not aware of anything; only Jonathan and David knew about the matter.

Then Jonathan gave his weapons to his lad and said to him, “Go, bring them to the city.”

When the lad was gone, David rose from the south side and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed three times. And they kissed each other and wept together, but David wept the more.

Jonathan said to David, “Go in safety, inasmuch as we have sworn to each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord will be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants forever.’ ” Then he rose and departed, while Jonathan went into the city.

Saul’s anger (v. 30-34)

Then Saul’s anger burned against Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you are choosing the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Therefore now, send and bring him to me, for he must surely die.”

Responding to Jonathan’s farce, Saul curses at him and accuses him of choosing David to his own shame. Saul believes that if David is allowed to live, everything that rightly belongs to Jonathan will be stripped from him. Saul even tries to reason with Jonathan to some degree. After all, didn’t Jonathan know that if David was allowed to live, his own kingdom would never be established? Saul is trying to persuade Jonathan that David’s death is also in his best interest. David must die if Jonathan is to get what is rightfully his according to Saul.

But Jonathan answered Saul his father and said to him, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?”

Jonathan, though, proves not to be concerned about himself and his own personal gain. He is not concerned about his own position, status, kingdom, or wealth. Instead, he is concerned about judging justly. He simply inquires as to what David has actually done to deserve the death penalty to which Saul has sentenced him.

Then Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him down; so Jonathan knew that his father had decided to put David to death. Then Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and did not eat food on the second day of the new moon, for he was grieved over David because his father had dishonored him.

Jonathan was observing the evidence, trying to understand, and asking questions. He was trying to judge justly, and that triggered Saul’s anger. In response, Jonathan also became angry even though he did not sin in his anger like Saul did. Jonathan did not eat because he grieved over his father’s treatment of David.

There are many people who try to judge justly and many more who, in response to just judgment, make assumptions and attack like Saul did in response to Jonathan. These attacks could be physical or verbal. This is like a child who responds to a parent who doesn’t allow him or her to do a particular thing because it could be harmful. For those who love their neighbors, who judge justly (Cf. Leviticus 19:15-18), people who do not judge justly will always hate them and react against them.

What is our response to others’ bitterness if we love our neighbors and love our enemies? Loving our neighbors and enemies means judging justly on the front end. We saw these biblical definitions leading up to this passage. When someone lashes out against us for judging justly, for making judgment calls about people and things according to Scripture, we can consider Paul’s response to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote to the church at Corinth to correct some unsound doctrines and wrong practices. We don’t really know how the church responded, but shortly after his first letter, Paul sent another letter defending his ministry and his first letter. Paul’s just judgment was not received well; The church at Corinth probably responded in anger, much like Saul responded to his son. Let’s consider a small part of Paul’s reply to the Corinthian’s verbal attack after he tried to correct unsound doctrine and wrong practices in that particular local church:

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you (2 Corinthians 4:1-12).

Paul was concerned that Jesus’s person and work might not have been preached or taught correctly. Here, he simply explains his concern in response to the Corinthian church’s reply. Paul claimed to be presenting Christ’s unadulterated word, and he revealed to them that they were reacting against God’s words and teaching something contrary to Scripture. Paul understood that the Gospel is veiled to those who are perishing. Since the recognition and acceptance of the true Gospel was Christ’s work, not his, he was willing to suffer, being afflicted at the hands of others and handed over to death constantly so that his persecutors might recognize Jesus and turn from the unsound doctrine and wrong practice they have been caught up in.

If we follow the example provided to us in the New Testament letters, we resolve to simply share our concerns, which we have gained through just judgment, respond by explaining those just concerns, and trust God to either change hearts or veil His gospel to those who are perishing according to His good pleasure and purpose. Jonathan has tried reasoning with his father. Saul continues on his unjust warpath.

Jonathan’s report (v. 35-42)

Now it came about in the morning that Jonathan went out into the field for the appointment with David, and a little lad was with him.
He said to his lad, “Run, find now the arrows which I am about to shoot.” As the lad was running, he shot an arrow past him.
When the lad reached the place of the arrow which Jonathan had shot, Jonathan called after the lad and said, “Is not the arrow beyond you?”
And Jonathan called after the lad, “Hurry, be quick, do not stay!” And Jonathan’s lad picked up the arrow and came to his master. But the lad was not aware of anything; only Jonathan and David knew about the matter.
Then Jonathan gave his weapons to his lad and said to him, “Go, bring them to the city.”
When the lad was gone, David rose from the south side and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed three times. And they kissed each other and wept together, but David wept the more.
Jonathan said to David, “Go in safety, inasmuch as we have sworn to each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord will be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants forever.’ ” Then he rose and departed, while Jonathan went into the city.

Jonathan kept his word and sent David away in safety. When he says, “The Lord will be between me and you, between my descendants and your descendants forever,” he is reminding David of the covenant between them—David is to show lovingkindness to Jonathan’s household even though they have made both David and God their enemies (v. 15).

In this passage, we saw Saul harboring bitterness toward David. Because of his own bitterness, he lost his daughter, Michal, his son, Jonathan, and his loyal servant, David. People become bitter for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps they were hurt by someone, are afraid to hear that they might be wrong about something, are afraid to lose everything they’ve gained, or feel like they are being attacked even if they are not. Perhaps it’s like going to the doctor’s office. Some people don’t want to go to the doctor because they don’t want to hear what’s wrong with them. That’s the same reason people don’t want to go to church. We are bitter because we don’t want there to be anything wrong with us. When a doctor makes a diagnosis, he or she does so in order to serve us and give us longevity. When a good pastor preaches and teaches, Scripture’s diagnosis is meant for our good and longevity in Christ’s kingdom forever. Jesus even used this illustration in the Gospels:

As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples.

When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?”

But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:9-13).

The pharisees and scribes condemned Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus came for those who were sick, not the healthy. He came for sinners, not the righteous. If we believe we are righteous, spiritually healthy, the Scripture’s do not benefit us. The Law diagnoses our sin and the Gospel gives us life. We need the whole counsel of Scripture much like we need the unreserved diagnosis and remedy of our healthcare professionals. It works out for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. May we not be a bitter people. Like a wound left untreated festers and infects the body, so unresolved bitterness festers and poisons the mind and soul. No one else can fix this in us. Bitterness is internal. The only real cure is Christ’s work in our lives as the great spiritual physician. May the Holy Spirit diagnose our hearts and give us the life only He can provide.

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One comment

  • Sometimes it is difficult to love those whom I love; but, to love those who hate/dislike me is impossible. Jesus must do it for both those whom I love and those who are unfriendly. What a God we serve; or does he serve us. In Hebrews 7:23-25 we read”…he always lives to make intercession…” John Calvin wrote,”What sort of pledge and how great is this of love toward us! Christ lives for us, not for himself.” Thank you for your thoughts in this message and all you do. May our Father continue to bless you in Christ Jesus. Continue to fight the good fight, brother.

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