Tough Feelings, Gracious God: Burdened by Bitterness

Moreover, Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue David tonight. I will come upon him while he is weary and discouraged and throw him into a panic, and all the people who are with him will flee. I will strike down only the king, and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband. You seek the life of only one man, and all the people will be at peace.” And the advice seemed right in the eyes of Absalom and all the elders of Israel.
-2 Samuel 17:1-4

When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and went off home to his own city. He set his house in order and hanged himself, and he died and was buried in the tomb of his father.
-2 Samuel 17:23

Ahithophel’s story, especially his ending, is tragic.

But before we get to the end of the story, we have to consider what brought Ahithophel to that point.

Ahithophel was a counselor, an advisor, to King David (1 Chronicles 27:33). You can imagine that working so closely with David, Ahithophel would have developed a very close relationship with the King. David was his close companion and the man to whom he gave his service.

However Ahithophel’s trust was betrayed by David. How?

No doubt you’re familiar with the account of David and Bathsheba. However, what you might not know is this: Ahithophel was the father of Eliam and Eliam was the father of Bathsheba.

Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba.

After the events in which David violated Bathsheba and broke the 6th Commandment and later the 5th Commandment, it seems that Ahithophel left his post and returned to his home town. Bitterness towards David because of his actions began to fester.

For about 25 years, it seems, Ahithophel had been in his hometown of Giloh and during that time the bitterness with David wasn’t dealt with, but instead it festered. So when David’s son Absalom rebelled against David and sought to overthrow him as king, Ahithophel was ready and willing to help. Absalom sent for Ahithophel and Ahithophel came, hoping to use his position to get revenge.

This was the opportunity he had been waiting for. The bitterness in his heart had festered and now his bitterness had an outlet and he could strike back against David. Dr. Andrew Steinmann in his commentary on 2 Samuel writes that Ahithophel, “wanted to get vengeance on David for sleeping with his granddaughter and killing his grandson-in-law.”

However, eventually the advice of Ahithophel was thwarted by the Lord. Absalom trusted other advice and Ahithophel knew that Absalom’s rebellion would fail. At this point Ahithophel, after a quarter century of brooding in bitterness, went home and hanged himself.

The story of Ahithophel is sad. He let the sinful actions of David impact him and his actions for 25 years! His bitterness towards David led him to anger, hostility, and ultimately self-harm.

But maybe you can relate with Ahithophel. Maybe you’ve been hurt deeply by someone you trusted. Maybe the sin of someone else has cause you to become bitter and resentful.

If that’s the case, how do you avoid ending up like Ahithophel?

Here are some practical steps to take:

  1. Private Confession and Absolution

Make an appointment with your pastor to confess the bitterness that is in your heart. Receive forgiveness from the Lord.

  1. Ask God to give you a forgiving heart

You might struggle to forgive those who have hurt you, but God can help you to forgive and when you do forgive, it sets you free from the weight of bitterness that you’ve been carrying with you.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

-Colossians 3:12-13

  1. Get Counseling

Sometimes when we have gone through a deeply hurtful event, especially when that hurt is caused by someone you love and trust, it can be very helpful to see a mental health professional. Your pastor can help you to find a suitable mental health professional who can help you to process what you have been through and be able to move on from it rather than live with the burden of bitterness.

For Reflection/Discussion

Read Ephesians 4:25-32

  • What do these verses tell us about bitterness?
  • What do these verses tell us about the relationship between anger and sin?
  • How can we “put away” these kinds of things as we are instructed to do in verse 31?
  • What happens if we allow bitterness to remain in our hearts?
  • What happens when we do away with bitterness?
  • How might Ahithophel have better dealt with his bitterness and anger toward David?
  • How might David, as the one who had caused this hurt in the first place, have better dealt with Ahithophel?

Mental Health Resources

Mental Health First Aid Training: https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/population-focused-modules/youth/

Suicide Prevention Hotline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Training: https://www.sprc.org/resources-programs/qpr-gatekeeper-training-suicide-prevention

About the author

Ben Meyer is a husband, father, pastor and child of God. He has served as a pastor in Missouri, Illinois, and now at Hope Lutheran Church in Sunbury, Ohio and has presented at the Rural and Small Towns Missions national conference. He enjoys sports, fishing, hiking, reading, and spending time with his family.
View more from Ben

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