This time of year tends to bring out either the best or the worst in people. For some, the joy of the holidays puts a smile on their face and a spring in their step. They give more than usual, do more for others and live out the motto "Peace on earth, good will toward men."
For others, however, the rush and busyness of the season put a grimace on their face and a stomp in their step. They're more selfish than usual, do less for others and live out the motto "Bah humbug!" The difference, I believe, lies in a single aspect: bitterness.
It's difficult to say what makes people bitter around the holidays. There could be many roots to their resentment, but the outcome is the same--a Scrooge-like attitude and misery to everyone around them.
It's safe to safe we all understand that bitterness is wrong, and we must be careful because it is also VERY contagious (much like the upper-respiratory gunk that's been going around in this area for months now). But, this morning, I want to help you see exactly how dangerous bitterness can be, and to do that, I want to look at a woman named Naomi.
Naomi's story is a sad one. Forced to leave her home in Bethlehem, her family, and friends because of famine, she and her husband and two sons settled in the land of Moab. Over the course of time, she lost not only her husband but both her sons as well. Distraught over her situation, Naomi decided to return to her home in Bethlehem but urged her two daughters-in-law (Orpah and Ruth) to stay where they were. After all, Moab was the only home they had ever known. At first, both daughters-in-law refused, saying that they would instead accompany her to Bethlehem. But after much protest, Orpah finally conceded to her mother-in-law's wishes.
Ruth, on the other hand, was determined to stick with Naomi. It is at this point in the story that we realize just how bitter Naomi had become and how much her bitterness cost poor Orpah. Take a look at what Naomi said to Ruth:
And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law. (Ruth 1:15)
Orpah went back to her people. Nothing wrong with that. I'm sure she had family and friends in the area, so I see no issue with her staying. However, it's the next statement that makes the jaw drop.
"She has gone back to her gods." Moab was a heathen nation that worshiped many gods, none of which was Jehovah. I have to believe that Elimelech (Naomi's husband) and the family continued to worship the one true God after moving to Moab. That means Orpah had been introduced to the true God. But in her bitterness, Naomi turned this poor girl away from the true God and sent her back to her false gods. Could there be anything more tragic?
And it wasn't just Orpah. Naomi was trying to force Ruth to do the same. Evidently, she wanted nothing to do with these two young ladies. Maybe they reminded her too much of her sons and what she had lost. Or perhaps, in her warped frame of mind, she thought she was doing what was best for them. It's hard to say, but what is abundantly clear is that Naomi's bitterness cost Orpah dearly.
We don't know how Orpah's story plays out because the Bible doesn't tell us, but I can't help but wonder how it would have turned out if she had accompanied her mother-in-law to Bethlehem. How would her life had been different if she had spent the remainder of her days in a land where the true God was worshiped freely? As we know, things worked out pretty well for Ruth. So well, in fact, that we find her name in the lineage of Christ. But what of Orpah? Not only was she cast away, but she was encouraged to walk away from God. How very sad!
Watch out for bitterness. It may begin as a small seed and may seem harmless enough, but it can quickly entangle us in a snare of resentment and frustration. Not only that, but we need to remember that our bitterness affects and influences more than just ourselves. If we're not careful, those around us will pay the price for our resentment and frustration, just like poor Orpah.
So, I urge you, in the busyness of this Christmas season, seek to be better, not bitter. It's best for everyone in your life.
Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; - Hebrews 12:15