Derailed by Bitterness: Lessons from the Life of Absalom (2 Samuel 13-15)

Interacting with the Sermon

Synopsis of the Sermon

Rich began with a story of a Ugandan man who had everything taken away from him by the government. When a missionary came to him to tell him the God loved him and sent his son Jesus to die for him, the man became so angry and threw him out because he had experienced so much pain in his life.  This man had good reason to be bitter! But what happens to us when we harbor bitterness? Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” The Greet root for “bitterness: is “pikria” which means to cut or sharp. The writer is saying here that when bitterness is allowed to grow in us, it will cut away at us.

In the story of Absalom, Rich gives us a portrait of a bitter soul. Absalom had a few sources of bitterness – his own father’s moral failure and the disillusionment that came with seeing his father as a hypocrite and his sister’s rape. Rich takes some time to tease out the broken way that Tamar’s rape was dealt with by her father and addresses the topic of sexual abuse in our culture today.

Absalom displays this bitterness first in seeking revenge. His anger turns violent as he plots to have his half-brother who raped his sister murdered. Rich talks about good and bad anger and how unchecked sinful anger can destroy us. Next we see Absalom’s bitterness displayed in rage by setting the field on fire when his father leaves him in limbo. God does not leave us in limbo though; he finds a way to reconcile us to himself. In 2 Samuel 14:14 it I says, “Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But that is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways to that a banished person does not remain banished from him.”

To heal from bitterness, we need to receive the grace of Jesus Christ.  Matthew 6:14-15 says that if we forgive others when they sin against us, God will forgive us and if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us.  Giving up our hold on the sins done against us will bring us freedom to receive the forgiveness for our own sins against our Father in heaven.

In 5 minutes or less, briefly give a synopsis of this week’s sermon.  What insight, principle, or observation from this weekend’s message did you find to be most helpful, eye-opening, or troubling?  Explain.

Getting the Conversation Started

These questions can be used as ice-breakers in the beginning OR interwoven between the questions below to draw the group into the discussion.

·      What are one or two things from this weekend’s sermon that really stood out to you?

·      What are some famous stories of revenge in literature, history or film? Did these characters or historical people have bitterness at the root of their desire for revenge? 

·      Do you think a Christian is ever justified in feeling bitterness or seeking revenge?

Scripture Study

Study Goal: This passage declares that we must find different ways to deal with people who hurt us. Revenge is out of the question. It does not mean that evil is not real or that feeling hurt isn’t appropriate. But what matters is what we do with evil and hurt in our lives. This study aims to help your group think through this process and allow the Holy Spirit to move in us to make us able to release any bitterness that may have taken root in us.


Context: This letter of Paul’s was addressed to the church in Rome. It was made up of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.  The two groups often argued over theology with the Jewish Christians proud of their heritage and the Gentile Christians proud of their freedom from the law. Paul’s letter focuses on God’s justification of sinners by grace alone and the inheritance that is through Christ.

Read Romans 12:17-21

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
     if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

·      Observation: Several times in the passage, Paul uses the words, “Do not…” What does he say not to do? What general themes do you see in what we are not to do? (a. repay evil, take revenge, be overcome by evil)

·      Observation: Paul follows each of these phrases of “do not” with what we are to do instead. What are his instructions? (a. do what is right in the eyes of everyone, live at peace as far as it depends on you, leave room for God’s wrath, overcome evil by doing good).

·      Interpretation: What do you think it means to do “right in the eyes of everyone” and “live at peace with everyone”?

·      Application: How can we strive to do right in the eyes of everyone without crossing over into a “failure of nerve” like Rich addressed in his sermon on Aaron a few weeks ago?

·      Application: How might the note of realism expressed in verse 18 encourage you about difficult relationships in your life?

·      Observation: In lieu of taking revenge, what should be done? Why? (a. leave room for God’s wrath, because it is God’s place to bring about justice

·      Interpretation: Why do you think Paul uses this Proverb when instructing people not to take revenge? (Paul references Prov 25:21-22) (a. Rather then having the purpose of increasing their punishment, Paul uses this as a picture of the remorse felt when an enemy experiences true kindness.)

·      Interpretation: How do we deal with legitimate injustices in the world? Does the passage suggest a detachment from pain and hurts done to us or others? 

·      Application: How can we do with feelings of anger, unforgiveness and hurt? (a. think about what God has done for us. See Romans 5:6-11)

·      Observation: What is the final word on how we should approach evil? (V. 21)

·      Interpretation: What do you think it looks like to become overcome by evil? What does it look like to overcome evil with good?

·      Application: How might following the principles in this passage lead us to overcome evil in our own lives?

Ministry Application

Below you’ll see some options for ministry time with your group. We always encourage you to reserve time in your group to pray for one another and wait on the Holy Spirit.

·      Take time to wait on the Holy Spirit and ask Him to show you if there is any bitter root in your own heart.  Be quiet and let your heart settle for a few minutes. Is there anyone you are feeling a desire to get revenge on? Is there a conversation or comment that you just cannot shake from your thoughts? Is there someone that you feel undeserving of your forgiveness? Break down into smaller groups (for Coed groups, this might be a good time to break into single gender groups) and share what the Lord is bringing up to you. Pray for God to give you the grace you need to forgive another person or release your feelings of bitterness.

·      Be aware that this sermon and study may bring up painful memories in victims of sexual abuse. Make sure to take time to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to go before you and if someone does want to talk about their abuse, make sure it is a safe environment (i.e. same-sex, preferably with a leader or only a few trusted group members). Don’t be afraid to stop and pray for someone who seems wounded in this way. The book Rich suggested by Nicole Bromley called Hush is available in our bookstore and is a great place to start for victims of sexual abuse. As always, let us know if we can help you provide further pastoral counseling or resources for someone in crisis by emailing one of the Small Group Pastoral Team.

·      Take some time to pray for the injustices in the world today. Sign up to get the IJM prayer updates at and take time to pray through them with your group. IJM also has a prayer guide online you can get by searching for “IJM prayer” Or take time to pray for the victims of sexual abuse in the catholic church—especially those involved in the recent court decision. Pray that bitterness wouldn’t take root and that they could experience real freedom.