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The word in the Bible that is translated "wormwood" is actually opium, and the prophets speak of it and its spiritual meaning. This is related to the laws of dung, which deal with the problem of the idols of the heart. Ezekiel tells us most about this problem.
Category - Short Book
The Hebrew word for “wormwood” is lahanaw. According to Strong’s Concordance, the word means “to poison.” Its root word means “to curse.” Other passages use phrases like “bitter as wormwood” (Prov. 5:14) and “drunken with wormwood” (Lam. 3:15). This shows us that whatever this substance is, it is something bitter that people may consume orally, and it makes people “drunk.” However, it is not wine or fermented drink of any kind.
Pinpointing the precise meaning would be quite difficult, if it were not for the fact that is usually associated with “gall.” The Hebrew word translated “gall” is rosh. (See Strong’s Conc. #7218 to 7220.) Rosh is the poppy plant. It literally means “head,” a reference to the “head” of the plant -- its conspicuous red flower.
Poppies were cultivated in Sodom and Gomorrah, and apparently this was one of their main sources of income. We find in Deut. 32:31-33 that poppies are called “the grapes of Sodom.”
31 For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges. 32 For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall [poppies], their clusters are BITTER: 33 Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps.
In Revelation 22:15 we find that those who deal in this drug trade will not be allowed into the Holy City. They are called “sorcerers.” The Greek word is pharmakos, from which we get our English word “Pharmacist,” or druggist. These will not be classed as Overcomers.
The Bible often speaks of “the water of gall” (Jer. 9:15). This is the sap or juice from a certain part of the poppy that contains opium, which is wormwood. It is very bitter in taste, and it makes people drunk, or “high.” Opium was used to deaden pain, both mental and physical. They tried to give Jesus some of this to drink (Matt. 27:34) while He was on the cross. It would have deadened the pain, but Jesus refused it.
In the Old Testament, wormwood became one of the themes of the prophets to decry the people’s false sense of security. Judgment was coming, but the false prophets were saying, “Peace, Peace” when there was no peace (Jer. 8:11). Spiritually speaking, the prophets and priests were using this drug to heal the hurt of Israel slightly, but this only treated the symptoms, not the cause. The nation had a brain tumor, and the false prophets were masking the real problem by just giving them opium, or wormwood, to dull the pain. Jeremiah was astonished at this, and asked in 8:22,
22 Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?
God’s verdict was that He would give them MORE OF THE SAME. If they wanted a drug, rather than the true Balm of Gilead, He would give them a “belly full.” Jeremiah 9:15 says,
15 Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will feed them, even this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink.
Again, in Jeremiah 8:14 we read,
14 Why do we sit still? assemble yourselves, and let us enter into the defenced cities, and let us be silent there: for the LORD our God hath put us to silence, and given us water of gall to drink, because we have sinned against the LORD.
“Wormwood” and “the water of gall” (Jer. 8:14) would be their judgment for disobedience to His law. Their life would turn bitter as foreign armies would invade and occupy their land.
Rosh is not only the Hebrew word for the poppy plant, or “gall,” but is also the ancient name of Russia. It is no coincidence that they adopted the color red, which matches the color of the head of the poppy. Rosh literally means “head,” and their name was meant to signify that they were at the “head” of the nations, the greatest of all nations.
The Soviet plan during the twentieth century was to preach peace, while plotting to destroy us. It was part of their platform to deluge us with opium and other drugs. They said Christianity was “the opiate of the people,” and their solution was to feed us with wormwood. The fact of the matter is, much of Christianity is indeed just an opiate. The Soviets were largely correct in their assessment of what passes as Christianity today. So God used the Soviets (Rosh) to feed us with wormwood just as He said He would do to a nation whose false prophets fed the people with religious wormwood. God simply raised them up to judge us for our sins.
When Jerusalem was destroyed during the days of Jeremiah, the prophet likened it to “gall and wormwood” (Jeremiah 8:14; 9:15; and Lam. 3:15, 19). In Amos 6:12-14, where wormwood is mistranslated “hemlock,” it is specifically associated with a foreign invasion or oppression. Amos 5:7 says that Israel had turned judgment to wormwood.
The solution to our problem today is NOT to destroy Russia, but to teach the Church to “just say no” to religious drugs, the “feel good” doctrines that leave people feeling good about themselves while remaining in disobedience to His Law.
Hebrews 12:14 and 15 reads:
14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: 15 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;
This “root of bitterness” is a literal reference to the root of the poppy plant (“gall”), the source of opium (“wormwood”). Drugs such as opium defile us physically and mentally. But there is a spiritual drug that is even more addicting and even deadly.
The passage above says to “follow peace” in contrast to “bitterness.” It is NOT the peace that the false prophets preached while they administered wormwood to the people. It is the true Peace of God that comes by knowing Him and communicating with Him by the spirit of “power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).
Those who know this inner peace are those who trust Him in all things, those who know that no matter how bad things look on the surface, God is in control of the situation and knows what He is doing. Such people do not lose their inner peace when circumstances seem to be out of control or when contrary winds blow.
They are the Peacemakers (Matt. 5:9). They stand out from the crowd of people who are never happy unless they can be mad at some “bad” person out there. Peacemakers are happiest when they have no enemies; others are only happy when they have enemies to bash or sinners to castigate. Political campaigns run on bad news, because this is what gets votes. There are whole denominations founded on doctrines of what God’s enemies are about to do to them. Such tactics work, because bitter people are drawn toward bad news, even as drug addicts want more wormwood. They find comfort in bitterness, instead of in the sovereignty of God.
I have often said that half the world is mad at God, and the other half doesn’t know Him. Why are so many people mad at God? Men disagree with God and His methods, thinking Him to be unjust for allowing troubles on the earth. And so theologians and philosophers dream up all sorts of “solutions,” trying to explain the origin of evil, why it exists in the world, what God must do to judge wickedness, and how a sovereign God must be dissociated from it. This is the root of most false doctrine. (The Bible’s solution to the problem of evil is the subject of our book, Creation’s Jubilee.)
Men become bitter against God when they feel he has treated them unfairly. Some turn against God outright; others remain in the Church, but complain all the way to the glory shore. Instead of going to God with their complaint, many gossip about Him to all the neighbors. They know better than to complain about God Himself, Instead, they project their bitterness and anger against circumstances, against their family or neighbors, or (most commonly) against the sinners in the street or perhaps in their church.
This is a common psychological defense mechanism called “projection.” A man is unjustly accused by his boss at work; he comes home and slams the door, kicks the dog, and yells at his wife for not having supper on time.
Job complained much while he was being tried. Although the Bible says that “Satan” was the direct agent through which his troubles came, God takes ultimate credit for it (Job 1:12). In his trouble, Job spoke in bitterness, for he did not understand why a good God would do this to him, or why God would allow it to happen to him. (See Job 3:20; 13:20; 23:2; 7:11.)
Job did not understand that all these evils coming upon him had a good purpose. God uses evil to bring our pride to the surface where we may deal with it. Job, in his pride, judged God. In effect, he was saying, “If I were God, I would do it differently; I would do it right!” Yes, we would certainly do things differently if we were in God’s position. But I guarantee that we would only make a mess of things.
Isaiah 45 gives us warning about this kind of thinking.
7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things… 9 Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, “What makest thou?” or thy work, “He hath no hands?”
In other words, God takes all the credit for creating both good and evil. If we potsherds of the earth want to argue the point, we should argue with someone on our own level: other potsherds. Should these clay potsherds insult the Potter by saying He is incompetent? Is God handicapped? “He hath no hands?”
The book of Job is really a book on how to avoid the root of bitterness from invading the heart. God allows us to be wounded from time to time by false accusations, and sometimes by true accusations that are given harshly and apart from Love. If in our pride we judge God for this, believing that He has treated us unfairly or unjustly, we have plenty of company! Most people do this, although few realize it. To admit such an attitude would not be “righteous,” and this we can hardly admit.
But the plain fact is that this root of bitterness begins to work within us, and it is not long before others see it. You have all met people who were bitter in life, both in and outside the Church. You can easily tell a bitter pastor by his harsh, judgmental attitude toward people – especially toward sinners. He is really angry with God, but cannot face up to it, so he lashes out against everyone within reach. This gives him a “legitimate” way of expressing his anger against God, safely concealed by the legitimate sin of the sinner. If anyone points this out to him, he can easily hide behind the screen of “righteous indignation,” rather than face up to his own personal anger against God.
I have seen pastors and others in the ministry who have taken near-fatal doses of wormwood. Their preaching is nearly always negative. They are happiest when they are exposing the sin or false teachings of the church down the street. There is never any good news, never anything exciting that God is doing in the earth today. Like Peter, they take their eyes off Jesus and look at the wind and waves around them. And like Peter, they begin to sink beneath the very waves that they deplore and fear.
There is nothing wrong with preaching against sin, nothing wrong with exposing false teachings of other churches. In fact, these things often are necessary and good. But Truth is not Truth unless it comes from a right spirit. There is no Truth apart from Faith and Love, for whatever is not of Faith is sin (Rom. 14:23), and Truth must always be spoken in Love (Eph. 4:15).
We may know all the facts, but if we have not Love, we are nothing. Truth is only Truth when it combines the Facts with Love. Facts without Love are only half-truths at best.
After Israel crossed the Red Sea and was out of danger from the threat of Egypt, the first thing God did was to bring them to the waters of Marah. This oasis had bitter water, so the people could not drink it. There God “proved them” or tested their faith (Ex. 15:25). They murmured against God and failed the test.
This is probably the first and most basic test of Faith that we face in our own “wilderness” of life. Bitterness is rooted in pride which judges God for His bringing us into a wilderness, when we had expected a land flowing with milk and honey. This bitterness defiles us, and so long as it remains in our hearts, it will manifest in at least two ways:
1. We will treat others according to our true heart attitude toward God, blaming them bitterly for sin in their lives, lashing out against enemies (real and imaginary).
2. We will not be able to accept God’s forgiveness and healing, God’s “balm of Gilead” (Jer. 8:22), any more than Israel could. This will distort the Word, making it come out cold, harsh, and devoid of Love.
Israel was tested at Marah, because God knew they were afflicted with bitterness from their bondage in Egypt. They did not know God’s purposes for that great “evil.” And now that they were on their way to the Promised Land, they could not understand the “evil” of being led to an oasis full of bitter water.
Can you not hear them saying, “If I were God, I would certainly know the way to the Promised Land!” The waters of Marah proved Israel just like the afflictions of Job proved him. Both situations brought the hidden pride and bitterness to the surface where they could deal with it.
Israel could not very well lash out at God, so they took it out on Moses. Moses took the problem to God, and God “showed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet” (Ex. 15:25). That tree is the Cross of Christ, where Jesus took upon Himself all our sins. And so we too must deal with the waters of Marah within our hearts by casting this Tree into its depths. We are not to treat the water with just any tree (which are only defense mechanisms that do not solve the problem), but with the particular Tree which God has provided.
If we have been addicted to wormwood by any past experience that has happened to us, it is because we do not truly believe that God is working things out for our good (Rom. 8:28). We think God is unfair and perhaps unjust toward us. This makes it difficult to thank Him and praise Him for His great wisdom and knowledge that are “past finding out” (Rom. 11:33). As clay vessels, as potsherds, we judge the Potter and call Him incompetent. In doing so, we give our veins another shot of wormwood, instead of applying the Tree whose leaves are “the balm of Gilead.”
The bottom line is this: If we have bitterness in our hearts toward God, it will disqualify us from the company of overcomers called the Remnant People. Remember that God had led Israel into the wilderness in order to prove them, to test them, to see if they would murmur and complain about their circumstances, or if they would rest in the knowledge that God knows what He is doing.
Israel of old failed the test, just as the Church has largely failed the test in its own “wilderness” experience. Becoming bitter, instead of resting and trusting in the sovereignty of God, is what disqualified Israel; and it is what disqualifies people today from being counted as the overcoming Remnant.
The presence of wormwood prevents us from being able to forgive God for his “injustices” against us. That is the root of bitterness that defiled Esau, who was bitter against God for stripping him of the birthright. From that root grows a whole plant whose leaves manifest bitterness in different shapes and sizes. Those leaves all have one thing in common: they are bitter. Because they cannot forgive God, neither can they forgive others their trespasses.
We must follow the example of Jesus, who, even on the Cross, refused the wormwood and gall of bitterness. Instead, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
In Ezekiel 2:8 to 3:14, God gave the prophet a scroll to eat. It represented the Word of God, specifically the message that Ezekiel was called to give to Israel. It was a Word that was bitter to the nation. It brought out the resentment against God and against the prophet, because they could not see their own hearts and did not believe they deserved such harsh treatment.
The House of Israel was “rebellious.” The Hebrew word is meri, which is from the root marah, to be bitter or perverse. In Ez. 2:8 the prophet himself was commanded NOT to be as Israel in this way, but rather to accept the Word with a humble spirit.
8 But thou, son of man, hear what I say unto thee; Be not thou rebellious like that rebellious house: open thy mouth, and eat that I give thee.
Ezekiel found that it tasted as sweet as honey in his mouth (3:3), but when he went to fulfill that calling in 3:14, he “went in bitterness” (marah). There is nothing more satisfying than hearing the voice of God and knowing that He was speaking directly to us. And yet that same Word will always test us. If there is any will of the flesh in us, the Word will always bring it to the surface where we must deal with it directly. And so His Word comes in sweetness, but we often fulfill it in bitterness.
The rest of the book of Ezekiel shows us not only how God was dealing with rebellion in Israel, but also how God was purifying the heart of the prophet himself to make him an overcomer. God wanted Ezekiel to qualify to rule with Christ in His throne at the resurrection.
In Jeremiah 15:16 and 18 we read:
16 Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart...18 Why is my pain perpetual, and my wound incurable, which refuseth to be healed? Wilt thou be altogether unto me as a liar, and as waters that fail?
Like Ezekiel, Jeremiah found the Word and calling of God to be like honey in his mouth -- that is, “the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.” Yet he also took note of the pain in his heart at the same time. In his lack of understanding, he even questioned the righteousness of God, wondering if God may have deceived him. This is what we do when the Word lays bare the bitterness within our hearts. At such times we need to remember the Word in Rom. 3:4,
4 God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, that thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.
It is bitterness that causes us to judge God as being unjust or unfair toward us. But is it not good to know that we are not alone in this? Job, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah were men just like us. They were not perfected saints, but fellow sinners. God took ordinary men who, like the rest of the nation, had bitterness in their hearts, and purified them even as they fulfilled their callings. The only thing that set them apart from the crowd was their DESIRE to obey God. Yet they started out in their ministries as a mixture of obedience and bitterness (rebellion).
John wrote in Revelation 10:10,
10 And I took the little book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.
Once again, we see this theme of “eating a book” containing the Word of God. As with Ezekiel, so also with John. It was the call to prophesy. John, too, loved the Word and Calling, but at the same time it exposed the bitterness within his own heart.
Who would ever have guessed that John would have to deal with bitterness against God? Who would dare to call John “rebellious” (Heb. marah)? Yet the Word of God is powerful, searching out all things, splitting apart the very bone and marrow, and is a “discerner” (literally, a critic) of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12). No one is exempt. In fact, the purpose of the Word is NOT to make us stumble, but to make manifest our hearts, that we might overcome and qualify to rule with Him.
The Biblical examples also show us that God can use men, even prophets, even while they are yet being purified. The prophets were not supermen. In fact, Elijah was said to be “a man subject to like passions as we are” (James 5:17). Yet he ministered, and when he prayed, God heard his prayers.
The prophets were all citizens of the rebellious nation. They were a part of the corporate body and thus were partakers of a certain amount of rebellion or bitterness that was common to all. As intercessors, the prophets had to identify with those for whom they were interceding. (See our book, Principles of Intercession.)
God did not send superman to help Israel. He sent imperfect men with the same problems common to Israel -- yet with one major exception: God had made them intercessors. Thus, as the prophets overcame the problem within their own hearts, God gave to them spiritual authority. Like a father having authority over his household, so also did God build for the intercessors a “house,” that they, like Jesus, might bring many sons into glory ( Heb. 2:10). The “house” of the intercessor is actually a house within a house, like a family within a tribal group. But in this case, we are talking about spiritual children. This is the Law behind Paul’s statement in Acts 16:31.
31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
And so the prophet was called to intercede for the nation in its most basic fault -- bitterness toward God. This is why the Word of God (the “book” they had to eat) was bitter in their stomachs. Certainly, they believed in God, as most of the Israelites did (and the Church today). But men simply do not believe that God is truly righteous and just in ALL that He does, particularly when He leads us into the wilderness when we were expecting milk and honey.
A very simple proof of this is as follows: A “bad” thing happens to you, and you become angry. Why? Because you view it only as “bad” or “unjust.” You really do not believe that this is for your ultimate good, as Romans 8:28 claims. If you did, you would thank God in everything (1 Thess. 5:18). Most of us do not even stop to think that perhaps God might be in the situation. And if we do, we become bitter against God for allowing it to happen!
In all these “bad” circumstances, our hearts are faced with the choice of trusting God to work it out for our good, or thinking that God is really being unfair and unjust with us. “What did I do to deserve this?” they ask (as Job did). This is bitterness and rebellion. This is the “root of bitterness” that defiles us.
Bitterness toward God is rooted in pride, for we learn by Job’s experience and by Jeremiah’s questioning that even the best of us can question God’s righteousness and justice. We end up believing that we would do a better job of running the universe than God does. Such pride places ourselves above the throne of God, and we become our own idol in our heart. And so, bitterness is merely the evidence of heart idolatry, where we sit upon the throne of pride.
The first step toward solving any problem is to recognize it. In matters of the heart, getting past this first step is much more difficult than most people imagine. Perhaps it would be easier to see if we point out Ezekiel’s example.
In the fourth chapter of Ezekiel, at the beginning of his ministry, the prophet is told to eat food cooked with dung. The word “dung” is from the Hebrew word gelel (#1561 in Strong’s Conc.). It is a variation of the basic root word galal, which also means “dung.”
This Bible passage teaches us the contrast between good food and dung. God’s Word is the good food; man’s traditions, that which proceeds from his rebellious heart, are only dung. Those who eat food cooked with dung are those who believe in God, who do eat God’s Word, but they mix it with the dung of men’s traditions, men’s understanding of God and His Word. This is one of the most basic moral problems of all time.
The Hebrew word for “idols” is gillul, which is just a slight variation of galal (“dung”). Ezekiel is really telling us that idols are dung. Dung was the popular euphemism for idols.
For this reason, the god of Ekron, Baal-zebub (2 Kings 1:2), which means “Lord of the Flies” was called in Israel Baal-zebul, which means “Lord of the Dunghills” (Matt. 12:24). Since flies seem to gather around dunghills, it was an example of old Israelite humor. This god was considered to be the prince of idols and idolatry. Ezekiel shows that he is really the prince of heart idolatry, whose influence is deeply entrenched in the heart of man, even in the prophets themselves until it was rooted out by hard experience.
At any rate, Ezekiel had to eat food polluted by dung (Ez. 4:12). He objected on the grounds that he had never eaten anything unclean. He did not yet understand that he was already guilty of eating the dung of men’s traditions, and that this dung was only a physical manifestation of that which he and the entire nation had already eaten spiritually.
God’s command was not given to make Ezekiel stumble and fall by the law; it was given instead to make manifest the problem that already existed in their hearts. God in His love and mercy did not want them to live out their lives never knowing that this hidden problem reigned in their innermost beings. So He showed them their heart condition by making it visible in the physical realm. God merely unveiled the problem.
In fact, with Ezekiel, God gave him a “belly full.” This is often God’s way of making people sick of their sin. I recall years ago we were trying to train our cat to do its business outside, but it did not seem to understand our hygienic standard. So the next time our carpet was violated, we pushed the cat’s nose into it and threw her outside. She never transgressed again. Later we accidentally left her inside the house while we were on a week-end trip. After 2 days we returned, but though we searched high and low for evidence of any mess, we found none. We concluded she must have learned how to use the restroom properly.
The core of the “heart idolatry” theme is found in Ezekiel 14, where the prophet specifically talks of people setting up idols (gillul, “dung”) in their hearts.
4 Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the LORD will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols; 5 That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols... 9 And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the LORD have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.
Such a passage is positively frightening to anyone who has been given a Word from God to give to the people. It requires much trust in God to keep from bitterly objecting to such a thing. One can only imagine how Ezekiel must have reacted to this revelation.
Like Ezekiel, Jeremiah also struggled with this problem of “deception.” He loved to hear God’s voice, which was sweet as honey in his mouth. But the reaction in his belly, his innermost fleshly being was expressed in Jer. 4:10:
10 Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! surely thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, “Ye shall have peace;” whereas the sword reacheth unto the soul.
Again, we read in Jer. 20:7,
7 O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me.
This was something that Jeremiah had to struggle with, just as we all do. Yet we know from Job’s experience that the problem is rooted in pride, for who are we to tell God how to manage the universe? Shall we accuse God of injustice (Rom. 9:14)? Are we somehow more capable than God of doing what is right and good?
Those who say this in their hearts are guilty of the sin of Absalom, the son of David, who rebelled against his father. 2 Samuel 15:4 says,
4 Absalom said moreover, “Oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man which hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice!”
As Christians, we are sons of one who is greater than David. Yet like Absalom, the dung in our hearts often makes us wish we were God so that we could administer true justice which our Father seems incapable of doing. And thus we foment a rebellion against Him, thinking we can do a better job of running the universe.
Generally speaking, people do not come and say, “Let’s rebel against God.” At least, Christians do not say this. Nearly always, their rebellion is not manifested against God, but against the one He has called to a position of authority. When the one called to be a pastor, for instance, does not do a perfect job, there is always someone in the crowd who criticizes, rather than prays for him. Often it gets to the point where the church splits and the critics follows another leader. However, this never solves the problem for long, because once again, that leader will have his critics, particularly since he always takes the critics with him.
We must learn to pray about such things. The only real question is whether God has called that pastor or leader. If he was called earlier, does he still retain that calling? If not, why not? These things must be well watered with prayer and intercession before splitting the church. And one must be careful not to manifest the spirit of Absalom, who simply thought he could do a better job.
Obadiah told Esau-Edom, “The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee” (vs. 3). The key to understanding Esau and his “root of bitterness” is knowing that he was mad at God for His seeming injustice. Romans 9 tells that God hated Esau before he was even born and purposed to take the birthright from him and give it to his brother Jacob. I believe Esau recognized God’s sovereignty in this, and it made him bitter against God.
That is why Hebrews 12 gives Esau as the example of one having this “root of bitterness.” Because Esau was bitter against God, he took it out on his parents and married Canaanite wives, “which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah” (Gen. 26:35). Because Esau was bitter against God, he took it out on Jacob as well. Sure, Jacob did wrong, but Esau reacted much like many bitter preachers do today -- they hide their bitterness behind righteous indignation against the sins of others.
Esau should have submitted to the will of God and sought his own calling, rather than to covet the calling of Jacob. Theoretically, had he done so, Esau would have received a different blessing from God and a calling to match.
There is an old saying, “Fight fire with fire.” In the matter of heart idolatry, God’s way is to fight dung with dung. When the prophets were sent out to expose the “dung” in the hearts of the people, the people threw “dung” at the prophet (verbally). Their opposition was often very bitter, very harsh, very vindictive. They also blamed the prophet for their own faults, projecting their own guilt upon him. This is, of course, another principle of intercession which we explained in the book by that title.
When Ezekiel ate food cooked with dung, the people could only see the “mote” in the eye of the prophet. They could not see the “beam” in their own eyes. And so they projected the dung from their own hearts at the prophet. When the prophet understood God’s sovereignty in this and were able to view the opposition as God’s purifying agent for their own good, then he could begin to overcome Baal-zebul in his own heart.
Those who opposed the prophets were what Paul would have called “vessels of wrath” or “vessels of dishonor” (Rom. 9:21-23). Yet like all such vessels (as Esau and Pharaoh), they had been raised up to bring glory to God and to perfect the vessels of honor.
The best part is that this is all part of the work of intercession, and so, even those vessels of wrath will eventually benefit through the overcoming vessel. For example, the apostle Paul was once a “vessel of wrath” who persecuted the Church. He consented to the stoning of Stephen. But Stephen was an overcomer and an intercessor, forgiving him even as he died (Acts 7:60). As a consequence, when Paul was later stoned and left for dead, he survived (Acts 14:19, 20). The Law by which God allowed this stoning had been satisfied fully, because Stephen remitted Paul’s sin that he had committed against him. (See John 20:23).
It is very humbling to realize that to some extent we have all been used, at some point, as vessels of dishonor in relation to other people. Our various imperfections try the hearts of others, even as their imperfections try our hearts. But when we understand the principle involved here and look at the situation through the eyes of God, knowing that this is how He works to bring us to the place of overcoming, then we can only marvel at God’s ways as Paul did in Romans 11:33-36.
33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! 34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? 35 Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? 36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
This attitude is the OPPOSITE of bitterness -- to be able to recognize the sovereignty of God in all things, particularly when we experience troubles and false accusations and other “dung” from men. This is the proper heart attitude that God is implanting within the hearts of His Remnant people. This is the key to the Restoration of All Things (Acts 3:21).
In Luke 13 Jesus tells a parable about a man who had planted a fig tree in his vineyard. For the next three years he came and found no fruit on it. So he resolved to cut it to the ground. But the gardener interceded and asked permission to dung the tree for one year to see if it would bear fruit. Permission was granted.
This parable is an obvious reference to the Judah Nation in Jesus’ day. Jesus was sent to the nation for three years to see if the nation would “bring forth the fruits thereof” (Matt. 21:43). The fruits were lacking, and so the nation (fig tree) was destroyed in 70 A.D.
There is also a general principle here that is applicable to all of us. When God first calls us, or “plants his seed” within us, it takes time before the tree bears fruit. We are not immediately perfect, nor are we in any condition to bring the Manchild to birth within us. (The Manchild is our Holy Seed, Christ being formed within us.) We are much like any other tree -- it takes time to bear fruit. Furthermore, there is a Law about this which is found in Leviticus 19:23-25.
23 And when you enter the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it shall not be eaten. 24 But in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the LORD. 25 And in the fifth year you are to eat of its fruit, that its yield may increase for you; I am the LORD your God. (NASV)
In other words, for three years the tree is too young to bear fruit. During that time, it must be ministered unto, even as Jesus ministered unto Judah for three years. It did not bear fruit. And so the gardener asked for opportunity to dung the tree and give it one more year of grace.
Prophetically speaking, Jesus Christ was the gardener (John 20:15). At on the day of Pentecost and beyond, the Tree did bring forth its firstfruits -- those who had received the “earnest” of the Spirit. These were presented to the Father, and they were an acceptable Pentecostal offering to Him. These secured the promise of the fullness of harvest that was yet to come.
If we look at this parable generally, we may take note that the tree does not bear fruit while it is yet immature. But after God dungs the tree, it may bear fruit. We, too, have a problem bearing fruit while we are yet spiritually immature. Only after God decides to “dung” us can we bear fruit fit for God’s consumption.
The prophets and apostles were well dunged in their ministries. Even as fig trees require much dung, so also did the prophets and apostles. This was all in God’s perfect plan.
Not long ago I found myself living out this very principle. In 1986 God had made it clear that it clear that I was to leave the ministry that I had been part of since 1981. He said He had a new ministry for me to do. What I did not realize was that God was planting within my heart the seeds of a new “tree.”
In my immaturity, I refused to leave the past ministry. Why? Call it the traditions of men, the Dung Principle. Men convinced me to disobey God, and I was happy to be convinced, because of the dung in my own heart.
At any rate, for the next three years the new “tree” bore no fruit. Finally, after the third year (fall of 1989) God in His grace began to “dung” me, using various other people as his expert “slingers.” I prayed and fasted for a month before God finally showed me what was happening and why. Only then did I realize that God was fighting dung with dung to expose my own disobedience. When this became clear, I resigned from that ministry.
Then God had me find work as a graphic arts manager for a publishing company for a season. One year later on the Day of Atonement of 1990, I was given a “pink slip,” and at that point God called me into the ministry full time. This time, it was the new ministry, and the “tree” began to bear fruit holy to God in its fourth year.
Yet that fourth year was still only a “firstfruits” year. It was not until November of 1991 a year later that the “tree” was mature enough that we could eat of its fruit. It was through this experience that I came to understand the Dung Principle and the Law of Planting Trees. Experience is the most effective method of teaching that God has in his portfolio. He takes us on “field trips.”
Let us look once again at the examples of the prophets. They had some dung in their hearts, a root of bitterness that would prevent them from bearing fruit in their calling. So God used the people and the religious leadership to dung the prophets. They were only too happy to do so, not knowing that in the sight of God, they were being used as vessels of dishonor, for the ultimate benefit of the prophets. They had a ministry of Dung. God used toilets to perfect water pots.
Of course, the prophets had to know what to do with all this dung coming at them. If they were to swallow it, it would defile them (Ez. 4:14). If they were to sling it back, it would do them no good. The solution was to bury it in the ground. The law of dung is found in Deut. 23:12-14.
12 Thou shalt have a place also without the camp, whither thou shalt go forth abroad: 13 And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee: 14 For the LORD thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee; therefore shall thy camp be holy: that he see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee.
Such is the Law of God. We are to bury the dung and let God “deliver” us from our enemies. If our camp is holy, with no dung (bitterness, false accusations and gossip), then God will indeed be our defense as soon as the vessels of dishonor have completed their ministry of dung.
Do not swallow the dung. If we are too sensitive, caring too much what men think of us, jealous of our reputations before men, these accusations will cut our hearts to shreds. These wounds and emotional scars will make us overly sensitive in many areas of life, so that if anyone bumps that wound, we will cry out in pain. Dung defiles us from within; bitterness takes root and grows into a tree. Soon we find ourselves overreacting and slinging dung at someone else. I do not want to have a ministry of dung as a vessel of dishonor.
Do not sling it back. It takes two to fight, even in dung fights. It takes real faith to see the hand of God in a piece of dung coming at you from the hand of an enemy. The proper place for a false accusation is in the ground. Let God fertilize you, that you may bear fruit unto Him.
Joseph was sold by his brothers as a slave into Egypt. He had every “right” to be bitter against his brothers and even against God. God had promised him a glorious calling, but he had become a slave and later a prisoner in a dungeon for twelve years. At first, Joseph surely must have thought God had deceived him.
In spite of the dung from his brothers, Joseph learned faith in God. God used the dung to remove the root of bitterness and pride in his heart. His perspective at the end of the story was perfect when he told his brothers in Genesis 50:20,
20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.
Most people never really learn this lesson of God’s sovereignty and wisdom. You can see it in their reactions to men, their devastation the face of false accusation or persecution. The circumstances of life fluster them. Their emotions are like a roller coaster, feeling good when others praise them, and feeling depressed when men speak ill of them. Like Peter (before he became an overcomer) their eyes are not on Jesus, but upon the wind and the waves. Like Peter, they begin to sink beneath the water.
Don’t waste a bad experience. Don’t waste a good chunk of dung. Thank God for it and bury it in the ground beside you, praying to know God’s purpose in this and how you may use it to bear fruit that is pleasing to Him. Learn to forgive. Learn to remit sin. If we always keep the dung in its proper place, knowing and trusting that God will work all things out for our good, then we will know the meaning of true Faith and Rest in Him.
This is how we overcome wormwood and dung in our hearts. This is how we too (like Jesus on the Cross) may refuse the opium as we learn to die with Him as a part of His body. Do not be afraid to die; you will rise again.