What Does God Think About Bitter Women?

A space to discuss the essay, What Does God Think About Bitter Women?


This challenged my idea of what bitterness is, because this context seems to give it a slightly more nuanced meaning that how I usually hold it. Normally, I’d say bitterness is fairly entwined with wallowing and resentment, perhaps leading to unloving words and behaviour, as here:

James 3:14 (ESV): But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.

Hannah doesn’t seem to demonstrate it in this way. Her bitterness is more of a deep wound in her emotions and mind, with fuel added to the fire by the ignorant insensitivity of her husband, and by Peninah’s taunting, which I see as more reflective of how James described bitterness. In fact, I felt Peninah demonstrated this idea of bitterness more than Hannah.

However, I was reminded of Mary, mother of Jesus and the words that Simeon spoke:

Luke 2:34–35 (ESV): And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also)

This idea of a sword piercing through the soul is certainly similar to this idea of the bitterness that surrounded Hannah to a certain extent. However, it’s not a spiteful bitterness. It’s more of the deepest pain a human could feel in their heart. God can bless the woman or man carrying this type of bitterness as it’s a genuine result of circumstances, which I think is different to the idea of a bitter, resentful person who choose to remain in their bitterness.

In addition to your question on what God thinks of the bitter woman (or man), I see that God allows a place for this type of bitterness to be remembered. Just look at the Passover symbolism. Jews were to constantly remember the bitterness of slavery by eating bitter herbs. There is a place for this bitterness, so that one day we can look back and see what God has done.

Psalm 78:6–8 (ESV): arise and tell them to their children,
7 so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
8 and that they should not be like their fathers,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,

To remember bitterness to some extent, means that God is always present in our lives as we rely on him for our freedom from slavery. God is faithful too, as we see the blessing he pours on Hannah as she gives a right response in her bitterness.

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Hi @alison,

I’m grateful for your wisdom and insight.

I appreciate you distinguishing between these two kinds of bitterness.

There’s bitterness that comes from hurt and trauma.

And there’s another kind of bitterness built upon selfish interest.

It’s fascinating to compare Hannah and Penninah’s character - the narrator invites us to do so. Perhaps Penninah felt insecure about being the second wife. Or perhaps she enjoyed being the new favorite and mistreating Hannah. Perhaps it was a mix of both.

Here’s a taunt that I imagine Penninah giving to Hannah: “Why so upset? Elkanah still loves you, even though you never give him children!”

If this fits the passage, then it’s ironic - Penninah would be accusing Hannah as upset/bitter. And, in a sense, she’d be right. But the irony is that Penninah is also bitter — but in a morally deficient way.

As context for this, consider how survivors are often dismissed as “unforgiving” or “bitter” by powerful leaders.

Your point helps to sharpen the critique:

  • When the person in power taunts the vulnerable person, they reveal a bitterness of heart that displeases God. Ironically, their charge of bitterness in another is revealed to be self-condemnation.

  • But when the vulnerable person brings their anguish and resentment - or bitterness - to the Lord, we see that God is with them.

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