Sports broadcaster Bill Stern shocked historians when he revealed that Abraham Lincoln’s last earthly thoughts and utterances were about baseball!
Stem reported that as Lincoln lay dying in a hotel across the street from the Ford Theater, he allegedly roused from his coma and demanded that General Abner Doubleday be summoned to his bedside. In haste Doubleday arrived at the President’s side to hear Lincoln’s last directive and words: “General, you must keep baseball alive. America will need it in the trying days ahead.” Then he died.
Believe it or not.
Another great man’s last words are recorded as a great lesson for us today. They were spoken by King David. His dying request is recorded in 1 Kings 2:8-9. David gives his final directive to the new king, his son Solomon. David said, “And behold, there is with you Shimei the son of Gera the Benjamite, of Bahurim; now it was he who cursed me with a violent curse on the day I went to Mahanaim. But when he came down to me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord, saying, ‘I will not put you to death with the sword.’ Now therefore, do not let him go unpunished, for you are a wise man; and you will bring his gray hair down to Sheol (hell) with blood.”
“Then David slept (died) and was buried …”
Believe it …
Here a man of God talks like a gangster putting out a contract on a guy’s life. Why were David’s last words revengeful? Why did he go back on a vow? To find out why, we need to go back to the actual event found in 2 Samuel 16:5-14 (you might want to read it).
David’s life in those troublesome days was in decline. The sins of his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband hung like a thick, suffocating fog around the king. Additionally, one of his sons, Absalom, was in the process of attempting to overthrow David’s rule.
David was on his way out of Jerusalem in total disgrace. Further humiliation haunts David as Shimei followed David, cursing him, accusing him of evil and attacking David’s character.
David’s response to Shimei was one of apparent trust in God. David verbally expressed that God saw his dilemma. His words seemed to drip with “spiritual perspective” as he stated his belief in God’s sovereign control and his hope that God would perhaps bless him for his kind response to Shimei.
The drama continues however, when a few days later we find our loose-lipped lad Shimei hurrying to find David at the Jordan (II Samuel 19:16-23). He had come to his senses and realized that to curse the king meant death. Finding the king, Shimei quickly sputtered out a confession of guilt and asked for clemency.
David’s promise was clear, “You shall not die.” Case closed. Right? Wrong!
What happened to David between that event and his deathbed plot for revenge? Though we won’t find it in the Bible, it doesn’t take a doctorate from Jerusalem University to realize that David gave in to resentment. Thus his last words revealed him as a man who died embittered against another.
Enslaved by bitterness
Do you know any people like that? Full of resentment and bitterness? Enslaved to a critical attitude about everyone and everything? How many times have you walked away from such a person and silently prayed, Please, Lord, don’t allow me to become like that person?
People don’t become bitter overnight. It comes as a result of choices. Many wrong choices. Like pouring sulfuric acid over your heart, these corroding attitudes eat away internally over a lifetime.
When we choose to forgive, we choose to give up the right of punishment. Forgiving someone doesn’t necessarily mean we forget immediately or even completely, but it does mean that we no longer hold a private grudge that desires to punish.
Someone has said that a grudge gets heavier the longer we carry it. That explains why many old people die like David did—weighed down, heavy with bitterness.
The way we live and handle our relationships today will determine our countenance and attitude when we are in our 60s, 70s, and 80s. David didn’t become bitter on his deathbed. He had allowed its seed to sprout and flourish in the garden of his mind over many years.
Three steps to cutting out bitterness
So, what’s the admonition—especially to those who struggle with harboring angry or revengeful feelings?
First, cut down any bitterness growing in your life and dig it up—roots and all. Hebrews 12:15 warns us not to let a “root of bitterness spring up” in our lives. A root is the result of a seed that has been nourished and cultivated. Dig up those bitter roots and eradicate them from your life by confessing them one by one to God (see I John 1:5-10). God promises forgiveness to all who confess their sin.
After restoring your relationship with God, it may be appropriate to go to the person you have been angry with and seek his or her forgiveness also.
Second, choose your inner occupation and career path: judge or forgiver. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Pursuing the occupation of judge by punishing another with resentment, bitterness, or anger for the hurt you have suffered will boomerang on you. “What goes around, comes around,” as they say.
Forgiveness, on the other hand, says, “I will give up my right to punish you for how you have wronged me.”
Take no chances. Rid yourself of the acidic residue of anger and join the “Seventy Times Seven Club.” Christ said we are to forgive one another seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22). His point was that we must forgive others as the Father forgives us—over and over again. Who knows, maybe when you retire you’ll be known not as a critical judge, but as a compassionate forgiver of others.
Third, experience peace by resolving conflicts as they occur. “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity (literally ‘don’t give a foothold’)” (Ephesians 4:26-27). No person really enjoys harboring a poisonous grudge against another, but our pride many times keeps us from going to others and confessing our error. Think of it, which would you rather deal with: the short term emotional “ouch” of asking another to forgive you for your anger, or would you rather carry the bitter cancerous feelings for a lifetime?
We are commanded to “pursue peace with all men …” (Hebrews 12:14). Look at this practical approach to relationships found in Romans 12:17-21: “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone … If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge … Do not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Twenty years from now you will be the person you are choosing to become today.
It is my hope to live and die like another Abraham did some 4,000 years ago. Genesis 25:8 records how he died, “Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life.”
Copyright © 2000 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.