Ironically, one of the problems with modern social technology is the isolation which it creates. You’ve probably heard or read articles about this, so I will only point to it and move on. People have several hundred “friends” on Facebook and others on Twitter or other social media. Some may spend hours every day tweeting, tagging, messaging and electronically chatting. But with every hour we spend on our phones there is an hour lost in true fellowship with people. With more technological contact with others, we spend less time in their presence, less touching, less listening to their true voices, listening to their hearts and emotions. A smiling emoji is not the same as a smiling face or the warmth created by glancing into some’s eyes.
And yet at the same time, when two friends (lovers) live side-by-side in the same house for 25 years, and they know their partner better than any other person in the world, they will never truly and completely know the soul of that other person. The Bible says that we can’t fully know OUR OWN hearts, let alone the heart of anyone else, no matter how close we are to them. There are traumatic events in our lives, which while the details may be shared with our partner, the emotions or the emotional damage cannot be felt by any other living person.
Each of us are like quarter inch pebbles in a mountain stream. Along with many others, we are in the same current, and the water around us is the same temperature. The branch of a tree floats down stream and bumps into a few us, moving us to a different location. Fish come along and pick us up in their mouths and spit us out. Some of us are black in color, some are speckled, some are a little larger, some are lighter. But no matter how close we lay to another, we cannot completely know or deeply and spiritually fellowship with the other pebbles around us.
Solomon reminds us, “The heart knoweth his own bitterness.”
This Hebrew word “bitterness” is found no where else in the Bible, so we can’t go to other scriptures to help us to understand it. Its closest relative is also only found once, and it speaks of “grief.” We do understand that these two words to speak of some sort of heavy emotion. So here we have a human heart which is filled with an emotional sadness – a bitter grief. It is not a reference to circumstances and the problems which assault people from without. This is not about a bear or elk stepping on us as he crosses our stream. This is something which is inside the heart for whatever reason and however it got there. And only THIS heart can truly feel the grief which lays within.
Other people, other pebbles, may look at us and think, or even say out loud, that we should not be bitter because they are all in the same cold stream as we are – and they are fine. Other pebbles may tell this little stone that it is prettier than most and therefore it should not be sad. They may point out that it is smoother, more sparkly, more humanly desirable than most. They flatly say we should just roll over onto our good side and smile up toward the surface of the stream. But only “the heart knoweth his own bitterness.” Those other stones cannot know or understand what festers in OUR hearts.
You and I can have a ministry of encouragement; we can try to uplift a sunken pebble. We can offer it comforting scriptures and the promises of God. But we are nothing but stones ourselves, and we have no way to actually lift up another stone. And we have no authority, right or even reason to CENSURE another person for his bitterness of soul. We have no way of knowing what lays at the depths of that little pebble’s soul. There is an old cliche, “Before you judge another man, you should walk a mile in his shoes.” While there is some sagacity in the proverb, it is unrealistic. We can never truly walk in anyone’s shoes but our own.
There was is a little pebble from Ramathaim-zophim in the Mountain of Ephriam. She was married to a good-hearted, wealthy man, who loved the Lord, and who loved her. From a material point of view she should have been a happy little pebble. Perhaps she put on a brave face before her husband and the neighbors. But to quote I Samuel 1:10 – “She was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord and wept sore.” When the priest of God saw her in her grief, he immediately assumed the worst. He thought she must have been a sinner below the worst – a drunkard in the house of God. Or he might have assumed she was in sin because she didn’t appreciate all the good things in her life – she was discontent, covetous and selfish. But none of these were true. The man of God was wrong in assuming that he understood her bitterness of soul.
Only the heart involved can begin to know the bitterness which rends it apart. But despite there being no specific sins which have caused that despair, there still is the native sin of our corrupt fallen natures. And that often hinders even our own ability to know why this latest round of grief has entered our inner-most being.
Despite the difficulties, we need to listen to the encouragement and the uplifting scriptures as best we can. But ultimately, neither our spouse or our earthly priest can lift us from the bottom of the stream. Joy is the gift of God, and so is the ability to enjoy that joy.
“And a stranger doth not intermeddle with (this) joy.”
“Intermeddle” is an interesting word in both Hebrew and English. When we speak of “meddling” we are talking about interference, and that is emphasized with the prefix. With that word in this verse we can picture someone trying to interfere with another person’s joy. Another pebble is trying to take away our place in the beam of light slipping through the water. The Hebrew word is variously translated all the way from something really positive to something somewhat negative. It is translated “surety” nine times ( the most often), but beside “meddle” it is also rendered “to mortgage.” The point is, no one has the ability, legal or otherwise, to take from anyone else their joy. It can’t be mortgaged or left at the pawn shop, traded for a few easily disappearing dollars. And no other human being – no stranger – can be a surety or guarantee for your personal joy. You, and you alone, determine whether or not you will enjoy the Lord’s blessings in the midst of the circumstances which surround you. No one can turn your smile into a frown – but YOU.
The Lord Jesus has told us– ” As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” The Bible teaches us that joy is the gift of God. It is one of the blessings of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, and peace among other things.
So why is does the heart of the Christian sometimes fill with bitterness and grief? The answer is always the same – sin. Sometimes it is because of some specific act of sin – deliberate sin or a trip and fall into sin. But on other occasions it is the festering up of the curse of sin within us – that part of our nature which comes to us by way of Adam’s transgression. This grief and bitterness is one of several possible responses to sin. But there are other better responses to sin – such as surrender and repentance when the sin is ours. Or when we are attacked, our response could be to turn to the comfortable joy which comes with nestling under the wings of the Lord.
But the point is, no stranger can intermeddle with our joy, unless we permit him to do so. And even then that stranger, no matter how wicked or powerful – human or demonic – can take from the saint of God the seed and foundation of that joy. We may loose the SENSE of our joy. Bitterness may wiggle its way into our hearts. But Christ and His promises can never be truly expelled from the heart where Christ dwells.