Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. Isaiah 38:17
The word translated bitterness above is the Hebrew adjective mar or marah. It means angry, bitterly chafed, discontented, great (as in greatly or bitterly distressed), heavy (as in have a heavy or bitter heart).1 It comes from the same root as the name Mara, or bitter, which Naomi called herself after her sons and husband died, leaving her bereft in a foreign land.
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.” Ruth 1:20
We have all, or I’m betting at least many of us, have felt like Naomi. Life has not turned out as expected. We have been dealt a bitter blow. We have lost loved ones. We have been left alone. It can be easy to become angry at God, bitter, discontented.
In the verse above from Isaiah, Hezekiah is recounting how very bitter he was when he was told that he had a terminal disease. He even repeats the word twice for emphasis in the Hebrew. He literally says “it was bitter, was bitter unto me,” or “I had such bitterness, such bitterness.”
But then he declares the most wonderful thing: but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.
Do you know what that says, literally, in the original Hebrew? “Thou hast loved me out of the pit of corruption,”2 or “thou hast loved my soul back from the pit of destruction – as if God’s love, beaming on the monarch’s soul, had drawn it back from the edge of the pit.”3
You have loved my soul back! Oh, yes! What amazing grace! How many times has He done that for me? It seems He is always loving my soul back either from the edge of the pit, or pulling me out if I’m already down there stuck in the muck. Loving me back from anger and discontent and bitterness. Pulling me up out of depression, fear, despair and hopelessness. He has loved my soul back.
But the most wonderful thing is: for you have cast all my sins behind your back. Picture that – God throwing my sins behind His back “Where they could be no more seen, and therefore would be no more remembered.”3
And what does Hezekiah say about why all this happened to him? It was for my welfare. Literally, it was for my shalom: my completeness, soundness, welfare, peace.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
It was for my completeness, soundness, welfare, peace that I had such bitterness, such bitterness. But you have loved me back from the brink – from the pit of destruction, corruption, failure, nothingness. For you have cast away, thrown, flung, hurled all my sins behind your back.
“The worst-case scenario is that all the very worst things happen, and I am still loved.” — Ann Voskamp, excerpt from the WayMaker Study Guide
Yes, we are still, always, loved, even when the worst-case scenario happens. And He is drawing us – me and you – always loving us back. Back to Him. Praise for His amazing grace!
I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. Hosea 11:4 (ESV)
I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. Psalm 40:1-2
“Salvation means rescue from the pit of destruction, from the miry clay of ourselves.” — Elisabeth Elliot, A Path Through Suffering
1Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance
2Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers
Image, Killer Cliffs! by Martin Cathrae https://flic.kr/p/jqrf5