The first part of Chapter 12 addressed the issue of discipline for those whom the Father loves. Discipline is not always consequences we face for bad behavior. It’s often just a father’s way of helping us become better sons and daughters. Hard times and difficult trials can result in good things in our lives if we respond appropriately. We often need to be encouraged toward the right attitude during our times of trial. No one should be left behind in this regard. We must look out for each other and encourage each other onward to love and good deeds. But everyone doesn’t always respond to discipline in the right way. The writer of Hebrews warns us about this in the second half of Hebrews 12:15. He writes, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”

As usual, the author of Hebrews is looking back at the old Testament and is pulling out a phrase that many of his Jewish readers may be familiar with.  He quotes from Deuteronomy 29:18 which says, “Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit…” On the march from Egypt to the Promised Land the whole company is charged with looking out for each other and encouraging the right response to hardships in the wilderness. There were many in that trek that grumbled about the hardships, mumbled against the leadership and complained about their circumstances. At times these malcontents even attempted to arouse the whole company to turn around and go back to Egypt. I think this is what the writer of Hebrews is concerned about. Many of those who came out of Judaism were being cajoled and enticed to desert Christ and return to the rituals, regulations and religion that they had been redeemed from by Christ.

It’s been readily observed by many commentators that the “root of bitterness” is referring to a person. One commentator asks and answers this question giving all the references that see this phrase as referring to a person. He writes, “QUESTION—To what does the phrase ῥίζα πικρίας ‘root of bitterness’ refer? It refers to a person who introduces evil into the group.”[1] Yep, one person, unable to respond to discipline correctly, will wreak havoc in a group. They become unfit for fellowship with God as well. Greenlee again observes, “The aorist tense suggests finality. It refers to becoming unfit for fellowship with God; it refers to apostasy. The defilement would come from association and imitation.”[2] Discouragement becomes a contagious disease. Carter says, “Discouragement has probably robbed more people of their faith and courage, and consequently their Christian victory, sheared more people of their strength, and beclouded the future outlook of more men than any other known spiritual malady. Discouragement is a disease the germs of which breed rapidly in the unsanctified heart. It is an extremely contagious disease capable of incapacitating for service a whole contingent of God’s army, and thus giving the enemy an easy victory. Discouragement is Satan’s most effective weapon.”[3]

[1] J. Harold Greenlee, An Exegetical Summary of Hebrews, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2008), 517.

[2] J. Harold Greenlee, An Exegetical Summary of Hebrews, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2008), 518.

[3] Charles W. Carter, “The Epistle to the Hebrews ,” in Hebrews-Revelation, vol. 6, The Wesleyan Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1966), 163.