Passover: The Bitter Herbs

We have covered the lamb and unleavened bread in respect to Passover. This post will be about the bitter herbs.

Exodus 12:8 (NASB)
‘They shall eat the flesh [from a lamb] that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

The Lamb and Unleavened Bread

In the past two blog posts, we presented the Passover lamb and unleavened bread. The slaying of the lamb represents Jesus the Messiah dying at Calvary for our sins. Through our belief and trust that Jesus is the Son of God the Father, we receive salvation. Bread represents our daily living and the substance that sustains us. Jesus is our savior and He is our daily bread. Our lives are also compared to bread. Our lives should be like unleavened bread without the yeast of sin.

Now lets learn about the third element of the Passover meal, bitter herbs.

The Bitter Herbs

Bitter Herbs are eaten with the Passover meal (Exodus 12:8; Numbers 9:11) The Hebrew word “maror” (מָרׂר - mārōr) [h4844], also spelled “marror,” is translated “bitterness” or “bitter herbs” as in Lamentations 3:15. It comes from the root word “mar” (מר) which means “bitter”. The herbs are interpreted as symbolizing the bitter experiences of the Israelites slavery in Egypt.

Symbolism of bitter herbs:

  1. Tears: The tears from the hardship the Hebrews endured under the brutal work and whips of Pharaoh’s taskmasters.
  2. Death: The Egyptians’ firstborn died including the firstborn of the animals.
  3. Life: The firstborn of Hebrew families lived because the Passover lamb died. God’s love and grace.

Because of sin, us humans have to gain life from the death of something that once was living, be it plant or animal. Since Jesus the Messiah died at Calvary, those who believe in Him will gain everlasting life. God’s love and grace. Jesus dies on the cross so that we can have life and salvation (John 3:16).

One can also look at it this way. We are born as slaves to sin. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, our old sinful self must die. Then we are given new life in Him!

Note: Bitterness also speaks of mourning (Zechariah 12:10; 13:9; 14:9).

Three types of bitter herbs:

  1. A piece of whole horseradish root called chazereth in Hebrew.
  2. Freshly ground horseradish called maror in Hebrew.
  3. A piece of lettuce, parsley, or celery. The ancients considered lettuce and endive to be bitter herbs.

Karpas, usually parsley, bitter lettuce, or watercress, is considered a bitter herb. Its green color is a reminder of the springtime during which Passover occurs and of the hyssop plant used to apply the blood to the doorposts.


As stated above, bitter herbs represents the Hebrews’ physical slavery under Pharaoh’s rule. Spiritual slavery is much more bitter than physical slavery (2 Peter 2:19).

We seem to want to do things our ways and see God as putting too many rules in our way. But, our loving Father knows what is best.

Sin and bitterness:

  1. Deuteronomy 29:18 tells about a root of bitter poison.
  2. In Genesis 4:6, God said sin is crouching at your door…YOU must master it.
  3. In Acts 8:23, God said Simon (ourselves) is full of bitterness and a captive to sin.
  4. In 1 Corinthians 5:6–8, Paul is explaining the process of a little leaven (sin) and how it grows (puff up). Paul is exhorting about ridding ourselves of old yeast for new yeast.

In the Bible, “yeast” (which produces fermentation) is a symbol of that which permeated the whole body and corrupts truth, righteousness, and spiritual life (Gal 5:7–9; Mark 8:15). Paul in the Galatians passage compares yeast with the process by which sin and wickedness slowly spread in a Christian community until many are corrupted by it.

Sin and the Church:

  1. Sin must be confronted.
  2. Measures of accountability established.
  3. If #1 and #2 are not done, the entire congregation will eventually be compromised and defiled.
  4. If still not addressed, we will drift toward the lukewarmness that Jesus said was repulsive to Him (Revelation 3:16–19).

Now let’s read Hebrews 12:14–15 very slowly. Put it into your heart and mind.

Hebrews 12:14–15 (NIV)
14Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

God wants us to strive to be holy so we can see Him.

A “bitter root” refers to a deep-seated resentment in one’s heart that continues to grow. It has consequences for ourselves and others. Hebrew 12:15 may refer to an attitude of bitter resentment toward God’s discipline instead of humble submission to His will our lives.

It can be directed at a person, place or thing. Bitterness can even be directed towards a person in the church.

Many people are bitter towards the church as a whole because they have been soured by the perceived rampant hypocrisy by its people. For example, waiters and waitresses do not like to serve tables of people who just came from church. These “Christians” tend to be quick to complain, give bad tips (not enough money if any at all), and generally look down on the wait staff.

Unfortunately, people who are bitter towards the church do not see what happens afterwards. Many more people than the number of hypocrites are repentant after God’s spiritual candlelight points out the sin and mistakes. The repentant then ask for forgiveness and strive towards holiness, to be sincere and truthful (1 Corinthians 5:8).

Bitterness results in defiling the person who is bitter. It makes him or her unfit to approach God in prayer.

Matthew 5:23–24 (NIV)
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
Matthew 6:14 (NLT)
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.

If not dealt with, the bitter root can also spread and defile many others in the church and the community; thus destroying the holiness in many lives.

We must remember God, our Heavenly Father, loves us and His rules benefit us. His rules lead us on the path of holiness. Jesus walk on earth is our example. The Holy Spirit is our guide.

At times, sin may seem pleasurable. But it leaves a very bitter aftertaste and sours our spirit. The aftertaste is especially bitter under the scrutiny of God’s spiritual candlelight. Thank the LORD for His amazing grace! “How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found. Once blind but now I see.” Only God’s sweet grace and presence can replace the bitterness in our lives.

Over the next couple of posts, we will write about His amazing grace that is represented by the lowly hyssop plant and the blood stained door.

Until then,
שָׁלוֹם (Shalom!)