Seasoned or Poisoned?

By Tony Cooke

Have you ever noticed how many different stories and references there are in the Bible about God’s people encountering situations involving some type of poisoning?

* Exodus 15 – God’s people encountered the bitter waters of Marah – The Lord showed Moses a tree – when it was cast in the waters, they were made sweet.

* Numbers 21 – Serpents in the wilderness were biting the people – God had Moses put a bronze serpent on a pole – whoever looked on it was healed and lived.

* 2 Kings 4 – Elisha and the sons of the prophets were eating stew when they cried out, “There is death in the pot!” Elisha had them put some flour in the pot, and “there was nothing harmful in the pot.”

* Mark 16 – Jesus said that his followers would “take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them.”

* Acts 28 – After the shipwreck incident, Paul was gathering up sticks for a fire when a viper “fastened on his hand.” The natives expected Paul to die, but he shook off the serpent into the fire and suffered no harm.

One of the first things we notice is that God consistently provided His servants with an antidote, protected them from poisoning, and even turned bitterness into sweetness, but I have to ask, “Why so many stories about bitterness and poisoning? Are there additional lessons, principles, and applications we can draw from these stories?”

Not to overly spiritualize these stories, but I am reminded that life is full of experiences that have the potential to embitter us, fill us with resentment, and leave us feeling the ache of regret. I believe that God is just as interested in us being free from that type of poisoning as He was in protecting His people in these biblical accounts.

We’ve probably all heard the phrase that life will make us “bitter or better,” and in the same way, I believe that how we respond to God will determine whether we end up “seasoned or poisoned.” In the situation with Paul, I love the fact that he not only shook the snake off his hand into the fire, but shortly after that, he laid his hands on the father of Publius and ministered healing to him and to many on that island (Acts 28:1-9).

If anyone ever had a right (naturally speaking) to feel sorry for himself, it was Paul. He had been faithful to God, and yet he was being transported to Rome as a prisoner when he endured the horrible and extended storm at sea that resulted in shipwreck; he even had to swim to shore to survive. It was cold and raining when he was picking up the sticks for the fire, and then the snake bit him. It was not a good month for Paul’s ministry newsletter!

However, instead of being poisoned, Paul shook off the snake and ended up taking that same hand—the very one the enemy tried to inject with venom—and used it to bring blessing to others. Paul was truly seasoned by grace, not poisoned by adversity!

What are some of the potential poisonings that we are exposed to today?

* Betrayal – someone you trusted and thought was on your side turns against you
* Disappointment – someone doesn’t do what you expected them to do and leaves you frustrated
* Broken promises
* Rejection
* Disrespect
* Ingratitude – you go out of your way to help or serve someone, and your actions are not appreciated and are disregarded
* Someone is insensitive to you or fails to recognize your basic needs
* Criticism
* Someone lies or gossips about you
* Someone undermines you – they work against you instead of with you
* Your convictions and values are disregarded
* People place unreasonable demands and expectations on you, and then belittle you when you can’t fulfill them
* False accusations – You are blamed for things that weren’t your fault

All of these are things that can poison us if we let them. How we respond to such potential hurts reminds me of the widely circulated story (I don’t know its original author) that you may have heard.


A farmer owned an old mule. The mule fell into the farmer’s well one day, and the farmer, hearing the mule braying, rushed over to see what had happened. After carefully assessing the situation, the farmer decided that neither the mule nor the well was worth the trouble of saving. Instead, he called his neighbors together and told them what had happened and enlisted them to help haul dirt to bury the old mule in the well and put him out of his misery.

At first the old mule was hysterical! But as the farmer and his neighbors continued shoveling and the dirt hit his back … a thought struck him. It suddenly dawned on him that every time a shovel load of dirt landed on his back, he could shake it off and step up.

So this he did, blow after blow. “Shake it off and step up … shake it off and step up … shake it off and step up,” he repeated to encourage himself.

It wasn’t long before the old mule, battered, dirty and exhausted, stepped triumphantly over the wall of the well. What seemed like it would bury him actually blessed him, all because of the manner in which he handled his adversity.

How do we know if we’re seasoned or poisoned? Consider some of the following contrasts:

A Seasoned Individual



Releases hurts



Heals Others


Resilient (rolls with the punches)
A Poisoned Individual



Accumulates hurts



Poisons Others


Fragile (no bounce)


What can we do?

1. Make a decision! Make the decision that you will let life season you, not poison you! Someone said, “You make your decisions, and your decisions will make you.”

2. Walk in the power of forgiveness! Dale Carnegie said, "When we hate our enemies we give them power over us – power over our sleep, our appetites, our happiness. They would dance with joy if they knew how much they were worrying us. Our hate is not hurting them at all, but it is turning our days and our nights into hellish turmoil."

3. Live free from envy and embrace a life of gratitude. A.W. Tozer said, “A grateful heart cannot be cynical.”

4. Monitor your expectations. Are they realistic? Many times, the sense of disappointment we experience is intensified by our unrealistic expectations. For example, if we think that everything will always go our way and that everyone will always treat us nicely, we’re setting ourselves up for disillusionment.

5. See the bigger picture. Charles Noble said, “You must have long-range goals to keep you from being frustrated by short-range failures.” Instead of focusing on immediate situations, we need to consider the long-term perspective, especially the eternal ramifications of our lives. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope"

I believe that all of these principles are part of finishing our course with joy! May God help each of us as we become well-seasoned followers of Jesus.