“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3 KJV)
Have you ever felt sadness, sorrow, grief, overwhelming despair, distress, or hopelessness? I’m sure the answer is “yes”. At one point or another in our lives, we all have experienced one of these emotions. They can be hard to deal with and can often leave us dazed, confused, and wondering what to do. That is why I am so glad we have God’s Word; our roadmap for life! I love that when I don’t know what to do or where to turn I can go to God’s Word and find answers and direction. This is where Isaiah 61:3 comes to life. As I read this scripture a few days ago, it was like I was reading it for the first time; a deeper meaning began to unfold. Let me just stop here and say, if you are discouraged or facing any of the feelings mentioned above, I pray that this short study will shine light into the dark place you’re in and bring hope and encouragement!
The first thing that stuck out to me in this scripture is “beauty for ashes”. Ash is the residue leftover after something has been burned. It’s all that remains after something has been completely destroyed by fire. In our lives we may face a fiery trial that seems to completely destroy our hopes, dreams, etc. Afterwards, all that remains is the residue of hope, the residue of restoration, the residue of a dream. We are left with a meager remnant of what was once tangible. A pretty bleak picture…huh? Oh But God! God offers to take the ashes of our lives and give us beauty. The word “beauty” is defined as embellishment. Looking deeper into the root of the word, I found two definitions that caught my eye: foliage and bright green. This brought me to a point in this verse that is often overlooked. Honestly, I had never paid much attention to it before. At the very end of this verse it says, “that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord.” The scripture relates us to trees or “plantings” of the Lord. Taking that into consideration, when God says He will give us beauty for ashes, He is saying He will give us foliage that is bright and green. To me, this is indicative of life and growth. The ash is like a fertilizer that God takes to nourish even better dreams, an even stronger hope, a more powerful restorative work than what we could have hoped for before. Hallelujah! Give God the ash of your life and in exchange watch as He brings forth something beautiful in your life!
Next is the “oil of joy for mourning”. Oil is actually defined as grease. This really helps me get a better grasp on what the scripture is saying. Grease is hard to clean up. Have you ever gotten grease on your hands? It takes some good soap and scrubbing to get rid of it and even after that it may feel like you have a residue on your hands. Think about it… when it says He will give us the oil of joy for mourning it means He’s going to grease us with the oil of joy! It will be hard to get rid of. It will be a lasting joy that overrides the mourning (deep regret, sorrow, or sadness). Not only that, but being covered with the oil of joy has a secondary benefit. In baking, you often grease a pan to keep things from sticking. In the same way when God greases us with the oil of joy, it will keep all the negative things from sticking! The sorrow can’t stick around, the sadness can’t stick around!
Lastly, is “the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness”. First we must note that here we are not dealing with a residue or an emotion, but a spirit. The bible says “the spirit of heaviness”. Heaviness is defined as feeble, obscure, or dark. This spirit’s intention is to weaken you, to cloud your vision, to make God appear distant and out of reach, to make your trial or burden seem bigger than God. It’s like a dark cloud showing up and blocking the brightness of the sun. It tries to block the brightness of the “Son” in your life. Oh But God! Again, He offers a solution: He hands us the garment of praise! I see this as being different from the previous benefits. Both of those were exchanges. I give the ash, God gives the beauty. I give the mourning, God gives the oil of joy. But here, even though at first glance it looks like another exchange, there is one stipulation: when God hands us the garment of praise we must choose whether or not we put it on. I am reminded of David. In 1 Samuel we find that the city he lived in was under siege by the Amalekites, his wives were taken captive, and David comes face to face with the spirit of heaviness:
“And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God.” (1Samuel 30:6 KJV)
When faced with the spirit of heaviness, David chose to encourage himself in the Lord and put on the garment of praise. This is so key in overcoming. Whatever heaviness you are facing in your life, choose to put on the garment of praise. When you do, encouragement and victory are soon to follow! The “Son” will dissipate the dark clouds and His light will illuminate your life!
The verse is concluded by saying, “that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified”. The Lord offers these benefits (beauty, the oil of joy, the garment of praise) to help us become deeply rooted in righteousness. He plants us and nurtures us so we become strong trees of righteousness. Why? So that when the storms of life blow we are anchored and unmovable. So that He can be glorified, not only in our lives, but in the lives of others!
So my encouragement to you is this: Make like a tree (a tree of righteousness) and smile (take the beauty, take the oil of joy, put on praise.)!