Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Beauty for Ashes: Isaiah Teaches the Messiah Makes Repentance Possible

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)
This is one of those verses in Isaiah that sounds just beautiful, (especially that “beauty for ashes” bit) and which actually teaches fundamental gospel principles.

The thing for us to know and remember about ancient Israelite culture is that the usual method of mourning was to rend one’s clothes and sit in sackcloth and ashes. We can see that this is what Isaiah is trying to evoke by using words such as “ashes” and “garment” and “mourning” and “spirit of heaviness”.

I used to always think Isaiah was talking about how we’d eventually be comforted and rest in the celestial kingdom from all our trials and afflictions, but what I realized today was that Isaiah was also trying to teach about repentance. He’s talking about how the Messiah (Christ) makes it possible for people who are sad about their sins to be happy again through forgiveness. And if you look carefully, you see that Isaiah also is trying to convey how Christ transforms the repentant and makes them righteous through the power of the Atonement.

beauty for ashes – Isaiah evokes the image of how a person who was previously all covered in ashes can be cleaned off and made beautiful. He uses this to teach how in the stead of the suffering and sadness that comes from the ugliness of sin, Christ gives a beauty of countenance that can only result from purity and righteousness.

the oil of joy for mourning – The oil of joy is used as a symbol for the Spirit of God. After we repent, the Lord gives us the Holy Ghost to be with us again, which fills us with joy. A website called Bible Browser also pointed out that just as oily skin makes our face shiny, the Spirit makes our faces shine.

the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness – The phrase “spirit of heaviness” is meant to evoke to how sins burden us, affect our attitude, and make us tired and keep us from experiencing joy. When we repent, our sins are covered as if with a garment and this change causes us to thank Heavenly Father and testify of Christ’s power to save. With sins no longer burdening us, we feel more capable of serving the Lord in praiseworthy ways.

So what does Isaiah mean by “trees of righteousness” and being “the planting of the LORD”?

If I were a tree, the place I was planted would give me support and keep me upright. The deeper I sent down my roots, the more secure I would be, and the more likely I would be to survive, especially if I was planted in a stormy environment. I would derive nourishment from the soil where I was planted. I expect that Isaiah means that when we repent, we are planted in Christ, which secures us in a nourishing and righteous soil and we would bear sweet fruits of good works.

I don’t know about you, but that verse of Isaiah has a lot more meaning to me now.


bob corbett said...

Lovely spot on I will use that at church today
God bless you

Suzanne Benner said...

Thanks for letting me read your stuff. :)

Michaela Stephens said...

Aww, Suzanne, there's no "letting" about it. You're the one that took the initiative to look at the link I left you. :-)