Isaiah 61:3 KJV To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.
How can beauty come from ashes? How do I get a garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness?
Biblically, when there was mourning or repentance, folks often wore “sackcloth and ashes.” But what is sackcloth?
Think of it like an ancient burlap. It was literally the cloth from which sacks were made. It was heavy, rough, thick, and course like burlap. But unlike modern burlap (which is usually made from jute or flax) sackcloth was made from goat hair. And you thought wool was itchy?!
Wearing sackcloth was a sign of grief, or submission. It required humility. It was basically an outward demonstration of an inward condition.
What about the ashes?
Ashes are black and sooty, dirty unrecognizable versions of what happens when a thing is completely and utterly destroyed by fire.
You know, there is an interesting word play that goes on in the original Hebrew version of this verse. The word for “beauty” is phe’er, and the word for “ashes” is epher—simply the moving of one letter. Isn’t it amazing how God can move things around to change the burned, charred, blistered things in our lives into beauty?
Often farmers burn off a field or an area to clear it. They use fire to get rid of weeds, trash plants, and control ticks and other parasites. A fire can clear dead plant matter that is laying on the ground after a harvest by breaking down the nutrients more quickly. Fire can actually help a seed to germinate faster by helping to break down the outer shell of the seed.
When a forest burns, there are trees destroyed that had been standing for decades. Sometimes they had been there for a hundred years or more. They had withstood storms, winds, droughts, insects, birds and other wildlife, and maybe even lesser fires.
The flames destroy everything that once stood, leaving a barren black landscape. And we are supposed to get beauty from THAT??
Obviously, ashes are made when something burns. They are the product of the fire. But when the heat is gone, and only ashes are left, NEW GROWTH comes.
We know God doesn’t necessarily ordain everything that happens to us. Humans have free will, and evil in our world is ultimately a result of sin and the fall of man. God didn’t ordain our sadness, our grief, our mess – our fire, but He will not waste it. It is AMAZING how a landscape can come back after a fire. And as Christians, our lives can be like that if we let God use our fires. After a fire, the parasites that had been creeping around and feeding off unsuspecting hosts are gone. When the old hardened, deeply rooted weeds are burned away there is room for new growth. The ashes that were once a sign of destruction and mourning become fertilize for NEW growth, and a fertile field for FRESH seeds to sprout and thrive
John 16:33 NIV I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
See y’all, He didn’t ever intend for us to walk around looking pitiful in our sackcloth. He didn’t intend for us to remain covered in soot, ashes, grief and despair. He wants to replace those things for us. But here is the thing y’all – in order to get the beauty, you have to give up the ashes. In order to get the garment praise, you have to give up the spirit of heaviness.
We tend to respond to God like this, “That garment of praise is beautiful Lord! It’s just my size! And it’s clean, and soft and feels good in my hands. But I just don’t know if I want to give up my sack. You see, I cut holes in it for my head and arms, so you know, it fits okay. And, sure it is itchy, scorched, charred, nasty, and sooty, but can’t I just hold on to it? And I know you’ve got some beauty for me over there, too. And it matches that wonderful garment of praise. But these smutty black ashes I’m wearing go great with my sackcloth.”
Whaaaaaaat? Seriously? As stupid as it sounds, we’ve all done it. We have refused to take the wonderful beauty, joy, and praise that He has for us just because we can’t bear to part with our nasty burned out junk. We SAY we want to be happy and joyful, but the truth is we’d rather wallow in our little sooty pit of despair.
So if you are feeling ashy, I would encourage you to let the Father exchange those ashes for beauty. If that “spirit of heaviness” sackcloth is itchy, weighing you down and giving you a rash, well trade that thing in for a garment of praise! He is waiting to do it for you. All you have to do is ask!
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