“To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, 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” (Isaiah 61:2-3)
The words of one of theses verses have been firmly etched into my mind as we sung it growing up in our bible studies. Granted, it didn’t make as much sense to me then as it does now. It can easily be summarized that essentially God makes a trade with us; He takes away misery and gives us joy. Of course, that is a gross under appreciation of what is being stated here. Ashes were used in mourning, as when people learned terrible news; oil was used for anointing those that served the Lord, such as a high priest or a king; and the Hebrew word for heaviness could just as well mean dull, dark, smoking, or faint, the imagery being something worn out or burned.
I’ve seen people in the depths of misery and depression, and these words seem to capture the vision quite well. It’s almost like you can feel a weight in the air, it permeates the atmosphere like ash or smoke. It’s hard to see people in a state like this, you want to help them and at the same time you just want to escape the suffocating aura they exude. Yet, it’s at this point, this point of undesirable despair, that God seeks us out.
God looks down at us at our lowest point, when we’re hopeless and destitute, and says: “Wanna trade?” Granted, these verses were to comfort the exiles of Israel, but it doesn’t seem like much of a leap to say that He offers the same generous bargain to us. He wants to take away our grief, to take away the weight that bears us down, and wants to anoint us with beauty and joy. I can’t help but think if we were to see a person come to us in our daily lives with such an offer we’d stare at them confused and say, “Really? Are you sure?” By our standards, God is terrible at bartering, yet He considers us a hidden treasure, a pearl of great price (Matthew 13).
If we choose it, we can take God up on His offer, shake off our ashes, our mourning, our spirit of burned-out heaviness. We may not always be happy, because happiness is temperamental, but we can be girded with a joy that persists regardless of our circumstance.