What Are the Oaks of Righteousness Described in Isaiah 61:3?
- Lori Stanley Roeleveld Contributing Writer
- Updated May 11, 2021
"They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor." Isaiah 61:3
Blessed are those who mourn. This has always been a baffling beatitude for me. Its deepest meaning eludes me almost like a dream upon waking. I have a hazy understanding of its meaning and yet, in the glare of morning, I wonder if I truly understand. But I do understand that Isaiah prophesied a coming Messiah, Jesus, who would replace mourning with the “oil of gladness.” He would replace a faint spirit with “the garment of praise.” This would be so that those who mourn “may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified” Isaiah 61:3.
This passage is powerful imagery, beautiful poetry, and hopeful promise, but what does it mean in the glare of everyday life in modern times? And since the promise was directed toward “those who mourn in Zion,” Isaiah 61:3, is it also for us, as well? Can we claim this promise as "oaks of righteousness"?
What Is the Meaning of 'Oaks of Righteousness'?
Oaks are hardy trees with a deep system of roots anchoring them securely so they can withstand many seasons of hardship and storm. Oak wood is known for its strength, hardness, and resistance to predators and other destructive growth.
Live oaks are evergreen oaks. Jeremiah refers to those who trust in the Lord as evergreen trees in Jeremiah 17:7-8, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Likewise, the Psalmist refers to those who delight in the Lord as “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” Psalm 1:3.
In Isaiah 61:3, The sense of this idea that we will be “oaks of righteousness” is that we will have a sturdy righteousness, able to withstand the tests of time, weather, hardship, and pestilence. We will endure. Our faith will remain evergreen. The roots of our righteousness, found in Jesus Christ, will be expansive, securing us against all storms and we will rise toward the light of Christ as we grow ever closer to our home with Him. The strength of this righteousness stems from the fact that it is a gift to us, it is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Nothing we do and nothing that comes against us can tarnish or compromise the righteousness that comes from Jesus.
Mourning or lamentation, sadness over death and loss, mark our lives because of the fall of humanity into sin. This passage in Isaiah looks forward to the coming Messiah. In fact, Jesus read from Isaiah 61 when he taught in the synagogue in His hometown, Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30). He read verse 1 and the first line of verse 2 and stated that that passage was fulfilled in their presence on that day. The following lines foresee a time when those who mourn will be comforted, much as we see in Revelation 6:9-11 and finally in Revelation 21:4 at the revealing of the new Jerusalem where it is said, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
The passage references those who mourn “in Zion,” but of course, now we know the Messiah came, not only for the Jewish people but for all who look to Christ for salvation. This promise of comfort and of calling to be oaks of righteousness is for all who call on the name of Jesus. Our mourning or lament over sin is replaced with the oil of gladness and the garment of praise because of Jesus. Through His righteousness, we become oaks of righteousness.
Why Does the Bible Use so Many Tree Metaphors?
God loves metaphors. He designed in us a love of stories, of word pictures, and of poetry. One of His most used metaphors is trees.
God spoke trees into being on the third day of creation—all variety, including many bearing fruit. When He placed humans in the garden, they were surrounded by trees, of which they could eat freely, except for one. Genesis 2:9 ESV says, “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” We began our time in history surrounded by trees, forbidden from only one. Genesis 2:16a-17 says that God then told the man, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Of course, Adam and Eve disobeyed and ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree. Perhaps that’s why a metaphor for our redeemed state is that we will become “oaks of righteousness” for His glory. Trees remain a part of our story right through to Revelation 22:3 ESV in the description of the Holy City where there will be “the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
God shows a particular fondness for trees in that He even instructed the Israelites not to destroy trees in the time of war. “When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you?” Deuteronomy 20:19 ESV. This is an admonition listed in the rules of warfare for God’s people.
And, of course, Jesus purchased our righteousness with His blood when He was nailed to the cross. Peter and the apostles put it this way to the high priest and the council in Jerusalem when they were first persecuted for preaching, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree” Acts 5:30 ESV.
Trees sprang from God’s glorious and holy imagination. They can be found everywhere. They are symbols of strength, endurance, and provision. They grow from tiny seeds that barely testify to the power growing within them by their size or their beauty. There is a vast variety of trees and many bear fruit. They are a wonderful metaphor for humanity and the promise that in Christ, we can be “oaks of righteousness,” standing strong by the power of Jesus amidst many storms and pressures is powerful and compelling.
Why Is Righteousness so Important in the Christian Faith?
The Hebrew for righteousness in this verse is sedeq meaning justice, rightness, or being right. God is wholly righteous and to be in His presence, we must also be righteous. We know we aren’t because right from the start, we chose disobedience over walking rightly with God. And yet, Jesus Christ, died on a tree, to secure our salvation and give us His righteousness.
Righteousness is central to our faith because it is central to who God is. He is all-powerful and so it’s perfect that in His power, He is also righteous, He loves justice, He is fair. We aren’t subject to an all-powerful God who is whimsical, fickle, or sometimes wont to be wrong, unfair, or unjust. That would be terrifying. Instead, we serve a God of integrity, goodness, and life who is righteousness itself.
3 Ways to Be an Oak of Righteousness for the Lord
First, understand that all of our righteousness comes by entering into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” If you have never confessed your need for salvation and prayed to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the righteousness of God for you, do that now. If you have entered into a saving relationship with Jesus, thank Him now for dying for you and for becoming the righteousness of God on your behalf.
Second, delight in God’s Word, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 1. Root your life in the truth of the Bible. Read it. Study it. Believe it. Put it into practice. We all live imperfectly but as we mature in Christ and rely on the Holy Spirit, we live more and more obediently every day.
Finally, trust in the Lord Jesus. Isaiah 61:3 says that He will grant us or give us what He has promised. It doesn’t come about because of what we do. Pray, listen, and know that Jesus Christ has provided this righteousness for you for His glory. As we live in Him, we ARE oaks of righteousness, able to withstand trials and the test of time, looking forward to the day when we see Him face-to-face.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/DCorn
Lori Stanley Roeleveld is a blogger, speaker, coach, and disturber of hobbits. She’s authored six encouraging, unsettling books, including Running from a Crazy Man, The Art of Hard Conversations, and Graceful Influence: Making a Lasting Impact through Lesson from Women of the Bible. She speaks her mind at www.loriroeleveld.com.
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