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.
The prophet here depicts the beauty, joy and consecration of the church of God. There will be beauty, oil of joy and a garment of praise given to them that mourn in Zion. The language employed is symbolic and points to the typical priest of the Old Covenant, to the robes in which he officiated before the face of Jehovah. For Aaron and his sons were made, so we read, coats of fine linen of woven work and a miter of fine linen, and goodly bonnets of fine linen, and linen breaches of fine twined linen, and a girdle of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, of needlework; as the Lord commanded Moses. Then there was the oil of holy ointment with which Aaron and his sons were anointed, that they might minister unto the Lord in the priests office. A holy oil it was that might be poured on no man’s flesh save that of the priests.
These mourners in Zion then are priests. “But ye shall be named the priests of the Lord,” said the prophet to these mourners, “men shall call you the ministers of our God: . . . . Being priests, they will be vested in the priestly robe and anointed with the holy oil.
But why do these priests mourn? Why are their spirits heavy? And what meaneth those ashes? The Lord hath covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in His anger, and cast down from heaven unto earth the beauty of Israel, swallowed up all the habitations of Jacob, thrown down in his wrath the strongholds of the daughter of Judah, polluted the kingdom, cut off in His fierce anger all the horn of Israel, bent His bow like an enemy, stood with His right hand as an adversary, and slew all that were pleasant to the eye in the tabernacle of the daughter of Zion. He poured out His fury like a fire.
Why hath the Lord so dealt with His people? Jerusalem hath grievously sinned. Her filthiness is in her skirts. She had forsaken the law of the Lord, which He set before them, and has not obeyed His voice, but has walked after the imagination of her own heart, and after Balaam.
Ashes! What are they? The residue of substance remaining after subjection to red-heat. To the heat of God’s anger Israel has been subjected. For he sinned. And in the cloud of His anger the glory departed. And Israel’s glory was his palaces, his strongholds, God’s tabernacle, His solemn feasts and Sabbaths, His altar and His sanctuary, the king and the priest that made atonement for sin, the walls of Jerusalem’s palaces, her gates, her princes, her law and her prophets. This was Israel’s glory.
What is more worthless, inglorious and sightless than an ash-heap? Behold Israel! Her palaces are swallowed up. Her tabernacle hath been taken away, as if it were a garden. The places of her assembly have been destroyed. The Lord hath caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion. He hath cast off His altar, and abhorred His sanctuary. The walls of Jerusalem’s palaces have been given up in the hands of the enemy. Her gates are sunken into the ground. Her bars are broken. Her kings and princes are among the gentiles. The law is no more. Her prophets find no vision from the Lord. The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground and keep silent.
And the lovers of Zion mourn. Their spirits are heavy. Their eyes fail with tears. But they weep not for themselves but for their sins. They say, We have rebelled against His commandments. The Lord is righteous. Their grief springs not from despair. For they say, The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in the Lord.
Ashes! Let them speak to us of the curse of God that began to stalk over the earth, when our first parents, giving ear to the slander of the serpent, disobeyed the commandment of God; let them speak to us of the loss of our original spiritual beauty, of the trespasses and sin in which we are conceived and born, of our depravity, of our worthlessness and ugliness in the sight of the Holy God. What is more unlovely than ashes! And let us, at the hearing of this speech, cast dust upon our heads and gird ourselves with sackcloth. And let us weep for our sins. And let us say with the prophet, “The Lord is righteous; for I have rebelled against His commandments.”
But let us also lift up our heads and say, His compassions fail not. They are new every morning. For unto them that mourn in Zion will be given beauty for ashes, the oil of gladness for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
Beauty will be given them, not the outward beauty of the typical priest, not the beauty of an outward material robe, but the beauty of the robe of righteousness and salvation with which the Lord will clothe them, thus the beauty that is the effulgence of holiness in the inward parts, the beauty of true health of a man washed from all his sin in the blood of Christ and in whose heart has been shed abroad the love of God and upon whose being, heart, mind and will God has impressed His name. It is thus the beauty of the life hidden with Christ in God, and that appears when members which are upon the earth are crucified. It is the beauty of the new man, renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him. It is the beauty that is the flower of the righteousness of Christ in them that mourn in Zion, and the flower of this righteousness is the bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering that they who mourn in sin put on.
And the beauty of these mourners is Zion’s beauty, Zion’s righteousness, and the beauty of Zion’s righteousness is destined to go forth as brightness, and the beauty of her salvation as a lamp that burneth. Then all the gentiles shall see her righteousness, and all keep her glory.
To the mourners in Zion will be given the oil of joy. There is reason for joy. Zion has been redeemed with judgment and her converts with righteousness. Zion’s children have been crucified with Christ, buried with Him, raised with him, and with Him set in heaven. There is then a heavenly, a heavenly kingdom, to be inherited by them that mourn in Zion. Heirs of God are they and co-heirs of Christ.
And the joy given these mourners springs from the certain knowledge that they belong to Christ, their faithful Savior, that with Him their life is hidden in God, that when Christ appears they will appear with Him in glory and come into the actual possession of the kingdom, into the possession of their reward.
Thus they have joy. But this joy is not of them. It is a gift of the Spirit of Christ, the oil with which they are anointed, they being priests unto God. And Him do they praise, and their praise too is the garments that He gives. Of themselves they do not praise, cannot praise, but only revile His name, they being by nature dead in sin. But He clothes them with praise as with a garment, and they bless His name, declare His glories, magnify their Redeemer God.
The reason that this praise is called a garment is not that it issues not from their hearts, but the reason is that it originates not in them but in God who redeemed them.
Thus will He adorn them who mourn in Zion that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.
The tree in Scripture is the symbol of durability, of that which cannot be moved. The mourners are therefore called trees.
They shall never be moved, as they are righteous. But their righteousness is not of them. Christ is their righteousness. They are planting of the Lord, and therefore He, not they, will be glorified.