Why God's Promise of 'Beauty for Ashes' Should Give Us Hope Today

Tammy Kennington

Contributing Writer
Updated Jun 07, 2022
Why God's Promise of 'Beauty for Ashes' Should Give Us Hope Today

Because Christ came to give us “beauty for ashes”, we can anticipate the future with hope. No matter how difficult our circumstances or challenging the season.

Covid-19 ushered in more than a year of collective, societal pain. We’ve all suffered from lockdowns, social isolation, and uncertainty. Many were impacted by financial instability, a move, or educational issues. Still, others grieved the loss of a loved one, dealt with abuse, or struggled with mental health issues.

We have been living dystopian lives. Lives that, at a glance, seem unable to loosen themselves from the grasp of an inescapable fate. But Isaiah 61:1-3 (NKJV) delivered a promise of hope to Israel that holds true for Christians today. Consider these words, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me Because the Lord has anointed Me…To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning…”

What Does Beauty for Ashes Mean Then and Now?

In ancient Israel and surrounding areas, ashes exemplified loss and mourning. Like Job, people sat among or sprinkled themselves with ashes when grieving the death of someone for whom they cared (2 Samuel 1:2), after a national disaster (Esther 4:1), when repenting over one’s own sin (Jonah 3:5-7), or after experiencing a personal tragedy such as rape (2 Samuel 13:19).

While this expression of grief may seem foreign, those of us who have lost a loved one knows the silent yearning that the rest of the world would stop for a moment to remember the person who days before belonged with us.

Ashes were a physical representation of that longing. The soul-deep recognition that we need our Creator to bring healing and wholeness to hurting places. In a figurative sense, how many of us have been sitting in the ashes? Are our heads steeped in the remains of once was or clouded by the grief of dreams that no longer exist?

Isaiah 61:1,3 (NIV) says, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me… to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes.” The imagery portrayed here is one of Jesus, the Messiah, wiping ashes of mourning from the brows of His followers and replacing them with a crown.

We associate crowns with wealth. But the word translated “crown of beauty”, means turban or headdress in the original language. This turban was only worn by wealthy men of rank or bridegrooms.

Understanding the sort of crown Isaiah describes helps us to recognize our position in Christ as well as the celebratory nature of what He has done for us. Because of Jesus’s death and resurrection, those of us who know Christ as Lord have new life and an inheritance that can never “perish, spoil, or fade” (1 Peter 1:3-4). Not only that but we, the Church, are united to Him as the bride. Of all people, we have reason to celebrate.

One day, Jesus will take the ashes of our lives, sifted through the victory of the cross, and place crowns upon our heads—identifying us as His.

What Is the Context of Isaiah 61:3 and the Meaning of ‘Beauty for Ashes’?

God’s people knew suffering. They understood pain. Captives in a foreign land, they were forced to endure hardship because of their sin and rebellion against the Lord. But the prophet Isaiah reassured them there was one who would redeem their pain and rescue them from oppression. This man was Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

700 years after they were recorded, Jesus read these verses to an unbelieving group of people in his hometown. John 4:16-21 (NIV) reads, He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me…” Jesus read the words of Isaiah, “then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

While those listening refused to believe, the hope-filled prophecies were fulfilled by the humble leader of a ragamuffin group of misfits radically transformed by the life, death, and resurrection of the one named Jesus Christ.

In the same way that Isaiah pointed God’s people to look toward the future, Christians can do the same. Even when everything we’ve known is shaken, we have the security that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 NIV).

Jesus delivers on His promises. He came to give life to people then and He came to give us life now.

Why Does God Allow Us to Experience Beauty for Ashes?

In the case of the Israelites and, later, the people of Judah, the people experienced captivity because they rebelled against God. Despite His warnings, they continued to turn away by worshipping other Gods and, among other detestable practices, sacrificing their children on altars of fire.

At times, God allows us to wallow in the ashes when we are at fault and He longs for our hearts to return to Him.

In the same way, He turns up the heat to rid us of the dross—the impurities that impede our progress—to shape us into the image of Jesus. Zechariah 13:9 tells us this process refines as “through the fire”. After we pass through difficult circumstances, we’re stronger, we shine more brightly, and He “beautifies us with His glory” as Kim Potter shares in her article, “You Can’t Have Beauty Without Ashes.”

Some instances of suffering, such as that experienced by Joseph, are intended for evil. But God can work through the worst pain and suffering, as Joseph revealed to his abusive brothers. You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

One ancient believer who experienced more than his share of trials was under spiritual attack. Satan approached the throne room of heaven and was given limited access to Job—whose ordeal is recorded in the Bible.

Apart from his life, Job lost everything. Children. Wealth. Health. His wife berated Job’s faith and his friends criticized his sinfulness while Job sat in an ash heap scraping oozing boils with a sharp-edged tool.

Job was a broken man because the Enemy chose him, but God knew Job’s heart. This man would teach Evil a lesson. In the end, Satan discovered that Job was “blameless and uprightJob 1:8 and God gave him “beauty for ashes.”

We, too, must recognize that suffering is sometimes the result of spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6:13 exhorts, Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Notice that the verse reads when the day of evil comes, not if.

6 Ways We Can Be Encouraged by 'Beauty for Ashes'

Because Christ came to give us “beauty for ashes”, we can anticipate the future with hope. No matter how difficult our circumstances or challenging the season, we know:

God never leaves us. 

He is merciful and forgiving.

Jesus tenderly cares for and meets our needs. 

Christ has conquered sin. 

Trials of this life are temporary.

Jesus will remove our suffering and replace it with joy.

Hold onto these truths, dear one. No matter the circumstances or how deep the personal grief, Jesus is with us—ready and able to take our pain and struggle and replace it with His joy, peace, and goodness.

Further Reading

What Does it Mean That There Will Be Beauty for Ashes?

Beauty for Ashes: 4 Encouraging Ways to Rekindle Hope Out of Despair

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Pattadis Walarput

Tammy KenningtonTammy Kennington is a writer and speaker familiar with the impact of trauma, chronic illness, and parenting in the hard places. Her heart is to lead women from hardship to hope. You can meet with Tammy at her blog www.tammykennington.com where she’ll send you her e-book, Moving from Pain to Peace-A Journey Toward Hope When the Past Holds You Captive.

This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

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