by Inderjit Bhogal.
Isaiah 61:1-3 (See also Psalm 1:3; Jer 17:7-8; Luke 4:18-19)
Jesus cited this text as the basis of his life and ministry (Luke 4:18-19). He prioritises those who are excluded and hurting. Here is a basis of our life and ministry, as followers of Christ.
I am intrigued by the way Oaks and righteousness are brought together in Isaiah 61:3.
Righteousness is central in Hebrew understandings of God.
In God’s first instruction to people within the two covenants (Genesis 9 and 12), justice and righteousness are linked, the “way” of God is revealed as “doing what is right and just” (Genesis 18:17-19). This is what brings about the completion of the will of God. Fairness and impartiality in the rule of law, and sharing of the benefits of belonging together is what is held together here. Justice in law. Justice in love. Retributive justice. Restorative justice. This is a constant thread in the Bible, and in the words of Isaiah, God is “laying a foundation stone…and…will make justice the line, and righteousness the plummet..” (Isaiah 28: 16,17). Jesus understood and practiced this tradition (Luke 4).
Righteousness is clear. What does “Oaks” refer to? The Hebrew text of Isaiah 61:3 speaks more of a leader of a flock. The word translated “Oaks” also speaks of a projecting pillar, which perhaps is why a tree comes to mind, a lofty, strong, enduring tree. This is what a good leader is, like a tree planted by God, displaying the glory of God.
Oaks have been special in human existence for centuries. They have been a source of food, shelter, healing properties, holding things (like soil) together. Bringing Oaks and righteousness together speaks of the deep rootedness, and robustness of righteousness and justice. Like Oaks, righteousness and justice, and good leaders withstand the test of time and trials.
The idea of “oaks of righteousness” is significant, a metaphor for living how God wants us to be and live.
What is to be a leader, and to live as Oaks of righteousness, reflecting the glory of God?
- Walk with those who mourn
- Be good news to the poor/disadvantaged/excluded
- Bind up the broken hearted
- Bring liberty to the captives, the oppressed, and release to the prisoners
- Seek the Kingdom of God and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour
Those who live and serve like this are “Oaks of righteousness”. They are pleasing to God, and a delight, a model for others. They are “Oaks of righteousness, a planting of God for the display of his splendour”. Biblically, “Oaks” are symbols of the angels and prophets of God (Genesis 18:1; Judges 6:11; 1 Kings 19:4,5).
Who comes to your mind as we think of Oaks of Righteousness? We remember those who have been Oaks, and pillars of strength to us and in Church and society, and who have died.
What are the values of being Oaks of Righteousness?
- Strength: In the confidence God is with us
- Healing: reflecting the ministry of Christ, binding the broken hearted, what is good for communities and individuals, upholding equality and diversity and inclusion, working for forgiveness, peace and reconciliation, non-violent, all this is “good news”
- Passion: embracing the cost of such a ministry, bearing the cross
- Hope: always keeping hope alive, liberty, upholding Kingdom values
When we live like this, we direct our decisions and life by the values of God, and honour God, and grow into who/how God wants us to be and use our lives to make life better for all, to make the world a better place for all. We are inspired by those who are and have been Oaks of Righteousness.
“Oaks of Righteousness”, this is the framework of our lives, these are the values in which we are rooted and grounded. These values help us to endure storms and droughts as we seek to serve God.