Oaks of Righteousness

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.

10 thoughts on “Oaks of Righteousness”

  1. It’s good to hear the word ‘righteousness’ being given a good press. Too often we only hear the negative connotation ‘self-righteous’ being applied to those who strive to live a life which is pleasing to God. Several thoughts came to mind when I read this post, so I let them float around in my head like falling leaves and took a closer look as they settled.
    My first thought was the quote ‘mighty oaks from little acorns grow’ so there has to be space, and the right conditions for growth. An acorn in itself is a thing of beauty, full of promise and potential, but sadly most are trampled underfoot or buried by squirrels in an act of self-preservation.
    Then I thought of the ‘oaks of righteousness’ from my youth, the respected local businessmen and professionals (doctors, teachers, even policemen, mostly male in those days) who were the pillars of society and earned respect by the way they conducted themselves and the way they looked after their families, their staff, and all those who trusted and depended on them.
    Finally, I felt thankful that those of us who can never hope to become an oak of righteousness, can at least wear the ‘cloak of righteousness’ offered to all who put their trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. I’m happy to be forever an acorn from that mighty oak!
    And I couldn’t finish without mentioning our dear late Queen Elizabeth, who in my lifetime has been the most dependable of oaks, and in whose shade I feel blessed to have been born and nurtured.

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  2. The trouble with righteousness is that it is divisive: It divides humanity into those who are righteous and those who are not. I take the positive view that all humanity, at some level, strive to be good, caring and thoughtful of the needs of others – human kindliness is what it is to be human. So, for me, all people are righteous, or all people are sinners. Dividing people into “sheep” and “goats” or “righteous” and “sinners” is fundamentally opposed to the utterly inclusive non-judgmental way that Jesus related to all those he met.

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    1. The traditional Christian view (and I do not mean ‘conservative’ when I say traditional) would in fact be that all people are righteous AND all people are sinners; not a division -sheep and goats are about something else. Each individual does not always think and act in the right way, they are not righteous i.e. are sinners, BUT God in Christ sees each individual as righteous (utterly inclusively).
      Clearly in practice reference to righteousness can be divisive (in a judgemental sense). However, righteousness is very closely associated with justice (you might prefer ‘ethical’) and so surely remains a useful concept.

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  3. Many thanks Tim! I associated righteousness with piety, individualistic self-concern and you quite rightly point out that righteousness should be seen as associated with justice, ethical concern for others and love.

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    1. It is possible to be both pious and righteous, Robert. For someone who is so judgement-averse, you can be very judgemental about religious people. You have obviously judged ‘piety’ as something undesirable, whereas I see it as a state of reverent humility in the presence of Almighty God.
      It doesn’t do to stereotype anyone!

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  4. My dictionary shows two meanings for “pious”:
    1. “having or showing a dutiful spirit of reverence for God or an earnest wish to fulfil religious obligations.“
    2 “characterized by a hypocritical concern with virtue or religious devotion; sanctimonious.”

    In our increasingly secular society, the understanding of the word is shifting towards the second meaning. We need perhaps to use a new term which avoids the confusion of meaning.

    Similarly, “righteous” is moving in meaning from “behaving in a morally correct way” to “believing that you are morally correct and that others are not.”

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    1. I suppose it comes down to whether you are a positive thinker or a negative thinker which meaning you take on board. Personally I like to look on the bright side and put a positive slant on both words. For me, righteousness is something to aim for (not always successfully!) and some degree of piety is not only desirable but essential in my relationship with God.

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  5. Pavel, Agree about the two meanings of the word “pious” and the need to avoid using it. As I see it the problem with hanging onto the words “pious” and “righteous” is that they are both deeply divisive. They imply there is a religious elite who display reverence and moral rectitude, unlike the rest of us – and I include myself in this category – who are assumed to be irreverent and immoral sinners that deserve to be excluded. It comes down to the question – do we have to develop a relationship with God based on love, piety and righteousness before we can effectively love our neighbour, or is it the other way round; that loving our neighbour is, in itself, our relationship with God, and there is no need for this exclusive terminology.

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  6. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake …..

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