“To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning” Isaiah 61: 3 (NLT)
There are some beautiful passages in Isaiah, however this one must stand out amongst the best. You see the English just doesn’t do it any form of justice. Now, I’m no hebrew scholar, however we have the most beautiful play on words in the original Hebrew, and that is worth just pausing on. peer (beauty) for eper (ashes) is the way it is written, however if we delve deeper into the meaning of both words we see an depth of love that is just completely missed in our own clumsy Anglo-Saxon!
The reason why beauty is depicted as a crown is simply that the word peer means both. The same word is used to describe the headdress or tiara that a bride would wear on her wedding day. This is more than mere outward appearance, more than an earthly beauty. This is a crowning beauty that comes from a spotless identity. The gown is white, the bride a virgin. Pure, perfect, without blemish. The divine exchange so complete that we are adorned with a depth of beautification that permeates our entire spiritual being. In the exchange of a single letter in Hebrew, our whole being is transformed. This is no slip of the pen, no accidental blunder. With one stroke, one ‘jot’, we are taken to a place of mourning to a place of pure joy. Our very likeness transformed. So what of the ashes. Time and time again, throughout the Old Testament we find new life birthed in the ashes of repentance. To mourn in ashes was no mere religious ceremony on Ash Wednesday. The process involved a covering of ash that literally hid the identity of the person in mourning! One person became completely indistinguishable from another. This mourning was not just a sadness at a particular loss or event; this was a mourning birthed in the depth of repentance. Faced with an acknowledgement of sin, the mourner hid their very identity in shame. They covered themselves, hid themselves. They mourned to a place of death to their own identity. That is the extent of Grace; the transformation from compete death to complete life. In every part of our lives that we ever feel the need to hide in ashes, he hands us a crown of beauty. As we weep, the tears streaming through the thick grit of a repentant heart, he wipes them permanently from our faces with the nail pierced hand of love. One letter, one death, one life. Simple, permanent and available.