I have sang the sweet words “beauty for ashes” in worship many times. I have prayed those words over people crying out to God for deliverance, “trade your ashes for Christ’s beauty!!” I’ve prayed that great exchange from Jesus to myself many times. But today it was as if the words became a little more tangible; the Word of God cut into my bones a little deeper.
This morning I was reading about burnt offerings in Leviticus. The priest would perform the offering and then take the ashes of the burnt offering out of the camp (Leviticus 6:11). There was no reason why this stuck out to me, except that the Holy Spirit wanted to teach me something. I tried to read on, but the word ‘ashes’ became a ringing bell in my head. Therefore I proceeded to use my favorite biblical study tool, a concordance (through biblehub.com) and look up the root meaning of ‘ashes’. As I read that this specific Hebrew word, דָּ֫שֶׁן or deshen, means ‘fatness, ashes of fat, abundance’, I wondered if the same version of the word was used in the ‘beauty for ashes’ scripture I knew and loved:
“To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”” (Isaiah 61:3 NKJV)
To my amazement, the word for ‘ashes’ in the Isaiah passage was different from the Leviticus one. ‘Ashes’ used here in Isaiah 61 is אֵ֫פֶר or epher, and it is used in several other scriptures meaning: ashes of the red heifer which was an offering for purification, ashes put on the head as a sign of humiliation, ashes representing contrition (self-reproach, repentance), ashes for mourning, ashes meaning filthy or loathsome, ashes meaning worthlessness, sorrow and distress (all taken from Brown-Driver-Briggs). Wow, isn’t that powerful? These are the ashes Jesus wants us to give up to Him so that He can exchange them for His beauty, the beauty of the Bridegroom! Your feelings of impurity, humiliation, filth and worthlessness are all ashes Jesus died for. He died to trade the ashes of your past, present and future in exchange for His radiant beauty. That’s astounding. That kind of pure love makes no sense to the human mind, but it doesn’t have to because God just is who He is and does what He does despite our level of understanding.
I very briefly studied out this message of ashes before going about my day. Around mid-afternoon I found myself in a situation where my past sins and mistakes were being kind of..rubbed in my nose. A conversation that was intended to be redemptive, forgiving and freeing, had felt shaming, accusatory and enslaving. A list of mistakes I made (4 years ago and very early in my walk with Christ) were being thrown at me in detail and it hurt to revisit those dark places in my life. I could literally feel the spiritual cuffs of my past being clicked onto my wrists and ankles and could hear the enemy’s excitement that he had captured me again…but God.
God wouldn’t have any of that, no sir. He caught me as my mind tumbled into that pit and He fought His way out with me in His arms. After much prayer, repentance and seeking His counsel, I saw the situation for what it really was: An invitation from Jesus to trade my buried, old ashes for His fresh and new beauty. Jesus wants to be the king of my entire heart..not just some of it. Even the most dark and infected spaces within me-especially those places. The devil wanted this conversation to harm me, but God used it to take me back into that sinful time in my life and totally annihilate that darkness with His glory light! His light always overcomes the darkness (John 1:5). Instead of wearing those past sins and allowing shame and regret to control my mind in that moment, I allowed Jesus to take those ashes of humiliation and give me His beauty-His grace, His mercy, His love, His peace. These are the things I am called to meditate on. Not who I was then, but who I am now in Christ Jesus! Today is the day of salvation and today I am sold out for Jesus. God is renewing me into the image of His perfect Son, Jesus. I’m not perfect, but God is and He will complete the good work in me that He started.
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6 NLT)
Ask God if there are any ashes you are still wearing on your head in humiliation or despair from past regrets or present mistakes. If you’re feeling worthless, shamed, impure, or filthy there is an invitation from Jesus to you. An invitation to trade all of that pain and heartache for His beauty and resurrection which can be received through accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior and surrendering all of yourself to Him!
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJV)