“They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord
for the display of His splendor.” (Isaiah 61:3)
In late Autumn of 2008 and early Winter 2009, I felt drawn to several passages in scripture in a way different than anytime previously. I felt somehow that I was being gently compelled to read and reread these verses over and over again, and to meditate on them continuously. It was only months later that I realized GOD was giving me a vision for ministry that continues to grip me still today. The most prominent of those passages to me is the one above.
The prophet Isaiah was given these words to speak to GOD’s dominated and dejected people. It was a part of a larger promise to them about what He was going to do in their lives, despite the many ways they had previously rejected His love and leadership. In many ways GOD’s promise of future well-being parallels what He spoke through Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Centuries later, when Jesus entered the synagogue in Nazareth (I once described Nazareth as the Camden of Israel), He was invited to read from the Word of GOD. He was given the scroll containing Isaiah and He read the portion of the prophecy that included GOD’s promise of restoration and healing that would lead to the restored and healed becoming oaks of righteousness. Then Jesus declared to those gathered, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21). The promise that those who belonged to GOD would become oaks of righteousness is a direct correlate of the work Jesus would do in those whose trust and hope was in Him.
Fully mature oak trees are strong and sturdy. Their roots grow deep and their limbs spread wide. Throughout the year, birds find shelter in them. The fruit of their branches, acorns, are sustenance for the many squirrels which make their homes in them. Their leaves give us shade when it’s hot, their root systems help to stabilize the foundations of nearby homes, and their size and presence serve as windbreaks against the winter’s cold blasts. Oak trees serve are necessary to human and animal life. How much more so are oaks of righteousness necessary to the spiritual well-being of those around us?
Humorist Evan Esar said, “You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth.” There is a way to grow deep and wide, like an oak tree. The Bible often refers to it as the “path of life.” It is the path of continual communion with and service to GOD modeled by Jesus and copied by the faithful ever since. It is the path on which we first recognize the depth of our motivation to be self-seeking and then, with sincere humility, deeply hunger to be GOD-seeking. It is the path carved for us by the Holy Spirit through the hills and valleys, the twists and turns of our life years. He, alone, serves as guide to those who are on this journey of discovery, confrontation, continuous yielding and continuous cultivation.
Many, I find, are content to live as saplings. The funny thing is, though, in nature I’ve never seen a sapling remain a sapling. It either grows into something bigger or it withers. Even if it were able to remain a sapling over the entirety of its life, it would serve no purpose except to itself. And the truth is saplings can rarely stand against the strong, harsh winds of life. The purpose behind the messages of both Isaiah and Jesus points to the needs of others. Oaks don’t exist just for themselves; they bless whatever is around them. More than ever, the world needs oaks of righteousness not their substitutes.
© Byron L. Hannon, 2020. All rights reserved to original text content.