Oaks of Righteousness: a New Year’s Meditation

massive oakResolutions for the New Year are made by many, but quickly broken and abandoned by most. The idea behind resolution-making is that we can see flaws in our lives, and believe that we can make decisions to change and become better people. We decide to lose weight, exercise more, watch less T.V., read our Bibles daily, pay more attention to personal finances, quit smoking, and many other things. All of these are good things, a recognition that we have room for improvement. But why don’t they stick?

The idea of “resolution” is associated with several other words. We “resolve” to do something, meaning we decide to do it and commit ourselves to doing it. We can be “resolute” in a course of action, a determination not to be dissuaded from its completion. All of these ideas (resolution/resolve/be resolute) are based on the strength of the human will and personal determination. And this is were we often fail. We do not have wills of steel.

Isaiah 61 is the passage of Scripture that Jesus chose to read in his hometown synagogue (Luke 4). Luke’s account has him reading just the first verse and a line from verse two, but it is likely that he read a longer passage, for that would have been the custom. This is a prophetic passage, looking forward to a return from exile and a restoration of the land. It would be “the year of the Lord’s favor.” This is the promise that Jesus claimed in that little synagogue in Nazareth so long ago, and his bold claim led to controversy that nearly resulted in his lynching.

In Isaiah 61:3, there are three vivid contrasts to describe the change of situation that marks the coming of the Lord’s year of favor:

 a crown of beauty instead of ashes [on the head]
oil of joy instead of [tears of] mourning
garment of praise instead of the spirit of mourning [sackcloth]

Isaiah describes the result this way:

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

Oaks of Righteousness! What a wonderful description! The sturdy, ancient tree that withstands drought, flood, snow, freezing, and gale-force winds. Each year it produces its leaves and acorns, and it grows a little. Eventually it is a mighty, massive tree.

Maybe this is the key to New Year’s “Resolutions.” The must be like the oaks of righteousness planted by the Lord. So as you make your life-changing and life-improving decisions for this next year, do them with the help of the Lord. Let him plant you like an oak tree, a bulwark of righteousness in a barren land. Lean not on your own understanding. Trust not in your own strength. Trust in the Lord.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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