A Crown of Beauty Instead of Ashes


Excerpt Taken from Blended & Redeemed: The Go-To Field Guide for the Modern Stepfamily by Scott & Vanessa Martindale

Nothing makes us feel more broken and alone than the breakup of a family unit and the terrifying prospect of your child losing the stability of “home” with Mom and Dad. These life events are tragedies. They are understandably sources of pain, guilt, shame, regret, and grief. But God offers hope in our grief. We are not left to make sense of the madness alone.

Back in chapter 1, we said the lifeblood of our ministry is wrapped up in Isaiah 61:1–3:

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted
To proclaim freedom for the captives
And release from darkness for the prisoners …
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair (NIV, emphasis added).

This is the word of hope we share with families who are struggling to make sense of their blended-family situation. We read it as a promise from God, who wants to exchange our captivity for freedom, our filthy ashes for a beautiful crown, our mourning for joy, and our rags for splendor. In the same way, we know He wants to take any concept of a “broken home” and exchange it for a happy, healthy, and loving home filled with joy and praise.

Though the phrase “beauty for ashes” has become pretty common in church circles, you’ll see different translations of the Hebrew word for “beauty” used in this verse. That’s because there actually isn’t a direct English translation of the Hebrew word used in Isaiah 61:3. As a result, the different translations of the term can often feel all over the place:

• “Beauty for ashes” (KJV)
• “Bouquets of roses instead of ashes” (MSG)
• “Garland instead of ashes” (NASB)
• “A beautiful headdress instead of ashes” (ESV)

These all kind of dance around it, but we like where the New International Version lands: “to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes” (emphasis added). Digging into the meaning of the Hebrew text, we see that the term Isaiah uses is special. Ashley Hooker, writing for BibleStudyTools.com, explains:

When Isaiah writes the words “beauty for ashes,” he uses Hebrew language that cannot be translated into English. The Hebrew word for beauty used here refers to a headdress, turban, or tiara. God is stating that he is going to wipe out the ashes upon your head and replace it with a beautiful headdress.21

What a wonderful image! It takes us right back to Vanessa’s vision several years ago of God showing her the promise of a beautiful white dress in place of the ash-covered one she was wearing.

When you’re standing there in the dust of a relationship or family unit that’s just crumbled away, it’s easy to feel hopeless. We feel anything but royal. That’s when God steps in, picks us up out of the dirt and dust, cleans us off, and reminds us that we are sons and daughters of the Most High God! As Isaiah 61:3 proclaims, not only does He give us a crown, but He anoints us with “the oil of joy,” a common biblical practice most often associated with times of celebration, not sorrow. He removes the dirty, stained clothes of our “spirit of despair” and covers us with the “garment of praise.” The language here points to clothes dyed in bright colors. Bottom line: God is dressing us for a party, not a funeral! He’s preparing us for life, not death!

GOD IS DRESSING US FOR A PARTY, NOT A FUNERAL! HE’S PREPARING US FOR LIFE, NOT DEATH!

And why does God do this? The end of Isaiah 61:3 answers: “They will be called oaks of righteousness … for the display of his splendor” (emphasis added). Ashley Hooker explains:

We can carry our sorrows to the sanctuary at the foot of the cross and leave them there. When we do that, we can walk away with shouts of praise for the one true God. We could put on our new headdress and bright colored garments for all to see what God has done for us and what he can do for them.22

This is exactly what happened when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego emerged from the fiery furnace unscathed. The king and all who were there were astounded by the power of the God who saved them. What a stunning reminder that God can and will redeem our worst circumstances—even the breakup of a family—in miraculous ways. And when God does what only He can do, everyone wins—us, our children, the community, and ultimately God Himself!

Could there be a better prayer for yourself, your spouse, and your children than to become “oaks of righteousness”? What a powerful image, picturing our loved ones as mighty oak trees reaching to the heavens.

Order your copy of Blended & Redeemed: The Go-To Field Guide for the Modern Stepfamily by Scott & Vanessa Martindale

21 Ashley Hooker, “How Isaiah Promises God Will Give Us ‘Beauty for Ashes’ in Painful Seasons,” BibleStudyTools.com, May 15, 2021, https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/how-isaiah-promises-god-will-give-us-beauty-for-ashes-in-painful-seasons.html.
22 Ibid.