'Oaks of righteousness': The hidden lesson in a Bible prophecy

There's a beautiful line in Isaiah 61:3 where the prophet says that the broken-hearted, the prisoners, the mourners will be vindicated, crowned and comforted. It's part of the passage Jesus quotes in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:18) which begins, 'The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me.'

And in a curious image, he says: 'They will be called oaks of righteousness (or 'of the legitimate'), a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.'

Oak trees grow straighter in woodland.Pixabay

Why 'oaks of righteousness'? Perhaps there's the thought of solidity and permanence, of being rooted in the right place after being the victim of malignant others or the force of circumstance.

But there is something else about oak trees, which may not have been in the prophet's mind but is worth us paying attention to.

Oaks are said to take 300 years to grow, 300 years to live and 300 years to die. They are majestic trees. The picture of an oak tree British readers might have is the one that stands on its own in a field. Its branches spread widely. Cows and sheep shelter under it from the sun and rain. It's full of birds.

But the field oak is not as useful to the carpenter and builder as the woodland oak. The woodland oak grows with other trees. Consequently it doesn't spread, like its cousin in the field. It grows straighter and higher, because it reaches towards the light.

The oaks of righteousness are plural. They are woodland oaks, growing together.

Believers do best when they believe with others. Some of us enjoy solitude, but we are not meant to be alone. Being with others straightens us out. It encourages us to reach higher. We're more useful.

God crowns the defeated, broken-hearted captives with glory and makes them oaks of righteousness – woodland oaks, growing strong and taller together.