Question: "What is a garment of praise (Isaiah 61:3)?"

Answer: The phrase garment of praise is a metaphor for the gladness and thanksgiving God’s people feel when they are filled with the joy of the Lord. In ancient times, it was customary for a grieving person to wear sackcloth (see Esther 4:1). The garment of praise is the opposite of sackcloth; it is brightly colored raiment indicative of celebration. The Christian Standard Bible translates it as “splendid clothes.”

Isaiah 61:3 speaks of a garment of praise in a prophecy that the coming Messiah would “provide for those who grieve in Zion.” The Lord promises that He would “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” (Isaiah 61:3).

At the beginning of Jesus Christ’s ministry, He visited the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth. There, he read a portion of Isaiah 61. After Jesus read part of the messianic prophecy, He handed the scroll back to the attendant and shocked the religious leaders by saying, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Jesus boldly proclaimed that He was the One who would one day take away the spirit of despair and give the garment of praise. In so doing, He claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah.

In the synagogue, Jesus made an important distinction between His first and second comings. In the middle of reading Isaiah 61:2, He stopped. During His first advent, He was proclaiming the “year of the Lord’s favor,” but we have yet to see “the day of vengeance of our God.” This also means that we will not see the perfect fulfillment of Isaiah 61:2–4 until Christ’s second coming. Today we get a foretaste of the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit, but the promise will only be completely fulfilled when Jesus returns to earth.

At that time, Israel will be restored as God’s people. Israel’s history is heavy with judgment because of her rebellion (Jeremiah 15:6). But God still loves Israel and has never left her hopeless (Jeremiah 15:19; Nehemiah 1:9). Isaiah prophesied that, after a time of mourning, God would turn their despair into joy (cf. Zechariah 10:6). It will be as if God takes away their sackcloth and replaces it with a joyous garment of praise.

God created human beings to worship and glorify Him (Jeremiah 13:11; Isaiah 43:7; Ephesians 2:10). Jesus came to atone for our sin, to make a way for us to be restored to fellowship with God. He longs for us to turn to Him in faith and let Him fill us with His joy (Acts 13:52; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we cannot help but praise Him (Ephesians 5:18–20).

Those today who know the joy of the Lord and wear a “garment of praise” are always seeking ways they can honor the Lord. They are busy serving, loving, and praising the Lord for all He is doing in their lives. They want every moment on earth to count for eternity because they have discovered the joy of working hand in hand with God. Those who wear the “garment of praise” have a few things in common:

• They love to sing and make music in their hearts to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19; Psalm 95:2).
• They face challenges with an expectation of God’s provision (Philippians 4:6).
• They enjoy worshiping with other Christians (Colossians 3:16).
• They see God’s hand in every blessing and eagerly thank Him (Psalm 69:30; 100:4).

It’s obvious that David wore a garment of praise. His psalms are filled with joyful praises, and he urged all of Israel to join him (see Psalms 33, 103, 113, 145). Despite the devastation that may dominate our past, Jesus can transform our condemnation, hopelessness, and ungratefulness into a garment of praise (Psalm 4:7; 30:11).

Part of the Messiah’s mission is “to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit” (Isaiah 61:3, ESV). One day, all creation “will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). Until then, we who know the Lord celebrate God’s good gifts, including the gift of joy.

Commenting on Isaiah 61:3, Alexander MacLaren wrote, “We have two contrasted pictures suggested: one of a mourner with gray ashes strewed upon his dishevelled locks, and his spirit clothed in gloom like a black robe; and to him there comes One who, with gentle hand, smoothes the ashes out of his hair, trains a garland round his brow, anoints his head with oil, and, stripping off the trappings of woe, casts about him a bright robe fit for a guest at a festival. That is the miracle that Jesus Christ can do for every one, and is ready to do for us, if we will let Him.”