Covered In Ashes

Isaiah 58:1-14
[You] cover yourselves with ashes. . . . Do you
really think this will please the Lord? (v.5).

Today is Ash Wednesday. It’s the first day of the
Lent season, observed several weeks before Good
Friday. Those who attend Ash Wednesday services
typically apply ashes (or will have ashes applied) to their
foreheads. The priest or pastor marks the forehead of
each worshiper, often saying, “Remember that you are
dust and to dust you shall return.”

Ashes in the Bible are viewed as a symbol of humility
and associated with repentance from sin. To demonstrate
that they had repented from their sins, people put on burlap
or sackcloth and sat in ashes or placed ashes on themselves
(Esther 4:3; Job 42:6; Matt. 11:21). So, wearing burlap
and ashes are ways to express sorrow and mourning.
The prophet Isaiah, however, warned that merely
performing an outward show of religious rituals doesn’t
please God. “They act so pious! They come to the temple
every day . . . pretending they want to be near Me.

You humble yourselves by going through the motions of
penance . . . . Do you really think this will please the
Lord?” (Isaiah 58:2,5). God looks at the heart—and their
hearts were far from Him (29:13).

Isaiah called God’s people to please Him by doing
what’s right: Act justly and treat workers fairly (58:3,6,9),
stop fighting and quarrelling among themselves (v.4), help
those burdened or imprisoned by life’s circumstances and
poverty (v.6), and be generous to those in need (vv.7,10).
Simply observing external rituals will not please God if the heart does not seek
to obey Him. God lamented to His prophet: “My people come pretending to be
sincere and sit before you. They listen to your words, but they have no intention
of doing what you say. . . . They hear what you say, but they don’t act on it!”
(Ezekiel 33:31-32).

God wants your heart, not a show. —K.T. Sim

Read Micah 6:8 to
understand what God
requires of His people.

How do you “prove by
the way you live that
you have repented of
your sins”? (Matthew
3:8). In what ways have
you been acting pious
externally, but not truly
seeking God in your