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All Flesh Is Grass

Hugo Bouter

'All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field...The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands for ever'.  Isaiah 40:6-8 (NKJV)

The grass withers

The Bible uses the image of grass to illustrate the mortality and corruptibility of man, who was formed by God of the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7; 3:19). It is a picture of the frailty of human life. The grass withers when the scorching east wind blows over it. The flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows upon it. Similarly, our lives are short and we return to dust at the time ordained by God (Eccl. 3:20; 12:7). Nothing remains even of the beauty and attractiveness of human life.  Isaiah says that it fades like a flower.

The prophet was not the first one to notice this. Job drew the same parallel: 'Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He comes forth like a flower and fades away' (Job 14:1,2). And there are more scriptures that make the same comparison.

The witness of the Psalms

The Psalms contain a clear testimony to this truth. Moses used the picture in Psalm 90, and David in Psalm 103. These psalms also refer to the early chapters of the Book of Genesis. Man is mortal, made of dust and returning to dust. Fallen man is consumed by God's wrath. Moses experienced this when the rebellious people in the wilderness were struck by God's judgments time and again. In the morning they were like grass which grows up, but in the evening it was cut down and withered. They were consumed by God's anger. Yet Moses placed his hope in God's compassion, His mercy, His work, His glory and His beauty, to establish the works of their hands. This is also the tenor of Psalm 103. David extols God's goodness which surpasses the fragility and corruptibility of mankind: 'For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting' (vv. 14-17).

It strikes us that the image of the grass is also used in the preceding Psalm, which speaks about the sufferings of Christ and His exaltation at God's right hand: 'My heart is stricken and withered like grass ... because of your indignation and your wrath; for you have lifted me up and cast me away. My days are like a shadow that lengthens, and I wither away like grass' (Psa. 102:4,10,11). This Psalm has a clear Messianic meaning, as is confirmed by the Epistle to the Hebrews (cf. Heb. 1:10-12 with Psa. 102: 25-27).  Our Lord's days on earth were shortened, and He was taken away in the midst of His days. His life was suddenly cut off and He withered away like grass, but this happened because He took our place on Calvary's cross and suffered God's consuming wrath.  The wonderful answer to His humiliation was that He was raised from the dead and given a place of honour at the right hand of the Majesty on high.  He is The Same and His years will not fail. The risen Lord is the everlasting Word, the Creator of heaven and earth. He remains eternally the same, and this has important consequences for us too. It results in a better future for us than withering away like grass.

Isaiah 40 tells us plainly that the grass withers, the flower fades, 'but the word of our God stands for ever'.  This is the same contrast we saw in Psalm 102.  we see the incorruption of God's abiding word as opposed to man's corruptibility. God's word remains. And it really is Christ Himself, the eternal Word, for He is the same yesterday, today, and for ever (Heb. 13:8).  After all, the prophet Isaiah deals with His first and second advent, and the work of the forerunner, John the Baptist (v. 3). Christ remains for ever, even if His way must go through the valley of death. He is the same, even if He has to take the place of His people in God's consuming judgment. He stands for ever and He feeds His flock like a Shepherd. He is the good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep (v. 11; John 10:11).

New Testament citations

This passage from Isaiah 40 is quoted twice in the New Testament, by James as well as by Peter. James especially applies it to the rich, because the rich man will pass away as a flower of the field. He will suddenly fade away in his pursuits at the Lord's coming, for the Judge is standing at the door (Jas. 1:10,11; 5:9).

Peter reminds us again of the contrast which we have already discussed: the difference between the first man and the second Man, the Lord from heaven. Peter speaks about the new birth, 'not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the Word of God which lives and abides for ever'. And then he quotes from Isaiah 40: 'Because all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures for ever' (1 Pet. 1:23-25).

While the natural man withers like the grass, and perishes in the day of judgment, there is life and hope for the Christian. He has been born again through the Word of God which lives and endures for ever. He has received eternal life through faith in the Son of God. He has a new nature, not that of the old man which was entirely corrupted and was crucified with Christ, but that of God's living and abiding Word. The believer shows the characteristics of the Source from which he derives his life. He is born of water and the Spirit. God has planted new life in him by His Word and Spirit. Yes, he has received everlasting life from Christ the Word of God, and shall not come into judgment.

The conclusion of all this is that the Christian is no longer characterized by the mortality of the first man, which is so strikingly portrayed by the grass that withers. The Christian has become a partaker of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). Like Peter, he gets his life from the Rock: Christ the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16-18).  We are united with Him, the One who was dead but is alive for evermore.  If the Lord tarries, our bodies will return to dust, but they will put on incorruption and immortality and be snatched away from the power of death far from the realm of death and corruption when He comes and takes us to Himself in His own glory. Thus we shall always be with Him.