Enlarge the place of your tent (Isaiah 54,2)
Mother Sarah Barry
ENLARGE THE PLACE OF YOUR TENT
Isaiah 54, 1 – 5
Key Verse 54, 2
„Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.”
This past week it was my privilege to take part in the first UBF European-International New Generation Global Leadership Forum. The title of this first Forum was “Bible Teachers as Global leaders.” The first lecture, given by Dr. Peter Chang, was from Ezra 7:1-10. The title of his lecture was “Back to the Bible.” Ezra “devoted himself to the study and observation of the Law of the Lord and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” Ezra was an international Bible teacher who went to Jerusalem to help his people. He helped them by teaching the Bible and calling on his people to repent and live according to the word of God. I spoke on the subject I was given, “UBF’s Spiritual Legacy and vision for the New Generation.” The main point of my lecture was the Bible. God works through the Bible and through the Holy Spirit to transform people. Transformed people can be used by God to change a nation. I encourage the New Generation (and the old generation as well) to study the Bible as God’s word, obey it and be Bible teachers who help extend God’s kingdom into the hearts and lives of students all over the world. Through studying and seeking to obey the Bible, UBF, which started as a tiny mustard seed, grew into a great tree. We must continue, through prayer and Bible study, enlarging the place of our tent, planting God’s word in the people of our time and extending the kingdom of God until Jesus comes again.
In the late 1700’s a shoemaker in Scotland accepted Isaiah 54:2, „Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.“ He put a map of China on the wall of his room and began to pray for the unreached multitudes there. God did not send him to China. But God did send him to India. His name was William Carey. He had many problems, including a wife who was a mental patient. But he had God’s vision; he obeyed Jesus‘ command and went–with his family–and God used him greatly to plant the gospel and the word of God in India, and to plant missionary vision in the students of Cambridge. A great missionary movement began that eventually covered the world.
The passage that I want to share with you today contains the word God used to speak to William Carey: “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. “
We don’t know exactly when Isaiah wrote this section of the book of Isaiah, but it is clear that he was addressing the people of Israel who had been taken into Babylonian captivity because of their unfaithfulness to God. They had become like a desolate woman. It is amazing that God gave this command and vision to his people Israel at a time when they were at their lowest point. The Babylonian captivity, which lasted 70 years, was Israel’s darkest hour. God allowed it to happen because his people had been unfaithful to him. Isaiah compares Israel to a barren, desolate woman. God spoke through his servant Isaiah to plant God’s hope in the hearts of hopeless and despairing people. God is a God of mercy and forgiveness. Furthermore, God still had a purpose and a plan for his people, even though their situation seemed hopeless. His purpose would take a surprising turn. So in verse 1, Isaiah says to this barren, desolate woman, “Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” God had a plan to make this desolate people fruitful. He had a plan to save them and bless them and use them to be a blessing to the world.
The people had broken their relationship with God their Creator and true Husband. Before the relationship could be restored, he had to deal with the sin problem. In Isaiah 53, God gave them the promise of the Messiah. “Isaiah 53:4-8 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, … he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed…and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” God’s plan to save his people and the world starts with the promised Messiah who would take all of our sins on himself and give us healing and peace and a right relationship with our God. Jesus would be the great and real fulfillment of this prophesy.
In Isaiah 54, he describes the sorrowful and hopeless situation of the returning exiles. The good news is that he loves them. He would heal their wounds and take away their sins. So, even the sinful people have hope. God’s grace is free to sinners who receive it, but it is costly to God. In Isaiah 54, God plants hope in their hearts, he confesses his love for them and promises to redeem them. So he says, „Sing, burst into to song, shout for joy, because the children of the desolate woman are more that those of her who has a husband, says the LORD. He acknowledges that they are without hope and with joy or meaning in life, then he challenges this despairing woman to do something that seems impossible for her to do. He says, “burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor;” He promises her that she will not end her life as a desolate woman. He gives her hope and vision. He says, “Enlarge the place of your tent.”
When I went to Korea in 1955, Korea was like a raped woman. She was torn half in two by powers beyond her control. Even though the Korean people were all of one blood and one language, they had been divided into two countries which were forced to become enemies. The land was ravaged by war. People were poor. The hills had no trees or foliage. Even before this, she had suffered for almost 40 years under the oppression of a cruel conqueror. The Japanese had made effort to turn Korea into an extension of Japan. They even made school children bow before the Shinto shrines. They changed people’s names into Japanese names. The Babylonians had done that to the Israelite POWs.–Daniel and his friends all had Babylonian names. Koreans were made to speak in Japanese. Schools taught the children in Japanese. Official meetings and government activities were all in Japanese language. But one thing was Korean – the Bible. It was translated and published in Korean. People read it. Japan failed to turn Korea into Japan, but the Bible turned Korea into a Christian nation. Perhaps through suffering God was preparing Korea for his use as a missionary sending nation. This message from Isaiah, “Enlarge the place of your tents, came to young students of Korea in the ‘60s and ‘70s. God planted his vision in their hearts. They overcame fatalism and victim’s mentality and despair. They claimed God’s promises in the Bible and obeyed his world mission command. They received this verse from Isaiah 54 and enlarged their tents and stretched their cords and drove their stakes deep. I believe that they changed the course of history.
Korea today is very different from the Korea of those days. The times in which we live in America and Germany are very different from the times of Isaiah. The Israelites were poor, exiles returning from captivity. We are free. We have never been captives of anyone. Wait a minute. That’s what some Jews who thought they believed in Jesus said in John 8. Jesus told them the truth. “Anyone who sins is a slave of sin.” We value freedom, but find ourselves in slavery to our own sinful habits and thoughts. We live in a post-Christian world. Materialism has closed the minds of many of this present generation to God and to his word. In Europe, humanism has blinded the eyes of many people. The Muslim religion is growing rapidly in Europe. However, the fact that the Muslim religion is making such inroads in Europe and in the world shows that people are thirsty for God and for spiritual life. Minds and hearts that are captured by sin and materialism and humanism become very small and narrow. We have no room to think about anyone but ourselves. We long for God’s vision. We want to enlarge the place of our tents. So facebook has a great appeal. It seems that facebook helps us really expand the place of our tent. We meet people around the whole world. We find friends we thought we had lost. We think we find out what’s going on with many other people. But have we really expanded the place of our tents? We may find that we have more acquaintances and fewer friends. We know too much about too many people. Actually, our hearts may shrink and the places of our tents become smaller. How then can we expand the place of our tent?
First, our broken relationship with our God must be healed. We need to claim God’s promised Messiah as our Savior, Lord and King. We accept his forgiveness and healing. We accept his love. He is our true Husband. Verse 5 says, “your Maker is your Husband–the Lord Almighty is his Name. He alone gives us freedom. The values and goals of the materialistic world view do not satisfy. Humanism does not help us make meaningful relationships. Jesus does.
The world does not give us vision. Jesus does. He prayed, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Our hope is in the Risen Jesus who will come again in power and glory to establish his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. This is our ultimate hope. But until he comes, God’s word challenges us to extend his kingdom in the hearts of the people of the world. Many people are cynical and unbelieving. God’s word gives vision and hope.
Isaiah acknowledges the hopeless situation of God’s people. He says that they were like a barren woman. But in spite of their situation God has vision and hope for them. According to verse 5, they had hope because “their Maker is their Husband.” He is the one who will make them fruitful. He challenges them to sing for joy, and to enlarge the place of their tent. He challenges them to reach out to draw the whole world into the tent of God. And in verse 11, he promises them a new, restored heavenly Jerusalem. (Isaiah 54:11 „O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with sapphires. Isaiah 54:12 I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones. Isaiah 54:13 All your sons will be taught by the LORD, and great will be your children’s peace.
When the promises of God come into our hearts, fear, despair, grudges and bitterness go out. May God’s promises and God’s hope come into our hearts. May he help us to enlarge the place of our tents and stretch our curtains wide. May he help us widen our hearts and minds. May he help us embrace the sorrowful and sin-sick people of our world with his love. How can we do this? How can we enlarge the place of our tent and stretch our curtains wide?
First, “Enlarge the place of your tent” means “widen your heart.” God does not want his people to sit around feeling sorry for themselves. He does not want us to be selfish. Sometimes we feel sorry for ourselves for good reasons: we have health problems, marriage problems, financial problems, relationship problems. We find ourselves thinking about ourselves and worrying a lot. Jesus summed up God’s commands by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” God’s people cannot be self-centered or even family-centered. We must open our hearts to the people around us who need Jesus. In America, rugged individualism is considered a virtue–indeed, it is good to be independent and resourceful. But the virtuous side of this idea has turned around, and the dark side can be seen in the „me first“ generation. The selfishness of “me first” has produced meaninglessness and despair in the midst of prosperity, and an increasingly growing suicide rate among young people. Jesus calls his people to put „Jesus first, others next and yourself last.“ This spells „J.O.Y.“ He calls us to love our neighbors, to love our brothers and even to love our enemies. This is the mark of a Christian. This is real humanism. Humanism that leaves God out becomes evil and destructive. Even if we have many personal problems, we cannot ignore God’s calling. I cannot think, „I’ll serve God and others after graduating or after paying off student loans, or after getting a car or after getting married.“ Each of us must hear God’s command from where we are right now, „Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch your tent curtains wide.“
Second, stretch your tent curtains wide. This means, “See God’s vision. A nearsighted person wears thick lenses in his glasses. He can only see what is right in front of his nose. He only looks for things that are for his own benefit. He asks, “what’s in it for me? But God is not nearsighted. He has a vision for the whole world. A barren woman has no need for a bigger tent. But God’s command is to „Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide.“ This tells her that she does need a bigger tent. God’s command–„Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch your tent curtains wide“–tells this sorrowful woman, Israel, to have God’s vision. For us, these words remind us of Jesus‘ command in Mark 16 to his sorrowful, unbelieving disciples. It is also his command to all disciples and to us. He said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”
This is his word to us in a world that is trying to “privatize” religion–to make us keep quiet about Jesus. After rebuking his disciples for their stubborn, unbelieving hearts, Jesus said to them, „Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.“ These commands in Isaiah and in Mark’s Gospel teach us God’s vision. God wants us to see the world and other people from God’s point of view.
Personally, it may mean to me and to you, “Open your home. Welcome the lonely and hungry and thirsty people. Feed them the word of God and the water of life and the love of God until they can be disciples of Jesus.
Third, lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. If one makes the place of his tent larger, he must have longer tent ropes and he must hammer the tent stakes deeper into the ground. Firstly, we can lengthen our cords by believing the promises of God and acting on those promises. Abraham began his life of faith when he believed God’s promise, „I will make your name great; I will make you into a great nation; I will bless you and you will be a blessing.“ Abraham caught God’s vision. He believed God’s promise and obeyed God’s word. He left his home country and his family and friends and went to the land God showed him. He lengthened his cords. This was the first step in becoming a father of many nations–the first step in becoming a man with God’s vision. We can lengthen our cords when we learn God’s heart for the world, accept Jesus‘ world mission command and pray for the unreached people of the world, and for missionaries who are serving on the frontiers of the campuses of the world. We begin to lengthen our cords when we pray that God may make Europe a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation.
Secondly, we must strengthen our stakes by deep Bible study and much prayer. We cannot do God’s work with human zeal. Even if we catch a glimpse of God’s vision for the world, we cannot do anything unless we learn to depend on God in prayer and learn to listen to and obey his word. UBF received a spiritual legacy from the early Korean church. Korea received the Bible. During the days of Japanese occupation the Bible was printed in Korean. Christians believed and studied the Bible they accepted it simply as the word of God. They learned Biblical principles. The Bible, like yeast working within, changed Korea into a Christian nation. When I taught the Bible in English to Korean students, they accepted it simply as the word of God. They were changed. I was also changed, for I studied the Bible afresh and saw it work in the lives of students. God’s word has life giving power and life-changing power. God gave us his word and taught us it’s power. We have received this legacy. We pray that we may be used to share the word of God, the word of truth with a confused and hungry world.
Prayer lengthens our cords and strengthens our stakes. When the Moravians were fleeing for their lives from persecution, they met Count Zinzendorf. Christian David was their leader. They settled on Count Zinzendorf’s land and became a praying community. They put down deep roots in Bible study. They kept a prayer watch 24 hours a day. They listened to God’s word. Once they heard of the slaves who worked in the sugar cane fields on St. Thomas in the Caribbean. The slaves were not allowed to read the Bible or learn about God who loves all people. Leonard Dober could not stop thinking about Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations. He could not stop thinking about the slaves who didn’t know that God loves them. Finally, he went to St. Thomas. He was willing to become a slave in order to share the Bible and the love of Jesus with the slaves. After this, the Moravians enlarged the place of their tent. They sent out more than 300 missionaries. This small band of homeless, persecuted Christians prayed and studied the Bible until God enlarged the place of their tent. John Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed when he met some Moravian missionaries on a ship returning to England.
During the study of Acts, I was moved by Peter’s dependence on the Bible. He based every message on the word of God. In Luke 24:45, Jesus opened the minds of his disciples to understand the Scriptures. Jesus was a Bible teacher. He wants his disciples to also be Bible teachers. When we seek to obey Jesus‘ world mission command, God blesses us. One young man saw that the young students in Korea, who should have been full of spirit and hope for the future, were only full of fatalism and a dependant spirit; they saw themselves as frogs sitting in the bottom of a well, looking up at the sky, with no way out. So he taught them the Bible, and planted world mission vision in their hearts – Bible Korea and World Mission. God worked mightily and made Korea a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, a blessed country, a country that has sent so many missionaries with the life-giving gospel to every part of the world.
Strengthening the stakes requires daily time with God in prayer and daily Bible study. I know a young man who wanted to serve God from his student days. He knew that he was weak. He spent time in prayer and Bible study every day, and he learned to believe God’s promises and depend on God. Dr. John Jun was never chosen as a Sunday messenger or even a presider. But he always had a flock of sheep around him, because he was always visiting and helping his classmates with God’s word and Jesus‘ love. He cared about them. He became the director of UBF in Korea, and sent out over 1600 missionaries to 89 countries of the world. He became director of UBF, international and has traveled to every continent to visit UBF missionaries and encourage them with the word of God.
Fourth, God’s hope. Verse 3 says, „For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.“ This reminds us of God’s promise to Abraham, „…Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.“ (Genesis 22:17-18) To be conquered by men is a curse, but to be conquered by God is the way of blessing. We sent soldiers to conquer Iraq and we conquered–and the result is a nightmare. But when the gospel conquered Rome, the world was blessed. With no word of God, the blessing could not be maintained. The crusaders tried to conquer the world with swords. They failed. When America sent out missionaries to the nations of the world, the world was blessed and America was blessed. The Muslim’s vision is to conquer the world by the sword and make us all submit to Shariah law. The Bible says that we must possess the cities of our enemies with the word of God and the love of God. So we must study and obey the Bible and share it until the minds and hearts of the enemies of God are conquered by the truth of God’s word
God’s people were empty, fruitless and without hope. But God had hope for them and for the
world. So they must take hold of God’s hope and not give up. God had and still has hope to evangelize the whole world through his people. We are praying for the Muslim world and for the Jews, the people whom God chose and who turned from his Messiah and his word. God is opening doors that were once closed. There is a conference in Central Asia in which missionaries and students from 5 former Muslim states of Russia came together in Almaty, Kazakstan, the back door of the Muslim world. The Moscow UBF is praying for the former communist countries, Viet Nam, Cuba, North Korea. Chinese Christians are praying to bring the gospel back to Jerusalem. God’s promise is, „Your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.“ This is his great, long-term redemptive plan which he has been working out on the stage of human history. God people have hope because they are a part of his plan. We share God’s vision.
Verse 5 says, For your Maker is your Husband–the Lord Almighty is his name–the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.” We are weak and helpless. But our God is great. He loves us like a husband loves his defenceless wife. Israel was once unfaithful to God, he punished them by sending them into Babylonian captivity. But he didn’t stop loving them. He would bring them back. “With everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you, says the Lord your Redeemer.” Our God is the Father of the Prodigal Son. He longs for his people to return to him.
We love God because he first loved us. But sometimes we sin. We love ourselves and the world more, so we are unfaithful to our Husband, God. God is very sorry. We suffer for our sins, but God does not abandon us. He welcomes us. He doesn’t stop loving us. Our lives can be fruitful only by the grace of our true Husband and Redeemer, God. When we are united with him through a vine and branch relationship with Jesus, our lives can bear fruit to God. His Holy Spirit indwells us. When his word is in us and we are in the word, we bear fruit. Let us renew our love relationship with Jesus. Let us rejoice in our true Husband, the almighty redeemer and Lord of all the earth. Let us enlarge the place of our tents and stretch our tent curtains wide. Let us strengthen our stakes and lengthen our cords and be a blessing to the world.