Today we look at a passage in the prophecy of Isaiah. The first 39 chapters of the prophecy of Isaiah speak about the bondage that Israel is going to go into because of her sin. And we find in chapter 40 that the prophet says, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.” And, of course, in chapter 53 we have the beautiful picture of the suffering servant, Jesus Christ. Then, naturally following that, in chapter 54, is a section on the church.
We read the first three verses of Isaiah 54: “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord. Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.”
This text is of great significance for the church today. We have here a very practical, spiritual point of view. The prophet speaks in prophetic language of the expansion of the church as it began at Pentecost and, through the centuries, continues to be realized and will be fully fulfilled when Jesus comes again. So we are looking at the work of missions, and here we have hints and directives for this work.
Under the title “Enlarge the Place of Thy Tent,” we are going to notice a great expectation, the preparation for that expectation, and the cause for that expectation.
Jerusalem is being addressed. And Jerusalem is being called “the barren one.” Oh, what a reminder that is of how Israel was begun, that is, with Abraham and Sarah—Sarah, the mother of believers, was the barren one. And Jerusalem is called not only “the barren one,” in verse 1, but she is also called “a widow and desolate,” in verse 4. She seems completely forsaken. We read in verse 4, “Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.”
She seems forsaken. There is an important principle there. We will experience that when we walk in sin. In the way of walking in sin, we will not experience God’s favor and love. We have a covenant God coming to His covenant people. God is their husband. He loves her. “Enlarge the place of thy tent,” the Lord says. “Sing, O barren one…more shall be the children of the desolate than the children of the married one, saith the Lord.” This is what the church’s husband says.
What is being promised here is that there are going to be many, many children and inhabitants—so many that they cannot be counted. What is predicted is the extraordinary fertility of the church. Just as God worked with Sarah, the barren one, making her the mother of nations, now He speaks of His church. That church was going to go into captivity because of her sin and will come out again. The Lord will not forsake her, but He will draw the Gentiles in through the work of Jesus Christ and the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost. The church is going to be enlarged, and that process continues until Jesus comes again and all of God’s elect are gathered—a multitude that no man can number.
The church is pictured here in our passage as a mother with many children, breaking forth on the right and the left. Breaking forth with so many children reminds me of one plentiful year on the farm, when there was so much corn that the corncribs were bulging and the boards were breaking apart. That is what is pictured here—a breaking forth with many, many children to her that was called barren.
So there is a command given in our text (v. 1): “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord.” There is a calling to sing in amazement, to sing with surprise, to sing with joy. I think of a song that we sang in Sunday School: “Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, we will come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.” Singing with amazement, surprise, singing from the heart, not just with the lips. Singing with a heart of love for the cause of God. Singing with a heart that knows, confesses, and loves God’s truths and has a desire that others also may know that truth. What is at stake is the church. She is not going to die out, for the Lord will gather in as many as should be saved.
Yes, the calling is to sing in faith. Unlike Sarah of old, who when she heard that she was going to be the mother of a child, laughed in unbelief, Israel is to sing in faith. For faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. We are to pray to the Lord Jesus, pray to the Lord of the harvest, “Lord, send forth reapers, for the fields are white.” Faith is needed. It was needed by Sarah, it was needed by Israel as they stood ready to go into captivity because of their sins, and faith is needed by us today when there are so many who despise the gospel and in a day in which there is so much apostasy from the true faith.
So, there is a great expectation. So many children are going to be given, and so the church must prepare for that expectation.
We are given the imagery of a tent, for we read, “Enlarge the place of thy tent.” Now, a tent was used by their fathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The church is compared to a tent because here in this world it has no solid building in the world. As we read of Abraham, his eye was upon the city that had foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Picture a tent. As the Israelites were delivered out of Egypt and brought to the land of promise, they dwelt in tents. And the Lord cared for them the whole way. God was in the midst of His people in the tent of tabernacles.
Now, what confidence, that Israel, because of her sin, is going down into Babylon. Even as she was delivered from Egypt, she will be delivered also from Babylon. She will be cared for by the God who is with His people.
So, we have a second command in our passage: the command to make the tent larger because of her great expectations. “Enlarge the place of thy tent.” Does that sound at all familiar to you? A tent. You remember Noah’s prophecy after his drunkenness, when two of his sons covered him up. The Holy Spirit caused Noah to prophesy: “God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem.” Oh yes, enlarge the tents.
The church is compared to that tent because, as I said, we have no solid building here in the world. But what a blessing, what a picture is drawn. The place where the tent is standing must be smoothed out and then, move those stakes back. Slide them down deep into the ground. Make the curtains longer. Because there are going to be so many children, there must be room. Maybe when you were growing up, your mother taught you that nursery rhyme: “There was an old lady who lived in a shoe; she had so many children she didn’t know what to do.” But we do not have a nursery rhyme here. We are given a declaration that children will be given to Israel. And we read in Isaiah 49 of a complaint, verse 20: “The children which thou shalt have, after thou hast lost the other, shall say again in thine ears, The place is too strait for me: give place to me that I may dwell.” We see that taking place, by God’s grace, in many of our churches today. Many of our churches either have to build bigger sanctuaries, or they have daughter churches. Our Christian schools are expanding their buildings to make more room. God is doing marvelous things.
So, we have the command: “Enlarge the place of thy tent.” How is that done? As I just mentioned, there is the physical enlarging, that is, making bigger buildings or daughter churches. But there is also the spiritual enlarging of the tent. How do we enlarge the tent? By preaching the glorious gospel. Yes! God’s people, sons and daughters, will be gathered by God and they will come. They come because we go. We are to proclaim the truth. We are to feed them. We are to instruct, we are to comfort, we are to admonish, we are to assist, we are to protect, we are to care for these little ones. God is going to give us many in our generations. Jesus said, “Ye are my witnesses.” All of us as believers stand as prophets. Make known the good news of God and salvation in Jesus Christ.
But when we are told to enlarge the tent, it means not only preach the gospel, but when they come, we must accept the people from the different nations into our fellowship. Are you ready to do that? There are those who say, “They are different.” They say in alarm: “Look at their skin color. Look at their background. They don’t speak exactly like we do. They might even have a little more beat in their music.” They are different because they are children that are coming in and they stand at a different level of sanctification.
Yes, it is difficult to enlarge the tent, that is, to allow others to come in. It was difficult in the time of the apostles. You will remember how scared the Jews were of the outsiders that were coming in. Are you ready to be surprised as many are coming from other nations, tribes, languages, peoples? Think a moment about when the Lord Jesus was born. There were wise men coming from the East. Think a moment of Pentecost, when there were the Jews, from all the different nations in Jerusalem, who believed. We stand in amazement at Cornelius asking Peter to come into his house and to bring the gospel. And Cornelius and his household believed. Look at the church, as the center of the church moved from Jerusalem to Antioch, made up of Gentiles.
Oh, the Lord is bringing in His people from the nations through the preaching of the gospel. We can expect it. We can expect it because this is God’s promise. It was God’s promise already to Abraham, was it not? Genesis 12:3, “and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” Genesis 13:16, “And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.” Or again, the Lord says, “As many as the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore, it cannot be numbered.” This is God’s promise. This is what we read in Isaiah 54:3: “For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.”
God’s Word, which is powerful and effectual. It is not a mere wish that the church is going to be expanded, but it is His command. It is all of God’s Word and God’s work. For God has chosen these people from the nations in sovereign election. It is a seed acquired by the Servant of Jehovah by His suffering and death upon the cross. And there is the essential work of the Holy Spirit in the gathering. We read in John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” So the command: “Enlarge the place of thy tent.”
My friends, this is the basis for zealous mission work. It is all of God. He gives His Word. He sends His church. He calls the preacher and the missionary to bring that Word to the four corners of the earth. God prepares the field, God shows the way, and the church obeys and preaches the Word wherever God opens up doors. All are added by the Lord. There is one flock and there is one Shepherd—Jesus Christ.
So, our calling: Be filled with confidence. Break forth in singing, O barren. Enlarge the place of thy tent, for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord. Thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles.
Are you eager, church, to speak of the glorious promises of our God, salvation in Jesus Christ? Do you have a desire that others may know these truths with us?
Let us pray.
Father, bless the preaching of Thy Word. By that preaching, be pleased to gather Thy sons and Thy daughters from the nations, from the peoples all around us. Enlarge Thy church. To Thee be the glory. Amen.