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In Our Ward: Lesson 40: “Enlarge the Place of Thy Tent”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 07, 2010

Lesson 40: “Enlarge the Place of Thy Tent”

Isaiah 54-56; 63-65

Purpose

To encourage class members to strengthen the stakes of Zion and prepare for the Second Coming and the Millennium.

Lesson Development

Our discussion today will be based on the last chapters of Isaiah, prophecies given to Judah near the end of their exile in Babylon, as they prepare to return to Jerusalem. The Jews were evidently eager to return. Maybe we should think that was an obvious attitude to take – but why? The individual Jews who would be going back had never actually lived there before – they had been born in captivity, for the most part. They were headed back to a place that had been made desolate – almost none of their people had escaped the captivity to remain in the promised land, their temple had been desecrated and robbed of all its fittings, the city itself was crumbling, with fallen walls and desolate houses. There would be an enormous amount of work and difficulty to restore Jerusalem to anything like its former glory, and to rebuild their kingdom.

So why were they so anxious to go back?

We are in a somewhat similar position today. We look forward to the return of the Savior, and to a Millennium of righteous, peaceful life – conditions that we have never known before. We know that there is a tremendous amount of work and suffering between today and that day, yet we still long for that day. [As much as possible, draw parallels between what class members have suggested as reasons for Judah’s anxiety to return to Jerusalem, and our looking forward to the day of the Lord.]

A great deal of the value of scripture, even that given to people who lived a very long time ago under very different conditions, is that in the very same passages, the Lord speaks both to his ancient people and to us today. These chapters of Isaiah have as much to say to us about the future Second Coming and the Millennium as they said to ancient Judah about their return from captivity. The difficulty for us, of course, is that the prophecies of Isaiah were given in a style suitable for ancient Israel but very alien to us today. It takes effort on our part to understand these prophecies, but it can, of course, be done.

As we discuss passages from these chapters today, we’ll try to understand them better by looking at what the words meant to ancient Judah culturally, what they meant to Judah historically because of their particular circumstances, and how they speak prophetically to us today. [Write “cultural,” “historical,” and “prophetic” on board as you are speaking.]

Let’s start right at the beginning of Isaiah, chapter 54.

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.

As alien and unfair as it seems to us today, in the ancient world a woman who proved unable to have children was considered as an utter failure in life, and was blamed as if her infertility was her own fault. We think of Rachel, watching her sister Leah and the two maidservants bearing son after son to Jacob, while she wondered what she had done to be cursed with barrenness. The failure to bear children was considered so serious that a childless wife was considered to have broken her marriage vows. She could be rejected and abandoned by her husband, left without support, without hope of remarrying, in terrible circumstances. That is the cultural meaning behind this verse.

But the Lord calls on the childless woman here to rejoice, telling her that she will have more children now than did those who had families in the normal course of life. What could he possible mean here?

Remember that Jehovah has from time to time referred to himself as a faithful husband, and to the nation of Israel as his bride – and sometimes as an unfaithful or barren wife. If we accept that the Lord is here talking about the relationship between God and his chosen people, the verse begins to have meaning. Israel has in the past failed to keep her covenants with God. She has been rejected – made barren. She was taken captive, carried away to Babylon. But now, at the time when this prophecy was given, Judah is on the verge of being redeemed by Jehovah and taken back as his chosen people. That is the historical context of these words. The Lord calls on Judah to rejoice, because she is forgiven, and her future will be more glorious – “more are [her] children” – than it was even in the beginning.

Let’s read verse 1 again, with that cultural and historical understanding in mind:

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.

Is there any prophetic meaning for us today, either as a church or as individuals? Have you ever felt cut off from the Lord for any reason, and then forgiven, welcomed back, and made to rejoice?

Let’s go on to verse 2. Speaking still to Judah, the Lord says:

2 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;

Although the Kingdom of Israel contained cities, like Jerusalem, very often the Israelites lived in tents rather than in fixed buildings. The Israelites were a pastoral people, living in tents in the fields with their flocks and herds, and packing up their tents to move to new pasture when the old pasture was exhausted. These tents, according to my reading this week, were made of three-foot-wide strips of hand-woven goats’ hair. The center of the tent was supported by posts (one or more, depending on the size of the tent), with ropes holding the tent fabric stretched out to the corners and sides. The ropes were secured by stakes driven into the ground. As a family grew, or as they became more prosperous, or for special events like weddings, additional strips of fabric were added to the tent. The enlarged tent would have to be supported by longer, stronger cords, with larger stakes driven deeper into the ground. That is the cultural background to this verse.

The historical context of this verse is that it was given as Judah prepared to take up her tents again and travel through the wilderness on her return to the promised land. Other parts of Isaiah’s prophecies tell us that ancient Judah saw this return from Babylon to Jerusalem as a second Exodus – a re-enactment of the Israelites flight from Egypt, when they dwelt in tents and were led by Jehovah to their promised land.

This verse speaks very clearly to us in prophetic terms, too. Our very use of the word “stake” to represent a subdivision of the church comes from this verse. What does “enlarge the place of thy tent” mean to us today? Why does our “tent” need to be made larger and larger? What does that tell us about our own blessings – and about our responsibility to welcome newcomers who have come to share our tent?

As our tent is enlarged and our curtains stretch forth, they require longer ropes and stronger stakes – what does that symbolism mean to us? How do we strengthen our stakes? What would happen to the tent if we failed to make them strong enough?

Keeping in mind what we have discussed so far, let’s read chapter 54 from the beginning, verses 1-6.

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.

2 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;

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.

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.

5 For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called.

6 For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God.

Keeping in mind that the Lord is symbolically represented as a husband, and that Israel – both ancient and modern – are represented as an unfaithful wife who has been redeemed and loved again, are these verses clear? Questions?

Reading on through the end of chapter 54, Jehovah reminds Judah, and the Lord reminds us, that our time of being estranged from God need not be long, and that when we are redeemed his redemption and love and peace will last forever, that he will protect his people from destruction, and that no attack planned by any enemy will have power to hurt us:

7 For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.

8 In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.

9 For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee.

10 For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.

11 ¶ O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.

12 And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.

13 And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children.

14 In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee.

15 Behold, they shall surely gather together, but not by me: whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake.

16 Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy.

17 ¶ No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.

Historically, that promise must have been a great comfort to Judah, a people who had been conquered and driven into captivity. What does it mean to us prophetically, considering the Millennium to come?

How literally must we take the promise that “no weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper”? Does this mean that righteous individuals are immune to suffering and injury? Is the promise a temporal one, or an eternal one? How?

Some Biblical scholars have noted that these chapters of Isaiah are structured like the story of a wedding, reinforcing the symbolism of Jehovah as the Bridegroom and Israel as his bride: First we have the bride brought to the scene with rejoicing. Next we construct a tent large and strong enough to host the wedding. Then the bridegroom appears, bearing his gifts of peace and protection.

As we go into chapter 55, we see the wedding guests being invited to the wedding. Guests are invited to come and feast at the expense of the bridegroom. Let’s read chapter 55, verses 1-2:

1 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

2 Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.

Who is invited to the wedding feast, or to enjoy the blessings of the Lord? Who is barred from coming?

How are we – you and I as members of the church, as well as all the people of the world – like guests called to enjoy the wedding feast of the Lord? How foolish would we be if, instead of running to enjoy the feast, we frittered away our time and efforts in other activities outside the wedding? What are some of the actions that we might engage in that waste our time and means without bringing real satisfaction?

For those who do listen, the Lord promises an everlasting covenant. He says he will make them a mighty people, led in righteousness. His covenant people will be so great and so blessed, that strangers will see what the Lord has done for them, and come to join his people. Let’s read verses 3 through 5:

3 Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.

4 Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people.

5 Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.

If we think of these verses applying to modern Israel – to the church today, and in the future – what can we expect to happen? Can you think of another prophecy of Isaiah that speaks of the nations coming to join Israel because of what the Lord has done for us?

Isaiah 2:2

2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.

If that prophecy is to come to pass, or continue to be fulfilled, what responsibilities do we have as members of the church? That is, how will the nations know what the Lord has done for us? What is our responsibility toward those who do come to join Israel? How can we meet those responsibilities?

Conclusion

We do not have time this morning to go through the remainder of Isaiah in as much detail as we have discussed these few verses, but I would like to jump ahead to the end of chapter 66, where the Lord tells us what will be the result of his coming to redeem his people, their acceptance of his covenant, and their obedience to his word. It will be a reminder to us of what we can expect during the Millennial reign of Christ, and a reassurance that despite all the prophesied difficulties between now and that time, the end result will be worth the struggle:

Isaiah 65:17-25

17 ¶ For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.

18 But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.

19 And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying.

20 There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.

21 And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.

22 They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

23 They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them.

24 And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.

25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord.



2 Comments »

  1. Isaiah 54, and particularly that first part, is one of my favorite passages of scriptures. It brings back memories of working in a small ward in Germany, and of visits with some of the members where I read them those verses.

    Comment by Researcher — November 7, 2010 @ 7:21 pm

  2. I loved this week’s reading. I felt like it had so much about the Savior that I’m not sure I saw before…talking of his lovingkindness, of his abundant mercy, etc.

    I also love the imagery in these chapters that to me pull in a lot of temple teaching. Whenever I see the word ‘tent’ that is what I think of. ‘Mountain’ is another one.

    I liked your lesson organization — bringing out cultural, historical and prophetic elements of these chapters. Nice way to analyze it and realize the layers in the teachings.

    Comment by michelle — November 8, 2010 @ 2:31 am

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