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. — Isaiah 54:2
On May 31, 1792, William Carey preached a sermon that mission experts agree changed the world. Thousands have read or quoted two remarkable phrases from it: “Expect great things from God; Attempt great things for God!”
William Carey was led to Christ by English Christians who had separated themselves from the official Church of England. His conversion brought a deep realization that people around the world also needed Christ. At that time, Protestants were doing little to spread the Gospel. In fact, one time when Carey spoke up in behalf of missions, an older pastor rebuked him, saying witheringly, “Young man, sit down: when God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine.”
However, Carey could not ignore the vision he had received of a world in need. He gathered facts and statistics, Bible commands, and common-sense arguments which decried the position of those who said the church should do nothing. The result was a book called An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians.
On that memorable day in May of 1792, Carey addressed fellow ministers at a conference, taking as his text our focus verse, Isaiah 54:2. As he saw it, the command to “enlarge the place of thy tent,” and to “lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes” was a challenge for missionary work. “Expect great things from God; Attempt great things for God!” he urged.
Sadly, his listeners seemed indifferent. At their meeting the next day, they said the venture was too big for them. Carey, in deep distress, asked his fellow pastors whether they were once more going to go their separate ways without doing anything. This final plea made the difference. The gathering put forward a resolution for drawing up plans to form a mission society.
William Carey became the society’s first missionary when he sailed to India in 1793 to bring the people there the message of Jesus. He stayed in India for over forty years, not returning home even once. In the remaining years of his life, he oversaw more than thirty-four translations of the Bible — more than had been done in all previous Christian history combined. Carey is revered as the “Father of Modern Missions,” and his legacy of missionary endeavor has inspired countless Christians of succeeding generations to reach out to a world in need.
Today, as in the times of the prophet Isaiah and William Carey, the church faces the challenge recorded in these verses. Both corporately and individually we must expand our horizons, stretch out further with our outreach endeavors, always making sure that we are anchored to the “ground stakes” of truth.
Who knows what might result from your obedience to this challenge!
The message of consolation found in the 54th chapter of Isaiah fulfills God’s command in Isaiah 40:2 to extend comfort to God’s people. The message of comfort is symbolically portrayed in two ways: through a representation of a bride re-wooed and re-wed, and a city rebuilt and resplendent. Both images offered a preview of the coming blessing of Zion.
In this chapter, the prophet depicted the universal extent of the Servant’s atonement. While chapters 40:1 through 52:12 refer repeatedly to Jacob, Jerusalem, and Zion, these designations for Israel appear very infrequently in chapters 52:13 through 57:21. In this portion of the Book of Isaiah, the promise of atonement was expanded to the whole world, including the Gentile church.
The chapter begins with the words, “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear. . .” In the Near Eastern culture of that time, infertility was considered disgraceful, and on occasion husbands would take a second wife or divorce the infertile wife in hopes of bringing children into the family. Although the prophet compared the church, including Gentiles, to a woman who had not been able to bear a child, he also promised restoration. The previously barren woman would end up with children without number — spiritual descendants who had been redeemed from sin’s captivity.
In verse two, the church was told to enlarge its tent. The imagery is of a Bedouin pulling up his tent stakes, lengthening the tent cords, and repositioning the stakes to make room for expansion. God promised that the church would flourish again: there would come a day of blessings. Instead of war, God promised peace. In place of desolation and destruction, God promised beauty and prosperity. He promised that their shame would be ended, and that His kindness would not depart from His people.
The portrayal of a city in verses 11-17 uses language that is similar to the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:10-27.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
IV. The message of consolation: The Holy One of Israel comforting, redeeming and enriching
B. The person of the deliverer (redemption)
6. The exaltation of the restored nation (54:1-17)
a. The return to the land (54:1-3)
b. The restoration to the Lord (54:4-10)
c. The review of future blessing (54:11-17)
Expansion efforts for the cause of Christ must include the extension of our faith and a recommitment to the ground-stakes of truth.