Persevering after failure, hardship, or disappointment can be difficult if not impossible in our own strength. Even more difficult is when there is nobody to blame but ourselves for our situation. After we have kicked our own dog, shot our own foot, or burnt down our own shed, living with the outcomes of our own foolish behavior can be painful for ourselves and our loved ones to say the least. The question of the hour at times like this is, "is there hope?" We all want to believe there is hope, even the good old American Dream promises hope. But is there really hope, hope that goes deeper to a sure foundation after the American Dreams have evaporated? Is there a hope that is against all hope because it promises that God himself will act righteously even after we have not?
Depression and despair are two monsters that answer "definitely not" to this question. These two monsters are always looking for ways to claw into our lives. They always have a reason why you should pack it in, and give up hope. They always have reasons to persuade us that God is not good and that instead God is against us. Some of the most unlikely people have been plagued by these monsters. The skill of these monsters to infect and destroy a believers life should not be a surprise to us because they proceed directly from Satan himself. Satan's main objective is to derail believers and depression and despair are two of his most effective tools to accomplish it.
God's Word, however, answers "you bet there is hope," for everyone who believes in the Lord. How can we know for certain that the hope offered to believers through the Lord is truly hope against all hope, and a hope that offers a sure foundation for the things that we build? Simply put, the hope that Jesus offers is exhaustive because it even includes the ability to raise the dead. And the guarantee of Jesus ability to do this is that He raised Himself from the dead. Believing in these things ought to leave us hopeful that if our good God can raise the dead he can certainly deliver us in the midst of our trial. So how should we respond to the hope offered through Christ while in the midst of our trial or uncertain circumstance? Contrary to our tendency to retreat at times like these God's word commands us to stretch our tent to prepare for the Lord's victory. Lets look briefly at the book of Isaiah and the exhortation in chapter 54 to stretch our tents.
Three Gospel Truths From Isaiah
First, we witness the call of Isaiah in Chapter 6. Isaiah's vision of Holy God seated on His throne leaves Isaiah utterly undone. Isaiah says, "Woe is me! For I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of Armies!" Immediately afterward Isaiah says "Here I am. Send me!" to the call of the Lord. Likewise in the gospel age we know that those understanding the gospel will respond "send me!"
Second, Isaiah, Judah's prophet, clearly recognized that God's message was for all humanity and not simply the Jews. In Chapter 24 Isaiah prophecies God's impending judgment upon the whole world because of sin. He says, "The earth will be utterly emptied and utterly laid waste. For Yahweh has spoken this word." Jesus later confirms this judgment in the gospel.
Third, Isaiah prophecies concerning the redemption to be found in Christ for all mankind. Like Paul's book of Romans, Isaiah 53:6 teaches that all mankind has gone astray into sin and correspondingly that God has laid all our sin upon Jesus Christ. These clear gospel truths are one reason this book is often called, "the gospel according to Isaiah."
Stretch Your Tent
1) "Sing, barren, you who didn't give birth; break out into singing, and cry aloud, you who didn't travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife," says Yahweh. 2) "Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch out the curtains of your habitations; don't spare: lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes. 3) For you will spread out on the right hand and on the left; and your offspring will possess the nations, and settle in desolate cities.Isaiah 54:1-3 (WEB)
The exhortation here could be considered offensive by most standards. Can you image walking up to a barren woman and telling her to sing, rejoice, and build a bigger tent? This does not fit with our image of sympathy for those suffering through trials. Yet God's Word clearly commands this woman, who has been denied her hearts desire of children, to rejoice, and further more that her children are more than that of the woman who has a husband. How are we to understand this?
The spiritual children of the desolate woman are in view here. But how does she have more children? One way we could look at this is to ask a question. With whom do you feel a greater kinship with...the person who has gone through trial, or the person who has never known trial? The barren woman who continues to trust in the Lord certainly has more "kin" than the woman who has never known trial. And because of this the Lord exhorts her and us to stretch the tent to make room for a growing spiritual family identified by their need of the Lord.
Jesus himself acknowledged only obedient disciples as his family in Matthew 12:47-50. Physical children are certainly a God given blessing for which to be thankful. But a much greater joy is to be had as God uses us to build His spiritual family. Moreover any one of us, the barren included, can have spiritual children by first setting an example of obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ ourselves.
We also note that the command is to stretch the tent for this spiritual family, not beautiful paneled houses. The prophet has a good question in Haggai 1:4 for those that have obtained satisfaction in their American Dream.
You Will Not Suffer Shame
4) "Don't be afraid; for you will not be ashamed. Don't be confounded; for you will not be disappointed. For you will forget the shame of your youth; and the reproach of your widowhood you shall remember no more. 5) For your Maker is your husband; Yahweh of Armies is his name. The Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer. He will be called the God of the whole earth. 6) For Yahweh has called you as a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even a wife of youth, when she is cast off," says your God. 7) "For a small moment I have forsaken you; but I will gather you with great mercies. 8) In overflowing wrath I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting loving kindness I will have mercy on you," says Yahweh your Redeemer.Isaiah 54:4-8 (WEB)
Standing before the Lord in our sin and receiving correction from His hand will leave a person forever changed. In fact if a man or woman were to see the extent of their sinfulness, spiritual paralysis would surely set in. We would need the Lord's assurance and Holy Spirit to learn to walk again. And that is just what we see here with the woman. The woman received discipline from an angry God and was deserted and abandoned in her sin. She is barren, desolate, and without the Lord. However, when the Lord's corrective hand is done He turns to her to win her back to Himself. Moreover, He also offers the promise that she will not be put to shame for her past sinfulness.
This promise is essential for the restoration of the woman and for our own restoration should we have fallen into sin. After we have acknowledged our own sin as truly terrible, we will naturally fear exposure and humiliation. God's promise is firm on this point, "you shall not be ashamed." God speaks tender words as He seeks to restore the woman and any fallen saint to Himself. These words of promise of course do not apply to the unbelieving who do not acknowledge their sin but instead glory in their shame, Philippians 3:18-19.
You Will Be Established
9) "For this is like the waters of Noah to me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah will no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. 10) For the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed; but my loving kindness will not depart from you, and my covenant of peace will not be removed," says Yahweh who has mercy on you. 11) "You afflicted, tossed with storms, and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in beautiful colors, and lay your foundations with sapphires. 12) I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones. 13) All your children will be taught by Yahweh; and your children's peace will be great. 14) In righteousness you will be established. You will be far from oppression, for you will not be afraid; and far from terror, for it shall not come near you.Isaiah 54:9-14 (WEB)
The woman and we are commanded to stretch the tent. We are promised that we will not be put to shame. And now we are promised that we will be established. Frankly the description of restoration that is planned for believers is down right exciting. There are battlements, rubies, jewels, and precious stones. And God himself will restore the woman and all believers from their desolation in sin to this beautiful picture.
God also promises that He will never rebuke us again. Are we to understand this as a promise to believers now, or in our eternal state? David held God's favor all his life but needed to be rebuked even in his final years as king, 2 Samuel 24. God's purpose in discipline and correction is always to establish us to positions of righteousness where we do not need His rebuke. So when we have accepted the Lord's rebuke we will not need to be rebuked again. Certainly we will never be rebuked in the eternal state because there will be no sin. However, we are not yet in the eternal state so the Lord may still rebuke us as is needed during this life.
Vindication From The Lord
15) Behold, they may gather together, but not by me. Whoever gathers together against you will fall because of you. 16) "Behold, I have created the blacksmith who fans the coals into flame, and forges a weapon for his work; and I have created the destroyer to destroy. 17) No weapon that is formed against you will prevail; and you will condemn every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of Yahweh's servants, and their righteousness is of me," says Yahweh.Isaiah 54:15-17 (WEB)
Finally we will receive vindication from the Lord. He will finish His work in us so that no weapon will prevail against us and we will be able to refute every enemy.
We note a difficulty in this passage. God first says that attackers are not from Him and then immediately says that He has created the destroyer! Is God's word confused or contradictory? No. We understand this to mean, first, that believers may be and most probably will be attacked through their lives but this is not necessarily from God's corrective hand, but instead from His sovereign hand of purpose. In fact, God may very well unleash destroyers into our lives for the very purpose of demonstrating the good things He has already built into our lives. In short all things, good and evil, come from the Lord. However, not all evil that comes into our lives is from God's hand of discipline.
So we see a progression here. First, the woman has transgressed and received a blow of chastisement commensurate with her crimes from the Lord. Second, we see that she is devastated from the Lord's chastisement and her barrenness. Third, the Lord returns to her with a command to stretch the tent in the midst of her barrenness. She is given a promise that she is loved and will not be put to shame. She is given a promise that she will be established. And she is promised words of wisdom to refute her enemies as her vindication from the Lord.
The New Testament reveals that the church herself is a restored bride just like this woman. Thus we ought to make every effort to participate in the fellowship of the church and encourage one another with the promises found in Isaiah 54. The New Testament also reveals that unbelievers, including unbelieving Israel, are just like the woman still rejected and we are waiting for the Lord to bring her back with deep compassion through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Are you part of the woman restored as the bride of Christ or part of the woman still rejected outside of Christ?