Enlarge the space for your tent, extend the curtains of your dwelling; do not hold back, lengthen your cords, make your tent pegs firm.Isa 54: 2
When Isaiah wrote these lines, the use of metaphors was rather rare. Everything was real, tangible, needed a reference point in the visible.
Things were somewhat magical – in the sense of not logical or scientific. People still believed in cause and effect in areas that had nothing to do with each other.
For example, it was believed to bring fertility when you cooked a calf in your mother’s milk. Fertility of course no longer for the calf, but the herd as a whole.
People also believed that to disguise oneself as an animal and to celebrate an exuberant feast in the fields will bring about a good harvest – and the bases for carneval were laid.
Thus it is likely that the verse in Isaiah was understood by his contemporaries in one of two possible ways:
- If I make my tent big, then we will take a lot of land in the future. No explanation needed. It’s the ways of God.
- If I am obedient and do what God says, make my tent big that is, then he will help me conquer more land.
The first kind of understanding is purely magical, childlike. There is no understanding, but pure faith – today we would say, naive superstition, if it were not in the Bible.
The second way of looking at things has already developed a concept of cause and effect with a certain logic: obedience causes God to make the action happen, even though there is seemingly no link between the two.
Why exactly this action was needed the people of that time would not think about. It could have been anything; obedience was important.
Fast forward. Of course, we also need a reference point in our understanding today in order to classify and understand something new.
But we have progressed in our use of language and our understanding of contexts.
We understand metaphors, symbols.
So it is clear to us today that the verse can not be about our physical homes. And it helps that we no longer live in tents.
Paul takes the picture of the tent as a symbol of our earthly body. A naïve viewing angle would now ask: does Isaiah also mean the human body, and the reference to make the bigger would be: eat much, increase?
Maybe he means we should trust God and His care?
Then we will hopefully realize that symbols in the Bible are often used for different things, even though this foundationally contradicts some of our exegetical rules.
Why has man evolved at all? Why are we today able to master challenges that did not exist at the time of Isaiah?
Thanks to our ability to think, be self-reflective and creative. We have broadened our thinking, far beyond the horizon of a farming people. So wonderful things like medicine, advances in technology, and terrible things like communism – or better, real socialism – and fascism came into being.
We have expanded the tent of our thinking, and taken land. Land that was unexplored at the time. The land of technology, science. And other pieces of land we expanded: the peaceful coexistence in ever larger groups. Just to name a few examples.
At that time, prophecy was fulfilled by Israel expanding its territory.
Today, this prophecy is fulfilled when someone allows their thinking to be challenged. How does Paul say: change your thinking.
We see this in scientific advances. New approaches lead to new models, which in turn allow new implementations and procedures.
But what is true in science has been true much longer in faith:
Unfortunately, new thinking becomes possible and prevails when a previous generation goes extinct.
This principle is biblical. It is made clear in the desert walk. The old generation had to die for new thinking to prevail. The old generation consisted of liberated slaves, the new generation of pioneers.
This pattern can and must be broken. It is the greatest challenge for a person of our time to actually change their thinking.
Often the next step does not seem logical to us, and for a moment we seem to fall back into earlier patterns of understanding:
- Symbolic acts, which are supposed to magically produce something, are commonplace in Christendom today. Swinging swords, crossing virtual rivers, silently walking around buildings seven times.
- Often we are convinced that we perform these symbolic acts out of obedience to show God that he can count on us. He can now perform the desired action.
What happens here is something totally different. People explained and encountered God in the Old Testament this way because they were not yet able to think abstractly.
Today God is doing something different: he develops new reference points for our new thinking.
To establish a new principle, a new way of thinking, we need examples. These examples become reference points from which we measure the next events and problems. Over time, we recognize a pattern and add that pattern to our world view and our image of God. We now understand the world and our God better.
So first it’s about childlike faith. In a second step childlike obedience. But we will not stop there, because that’s how we stay children. And what is cute at 3 years old, is inappropriate with 30.
We embrace the new problems and challenges in faith and are obedient to the leading of the Spirit. And at the same time, we start seeking a pattern in all this and therefore a principle.
Unfortunately, we do not teach this in our churches. We stop at faith and obedience. We leave it to the great Christians of the past to discover those principles and claim that they have always been in the thinking of the church. God only restores what the early church already knew, because “it is written”, we say. No space for new things.
The interpretation of the Bible has changed significantly since it was written. There are several reasons. One of them is certainly that we are capable of more abstract thinking, that is, have come closer to the thinking of God. Not in regards to content necessarily, but in the way we think. We think much more complex than our ancestors, trained by more complex problems.
Unfortunately, knowledge has often become established only after decades or centuries. We say that those thought leaders were ahead of their time. But actually it was because the Christians were then and are now a stubborn people that does not like learning new things. That’s why generations had to die until something new took hold.
Do we want to keep it that way? God will reach his purpose, with us or without us, even in spite of us. But it would be nice if we finally grew up.