[I wrote this article on Tuesday, before election results began coming in, because I didn’t want it to be seen as a response to whoever the winners and losers are.]
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
This Biblical Tall Tree is a favorite verse used by revivalists and TV evangelists to call people to personal salvation and to challenge churches to renewed spiritual power. In this election year, it has also been a favorite theme of those who see America’s vote as a choice between God and the “wicked ways” advocated by political opponents. However, you seldom hear this verse discussed in its historical context as it appears in the Bible.
The verse is part of the Lord’s response to King Solomon’s dedication of the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem, which took place nearly 1,000 years before Christ. Solomon consolidated the Kingdom of Israel which had been established under his father King David through hard-fought battles, combined with political skill. In a sense, Solomon reaped the benefit of David’s efforts, but he was a skilled ruler and administrator in his own right. He is most remembered for his wealth (1 Kings 10), his wisdom (1 Kings 3:3-15), and his women (700 wives and 300 concubines; 1 Kings 11:3).
What we may overlook is that during Solomon’s reign, the Kingdom of Israel covered as much territory as ever before or since, directly ruling or controlling, not only the area currently known as Israel, but also parts of what now exist as Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and even Egypt. This was the highpoint of the nation’s prestige and influence. Shortly after Solomon’s death, the Kingdom was divided under his two sons. Within a few generations, Israel’s destiny was at the mercy of the great powers around it: the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Muslims, down to modern times.
In this critical moment, King Solomon offered the Lord lavish, glorious expressions of praise in the Jerusalem Temple, the awesome new structure being dedicated to God’s honor (2 Chronicles 7:4-11). The Lord accepted the elaborate outpouring. But he immediately added a caution: You will abandon me and turn to other gods (verse 22); I will be forced to judge you harshly (verse 14). What a come-down! God totally rained on Solomon’s parade, but it was an accurate prophecy of what would soon happen.
It’s at this point in his response, that the Lord adds our revival verse. In spite of all the rebellion and judgment ahead of them,
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (verse 14)
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Here are the points I want to make, as it applies to our use of this text in our day:
(1) “My people” in the Biblical text refers to God’s Chosen People, Israel, selected for a special role in redemption history. We have to be cautious about automatically applying it to any group in any other age. It’s probably legitimate to apply it to the Church, the New Covenant People of God, and to those who are part of its fellowship through faith in Jesus Christ. However, no other earthly kingdom, empire or nation, before or since then, can claim to be uniquely God’s People, as Israel was. Many have tried to make that boast, but God has brought them all to their knees.
(2) The USA is no exception. For this verse to be superimposed on the American flag, as I’ve reproduced in the image above, is a form of National self-righteousness and inflated pride. We need to remind ourselves, just after this hard-fought election, that as much as we love our Country and celebrate its treasured values, it is not the Kingdom of God and has no special claim on his favor. As we move forward into the next chapter of America’s history, let’s be sure we keep in mind that it is an earthly government motivated by this-world values.
(3) The Church, at this moment, has an opportunity to humble itself and receive God’s forgiveness and healing for its misunderstanding of its role. This can and will lead to the opportunity for us to speak Good News to our Nation and our world in a new and winning way.
The confidence we have from God is the same as that which he gave to King Solomon in his day. Twice in this chapter, the Lord assures the Israelites and us, through the priests’ recitation of Psalm 136 in their worship:
“The Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever.” (2 Chronicles 7:3, 6)
– Pastor George Van Alstine