II Chronicles 7:14 is a passage beloved by many Christians. It is particularly popular when churches and parachurch organizations want to encourage people to pray for “national revival” — e.g., during the National Day of Prayer. Just the other day, I came across an Associated Press announcement of a rally in Iowa launching a prayer campaign called “If 7:14.” The governor had even declared Monday (7/14) a day of prayer, fasting, and repentance, and he attended a “7/14 prayer event” at the State Capitol that very night. (Apparently, there’s a book to buy, too.)
But, I have “a problem” with using that verse in such a manner. (It didn’t help that the AP piece called it “the formula for national healing”. God doesn’t perform according to formulas. That smacks of sorcery!) So, I linked to the AP announcement on Facebook with a few comments of my own. As I said then,
“I appreciate the sentiment, and a prayer campaign focused on socio-cultural/political issues is a fine idea. But, there is no Biblical “formula” for national healing or revival. Not even II Chronicles 7:14.”
I then explained why the verse should not be used in this way. But, before I get into the specifics, I think it would be good to give a little more background than I could on FB. After all, as one of my “virtual mentors”, Greg Koukl, is fond of saying, “Never read a Bible verse.” What he means by that is, in order to understand a verse and its appropriate application, we should always read more than just that verse. We need to read the surrounding verses — whether a paragraph, a chapter, or more — so that we can get at least a sense of the literary, historical, and cultural context. So,…
The book of II Chronicles begins with Solomon taking over as leader of the ancient kingdom (or nation) of Israel, following the death of his father, King David. In chapter 2, Solomon decides to build a new, elaborate Temple for God (aka Yahweh) and a similarly grandiose royal palace for himself. He makes the plans, starts gathering the materials, and in chapter 3 begins construction on the Temple on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem. In chapter 5, with great fanfare the Ark of the Covenant is brought into the now completed and furnished Temple. In chapter 6, Solomon makes a great speech at the dedication ceremony, reminding the assembled men of Israel of their past and of God’s promises.
“Now the Lord has fulfilled His word which He spoke; for I have risen in the place of my father David and sit on the throne of Israel, as the Lord promised, and have built the house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. There I have set the ark in which is the covenant of the Lord, which He made with the sons of Israel.” — II Chron. 6:10-11 (NASB)
Then the king kneels, spreads his hands toward Heaven, and prays aloud in the presence of the people. Solomon praises God for His past faithfulness and asks Him to:
“Listen to the supplications of Your servant and of Your people Israel when they pray toward this place; hear from Your dwelling place, from heaven; hear and forgive.” — II Chron. 6:21 (NASB)
He then goes on to describe several types of circumstances which may befall individuals or the nation as a whole — from sinning against a neighbor to being defeated in battle to suffering famine & pestilence –, asking God to hear from heaven and act fairly and faithfully, including forgiveness and renewal when the people repent from their sin.
Chapter 7 begins:
“Now when Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices [i.e., from 5:6, “so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered”], and the glory of the Lord filled the house [i.e., the Temple].”
The assembly continues to worship God and feast for seven days. The dedication concludes on the 8th day and Solomon sends everybody home (7:10). Though it doesn’t say so explicitly in verse 11, several years pass while Solomon builds his palace. (In fact, in the beginning of chapter 8 it says it took 20 years to build “the house of the Lord and his own house” — i.e., the Temple and the palace.) When it is complete, God finally gives a verbal response to Solomon’s pleas from the Temple’s dedication ceremony. Now we come to the passage everyone likes to take out of context:
“Then the Lord appeared to Solomon at night and said to him, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer offered in this place….” — II Chron. 7:12-15 (NASB) (italics added)
You probably noticed, as I did, that this is much shorter than the original prayer, because God does not repeat each set of circumstances that Solomon came up with. It could be that God is only agreeing to the parts about drought, famine, and pestilence/disease. But, I think it more likely that He is only choosing a particular section of Solomon’s prayer to represent the whole.
God then promises that, as long as Solomon “walks before” Him as David did, He will honor His promise to keep a descendant of David on the throne of Israel.
“But if you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will uproot you from My land which I have given you, and this house which I have consecrated for My name I will cast out of My sight….” — II Chron. 7:19-20a
*The “you” in this passage is plural in the Hebrew, so it is most likely referring to the nation of Israel, not just Solomon.
When God makes covenant promises with His people, there are always promises of blessing for obedience AND promises of punishment (or curse) for disobedience. Ever wonder why those who like to “claim” verses like II Chron. 7:14 for themselves and/or their nation never want to “claim” the latter part?
We now have some important context in which to read the so-called “formula for national healing”. Please note that the promise God makes is to a specific king (i.e., Solomon) about a specific group of people (i.e., the ancient nation of Israel) at a specific, pivotal time in its history, and that He references a specific “place”/”house” (i.e., the Temple, toward which His people should pray). No other nation in history — including the United States of America or, arguably, the modern nation of Israel — has ever been able to call itself “God’s people”, nor does/has any other nation had a temple in which the living God, Yahweh, dwells or dwelt. Furthermore, God never says or implies here or elsewhere in Scripture that it was a promise for all believers, anywhere, everywhen.
There are a couple more important things we should take note of. God knew that His people would, from time to time, disobey Him. He, in essence, says there will be times of drought, famine, pestilence, etc., which will be their corporate punishment for sinning against Him. But, as soon as they confess their sin and turn back to God, He will forgive them and heal their land. Notice that second part? God will restore the physical land of Israel, which is decimated by the harsh weather and/or locusts. He will once again bring the rains, nourish the soil, so that it produces healthy crops for the sustenance of His people. That was His promise to Israel.
When Americans “claim” II Chron. 7:14 nowadays, I sincerely doubt that many of them are thinking in these terms. They aren’t asking God to restore American farmlands. (Well, the few remaining private farmers might be.) No, somehow the promise gets spiritualized into a metaphor for socio-cultural turnaround, a rejection of various forms of decadence, callousness, and general moral corruption. But, this is a misunderstanding and misuse of the text.
I’ll close by repeating the last part of the aforementioned Facebook post:
“Of course, it’s *always* a good idea for God’s people [i.e., this would now refer to genuine followers of Jesus Christ] to pray, repent, and get our act together when we’ve fallen into patterns of sin, or just to pray for our nation and its leaders. When we do, it can only have a positive affect on us and our relationship with God, as well as our relationships with others and — in big enough numbers — our communities and the nation as a whole. (Well,… “positive” from a spiritual perspective, at the very least.)
But, applying II Chron. 7:14 to the here-and-now would be an inappropriate application of God’s Word.”
* Hat tip of the strongest order to Greg Koukl and Eric J. Bargerhuff. (Look them up; buy their books.)