2 Chronicles 7:14 in Its Context

A principle about biblical interpretation that I read a number of years ago, really liked, and have since taught is that the Bible is not written to us but is for us (I read this quote in a book by Australian scholar Michael Bird called Introducing Paul). What this statement means is that the  various books of the Bible have as their initial, intended audience a group that is not us (21st century American Christians). For example, Paul wrote his letters to churches and individuals, and the prophets of the Old Testament were addressing the people of their time in Judah and Israel. Within the Bible there are speeches that are given to other people, not  that are directly talking to you (when you read “you,” it typically refers to someone else). When Moses or David spoke to the people of his time, their words were to address their lives. Also, when God speaks to Moses, Joshua, David, etc., He is giving promises to them, not directly to us. Thus, it is not to us, but it is still for us, in that it is God’s Word and these words to these other people have meaning and authority for our lives today. We need to study passages in their context to see the value for us today; as other writers have said, we need to understand the “then and there” before we look to the “here and now.”

However, at times we can easily forget that the Bible is not to us but rather for us. I know I have fallen into this trap (especially when I first starting reading the Bible), reading words and applying them to my circumstances and surroundings without looking at the context. One passage I know I have fallen into this trap of forgetting that the Bible is for us but not directly to us is 2 Chronicles 7:14, another commonly cited verse that can sometimes be quoted without looking at its context. This verse reads: “If 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 and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (ESV). I remember first reading this verse and thinking to myself that this is a promise that if Americans started to pray, then things would go better in the country; that is, there would be peace and prosperity. In the process, I seemed to assume that the “my people who are called by name” were the people of this country.

Let’s take a step back and look at the context before looking at how to apply it to our world. The context of this verse is found right after Solomon, David’s son, has built and dedicated the temple to the Lord (we see this in 2 Chronicles 6 and 7:1-10). In 2 Chronicles 7:11-22, God appears to Solomon and tells him that He has heard his prayer, with these words as part of what God says in response. The overall thrust is that God has chosen this place, the temple, to be a house of sacrifice (7:12, 15-16) for the people He has chosen (the descendants of Abraham) and if there comes a time when God withholds rain or sends plagues on the land (7:13), the people are to pray, with the text seeming to imply that this prayer would happen in this place. If the people pray, then God would respond and bring the blessings back to the land (7:14); the idea of healing is with particular reference to these punishments of drought, famine, and disease. In saying this, God affirms that He heard and answered Solomon’s prayer of dedication, as in 2 Chronicles 6:22-40, Solomon had talked about what happens when the people sin and then turn in prayer, asking God to hear them and forgive them; God confirms in 7:14 that He indeed will do so. In addition, we need to keep in mind that this is part of the covenant that God made through the ministry of Moses with the people, that if they keep God’s law, they will stay in the land and have prosperity, but if they break it, then God would send drought and difficulties and eventually send the people into exile (see Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28). That promise about disobedience emerges in the context here as well, as 2 Chronicles 7:13 talks about the drought and difficulties they would experience and verses 19 through 22 speak about the idea that the people would leave the land if they forsake God and the other nations will know why (that is what would eventually happen). Therefore, the statement is intimately tied to the covenant between God and Israel and connected to the temple and that time, re-confirming what God has said before but also telling people of later generations why the people went into exile.

What does this mean for us today? Well, one thing that we need to keep in mind is that in the Old Testament, God made a covenant with a particular nation, with that covenant focusing on their status and life in the land - if they obey, they will be in the land and prosper, but if they disobey they will be kicked out. The New Covenant that we see promised in the Old Testament and made through Jesus is one not about a nation but about people who have faith in God, and the goal of this covenant is not about wealth and prosperity. It is more about the mission of bringing God’s message to the world and for us to live as God intended.

When I read 2 Chronicles 7:14 now, my mind does not turn to America (America has been blessed by God in many ways, but America is not the chosen people of God nor one that God has made a covenant different from any other nation; we are not a “new Israel”), but rather to the church. When God’s people -- those called by His name - find themselves in sin and experiencing consequence of it but then humble themselves and pray (with prayer happening in the name of Jesus now, not at a particular place like the temple, as he is the temple!), he brings healing and forgiveness from the discipline we might be receiving from God (see Hebrews 12:3-11). This healing would seem less about prosperity in terms of material blessings but more about healing in terms of spiritual effectiveness and ministry; we are able to better live as God intends and will show this life to the world. I think of the words of 2 Peter 1:8-10: “For if these qualities [virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection] are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” When we experience discipline, may we turn to Christ in prayer. The message for us here is that God will respond to our cries, and has responded by sending Jesus, who does what Solomon could never do (obey God perfectly).

Within this idea, there still remains the truth that if God’s people, his church, humble themselves and seek him, they will bring blessings to the world. The only hope for healing in a land is found when people turn to God, looking to the other son of David who never sins and reigns forever; the hope of the world is not in policies or manmade systems but found in the church living out its command to love God and love others and its mission to teach what Jesus has taught. Therefore, there is a national application here, but it only comes through looking at the passage in its context first and understanding what God has said. May the followers of Christ who live in America - and in all the other nations in this world, as it is not just us - be people who reflect this truth, humbling ourselves and seeking after God so that we can be his vessels and agents of reconciliation in this world.

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