A recent Facebook post caught my eye:
California is on fire, Oregon is on fire, Montana is on fire, areas of Canada are on fire, Texas is underwater, Idaho had a 5.3 earthquake, North Korea just tested their 6th nuclear bomb causing a 6.3 explosion quake, and Irma is now the most powerful category 5 hurricane in over a decade.
If you don’t know Jesus yet, now’s a pretty good time to get to know Him.
Disasters drive us to our knees, and sometimes to our faces—a good and appropriate response. Desperate for comfort and hope, we cling to Scripture as to a life raft. But are we clinging to the right verses?
Only a moment after I saw the Facebook post I also noticed a tweet circulating in the form of a meme. A tattered, waving flag was overlaid with the bold exhortation to “Pray for America,” a sentiment with which I heartily agree. Underneath were the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14:
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 (NIV).
Can we, as Americans, claim this ancient verse for ourselves?
The short answer is no, but don’t run off quite yet. I can explain.
The number one rule in Bible study is establishing context. That means, before we grab a verse and slap it on a t-shirt or coffee mug, we ask ourselves a few questions.
- Who wrote the book/letter?
- Whom did they write it to?
- Why did they write it?
- How did the original audience understand it?
Most scholars believe that either Ezra or an anonymous scribe they’ve dubbed “The Chronicler” wrote both First and Second Chronicles to chronicle the history of the Israelites through the monarchy, giving special attention to proper worship.
The original audience of the book lived under the Mosaic or Sinaitic covenant—the law given to Moses for the Israelites on Mt. Sinai. Moses restates the law in the book of Deuteronomy, chapters 5–26, to the new generation of Israelites that Joshua was about to lead into the Promised Land. The presiding theme?
God’s blessing hinges on the Israelites’ obedience.
So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the LORD your God and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul—then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine, and olive oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.
And on the heels of this rich promise comes a warning.
Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and He will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the lord is giving you.
God gave the Israelites a clear and simple choice: obey and enjoy the blessing, or disobey and suffer the curse.
Fortunately, you and I are not under the Mosaic Law, and the blessing (eternal life with Christ) does not hinge on our obedience—it hinges on our faith.
So let’s take a second look at 2 Chronicles.
Chapter seven opens with the dedication of the newly built temple. Solomon offered the prescribed sacrifices and burnt offerings (for worshipping God and the forgiveness of sins), and then fire comes down from heaven and the “glory of the LORD filled the temple.”
The Israelites celebrate for seven days and on the eighth day hold a “solemn assembly” (v. 9). Solomon sends the people away “joyful and glad of heart for the prosperity that the LORD had granted to David and to Solomon and to Israel his people (v. 10, ESV).”
The LORD responds to Solomon’s dedication in verse 12, assuring the king that he has heard his prayer and has chosen the temple as the place where his Name will dwell.
Now look at verses 13 and 14 together:
“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land (NIV).”
In other words, when the Israelites turn from the LORD (and in just one short generation they will, sadly, following Solomon’s lead), the LORD will execute the judgments laid out centuries earlier in the Mosaic covenant. But, if God’s people will then humble themselves, pray, turn again to their Scriptures, and cease all idolatry, God will forgive them and restore the blessing.
So let’s ask ourselves a few questions.
Was this passage of Scripture written to Americans in 2017?
No, but that’s actually good news.
The good news is that we are not under the law. Whether or not we are acceptable to God has nothing to do with whether or not we fulfill the law.
The better news is that we are under grace. We are acceptable to God because Christ perfectly fulfilled the law on our behalf.
We are saved by grace through faith in Christ, not by what we do. Otherwise, we would become proud (like the Israelites) and boast of ourselves (see Eph. 2:8–9).
Despite what some people post on social media, we cannot definitively say that God is punishing America through hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. Neither can we say he is rewarding the pockets of the country that did not sustain damage. Christianity is not on the blessing/curse plan. Christ has already taken the curse upon his shoulders for us. Our primary job now is to urgently seek out the lost and introduce them to Christ.
At the same time, let us certainly humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God (Jas 4:7). Let us earnestly beg and plead for our nation and its leaders (Rom 13:1). Let us never stop seeking his face (Jas 4:8). Let us submit ourselves to the authority of Scripture (2 Pet 1:20-21) and profess our love to Christ through our obedience (Jn 14:15).
Was 2 Chronicles 7:14 written to us?
But all of Scripture was written for us to help us grow in our knowledge of God and our likeness to Christ (2 Tim 3:16–17).
So then, brothers and sisters, as the Bride of Christ, let us humble ourselves. Let us pray together in the name of Christ and by the power of his Holy Spirit, that he would drive us to repentance as we seek his face, and in his mercy, heal our wickedness and make us more like him.
Perhaps then, by his grace, the Church will be the blessing through which America finds healing.