There are some passages that if you’ve grown up in church you know and quote; they’re often put on Christian paraphernalia and utilized by pastors to bolster their ministries or fund building campaigns, but sadly little attention is given to what they actually mean in their contexts. In this series, I want to walk through a handful of these passages in order to help us understand them rightly and see how powerful they actually are. This series will cover passages like 2 Chronicles 7:14; Jeremiah 29:11; 2 Chronicles 24 (the chest of Joash); and Proverbs 22:6.
The Most Misinterpreted OT Passages: 2 Chronicles 7:14
“We need revival!”
I have grown up in the SBC, so one sermon that I have heard loud and clear for three decades is the need for revival in our nation. Pastors at conferences and in churches have analyzed the decay of our culture and then they have given the solution: “What we need is revival – another Great Awakening!” Many of these sermons have inspired me a great deal. I certainly do want a Great Awakening in our nation – and in all nations!
Does 2 Chronicles 7:14 map out a plan for revival in America?
One of the key passages pointed to for this revival call is 2 Chronicles 7:14 where the Lord says, “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.” There it is, a word from God that if America will repent then God will bring revival to our land, it is said.
2 Chronicles 7:14 is not about revival from the moral decline of America
This is an incorrect interpretation of this verse. Let’s walk through the passage in its proper context.
The context of 2 Chronicles 7:14 shows that this verse is about Israel
One big rule for interpretation is “context is king.” We must look at the context of the verse to see what it actually means. You’ll notice in my citation of 2 Chronicles 7:14 above that it starts with a lower case “i” rather than an upper case because it’s not an isolated verse but rather part of a larger sentence that starts in verse 13. And these two verses (2 Chron 7:13-14) are part of the even larger section of chapters 6 and 7. What is that larger context? Solomon has just completed the building of the Temple in Jerusalem and prays a grand prayer of dedication in chapter 6. Then in chapter 7 Yahweh appears to Solomon at night and begins to speak to him, referencing Solomon’s prayer that acknowledged the Temple is a place for repentance, forgiveness and restoration.
Solomon’s prayer indicates that when Israel sins against God and God judges Israel as a result with drought, or famine, or exile, then Israel will pray toward the temple in repentance and receive restoration. We know that Solomon’s prayer in 2 Chronicles 6 and Yahweh’s words to Solomon here in 2 Chronicles 7 are connected because Yahweh uses the same language of the heavens being shut up (2 Chron 6:26; 2 Chron 7:13). Here in 2 Chronicles 7, God reemphasizes Solomon’s prayer that foretold Israel will sin and be judged, but that forgiveness is available if they will repent (2 Chronicles 7:12-16) and all of this is linked to atonement (7:12).
Who is Israel? It’s not America
So, 2 Chronicles is not a promise to the United States of America; it’s a promise to God’s people – Israel. Now, that raises a question for New Testament believers who interpret this passage: “Who is Israel?” Theologically, there are about 3 key positions that people take in answering this question: 1) National Israel: the promises to Israel in the OT will be fulfilled in the future with national Israel. 2) The Church: the promises to Israel are fulfilled spiritually in the church. 3) Christ: the promises to Israel are fulfilled in Christ who is the True Israel and those who are united to Him by faith also receive the promises. I don’t want to get into all the particulars of these theological positions, but suffice to say that none of these options includes the United States of America.
Let’s rejoice in the promise of restoration through repentance
As a NT Christian interpreting this passage, 2 Chron. 7:14 seems more akin to 1 John 1:9 than as a promise for a new Great Awakening. Instead of being a promise about national revival in America, this is a promise to the church that when she is in sin and repents, through Christ’s atonement God will restore the church (see the letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation).
For some people this reality may be upsetting and troubling. For those who equate Christianity with American patriotism, this will no doubt create animosity. But, for redeemed Christians in the New Covenant community, this truth should bring comfort that despite our sin we have a merciful God who forgives and restores.
Do I want revival in America? Absolutely! Do I pray for revival in my city? Yes! But, I want revival in all nations through the Great Commission. I just don’t think 2 Chronicles 7 gets you there. And, more than that, my primary identity isn’t as an American – as much as I love my nation. My primary identity is in Christ and His Church. We would do well to ask ourselves the question, “If God chose to bring revival to Iran, India, and Pakistan rather than the United States of America, would we rejoice or get frustrated?” Wherever God chooses to restore and revive among our brothers and sisters globally let us rejoice!
Stay tuned for the next installment!