2 Chronicles 7:14
Recently I was involved in an exchange with the National Day of Prayer organization. It could have been any of a number of organizations, but in this case they were the other party. And the controversy focused on their use of 2 Chronicles 7:14 as the basis for the National Day of Prayer activities. The verse 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, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" (All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
This verse is trotted out virtually every time there is a call to prayer. We should have calls to prayer, whether it is for our government, the sanctity of life, the persecuted church, etc. We need those reminders, and it is surely good for more than one reason to come together to pray. But the scriptural basis given for almost any of these calls to pray is 2 Chronicles 7:14. Should this verse have to carry all the load? Is it even appropriate? Does the Bible not say anything anywhere else to call us to prayer? I cringe whenever I see it used this way.
So I contacted the National Day of Prayer people. I credit them with responding to my request and with knowing what they were doing in the use of this verse. They were purposeful in using this verse and did not use it simply because it is a call to prayer. I appreciate the National Day of Prayer and think it is important for believers to come together to pray; however, I differ with their understanding of the verse.
Unfortunately, there are many other groups and individuals who use it without understanding the verse, and they need to understand the implications of their choice. This article is an effort to look soberly at the verse, to see how it is misused, and to see its current value for us.
Solomon, the son of David, was king over Israel. He was in fact the third king and the last king over unified Israel. The task of building the temple had been left to him, though his father David would have built it if the Lord had given him permission.
2 Chronicles 3-4 record the building of the temple. In chapter five the ark of the covenant, which had been in the original tabernacle, is installed, and the priests and Levites prepare to serve. In chapter six at the dedication Solomon speaks to the people and then prays one of the great prayers of the Bible. The prayer includes a list of possible scenarios in which the Israelites might sin, and each one concludes by their prayer of repentance toward this place which was built to house the symbolic presence of the Lord; the Lord would hear and respond by reversing the circumstances of chastening. Chapter seven records that the Lord sent down fire to consume the huge number of sacrifices offered that day. The people celebrated a week-long feast. One night some time after that the Lord appeared to Solomon with the response to his prayer. Our verse appears in the Lord's message to Solomon.
Generally, God is saying to Solomon, "Yes, I will respond as you say. If the people come to me in prayer with the appropriate attitude and corresponding behavior, I will reverse the chastening and bring blessing to your land." Their relationship to the God who called them, already through their ancestor Abraham, would be evident in God's parental dealings with them.
It is instructive to notice that the people here are a national, geographical, genealogical, ethnic, political group. They are called earlier in the chapter "Israel," they inhabit a defined land, they are descended from Jacob (also known as Israel), they have their own customs, and they have a monarchial form of government.
Our general consideration of this verse does not so far suggest it as the most appropriate basis for a call to prayer for the Church in the United States in the twenty-first century. But the explanation given is that, though the above is the meaning of the verse, God has set aside Israel, and today Israel is replaced by the Church. This is called by some Replacement Theology. It results in the Church taking for itself the instructions and promises originally assigned to Israel. However, these instructions and promises must be spiritualized or allegorized-they can no longer be taken at face value - because they are tied to a specific country and chunk of real estate which is not true for the universal Body of Christ, the Church.
There are theological systems which for the sake of their consistency may replace Israel with the Church. But there is a biblical basis also offered here. If someone appeals to a Bible verse by way of explanation, then we have to conclude that the explanation is biblical. That it is biblical in that sense does not make it true simply because biblical statements can be misused. 2 Timothy 2:15 commands us to be workmen who use the Bible accurately and therefore are approved by God.
So the admitted 'biblical' basis for Replacement Theology is Galatians 6:16: "And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God." The Israel of God, in their view, is another name for the Church. We may also ask whether this verse deserves the burden placed upon it. As we will see later, a huge system rests upon the last phrase of the verse and even more specifically upon the word translated "and."
This maneuver allows anything said to Israel to be transferred to the Church even though it was written to the Israelite nation in a thoroughly Israelite setting.
Exegesis of 2 Chronicles 7:14 and Galatians 6:16
In order to consider 2 Chronicles 7:14, it is most helpful to include verse thirteen, since that is also part of the sentence.
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,
So the verse is connected to the types of conditions listed in verse thirteen. These conditions come directly out of those listed in the covenant stipulations of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. The chastisement of drought appears in Deuteronomy 28:24, the locust in Deuteronomy 28:38, and the pestilence in Leviticus 26:25 and Deuteronomy 28:21. God called Israel into covenant with Him in a way that He has not initiated with any other people. The ceremony of solemnizing the covenant relationship is recorded in Exodus 24. There was a direct relation between the people's obedience and divine blessing and between the people's disobedience and divine chastening.
The Lord then agrees with Solomon's prayer request. He clarifies that these are His people as explained in Deuteronomy 7:6-11:
"For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
It appears that this is not applicable to any other nation existing at the time Israel as a nation existed. The expression "my people" appears in the Bible 217 times. Twenty-three percent of the time it is used by humans. In seventy-seven percent of the occurrences it is used by God and by Him always with reference to Israel. God never speaks that way of the Church. It can be supposed that it could be used of the Church, but the connotations associated with "people" usually involve national, geographical, genealogical, ethnic, political overtones, and these are not applicable to the universal body of Christ. If it cannot be transferred to other nations of that time horizontally, it is at least questionable to think that it could be transferred to another group vertically in a different period of time, especially a group without national, geographical, genealogical, ethnic, political cohesion.
When they have sinned and experienced the chastening of the Lord, they are to return to Him with the attitude that recognizes who He is and who they are: they are to come humbly.
They are to pray. He is real, but He is far too great to reside in the temple building Solomon built. So the contact must be made spiritually by faith.
They are to seek God's face. That Old Testament expression seems to be synonymous with praying. It does suggest a coming close to God and perhaps even coming close to God for His approval and blessing. And this leads to their repenting from their sinful behaviors. At this point the Lord is ready to respond.
He will hear from heaven--the location which is home to Him. He will forgive, clearing the account of charges against them, and, we might add, by looking ahead to the atonement Jesus Christ would provide on the cross.
And He will heal their land. We have no difficulty with this phrase when it is used of Israel. There was a definitive land to which this applied. We also understand what the healing means. Verse thirteen itself suggests that the healing is the return of rain, the elimination of locusts, or the elimination of pestilence, etc. as the case may require. And the chastening and healing is part of the covenant stipulations in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28-30. When such healing is applied to the Church, we have no idea what it means.
Galatians 6:16 appears in an epistle in which Paul challenges the Galatian believers regarding adding to salvation which is by grace through faith. They were being influenced by Judaizers who wanted to add to the gospel of Christ the legal requirements of the Mosaic law including the practice of circumcision of baby boys, observing the food laws of Leviticus 11, and observing the sabbaths and festivals. Our verse actually appears as the third to the last verse in the entire epistle as the writer is preparing to close. It says: "And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God."
The rule of which he speaks is explained in the previous verses as that of Christ and the cross making believers a new creation and one no longer defined by Jew/Gentile distinctions. He in His death for sins is what counts, not any works which can be added.
But the germane question is, who are the two groups indicated in the verse? They are indicated as "them" and "the Israel of God." Interestingly, the phrase "the Israel of God" is used only here in the Bible. On the one hand, there is no occurrence elsewhere to help with interpretation here, but, on the other hand, this unique occurrence seems to provide opportunity for unique interpretations!
In context the previous verse again holds the key. Verse fifteen says: "For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation." One group is characterized as circumcision; these are clearly those of Jewish background. The other is uncircumcision; clearly these are of Gentile background. These two characterizations are no longer relevant-what is relevant is the new creation.
The Galatians obviously were mostly Gentile in that the Jewish observances and rituals were being foisted upon them by the Judaizers. This would hardly be a concern if the congregations consisted of Jewish believers. So the "them" of verse sixteen is the same as the "uncircumcision" of verse fifteen. And "the Israel of God" of verse sixteen is the same as the "circumcision" of verse fifteen. Both of these groups are part of the "new creation" of verse fifteen. So the two groups are Gentiles who believe in Christ and Jews who believe in Christ; both have come together in the Church as a new creation.
The Replacement Theology people suggest that the "and" in "them, and upon the Israel of God" should have the sense of "even" as though the two expressions refer to the same group. This is actually possible, thought it is unlikely. The Greek word used has as its primary meaning "and." In addition we have just shown above that the context sets up for two different groups, not one group referred to two different ways.
The question regarding the future for the Israelite nations has been with us a long time. And, though there may be other reasons as well, it almost seems as if the Apostle Paul wrote Romans 9-11 under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit with the twenty-first century in view. And what is his conclusion? That Israel has been set aside for a time, the time during which many from the nations will come to Christ, but at the end Israel will be reinstated, for, as 11:29 says, "the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." Then he breaks out in rapturous praise over the marvelous plan of God! We can take the words of Scripture to mean what they say, and, in fact, we should.
The term "Israel" appears in the New Testament seventy-three times. Nowhere does it refer to anything other than this nation descended physically from Jacob, unless here. Even here, as we have shown, it does not make the best sense. And upon that Replacement Theology loses all semblance of 'biblical' support.
The Replacement Theology people have ignored even the first part of the 2 Chronicles 7:14 sentence, namely, verse thirteen. And that means they have simply taken a group of words, on the supposed basis of a faulty interpretation of a New Testament phrase, and built a whole way of looking at the Bible upon it. But even there is another inconsistency.
Read on in the same chapter. Verses fifteen and sixteen speak of the Lord setting His eyes and heart for all time on the temple which Solomon built. Time has not yet expired, so it would seem that one cannot transfer the particular attention of which God speaks here to anywhere in the world of our choice. Should the Church prayer toward the Temple Mount in Jerusalem? Or should we pray to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.? Neither of these makes good sense, but it does make sense for Israel to pray toward the Temple Mount.
In verses seventeen and eighteen, the Lord speaks of the kingship of David and Solomon. What in the Church corresponds to that? Is the Church political? Again, for the Church this information is nonsensical, while for Israel it is plain. Why are we mentioning this? We have been taught that context is important in determining meaning.
Then verses nineteen through twenty-two pose the opposite situation of that in our key verse. Here the Israelites are disobedient to the point of idolatry. What is the penalty? It is to be driven out of their land. What land is that if the passage is now taken to be a reference to the Church? The Church worldwide has no specific land, or, to put it another way, dwells in every land. So to what land shall the Church driven out of its land go? We know where Israel went; when Judah was defeated, they were taken captive to Babylon.
And furthermore, the answer I received from the National Day of Prayer people indicated that we could directly apply this to America as well as any other nation. Are we to say that the Christians of Iraq today are obviously living in sin and not crying out to God for their nation? If they were crying out according to 2 Chronicles 7:14 (in the Replacement Theology view), would not God cause the terrorism to cease and bring them peace and prosperity? And other nations would also cast doubt upon the Replacement Theology view. We simply cannot take the Scriptures focused on Israel and transfer them to some other construct of our choice. Or shall we somehow elevate American Christians above those of other countries as though we deserve the blessing of 'healing' but do not expect the Lord to bless other nations as Sudan similarly?
It is easy to conclude that the Replacement Theology people really do not seriously consider the actual words of Scripture inspired of God. Jesus certainly did and indicated that every word was important, even to the smallest letter. He said in Matthew 5:18: "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished." Many of them probably are not aware that they are doing this, but again, it is incumbent upon us to be careful students of God's Word. The Bible is not a magical book in that interpretational tricks will get us what we want, nor is it a reference phrase book designed for handy quotations; it has its own story.
There are wide-reaching consequences of replacing Israel with the Church. I will cite only a few here.
First is the political. In the last couple years, one Presbyterian denomination urged its people to divest themselves of financial investment in Israeli concerns. The presupposition was that Israel certainly has no more place in the plan of God, so we will side with the Palestinians who will bring peace to the Middle East once Israel is gone. Churches holding this doctrine have no reason to be interested in the welfare of Israel. As far as they are concerned, no prophecy involves the nation of Israel even if Israel is named in it. This does not dissuade from anti-Semitism and may actually fuel it.
Second is the soteriological. Obviously, in any of these you will find exceptions, but if the Replacement people are consistent, they believe in a salvation by works via infant baptism. All churches which practice infant baptism believe in a kind of replacement theology. They have adapted the covenant ritual of circumcision (for infant Israelite boys) to baptism (for all infants) so that by virtue of genealogical procession from church members, the next generation is included in the people of God. Each denominational group has its own explanation, but it is at best a confusion of salvation by grace through faith.
Third is the exegetical. Words do not finally mean what they normally are considered to mean. And they do certainly not mean what they should in their contextual setting. Of course this makes interpretation of Scripture a subjective process subject to the will of the interpreter. It implies that the Bible does not have a message of its own. Someone can concoct a theology and then impose it upon the text of Scripture. There are no interpretational controls in such a system so that the text can ultimately be interpreted as to mean anything.
Fourth is the theological. There will be no kingdom of God on earth with Jesus Christ personally present and ruling on the throne of David in earthly Jerusalem even though the Old Testament is rich with such promises and even though the Gospels suggest that program still exists. Furthermore, this system indicates that God makes promises, even promises termed eternal, and then changes His mind. If that is so, we are in great trouble, because we have little reason to hope that God will fulfill promises of eternal salvation. God is not a liar, even when we often are, and we treat Him as such to our own peril.
Romans 9-11 was written just for the exact reason of considering the question of Israel. Is God done with her? Read the following verses (Romans 11:1-2, 11-12, 25-29), and you decide:
I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?
After considering that, the Apostle Paul breaks into rapturous praise to God for the marvelous plan He has, a plan which no human mind could ever conceive, a plan which ultimately brings great glory to God. Let us not rob Him of the glory due Him!
So what shall we do with 2 Chronicles 7:14? Shall we cut it out of the Bible? Shall we ignore it? Again, if we take Scripture seriously, we will recognize its value regarding God's covenant plan for Israel and also its enduring principles for us. Romans 15:4 says, "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." And this verse does truly give us hope.
First, it suggests that there is cause and effect in repentant prayer. A person realizing his sin and repenting of it can come to God and expect to be heard. The verse promises that God does hear.
Second, the verse indicates two values. The first is that of humility. If you are coming to God in prayer, the attitude is that of a bent knee. After all, He is God, and you are the creature. The second is that of sorrow for sin. Hopefully as you come to God, you are sorry for the sin you have committed and not just the penalty you are experiencing. This prayer must be repentant and involving a change of attitude and action.
Third is the promise of forgiveness. In the original setting, God does remove the chastening which came as a result of the sin. He did give a pardon for sins, and He does the same today for those who come in the same way. He pardons upon the basis of Jesus Christ's finished work of salvation on the cross. He is just and the justifier of the one who believes in Jesus (Romans 3:26).
There are a couple of New Testament passages which actually have the same message as 2 Chronicles 7:13-14. Their major difference is that whereas 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 is focused on the people of Israel as a nation and tied to their land, these are individual and universally applicable wherever in the world someone comes in the indicated way. Note James 4:6-10.
But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble."Is this not the same message? In fact, if one is searching for slogans to call people to prayer, this passage contains at least a couple. How about "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you"? How about "Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you"? Let us make sure that when we call people to pray, we actually are calling people to pray on a basis that pleases God, rather than calling people to pray so that we can create a prayer organization for our own purposes and glory.
There are possible slogans elsewhere that could be used to call people to prayer. For example, how about "pray that we might lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity" based on 1 Timothy 2:1-2? Or how about "pray instead of fainting" from Luke 18:1?
Another? How about 1 Peter 5:6-7?
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.
Is this not also the same message? Perhaps you can find a slogan also in this verse.
But you wonder what the exaltation is. Does it need to be identified? Perhaps with a closer look it could be. But it is clear that the exaltation will happen in God's time and way. If we are concerned about the exaltation, perhaps we are not really coming in humility. You can trust His great love. He cares for you. If you are troubled about your sins, God is waiting to hear from you; He will welcome you and bless you truly, richly, and eternally in Jesus Christ our Lord.
More could be said, but we have gone on long enough. It should be clear that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is not the appropriate call to prayer in our day. Words do mean something. There are calls to prayer that do not have to be ripped out of their context in order to call us to prayer. Let us come on God's terms, and let us glorify Him for His perfect plan!
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