As the election nears, it has become an important issue for the church. Folks on both sides of the aisle, both politically and religiously, have marshaled evidence on why their candidate is the Godly choice. This essay seeks to poignantly ignore all questions about the election and about any issues surrounding it. Rather, the intention of this essay is to carefully exegete a commonly (mis?)used passage with respect to America.
We have all seen pins, flags, banners, and other memorabilia emblazed with the following words: 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. These words come from 2 Chronicles 7:14 and in this case, the English Standard version. This verse is one of the most popular verses with regard to politics, it is even on the crest of the Presidential Prayer Team. Is this a proper use of this verse, or is it an example of eisogesis (reading our own views into a text)?
In the smallest of context, the verse comes as part of the Lord’s response to Solomon in a dream after he dedicates the Temple. The language of the passage is full of allusions to the Covenant nature of God’s relationship to His people. He has chosen to dwell in the Temple and has chosen to hear the prayers offered there. The passage requires a fundamental knowledge of two themes of the Old Testament that bear heavily on the interpretation of historical books.
Key to understanding the Old and New Testaments is the concept of Covenant. It is the overarching structure by which we see God operating toward mankind. Space does not allow a full exposition of Covenant theology here, but it is of note that it is the backdrop of all scripture. God made a series of Covenants in early Genesis leading toward the Abrahamic Covenant. In this covenant, God promised Abram a land, a seed (both singular and plural), and a blessing. Each of these became the backdrop for Israel’s concept of itself. They were the seed who was blessed by the gift of the land. Though each of these pointed the Christ – he was the seed of Abraham, the blessing to the nations and the inheritance of the elect – they also had near fulfillment in Israel. Israel, upon exiting Egypt marched (sometimes stumbled) towards the land where they would be blessed and have children.
As they move along this march again and again the theme of the “Land” is repeated. The generation who is charged with unbelief after the failure to have faith in the report of the 2 spies in Kadesh-Barnea are cursed how? By not being able to enter the land. When Moses sins, what is his punishment? He cannot enter the land. Once the people of God enter the land of milk and honey, God uses the land –which is to say the physical ground- to chastise his people. Again and again Israel’s disobedience is tied to the success of their crops. When Israel turned from Yahweh and went after the Baal’s and Astheroth, what were they doing? They were seeking better crops from the Canaanite god’s of rain and fertility, vital elements in an agrarian culture. God uses the land to bring them to repentance. The Hebrew word for this ground was c'(r>a; . This word was used for the dirt, not for the nation as a collective body.
Back to the verse at hand. When God responds to Solomon’s ritual dedication of the Temple, He renews the covenantal lease on the land of Israel. He says that when natural disaster strikes the physical land of Israel, if His people (the Jews) will rightly relate to Him, He will forgive them of their idolatry and restore the crops He has caused to cease.
So then how does this relate to us as Christians in America in 2008? First we must remember the way in which Old Testament promises come to us as believers.
God’s Covenant People (OT Israel) --------------> God’s Covenant People (NT Church)
he Elect of God (OT Circumcised of Heart) --------------> The Elect of God (NT Baptized in the Spirit)
We often times mistakenly draw the lines like this:
God’s Covenant People (OT Israel) --------------> God’s Covenant People (America)
he Elect of God (OT Circumcised of Heart) --------------> The Elect of God (NT Church)
If we properly bring this verse into the post-Cross era and listen to its words, it should sound more like this, “If my elect in the Church will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and repent of their sins, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sins and heal the church.” This verse is so important to us as the shattered kingdom of God. We need God to heal the wounds of heresy, idolatry, and unbelief that riddle our churches. We need God to hear from heaven and put the gospel back at the center of churches.
2 Chronicles 7:14 has been misused by every political party and by the church at large. May we engage in careful exegesis of the Old Testament.