“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.” ((2 Chronicles 7:14))
This is a verse used often in the church. It has been used with reference to abortion, elections, and anything that involves the brokenness of America and our needed restoration. The question for today: Is that what this verse is about?
Who are “my people”?
When God speaks of a group as “my people”, there are some notable patterns. First, we only see this reference used in the Old Testament. Second, it always refers to the children of Israel; it is a shortened version of ‘my chosen people’.
- “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt” ((Exodus 3:7))
- “I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” ((Exodus 3:10))
- “Let my people go” ((Exodus 5:1))
- “I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.” ((Leviticus 26:11))
- “…every offering of my people Israel “ ((1 Samuel 2:29))
- “…I appointed judges over my people Israel” ((2 Samuel 7:11))
- “[I] will not forsake my people Israel” ((1 Kings 6:13))
See the pattern? There are a lot more like this. You can look through them yourself if you’re interested. But it’s actually easier than that. We can see all we need to know about who this is addressed to without leaving the passage. But before we do that, let’s get caught up on where we are in the book.
The Chronicles of the Kings
The book of 1 Chronicles ends with the death of King David. 2 Chronices starts with the coronation of his son, Solomon. ((2 Chronicles 1)) Solomon started strong. All he asked God for was wisdom, but God added to that wealth and honor as well.
Solomon’s first project was to build a temple for God. (This was later to be known as the “First Temple”. It was destroyed by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC.) Three chapters ((2 Chronicles 2-4)) are spent describing in detail the labor and appointments of the temple. Chapter 5 recounts the ceremony surrounding the arrival of the Ark of the Covenant ((2 Chronicles 5)). This was the time at which God ‘moved in’ to the place Solomon had prepared for Him among His people. When everything was in place and the glory of the Lord filled the temple((2 Chronicles 5:14)), Solomon addressed the crowd. He spoke of his father’s desire to build a temple, God’s promise that David’s desired temple would be fulfilled by his son, and the fulfillment of that promise in which they all stood.
What is the temple?
Just a brief intermission to help us understand what the temple was all about. The location and purpose of the temple were foreshadowed in Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac ((Genesis 22)). Moses referred to an earthly place where God would dwell among his people ((Exodus 15)) and he later received instruction from the Lord on what amenities He required ((Exodus 25)). Prior to the temple, God’s place among the wandering Israelites was in the traveling tabernacle. Both structures served essentially the same purpose. The temple was to be the place where God would live among his people, where offerings could be made in restitution for sin, and where the people could gather in worship. This is important in understanding Solomon’s prayer.
Solomon’s Prayer of Dedication
After his introductory blessing, Solomon offered to God a prayer of dedication for the temple ((2 Chronicles 6:12-42; 1 Kings 8:22-61)). His prayer summarized the role of the temple in their lives. He gave a number of examples of how God had instructed the temple to be used, and asked for God to be faithful to his promise. The examples Solomon used can be summarized with this general form:
“If one or more of the children of Israel sins by doing X and they follow the requirements you have prescribed for that action, be faithful in forgiving them and restoring them as you have promised.”
This is essentially a repeating of God’s laws back to him. God had given a number of laws. He had also given specific instructions for seeking restitution. Solomon’s dedication reviewed a number of these - perhaps as a reminder to the people, and perhaps as a reminder to God. This is similar to the practice his father used in many of the Psalms.
He closes the prayer saying, “God, you’ve been faithful to your people Israel thus far – continue to show us your faithfulness. You’ve been with us this long – don’t leave us or forsake us now. Turn our hearts to you so that we might continue to walk in obedience. Let all the nations around us see that the God of Israel is the one true God. Come now and inhabit this place we have built for you.”
So it is clear in all accounts of these events that the “my people” follows the same pattern we saw earlier in the Old Testament. This is talking about the people of the united kingdom of Israel, the people chosen by God to bring forth the Messiah at the appointed time.
At this point, Solomon and the priests offered an astounding sacrifice to God of well over 100,000 animals, followed by a celebration that lasted two weeks. Then Solomon sent everyone back to their homes.
God Responds to Solomon
God begins, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices.”
He then follows Solomon’s form and responds to his requests. This is where our verse of interest comes. But, if you don’t understand the context and the request, you are likely to mishandle God’s response, as many continue to do.
The relevant portion of the request appears both in Ezra’s ((2 Chronicles 6:26-27 … Tradition holds that Ezra wrote both 1 & 2 Chronicles))account and Jeremiah’s ((1 Kings 8:35-36 … Tradition holds that Jeremiah wrote both 1 & 2 Kings)), almost verbatim:
“When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and give praise to your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel. Teach them the right way to live, and send rain on the land you gave your people for an inheritance.”
God’s direct response to Solomon is recorded in 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 (note our inclusion of the prior verse for context):
“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.”
So you can see in the beginning (verse 13) that God is wrapping his response in summary form. Solomon inquired individually about drought, famines and plagues, and God replied by grouping them together.
“If my people…”
God refers to “my people who are called by my name” because those are the people who made the inquiry. These are the people he called out of bondage to bring salvation to the world through Jesus Christ. These are the people who prayed to dedicate the temple to God, and who prayed to dedicate their lives to him as well.
“Humble themselves, pray, and turn”
This is the prescription God laid out for the people of Israel. This is how they were to approach Him. It is found throughout the law.
In fact, this has been the appropriate manner to approach God since the beginning. Before the law, under the law, and after the law our attitude toward God ought to be humility, our action repentance, and our communication to Him ought to be prayer.
“I Will Hear, Forgive and Heal”
When we pray, God listens. God is faithful. He has promised to hear our prayer, and He will.
He has promised to forgive us when we approach him contritely and seek restitution.
He is also a God of restoration. In this case, Solomon specifically mentioned those times where God was punishing sinful behavior by causing the land to cease providing crops as it was designed. In those cases, Solomon said, “if we stop doing the things you are punishing us for, will you please stop punishing us?” God’s simple reply: of course I will.
This is a specific response to a specific request to a specific people in a specific situation. Is it for us as well? As we have seen in other cases, there is nothing in the text to lead us to believe that is the case. Neither Jesus nor any New Testament writer referred to this passage or suggested that we ought to invoke this as a promise.
The problem comes when people take “my people” to refer to all Christians, “their land” to refer to America, and “heal” to mean make perfect, but this is imposing their own desires on the text. This prayer is often called into service by people who want to see America made a great and honorable nation – a noble desire – but this verse isn’t about that. This verse applies to Jews during the first temple – not Americans in the 21st century. It is a response to a specific request, not a blanket promise. It is about restoring the soil of Israel to its prior state of productivity, not about a healing of emotions, politics, culture, or anything else.
This passage is a promise made by God that He will act in accord with His character. He will be faithful. That principle applies to us today because God is unchanging, but the specific details do not. That said, it is perfectly appropriate to ask for rain during a drought or relief from plagues. God instructs us to pray for such things and we know that He is able. The Bible and the experiences of many show that He often answers those prayers. But this specific passage may not be used in every way we please, and it is not a guarantee directed toward us. This account is one of the many instances in the Bible illustrating the principle that God will be faithful to receive us when we turn to Him in repentance.