The Season of Lent is a time of reflection and repentance. But what is repentance? Each week this Lent, we will take a closer look at the doctrine of repentance as it is presented throughout Scripture in order to gain a better understanding of what it means to admit our sins as well as receive forgiveness as the foot of the cross.
When Donald Trump was elected in 2016, which Bible verse, do you think, was searched for more than any other? It was the same verse often quoted by famous Christian leaders at the time.
Last year, this passage still ranked near the top. It was the third most searched for Bible verse of 2020.
The verse is 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.”
As we dig into this passage, I’d like for us to do three things:
- Ask why this verse resonates with so many people.
- Look at the context and original Hebrew to help us better understand what God is telling us.
- Understand how this passage has nothing to do with the United States of America but everything to do with the people who happen to live in the USA (and, for that matter, everywhere else on the globe).
Why This Passage?
When people turn to the Scriptures during seasons of uncertainty, fear, doubt, or turmoil, we cannot but rejoice. Thank God they do! Better they open the Bible than Facebook or Twitter. In the cultural cacophony of lying voices, the Spirit uses the Scriptures to teach, reprove, correct, and train us as followers of Christ, so we are equipped to do good (2 Tim. 3:17).
But we still must ask: Why this verse?
I think most readers see in 2 Chronicles 7:14 a clear expression of our (seeming) problem and its (seeming) solution. The problem would be that we are proud; going down wicked paths; and that our country is sick and diseased, in dire need of divine healing. The solution, then, would be humility, prayer, seeking God, and repenting.
The words of the Chronicler, then, appear to be the promise of a warm and welcome dawn after a long, cold, hard night, pregnant with chaos and uncertainty.
Well, perhaps. First, we must ask of this verse a fundamental question—a question that all too often goes unasked by readers of the Bible. The question is this: Does this passage apply to us? Our church? Our country? Just like I cannot read my coworker’s email regarding his upcoming raise, and think that promise applies to me, just because my eyes saw the words, so also we cannot scan any random passage of Scripture and automatically assume the words are unconditionally addressed to us. Often, very often, they are not.
The Context and Hebrew of 2 Chronicles 7:14
You will notice that the verse, as I quoted it, begins, with “…if” not “If.” In other words, verse 14 is a continuation of verse 13. Here is the full sentence, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 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.”
God is speaking to Solomon at night, following the long dedication of the temple (2 Chron. 7:12). The Lord tells the king that, should he send drought, locusts, or pestilence (the Hebrew is דֶּבֶר [dever], commonly translated “plague”), then this is how the nation should respond.
When the Lord made a covenant with Israel centuries before, he had warned them that if they broke the covenant, he would hammer them with punishments. Among these are drought, insects, and plagues (Deut. 28:21; 23-24; 38). These are the very same threats God references in his speech to Solomon.
If these bad things befall them, what exactly should the Israelites do? Humble themselves (כנע [kana]), that is, submit, be subdued or humbled. Pray, that is, seek God’s face, ask him to look with mercy. And turn (שׁוב [shuv]), which is the ordinary Hebrew verb for “repent.”
When they do this, the Lord of the covenant will do three things: hear, forgive, and heal. He will shama (“hear”), heed their cry for help. He will salach (“forgive”), a Hebrew verb of which God is the sole subject in the OT; he alone can salach. And he will rafa (“heal”) the land.
How will he heal the land? By sending rain to end the drought. By removing the locusts. And by stopping the plague. Healing the land is a very concrete, earthy response to very concrete, earthy problems.
So, these verses from 2 Chronicles 7 are about the temple (where God hears), the covenant (which Israel will break), the consequences (drought, locust, plague), Israel’s response (humility, prayer, repentance), and God’s actions (hearing, forgiving, healing).
Do These Words Apply to Us? Yes and No.
The entire context of 2 Chronicles 7, while instructive and enlightening, has nothing directly to do with presidential elections, the United States of America, or 2020. To be more specific, the “land” in need of healing would be ancient Canaan, the real estate between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, in the years prior to the new covenant.
To claim this verse is a God-given promise to America would be like me reading the Last Will and Testament of my neighbor’s father, in which his dad bequeathed a section of land to him, and claiming that, since I merely read the words, those 640 acres belong to me.
That being said, can we perhaps still learn something useful and applicable to us from this verse? Yes, of course!
The chief takeaway from this promise to Israel is that their only hope is the God who hears, forgives, and heals. Promises such as this to Israel are echoed, over and over, in the Lord’s promises to individuals of every age and in every place, including our own.
Jesus tells us that he is the new and replacement temple for the people of God (John 2:19-21). To him we pray; we ask, we seek, we knock at the door of our Savior, whose heart is gentle and lowly (Matt. 7:7; 11:29). Rather than thinking too highly of ourselves, we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God (1 Pet. 5:6). And we repent, that is, God’s kindness turns us, leads us, brings us to repentance (Rom. 2:4), so that even our repentance—like all good and perfect things—is a gift from our Father above (James 1:17).
We repent because God repents us, just as we believe because the Spirit gives us the gift of faith (1 Cor. 12:3).
As we enter this season of Lent, 2 Chronicles 7:14, while not directly applicable to us, does underscore the kind of God that we, individually and as members of the body of Christ, worship.
We worship a Priest who not only hears our prayers but is constantly interceding for us at the right hand of God (Rom. 8:34).
We worship a King, much greater than Solomon, who transformed his cross into a pulpit, from which he preached a prayerful absolution to the world, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” (Matthew 12:42; Luke 23:34).
And we worship a Savior, the Lamb of God, by whose wounds we are healed (Isa. 53:5).
All praise, glory, honor, and worship be to him.