Verse-Busting Part 2 – 2 Chronicles 7:14

outofcontext-101blog

Over the last few years I have seen these random signs posted in people’s yards or in front of businesses that say “Pray for America!” At first these made me very happy. I’m a patriot and I have enjoyed my years of military service. I’m proud to be an American and I can say that, of all the places I have visited in the world, America is the best country I’ve ever been to. Yet, as I looked closer I noticed there was a Bible verse written underneath; it said: 2 Chron. 7:14. I knew the verse and have heard it used many times to encourage people to “make America Christian again” or something similar to that.

Last week we started to look at some of the verses that I commonly see/hear Christians take out of context. The goal of this is to take some of these verses, look at how many people have misconstrued/misused them, examine them in context, and then properly apply them. Here again is my warning: this may make you upset because some of these verses are near and dear to many people’s hearts. Yet, if we take the Bible and use it improperly then we can do much more harm than good (see my earlier posts on context for more information about this).

Let’s keep going with this verse and look together to see if people who use the passage to tell others that if we obey it that God will restore America to what it once was. This passage has become a phenomenon that has made many people hopeful that America will become a “Christian Nation” once again. Sadly, it too has been taken out of context and twisted to say something it never was meant to say. Let’s reexamine our 5 A’s to make sure are on the same boat here.

Whenever we read the Bible we should always look at the 5 A’s of context:

  1. Author(who wrote it and why did they feel the need to write it?)
  2. Audience(who was it written to and why did they need to receive it?)
  3. Atmosphere(what was the historical and cultural setting it was written in?)
  4. Accuracy(how does what I am reading align with other parts of the Bible?)
  5. Application(what can I learn from the passage to apply to my own life?)

With this in our minds let’s read the verse for this week:

2 Chronicles 7:14 – New Living Translation (NLT)

[14] Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.

At first blush, this looks great! If we, God’s people, will humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our sin then God will hear our cry, forgive our sins, and restore our land. If you read just this verse then you could easily be manipulated into believing that this verse applies to the United States of America. After all, we are “God’s People” aren’t we? Didn’t God foreordain our purpose and unite us together against tyranny and oppression in order to provide freedom to anyone who would come to our great nation? Weren’t we founded to be a Christian nation?

The answer to all of those questions is beyond this post. The goal of this post is to look at the verse and see if that is indeed its intended meaning. We do not want to make the Bible say something it was never meant to. If we do this we put false words into God’s mouth and cause people to trust in a promise that God never made. With this in mind, let’s get started with our 5 A’s.

Author

This book has an unknown author but it was most likely a Levite (a Jewish person who was genealogically able to serve in the temple and be a priest) who wanted to use the records of the kings of Israel along with the history of the Jewish people to show how God has worked in history to use Israel as His chosen people to serve His purposes (cf. Dr. Steve McKenzie, 1st & 2nd Chronicles Commentary). Unlike 1st & 2nd Kings, the goal of 1st & 2nd Chronicles is to focus on God’s actions in history to use Israel to impact the world. It was composed in an unknown date but scholars most agree it was written and/or gathered around 400 B.C.

Audience

The audience that the author was writing to were the Israelites who wanted to look back at history through the lens of God’s divine purpose. There are some discrepancies between 1st & 2nd Chronicles and 1st & 2nd Kings but most historians agree that this is because they were meant to examine different purposes behind history. With Chronicles focusing on God’s divine purpose for Israel some things were focused on more heavily and others less. This book would have given hope to those Jews who were taken off into captivity or those who read it on the return from captivity to place their hope in God once again as well as His purpose for Israel (cf. Ibid, Dr. Mckenzie).

Atmosphere

As already mentioned, this was written 400 BC during the time of the captivity of Israel to both the Assyrians and the Babylonians. It records the history of the kings of Israel in comparison to the history of the Israelite people. Those who read it would have been able to compare it to the other histories of the day and see that God was active in the lives of His people, Israel, and that He would be faithful to keep His promises even if Israel was unfaithful to the One True God and followed false gods instead.

Accuracy

This verse is often used as a declaration that if God’s people, Christians (and even specifically American Christians) would turn from their sins and cry out to God that God will heal America. It promotes this idea that the past was America’s great Christian heritage and that we need to get back to the true purpose of America. The key phrase in the verse we are looking at is “my people.” What does that mean? Is it God’s people in general? Is it the Church in America? Or is it Israel? Let’s look at the verse in context:

[11] So Solomon finished the Temple of the Lord, as well as the royal palace. He completed everything he had planned to do in the construction of the Temple and the palace. [12] Then one night the Lord appeared to Solomon and said,

“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this Temple as the place for making sacrifices. [13] At times I might shut up the heavens so that no rain falls, or command grasshoppers to devour your crops, or send plagues among you. [14] Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. [15] My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to every prayer made in this place. [16] For I have chosen this Temple and set it apart to be holy—a place where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart. (2 Chronicles 7: 11-16 NLT)

What do you think? Does this have anything to do with America or current history? Is this a promise to the current Church in the world that if they would turn back to God that God would restore their lands? Nope. It records God’s message to King Solomon during his dedication of the Temple and the promise was made that if Israel called out to God during their periods of wickedness or testing by God. It was written to specific people (Israel) during a specific time period (c. 950 B.C.) for a specific purpose (that they could trust God to be faithful to His promises to protect Israel as His chosen people).

Does this look like it was written to Christians living in our current historical setting? Not unless you think God plans to bring back the Temple and go back to the Priestly system of worship and sacrifice like the Law of Moses describes (and many Christians actually believe that). If that were the case, maybe it would have some application. Yet, we can easily see that this verse is not accurately taken if we try to apply it to ourselves in current history of America. It may have been written for us to learn from but it was definitely not written to us.

Application

So, once again, if this passage was not written to us then how can we apply it to our lives? We certainly should not take it to mean that if Americans turned from our sins and cried out to God that God would have to restore America. To my knowledge (and maybe someone knows something I don’t) God has made no such covenant with America like He did with Israel. I find the United States of America nowhere in the Bible (probably because we didn’t exist as a nation 2,000 years ago). We should not impose the covenants God made with Israel on America. If we do, we will be dissatisfied with God when he doesn’t uphold our false notions.  

Can we learn from this verse? Can we find any application to our lives here and now? I think we can. We can see that God is works in history to accomplish His purposes. We can see that God’s mercy is so great that even in our disobedience He makes a way for us to come back to Him. We can see that God’s purposes will always come to fruition even when we don’t understand them. And we can learn that God is faithful even when we are unfaithful (that’s incredibly similar to last week, I know).

Would God restore America to its Christian heritage if we all turned from our sins and turned to Him? That is not at all what this passage is meant to teach. What we can learn is that God is faithful and that His purposes will always ultimately be accomplished. And we can be grateful that America does exist and that we can work within it to bring the Kingdom of God from Heaven to Earth. I hope that this didn’t ruin your day but, rather, that it set you free from another misunderstanding of God’s promises. May we continue to work to read the Bible in context so that we do not fall into the trap of improper expectations of life and of God.

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