Everything in my house is out of place. I have contractors repairing the damage from a leaking 2nd floor shower, and we’ve had to move things around throughout the house to accommodate their work. The dining room table is partially blocking the hallway. A line of chairs is stacked right outside the bathroom. China is spread across three different rooms. As I repeatedly (and painfully) bump against the misplaced furniture, it feels like something’s not right.
In the midst of this life, we often get the similar sensation that something’s just not right. In A Severe Mercy, C.S. Lewis says it like this: “You never see a fish that is upset with being aquatic. The water is his natural environment and he never desires to stop being aquatic or suddenly starts hating water. But humans are always upset with their natural environment. Take time for example. Humans are always complaining about time. We have sayings like “time is flying” – “time is slipping away” – as if we know that time shouldn’t be passing so quickly. Take death and illness as other examples. Part of the reason that we are so upset at death and illness is that we innately know that death and illness are not how things should be.” As Christians, we know everything is strangely out-of-place in this world. Time drawing short … cancer … abuse … childhood illnesses … old age … death. Innately, we understand that these horrible things should not exist, and we are driven to our knees in tears and sorrow by them.
But here’s the question: If Christians collectively repented and prayed, would God instantly turn our land into a utopia where everything’s perfect? That’s what many Christians who quote 2 Chronicles 7:14 essentially believe. However, it’s another prime example of ignoring the context of a passage of Scripture.
Here’s the scenario: In 2 Chronicles 6, the Israelites – led by King Solomon – are in the midst of dedicating the newly constructed Temple to the Lord. King Solomon blesses the Lord in front of the people and prays that God would fulfill his promise to David: “You shall not lack a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk in my law as you have walked before me.” How would God respond to Solomon’s prayer? Well, God answers that question in 2 Chronicles 7:12-22:
 Then the LORD appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice.  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.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.  For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.  And as for you, if you will walk before me as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my rules,  then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.’  “But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them,  then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.  And at this house, which was exalted, everyone passing by will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land and to this house?’  Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore he has brought all this disaster on them.’” (2 Chronicles 7:12-22 ESV)
Problem #1: If we’re going to interpret this passage, we must (at minimum) examine the complete sentence (which is technically a complete thought). In this case, the entire sentence is verses 13-14. There’s a comma at the end of verse 13, meaning that the initial thought of verse 13 continues on to verse 14. Much of the interpretational problem with this verse likely results from the unfortunate verse break. Chapter and verse numbers were arbitrarily added hundreds of years after the text was written, and – in this situation – paying too much attention to the verse numbers actually makes the interpretation worse.
Problem #2: Context, context, context. In the context of this passage, who are the people called by His name? The Israelites. Which land is being referred to in this passage? Israel. How will the people “turn from their wicked ways”? Through the sacrificial system of the Temple. Pretty straightforward. So to recap: God is speaking to the Israelites in reference to the Promised Land and the newly constructed Temple. More immediately, God is responding to King Solomon’s prayer from 2 Chronicles 6:16 by stating that He will continue to honor His promise to King David. God renews the promise that David’s throne will forever be established. But there’s a big ol’ catch: If you worship other gods and abandon God, the deal’s off.
Point of Order: Just to be really extra specifically clear … Let’s dispatch with any confusion between Israel and the church that might be present in this passage. Wouldn’t God consider the church to now be “my people”? Sure … 1 Peter 2:9-10 (among other passages) states that Christians are now God’s people through the work of Christ. But the church does not have a “land” … unless you’re somehow counting your church grounds. To directly eliminate the more twisted interpretation of this passage, America is not the “land” of the church. Overall, the church is spread across many nations of this world and does not have a promised inheritance of property like the Israelites. (Surprise! … There are Christians living outside of America.) Revelation 7:9 affirms that Christians will ultimately be called out from every nation, tongue, people and language. Even more specifically, 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 talks about healing their land from drought, pestilence and plague. The healing in mind here is physical and not spiritual. Last time I checked, not every Christian was a rutabaga farmer or goat herder, so – therefore – it’s really hard to apply this passage to the church.
In The Message of the Old Testament, Pastor Mark Dever also discusses the lack of correlation of 2 Chronicles 7:14 to America: “You will often find this verse reprinted next to an American flag, evidently flapping in the breeze of destiny. … But God’s promise here is made in the context of his special people. If you read elsewhere in … the Old Testament generally, you find that this was how God referred to the nation of Israel. While America has been privileged with liberty and prosperity, we are not the chosen people of God, Israel, ruled by David’s line, preparing for the Messiah.”
OK … so the passage applies to the historical Israel. Does that mean there is nothing that the Christian can take away from this passage? No … there’s plenty to consider.
First, it’s important to notice how God talks about the Temple and the sacrificial system found in the Old Testament. In the entire speech that God makes to Solomon, notice what God considers pleasing: humility, prayer, seeking God and repentance (v.14). There’s no discussion of goats, sheep, doves, cows, platypuses or any other sacrificial animal (OK … just kidding about the platypus). There’s no discussion of incense or slaughter of animals. Already in the Old Testament, we get an incredible picture that what God truly desires is repentance instead of the physical act of sacrifice or human works/efforts. It’s a theme that God will repeat in Psalm 51:17, Hosea 6:6 and Malachi 1:6-14.
Second, God is boldly predictive of what will happen to Israel. Solomon will marry 700 wives, will have 300 concubines, will wholeheartedly abandon God and will worship numerous other foreign false gods (1 Kings 11). The majority of the kings that follow Solomon also pursue false gods and conduct evil in the sight of the Lord. Eventually, God will bring disaster on the nation of Israel for failing to be faithful to the God that miraculously brought them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Similarly, all who attempt to please God with sacrifices, human efforts and works will fail. A great Messiah is needed to reconcile the people back to God. And that same Messiah will ultimately fulfill God’s promise that a descendant of David will be enthroned as King forevermore.
So based on this background, let’s get to the main point: It is absolutely improper to treat this passage as some sort of magical chemistry formula for transforming America into a “Christian nation.” The context does not support this interpretation in any conceivable way. Period. Too often, Christians inadvertently attempt to convert the simplicity of grace back to the confusing arithmetic of works (Prayer + Repentance + Humility = God’s Restoration). But we cannot manipulate, bribe or convince God to do anything, as if we’re children begging to get an extra cookie from Dad after dinner. It’s the remnants of the rebellious sin nature within us that makes us believe that we can whip out our Harry Potter wands and force God into submission with a simple incantation (“Expecto Patronum!”). As such, Christians tend to be suckers for any easy-to-read book (think: Prayer of Jabez) or system that tells us that we can pin God down and that if we just do X + Y + Z then God will be forced to produce 100% iron-clad results. Be warned: God does not work for you … You aren’t the boss of God (Psalm 46:10). You cannot fully submit to the authority of God unless you willingly chuck all your schemes to extort God into the trash heap. There is no mechanism ever conceived in the mind of man that will ever earn the grace of God … it is a free gift that God offers (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our God loved us while we were still sinners … while we were running as far away from Him as possible (Romans 5:8).
Even more importantly, the hope of the Christian should not settle in any pale imitation of the new heavens, new earth and New Jerusalem vividly pictured in Revelation 20-22. Our hope is not that God would make things a little bit better … All of creation is groaning and crying out for God’s complete and total restoration (Romans 8:18-24). The creation doesn’t need a minor makeover … We need God to fulfill His promise to make all things new. When we say that our goal is that God would turn America into a “Christian nation,” we are essentially settling for far less than the New Jerusalem. Of course, the church needs to continue to pray that God would bring spiritual revival to areas of spiritual impoverishment (including America), but that’s not the finish line that we should have in sight. Our hope is the end of pain, sickness and death. Our hope is to dwell with God forevermore. Our hope is God wiping the tears from our eyes and ending all sources of sorrow. Our hope is for the former things to pass away and for the new to come. And our hope ultimately cannot happen until Christ returns.
We must never forget that we are currently foreigners, exiles and aliens here on earth (Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 2:11). When the Israelites experienced their exile in Babylon, they were forcefully and unwillingly taken to a distant land where idolators ruled, false worship was rampant, their faith was persecuted and everything seemed strangely out of place. The people cried out and longed for the place where they truly belonged and where they could honestly worship God. Similarly, Christians find themselves in exile in a world where our faith is marginalized and our Savior is openly mocked. Our citizenship is ultimately in Heaven, and we openly long to be with our Savior (Philippians 3:20). Our citizenship in America, Zimbabwe, Luxembourg, Iran or China will pass away as every tribe, nation and tongue throughout the history of creation falls down at the feet of Christ to worship Him. Our Promised Land is the New Jerusalem … And one day we will cross the banks of the Jordan to fall on our knees in worship of the One who brought us out of bondage.
While we are still in America, we are not home yet.