The 4th of July and America’s Bible Verse

To my readers in other countries, this post is for all of us, but it has a particularly American flair for reasons that I hope will be made clear.

9208600333_cce798b9c4_bMost Americans probably have no idea what the rest of the world thinks of us.

And most don’t care.

As an American teenager living in Australia, I once had the rare privilege of viewing my own country from an international perspective. It was a mixture of ignorance, admiration, and envy. And scorn for our more obnoxious traits.

Not caring about what the rest of the world thinks of us was one of them.

But if Americans don’t care about the rest of the world, I wonder if Christians care about America. I mean, does the Church in America care at all about what America thinks about the Church? I suppose some of us do, and the answer would probably be another combination of ignorance, admiration, envy, and scorn.

Being a Christian and an American can create some tension. (I’m sure this is true in every country, but this is the only place I’ve ever been a citizen.) Perhaps at no other time of the year is this more true than on the 4th of July. Our country gives us much to celebrate and much to lament. We have many reasons to thank God, and many reasons to ask him to act. In many ways, our country doesn’t resemble the one established in 1776, and that’s partially good and partially bad.

In the midst of such tension, some Christians have turned to a Bible promise to help them hold fast to their faith and hope for a better America. The promise is 2 Chronicles 7:14, which in the Authorized Version reads:

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

The only problem is that this verse promises far less than American believers think, and far more than they realize. In this post, I hope to show why, to remove the myth and reveal the truth.

I believe you’ll find the truth far more compelling than the myth.

Original Context

It’s not about America3296151018_f33d2b32bb_o

On the surface, if we read only verse 14, it feels like an amazing promise because we put “church” where it says “my people,” and we put “America,” where it says “their land.” But as brazenly chauvinistic as this is, all we have to do is read verse 13 to see that it doesn’t work.

In verse 13, God says, “If I stop the rain, or if I send swarms of locusts, or if I send a pestilent disease…” Then he says, “…if my people…” and so on. So, the promise only works if God has sent drought, bugs, or disease.

Of course it’s about Israel

Why these particular things? Good question. To answer it, we need to go back to 2 Chronicles 6:14, where King Solomon prays that God would honor his covenant and forgive the sins of his people when they prayed. From verse 14 through verse 39 he prays this way.

Repeatedly, he says, “If [insert bad thing] happens to your people because of their sin, and they pray, then hear from heaven, and forgive their sin.” He says a lot more, and with different words, but he does this in vv. 24-25; 26-27; 28-31; 36-39.

The “bad things” are: defeat, drought, disease, and bugs. In 7:14, God is responding directly to Solomon’s prayer.

But where did Solomon get these ideas? Another good question. To answer it, we need to go back to Deuteronomy, where God made the covenant with Israel. If they obeyed his laws, they would enjoy his blessings in the Promised Land; if they disobeyed his laws, they would be cursed in the Promised Land, eventually being removed from it. You can find a graphic description of these curses in Deuteronomy 28, but we can summarize them like this: defeat, drought, disease, and bugs.

Solomon was praying according to something we call the Deuteronomic Covenant. It was an agreement between God and the nation of Israel to give them the blessings of the Promised Land if they kept the 10 Commandments.

Solomon prayed that when the people experienced God’s curse for their sins, God would hear their prayers of repentance and forgive them. In 7:14, God said he would. It was a promise made to a people who had agreed to live under the Old Testament Law.

Actually it’s really about the Temple

But Solomon’s prayer was special because he offered it when he dedicated the Temple as the earthly dwelling place of God. In 2 Chronicles 5, the Temple was finished, and God took up residence, showing his glory so powerfully that the priests couldn’t even stand in the same room. In 2 Chronicles 6, Solomon addresses the people before offering the prayer we’ve already mentioned. In the prayer, he consistently mentions the people repenting and praying towards or in the Temple.

At the end of this prayer, in 2 Chronicles 7, Solomon and the people offer thousands of sacrifices to honor God in his new Temple. After it was all over, God came to Solomon at night to say that he would honor the Temple as his house of worship. To prove it, God says in 7:14 that he would answer the people’s prayers and heal them.

However, God was careful to remind Solomon that the people could go too far, and he would remove them from the Promised Land. Not only that, but he would destroy his own Temple. He said as much in 7:19-22.

It still offers hope

The people who first read 2 Chronicles knew that God meant what he said because, for them, it had already happened. Solomon was ancient history for them, as they returned to their burned-out country after years of Exile. There was no king, no capital, and no Temple. It was all destroyed.

That’s why God included 2 Chronicles 7:14. He didn’t mention it in the other historical account in 1 Kings 9:3, which tells the same story. Here he was highlighting his covenant promise to them to restore the Kingdom to his repentant people.

The promise is clear, as if God was saying, “Though there is no throne, no country, and no Temple, if you will return to me, I will restore the Kingdom to you.”

1587426808_2188aa2754_zRedemptive Context

Up to this point, I hope it is clear that 2 Chronicles 7:14 has absolutely nothing to do with America or the Church. Unless we wish to pretend that we are under OT Law or have been bound to God by a covenant written by Moses, we have no interest in this promise at all.

Or so it would seem.

But the New Testament tells us that every Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable to us who receive it by faith. And that includes this one.

How? Good question. To answer it we need think of only one person: Jesus Christ.

Jesus and the Kingdom

The Exiles returned to Israel and rebuilt their country. They even rebuilt the Temple. But unlike Solomon’s time, the country was never truly theirs, and God (as far as we can tell) never took up residence in the 2nd Temple. Their land was governed by the Persians, Greeks, Romans, and even the British. But to this present day, Israel has never gained sovereignty over all her land. The “healing” of the land never fully happened.

It didn’t happen because when God became man and presented himself to his people as their King, they rejected him. Jesus spent 3 ½ years preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and in the end, instead of repenting towards God, they crucified their Messiah. Three days later, he arose from the dead, and God exalted him to his position as King. (cp. Psalm 2:6-7 & Acts 13:33)

To date, 2 Chronicles 7:14 has not been fully realized for Israel, though Romans 11:25-27 says one day it will be, when they welcome Jesus as their King.

Jesus and the Temple

But Jesus fulfills this promise in another way. Solomon and God were talking about the Temple, God’s dwelling place on earth. In fact, in 2 Chronicles 6:18, Solomon found it incredulous that God would dwell on earth when the “heaven of heavens” could not contain him. Unfortunately, just as God said, that Temple was destroyed, and God never indwelt its replacement in the same way.

He did, however, visit it. John 1:14 says that God (“the Word”) became flesh and dwelt among men, and they beheld his glory. Jesus was God’s dwelling place on earth, and though he visited that 2nd Temple, he was clear that he was the true replacement. (John 2:19)

Jesus and the Covenant

Because Jesus was truly God and truly man, only he could do what he did. Where Israel disobeyed God, Jesus obeyed. Where Israel broke the covenant, Jesus fulfilled it. Where Israel earned God’s cursing, Jesus earned his blessing. Where Israel deserved death, Jesus deserved life eternal.

Which makes it so amazing that after fulfilling God’s Law perfectly, Jesus should offer himself as the perfect substitute to take God’s wrath on behalf of those who would repent and believe in him for salvation!

5121358384_00783f0174_zAmerican Context

All of this means that Israel has not yet received the full benefit of 2 Chronicles 7:14 because she has not yet received Jesus Christ.

But some people have.

Because of Jesus Christ, we who believe are citizens of his Kingdom. (Colossians 1:13)

Because of Jesus Christ, by his Holy Spirit, we who believe are his dwelling place, the Temple of God on earth. (1 Corinthians 3:16)

Because of Jesus Christ, we who believe have received the forgiveness of our sins. (Ephesians 1:7)

Because of Jesus Christ, everything God promised in 2 Chronicles 7:14 belongs to us already! Because of Jesus Christ, God hears our prayers, has forgiven us our sin, and has granted us a Kingdom.

Which means that we have access to experience the grace and power and joy of everything this verse promises! Today! Now!

Too many see 2 Chronicles 7:14 as a prayer for what God might do for America, instead of praise for what he has already done for his Church!

Too many use this verse to pray for God to reclaim America’s glory days (whatever that means), when God has given it to us so that America might see the glory of God.

Too many allow this verse to stir up longings for a cultural revival, when God put it there for us to help us focus on Christ’s redemption.

Because of Jesus Christ, this verse does not tell the Church what we might have if we pray hard enough, but what we do have because of Christ!

And America needs to see this.

America needs to see a Church that knows who they are in Christ.

America needs to see a Church that knows what they have in Christ.

America needs to see a Church that values Christ’s blessings above a nation’s bounty.

America needs to see a Church that talks more about Christ’s victory than conservative values.

America needs to see a Church that prefers to rest in Christ’s power than run after prosperity.

America needs to see a Church that loves their neighbors because of how much Christ loves them.

So, the question this verse asks of the Church is this:

Do we crave the best that America has to offer, or are we offering America the best of God’s Kingdom through his Son, Jesus Christ?

It’s a challenge. It’s a promise. And it really does offer America – and every other nation – what she truly needs: Jesus Christ.

 

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5 Responses to The 4th of July and America’s Bible Verse

  1. dsoat says:

    Great Article! Rarely do I learn something from a “Christian” blog article. I feel like I got something here! Really great stuff. I always new this verse didn’t apply to the church but I have stayed away from saying it because of how “offended” some American church goers might get at the thought. Thanks for the explanation. Powerful!

  2. Jim Peet says:

    Used on Sharper Iron here. Thanks, I appreciated this essay.

  3. Pingback: Prayer points for the United States of America (July 2014) | Disciples of hope

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