“If my people, who bear my name, humble themselves, pray and seek my face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14
This post is the beginning of a new blog series that I’m titling Not-So-Straightforward Scripture.
Within each post of this series, we will be looking at a portion of the Biblical text that has a widely assumed interpretation but, in reality, might not be as straightforward as it seems. And the point of all of this is not to bash those who hold these interpretive views. Instead, I hope to introduce tools and tips which may help us read and understand our Bibles in the way the original audience would have understood them. But, ultimately, I hope that these posts might make us re-examine the scriptures in a way that would allow us to be conformed even further into the image of Jesus.
We will start with 2 Chronicles 7:14.
And I do have a list that I will be working down over the next several months. But if a passage of scripture comes to mind that you’d like to see examined in this format, feel free to send me a message!
A Patriotic Prayer? Or Something Else?
2 Chronicles 7:14 is one of those passages of scripture that is often found on patriotic placards you might buy at your local Hallmark or printed as a pull-quote on your church’s Independence Day bulletin cover. It’s a favorite for pastors to preach on during Memorial Day weekend, and it’s not uncommon to hear these messages equate the “my people” with citizens of the United States and the “my land” with American society. This text is one that many American non-profits use to rally their doners to give. And we shouldn’t forget that former Vice President Mike Pence was sworn into the White House with Ronald Regan’s old Bible opened up to 2 Chronicles 7.
However, how exactly are we to understand 2 Chronicles 7:14? Is it a patriotic prayer? Is it a hymn that validates a Christian Nationalist ideal? It is something else? Can it actually be applied to the United States, or is that a wholly inappropriate move?
When it comes to reading anything from the Bible, context is key. And there are three contexts that should be considered here: the story, the storytellers, and ours. But before we dive into the details of this passage, it’s best to read 7:14 as it appears within the paragraph that surrounds it:
“Then the Lord appeared to Solomon at night and said to him: I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple of sacrifice. If I shut the sky so there is no rain, or if I command the grasshopper to consume the land, or if I send pestilence on my people, and my people, who bear my name, humble themselves, pray and seek my face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. My eyes will now be open and my ears attentive to prayer from this place. And I have now chosen and consecrated this temple so that my name may be there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there at all times.” (2 Chronicles 7:12-16, CSB)
The books of 1 and 2 Chronicles function sort of like a Reader’s Digest of the Old Testament. That is, the books are an interpretive summary of Israel’s historical past written for a new generation of Israelites. Jewish tradition attributes the authorship of these books to Ezra. But Ezra or not, they are clearly post-exilic texts.
In other words, a storyteller is telling an old story in order to help encourage his contemporaries who were struggling with hopelessness in the storyteller’s present.
The days of David and Solomon are no more. And the remnant of Israel is back in the land after their 70 years of exile under Babylon. But would God’s presence return? Would the LORD answer their prayers once again? Would their re-built temple financed by money from Persia, and their new not-so-ritually-pure high priest be pleasing to God? Was there a future for the nation, or only further judgement? These were certainly questions that many Israelites would have had. And in order to help answer them, the author of this text harkens his readers back to God’s charge to king Solomon some 500 years in their past.
Solomon has just dedicated the temple in Jerusalem. Songs had been sung. The ark of the covenant had been placed within the holy of holies. Several thousand heads of cattle had been sacrificed on the temple alter. But after all of the fanfare, Solomon receives a vision from God.
In this vision, the Lord assures Solomon that He has indeed chosen this temple to dwell within. God then quotes the words He once spoke to Abraham (in Genesis 12 and 17), reminding the king that the people Solomon rules over bear the name of God. That is to say, the “my people” in 2 Chronicles 7 is Israel. The “my land” is the land of Canaan. And if Israel hoped to maintain their blessed status under the Mosaic covenant and keep their land (see Deuteronomy 28:1-68), Solomon and the people of Israel needed to repent of their wickedness and resume their observance of the Torah.
2 Chronicles’ snippet of Solomon’s vision would have been a confidence boost for the Israelite remnant as they looked out on their uncertain future too. Would God bless them? He assuredly would if they repented of their sinfulness, sought the Lord’s face in prayer, and took seriously the statutes and decrees of God’s good law.
Thinking about and Praying 2 Chronicles 7:14 Today
We’ve now considered the context of the story and the storyteller. And in both instances, the “my people” and “my land” of 2 Chronicles 7:14 cannot be understood as anything other than ancient Israel. To assume that this passage can be divorced of its particular context and then directly applied to the United States is to read it wrongly.
Nevertheless, can the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14 be applied to the United States in an indirect manner? In other words, it is ever appropriate to use these words in a prayer of petition with the land and people of America as the focus?
It depends on our motivation.
Jesus has fulfilled the law of Moses. This means that, as believers today, we are no longer under the Mosaic covenant like Israelites were in Solomon and Ezra’s day. Our expression of religion is also no longer tied to a physical piece of land in the Middle East. And as God’s new people, the Church, we have been sent out into all nations. We are trans-territorial. We’ve got people on all sides of all the borders. God no longer operates in this world through a special, set-apart nation like He once did with ancient Israel. So, if we were to attempt to modernize the words of 2 Chronicles, the best substitute for “my people” would be “the Church.”
With that being said, I do think it would be appropriate to pray that the Lord move through His Spirit to humble the citizens of the United States so all in this country might recognize Him as Savior. There’s nothing wrong with a prayer like that just as there’s nothing wrong with expressing a healthy level of patriotism. Patriotism is merely rightly aimed gratitude for the gift that God has given us. There truly is much to be thankful for in this country. And for a believer to resentfully halt prayers for unbelieving neighbors simply because they are American is contrary to the gospel. It should be our deep desire that all peoples in all countries seek the face of God, turn from their evil ways, and embrace the lordship of Jesus.
Although, if our motivation behind co-opting the words of 2 Chronicles with a modernized prayer is to entice God to resume our country’s fabled special blessing as a Christian nation, we would be in the wrong. Doing so would be to attribute God’s name with something He hasn’t associated it with, breaking the third commandment. It would be to conflate the kingdom of God with the kingdom of America, a heresy. It would be to shirk the responsibility and mission of the Church in order to give it to an entity that has not been tasked with living-out God’s gospel.
2 Chronicles 7:14 is not a rallying cry for the nation of the United States, nor a prayer for it’s special set-apart blessing.
It is instead a hope-filled reminder to a post-exilic Israel, a people who desperately needed both words of encouragement and a charge to continue forward. But just as Israel was motivated by a story of God’s action in their past, we too might used this old story to invigorate our trust in the Lord in our present.
May we, the church, humble ourselves and seek the face of the Lord.
May we, the church, turn from our evil ways so that God might hear us, forgive us, and heal us.
 As an example, consider how it is used within this letter by Franklin Graham of the Billy Graham Foundation and Samaritan’s Purse: https://billygraham.org/story/franklin-graham-do-not-surrender-and-do-not-pivot/
 I’m borrowing the Reader’s Digest metaphor from the Bible Project’s excellent introduction to 1-2 Chronicles. If you’d like to read it for yourself, it can be found here: https://bibleproject.com/blog/chronicles-not-just-repeat/