If My people who are called by My name will 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.
-2 Chronicles 7:14 (NKJV)
Growing up, I understood this verse in an uniquely American context. I saw Americans as God’s people and so applied this verse as a promise of national revival should the right circumstances arise. I wasn’t alone in this thinking; many in the church and schools I grew up in believed this way, too.
But, if we’re being honest, we need to consider the text with a closer look. Beyond that verse above, Solomon is dedicating the Temple in Jerusalem. After the ceremonies, God appears to the king and affirms that the Temple is now His house and is the place to go when the people are in need and desirous of forgiveness. He specifically points out that if He punishes them by bringing famine upon the land and they respond with the prescription above, the promised result would take place. So in it’s original context, God is giving this to the nation of Israel.
Does this mean that the verse can only apply to Israel in the days of the Temple? No, for we see elsewhere in the Old Testament (before the Temple) where the people respond in this way and God hears them (Judges is a good place to start). The principle laid down in 2 Chronicles seems to be a pattern followed by God’s people across time.
Then is this applicable to America? Strictly speaking, no. America, in terms of national identity, could hardly be justified in calling itself God’s people. Maybe some would argue that and make claims one way or another. Maybe there’s some truth to their claims. But considering that Israel identified as God’s people and ultimately fell under His leadership, America is far from making the same argument.
That brings us to confronting how the verse above is often used–as a catalyst to push for revival in America. Is revival, then, still possible? Should we pack up our big tents and confine them to church picnics? The question now is does this verse apply? I believe it does, but how is significant.
The church as God’s people bought by Christ come under His authority. That means when we stray away from Him and the true gospel, He can discipline us to bring us back into the fold (Hebrews 12 and Revelation 2-3 support this). So when the church, as God’s people, humble themselves and pray and seek His face, He will forgive and heal. Though Christians should be evangelizing and seeking to bring people to faith in Christ, revival, as 2 Chronicles sees it, is for the people of God. The church is God’s “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9) and Jesus is our ultimate Temple (John 2:18-22) while we act as individual little temples (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). So when we stray and God corrects, this verse can be a guide to genuine repentance.
This doesn’t mean that Christians should stop praying for the gospel to change lives in America. We should be praying for that. But maybe we should also consider praying for revival in Christ’s church across the country and the world. After all, Christians are imperfect people prone to wander and many churches are in need of internal revival. We would do well to dwell on this passage in 2 Chronicles and consider if our own churches need to be revived.