By David Mills
God’s promise to Israel in 2 Chronicles 7:14 reads “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.” Traditionally, Baptist and evangelical pastors and evangelists have used this text to instruct hearers on how Christians should seek revival in their churches. I have used it myself in this manner. I suspect I have heard a message on this passage promoting revival on average one time a year for 30 years.
A recent objection to the use of this text has come from the brilliant pen of Russell Moore in his article “2 Chronicles 7:14 Isn’t About American Politics.” I have benefitted from Moore’s pen and have quoted him at times, and his title stirred my interest. I received Facebook posts on my timeline suggesting I read it.
There are some commendable items in his article. To begin with, Moore is right when he observes the context of the passage is a context in which the temple and the Lord’s covenant with Abraham are significant factors. It is likely addressed to exiles returning from captivity. They could see in 2 Chronicles 7:14 what they could have done to prevent captivity and what they could do in the future to prevent it again.
In addition, Moore wants readers to see Christ in 2 Chronicles 7:14. Though Jesus is not specifically named in 2 Chronicles 7:14, He did see Himself and His Great Commission in the Old Testament (Luke 24:44-53) and He described His body as a temple (John 2:19-22). Just as God provided the one place of the temple for sacrifices, He has provided only one sacrifice and Savior in Jesus Christ.
Further, Moore addresses the story of Scripture. The last 15 years have witnessed the publication of many works describing the story of Scripture and Moore is sensitive to this as evidenced in this article and others he has written. At our church we begin our new member training with the story of Scripture and locate our church and new members in that story. This is always a helpful thing to do.
Finally, after recent declines on evangelism and growing political and civil unrest, Moore’s words comforted readers without coddling them. He wrote, “The promises that he has made will outlast Mount Rushmore. He is the one who tells us who we are and tells us where we are going, because he’s promised us, in the short term, a cross on our backs, and in the long term, a crown of life.”
Moore rightly commends God’s sovereignty as a comfort. His words remind me of the pastor who wrote “God’s sovereignty is the pillow on which I lay my head each night.”
There are some items in the article, however, that should concern the careful reader. First, readers should wonder at the problem cited in the article. It states,
Often, the way this verse will be preached in many evangelical pulpits is as a rallying cry. In so many sermons, the ‘people’ referred to in the passage are the American people, and the ‘land’ is the American land. The meaning of the text is understood as an invitation to 21st century America to ‘return to God’ and then enjoy God’s blessing once again. It’s no wonder one scholar said that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is ‘the John 3:16 of the American civil religion.’… If we take this text and bypass the people of God, applying it to America in general or the Bible Belt in particular, as though our citizenship as Americans or Australians or Albanians is the foundation of the “covenant” God has made with us, the problem is not just that we are misinterpreting the text; the problem is that we are missing Christ.”
I have read and heard dozens of sermons on 2 Chronicles 7:14 and recall only one Pentecostal coming anywhere near the problem the article cites. Because the objects of the article’s complaint are evangelicals, one fears just a little that a straw man has been erected and torn asunder by a brilliant pen. Nearly all the expositors I have read or heard have been careful to define the context as Jerusalem in Israel under Solomon’s reign dedicating the temple.
They did not misidentify the United States as a “New Israel.” In fact, a significant element of their message consisted of the fear that an increasing number of Americans did not have saving faith in Christ. They applied a text addressed to Israel to the hope for revival of the United States, as we do many texts, but they did so without dismissing the biblical context or outreach to other nations. In John Stott’s words they bridged two worlds, the biblical world and the contemporary world.
Second, the article poses the question “Where should we ‘take America back’ to?” and wonders if “back to the era of Founders, or back to the 1950s, or the 1980s?” The suggestion that preachers and authors who expound 2 Chronicles 7:14 mean to take the United States back to the Founders, 50s, or 80s, in the absence of direct statements from them, may stretch their words beyond what they intended.
No one appreciates that. In fact, the messages I have read and heard did not address America at all; they addressed God’s people, “My people” in the text, and explained how to bring the church back to God in hopes of having the spiritual power to bring the nation(s) to Christ. They offered the biblical hope that if we bring God’s people back to holiness, faith, and obedience we will be better equipped to bring the world to Christ, not the 50s, 80s, or Founding Fathers.
Third, the article makes use of some emotive terms. It compares the preachers about which it complains to theological liberals and health, wealth, prosperity gospel preachers. It states “To apply the verse this way is … theological liberalism. .. When we apply texts like this to the nation, apart from the story of Scripture, we do precisely what the prosperity gospel preachers do.”
These comparisons do not work. The preachers about which the article complains want revival and use the biblical text to advance it. They are not theological liberals; they do not deny the Trinity, Christ’s deity, biblical inspiration, or the doctrine of eternal punishment. Theological liberals generally ridicule such matters. Health, wealth, and prosperity preachers want health, wealth, and prosperity, things revival has been known to wreck (see Rev. J.J. Cheek of First Baptist Paducah and economic failures of the Global Awakening of 1904-1910). Preachers and authors I am aware of have expounded 2 Chronicles 7:14 cited theological liberalism and false “gospels” as evidence of our need for revival.
I sure hope I am wrong, but I struggled to avoid the sense that I was being manipulated with this language. We should exercise caution when disagreeing with sincere believer’s interpretation or application of Scripture.
The passage in 2 Chronicles 7:14 offers contemporary Christians a hopeful promise and path to revival for God’s people in this nation and all the nations. Its themes are New Testament themes that direct God’s people in what to do in a time of decline to return God’s people to God that they might be a light to the nations. God has given the entire Old Testament to the church, too (Rom. 15:4). If we understand God’s promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 in its biblical context and trace its meaning to Christ, we will have solid ground on which to call God’s people to return to Him.
David Mills is senior pastor of Beech Haven Baptist Church in Athens and former professor of Evangelism at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.
 John R. W. Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today (Grand Rapids: Wm B Eerdmans, 1982).
My people (Matt 2:6; Rom 9:25; 2 Cor 6:16; Heb 8:10), called (Rom 8:28, 30; 1 Cor 1:9; Eph 2:11; 4:1, 4), humble themselves (James 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5), pray (Matt 5:44; 6:9; Col 4:2), seek My face (Rom 12:1; Eph 5:10, 1 Tim 2:3), turn (Luke 13:1—3; Rom 2:5; 2 Pet 3:9), land (Matt 9:26; 10:15; James 5:17; Jude 5; Rev 10:2, 5).