Wednesday, May 16, 2012

If My People

It is one of the most quoted verses in the Bible: "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, 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).

Is it also one of the most misused?

The context in 2 Chronicles is that Solomon has just finished the dedication of the recently completed temple of the Lord.

Taking the verse literally and taking the context seriously (and I recognize the complexity of "context," given that Chronicles is a post-exilic work and so the priestly writers no doubt had the Second Temple in mind as they told this story while the story being told is set in the 10th Century BCE and has to do with the dedication of the First Temple), we must acknowledge the following:

1. The promises in this verse and in the surrounding verses assume a nation in which the lines between the "people" and the "nation state" are fine if not non-existent and

2. That nation is pre-Christian era Israel and no other nation.

Is it possible for any other nation state to apply the promises made to pre-Christian era Israel to itself?

It seems to me that many people in my context make a too easy and likely inappropriate leap to apply this verse to the United States so that "my people" refers to American Christians (and anyone who will come on board with them) and "their land" refers to America. People living in other nations may make the same leap.

So, to take the verse literally and to take its context seriously seems to mean that it must be applied only to ancient Israel.

Still, being in our Bibles, we want and need to apply it to our time.

How can we with integrity and appropriateness do so?

1 comment:

Greg Millette said...

I've always had similar misgivings about the application of this verse to other nation-states. It seems to me that the closest modern parallel to ancient Israel is the Christian church, God's 'people' by virtue of adoption through Christ, and it is for the church that I see modern application. It can apply to the church universal, denominational or local. The 'land' is the Kingdom of God which we invite to earth every time we pray the Lord's Prayer. If God's people called by the name of Christ will be truly humble, will pray, will seek God's kingdom and will avoid evil, then he will hear from heaven, forgive our sin and heal the internal wounds that keep so many of our churches from reaping a strong harvest in the mission and discipling fields. That's how I've come to view the verse.