The Pen

The National (Take A Verse Out Of Context) Day of Prayer

(First, a disclaimer:  Okay, I know Pulpit & Pen is, according to our triune tagline, a site of Theology, Polemics, and Discernment. So this article about a verse out of context is itself somewhat out of context for the site. Just presume there’s an unwritten fourth category and tag this article under it … “Please stop doing that”. Contending for the Word is contending for the faith, after all!)

Thursday, May 5 has been designated as the National Day of Prayer. America has annually observed such a day of supplication since Harry S Truman signed the designatory bill into law in 1952.  On Thursday, millions of American Christians will gather together or will individually pause to specifically pray for America. That’s good.

While we’re admonished by the Apostle Paul to “pray without ceasing,” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) he also wrote the following words to Timothy about the specificity of our prayers:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.   1 Timothy 2:1-3

Indeed, that “is good.” We should be regularly praying for our leaders.  You probably don’t even need to turn on the nightly news to figure out why.

But here’s where so many Christians – including pastors and Christian leaders – veer off the Scripturally-prescribed path of nationalistic prayer. They jerk a verse out of Scripture, out of context, and wrongly apply it to our pleas to God for America.   We wield it as a promise, imbue with perceived power, and expect from it a divinely-induced revival. You know the verse.

2 Chronicles 7:14 has to be the most oft-referenced Old Testament text when this day rolls around. As biblically-illiterate as most typical believers are, this verse is probably their second most favorite Old Testament Scripture, following behind, perhaps, Isaiah 9:6 (“For unto us a child is born …”) when it’s used during the Christmas season. The average pew-sitter tends to disregard the Old Testament, to the great demise of their own edification.

Instead, many believers leave that chunk of pages at the front of their Bibles lying dormant as they furiously flip in their verse-plucking endeavors to their favorite inspiring New Testament texts. We prefer something like, say, Philippians 4:13, which, as with the Chronicles verse, is also equally ripped out of context and wrongly applied. But it makes us feel inspired, empowered, and hopeful. That’s okay, right? Umm, no.  

Faith is based on truth, not feelings. Scripture conveys truth. If you get the meaning wrong – and there is ONLY one meaning – those inspirational “feelings” you get may just leave you wondering, “Why wasn’t I actually able to ‘do all things’ like it said?” when the subsequent “promised” results aren’t forthcoming.  To get the meaning wrong means to get the truth wrong.

The same thing happens with this ubiquitous National Day of Prayer verse. We’ve been praying for over 60 years on this allotted day for God to “heal our land” and it just doesn’t seem to be working.  Are there not enough of us praying? Are we not sincere enough?  God’s not “healing our land.”  Things are getting worse. What’s the deal?

Could it be … we’ve got it wrong? Yes. Yes, we do.

Consider the Chronicles text provided below in its fuller context.

 12 Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. 13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 14 if my people who are called by my name 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 land15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. 16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. 17 And as for you, if you will walk before me as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my rules, 18 then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.’

Let’s apply a simple hermeneutical technique to 2 Chronicles 7:14. The first rule of Biblical interpretation is the rule of context, and that rule is: CONTEXT RULES.   Here, then, are some questions to ask about this verse that can ONLY be answered by knowing its full context.

Who is speaking? God. God is speaking to Solomon.  If you read an even fuller context of this portion of Scripture, you’ll see that God is responding to Solomon’s prayer from Chapter 6 during the dedication of the new temple in Jerusalem.

Who is “my people?” It is Israel, the nation “called by my name.” “My people” does not represent America, or Taiwan, or Great Britain, or ANY other nation or, even, Christians as a whole. It means ONLY the historic nation of Israel.

Look at verse 12. What’s “this place?” It’s the temple. Where is it? Jerusalem. It is not the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. It is the historic, Solomon-built, Jerusalem-fixed, temple.

What “land” is being referenced in verse 14? Again, it’s the land of Israel. The original “promised land” God gave to Israel. And, as Voddie Baucham once quipped, “America is not the new Jerusalem.”

What does “heal their land” mean? Look back at verse 13. Healing clearly means the removal of the blights incurred by God’s judgment on the disobedient nation of Israel. He would send the rains, remove the devastation of locusts, and terminate the pestilence. In other words, “heal their land” meant just that – replenishing the physical land to fruitfulness. It’s important to note that, even for Israel, it did not mean something spiritual. It did not mean revival.   It did not mean an awakening.   And it doesn’t mean those things for America either.

A further thing to realize is seen in verses 17 and 18.   God is speaking in reference to His covenant established with Solomon’s father David. The language reaffirms God’s commitment to Israel based on their obedience to His commands and also to the perpetuation of a “royal throne” for the progeny of Solomon based on his obedience. If you’re not aware of it, that covenant has been replaced. Read Hebrews. Something far more wonderful has happened!

Much more could be gleaned from this portion of Scripture, but this should be enough to understand that it does not mean, cannot be construed to mean, nor should be expected to mean … AMERICA. The promises offered were for Israel under the Davidic covenant … EXCLUSIVELY. They are for no other people, at no other time, in no other place. This verse of historical narrative ONLY applies at the time, place, and context when God originally uttered it. God has always and only had one chosen nation.  And America ain’t it. (There is no valid hermeneutic principle that allows this verse to be interpreted, or applied, to America. Stop doing it.)

It does violence to Scripture to pluck this verse (or any other) out of context and wrongly apply it  to America. To do so is to engage in a maneuver akin to the heretical prosperity gospel proponents, jerking verses out of the corpus and context of Scripture, and using them to justify “another gospel” that promises health, wealth, and prosperity.   To do this is to wrongly “handle the Word of Truth.”  It smacks of the “name it claim it” heresy.

Yet we see it done every year. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is plastered on church “pray for America” bulletins. It’s cited from pulpits and uttered in Sunday school rooms. It was tagged on the closing credits of War Room, a “Christian” movie, to emphasize the woeful problems evident in America. Memes of it will be spewed across social media, entreating its promises from God.

Denominations even promote its false interpretation.   Ronnie Floyd, President of the Southern Baptist Convention, concluded his blog entry, The Spiritual State of Our Union in 2016: America Must Come Back to God with a citation of this verse – out of context and wrongly applied, of course.

The exhortations of 2 Chronicles 7:14 to humble ourselves, to pray, to seek God, and repent are echoed throughout the New Testament, to be sure. But the covenantal, national promises from that verse are not. If they were, why then shouldn’t I, or you, equally expect to receive the blessing of having our children continue to reign on the throne if we just remain obedient?  Oh yeah, because it AIN’T ABOUT me or you. Likewise, it isn’t about America.

(Oh, since the Jerusalem temple has been lying in ruins for nearly 2 millennia, the “seek God” maneuver can only be done in one place these days … His Word.  Encourage others to try it … including the nearest SBC pastor.)

Indeed, if we insist on using this verse as a magical, biblical formula for revival, why don’t we ever consider the words of the Lord that follow in verses 19 and 20 of 2 Chronicles 7.  These would be much more applicable to America today:  “But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you …”  Hmmm. Why isn’t that part of the text ever mentioned?  Because, again, none of this applies to America.

Yet, on this upcoming National Day of Prayer, please do pray for America, for our leadership, and for our citizens. Do it daily. But don’t use this verse wrongly, expecting blessings that will not be forthcoming for America, since it isn’t about America.  (If you want to accurately apply a text of Scripture to America, try Romans 1 since it’s abundantly evident that we are under the judgmental wrath of God’s abandonment.  Turn the news on to see how God has “given them up.”)

As much as I love America, as much as I am blessed with the freedoms that yet remain for a citizen here, and though I regularly pray for it, America is not my source of hope, strength, or salvation. If you are an “abide in my Word” disciple, you understand, with me, that “our citizenship is in heaven.” Philippians 3:20

Recall that, when the Gospel was given to us in its fullness, it came into a world that was also religiously pluralistic, morally-depraved, and politically antagonistic. But that Gospel exploded across the planet, despite the untenable culture it encountered.  That Gospel is “the power of God for salvation;”  2 Chronicles 7:14, as much as we want it to be, is not a “power” verse promising anything to America.  It is not a formula for awakening.  The Gospel is the power.

Souls in America need the power of the Gospel, regardless of what tenor the government or the society assumes. (A tenor which, by the way, will not be getting better.  Read the Book.  We know how things play out.) Likewise, souls in our pews and pulpits need that Truth too.

Let us pray, then, for another reformation in the church, for an awakening of it to the authentic promises of Scripture, and for its renewed obedience to the authority of His Word. Let us pray for that with greater fervency and greater frequency.   Let us “preach the Gospel” to every American, for those whose citizenship may be eternally changed by it will know the Truth that will make them truly free.  (Goats, ya’ know, must first be re-born before they can be revived, especially the ones sittin’ in the pews.)

And remember, for your own hermeneutical edification, as hard as this might be to hear, Scripture isn’t about you. It’s about God. It’s a wonderful revelation about Him, with correspondingly wonderful promises for those chosen by and obedient to Him. But it’s about Him … not you … not me … and certainly not about America.

There are no miracle verses or ancient Biblical formulas that will change this country or any other.  But the Gospel …

Contributed by Bud Ahlheim