Today’s reading: 2 Chronicles 6-8.
At the pinnacle of Israel’s relationship with God, it’s a revelation to see that God was preparing them for the falling away that he knew would come. Solomon had just dedicated the completed temple, the glory of the LORD had come down and filled the temple, and Solomon had prayed the seven-fold prayer confirming the relationship between God and his people. Then, almost immediately, God warns of the calamities to come.
“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 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 will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:13-14
God doesn’t say “if I shut up the heavens.” He knows it will happen. The only uncertainty, the only “if,” is whether the people will repent in response to his discipline. Still, there is mercy and grace in God’s warning, and a plan for his people to find redemption. In looking at this plan for healing, it’s important to see that it’s directed at the body of believers as a whole, and not at specific individuals.
The principle applies to God’s people, not unbelievers. This is not a call for unbelievers to repent. It’s directed squarely at God’s own people. “If my people, called by my name…” It’s often invoked as a formula for revival, and it may apply in that situation, but it chiefly a call for repentance.
The disasters are affecting the whole body of believers, not just individuals. These are national disasters. That’s how the people will know God is chastening them. Though individuals are affected, all their neighbors are suffering as well.
The disasters affect the most basic needs: food, water, and health.
The disasters are a result of sin among God’s own people. Christian leaders sometimes invoke God’s hand of judgment when natural disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes strike. I’m not sure these disasters apply, because they don’t affect an entire nation, but the main mistake these leaders make is in trying to call down God’s judgment on unbelievers. God is directing the discipline of his disasters at his people, not those who don’t know him.
The disasters come from God’s own hand. God says, “I shut up the heavens, I command the locusts, I send the plague.”
God gives the formula that his people should follow in order to find deliverance and healing. I believe he means that the body of believers as a whole, and not just an individual here or there, must submit to these steps.
- They should humble themselves. “God gives grace to the humble.” Humility is the absence of pride. It is the recognition of one’s wretchedness and dependence on God.
- They should pray.
- They should seek God’s face. John Piper says to seek God’s face is to actively seek his presence. That means turning our heart and mind to him, and calling out to him. It won’t happen if we are proud or too busy with other things.
- They should repent, meaning to turn away from their sin, and turn back to God in obedience to his word. Repentance is a change of heart that leads to a change of direction.
Again, it’s important to realize that these disasters are national in scope. An individual suffering alone should not assume that God is punishing him because of sin. That may or may not be true. Individuals may suffer because of their own transgressions, but they may also encounter sickness or disaster as a result of the sins of others or the dangers of the fallen world we live in.
God was speaking to his covenant people when he laid out this formula for deliverance from disaster. Does it apply to us now, living under the new covenant? I believe God still loves us, and therefore disciplines us. If we, as a body, were to humble ourselves, and pray continually, and actively seek God by calling out to him, and stop sinning, I believe we would be amazed at the healing God would bring.
Ezra sets an example for us. He takes the promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14 and applies it to his situation and trusts God. The promise said, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven . . . ” God makes his forgiving, healing, and protecting work contingent upon our humbling ourselves, turning from sin, and seeking him in prayer. So Ezra and his troops humbled themselves (8:21) and sought God earnestly (8:23) — and God heard. But there is something else I learned from Ezra 8:21. (“I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves.”) Note the connection. Fasting is the means to humbling. How is this so? One way to present ourselves before God humbly is to demonstrate to him by fasting that we acknowledge our overwhelming love for physical pleasure. Fasting says to God, I know that I do not deserve my daily bread. My sin only deserves to be punished with starvation. I am sorry for my sins and I acknowledge with my fast how grievous they are. I long for you, O God, vastly more than I long for food. Fill me, O Christ! Fill me with “the bread that comes down from heaven”! – John Piper
Image by Niv Singer on Flickr, CC by-sa 2.0