I love fielding questions like these because the answer lies in careful biblical interpretation. This is not some highfalutin philosophical discussion. Instead, this answer is to be found in a careful study of the biblical text itself.
In a sense this is a question that no one is asking and every one is asking. As America continues her descent in to moral depravity we are wondering how such a passage applies to us.
Some are confident that the “My people” in today’s time should refer to all Americans in general. Yet there are some who wonder if this is an appropriate application.
A crucial step in sound interpretation involves us trying to understand the context in which a given passage of Scripture is located. There is, first of all, the historical context. Where in time and under what kind of culture was this passage written? Then, there is the literary context. Where does this passage fit in the overall flow of the book in which it is located?
What’s interesting about Old Testament narrative is that sometimes the literary narrative also helps you pinpoint the historical context. And such is the case here. If you and I had been reading along beginning at chapter 1 we would understand that the people the Chronicler has in mind is the nation of Israel, before the exile, living under the dynasty and rule of King David. These are the people whom God has entered in to a covenant relationship with, which He initiated with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3).
By the time we get to chapter 7 David’s son, Solomon, is now on the throne and he has finished his project of building a temple for Yahweh (chapters 3-6). The latter part of chapter 6 is Solomon’s prayer of dedication after the temple was completed. In chapter 7 God’s glory fills the temple and then He speaks to Solomon saying…
12…“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices.
13 “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, 14 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 I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. 16 I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.
17 “As for you, if you walk before me faithfully as David your father did, and do all I command, and observe my decrees and laws, 18 I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to rule over Israel.’
19 “But if you turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, 20 then I will uproot Israel from my land, which I have given them, and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. I will make it a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. 21 This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ 22 People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why he brought all this disaster on them.’”
So who is the “My people” in this passage? The Lord tells us in the next line… who are called by My name. As I hinted at earlier, the people called by His name are those who enjoy covenant relationship with Him, initiated through Abraham. As an aside, this passage is filled with God’s grace as He plainly warns them of exile if they should choose to disobey. Sadly, this warning came to complete fruition in 587 B.C.
Now that we understand this passage in its context, we can extract the timeless theological principle… When God’s people repent of disobedience, He promises to restore them. What a wonderful promise!
But now comes the tricky part. How do we faithfully bring this principle in to the 21st century? How and to whom should this principle be applied today? Well, there is a crucial detail we must notice. This verse was originally applied to God’s covenant people, those with whom He initiated a relationship with through Abraham (have I mentioned that already?). The question for interpretation, then, is who is God’s covenant people today?
My answer is the Church. All throughout the New Testament we see this “called” language being used to speak of God’s activity in drawing sinners out of darkness and in to His new covenant people, the Church. A shining example of this can be found in 1 Peter 2:9-10,
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
See also 1 Cor. 1:2, 24, Eph. 1:3-14, 4:1, Col. 3:12, Rom. 8:28, etc.
Despite what many have thought to be a reference to America, we have no indication from the New Testament that God works through nation-states. Imagine how silly it would have been for Paul to think that the Roman empire now filled the role of ancient Israel when it came to these same Old Testament passages! Israel’s functioning as both a nation and the people of God is a role they enjoyed in a specific time in history and during a certain point in God’s overall plan of redemption.
Once we understand that God’s covenant people today is the Church it instantly cuts the legs out from under several other works by authors very popular today such as Jonathan Cahn (author of The Harbinger). Many of these popular end time theories, or what have you, operate under the faulty interpretation that America has somehow taken place of the ancient nation of Israel.
Toward A Biblical Application
Great. So if this is the case, how do we apply the verse today? Well, here is one possible scenario of many. Imagine the stereotypical church who gets embroiled over a fight about the color of the new carpet.
Such a church might miss out on some of God’s blessings and, indeed, might even experience God’s loving discipline as a result of their carnal attitudes in how they’ve been engaging with one another. If this church can ever come to realize their sin and rebellion before the Lord, they may decide as a congregation, to repent. Praise the Lord! If so, the promise to God’s people in 2 Chronicles 7:14 still stands. They will experience restoration and will be able to continue their ministry in that community.
I hold a high place in my heart for biblical interpretation because I believe every text has an intended meaning. Our job as students of this Word is to work hard at discovering what that meaning is and carefully thinking through how that meaning applies today.
God’s Word is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12)! But if we grant ourselves the authority to make it mean what we want, we effectively rob it of the power it was meant to have over our lives.
Some of you might be disappointed at this interpretation of a much beloved verse. But don’t let that happen! Rejoice that this verse today applies to God’s people everywhere, not just one country!
Join me next week as I explore the historical underpinnings of how this verse came to be interpreted in the way it has throughout the years.