A Poignant Invitation to a Wayward People
One of David’s burning ambitions was to build a “house” for his God. He was not permitted to engage in that enterprise, however, because he had “shed much blood” (1 Chronicles 22:8). It therefore fell to Solomon, a less-aggressive ruler, to build the temple on behalf of Jehovah (1 Kings 5:3-5).
The temple must have been magnificent beyond description. The gold alone that went into it exceeded $48 billion in value (1 Chronicles 22:14). It took seven years to complete, with thousands employed in the construction (1 Kings 5:13ff; 6:38).
The dedication of this great temple was auspicious indeed. The very glory of God filled the sanctuary (1 Kings 8:1ff), and fire from heaven consumed the sacrifice on the brazen altar (2 Chronicles 7:1-3). In the week that followed, Solomon offered 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep (2 Chronicles 7:4-11).
As marvelous as this structure was, it was never intended to be a substitute for personal godliness. Hence, during the dedication ceremonies, Jehovah spoke by night to Solomon. He subtly warned of a punishment that could come upon the nation if they strayed from the way of truth (2 Chronicles 7:13ff). The Lord might “shut up the heavens” so that there would be no rain. He could send a plague of locust to discipline Israel. Or he might bring pestilence (disease) upon the people themselves. It is interesting that each of these disasters came upon the nation at various subsequent periods (cf. 1 Kings 17:1ff; Joel 1:1ff; 2 Samuel 24:1ff).
But because the Lord is gracious, and is ever anxious for apostates to return to him, he offered a remedy in the event of defection. It involved a most comprehensive promise, ripe with both responsibility and reward, containing principles from which we can profit even today.
“. . . [I]f my people, who are called by my name, shall 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 7:14 ASV).
Let us consider a number of important elements in this powerful text.
There are three preliminary points that one should note as he begins a reflection upon this passage.
First, observe that the text has to do with the people of God — those who have adopted his name, i.e., they have identified with him and profess allegiance to him. It is a serious thing to claim a relationship with the Creator and then treat such lightly.
Second, there is the clear implication that the Lord’s people, as free-will agents, may exercise their volition and wander from him. How in the name of reason can Calvinists argue that a child of God can never abandon the faith (see Galatians 5:4; 2 Peter 2:1)?
Third, the careful student notes that the way back to God is conditional. Observe the “if. . . then” construction in verses 13-14. The blessedness of the “then” cannot be embraced until the “if” is fulfilled.
Conditions for Return
The inspired writer mentions four things in connection with the digressive’s return to the Lord. The first has to do with attitude; the remaining three are actions.
- The first requisite for returning to God is the disposition of abject humility. Humility is the opposite of haughtiness, arrogance, and pride. One who has departed from the Lord cannot return with a “chip” on his shoulder. He must pour himself before the Lord with deep contrition — as David did after his sordid affair with Bathsheba (cf. Psalm 51; cf. 32). In the Old Testament, the term is often used in a military sense — for “surrender.” It carries the idea of acknowledging Jehovah’s sovereignty and submitting to his will. The one who is void of humility can proceed no further toward reconciliation with the Lord.
- The truly humble person is then to pray for Heaven’s pardon. The Old Testament concept of prayer is rich and varied. The Hebrew term for “pray” is comprehensive, encompassing a range of needs. Here, obviously, the petition is for
forgiveness. God expects his penitent people to ask for pardon (cf. Matthew 6:12). Moreover, it involves a request from the heart, not merely the lips (cf. Jeremiah 3:10).
- The expression “seek my face” is the equivalent of seeking God himself (Psalm 24:6). To seek the Lord’s face, therefore, is to pursue fellowship with him, to strive to be in his presence (Proverbs 7:15); to solicit his favor (Psalm 105:4).
- The apostate was required to “turn from his wicked ways.” One of the best OT commentaries on what it means to “turn” is set forth in Jeremiah 3:22-4:2. It involves:
- acknowledging God’s sovereignty (v. 22);
- confessing the vanity of apostasy (v. 23);
- openly conceding the shame of wrongdoing (vv. 24-25);
- and pledging a new mode of conduct (4:1-2).
It is incredible that some today should actually argue that the erring may return to the Lord with no cessation of the evil in which they are involved (e.g., the entanglement of an adulterous “marriage”).
Corresponding to the three actions required of the penitent are three promised blessings from our benevolent God.
- Even from heaven Jehovah will “hear” the cry of the anguished. Unlike the idol gods of paganism, who can neither see nor hear (Deuteronomy 4:28; Psalm 115:6), the true God listens to his penitent people. When there is no sincerity, no change of conduct, however, though one were to “shout” in the Lord’s ears “with a loud voice,” he will not be heard (Ezekiel 8:18; cf. Isaiah 1:15; Jeremiah 11:11).
- The fact that God will listen to the contrite pleadings of his people is further pinpointed by the promise to “forgive their sin.” He will “abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7), which, in legal terms, means that he no longer holds the transgressor accountable for his spiritual crimes.
- Finally, Jehovah promised to “heal” Israel’s land. This may be a pledge to remove the penalties that had cursed Canaan as a consequence of Israel’s rebellion (cf. Deuteronomy 29:22). It could be a veiled allusion to the “restoration” of the land in the post-Babylonian captivity period. Should that be the case, the “healing” was only temporary, because the Hebrews finally lost their “deed” to the Holy land (cf. Joshua 23:15-16).
What a wonderful orchestration of divine principles there is in this text. We must remind ourselves that such things were not for Israel’s benefit alone, but for our’s as well (Romans 15:4). May we resolve not to depart from the path of truth. Or, should we have a lapse of fidelity, let us hasten home.