America doesn’t feel much like a nation under God. It seems like we’re seeing and hearing new forms of sin promoted every day from every angle—music, TV, politics, you name it. The past year seemed to bring out the worst in many people. Unbridled anger has caused a lot of hurt and division that has yet to heal, and it has affected the way many people interact (or refuse to interact) with each other. As is true of every nation, the United States needs the Lord.
One verse I’ve heard a lot over the past year is 2 Chronicles 7:14: “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 will forgive their sin and heal their land.” I hear it used most often in response to tragedy or immorality. Many people make it sound like such an easy fix to spiritually revolutionize America.
In theory, they’re right. The best course of action the people of our nation can take is to repent, humble ourselves, and seek the Lord. And this verse does provide that blueprint for a nation to find healing. But to best understand the depth of that promise, let’s examine the verse’s intended recipient: Israel.
A Message to Solomon
To set the scene, let’s turn the clock back 3,000 years to the reign of King Solomon. Now Solomon had a special relationship with God. He was granted a privilege few in history have ever had: witnessing the physical presence of God (2 Chronicles 1). Appearing to him at night, the Lord asked Solomon what he desired that He could give him. It appears Solomon was new to his position, as this interaction takes place immediately after his anointing to become king (1 Chronicles 29).
The timing seemed perfect: The first verse of 2 Chronicles says he “was strengthened in his kingdom, and the Lᴏʀᴅ his God was with him and exalted him exceedingly.” Put another way, he was in prime position to ask for anything he wanted. Yet rather than asking for riches or prosperity or selfish gain, his request was perfect: He asked for wisdom. God was happy to oblige, saying, “Wisdom and knowledge are granted to you; and I will give you riches and wealth and honor, such as none of the kings have had who were before you, nor shall any after you have the like” (2 Chronicles 1:12).
Rather than asking for riches or prosperity or selfish gain, Solomon’s request was perfect: He asked for wisdom.
Skipping ahead to chapter 7, Solomon still walked with the Lord and ruled with a righteous heart like his father David did. He honored the Lord and was working to bring David’s dream to life: an immaculate temple for the Lord’s glory where the people of Israel could worship. At this particular moment, Solomon had just completed the construction of the Temple and dedicated it to the Lord.
To seal his commitment to the Lord, Solomon did a number of notable things. First, he made an offering of staggering proportions—22,000 bulls and 120,000 sheep! Next, he consecrated the middle of the Temple’s court for the Lord for burnt offerings and peace offerings. Then, he observed the dedication of the altar for seven days and the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days. His heart was set on obeying the Lord and bringing Him honor.
The chapter then moves immediately to the Lord’s second appearance to Solomon again at night. Just as in His first appearance to Solomon, God had good news for the king of Israel: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice” (7:12). In this passage, Solomon found favor with the Lord, who accepted his prayer and his building.
But this satisfaction with Israel and its king would not last forever. God knew what would happen in the future, and He gave His people an outline to return to Himself: “When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence 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 I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (vv. 13–14). God’s promises included a provision for one of Israel’s most valuable covenants as well: “As for you [Solomon], if you walk before Me as your father David walked, and do according to all that I have commanded you, and if you keep My statutes and My judgments, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not fail to have a man as ruler in Israel’” (vv. 17–18).
Sadly enough, these warnings from the Lord were mostly ignored. Solomon failed to follow God the way his father did. While David’s name graced the covenant God made to establish his family’s kingly line that would lead to Jesus, Solomon received no such honor. Israel also failed to humble itself, pray, and seek His face as a nation throughout history. After a few hundred more years of national disobedience to God, all 12 tribes of Israel were taken captive by Assyria and Babylon.
An Eternal Promise for Israel
But God’s promises have no expiration date. What He promises is as good today as it was when He first promised it. This is certainly true of God’s covenant with David. That promise remains today because it found its meaning and fulfillment in the person and kingship of Jesus. In the case of 2 Chronicles 7:14, His promise to Israel holds true: If Israel will humble itself, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from sin, He will forgive them and heal their land.
Everything in Scripture is useful for us to learn from, but not everything is a promise whose stipulations apply uniquely to our country.
We can certainly trust that God will be pleased when we choose to humble ourselves and seek Him, but don’t forget to keep an eye on God’s intentions when He gave this charge to Solomon. Everything in Scripture is useful for us to learn from (2 Timothy 3:16), but not everything is a promise whose stipulations apply uniquely to our country. To that end, we should wholeheartedly follow the verse’s instructions, but we should understand that this provision for national restoration is meant specifically for Israel before any other nation.
An Appropriate Parallel for America
Though this potent promise was spoken specially to Israel, we can find a separate but similar application for our own nation. God showed a clear example of what happens when a pagan nation repents and turns away from its sin and toward Himself in the book of Jonah. The city of Nineveh, to which Jonah was sent to prophesy concerning its destruction, was terribly sinful. If it continued down its path of evil, it would be destroyed in 40 days (Jonah 3:4). But the Ninevites took this warning seriously. They didn’t trust in their own power to save themselves. Verse 5 states that they “believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.” In other words, they didn’t mess around or waste any time—they repented and chose to seek His face. For that, God spared them from certain desolation. He “saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it” (v. 10).
The humility and repentance of the Ninevites is a great reason for us to hope for God’s mercy on our nation if we adopt the same heart attitude. So while 2 Chronicles 7:14 may have been meant directly for Israel, we can draw this parallel from Jonah as our blueprint for repentance.
Even if the famous “If my people pray” verse is directed toward Israel specifically, it’s our duty to learn from it and see what it says about God’s character and His Chosen People. Remember the power this promise holds for Israel, and as with all of God’s Word, seek to understand this passage correctly in its proper context.