2 CHRONICLES 7:11-18
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
July 1, 2018
If you’re able - as we come before God’s word together - would you please stand and read with me our text for this morning - 2 Chronicles 7:11-18:
Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord and the king’s house. All that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the Lord and in his own house he successfully accomplished.
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. When I shut up the heavens and there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, 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 land. Now My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. 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. And as for you, if you will walk before Me as David your father walked, doing to all that I have commanded you and keeping My statutes and My rules, then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying ‘You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.’”
This coming July 4th is the 242nd Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence: True or False?
False: July 2, 1776 - the Second Continental Congress - 12 of 13 colonies voted in favor of the motion for independence. On July 4th the delegates the delegates officially adopted the declaration - which is why July 4th is celebrated as Independence Day. But the actual document wasn’t signed until August 2nd.
If you’ve seen National Treasure you should get this one. There actually is something written on the back of the Declaration of Independence: True or False?
True: Not a treasure map. Which would be really cool. But, on the back - written upside-down at the bottom of the document is a note: “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776.” No one knows exactly who wrote that or when. Best guess is someone during the Revolutionary War.
John Quincy Adams - our 6th President - said this: “The highest glory of the American Revolution was this, that it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.”
James Madison - our 4th President who was known as the “Chief Architect of the Constitution” - said this: “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not on the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the 10 Commandments of God.”
Those are samplings of many quotes that we could share.
There’s a debate that goes back and forth about the roots of the United States and about our being a Christian country founded by Christians or about our being a country that was founded on Christian principles because a majority of our founders held to those principles or had those principles in their background. Put simply: How Christian were we?
Usually what’s connected to that debate is a concern that’s expressed about the condition of America today and how far we’ve come away from those founding principles. Usually pointing at issues like abortion and sexual confusion and rampant immorality and the breakdown of the family and society as a whole.
Along with the debate and the concern is a desire and a call to cry out to God that we would return to where we’ve come from if indeed that was were we actually came from - being Christian and all. And so the debate or discussion - which seems to be more to the forefront of thinking around July 4th. Put simply: Where were we and where are we and what should we do about it?
The late Francis Schaeffer - in his “A Christian Manifesto” writes this: “The basic problem of the Christians in this country in the last eighty years or so, in regard to society and in regard to government, is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.
“They have very gradually become disturbed over permissiveness, pornography, the public schools, the breakdown of the family, and finally abortion. But they have not seen this as a totality—each thing being a part, a symptom, of a much larger problem. They have failed to see that all of this has come about due to a shift in world view—that is, through a fundamental change in the way people think and view the world and life as a whole. This shift has been away from a world view that was at least vaguely Christian in people’s memory (even if they were not individually Christian) toward something completely different—toward a world view based upon the idea that the final reality is impersonal matter or energy shaped into its present form by impersonal chance. They have not seen that this world view has taken the place of the one that had previously dominated Northern European culture, including the United States, which was a least Christian in memory, even if the individuals were not individually Christian.” (1)
Are we hearing Schaeffer? The bottom line issue is much deeper than the degree to which the roots of the country were Christian - or not. The bottom line issue is much deeper than the issues we currently struggle with as a nation. The bottom line issue we’re dealing with is a world view shaped by a heart level understanding that denies the existence of a personal God - if there is indeed a God at all.
Where we may or may not have been as a nation and how to get back there isn’t the issue. Today - at the heart level America is a post-Christian nation that understands reality in terms of impersonal matter and random chance. So - put simply: How are we as Christians suppose to live and respond - heart level - today in post-Christian America?
Which is why we’re looking at 2 Chronicles 7. Which is God giving instructions to His people on how to respond during times of spiritual failure.
Verse 11 “Thus” connects us with The Big Picture of what’s going on here with Solomon and God’s people.
Solomon has just finished building what we know as Solomon’s Temple.
In 2 Chronicles 2:5 - as Solomon was beginning his building project - Solomon said, “The house that I’m about to build will be great, for our God is greater than all gods.” Which Solomon does.
153,000 workers working for 7 years - God’s Temple is finally completed and God’s Temple is great. Ornate - with carvings and various woods and metals and materials used. It’s impressive - up to 20 stories tall. It’s expensive - valued in the trillions of dollars It is unlike anything else before it or since.
So building project completed - Solomon brings into the Temple all of the silver and gold that David had dedicated and stored up - the things that were necessary to do worship. And Solomon gathers all the elders of Israel and the leaders of the tribes and the priests bring the Ark of the Covenant into the Temple. The Ark with the two stone tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Horeb. Where God had made His covenant with His people.
And the priests are there with cymbals and harps and lyres and trumpets and other instruments and singers are there singing and praising and thanking God for all that God has done for His people. And God fills the Temple with His glory so that the priests can’t even stand and do ministry.
Then Solomon blesses the people and reminds them of what God has done. Then Solomon - standing before the altar - before the elders and leaders and priest and people - Solomon offers a prayer of dedication of the Temple.
It is a prayer of praise of God and a prayer of petition - asking God to keep His eyes upon His people - when they stumble in sin - when their enemies rise up - when they cry out to You - Oh God hear them and save them.
Fire comes down from heaven and consumes the sacrifices laid out on the altar - God’s glory fills the Temple so that the priests can’t even go inside the Temple. The people hit the ground - bowing with their faces to the ground and worship and give thanks to God.
Then Solomon leads the nation in what is an unparalleled - worship service - with instruments and singing. 7 days of feasting. 142,000 oxen and sheep are sacrificed. Solomon and the people worshipping and praising God for God’s goodness and steadfast enduring covenant love.
“Thus” - verse 11 - “Solomon finished the house of the Lord and the king’s house. All Solomon had planned to do he successfully accomplished.”
Verse 12: “Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him…”
God’s response to what Solomon has done. Solomon building the Temple where and how God said for His Temple to be built. Solomon leading the people in worship - the sacrifices - the praise - the thanksgiving - God showing up in the midst of all that and God consecrating His Temple - setting it apart as His and for Him only. Solomon praying on behalf of the people asking for God’s continual presence and blessing of God’s people.
“Thus” and “then” - that night God responds - speaks personally with Solomon.
God’s response is forward looking.
Looking down the ages of future history and seeing what is yet to be achieved by God’s people and seeing what will come up against God’s people. Seeing how God’s people will live before God - in obedience and sin.
Looking down the ages of future history and seeing all that - God responds with a warning of danger and disaster if God’s people walk away from God and a promise of deliverance if God’s people will come back to God.
At the core of all of what God tells Solomon - is the very familiar - often quoted - often sung - emotion inspiring - it gets used a lot around patriotic events - verse 14.
Very familiar so let’s walk through this together and make sure we’re not on cruise control. That we’re hearing what God is actually telling His people. What God will respond to and why. God’s Instructions.
“If My people...” Who’s people? My people. Meaning God’s people. The people called by My name. People who are known because of Who God is.
Meaning, if it wasn’t for God nobody would give a rip about who these people are. Abraham and Terah and the “Lot” of them would still be back in Ur. Abraham... Urr... who?
The descendants of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob that God chose out of obscurity and uniquely covenanted with. Their descendants that God redeemed out of bondage in Egypt. That God preserved and saved and prospered and led through the wilderness and instructed in how to be a nation - how to be a people living rightly before Him. The people that God led in conquest of the land that God had promised to give to them and did. The people that God had established and prospered on the land.
The people that God had chosen to be a witness to the nations of what it means to live in covenant relationship with the living God. A people that God had called together and raised up to bring glory to His name - because they would be known as the people called by His name.
Not Ra’s people. Not Pharaoh’s people. Not Baal’s people or Molech’s people. God’s people.
And God is very specific. “When” God does what God needs to do to get the attention of His people. “When” - not “if” - because looking at future history there will be times of spiritual failure.
“When” God does what God needs to do to get the attention of His people... When” God shuts up the heavens so there’s no rain or “when” God commands locusts to devour the land or “when” God sends pestilence - some devastating disease among His people.
Then - in those times of spiritual failure “if” Israel as a nation will humble themselves - meaning they themselves will agree with God that God is totally justified in shutting up and commanding and sending whatever in order to get their attention because they have indeed turned away from what it means to be God’s people.
Humility meaning God’s people agreeing with God, “We’ve messed up.” God’s people in humility throwing themselves down before God and totally yielding themselves to Him.
Let’s be clear on what humility God is calling His people to.
“My grandpa taught me a lot of lessons about life. One thing he taught me was not to be boastful about the things I’m good at. And I’m very proud to say that I’m not. In fact, I’m probably better at not being boastful than anyone I know.”
Humility comes to us when we rightly understand our place before the Holy God our creator Who has every right to cease our existence or to send us into eternal punishment because of our sin against Him. And yet chooses to be loving and merciful and gracious to us.
Humility is when we choose to stop justifying our behavior and avoiding God’s working in our lives and we finally get off of ourselves as the center of our own little universes and choose to humble ourselves by submit ourselves totally to God.
The greatest example of humility is... Jesus. Jesus setting aside His prerogative as God and taking on what it means to be human. Jesus in the Garden: “Not My will but Yours be done.” Jesus going to the cross for us because it is the will of the Father. (Luke 22:42; Philippians 2:1-11)
Timothy Keller - writing in “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” - Keller writes that the essence of humility “is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.” (2)
Meaning that we need to get our focus off of ourselves and onto the Sovereign Holy Almighty God our creator and sustainer and Savior Who is undeservedly gracious to us. To subject our will to His will for whatever He wills for us. God gets to be God. Not us.
Like Israel - we always get ourselves into trouble when we forget that. True?
Going on in verse 14 - that means prayer.
Specific to what God is speaking to Solomon - meaning keeping in mind the big picture of where and when God is speaking to Solomon - that means God’s people coming and offering prayer in the Temple.
The Temple that God has chosen as a place for Himself as a house of sacrifice. The Temple that God has consecrated and set apart - made holy by His presence - as the place where God’s people are to come before Him in prayer.
Prayers that are to be offered in humility in acknowledgement of sin. What were sacrifices offered to plead with God - to beg God - to implore God for atonement - being made right again in their relationship with God.
Let’s think about what that involved for God’s people.
That was a process for God’s people. What was going to be sacrificed - the sacrificial animal - or what was to be heaved or waved - that had to be decided upon and set apart and prepared. It meant a journey to the Temple - perhaps days of travel and all the arrangements for that journey. It meant sacrifices offered at specified times according to a religious calendar and all of what God had spelled out in His instructions through Moses.
It meant personal preparation - abstaining from certain activities for specified periods of time - wearing proper clothing - washings and anointings. There were rituals that needed to be observed before coming before God. Reminders of God’s holiness and personal failure and sin and the need to have God renew our covenant relationship with God.
Process ad preparation. There was a significant cost and consecration involved in prayer.
Because we are of the new covenant and in Christ Who is our once-for-all complete sacrifice offered on the cross for us - and God the Holy Spirit dwells permanently within us - enabling and interceding for us in prayer - we can be grateful that we don’t have to go through all of that to come to God in prayer. Amen?
Paul reminds us in Romans 12:1,2 - we are to lay ourselves on the altar as a living sacrifice - in sacrificial worship of God - so that we may live within the will of God. That attitude of prayer can only come from heart level humility before God.
Like Israel we’re to come before God in prayer and ask - to beg - to implore God for His resolution - for His rescue - for His renewal of our relationship with Him.
God goes on in verse 14 - if My people will humble themselves and pray and seek My face…
Barack Obama - the 44th President - in his farewell address said this: “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet try talking to them in real life.” (3)
To seek the face of God is to seek His presence. To press into God. To get personal with God. One-on-one intimacy. Face-to-face in the real time of real life.
If we want to get right with God - because we’ve totally messed up and we acknowledge it - if we long for only what is God’s best for us and what is for His glory - then we need to seek God for Who He is and what He has for us.
The word “seek” in Hebrew has the idea of craving an audience with a sovereign ruler that we have no right to expect ever being granted an audience with. We’re totally unworthy of being in the presence of God.
Except God asks us to seek Him. It’s like He gives us an invitation card that we can show at the doorway to the throne room that gets us admitted.
God invites us to seek Him. To crave being in His presence. To live longing for Him. For the relationship with Him that He desires to give to us ever growing richer and fuller and deeper and more intimate - for now and forever.
Grab this: God desires for us to press into Him because God desires to heal and restore us - now and forever.
Then - going on in verse 14 - God tells His people to turn from their wicked ways. Literally in the Hebrew it means to “turn back” to God from their wicked ways. Which - for God’s people - means not only a realization but an admission that we’ve been moving away from God.
The theological word for that is... “repentance.” Repentance means to turn around - to turn our hearts away from our sin and towards God.
God is not going to heal of us sin we haven’t turned from.
“I’m going in the wrong direction. I will turn from my wicked way. I will turn towards God.”
That’s not feeling sorry for our sin or coming mostly clean because we got caught or blaming someone else for what’s wrong in our lives or doing what we need to do until God makes things better. “Oh good. No more pestilence.” Back to the status quo of our sin.
Repentance is 180 degrees to the opposite direction. Not 100. Not 160. Not 179. But 180. Anything less than 180 degrees is not 180 degrees rejection of our sin turning towards God.
Repentance is the choice to change the direction our heart is inclined and to act on that choice. Agreement with God that we’re in sin and a volitional choice on our part to reject what is sin and to turn around. A permanent - “I’m all in” - never going back commitment to a change of our way through life that results in a change in the way we do life.
Verses 13 and 14 is God giving instructions to His people on how they are to respond during times of spiritual failure. God responding to His people responding as God has instructed them to respond as God is working to get their attention and to get them to respond to Him. What God chooses to respond to.
Why? Because God is always interested in the heart of His people. Where they are in relationship with Him.
Spiritual failure - wickedness which was prevalent over and over again in the nation of Israel - which we see in our nation today - and any place in the world we live in - which is nothing new or unique to today - perhaps the depth of it may be worse - but all of that points to a deeper - heart level - spiritual failure in our relationship with God.
What God is looking for - what God responds to - is the heart level spiritual response of His people. Because God is responding to the deeper spiritual issue of our relationship with Him.
God doesn’t say to seek His hand. Which is what we often do. In prayer we want to move the hand of God - for God to act on behalf of the nation - to restore our land - or something going on in our lives or someone else’s life. Which isn’t necessarily bad.
But we get focused on the “forgive our sin and heal our land” part and God is focused on the “if My people will humble themselves” part.
“You all noticed the drought and locusts and pestilence. So you want me to heal the land that I’ve given you. But where’s your heart? I’ve chosen and consecrated this Temple - set it apart as the place to seek Me in prayer. But have you chosen to consecrate yourselves to Me? Are you coming in humility and repentance? Or just coming to patch things up?”
So God instructs His people. When you are in a time of spiritual failure - which is pretty much always - you need to humble yourselves before Me and pray and seek Me and repent of your sin - then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive your sin and I will heal your land.
Processing all that…
Hold on to something.
Let’s be clear. This verse is not talking about us. These instructions are given to Israel not the Church. The land to be healed is the land that God promised and delivered and established His people Israel on.
There’s no superscripted number here and a footnote that says, “Oh, and by the way, if any other nation wants to pray in some other location - like in the United States - or in Tajikistan - or wherever, I’ll heal their land too.”
Often we hear that if God’s people - let’s say the church in America prays and does what God says here - assuming that somehow all of God’s people in America would all be praying for the same thing at the same time with the same heart attitude - which didn’t even happen in Israel way back when - but assuming all that - then God may bring spiritual awakening - a national spiritual revival - a huge turning to Him - that God is going to restore America to her Christian roots.
Which just isn’t part of this promise. Because God is talking about Israel and Canaan and not the Church and America.
Now, some of you may be thinking, “Gee, that was one of my favorite verses.” So, let’s be careful to understand how this verse does apply to us.
The promise here is given first of all to Israel. But since Israel is a model nation - chosen to demonstrate to the nations what it means to live in covenant relationship with the living God - this verse is intended to show us how God deals with all of His people - wherever and whenever they may be.
Which is why it’s important for us to understand - especially in times of spiritual failure - as a nation or even our own spiritual failure - it is crucially important for us to understand what God responds to and why.
Engaging the political system and protesting what is ungodly and working to influence those around us towards what is moral and just are all good things. Witnessing and sharing and caring for others in the name of Jesus. That’s all good. It all has its place.
But what gives this verse the significance and meaning and the weight that it carries is that these are instructions and a promise made by God to His people Israel.
Bottom line: This isn’t about America. This is about us.
to Revelation - God deals with people before He deals
Getting right with God is our individual responsibility. We can’t blame the church or the church leadership or the people in Sacramento or Washington and get bent out of shape by stuff going on if we’re not willing to yield to God for what He wants to do in our lives.
Humbling ourselves is about... humbling ourselves. About our individual position before God. Honesty in our relationship with God. Seeing our own desperation before the Holy Sovereign God.
Prayer is about our own relationship with God. These days what are your times of prayer like with God? Are you telling God what to do or what to heal or are you prostrate before Him?
What does it look like for you to long for quality time seeking the presence of God and pressing into Him - into His word - and being in personal worship and coming before Him open and yielded.
Are you walking towards God or walking towards wickedness? Are the choices of what you’re exposing yourself to and involving yourself in moving you away from God or towards God? We’re either all in to rejecting our sin and our commitment to pursue God or we’re not.
Whatever’s going on in your life. Maybe that’s drought - or locusts or pestilence. Or whatever we see going on in the nation around us. The place to start in responding to all that is our own response to God.
1. Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto, Crossway Books, Wheaton, ILL, 1981, page 17
2. Timothy Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, 10Pubishing, 2012, page 32
3. Barack Obama, Farewell Address, McCormick Place, Chicago, January 10, 2017
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.