Second Chronicles 7:14 is one of the most misinterpreted and mis-claimed verses in the Bible. But instead of just shutting someone down with a “you-took-that-verse-out-of-context” approach, you can help people discover and correct their own inadequate hermeneutic by gently walking them through four basic steps of proper biblical interpretation. Here are the steps applied to this passage:
[I]f 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.
STEP #1 - Help them identify the genre of the biblical passage. Second Chronicles primarily falls under the genre of historical narrative. More specifically, it can be categorized as “middle level” narrative, providing a documentary history of God’s people, Israel. With any narrative, it is vital to interpret the parts in light of the whole, and thus we must interpret 2 Chronicles in light of God’s covenant history with the nation of Israel.
STEP #2 - Help them with observations about the context of the passage. This could include literary, grammatical, historical, and cultural contexts. Since 2 Chronicles is historical narrative, we must locate this pericope in the larger narrative. First Chronicles begins with Israel’s genealogies and moves through the reign of Israel’s first two kings. Second Chronicles picks up with the reign of King Solomon and traces the Southern Kingdom through to the Babylonian exile.
In chapters 2-5, Solomon begins preparations for the construction of the temple and eventually completes its building. At the end of chapter 5, God fills the temple with His glory. In chapter 6, Solomon dedicates the temple, and at the beginning of chapter 7, Yahweh again responds with His glory, bringing us to our passage.
STEP #3 - In light of the first two steps, interpret the meaning of the passage. As we examine the “who, what, where, and when” of this passage, it becomes clear this is not a general formula for revival that many modern Christians take it to be. Who is God speaking to? He is speaking to Solomon: “Then the Lord appeared to Solomon at night and said to him...” (v. 12). However, God clearly has the nation of Israel in view, as He refers to “My people” in verse 14.
When does God deliver His message, and to where is He referring? Verse 11 tells us Solomon has finished the “house of the Lord,” the new temple. It is after the construction of the temple and Solomon’s dedication that God chooses to speak to him. In the verse immediately following, God states He had “chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice” (v. 12, emphasis mine). “This place” is the temple in Jerusalem. In light of who God is speaking to and when and where He is referring, the reference to “this land” in verse 14 is clearly the promised land of Israel. Therefore, when God says He will heal the land, Israel’s land is in view, not the land of the United States!
Furthermore, this alleged promise to Christians is typically taken to be one of spiritual healing or revival. However, when God promises to “heal their land,” the context suggests physical restoration, not spiritual restoration. Notice the physical references of verse 13: “If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people...” God would bring physical blessing for Israel’s obedience (Deut. 28:2-14) and physical cursing for disobedience (Deut. 28:15-68).
The structure of Solomon’s prayer and God’s response are reflective of the Mosaic covenant outlined in Deuteronomy 28. If Israel will “turn from their wicked ways,” blessing will ensue. If the Israelites “turn away and forsake [God’s] statues and [His] commandments,” the curses of the covenant will be enacted. Indeed, the conditions of the covenant are played out in the history of Israel. The disobedience of the Southern Kingdom results in their exile to Babylon in 586 B.C., and the Assyrians conquer the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C.
STEP #4 - Help them apply the meaning of the passage to their life. Rather than discover an application to “my personal life” from this passage, we discover the nature and character of God. Contrary to the common misconception that the God of the Old Testament is an angry vindictive deity, we see a God who is patient, long-suffering, and gracious. Yahweh would have been justified in bringing destruction to Israel much earlier in their history, as they continually forsook Him. Instead, He patiently bears with their disobedience and forgives their wicked ways. He was faithful, even when Israel was faithless. This is the same God who now offers us redemption and reconciliation in the New Covenant, through Jesus Christ.