For those who pray for this nation to turn to its character of the past, the following verse from 2 Chronicles 7 is familiar: “[I]f 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.” But what does this look like? What shape does this action have? Who is God, in this passage, speaking to?
A superficial answer to these questions is readily available in the prior chapter. God appears to Solomon in a dream in this chapter 7 and recites many of the same words Solomon had prayed in chapter 6. Solomon, in chapter 6, was praying at the dedication of the temple. He called upon the nation to seek the Lord’s face in the temple in times of trouble. He called upon them to turn toward the temple even in exile during times of trouble. And he requested the Lord’s response to humble submission in prayer.
But I would like to go deeper in understanding this passage. There are forms and patterns here that take the reader back to the book of Exodus. Exodus is the book of relationship in the Pentateuch. It describes the establishment of the Mosaic covenant. The first half of the book describes the historical events of the Exodus as the foundation for the new covenant made through Moses. But in chapter 19, the book makes a dramatic shift in narration. In chapter 19, Yahweh gives the nation of Israel His law and warns the nation not to “break through” to him on the Mount Sinai. To do so would mean certain death.
But in chapter 24, God commands Moses, Aaron and the elders to come up the mountain to worship the Him. How can it be that what had been warned as a source of fear would now become acceptable? The source of transformation from curse to blessing takes the shape of a worship service. Chapter 24 describes the paradigm for worship for the new nation of Israel, covenant renewal worship.
The author of Exodus introduces chapter 24 with an invitation from God in verse 1 to “come up” to the mountain. But it is not until verse 9 that Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and the seventy elders actually “went up.” Some commentators claim this to be a flaw in the narrative. It is actually an opportunity for covenant renewal worship to be highlighted for what it is, the way to God.
In response to God’s invitation to “come up,” this is what Moses did. He built an alter. He called the people together to hear his words. He declared the words of the covenant to the people. He offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings. He threw half the blood of the offerings against the alter and threw the other half of the blood on the people, declaring “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” The people responded by confirming in an oath the covenant. Then the representatives of the people “went up.” But the worship service did not end there.
When the leaders of the people “went up,” they saw God and they ate and drank with him. They entered into covenant fellowship with their God. What they ate was most certainly the peace offering previously sacrificed in the prior series of events. And God did not take any action against them but invited Moses further up the mountain to receive the pattern for the tabernacle.
As we come to 2 Chronicles, this is precisely the pattern we see Solomon taking in his approach to Yahweh. In chapter 1, after he becomes king, he goes to the tabernacle, the tent of meeting created after the pattern that Moses saw on Mount Sinai. He offered burnt offerings (but not peace offerings); the arc of the covenant had been taken to Jerusalem. Yahweh then appeared to Solomon and asked him to make a request of Him in a dream.
Chapters 2 through 4 then describe how Solomon built the temple after the image of the tabernacle. In chapter 5, Solomon institutes another covenant renewal worship service during the feast of tabernacles after the temple’s completion. He offers burnt sacrifices and peace offerings. The sacrifices are so numerous they cannot be counted. And he prays for Yahweh’s protection when His people pray in or toward the temple. And the people eat before the Lord. After all of this, God appears to Solomon and gives him what he requested in his prayer, His promise. He will be with His people and establish His man on the throne on His holy mountain. When His people who are called by His name will worship Him, He will answer.
The shape of humbling ourselves in 2 Chronicles 7 is to return to covenant renewal worship. If we do so, God will heal our land.