Friday, 23 November 2007

Revival through Prayer: Case Studies in 2 Chronicles

Revival through Prayer: Case Studies in 2 Chronicles

Rev. James M. Leonard
55th Annual Meeting
Council of Baptist Churches of North East India[1]

Why, in its mature reflection, has the leadership of CBCNEI chosen the topic “Revival through Prayer”? No doubt, there is a genuine concern for revival by the leadership. Also, the leadership must perceive that revival does not come through new building projects, through new worship styles, or through any other number of worthy endeavors, but rather through prayer. In one of my more perceptive moments, I envisioned myself standing at the corner of my own church building trying with all my might to push it forward. But alas, no matter how hard I tried to push the church building forward, it didn’t move at all. Really, we have nothing we can do to move the church forward except to pray. Thus the topic is well chosen.

Why 2 Chronicles?

I have narrowed the assigned topic to consider revival through prayer in the context of 2 Chronicles. There are two reasons for my choice of 2 Chronicles.

Theology of the Temple in 2 Chronicles
The first reason for choosing 2 Chronicles is because of the centrality of prayer in its presentation of temple theology, a dominant theme in the book. As one reads the account of Solomon’s great dedicatory pray of the temple (6:14-42), one is struck by the emphasis placed upon the People of God as a praying community. Repeatedly and formulaically, Solomon refers to those occasions when the Israelites would come to pray to God in the temple. This theme is revisited by Jesus when, after chasing out the buyers and sellers from the temple, he declared, “My house will be called a house of prayer…” (Matt 21:13 NIV, and pars.). [2] As such, the People of God as a praying community is an important element of the theology of the temple.

Another major emphasis in Old Testament (OT) temple theology is that the temple is the place of the presence of God. More precisely, it is the house of God, the place where he lives. If we were to do an archaeological dig in the Judean hills, and if we were to find a building with a lamp stand, a table for food, and a chair to sit in, we would surmise that the building was likely to be someone’s house. And thus it is so with the temple, with its golden lamp stand, table of the Presence, and the Ark of the Covenant with its Mercy Seat as a throne chair. These particulars indicate that the temple was God’s house, the place of his abode.

Solomon was amazed that God would condescend to come down from heaven to dwell among his people. Yet this was a fact long engrained in the thoughts and minds of those ancient Israelites. One need only recall that the tabernacle was centered in the midst of the camp, with the twelve tribes surrounding it to highlight the point that God dwells in the midst of his people. In fact, the apex of this theological notion is found in the lofty and bewildering text which states that “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14 NIV).[3]

The fact that God dwells among his people is the basis for God’s hearing their prayers. By all means, Solomon asserts, God hears from heaven, but he prays that God would especially be present within the earthly temple and hear the prayers of his people when they come to it. Likewise, as Jesus transfers OT temple theology to the church, he emphasizes the fact that whenever two or three pray in his name, the prayers will be heard because he himself is in their midst (Matt 18:19-20).

In all this, one cannot help but be amazed at how eager God is to hear our prayers. Not many people are eager to listen to me teach or tell stories or complain. But God is eager to hear us. He is so eager that he condescended to dwell in the building built by Solomon and in the Church built by Jesus.

2 Chronicles 7:14 as Paradigm
The second reason for appealing to 2 Chronicles to inform us about revival and prayer is that its most well known and beloved verse is paradigmatic for OT revival:

[quote]…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 will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land (7:14 NIV). [/quote]

By paradigmatic, I mean that the author intended this passage to be the model for every generation to follow, and that it is the basis for evaluating the People of God.
The context of this well known passage is the construction and dedication of the temple. Once the temple had been constructed, Solomon gave a dedicatory prayer, a summary of which is found in the last 27 verses of chapter 6.

This dedicatory prayer is formulaic, with Solomon revisiting four basic points:
1. The likelihood of Israel’s straying
2. The assuredness of God’s chastening
3. The condition of Israel’s repentance and prayer for relief at the temple
4. The petition that God would hear and act

This four-fold formula is exemplified in vv. 36-39:

[quote]When they sin against you…and you become angry and give them over to the enemy…; and if they have a change of heart…, and pray…toward the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their pleas…. [/quote]

After Solomon’s lengthy dedicatory prayer, the Lord answers him. The answer is dominated by two assumptions.

The first assumption in the Lord’s answer is encapsulated in the important word pairing, “My people.” The word pairing is pregnant with meaning. One element is the covenantal relationship between Israel and God. Related to this is the love relationship between the two. Further, the terminology implies fellowship. These concepts have significant implications for prayer. Specifically, it is through prayer that God and Israel enjoy all the prerogatives of covenant, love and fellowship inherent in the phrase “My people.”

The second assumption is encapsulated in the phrase “called by my name.” This modifying phrase completes the previous word pairing “My people.” Together, they produce the phrase “My people who are called by my name.” “Called by my name” indicates that Israel is supposed to reflect God’s character. Israel was supposed to live in such a way that God would “not be ashamed to be called their God” (Heb 11:16 NIV). Further, the phrase implies that Israel was to function as God’s ambassadors, speaking and acting under his authority and in his name.
Unfortunately, these two assumptions could never be assumed in the real life of Israel’s precarious history. In reality, Israel often did not fully participate in its covenantal life of love and fellowship with God. In reality, Israel did not often reflect God’s character or serve effectively as his ambassador. At such moments in its national history, Israel really needed revival.

This is an important point of application for our churches today. We must evaluate ourselves in such terms. Do our churches truly appreciate what it means to be called “My people who are called by my name”? Do our churches enjoy the covenantal life of love and fellowship with God? Do our churches reflect the character of God in such a way that it can be said of them, “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God” (Heb 11:16 NIV). Are we engaging the world around us in the high position of God’s ambassadors who speak in the name of the high King? If our self-evaluation finds us lacking, then we truly need revival.

After expressing the presuppositions implied in the phrase “My people who are called by my name,” God sets forth the four conditions for revival. They are deliberate and specific:

1. Humble themselves
2. Pray
3. Seek God’s face
4. Turn from their wicked ways

Much could be said about each of these. One could examine them lexically, syntactically, and theologically, and even historically through narrative examples found in the OT. However, I would suggest that instead of an exegetical study of the four conditions, one would benefit more from a meditative examination of each of them. One does not humble oneself, pray, or seek, or repent by doing exegetical studies. The best way to know what these four conditions are is to participate experientially in them. If you want to know what they mean, meditate at length upon each one.

When the four-fold condition of revival is met, God gives a three-fold assurance:

1. God will hear from heaven
2. God will forgive their sins
3. God will heal their land

When God fulfills these promises, then revival is experienced.

The author of the book of Jonah uses this paradigm in his account of the great Ninevite revival. When the people heard the word of God, they met the conditions for revival. First, they humbled themselves. They put on sack cloth. Even the king who would be loathe to stand up for any ceremonial occasion, arose from his throne, stripped himself of his royal garments, put on sackcloth for himself, and sat down in a pile of ashes. The king and the people weren’t the only ones to put on sackcloth, but also the livestock was made to do so! These were extreme acts of self-humiliation which reflected a genuine state of heart.

Second, they fasted. Many moderns do not appreciate the spiritual discipline of fasting, and as such they do not realize that fasting is a natural consequence of urgently and wholeheartedly seeking God’s face. When people urgently and radically seek the face of God, food becomes secondary.

Some fasts are relative. For example, some people fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. This fast is limited to eating from sunrise to sunset; thus, a person is permitted to eat as much as possible before sunrise and after sunset. However, the situation in Nineveh required absolute fasting. They were not to eat any food at all. In fact, even water was prohibited. Further, the fast was extended to all the livestock. The point of all this is that seeking God’s face is serious business and takes precedence over even the essentials of life.

Third, the Ninevites turned from their wicked ways. The Ninevites were famous for their atrocious way of life. They made a practice of displaying the heads of their defeated enemies in great heaps. They were guilty of great war crimes against innocent people. Yet, when they heard the word of God, they turned from their wicked ways.

Finally, they prayed to God. Actually, the description of their praying is much more intensive. The text refers to them as crying mightily to God. This applied to every Ninevite. We might note that even the livestock could be said to cry aloud to God. The animals had participated in wearing sackcloth. The animals had participated in the absolute fast. No doubt, as a result of their thirst and hunger, every animal bawled and bleated as loud as possible. More than one commentator has suggested tongue-in-cheek that even the cattle repented.

The net result of the Ninevites humbling themselves, seeking God’s face, turning from their wicked ways, and praying is that God had compassion on them and averted his great wrath from them.

Of course, the Ninevites were not privileged with the status reflected in the nomenclature “My people who are called by my name.” Yet, perhaps this makes the Ninevite revival even more poignant for us: if God hears the prayers of the pagan Ninevites, how much more will he hear the prayers of the very people whom he has called and bestowed his own name. And if God is willing and eager to pour out his mercy and compassion upon the godless Ninevites, does he not earnestly desire to send revival upon those for whom he did not spare his own Son (Rom 8:32)?

Revival in 2 Chronicles: Rehoboam, Asa, and Jehoshaphat as Case Studies

If 2 Chron 7:14 is paradigmatic for the chronicler’s history of Judah, then we should see this played out in its histories of the Judean kings. I find the histories of three kings especially instructive: Rehoboam, Asa, and Jehoshaphat.

Rehoboam: The Issue of Humility (2 Chron 10:1-12:16)
Solomon’s son Rehoboam is notorious for having caused the secession of the northern tribes from Judah. When those tribes rejected his kingship, he mustered his soldiers for battle to invade the north. However, he was warned by a prophet not to go to war against the rebels. Having obeyed the warning, he was divinely established on the Judean throne.

In subsequent years, Judah experienced positive growth. Its defenses were increased significantly. There was great stability and political competency. Even the remote towns and villages were well stocked with supplies. More importantly, there was spiritual growth. There was widespread observance of the law, and many faithful worshipers migrated to Judah from the northern tribes because of Judah’s continuance in its covenant with the Lord.

All this growth came as a result of Rehoboam’s allegiance to God and obedience to the prophetic warning not to go to war against the northern tribes. Unfortunately, all this success fostered pride and self-reliance in the hearts of Rehoboam and the elders. They failed to appreciate that all this prosperity came at the hand of God’s blessing, and they no longer thought of themselves as lowly servants.

Jesus told a parable which is instructive for this context. When servants return home at the end of a long, hard day of labor in the field, they do not immediately begin to prepare their own meal so that they can relax and enjoy the evening. Rather, Jesus pointed out that they enter the master’s house and immediately prepare the master’s meal, and only afterward do they make preparations for their own meal and comfort. Jesus then told his disciples, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10 NIV).

Because Rehoboam did not display this attitude of humility, God chastised him and Judah by sending Shishak of Egypt against him. God’s message was then made clear: “You have abandoned me,” God told Rehoboam, “therefore, I now abandon you to Shishak” (12:5 NIV).
In the case of Rehoboam and his leaders, this ominous message was heard. They realized that Shishak’s attack was part of God’s judgment, and they submitted themselves to God’s rule. This is indicated in their united confession, “The LORD is just” (12:6 NIV).

True to his promise to Solomon in 2 Chron 7:14, the Lord heard their prayers. The text twice indicates that the Lord mitigated the calamity at the point when they humbled themselves (12:7, 12).

In Rehoboam’s case, everything seemed to be perfectly good, with peace and prosperity everywhere. But at such moments, Satan uses our pride to entice us away from God. We may even entertain the notion that we are humble enough, that we don’t have a problem with pride. Yet, humility is a first step toward revival. If you don’t need revival, then you don’t need to worry about humility. However, the reality is that we all need revival, and, this being the case, we need to humble ourselves.

Humility begins with understanding who God is in contrast to what we ourselves are. We are not God, yet we usurp God’s position and prerogatives. We assume that we have created our good situation, and we fail to recognize that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of lights (James 1:17). We forget that we cannot even take our next breath except by God’s own good graces.

Much more could be said about humbling ourselves, and those who realize their need for revival would do well to explore deeply their profound need to humble themselves. If we think we are already sufficiently humble, we are deceiving ourselves and we will never experience revival.

Asa—The Issue of Seeking the Lord (14:2-16:14)
Asa, Judah’s fourth king began his rule with the stunning command that Judah was to seek the Lord (14:4). This is in keeping with one of the conditions for God sending revival.
Early in his reign, Zerah the Cushite marched a vast army against Judah. This became a test of Asa’s faith. Since Asa had already committed himself to seeking the Lord, his faith was proven in this test.

In response to the Cushite crisis, Asa prayed to God, recognizing that God is absolutely unique and unlike anyone or anything else. He appealed to God for help, and he confessed his reliance upon God. Perhaps some of the lessons from Rehoboam’s annals had been studied carefully by Asa, and thus he avoided the sin of self-sufficiency committed by his predecessor.
As a result of Asa’s prayer, God struck down the Cushite army. Then God sent Asa a message with the following principles:

The Lord is with him when he is with the Lord
If Asa were to seek the Lord, the Lord would be found by him
If Asa were to forsake the Lord, then the Lord would forsake him

But perhaps the heart of the message was that God encouraged him to be strong and not to give up, for his work was to be rewarded.

Immediately after this event, Judah experienced a great revival. The idols were removed. The altar was repaired. The revival was so evident that faithful worshipers of God in northern Israel migrated to Judah because “they saw that the LORD his God was with [Asa]” (15:9 NIV). More importantly, there was a great stress on seeking the Lord. The Israelites made a covenant to seek the Lord “with all their heart and soul” (15:12), and they swore to do so “wholeheartedly (15:15). And they kept their oath, for the chronicler comments that they sought the Lord “eagerly” (15:15).

As a result of the Judahites diligently seeking the Lord, God gave them rest[4] on every side (15:15). Thus, they experienced revival.

I think there is an important lesson to be learned from this. God granted Asa the strength to perform great ministerial feats as a result of him eagerly and earnestly seeking God’s face. For example, the problem with idolatry was one which was entrenched in Israelite society. Other kings had sought to rid the countryside of various local idols, but without success. Idolatry had become too entrenched for even strong and godly kings. Yet, when Asa sought the Lord’s face, he was empowered to remove them successfully.

This is a truth which applies to our situation today. Drug addiction and sexual immorality among youth may seem to be so entrenched as to make the removal of such abominations impossible. The caste system may seem so entrenched in some areas of the Church in India as to make its removal impossible. Corruption in government may seem so entrenched as to make its removal impossible. Nominalism seems so entrenched within some segments of the tribal churches as to make its removal impossible. So also, the idols of Asa’s day seemed so entrenched as to make their removal impossible. Yet, when the people of God earnestly and eagerly seek the face of God, God empowers them to overcome these societal sins and restore the land. God encourages us, telling us that our work will be rewarded, if we really do seek him with all our hearts.
I wish we could move on to the next king, but there is an unfortunate episode which concluded Asa’s life. Israel was attacked by one of its enemies, and instead of seeking God’s help, Asa made an alliance with Syria. When God’s prophet spoke against Asa, he became furious and imprisoned the prophet.

As a result of Asa’s behavior, God struck him with a terrible, painful foot disease. Again the issue of seeking God’s face is an important factor in the story. The text says that Asa still refused to seek the Lord, even though the foot disease was extremely painful. In fact, Asa preferred rather to seek help from the witch doctors who practiced spiritistic medicine. In such a pitiful and sad state, he died. Seeking the Lord is a lifetime endeavor, one which will never be fully completed until we see him face to face.

Jehoshaphat—The Issue of Prayer and Praise (20:1-30)
Of the three case studies, this one is the most joyous. Jehoshaphat was faced with an overwhelmingly vast army, brought together by a Moabite and Ammonite alliance. The appearance of this vast army was a great surprise to Jehoshaphat and to Judah.

The king resolved to seek the Lord. He proclaimed a fast, and he prayed.

The content of Jehoshaphat’s prayer is important. First of all, he recognized God’s omnipotence and his rule over all kingdoms. Second, he asserted the prerogatives granted by God to Solomon at the dedication of the temple. That is to say, Jehoshaphat asserted Israel’s commitment to pray at the temple in all situations. He also cited the grievance against his enemies and his deep dependence upon God. He then made reference to Israel seeking God by saying, “Our eyes are upon you” (20:12 NIV).

God responded to this prayer by giving his assurance to Jehoshaphat.

The revelation of this assurance prompted a great time of worship. The king bowed, setting the example. Then all the people worshiped, as led by the Levites. Next, the king appointed soldiers to sing and praise as part of the army’s formation for battle. The anthem was “Give thanks to the LORD, for his love endures forever” (20:21 NIV). It must have been a great sight to see all the Judean army, in mass formation, singing, praising, and praying to God.

Even as they were worshiping, God gave them the victory. The text reads, “As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mt. Seir…” (20:22). The end result of this great time of prayer and praise was a great victory for the people of God.

I have seen this principle at work several times. I was in the city of Jalandhar, in the state of Punjab for several days of ministry among the churches there. The Christians there were new Christians; they had accepted Christ only two or three years earlier. They were some of the happiest Christians I have ever seen in my life. Their deliverance from fear, sin, and evil spirits were very much a part of their communal recollection. Their worship services were characteristically full of great joy. There was a great revival movement happening there, and the Christians simply assumed that it was just a matter of time before the whole city would turn to God. In fact, they looked for the conversion of the entire state of Punjab!

In contrast, I visited another city in mainland India where the church had been in existence for many years. In fact, one of the churches had been established more than 150 years ago. Yet, these Christians seemed to have lost their joy in worship. They had developed a “siege” mentality in which they felt like they were powerless to share the gospel with their non-Christian friends, family, and neighbors. Worse, the churches in this city seemed to be unable to cooperate with each other.

I am sure this latter example is not God’s idea of a healthy church. The remedy for this situation goes back to the formula of 2 Chron 7:14. The church must humble itself, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from its wicked way.

A Final Word

The words of the Lord found in 2 Chron 7:14 are not haphazard or arbitrarily constructed. Nor are they merely formulaic, as if one could experience revival by checking off a four point list; seeking the Lord, repenting, humbling oneself, and praying requires a full-fledged devotion that exceeds such a mechanical approach.

Perhaps even the notion of seeking revival is misguided. Perhaps in all our eagerness for revival we sometimes forget first and foremost to seek the Lord. We are called to seek the Lord, not to seek revival. So often, the church pursues programs and activities in the hopes that revival will come. As admirable as fresh ministerial approaches may be, they are a poor substitute for genuinely seeking the Lord.

In one of the many echoes of 2 Chron 7:14 found throughout the OT, Jeremiah records the Lord’s gracious invitation to seek him. He writes,

[quote]“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord… (Jer 29:11-14). [/quote]

This passage reflects the amazing fact that God is eager for our fellowship. It also emphasizes that God will graciously present himself and “reward those who earnestly seek him” (Heb 11:6).
Spanning the centuries and crossing many a cultural divide, the Lord issues the same invitation to our churches today: humble yourselves, pray, seek God’s face, turn from your wicked ways. Each admonition requires much meditation and much action. Much is required of us, but God rewards those who seek him. And in doing these things, revival will come.


[1] This paper approximates the seminar twice presented at the Annual Meeting at Sivasgar, India, 22-23 April 2005. The author expresses his deep appreciation to CBCNEI for the invitation to teach and preach, and is thankful for the privilege of representing ABC-USA at the meeting.
[2]Despite much scholarly discussion of the OT idea behind Jesus’ “house of prayer” saying, little reference is ever made to the obviously important dedicatory prayer of Solomon.
[3]As remarkable as this passage sounds in English, the Greek and the Hebrew behind the Greek is even more remarkable. Skenow, the Greek word behind the English phrase “made his dwelling” is the verbal form of the noun skenos, which is typically rendered as “tent.” Through the use of this term, John is probably conferring the tabernacle/temple (tent) theology of the OT upon Jesus. Further, the consonants (radicals) which form the Hebrew word Shekinah (in reference to glory of God as manifested in the temple), are comprised of the same consonants which form the Greek words skenow (to make one’s dwelling) and skenos (tent). This phenomenon is probably intentional.
[4] The term “rest” is an OT technical term denoting something of the restoration of the life of Eden. It can be seen as a remedy to the Adamic curse of labor. It was the remedy also to the intensive labor Israel experienced in Egypt. As such, God led them to the land of rest. David was not permitted to build the Temple, but the privilege was given to Solomon precisely because he was a man of rest to whom God would grant rest. The apex of this theological motif is found in Matt 11:28-30 where Jesus offers rest to all those who are burdened and weary.

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