“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague 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 will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." NIV 2 Chr. 7:13-14
When - This is not "if" but when. It is something that is going to happen eventually. Why a "when" and not an "if?" Because God knows the heart of His people. This was spoken at the dedication of Solomon's Temple [remember context, Feed Yourself students]. It was a spiritual high point. To the people it seemed that nothing could go wrong, all was right with God and the universe. But God knew differently. He could look at the heart. He knew the time would come in the not-too-distant future when they would become consumed with worldliness and success - like much of the Western church today. He knew that judgment would have to come, but that they would need hope and instruction on how to return to a right relationship with God.
I shut up the heavens - Shutting up the heavens speaks of withholding relationship with God and withholding blessing. Who shuts up the heavens? God does. Why? As we see at the end of the next verse, it is because of the sin of His people. God cannot have fellowship with sin. When His people, in general, indulge in unrepentant sin God withdraws Himself and His blessing. We can choose the action, but God chooses the consequence. If we choose sin, the consequence is losing the presence and blessing of God. We cannot stand in a compromised position. God will not be mocked. We are either in or out. The heavens above us are either open or shut. God, in mercy, may allow us to go our own way for awhile giving us the opportunity to repent and avert judgment, but without repentance judgment will come.
so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, - Does God send natural disasters? Does God allow a nation[s] to experience economic recessions, depression and even collapse? Will God send destructive sickness among the people? Yes. Rebellion and treason against God does led to serious consequences. God is not an indulgent, self-pleased Father Who looks the other way when His children are defiant and rebellious seeking their own way and independence. God cannot endorse or condone sin. In mercy, punishment may be delayed, but it cannot be prevented except by what we see in the next verse. Yet even in these punishments there is mercy. They are warnings of the much worse and everlasting torment that awaits the unrepentant in Hell. They are dramatic calls to sober people out of the drunkenness of sin and save their lives.
Do the righteous suffer along with the wicked in these judgments? Often, yes. When God sends national judgment all within the nation suffer. An earthquake doesn't pick and choose who is hurt by it. In a sense, the righteous who suffer because of judgments on the wicked are martyrs and will receive their reward in heaven. [The opposite is also true. When the Godly rule a nation and the nation is blessed, the wicked within that nation are also blessed and prosper.] And just because one location or specific people are judged now doesn't mean they were worse than anyone else [Luke 13:1-5]. But they are a warning to everyone else of what everyone deserves and of the much worse and eternal punishment that awaits in Hell.
Christians like to blame these things on the sinful actions of the ungodly. Notice the words "my people." While it is true the ungodly will be judged, judgment begins first at the house of God. It is because the Church in a nation rebels against her God, tries to be independent from God and seeks her own glory and profit that judgment comes - at least in formerly Christian nations. Where the Church is confused about such clear issues as sexual immorality and perversion, murder under the name of abortion, the integrity of the Bible [compromising with evolution] and other clear violations of the will of God, there the time is ripe for increasing judgment until the actions of the next verse happen.
If - Disobedience and rebellion will bring judgment. It is an inevitable "when." What is in question is our response to the just wrath of Almighty God. Will we go further into sin and rebellion or will we return in repentance? "If." Judgment can be reversed or removed "if" God's people respond to the discipline in the right way. The unGodly cannot respond in the correct way, only the people of God can make the choice to repent. If a formerly Christian nation is degenerating it is because the people of God have forsaken their God and only they can fix it by returning to their God.
my people - God does not disown His people even when they walk away from Him. They are still "my people." A genuine Christian cannot lose his salvation, but he can come under the discipline and judgment of God to his own sorrow and the harm of those around. Society is hurt on many levels by his disobedience. The unGodly are turned away from God and confirmed in their sin rather than being turned to God and face conviction leading to repentance. It is a vital war with eternal consequences that we are engaged in. We dare not walk away from God.
who are called by My Name - There is no doubt as to who God is talking about. In the Old Testament it was Israel, although God did not consider every Israelite "His people." During the time of Elijah the true Israelites were down to 7,000 out of the entire nation. In the final New Testament era the people of God are called Christians, although not everyone who takes the name is a true Christian. From the Fall to the return of Christ, God's people are the people of faith, those who obey and love Him. Those are the ones who truly have His Name upon them. [To study this in detail take The Love Covenants course.]
will humble themselves - The first step in seeing national conviction, repentance and restoration is for the people of God to humble themselves. This is not the day to walk in pride [there is never a day for that]. It is not the day for seeking self-promotion or financial success. It is a day for putting aside everything that is of self and seeking God. In many ways we are being defeated before our enemies, even church leaders often remain silent or give a confused call on issues which are clear in the Word of God. We, truly, have nothing to be proud about. We need to humble ourselves before God, admit our weakness, our sin, our inability to help ourselves. It is a day of mourning. It is a day of turning our eyes to God and waiting on Him. If He helps us not, we are lost.
and pray - Prayer is not manipulating God into doing what we want Him to do. God is not controlled by human beings. Prayer is discovering the will of God and releasing Him to do His work through us, through others, and in various situations. We know it is the will of God to bless the nations. We know it is sin that withholds that blessings and reaps judgment instead. Therefore, we humble ourselves and pray that the will of God may be done on earth as it is in heaven. We pray God to have His way. God has decreed that He works on planet earth through His human creation. We have to pray for willing hearts, for harvesters. for the destruction of evil and the restoration of righteousness. God will act, if we are serious in our prayers. Fluffy, mindless, repetitive prayers do not move the hand of God or earn anything other than His disapproval. We would not enter the presence of any earthly authoritative figure that way, yet somehow we feel it is ok to talk to God that way. Let us get our hearts right and learn to truly pray.
and seek my face - A person's face is how you recognize them. Their face expresses how they feel and what they think. It is not enough to pray, as important as that is, we must seek after God, seek to know Him, to discover His ways and His will. If we pray, but find the Word of God boring and learning doctrine dull, we still are in a place of seeking our own way instead of God's way. It is as if we walk around all day with a mirror attached about a foot in front of our face. All we want to see is our face. We must learn to set aside our own desires, thoughts and plans to seek the face of God. What is His will? What does He want? What makes Him smile? Seeking is not a haphazard, half-hearted activity. It requires our total focus and energy. It becomes the goal of our life to see the face of God, and no sacrifice is too great to achieve this goal.
and turn from their wicked ways - It is not enough to be sorry for sin. Repentance involves forsaking our sin. We leave it behind. We turn from sin to God. It is no good praying for revival, praying for justice, praying for God to intervene in our lives and the life of our nations if we are compromised and pursuing evil ourselves. We may think we are not as bad as the next person, but God sees it all together. High taxes, high crime, injustice, natural disasters, economic woes in a nation, etc. are consequences of abandoning God. Christians are often as guilty as anyone else. Immorality, cheating, lying, greed, stealing from God, compromising the gospel with evolution, supporting the murdering of babies, rejecting Biblical Law and more are all laid at the feet of Christians. Until we, as a whole, repent of our ways and return to God we will not see change in our lands [no matter which political party governs]. Change starts with us…or it does not happen.
then - If we are obedient to God's commands, repent of our sins and seek Him then God will act on our behalf. If we indulge in sin, walk in our own ways, satisfy the desires of our own heart we have no "then" from God. We have no right to expect Him to act on our behalf. If we do our part, then God has promised to do His part in His timing.
will I hear from heaven - The first thing God will do is hear us. As long as we are self-seeking, our prayers do not even enter the throne room of the Great King. God pays no attention to mindless repetitions or prayers soaked in selfishness or ignorance. No one enters the presences of a king with a petition in a careless or demanding way. They enter with respect and honour. Yet Christians often give prayer no thought, but simple dash off the first thing that comes into their minds and then rush out again without giving it a second thought. Such prayers are not even heard. But when we enter the presence of God correctly, God has promised that He will hear everything we have to say. And He is in heaven over the earth. There is nothing He cannot do and there is nothing that escapes His attention. He will hear from heaven and He will act.
and will forgive their sin - God is perfect and holy. He can have no dealings with sin. The first thing God always has to do is deal with sin. If Jesus had not died for our sins we could never have a relationship with God. In our modern society we tend to minimize sin, but sin cost God the life of His Son. The first thing we have to do is to repent of our sins and accept Christ's work on our behalf. The good news is the God has promised to forgive our sins. We can start afresh. But if we are trying to hold onto our sin and move on with God we are in trouble. We will find we have God's deaf ear and not His hearing ear!
and will heal their land - After genuine repentance and forgiveness comes restoration. There is a place for social action, but it is always secondary to a right relationship with God. The only way a land can be restored is as the majority of the leaders and people repent of their sins, turn to God for forgiveness and search for His will. A minority can never force long-term change unless they have the cooperation [or at least the silence] of the majority. A Christian government will never happen while the majority of people in a country are unconverted. First we must have effective evangelism. Then we need instruction in righteousness. Once we are moving in the right direction, God can turn even impossible situations around quickly. Nothing can stop God.