Monday, August 27, 2012

THE PROMISE

“Ev’ry promise in the Book is mine;
ev’ry chapter, ev’ry verse, ev'ry line;
All are blessings of His love divine.
Ev’ry promise in the Book is mine.
                                                                                    Children’s’ Bible Song
                                                                                    author unknown

You can Google this song and see some really cute kids singing.  So sweet.  But is it true?  Is every promise in the Bible actually “mine”?  Can I “claim the promises”?

Well (says this curmudgeon) not really!  There are many “promises” in the Bible that are not given to me as a New Testament Christian, along with many laws, prophecies, threats and predictions.

When I taught Bible Study Methods, at the College of Biblical Studies, I taught my students to look at the text’s context and to ask questions of it.  And one of the first and, I would add, one of the most important questions is, “Who?”  Who is speaking and to whom is he speaking?  The correct answers to these should clarify a lot of the text and eliminate many misinterpretations.

This seems simple enough, but many of us don’t ask these questions and so become frustrated in our faith.  We blame, or at least question, God for not keeping His promises to us, even though He may not have made them to us.  Or we pray and strive and work ourselves all up trying to get God to do what He never said He’d do.

One promise which is claimed by many is 2 Chronicles 7:14 (I quote from the KJV).

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall 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 will heal their land.”

For a great portion of my church-going life I have heard this “promise” quoted.  I have seen it on posters, on e-mails and facebook, often in bright red, white and blue colors, with an eagle and flags decorating or surrounding it, sometimes even accompanied by patriotic hymns.  This is, I’m told, the key to revival in America.  If we, God’s people, would only keep our end of the deal then God will keep His promise and send revival on America!

And so day after day, year after year, we keep humbling, praying, seeking and turning, yet our nation keeps sliding deeper and deeper into sin (especially, it seems, sexual sin).

What gives?  Why doesn’t God keep His promise?

Well, perhaps we should ask our “who” questions.  It is clear that the speaker is the LORD.  That’s easy.  And it is also clear that He is speaking to King Solomon, the king of the people of Israel, as a representative of that nation.  The context is clear as well.  Solomon had completed building and dedicating the Temple of the LORD in Jerusalem.  He had prayed a long beautiful prayer of dedication in which he had asked the Lord to hear (2 Chronicles 6:12-42).

He had given specific instances when prayer would be made from that “house,” with specific requests for the LORD to hear and forgive.  It is one of the most beautiful examples of prayer in the Bible and is well worth our study.

And our “promise” is a part of the LORD’s response to Solomon (2 Chronicles 7:11-18), in which He reaffirms His covenant and promises to Solomon as the son of David.  Verse 13 sheds a lot of light on verse 14.  “If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; …” Verse 13 is connected to verse 14 in Hebrew by a Waw (or Vav – usually translated as “and”).  We could begin verse 14 with “and” as some translations do.  Looking back to Solomon’s prayers in chapter 6, we see that this desolation of the land itself is God’s punishment on Israel for their sin.

So what right do we have to make this promise ours?  The LORD’s “people” here are not the church, but Israel.  The “land” is not the USA but their own farmland.  The healing is a restoration of that land.  Though as God’s New Covenant people, we can seek application of His promise to His Old Covenant people, we unlike Israel; have no present “land” of our own.  We are citizens of a heavenly Kingdom.

I know this sounds like nit-picking, but I believe an incorrect interpretation of this and similar “promises” has led to much improper behavior among God’s New Covenant people.  There are three distinct entities that are confused here and we must be careful to maintain that distinction.  The church is not Israel.  The church is not the USA.  God has not promised to “heal” or “revive” America.  America is part of “the Kingdom of this World,” which will someday (though not as of this writing) “become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ” (Revelation 11:15b).

Please note:  I am not saying that we should not pray for our country.  We are exhorted many times in the New Testament to pray “for kings and all who are in authority that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and seriousness” (1 Timothy 2:2).

1 comment:

GENE COOK said...

AMEN BROTHER BILL!!!

GENE C.