I recently saw these verses being quoted on Facebook: “When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence 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 I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” The posts mention the Australian wildfires, the current locust plague in East Africa, and COVID-19 as corresponding exactly to the three acts of God in those verses.
So, I pulled open my Bible to II Chronicles 6 to understand the context. Here, Solomon finished building the temple and is dedicating it to the Lord. He begins by extolling God: “Lord God of Israel, there is no God in heaven or on earth like You, who keep Your covenant and mercy with Your servants who walk before You with all their hearts” (v. 14). This God keeps His covenant and shows mercy and steadfast love (ESV translation), and Solomon acknowledges this faithfulness. When an individual sins, when the country sins, when there is no rain, when there is famine, when a foreigner wants to call on God’s name, when there is war, in these situations, Solomon asks God to hear their prayer when they plead to Him. Concerning this new temple, which would be God’s dwelling place on earth among men, he prays,
“Yet regard the prayer of Your servant and his supplication, O Lord my God, and listen to the cry and the prayer which Your servant is praying before You: that Your eyes may be open toward this temple day and night, toward the place where You said You would put Your name, that You may hear the prayer which Your servant makes toward this place. And may You hear the supplications of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven Your dwelling place, and when You hear, forgive” (II Chr. 6:19-21).
Solomon then prays that when God would give them into captivity after they sinned, if they would turn their hearts and faces towards the house of God, confess to God that they have sinned wickedly, repent, and plead with God, “then hear from heaven Your dwelling place their prayer and their supplications, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people who have sinned against You. Now, my God, I pray, let Your eyes be open and let Your ears be attentive to the prayer made in this place” (v. 39-40).
Of course, they sinned repeatedly, and God finally gave His people over to the hands of Babylon, where they were taken captive. Daniel 9 records one of the most beautiful prayers in scripture, and it parallels Solomon’s. Daniel turned his heart, and as we know from other accounts in Daniel, he prayed facing Jerusalem. Daniel addresses God as Solomon did – as the One who keeps His covenant and mercy, and he confesses sins the way Solomon describes. He mentions God’s face shining on Jerusalem, asks God to open His eyes and ears to him, and implores God for the sake of God’s name; all these things are elements of Solomon’s prayer as well.
Daniel prays one of these prayers to which Solomon asked God to hear and respond. What was the content of this prayer? Daniel’s prayer is one of sorrowful confession, accompanied by fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. His confession spans not only his individual sins but mostly the sins of his people and of his nation. Consider Daniel; he was arguably one of the most blameless humans in scripture, yet he prayed, taking full responsibility for the sins of his people on himself. He accepted the judgment of God on their sins and felt God was just in punishing him because of their collective sins. Daniel asked for God to look on them and shine His face once again on His desolate sanctuary – not because of their righteousness but because of God’s covenant faithfulness and abundant mercy. He knew the promises of God that captivity would be for 70 years, and that time was coming up. He implored God to keep His promises and to stay faithful to His Word.
God heard Daniel’s prayer and answered in His faithfulness. God answered Solomon’s prayer, telling him, “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” (II Chr. 7:14a). In this time of being away from the house of God and in the midst of disaster taking place all around us, perhaps we ought to be praying like this. Perhaps it is time to measure our shortcomings against the Word of God and confess our sins as an individual, as a congregation, as a denomination, as the American church. Truly, with Daniel, we can say, “We have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments” (Dan. 9:5).
In light of that, may we set our faces steadfastly towards you, Jehovah:
Lord our God, the One who keeps His covenant and mercy and steadfast love towards His people, we receive this virus from your hand, and we confess we deserve this because we have sinned and turned away from your instructions.
Forgive us for ascribing glory to all things but You. For being thankful for the sunshine but not being cognizantly thankful to You for that. Forgive us for forgetting You when we so readily say, “It is raining,” and less frequently remember that it is You who opens and shuts the heavens.
Forgive us for ascribing to ourselves what You have done. Our daily bread comes from You alone. Thank you for providing it, and forgive us failing to acknowledge where it comes from.
Forgive us for busying ourselves in this world and forgetting to walk daily with you in stillness.
Forgive us for trying to find so much worth in social media and affirmation from others when we have been created in the image of God.
Forgive us for trying to find rest in Netflix, Disney+, Youtube, and scrolling when you offer eternal, unending rest through Jesus. Lord, grant that we may hear Your voice today, and not harden our hearts in unbelief, that we may find our true rest in You.
Forgive us, O Lord, for being lured by comforts and conveniences into false security. Security outside of Your promises to keep us in Your safe refuge is false and man-made, yet we readily place our trust in well-paying jobs, retirement funds, homes, education, status, and supportive families.
Forgive us when we confess with the mouth that we trust You, that You alone provide our needs, that our rest is only in You, that all things are for our good and come from Your Fatherly hand when our actions say that our hearts are far from You.
Forgive us for fearing man more than we fear You. Forgive us for being so temporarily distracted by momentary discomfort that we give up eternal profit. Forgive us when we fail to shine as lights in the midst of a dark world.
Forgive us when we grumble, complain, and gossip as if we were no different from those who have no hope.
Forgive us for drifting into the Babylon that is all around us. Forgive us for glancing back, leaving reluctantly, or staying in that culture when You have commanded, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues” (Rev. 18:4). Forgive us for taking part in her plagues by succumbing to fear and uncertainty and selfishness. Forgive us for dabbling in her sinful, decadent lifestyle, a lifestyle and culture loving what is evil – rampant sexual immorality, glorification of self, and worship of luxury – and hating what is good. Forgive us for leaving one foot in when You say, “Come out.” Forgive us, Lord, and may we as the Church, come out and fully separate ourselves from this living. Lord, help us, like Daniel, to live in this society but have no part of our heart captured by a culture that hates God, despises life, embraces and worships every form of sexual filthiness, and denies justice to the oppressed.
Forgive us for taking part through silence, through entertainment, through politics, through ignored pleas for help.
Forgive us for becoming comfortable and complacent in her luxurious living.
Forgive us, Lord, and help us to return to You, rending, as it were, our hearts and not just our garments. Help us to be forever changed, not just making a temporary resolution or expressing agreement to new sentiments. Change our hearts to be affected by our suffering Savior on the cross, calling us out of what He died for into blameless, holy living.
Forgive us when we confess you to be Lord but fail to live as if you really are. May you be the only Sovereign in our lives as we deny our autonomy. You are the only King of kings and Lord of lords. May we truly bow to You, serve You, and look to You for our needs.
Forgive our sins against Your perfection, O God who always keeps His covenant and mercy.
Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of Your servants and to their pleas for mercy, and for Your own sake, O Lord, make Your face to shine upon Your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline Your ear and hear. Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city that is called by Your name. For we do not present our pleas before You because of our righteousness but because of Your great mercy.
O Lord, hear.
O Lord, forgive.
O Lord, listen and act.
Delay not, for Your own sake, O my God, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name. (Daniel 9:17-19)
God heard Solomon. God heard Daniel. He will hear us because He is faithful and is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We must confess our sins and the sins of our people, and we may have confidence that when we confess, turn from our wickedness, and seek God’s face, He will forgive and heal us. Hear God’s beautiful response to Solomon later that night, and be comforted that God is King, that all things are in His hands, and that He will forever be our faithful, blessedly merciful, covenant God:
When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence 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 I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer made in this place. For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there forever; and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually. (II Chr. 7:13-16)