Updated: Jan 25, 2022
This popular text reads:
“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 will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
This is one of the most frequently quoted scriptures, but also one of the most misused and abused. It is claimed as Gods promise to either Jewish or Gentile saved people if they just get right with God, but does it actually mean that? Not at all. To interpret this for the regenerate confuses and contradicts the passage itself, a lot of other scripture and even salvation. In a sense it actually denies salvation.
Below I will exposit how this text as a whole applies only to lost Israel, a call to her salvation and healing, and not for Gentiles, though a portion of the passage may be applied to all people. The interpretation of the text is lost Israel and its parallel text in 1 Ki 8:33-40 makes this very clear, as do other texts such as De 30:1-20 and contrasting contextual passages such as 2 Ch 6:41. Scripture always harmonizes. Aside note: misinterpreting 2 Ch 7:14 is frequently tied to the unscriptural applications of unbelief, backsliding, lukewarm and carnal to saved people. These labels, Keswick “theology” currency, are in reference to lost people in Scripture, but egregiously applied to professing believers.
Do words, the words of this passage and others have meaning? How about the context and syntax? If the meaning of Scripture is mangled & incongruous, such as teaching salvation passages as something post-salvation (sanctification), is the Holy Spirit in it? Does God work in a way that circumvents His Word? He doesn’t. Since God's Word is plain and perspicuous (Ps 19:8; 119:105; Pr 6:23; 8:8-9; 22:20-21), a concentrated and diligent effort of study & rightly dividing God’s truth (2 Tim 2:15; Pr 15:28) by the regenerate who know the truth & have Truth dwelling in them (1 Jn 2:20-21, 27; 2 Jn 1:2; Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:13) will reveal what Scripture teaches. It’s guaranteed (Pr 8:9; 22:21) for God is faithful.
1. First of all, though a portion of this passage may be applicable to Jew and Gentile alike, as far as the requirement for salvation (humbled before God, pray and seek His face, and repent) and a portion concerning the reward of salvation (God hearing their prayer & forgiving their sins), this is where it ends. The passage has a primary meaning and its not saved people in mind here. The phrases with the conjunctions between them, “shall humble themselves” “and pray” “and seek my face,” “and turn from their wicked ways,” along with the result for doing so, “then will I hear from heaven,” “and will forgive their sin,” “and will heal their land,” can only be interpreted as the conversion of lost people, and the salvation of his soul from eternal death, than of a disobedient believer.
It’s critical to understand there’s a clear distinction between Jews, Gentiles and the Churches of God (e.g. 1 Cor 10:32). Inclusively we know the passage can only refer to the nation of Israel because of the context (see 2 Ch 6–7 & 1 Ki 8:33-40) and the specific terminology “If my people, which are called by my name” and "heal their land" which can never apply to a Gentile or Gentile nation.
The thrust of this text is about God healing Israel and her land: read 2 Ch 7:13-14 and parallel passage in 1 Ki 8:33-40. We know Israel is lost because the words and syntax of the text is clearly referring to lost people (as I’ll demonstrate next point), as does the context (2 Ch 20:33; 30:1-9; 36:11-21) and the parallel passage (1 Ki 8:33-40). Gentiles are never referred to as “my people, which are called by my name” and God doesn’t heal Gentile nations upon their repentance in this age or any previous one. He has no Gentile land covenants, which on its own invalidates this text as a whole from applying to Gentiles (the complete context: Solomon praying: 2 Ch 6:1-7:1 & God answering his prayer: 2 Ch 7:12-22).
Israel had a basis for a prayer of restoration & reconciliation & that is always through salvation. At the dedication of the temple, Solomon prayed to God in 2 Ch 6 for the right or privilege to pray to Him during times of judgment. He asked God if Israel could pray toward this temple with hope of restoration and healing of their land. In answer to this prayer, God gave him the familiar promise of 2 Ch 7:14, which confirms the necessity of conversion for God hearing, forgiving and healing. Canada or a church or some individual Christian doesn’t have the same promise given to them. As noted, some principles apply to all people, but the text is dealing with Israel’s national salvation.
2. Two, this passage can only be applied to Israel as they alone are called Gods people (“my people, which are called by my name”), whether saved or lost. Throughout Scripture the Jews have had this title, privilege & advantage, from the time of their espousal to Jehovah in Egypt, regardless of their national spiritual condition. (Hence why all things spiritual have come through the Jews-Rom 3:1-2; 9:4-5-in spite of the nation being clearly lost at the time-read Rom 3:1-20; 9:1-8). This high office and privilege was based upon the promises and covenants God made with Abraham and His election (choosing) of Israel to be His servants (1 Ch 16:7-36; Ps 105:8-15; 132:13-18; Rom 9:8-14; Ac 3:25-26).
“For the Lord hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure.” (Ps 135:4). They are enemies to the gospel, because they reject their Messiah, “but touching the election, they are beloved for the Fathers sake.” (Rom 11:28) There are hundreds of examples of Israel being called “His people,” “my people,” etc, while being clearly lost, e.g.: De 4:23-35; 9:4-29; 10:12-22; 27:9-10; 32:15-43; Ps 78:1-72; 95:7-11; 1 Sam 12:1-22; 2 Sam 7:8-24; Is 63:15-19; 2 Cor 3:13-16; Matt 1:21; 2:6; Jn 1:11. Over & over they’re referred as such in the Books of Moses, but plainly lost as seen throughout those same books & Bible, including in Psalm 78, 81,106, Acts 7, 2 Cor 3:13-16, Heb 3 & 4.
In 2 Cor 3:13-16 Paul declares there is a vail over their minds & hearts from the Exodus, “their minds were blinded ... even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart.” This tells us the nation of Israel has always been lost, which is collaborated by many other passages. Yet they are called “my/his people” everywhere. Consider Matt 1:21: “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save HIS PEOPLE from their sins.” Who were “His people” that were lost in their sins? The Jews of course. But sadly we know, “He came unto HIS OWN, and HIS OWN received him not.” (Jn 1:11). “His people” & “His own” were unsaved and rejecting Him.
3. Three, this passage is applicable to lost people only, written specifically to lost Israel. Salvation is its only subject and nothing post-salvation. Conversion requires repentance & faith and both are found here. Sinners must humble themselves before God, seek after Him, His truth, cry after knowledge and understanding, and repent of their wicked ways. This truth is taught everywhere in Scripture and no where is this instruction given to saved people; they already fulfilled this and were dramatically converted. Salvation is not repeated; it’s a done deal once for all (2 Cor 6:2). Applying this to saved people is nonsensical and actually denies salvation. Consider how it applies to lost people alone:
(a) “Humble themselves” before God. Salvation is impossible without humility, an element of repentance. Humility projects death to & denial of self, pursuing peace with Almighty God by relinquishing ones will to God (Jn 12:24-25; Lk 14:7-11, 28-33; 15:18-22; Dan 4:37; Jam 4:6-10). Jesus persistently taught the religious Jews the need of humility for conversion, e.g. “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matt 23:12-33); exaltation to the incredible status of justified, son, heir and co-heir with Christ, etc. In Lk 18:9-14 He contrasts the proud Pharisee with the humble publican & goes on to explain humbleness (vv 15-17), warning: “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.” (Lk 18:17; see Matt 18:3-4). To be saved, one must be broken over sin, and brokenness has a twin: humility. One must be smitten in heart at the reality of having lived a life of sin against God, like the deceiving tax-collector in Lk 18 who cried, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” He understood where the root of his sin problem lay: within him (Mk 7:21-23). He didn’t blame anyone else; neither excused his actions. He admitted his fault to the Lord, knowing he fully deserved God’s wrath & hell. Because of his repentant brokenness, humility and faith, God was merciful.
The proud in heart are unsaved people, as the following Scripture clarifies: Ps 86:14; 101:5; Jam 4:1-10. Pride resists the truth, both in admitting to its rightness & letting it expose you, while humility allows the light of God’s Word to shine brightly to show who you really are (Jn 3:19-21). Humility causes one to see himself as lowly, as a spiritual beggar, having absolutely nothing to offer God, being broken over one’s sins (Lk 23:39-43). Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). In the Sermon on the Mount, humility (which dovetails with repentance) is initial requirement for being saved, hence God’s call to His people to “humble themselves” in 2 Ch 7:14. Like the Israelites, many people may know these facts, but they aren’t moved by them.
(b) And “Pray.” Although not an absolute requirement for salvation, like repentance and faith, as noted with Cornelius (Ac 10-11) and other places like Rom 10:9-10, we do find it however a means of demonstrating repentance and faith & crying to Him for mercy and salvation (e.g. Lk 18:13-14).
(c) And “seek [God's] face,” which is to find God, a huge part of salvation (De 4:29-31; Pr 2:1-5; Matt 13:44-46; Ac 17:27). You are separated from God due to your sins, which “hide his face from you.” (Is 59:1-2). But, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.” (Is 55:6). God desires all lost to “seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us” (Ac 17:27). “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:13). “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.” (Matt 6:33a). Jesus says: “For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the LORD.” (Pr 8:35). God indeed “is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” which reward is eternal life (Heb 11:6). Once found, we don’t continue searching for Him. We know Him and He knows us (Jn 17:3; Gal 4:9; Matt 7:23) & He’ll never leave us nor forsake us (De 31:6; Ps 9:10; Heb 13:5).
(d) And “turn from their wicked ways,” “turn” meaning repent (“shub,” one of three Hebrew words for repent). Ezk 18:30-32: “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, & live ye.” God pleads with Israel: “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved.” (Jer 4:14a).
Isa 55:7 declares, after the injunction to seek Him v. 6, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” The regenerate have repented of their wicked ways (1 Th 1:9; Ac 3:19; 26:20) & are never referred to as wicked again but righteous, just, wise, pure, etc, while regularly contrasted with the wicked (e.g. Gen 18:22-26; Job 18:5-21; 20:5-29; 21:7-32; 27:13-23; Psa 10:2-15; 11:5-6; 37:1-40; 50:16-23; 94:3-8; 104:35; 145:20; Jer 4:14; 2 Th 3:2; 2 Pet 3:16-17; Proverbs everywhere). What the LORD is answering to Solomon in 2 Ch 7:14 is the Gospel of Christ.
Salvation of the Ninevites in Jonah is a good example of all this. Yes they were Gentiles, but salvation itself is the same for all races of people. At Jonahs preaching of God’s coming judgment, they humbled themselves in sackcloth and ashes (3:5-6, 8) and prayer with a broken and contrite heart by "cry[ing] mightily unto God" (3:8), seeking after Him (3:9) and repenting of their “evil” (wicked) ways (3:8-10). God's response? He heard from heaven, repented of the evil He was going to judge them with, turned His wrath from them and forgave them (3:10; 4:11; Lk 11:32). Nineveh by the way is the standard of saving repentance, bringing judgment & condemnation to this generation (Lk 11:32).
4. Fourthly, the end result of repenting and believing (humble themselves and pray and seek His face and repent): “then will [the LORD] hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” That is glorious redemption (Heb 9:11-28).
(a) At the point of prayer of genuine repentance and faith, the LORD will hear from heaven, inferring He did not hear them before. Indeed, God doesn’t hear the prayers of the unsaved, except their prayer of seeking salvation. Cornelius is again such an example (Ac 10:1-5; 11:13-14). God only heard the Ninevites when they repented (Jon 3:10). Even the lost Jew born blind whose eyes Jesus had just opened, knew this truth (Jn 9:31; quoting Is 59:1-2). The LORD doesn’t hear the prayers of the unsaved (Jn 9:31; Is 59:1-2; Ps 34:15-17; Jam 4:1-3) but He does hear and delight in the prayers of His saints (Pr 15:8, 29; Matt 7:7-8; Jn 15:16; 16:23-24; 1 Pe 3:12; 1 Jn 5:14-15).
(b) God forgives their sins. The unsaved haven’t had their sins forgiven, while the regenerate have been cleansed permanently—all sins and trespasses covered by Christ’s blood & nailed to His cross (Ps 103:2-3b, 10-12; Is 1:18; 44:22; Ac 13:37-39; Rom 4:7; 1 Cor 6:11; Eph 1:7; 4:32; Col 1:14; 2:13-14; Heb 1:2-3; 10:14-18; 1 Jn 2:12; Rev 1:5) & “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” (Rom 4:7-8).
(c) God heals their land. This has never happened yet. The unconditional covenants made by God to “His people” Israel through Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob have never been fulfilled but will be in their entirety when Israel calls upon Jesus as their Messiah (the One they “slew & hanged on a tree”—Ac 5:30-31), during the 70th week of Daniel (aka. Great Tribulation, Time of Jacobs Trouble, Day of the Lord, etc). Israel will then be saved & fully restored to her healed land (Jer 32:37-44; ...) & fulfill her initial design of becoming the ruling nation & light to the world during the millennial Kingdom reign of Christ (De 30:1-6; Ezk 11:17; 20:33-38; 34:13-16; Is 42:6-7; Jer 33:6-9; Mic 4:6-13; Ze 8:3-8; 10:6; Rom 9:27; 11:26).
5. Fifthly, the syntax of the passage further points to salvation as the subject. The conjunction “AND” between the sequence of the four phrases connects the clause jointly by succession, revealing the requirement for salvation. Likewise, the three phrases concerning the gift of salvation. The conjunction “IF” is introducing a conditional clause. God's hearing, forgiveness and healing was conditioned upon them humbling themselves and praying and seeking His face and repenting. “IF” they would do what He said, He “WILL” (future tense) do what He said would, “will” also connected by the conjunction “AND,” revealing His promises to them. The “will” is always future tense & based on a condition (“if”).
The adverb “THEN” refers to at that time, the time in question. So in other words, “IF” His people the Israelites would do this, “AND” this, “AND” this, “AND” this, “THEN” God “WILL” do this, “AND WILL” do this, “AND WILL” do this. This text is inspired by God in such a manner, that the conditional clause of the succession of conjunctions with the adverb & future tenses all have to be met, or it won’t happen. It’s all or none. Here is the passage again: “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 WILL I hear from heaven, AND WILL forgive their sin, AND WILL heal their land.” (2 Ch 7:14).
In conclusion, it is very clear 2 Ch 7:14 is God calling the nation of Israel to salvation. The evidence of that is powerful and then there’s nothing that supports a post-salvation (sanctification) interpretation. It also cannot be applied to Gentiles, with the exception of the principles of salvation. To apply it to saved Gentiles today, as has been done, is to corrupt its teaching, change the contextual meaning (incl. who Israel was at that time) and salvation itself. A Scriptural position on salvation and sanctification results in consistent or non-contradictory beliefs. God’s not going to contradict Himself, so we won’t get a right understanding of Scripture that results in any contradictions.
Sermons must be judged whether they are scriptural but in many cases preaching isn't judged by its absolute faithfulness to the text as it is to its style and effects. Someone can preach something that a particular text doesn’t say and people respond positively to it. People may say the Holy Spirit really worked & they were edified. So the meaning of Scripture was mangled and incongruous, but the Holy Spirit was in it? People can't discern what is of God & what isn’t. Preaching is judged successful when it isn't even scriptural. They think that God works in a way that circumvents the Bible, when He doesn’t. People are destroyed when they hear not “the things which become sound doctrine” (Ti 2:1).
Nothing bothers me more than wrong teachings about salvation & sanctification, as noted in the misuse of 2 Ch 7:14 (and other popular texts such as Rom 4:20; Mk 9:24; Heb 11:6; Jam 4:1-10—proof-texts to describe supposed “unbelief”). Nothing matters more to an individual than whether he’s ready for eternity or not. Being deceived about this is the most damaging thing that could occur to a person, far worse than even genocidal murder on a scale of bad. We don't want to tell someone the wrong thing about salvation. This has to be right. We know that Jesus and the Apostles were concerned about the importance of preaching and explaining truth, for that is expressed all over the NT. We should be too.