In a recent news article, the senior pastor of a large church in Dallas, Texas states, “When you remove prayer, when you allow the killing of children, and when you destroy the basic underpinnings of the family, you have destroyed the infrastructure of any culture. God is no respecter of nations. The nation that fears God will be blessed by God; the nation that turns away from God will be judged by God…” 9-7-2011 www.onenewsnow.com In 1905, David Brewer, US Supreme Court Justice, wrote, “…we constantly speak of this republic as a Christian Nation – in fact, as the leading Christian nation of the world. This popular use of the term certainly has significance. It is not a mere creation of the imagination. It is not a term of derision but has substantial basis – one which justifies its use.” (P. xii, The United States a Christian Nation) Yet, today, our President has said that this nation is not a Christian nation. This shows how far we have come as a people since the early part of the 20th century.
Great disasters have struck this country in recent years including hurricanes, drought, floods, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes, and even an attack on our own shores from a foreign enemy. We have responded with all sorts of aide and acts of charity to help the victims of these disasters which is to be commended. We have refined our weather reporting to warn of such disasters ahead of time to help people get ready. When disasters strike, we are great at analyzing all the secondary causes. When our enemies strike us, we strike back decisively which we should. We do all these proper responses to such disasters. Yet, we have failed in one great respect. We have left God out of the picture. We have either totally separated God from such disasters and not even considered any connection or we have attributed all such to Satan and his domain and have said that a loving God would not do such things.
We have become so sophisticated as a people that we attribute just about everything to natural causes only. We quickly say that Mother Nature is just acting up when a tornado or a hurricane strikes. It is true that certain laws of nature are at work in such disasters. Yet we mostly forget the one who controls those laws. Some see God as only a God of love and know nothing of a God of wrath and judgment. All such beliefs are outdated to modern man. All of these disasters have come upon us, yet we have consistently refused to even consider that we as a people might be at fault.
What then is a Biblical view of disasters and how to respond to them. Are disasters only natural events? Should we only consider secondary causes? Have we become so secular as a nation that we no longer consider God has any input on how we live as a people. We have largely ignored the moral law of God as a people and pretty much set up our own morality of what we think is right and wrong. We can by majority vote declare something moral and right and then go on not stopping to consider if what we have approved might be wrong in God’s sight. All of that morality stuff was for an earlier generation. We have outgrown such thinking. So, many think today.
What then about all of these disasters? Do they mean anything or are they just things that have happened with no ultimate cause behind them? We want to consider a very important text in this regard, 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 which says, “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.” These verses teach us that the repentance of a people is the Biblical response to disasters. This, of course, is an unpopular teaching today and not believed by our nation based on its response to the disasters that have struck us. We don’t see the people of this land flocking to the churches to mourn over their sins and ask God’s forgiveness for how we have sinned against him. The media would ridicule such an idea. Note the media’s response to a gathering recently in Texas which made some effort in this direction. It is true that we should not see every natural disaster as a punishment for some sin that individuals have committed. Yet, on the other hand, we cannot completely rule out the possibility that repeated disasters on a nation might be God’s judgment on a people. The Bible is full of such and we harm ourselves to ignore the clear Biblical implications of repeated disasters upon a people.
We want to point out first that disasters come upon nations for a reason. In the verses we are considering for this article is found mention of disasters coming upon a nation. Verse 13 says, “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.” There are different kinds of disasters. The Bible talks about famine, sword, and plagues (pestilences). Jeremiah 14:12 mentions all three as instruments of judgment upon a people. The verse says, “Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague.” The New Bible Dictionary defines the Hebrew word used in verse 13 for “plague” or “pestilence” – “Originally meaning ‘destruction,’ this word is used comprehensively for all sorts of disasters and is often linked with the sword and famine which three evils generally go hand in hand; and with divine visitation.” (p. 1001) So, plague or pestilence could describe any kind of disaster whether coming from the weather, disease, or invasion by an enemy. Here in our text, drought, invasion of pests, and then the word “plague” or “pestilence” is used. All disasters could be included under these words. In recent years, our nation has experienced all kinds of weather disasters whether hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, drought and others such as fire and earthquakes, disease, and even invasion by an enemy.
God uses disasters to discipline nations. Those who have a secular mind set might not believe such could happen in our modern and sophisticated society. Yet, the Bible is not governed by the beliefs of modern society. The Bible definitely teaches that God does and has used disasters to discipline and judge nations. This can be clearly seen in II Chronicles 6:26-27 where Solomon sees the possibility of such in the future. He says, “When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and confess your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel. Teach them the right way to live, and send rain on the land you gave your people for an inheritance.” Notice that drought comes because of the nation’s sin and that God uses drought to teach the people the right way to live. Such thinking is so foreign to our present national mindset that it is difficult to even suggest that our disasters might come upon us because of our national sins.
Ezekiel 6:11 says, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Strike your hands together and stamp your feet and cry out ‘Alas!’ because of all the wicked and detestable practices of the house of Israel, for they will fall by the sword, famine and plague.” If we continue in our sexual immorality of all sorts, our total neglect of the Sabbath Day, our killing of the unborn, and our idolatry in all its modern forms, should we expect any better? The Bible is clear that God punishes nations that fall into sin and refuse to repent. He has done it before and He is doing it now whether we believe it or not.
What then is a Biblical response to disaster? Verse 14 says, “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.” A Biblical response to disaster is to acknowledge God as a people. Often this verse is used to teach that if Christians repent of their sins, their nation will be healed. However, the emphasis here is that a nation is being addressed and if the people of the nation repent that nation will be healed. Dr. Henry M. Morris comments on this passage in his notes in The New Defenders Study Bible saying, “This verse is often cited by way of exhortation to Christians on behalf of their particular nation, but it was actually a very specific promise to the people of the elect nation, Israel, given to King Solomon on behalf of his own nation Israel.” (p. 683) This verse is not so much teaching us that if the Christians in a particular nation repent that their nation will be healed but it is teaching us that if a nation of people repent that nation will be healed. The emphasis is national and is directed to a nation not a people within a nation. Lot and his family acknowledged God but that did not save Sodom. God destroyed Sodom because of its sin despite the fact that Lot who lived there was righteous. Today, if some Christians in America have a meeting and repent of their own sins, that doesn’t mean that God is going to heal America. That is not what the verse teaches. It simply teaches us that if the people of a particular nation repent and turn to God, that nation will be healed.
Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah and that nation was spared. The whole nation repented as a people collectively from the top down. That is a true national repentance. First, a nation as a people need to acknowledge God, to pray and seek his face as a people. John Gill in commenting on this passage writes, “…which contain an answer to the particular requests by Solomon in case of a famine or pestilence, that when the people of Israel should humble themselves in prayer and supplication, the Lord would be attentive to them and forgive them; and which is given as a specimen, and as encouragement to expect the same treatment in all other cases mentioned in Solomon’s prayer, they so behaving.” (Commentary on 2 Chronicles – www.biblestudytools.com)
The nation as a people not only need to pray and seek the face of the Lord but they need to follow through and repent of their sins. Matthew Henry writes, “National judgments are here supposed, famine, and pestilence, and perhaps war, for by the locusts devouring the land may be meant enemies as greedy as locusts, and lying all waste. National repentance, prayer, and reformation are required….God expects that his people who are called by his name, if they have dishonored his name by their iniquity, should honor it by accepting the punishment of their iniquity. They must humble themselves under his hand, must pray for the removal of the judgment, must seek the face and favor of God; and yet all this will not do unless they turn from their ways, and return to the God from whom they have revolted.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary - 2 Chronicles – p. 932-933) We as a nation need to repent of our national sins and to turn as a nation back to the God we have revolted from. When we repent of our sexual immorality in all its variations, of our total disregard of the Christian Sabbath, of our killing of millions of unborn children, and of our enormous idolatries in many forms, then God will heal our land as a nation.
The result of repentance as a people is the healing of their land. Then we will dwell in peace. Then we will have better weather and our land will produce. Then will we be protected from disasters of many kinds. Again Matthew Henry comments, “National mercy is then promised, that God will forgive their sins, which brought the judgment upon them, and then heal their land, redress all their grievances. Pardoning mercy makes way for healing mercy.” (Ibid, p. 233) The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible comments on this passage saying, “God promised that the nation would receive relief from hardship caused by sin if the people would turn to him in humility and prayer. Within this general parameter, God retained the prerogative to bless when and how he saw fit.” (p. 656) We will see a national healing of our land when we see a national repentance of the people of our land.
Now, we come to our national failure. We have failed to respond to disaster properly. We have done many things to respond to our national disasters such as giving aide to the needy and providing help to those who have suffered. All of this is to be commended. However, the great failure on the part of this nation is that we have not acknowledged God in all of our disasters, we have not owned up to our sinfulness as a people, and we certainly have not repented of our sins. Because of our national failure to do these things, the disasters have continued to come year after year and they will continue to come in the future and may increase in number and degree. Until we as a people own up to our national sins and until we as a people repent of those sins, we can expect national disasters to continue. No nation that divorces itself from the God that same nation once honored can expect to survive as a nation. We cannot secularize the nation and expect God to bless us.
We have left the principles and examples of our forefathers. In the summer of 1623, there was a severe drought at Plymouth, Massachusetts. The drought was long lasting and not even the Indians could remember anything like it before. Edward Winslow wrote, “There scarce fell any rain, so that the stalk of that planting which was first set, began to send forth the ear before it came to half growth, and that which was later, not like to yield any at all, both blade and stalk hanging the head and changing the color in such manner as we judged it utterly dead. Our beans also ran not up according to their wonted manner, but stood at a stay, many being parched away, as though they had been scorched before the fire.” (The Light and the Glory, p. 141) What did the people of Plymouth do? Did they analyze all the secondary causes of this drought? Did they just pray for rain? No! They called for an assembly of the people. Winslow writes, “These and the like considerations moved not only every good man privately to enter into examination with his own estate between God and his conscience, and so to humiliation before Him, but also to humble ourselves together before the Lord by fasting and prayer. To that end, a day was appointed by public authority, and set apart from all other employments.” (Ibid, p. 141) A day was appointed by public authority to acknowledge God and repent of their sins. What happened? Before the meeting was over, the clouds began to gather and it started raining and continued for fourteen days. The crops were healed and an abundant harvest came in the fall. Their number one thing to do in this disaster was to acknowledge God and repent. As a result, God answered and healed their land. It wasn’t just a few Christians calling a prayer meeting, but by public authority the whole people were called together and the whole people repented.
Our presidential forefathers as leaders of the nation have often called for fasting and prayer and national repentance in the light of national disasters or to prevent such. In 1789 George Washington called on the nation as a people to pray. He wrote in his proclamation, “…that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord, to promote the knowledge and practice of the true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us, and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.” (America’s God and Country, p. 654)
On March 6, 1799, President John Adams called for a National Fast Day in which he said, “As no truth is more clearly taught in the Volume of Inspiration, nor any more fully demonstrated by the experience of all ages, than that a deep sense and a due acknowledgement of the growing providence of a Supreme Being and of the accountableness of men to Him as the searcher of hearts and righteous distributor of rewards and punishments are conducive equally to the happiness of individuals and to the well-being of communities…..that the citizens on that day abstain, as far as may be, from their secular occupation, and devote the time to the sacred duties of religion, in public and in private; that they call to mind the numerous offenses against the most high God, confess them before Him with the sincerest penitence, implore his pardoning mercy, through the Great Mediator and Redeemer, for our past transgressions, and that through the grace of His Holy Spirit, we may be disposed and enabled to yield a more suitable obedience to his righteous requisitions in time to come; that He would interpose to arrest the progress of that impiety and licentiousness in principle and practice so offensive to Himself and so ruinous to mankind; that He would make us deeply sensible that ‘righteousness exalteth a nation but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Ibid, p. 11)
In the midst of the Civil War on March 30, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln called for a national fast day. He wrote, “And whereas, it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history: that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord: And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisement in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?” (Ibid, p. 383)
Now, where are such proclamations today by our national leaders? They do not exist. That’s our national failure. We have not acknowledged God like our forefathers did in the light of national disasters or in the light of the fact that we are a sinful people.
Today, our greatest need is a national repentance, not the repentance of a few Christians within the nation but the repentance of the nation as a whole people. That will come about when a national spiritual revival takes place that only God can send. Our duty as Christians is to pray for a national spiritual revival to fall upon this land before it is too late. Only then will we see a national repentance and a healing of this land.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (1978) unless indicated otherwise
Brewer, David J. The United States – A Christian Nation, American Vision Press, Powder Springs, Georgia, 1996. (Originally published 1905)
Douglas, J. D., ed. The New Bible Dictionary, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1962.
Federer, William J. America’s God and Country, Fame Publishing, Inc., USA, 1996.
Gill, John. Commentary on 2 Chronicles, www.biblestudytools.com .
Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. II – Joshua to Esther, Fleming H. Revell Company, USA, originally in 1708.
Marshall, Peter and Manuel, David. The Light and the Glory, Fleming H. Revell Company, Old Tappan, New Jersey, 1977.
Morris, Henry M. The New Defenders Study Bible, World Publishing, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, 1995.
Pratt, Richard L. Jr., ed. Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2003.