Sunday, July 24, 2016

If My People

Sunday morning worship at Redeemer

In Isaiah 19:23-25 we read:

23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. 25 The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.

In the Old Testament these three phrases - "my people," "my handiwork," and "my inheritance" - are usually only applied to Israel. Old Testament scholar John Goldingay writes: "If Assyria and Egypt can be called God's people, anyone can be so called, even Britain and the United States." (Goldingay, 1&2 Chronicles for Everyone, 95) 

Keep this in mind, and consider what is perhaps the most famous biblical Call to Prayer, found in 2 Chronicles 7:14:

14 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 I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

We can apply this verse to our own land, following the above reasoning out of Isaiah 19. Goldingay writes: 
"If peoples want to claim the promise in 2 Chronicles 7, all they have to do is fulfill the same conditions as Israel."

To do this...

First, we have to "fall down." We have to humble ourselves. We have to assume the posture of a slave or suppliant before a king.

Second, we have to "plead." That's the literal meaning of the Hebrew word, which is usually translated as "pray." This is prayer as humble pleading before God our King. Goldingay says this is "not pleading for justice but for pardon, the kind of forgiveness only a king can grant, the pardon that ignores their deserving execution for their wrongdoing." (Ib.)

Third, this kind of prayer-appeal can only be made if we acknowledge any wrongdoing and turn from it. This is called "repentance." "Repentance is usually not a matter of feeling sorry but of changing what you do." (Ib.)

Finally, we have to "look to God's face." Not "seek" God's face like we are searching for something that is hidden. The word here means: turn and look at God. Goldingay writes: "The idea is of seeking from Yahweh the things that Yahweh alone can give - things such as a good harvest or insight about the future. When Yahweh's face smiles, these things from the face follow. God will soon note the corollary, that people must not be seeking the face of other gods." (Ib.)

In Western culture we usually go after good things by using our own abilities and minds. In 2 Chronicles we see a different viewpoint, which is: We are to get low, turn from any sin we are captivated by, and take the time to prayer-plead before our God. Then, and only then, will God "hear from heaven and heal the land."

Shall we do this together, now, in these days?

In my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God I write about hearing and discerning the voice of God.