Can America Claim the Promises of 2nd Chronicles 7:14? How the Old Testament Applies to Christians Today
In this article, we examine a very familiar OT verse that is continually applied not only to NT Christians, but to our nation as a promise to “heal our land” as well. Others however, have called the utilization of this and other OT Scripture into question, arguing that these passages apply only to Israel.
I’ve never seen an apologetic treatment of this verse and so, being naturally inquisitive and somewhat of a skeptic, decided to examine its applicability to NT Christians. Along the way, we’ll offer interpretation principles that can be applied when exploring the relevance and meaning of various Hebrew Scriptures to those under the New Covenant today.
Written: Dec 2011
Table of Contents
- Intro - Possible Interpretations
- Original Context
- Underlying Interpretation Principles
- The Promise of Forgiveness of Sins
- The Promise of the Land – For Individuals
- The Promise of the Land – For Nations
- Final Thoughts - If My People...
Intro - Possible Interpretations
This article plays a key role in two of our separate sections or projects. First, it serves as a spin-off to the “Corporate Benefits” and “Do the OT Laws Still Matter?” chapters of our Honoring the Name of God series. This project began as an idea of my friend William, who created a corresponding group on Facebook.
Next, it involves the familiar verse that is almost always quoted by those calling America back to the Christian principles upon which she was founded. As you may have guessed (or cheated by looking at the article’s title), we’re speaking of 2nd Chronicles 7:14:
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 will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Most of us have heard many pastors and teachers rightly lament over the vanishing morality and ethics in our country, and then encourage their listeners or readers to repent so that God would bless America once again, based upon our subject verse. Some modern instructors claim however, that the OT holds no significance; that only the NT is applicable today. Others believe that only certain parts of the OT are relevant; arguing that this promise is given exclusively for Israel and therefore, those applying it to America (or any other country) are taking it out of context. Still others, such as J Vernon McGee, who I highly respect, teaches that if Christians confess and repent of their sins, then God will be faithful to forgive them on an individual basis, but since the NT makes no mention of God promising the possession or healing of any land, Mr McGee asserts that this portion of the verse doesn’t apply today.
Due to these varying positions on the issue, we ask the question, “Can America (or any other country) claim these promises, or are they reserved exclusively for Israel?” As we alluded to above, the answer generally will fall into one of four basic possibilities or options.
- The promises of this verse apply strictly to Israel only.
- The promises apply only to Israel, but the verse serves as an example or principle (but not promises) to us.
- The promises apply to Israel. The promise of forgiveness of sins, but not healing of the land, also applies to individual believers (born-again Christians).
- The promises apply to Israel. The promise of forgiveness of sins applies to individual believers (born-again Christians), and the healing of the land for their respective nations (a nation will prosper and be secure if her Christian inhabitants repent and seek God).
It is obvious that in all cases, our verse applies to Israel and the Promised Land of Canaan. Thus our question becomes, “if and to what extent does our scripture apply other nations, as well as to NT believers individually and/or corporately?” Before we investigate the evidence, let’s take a quick look at the original context of our verse.
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When we begin a study of any passage of Scripture, we first examine the passage in its immediate context to determine what it meant to its original audience. We see that the verse occurs within God’s response to Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the Temple (see 2Chr 6-7 with a parallel account found in 1Kg 8-9). The Temple had recently been completed and the Ark returned to its proper place. In his prayer, Solomon had declared that the Temple was the house where God’s name would be present (6:20). He then made seven petitions before God, and our subject verse is God’s reply to the third petition, “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 give praise to 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.” (2Chr 6:26-27).
So, in its original context, our verse obviously applies to Israel as a promise that, upon repentance, God would forgive their sins and send rain (heal their land). The sending of rain was critical for the Israelites since they were an agrarian society. This actually amounted to a gift of life.
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Underlying Interpretation Principles
Considering if, and to what extent our scripture applies to options 2-4, we offer two underlying principles which are foundational to any arguments involving the application of OT Scripture to NT believers.
First, God is immutable, that is, He never changes. While He may appear (from our limited perspective) to vary His methods of dealing with mankind, His very being (character and nature), and purposes never change. He is the great “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex 3:14). He told the Israelites, “I the Lord do not change” (Mal 3:6) and the Apostle Paul confirmed to Timothy that “He (God) cannot deny Himself” (2Ti 3:13 ESV). In addition, the Scriptures consistently proclaim that God never varies in His will (Ps 33:11, Heb 6:17), nor His attributes such as His truthfulness (Ps 119:89) and faithful love (Ps 100:5, Jer 31:3). Furthermore, the author of Hebrews writes that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8), and since Jesus said that He and the Father are one (Jn 10:30, 14:9; 1Jn 5:7), any statement about the divine nature of Christ can also be applied to God the Father.
Our second interpretation principle also doubles as our argument against Option 1. At issue is the type and amount of authority that the OT holds over the NT believer. We can define the authority of Scripture as the authority of God exercised through His written word, which is the same as if he were audibly speaking directly to us. We can further identify this authority as the right to influence and control the Christian’s conscience, which directs our thoughts and actions. Martin Luther, in his debate at the Diet of Worms declared, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. [Here I stand. I can do no other.] God help me. Amen.
Believers have often heard the old saying that “The OT was not written to us, but it was written [as examples] for us”. Some supporters of Option 1 reject this statement, while others limit it to specific verses. Let’s see what the NT has to say on the subject.
In addition to the numerous examples drawn from the OT by Jesus and the inspired authors of Scripture to support their teachings, the Apostle Paul provides us with three explicit statements which clearly illustrate the role of OT Scripture for the Christian. In two of his letters to the churches, he writes that events in Israel’s history “happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us” (1Cor 10:11), and that “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us (Rom 15:4). Furthermore, he instructed Timothy that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17 ESV). By “all Scripture”, he was referring to the OT canon, which was final in his day, and the apostolic writings that were currently circulating and would eventually form the NT canon.
It is clear from these NT certifications that the OT Scriptures still maintains authority over the Christian, though not in the same manner as the NT Scriptures. Dr Robert Jeffress, pastor of FBC Dallas, explains the difference in the authority of the testaments by stating that “the NT contains precepts [commands, decrees] while the OT offers general principles [instructions] for believers”. Although Christians are no longer under the OT moral laws in a legal or judicial sense (Rom 6:14, Gal 3:12), the entire OT continues to supply principles and instructions for spiritual growth and holy living (Rom 15:4, 1Cor 10:6,11) that are based on the very character and nature of God.
Based upon the proceeding, we must reject Option 1 and affirm that our subject verse, at a minimum, serves as an example for believers as stated in the latter part of Option 2. We next examine if and which of the promises in 2Chronicles 7:14 may be claimed by Christians.
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The Promise of Forgiveness of Sins
Turning to option 3, affirming the promise of forgiveness of sin for Christians is rather easy to validate since it is affirmed throughout the NT. When an OT principle is confirmed in the NT, we need look no further for authenticity. In his first epistle, the Apostle John employs language that is exceptionally similar to that of the Chronicler, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn 1:9). On this basis, we must discard Option 2.
John’s first epistle was written to believers, so this “forgiveness of sin”, like our subject verse, is not referring to entering into salvation since we already possess redemption by the blood of Christ (Eph 1:7), but the re-establishment of proper fellowship with God. We can also note that to “confess” (Gk homologōmen – literally to “say the same thing”) means to admit or declare our agreement with God regarding our accused guilt. It also implies that, with the help of the Spirit, we change our convictions and resolve to do our best not to repeat the sin.
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The Promise of the Land – For Individuals
The promise of forgiveness for believers was rather simple to confirm. By contrast, our final step of choosing between Options 3 and 4 requires much more research and thought. Basically, this decision comes down to interpreting the promise of healing for the land. It’s obvious that our verse (2Chr 7:14) refers to Israel in its immediate context, but can the promise also be claimed individually or corporately by Christians today? Once again, we consult the Holy Bible in our quest for answers.
First, we look at how Scripture records God’s attitude toward foreigners (non-Israelites or Gentiles) in the OT, beginning with the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12:1-3). The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”. Notice that “peoples” is plural and refers to people of all nations.
See our article on Ruth’s Intermarriage to Boaz for a more detailed discussion of the relationship between Israel and other nations, but we’d like to point out one passage of Scripture. Isaiah 56:1-8 is a wonderful section of Scripture that addresses the salvation of all foreigners and blessings for all nations.
This is what the LORD says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, the man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” And let not any eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant - to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant - these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” The Sovereign LORD declares — he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.”
Going back to the context of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple, he prays “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name” (2Chr 6:32-33). These foreigners, who voluntarily joined the society of the covenant, no less than native Israelites, were the object of Solomon’s prayer for mercy before God.
Now, many of those who object to modern day Christians claiming the promises of our subject verse point to the surrounding verses that state, “the LORD appeared to him at night and said: ‘I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices‘” (2Chr 7:12) and, Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there (2Chr 7:15-16). They claim therefore, that petition for these promises must be made at the Temple and it must be accompanied by a sacrifice.
This is a fair enough objection, since we should always consider the immediate context when interpreting a verse of Scripture. Their point is also substantiated in the NT by Hebrews 9:16-22. In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” I n the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
If we keep reading however, we find that, It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (Heb 9:23-28).
Therefore, we see that Christ was the “once for all” sacrifice that did not need to be repeated for cleansing us of our sins, so we certainly don't need any additional sacrifices when bringing a prayerful request to God. But what about the contention that all petitions must be made at the Temple?
The Apostle John records the aftermath of Jesus clearing the Temple of those using it for commerce instead of prayer and worship. Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body (John 2:18-21).
Returning to Hebrews 9, we read, When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant (Heb 9:11-15).
So, in the OT, the priests and the Temple acted as the mediator between God and His people. Now, we as believers approach God through Christ who, as both the sacrifice and the Temple, is the mediator of the New Covenant. This we do by praying in His Name.
We return once again to the question of the land, and what the promise means for Christians individually. Now obviously, we are not guaranteed a certain amount of acreage on this earth by being faithful to God, but I believe the promise has an application for believers. To determine its relevance, we must understand the theology of the land. Rather than being simply an isolated gift, or a gift of reward to Israel, the privilege and responsibility of living in the land is closely tied to the covenants (see The Ethical Question of War in the Conquest of Canaan for more info regarding Israel’s right to the land). The allotment of the land as a stewardship trust was part of Israel’s relationship with God, so the “heal our land” promise also included restoring the people’s fellowship with Him.
Now, just as God entrusted the land to Israel and they suffered its loss through disobedience, our relationship and rewards will also suffer when we disobey (see Jn 15:1-8). So, although God will often bless us physically or monetarily for obedience, the application for NT Christians is in the spiritual sense (gaining and losing of spiritual blessings). Therefore, we can reasonably eliminate Option 3, which precluded the blessing of the land for Christians, even in a figurative sense.
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The Promise of the Land – For Nations
We now come to our main question. Can America, a nation built on Biblical values, claim the promise of “healing the land” if the people repent? We’ve just seen that individuals will receive blessing for obedience but, “Does the promise to individual believers carry over to an entire nation?” As before, let’s go back to the Bible.
Let’s begin with a few examples of God’s blessing or withholding of judgment corporately on nations other than Israel. In almost every case, the fate of these nations rested upon the spiritual condition of their citizens. When God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham, he delayed the conquest for 400 years because the sins of the people of the occupying nations had yet to reach their peak (Gen 15:12-16).
In another example, prior to their invasion of the northern kingdom, God sent the Hebrew prophet Jonah to call the Ninevites (Assyria) to repentance. Instead, Jonah ran the opposite direction and spent three days in a large fish before finally fulfilling his mission. When the Ninevites fasted and turned from their evil ways, God relented and spared their nation. Jonah was then angry when God didn’t annihilate his enemies, saying “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2-4). Jonah did not want to preach to the Assyrians because he knew that God would withhold judgment on any nation whose people repented, even the enemies of Israel.
Similarly, the coming destruction of Babylon is mentioned over and over in the book of Jeremiah, yet the prophet wrote that God would have healed Babylon had not her continued sins been so great (Jer 51:9).
In some cases, it doesn’t even require repentance by a large portion of the populace to stay God’s wrath. When God told Abraham that He was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for the grievous sins, Abraham pleaded for the LORD to spare Sodom (most cities were sovereign city/states with their own king during this epoch). We find this narrative exchange in Genesis 18:16-33. Abraham asks God if He would destroy Sodom if He found 50 righteous people there, and God agreed to spare the city if it contained 50 righteous people. Abraham continues to ask for Sodom to be spared if 45 righteous are found, then 40, 30, 20 and finally 10 people. Each time, God granted his request, so we know He was willing to spare an entire city/state for the sake of only ten righteous people; or maybe even less, but we’ll never know. Abraham stopped asking before God stopped granting his requests. God then destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, sparing only Lot and his two daughters (Gen 19:1-29).
Now, let’s tie this in to modern day Christians and our respective nations by briefly examining the relationship between Israel and New Covenant believers. In the desert, God promised Moses, Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex 19:5-6). Compare these words with those in Peter’s divinely inspired first epistle to Christians, But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1Pe 2:9-10).
Thus Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is placing the NT Church on equal footing with the Nation of Israel. Although Israel has not been replaced by the church (Rom 11), God is now working through NT believers to accomplish his purposes until the time of the Gentiles is ended (Lk , 21:4, Rom 11:25-26). Unlike the Israelites however, Christians do not belong corporately to any one nation. Nevertheless, based on the evidence that we’ve presented, I believe we can draw analogies from the accounts of the Israelites and their nation that can be applied to NT Christians and our respective nations.
Going back to the prophet Jeremiah, he wrote a letter to the Judeans (Southern Kingdom of divided Israel) who had been taken into exile by the Babylonians. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer 29:4-7). Thus, God tied the prosperity of His people to the nation in which they currently dwelt.
Based upon the comparative roles of the Israelites and NT Believers, we can establish a parallel from these words that, just as Israel was commanded to work for the welfare of her temporary home, resulting in mutual benefit for the Israelites and Babylon, then believers and their respective earthly nations (their temporary homes) can mutually benefit from each other. This conclusion is consistent with the NT Scriptures’ stance on support for our government (Mt 22:15-22, Rom 13, 1Pe 2:13, 1Tim 2:2) unless of course, we have legitimate cause for civil disobedience (Ac 5:27-29).
We can also note the significance of the timing of the Temple’s dedication. The Temple had actually been finished earlier in the year, but Solomon delayed the dedication until the celebration of the festival (2 Chr 7:8). This festival was actually the Festival of Booths (Heb Sukkot). It was known by many additional names such as the Feast of Tabernacles, Feast of Ingathering, and Festival of Joy. It is also called the “Feast of Nations”, the one festival to be celebrated by all the nations during the future millennium. In Zechariah 14, we find one of the great descriptions of these end times. After all the nations gather to fight against Israel, The LORD Jesus comes back and stands on the Mount of Olives, splitting it in half. After Jerusalem is secure and the plagues strike Israel’s enemies, the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, they will have no rain (Zech 14:16-17). It is interesting that the same curse that God pronounced against Israel (no rain) will be extended to all nations who do not come to Jerusalem to worship.
Finally, we have some specific evidence from America’s fight for her independence which, due to the piety of its founders, God’s providence and sovereignty was clearly seen. We must note that, using evidence from experience (or the historian’s experience) is acceptable, but this evidence should never trump God’s revelation since we don’t have an exhaustive perspective on our experiences.
The historical revisionists who say America was not founded on biblical principles would dismiss these extraordinary events as coincidental, but the sheer number and consistency makes this highly unlikely. It is also difficult to explain how a ragtag group of volunteers could defeat the world’s most powerful army otherwise. We’ll go into details in separate articles but just to mention a few here, there was the combination of mud and fog that allowed the miraculous liberation of Boston, the card game that resulted in an implausible victory at Trenton, the continual narrow brushes with death of General George Washington, and a rare August fog coupled with a sudden dying wind that allowed the Continental Army to escape from Long Island. In the latter case, the Americans were at their weakest point, so being caught would have almost certainly ended the war. Incredibly, the messenger sent to alert the British was detained by Hessian troops, and by the time he arrived, the opportunity for the British was gone.
According to historian Peter Marshall, several British soldiers wrote in their diaries that “the hand of God is against us”. In a letter to Brig Gen Nelson, Gen Washington wrote, “He must be worse than an infidel who lacks faith to express his obligations, but time will suffice later for me to become preacher when my present appointment ceases, therefore I shall add no more on the doctrine of providence”.
Now, because we are only illuminated interpreters rather than inspired writers of Scripture (we do not possess apostolic authority), I don't believe we can claim the promise 2Chronicles 7:14 as an iron-clad guarantee of prosperity for America as a nation. As we've noted, the original context by the inspired writer addressed it exclusively to Israel. That said, based upon the evidence obtained from what we believe to be proper interpretation principles of Scripture, we can be confident in affirming Option 4, that a nation whose citizens honor God will be blessed (Ps 33:12).
This verse was certainly on the mind of President Abraham Lincoln when his issued the proclamation that established America's first National Day of Prayer on April 30, 1863. He wrote “...it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to owe 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”.
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Final Thoughts - If My People...
Before we close, I’d like everyone to note a particular aspect of our subject verse that is frequently overlooked. We often think that, “if only we could reform the unbelievers in our government, or in Hollywood, or in our public schools… or if we could shut down the abortionists or the pornography industry…” then God would honor His promise to heal our land, but is this really what the verse is saying? Let’s read it again with emphasis, “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” (2Chr 7:14). We thus notice that the verse is addressed to God’s people, and as a result, the promise is not contingent on what unbelievers do.
We observe in the Bible that, while God blesses His people for obedience, He often begins His judgments in His own house (Ez 9:3-6, 1Pe 4:17). Therefore, we clearly see that this promise rests solely on our actions and the condition of our hearts as Christians. If we humble ourselves and turn obediently to God, honor His Name and keep His commandments, then our nation will be healed.
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