The verb to revive in our English Bibles is almost exclusively an Old Testament word. It occurs in the NIV only five times in the Old Testament (Pss. 80:18; 85:6; Isa. 57:15; and Hos. 6:2). The sole New Testament occurrences were found in the King James Version of Romans 7:9; 14:9. Thus we are mainly limited to the five passages mentioned in the Old Testament where the Hebrew verb hayah “to live,” “to recover,” or “to revive” appears.
The major reference to being revived, of course, is Psalm 85:6. But we must not think that all the references to revival in the Bible will mention this word, for, as we have found out, the Scriptures will refer to the concept of revival without using this word more frequently than it does with it.
Each of the sixteen revivals in the Bible had very distinctive characteristics. Most of them began as one or two individuals saw the need for a heavenly visitation. All of them were addressed in the first place to the body of believers. In fact, five out of seven churches addressed in the Book of Revelation were told to repent and return to God. Therefore, revivals are definitely aimed at the believing church and not at the unsaved. The purpose of these revivals is to call the church back to a new hearing of and responding to the Word of God. It must involve a forsaking of sin, a confession of that sin, and a deep desire to reverse the pattern of spiritual declension and apostasy that has begun to typify that ministry, either locally, regionally, or nationally.
Most will agree that the divine response given to Solomon, when he prayed that great dedicatory prayer, after the completion of the temple of God, forms one of the great hallmarks in Scripture for expecting revival in any period of history. Solomon prayed that God would forgive the sins of Israel when they would confess their guilt, after being visited by some future drought, famine, or pestilence as a result of their sin (2 Chronicles 6:26-31).
God’s reply to Solomon’s petition in 2 Chronicles 7:12-16 was put in such formulaic terms that this response would serve forever after as the basis for true revival and renewal to any people in any nation at any time. The heart of this central text, in the gallery of revival texts, was verse 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 will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Note that “my people” are identified by the appositional clause “who are called by my name.” Since this clause is used in both the Old Testament and the New Testament for all believers, the scope of this promise goes far beyond Israel to include any and all believers in all times.
The Promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14
(1) The promise is for us today;
(2) The promise is descriptive of current times; and
(3) The promise of deliverance is conditional
(1) This Promise Is Intended for Us Today
This promise was originally given to the nation of Israel. However, the qualifying clause that immediately follows the references to “my people” is one that opens up this promise to more than the Jewish people—it was the clause that read, “who are called by my name.” That phraseology is used to describe everyone who has become part of the family of God and over whom God had put his protective name.
We also have assurance from Romans 15:4 that “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of Scriptures [which up to this point, was only the Old Testament] we might have hope.” Likewise, 1 Corinthians 10:11 exhorts, “These things happened to them [i.e.’ to the Old Testament saints] as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”
It is incumbent on us to apply these same words of 2 Chronicles 7:14 to our own times, nation, churches, and families, as did the ancient Israelites. The principles by which God operates his kingdom remain the same; we dare not assume less.
(2) The Promise Is Descriptive of Current Times
The conditions of 2 Chronicles 7:13 imply that when national disasters begin to afflict a nation, people, or group of believers, it is time to ask what it is that God is trying to say to them or to us. Naturally, one emergency or disaster cannot automatically be converted into the voice of God, for there are more factors at work in this world than reducing them all to a single factor; there is, however, that which is sinful and wicked. Ask Job about his experiences along this line. But when those tragedies start coming in a series, such as Amos 4:6-12 illustrated, then it is high time for the believer to sit up and take notice. Be sure that God is calling a nation away from unrighteousness and back to himself. In Amos’s case, God sent first famine (Amos 4:6), then drought (v.7-8), then locusts, blight, and mildew (v. 9), then plagues similar to the ones that hit Egypt (v. 10), and finally the defeat of some of their cities (v. 11); but in each case the sad refrain was, “yet you have not returned to me, declares the LORD” (vv. 6b, 8b, 9b, 10b, 11b). Not one of the calamities of that day forced any of the people of God to turn back to Him.
And because the people had not returned to the Lord, there would not only be no revival; the nation would exist no longer as well: “Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel, and because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel” (v. 12). Many have taken this verse to be a salvation text, for one used to see it out in the countryside printed on large oval discs as one drove along: “Prepare to Meet Your God!” Unfortunately, that is not what the prophet of God meant here; he meant that since there was not repentance, or heeding to the national signs of disaster that were lovingly sent to those who had ignored the Word of God written and announced by his messengers, God would be obligated to send his wrath and judgment on that nation.
Likewise, God warned Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:13, “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,” then it was time that Israel met the four conditions of the famous verse 14 in 2 Chronicles 7.
The question needs to be asked by every generation and culture: Have we yet reached the point described in verse 13? Only the Lord knows for sure, but one would hardly need the skills of a prophet to conclude that the current pace of evil in America has accelerated to such a rate that it is almost a foregone conclusion that God must intervene with unusual punishment soon, if an immediate repentance to God and a revival from God is to prevent such a judgment from falling on any one of the modern nations of our day.
It is not necessary to spiritualize the drought, famine, or pestilence of verse 13 in order to make the principle of this text applicable to our times, as Newell apparently decided to do. Those spiritual declensions follow the other forms of ethical, moral, and legislative deteriorations already mentioned: both are just as real and of equal importance to our Lord.
(3) The Promise of Deliverance Is Conditional
It is all too easy in these days of stressing the love and grace of our Lord (which is correct and legitimate in and of itself, of course) to ignore the stipulated conditions attached to our participating in the blessings of God. The four conditions mentioned in this text were not of human origin, but divine. This was God’s word to Solomon but it is nonetheless his word to us as well.
Some will object: “But this is yet another form of legalism.” However, that would be wrong, for legalism is the attempt to earn our salvation by working for it—a form that is totally antithetical to Scripture. Salvation is God’s free gift; it cannot be earned in any shape or form.
But if we are talking about fellowship and communion with our Lord, then let it be noted that God cannot be present or work where sin is present. That is why revival is called for under such circumstances.
The conditionality of “If my people…will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways” is no more offensive than John 14:21, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me”: or John 15:7, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” The conditions, then, were not for entrance into heaven or possessing eternal life, but for the maintenance of fellowship and communion, and for the enjoyment of life to its fullness in these mortal bodies.
The old hymn writer said it best: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” And if that is true of an individual, it is also true for a nation and church denominations as well.
The Four Conditions of 2 Chronicles 7:14
(1) “If My People Humble Themselves”
So large is the topic of “humbling ourselves” in the Old Testament that there are more than a dozen Hebrew words translating this single word humble, with over eighty references. The one used in 2 Chronicles 7:14 is ‘kana’, meaning “to subdue,” as Gideon “subdued” Midian (Judges 8:28). The picture is one of “bending the knee” or bending the neck in deference to another.
God calls for his people to render to him complete and voluntary subjection. The precedent for doing this is to be found in the example of our Lord in Philippians 2:8, where Jesus “humbled himself.” Those who follow our Lord must be willing to deny themselves and take up his or her cross and follow Christ (Matt. 16:24).
Humbling ourselves, then, is a voluntary denial of every impulse we have to exalt ourselves instead of following the pattern set by the world. We must go into spiritual bankruptcy (“Blessed are the poor in spirit”) if we are to have the mind-set and frame of thinking that was in our Lord Jesus (Phil. 2:5).
The two revivals in 2 Chronicles indicate that more is intended by this condition of “humbling ourselves.” Both Rehoboam and Josiah had to come to the point of saying that if God did not extricate them from the trouble they were in, then no one or nothing else would be able to help them.
That is the point to which the modern church must also come. God dwells with those who are of a contrite and humble spirit, reviving their spirits and reviving the hearts of those who are contrite (Isaiah 57:15).
(2) “If My People Will Pray”
There are ten different words for payer in the Hebrew text, but the one used here focuses on intercession. It is well illustrated by Samuel, who assures God’s people, “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you” (1 Sam. 12:23).
S.D. Gordon, in his Quiet Talks on Prayer, combines the various forms of prayer into three groups: petition, communion, and intercession. Most Christians know how to petition God in prayer, for that is what we do best. Like little children, we are always asking—and the Lord does not rebuke us for doing so. Fewer believers have learned about staying in God’s presence in order to commune with him and to meditate on the things of God. The joy of worshipful adoration of the Most High God and Lord of lords often goes unclaimed by many who stay in prayer only for a passing minute or two.
But the work of entering into prayer as a ministry of intercession, praying for the world and its problems and needs, is a task that is rarely entered into by believers. In intercession we participate with God in the great conflict between God and our archenemy, the devil. True intercession takes the persons and places in the world where evil is assaulting the kingdom of God and pleads that the strong hand of God might defeat evil. It prays that the lost might see the glorious offer of grace given by our Lord Jesus and that they might come to trust him personally.
Just as Jehoshaphat was taught to stand still and pray for the defeat of the enemy, so too we need to prepare for the work we attempt to do in God’s name by means of intercessory prayer. When Moses’ hands were held high in prayer by Aaron and Hur, Amalek was vanquished, and forces fell back in defeat. But when Moses dropped his hands out of exhaustion, thereby relaxing in his prayer for Joshua and the troops engaged in the conflict on the valley floor, the enemy surged forward against the forces of good (Exod. 17:8-15). This is the lesson the church needs to learn in all our current skirmishes with evil. This does not mean that this is all we must do, for that could be an easy excuse to exempt us from getting our hands dirty in the various services for Christ. But if this is not the very atmosphere in which God’s work goes forward, then we must count on being soundly thrashed by the present world system in our families, our churches, our courts, and our nations. Mark it well: where intercession goes thin or ceases altogether, there the saints and the churches drift into spiritual lethargy, and the forces of evil have a field day in the culture.
The weapons our Lord gave for our warfare are only two: (1) “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” and (2) “all kinds of prayer and requests…praying for all the saints…” (Eph. 6:17-18). No other provisions are needed for us to successfully thwart the devil’s attacks.
Newell quoted from both Alexander Whyte and Andrew Murray on this matter of prayer. Cried Whyte,
My brethren, will nothing teach you to pray? Will all His examples, and all His promises, and all your needs, and cares, and distresses, not teach you to pray? Will you not tell your Savior what a dislike, even to downright antipathy, you have at secret prayer; how little you attempt it, and how soon you are weary of it? Only pray, O you prayerless people of His, and Heaven will soon open to you also, and you will hear your Father’s voice, and the Holy Ghost will descend like a dove upon you” (cited in Philip R. Newell, Revival on God’s Terms: A Consideration of Scriptural Conditions Which God Waits for His People to Fulfill. Chicago: Moody Press, 1959).
Andrew Murray, in the introduction to his book The Ministry of Intercession, urged us to consider the fact that our Lord attempted, in this connection, to get two main truths across to us:
[First] that Christ actually meant prayer to be the great power by which His Church should do its work, and that the neglect of prayer is the great reason the Church has not greater power over the masses in Christian and in heathen countries; [and second] that we have far too little conception of the place that intercession, as distinguished from prayer for ourselves, ought to have the Church and the Christian life (cited in Newell).
Murray continued to express amazement that in Israel’s day, God
Often had to wonder and complain that there was no intercessor, none to stir himself up to take hold of His strength. And He still waits and wonders in our day, that there are not more intercessors, that all His children do not give themselves to this highest and holiest work…Ministers of His gospel complain…that their duties do not allow them to find time for this, which He counts their first, their highest, their most delightful, their alone effective work…His sons and daughters, who have forsaken home and friends for His sake and the gospel’s, come…so short in what He meant to e their abiding strength—receiving day by day all they needed to impart to the…heathen. He wonders to find multitudes of His children who have hardly any conception of what intercession is. He wonders to find multitudes who have learned that it is their duty, and seek to obey it, but confess that they know but little of taking hold upon God or prevailing with Him (Cited in Newell).
Is it not clear that we ought to pray, and to pray in an intercessory way? What a wonderful discovery it would be if we should suddenly come to the end of all of our attempts to bypass this most inexorable condition, and if we concluded that the condition of praying was what we needed to meet for God to act in our day on our behalf! The world would be changed like it had never been changed in our lifetime.
(3) “If My People Will Seek My Face”
Some things we long for so much that we can almost taste them. But what of our desire to seek God’s face?
The “face” of God signifies not his literal face, for, as Scripture often reminds us, no one can see God’s face and still live (e.g., Exod. 33:20). What the “face” of God signifies is the joy and the benefits that come from experiencing his presence, his approval, and his communion with the likes of humanity.
So how can we go about seeking his presence, communion, and approval? By drawing near to him, advises James 4:8. That is how God is able to draw near to us.
But how can we draw near to God if we have unclean hands and an impure heart (Ps. 24:3-4)? We must forsake our wicked ways and our unrighteous thought (Isa. 55:7) and ask for the cleansing work of God’s forgiveness to take place (2 John 1:9).
Only as we abide in Christ are we able to bear fruit (John 15). So, if we are raised with Christ, we must seek those things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father (Col. 3:1). That is where we will find fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11), for when we seek our Lord with all our heart, then he will be found, promised Jeremiah (29:13).
(4) “If My People Will Turn from Their Wicked Ways”
The fourth and final condition that would allow revival to take place, in the sovereign plan of God, is if God’s people would turn from their sin by repenting of the evil they have done. If there is no turning from evil, the genuineness of the confession of sin must be doubted. Newell quotes a bit of quaint verse from another century that admonished us about this very need for being authentic and genuine in our request for forgiveness.
‘Tis not to cry God mercy, or to sit
And droop, or to confess that thou hast failed;
‘Tis to bewail the sins thou didst commit –
And not commit those sins thou has bewailed.
He that bewails, and not forsakes them too,
Confesses rather what he means to do.
Jacob was told that he had to put away the idols that were in his household and to be clean if he wished to experience the blessing of God and his reviving power (Gen. 35:1-4). Likewise, Joshua commanded the nation of Israel that they also had to “throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD” (Josh. 24:14). No less insistent was the prophet Isaiah when he also rebuked Israel by saying, “Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!” (Isa. 1:16b-17a). And in the very same train of thought came John the Baptist declaring, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near…Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:2a, 8). The whole case built by all of those we have mentioned can be summarized by the apostle Paul’s injunction, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness” (2 Tim. 2:19c).
God wants us to be clean persons, channels through which his blessings, witness, and interventions in this sinful world can flow. But if we are to be clean, we must renounce all bitterness, wrath, malice, harshness, unforgiving spirits, filthiness, and immorality; in short, anything that would “give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:27) in our lives, in our churches, in our families, and in our nation.
If the constant and key cry of the prophets of the Old Testament was for the people to “turn,” and “return to the Lord,” can the constant cry of our hearts be any less than that in our day?
There is only one conclusion that we can draw from all these matters. We all agree that our nations and we are in desperate need of revival. We also agree that if God does not intervene we are headed for a time of divine judgment; probably, such as we have never seen before. So what is this one logical conclusion to which we believers must all come? It is the one found in John 13:17- “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
About the Author: Walter C. Kaiser Jr. (PhD, Brandeis University) is the distinguished professor emeritus of Old Testament and president emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. Dr. Kaiser has written over 40 books, including Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching; A History of Israel; The Messiah in the Old Testament; Recovering the Unity of the Bible; The Promise-Plan of God; Preaching and Teaching The Last Things; and coauthored (with Moises Silva) An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics. Dr. Kaiser and his wife, Marge, currently reside at Kerith Farm in Cedar Grove, Wisconsin. Dr. Kaiser’s website is www.walterckaiserjr.com. This article is adapted from the Epilogue is his outstanding book Revive Us Again, Nashville, B&H, 1999.