Vice President-elect Mike Pence will not just take the oath of office on President Ronald Reagan’s Bible, he will also do so with his hand on Reagan’s Bible verse. But using that verse at a vice presidential inauguration is arguably a twisting of the scripture’s meaning.
In a press release this week, Pence announced he would be taking the oath with his hand not just on the Bible, but on a specific Bible verse. That verse is 2 Chronicles 7:14:
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.
In the context of an inauguration ceremony in the United States, this verse seems to promise that God will bless America if the people “humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways.” This is inspiring, because God promises to hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.
Reagan himself swore on that verse, but there’s a big problem with doing so — that verse is emphatically not about the United States of America. In fact, if it were, the passage which promises God’s forgiveness and healing would also condemn the United States to defeat and exile at the hands of foreigners.
Interpreting scripture is all about three things: context, context, and context. 2 Chronicles 7 isn’t describing a vague promise from God to an undefined people He would adopt in 1776 A.D. — it’s about King Solomon’s dedication of the Temple, and God’s promises to Solomon specifically. Furthermore, not all of those promises are as upbeat as the verse above.
Second Chronicles 7:1-11 tells the story of God’s glorious presence filling the Temple after Solomon’s prayer in 2 Chronicles 6. After God’s majestic appearance, the people worship Him for seven days, sacrificing vast amounts of animals: “king Solomon offered a sacrifice of twenty and two thousand oxen, and an hundred and twenty thousand sheep.” Imagine PETA’s press release after this news.
After the sacrifices, the Lord Himself appears to Solomon by night, declaring, “I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice.”
Then God makes the famous promise — but only after a key verse. “If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; 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.”
In other words, when the Lord promises Solomon he will “heal their land,” He isn’t giving a vague promise about peace, unity, or prosperity. He is promising to heal the land from drought, locusts, or pestilence.
But it gets worse. While God promises to bless Solomon if the king follows His ways “as David thy father walked, and do according to all that I have commanded thee, and shalt observe my statutes and my judgements,” He also warns that if Solomon does not, He will deliver Israel to exile and worse.
Here’s the passage (2 Chronicles 7:19-22):
But if ye turn away, and forsake my statutes and my commandments, which I have set before you, and shall go and serve other gods, and worship them;
Then will I pluck [my people] up by the roots out of my land which I have given them; and this house, which I have sanctified for my name, will I cast out of my sight, and will make it a proverb and a byword among all nations.
And this house, which is high, shall be an astonishment to every one that passeth by it; so that he shall say, Why hath the Lord done thus unto this land, and unto this house?
And it shall be answered, Because they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods, and worshipped them, and served them: therefore hath he brought all this evil upon them.
Ouch! And many Christians and Jews can explain the rest of the story: Solomon became notorious for marrying many foreign women, who tempted him to worship other gods. God was merciful to Solomon, allowing him to rule in peace (to keep His promise to King David), but after Solomon died, the kingdom was broken in two: the Kingdom of Judah ruled by Solomon’s son Rehoboam, and the Kingdom of Israel ruled by the rival king Jeroboam, son of Nebat.
Eventually, God kept His threat — His promise — to bring “all this evil upon them.” First, the Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians, and then the Babylonians conquered Judah. When the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II took the city of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., he laid waste the Temple of Solomon.
While the Persian emperors allowed the Jews to return and paid for the construction of the Second Temple, it was not as grand as the first. Indeed, this temple suffered a horrible abomination, when the Hellenic King Antiochus IV Epiphanes erected a statue of Zeus in the temple and sacrificed pigs (an unclean animal) in it as well. This inspired a brief era of self-rule under the Hasmonean Dynasty which ended in Roman occupation and rule.
The Romans would destroy the Temple for the last time following their conquest of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. To this day, the Temple remains in ruins, a great shame and tragedy for the Jewish people.
While Christians might be able to use 2 Chronicles 7:14 to refer to the Church as the new Israel, and a promise that God will forgive the sins of those who come to Him humbly and in prayer, there are many verses in the New Testament which say this more explicitly.
Second Chronicles 7:14 should be seen as a foreshadowing of the New Covenant, a time when God will redeem His people (and indeed expand His chosen to include the Gentiles who believe) in Christ Jesus.
God will indeed hear the humble and repentant prayers of His people, and He will offer forgiveness to all who believe in the name of Jesus. But 2 Chronicles 7:14 is not the verse which promises this.
This passage emphatically does not apply to the United States of America, and to the limited extent it applies to the universal Church of Jesus Christ in modern times, it applies to people in all nations, and not in a specific nation.
With all due respect to President Reagan and Vice President-elect Pence, this is not the verse you’re looking for.