Sermon Notes

March 23rd 2018

Thoughts on the Sunday School Lesson March 25th

Seeking God’s Face / II Chronicles 7:12-22 (NRSV and MSG)

7 12 Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. 13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. 16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house so that my name may be there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time. 17 As for you, if you walk before me, as your father David walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my ordinances, 18 then I will establish your royal throne, as I made covenant with your father David saying, ‘You shall never lack a successor to rule over Israel.’

19 “But if you[a] turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, 20 then I will pluck you[b] up from the land that I have given you;[c] and this house, which I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. 21 And regarding this house, now exalted, everyone passing by will be astonished, and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this house?’ 22 Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord the God of their ancestors who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and they adopted other gods, and worshiped them and served them; therefore he has brought all this calamity upon them.’”

7 12-18 God appeared to Solomon that very night and said, “I accept your prayer; yes, I have chosen this place as a temple for sacrifice, a house of worship. If I ever shut off the supply of rain from the skies or order the locusts to eat the crops or send a plague on my people, and my people, my God-defined people, respond by humbling themselves, praying, seeking my presence, and turning their backs on their wicked lives, I’ll be there ready for you: I’ll listen from heaven, forgive their sins, and restore their land to health. From now on I’m alert day and night to the prayers offered at this place. Believe me, I’ve chosen and sanctified this Temple that you have built: My Name is stamped on it forever; my eyes are on it and my heart in it always. As for you, if you live in my presence as your father David lived, pure in heart and action, living the life I’ve set out for you, attentively obedient to my guidance and judgments, then I’ll back your kingly rule over Israel—make it a sure thing on a sure foundation. The same covenant guarantee I gave to David your father I’m giving to you, namely, ‘You can count on always having a descendant on Israel’s throne.’

19-22 “But if you or your sons betray me, ignoring my guidance and judgments, taking up with alien gods by serving and worshiping them, then the guarantee is off: I’ll wipe Israel right off the map and repudiate this Temple I’ve just sanctified to honor my Name. And Israel will be nothing but a bad joke among the peoples of the world. And this Temple, splendid as it now is, will become an object of contempt; tourists will shake their heads, saying, ‘What happened here? What’s the story behind these ruins?’ Then they’ll be told, ‘The people who used to live here betrayed their God, the very God who rescued their ancestors from Egypt; they took up with alien gods, worshiping and serving them. That’s what’s behind this God-visited devastation.’”

INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND ON THE LESSON

Throughout the Bible, biblical writers admonish readers to seek God regarding every facet of life by sharing stories of suffering, distress and failure. In Genesis 21, desperation forces Hagar to look towards heaven when she and her son Ishmael are wandering in the desert after Sarah puts them out of Abraham’s house. In Numbers 32, the Daughters of Zelophehad are forced to seek God when they recognize that they will enter the Promised Land without an inheritance because they are fatherless, husbandless and without brothers. In 2 Samuel 12, David frantically seeks God after his son with Uriah’s wife (Bathsheba) becomes deathly ill because of David’s sinful behavior.

In 2 Chronicles 6:12-42, Solomon seeks God through prayer when the temple is finally completed. Although uttered during the temple dedication service, Solomon’s prayer goes beyond asking for Divine acceptance of the temple. At its essence, Solomon’s prayer acknowledges that humanity’s preponderance for sin requires an ongoing petition for Divine forgiveness. Because humans are innately sinful, we must continually ask for God’s forgiveness. At the heart of Solomon’s prayer—and ultimately every human prayer—lies an awareness that if God does not respond to our prayers with a posture of forgiveness, then we are doomed. Solomon earnestly seeks God’s face because he knows the history of his people. He knows Israel has continually transgressed covenant fidelity and only survives because God’s “mercy or steadfast love (chesed) endures forever.” Therefore, the Chronicler binds this prayer within a framework of Israel’s potential or eventual sin, and God’s forgiveness as the necessary Divine response.
In this week’s lesson, we explore God’s response to Solomon’s prayer and the benefits or consequences that arise from human response to God’s covenant faithfulness. This lesson reminds every Christian that while God’s character is grounded in goodness, faithfulness and forgiveness, the Lord will not ignore sin. There are consequences—positive and negative—for our actions. If we want to experience the blessing of covenant relationship, as opposed to curses, then we must stay within God’s will for our lives. The only way to do that is by seeking God’s face.

INTO THE LESSON

12 God appeared to Solomon that very night and said, “I accept your prayer; yes, I have chosen this place as a temple for sacrifice, a house of worship. 13-14 If I ever shut off the supply of rain from the skies or order the locusts to eat the crops or send a plague on my people, and my people, my God-defined people, respond by humbling themselves, praying, seeking my presence, and turning their backs on their wicked lives, I’ll be there ready for you: I’ll listen from heaven, forgive their sins, and restore their land to health.

As we discussed in last week’s lesson, after Solomon concludes his prayer in 2 Chronicles 6:12-42, God accepts both the prayer and burnt offerings by sending divine fire from heaven which consumes the burnt offerings. After the worship service concludes, later that night the Lord appears to the king again acknowledging the acceptability of Solomon’s prayer, and confirming the Jerusalem temple as a house of sacrifice and worship. In verses 13-14 God’s response to the prayer mirrors the scenarios that Solomon addressed while praying. In 2 Chronicles 22-28, Solomon specifically requests God’s forgiveness through petitions concerning the lack of rain (v. 26), and locusts and plagues (v. 28) that descend upon the people due to their sinful behavior.

In verses 13-14, God responds to instances of drought, blight and disease by declaring four ways that Israel can invoke God’s action on their behalf. These four behaviors are principles of repentance, which become recurrent themes in the culminating chapters of the book of 2 Chronicles. Further, God specifically acknowledges and reaffirms Solomon’s assertion of Israel as “your people,” by responding with the phrase of ownership: my God-defined people in the Message, or “people who are called by my name,” in the New Revised Standard Version. This specifically underscores that regardless of her sins and shortcomings, “Israel was still the object of God’s care and claim.” The four behaviors outlined by the lesson texts and presented as conditional statements are:

1. Humility. First, the Lord says the people must respond by humbling themselves. If Israel acknowledges its sin, spiritually prostrates itself before God—in an outward and inward act of humility—God will forgive their sin and be moved to action on their behalf.

2. Prayer. Second, the Lord says the people must communicate with God through prayer. If Israel prays to the Lord, and forsakes its disobedience, then God will forgive their sin, and be moved to action on their behalf.

3. Authentic Worship. Third, the text says the people must seek God’s face. Seeking God’s face is a euphemism for coming into God’s presence through authentic worship and searching for God with all one’s heart. According to Allen, the prophet Jeremiah refers mentions this type of authentic worship in his letter to the exiles in Jeremiah 29:13-14.

4. Repentance. Fourth, the text says the people must repent from their sins and stop the wicked behavior that will cause calamity to befall Israel.
If Israel does these four things, and keeps covenant faithfulness, then God will hear their prayers, forgive their sins, and reverse any blight, disease, drought or other disasters that might happen to Israel.

15-18 From now on I’m alert day and night to the prayers offered at this place. Believe me, I’ve chosen and sanctified this Temple that you have built: My Name is stamped on it forever; my eyes are on it and my heart in it always. As for you, if you live in my presence as your father David lived, pure in heart and action, living the life I’ve set out for you, attentively obedient to my guidance and judgments, then I’ll back your kingly rule over Israel—make it a sure thing on a sure foundation. The same covenant guarantee I gave to David your father I’m giving to you, namely, ‘You can count on always having a descendant on Israel’s throne.’

In verses 15-16, the text says God is watching both day and night to hear the prayers that as they are offered in the temple. Because God has chosen Israel, God also chooses and sanctifies the temple. God perpetually attunes the Divine ear to Israel’s cries. Just as praise waits for God in Psalm 65:1, God waits for Israel. For contemporary Christians this portion of the lesson is a cause for celebration. God declares that the Divine is ever waiting to hear our prayers, answer our cries and reorganize the natural and supernatural realms to come to our rescue. Verses 17-18 God reaffirms the Davidic covenant. If Solomon lives in worshipful obedience to God’s guidance, then God will support and sustain him upon the throne. In fact, a Davidic king will continually occupy the throne if they heed God’s word and covenant principles.

19-22 “But if you or your sons betray me, ignoring my guidance and judgments, taking up with alien gods by serving and worshiping them, then the guarantee is off: I’ll wipe Israel right off the map and repudiate this Temple I’ve just sanctified to honor my Name. And Israel will be nothing but a bad joke among the peoples of the world. And this Temple, splendid as it now is, will become an object of contempt; tourists will shake their heads, saying, ‘What happened here? What’s the story behind these ruins?’ Then they’ll be told, ‘The people who used to live here betrayed their God, the very God who rescued their ancestors from Egypt; they took up with alien gods, worshiping and serving them. That’s what’s behind this God-visited devastation.’”

In verses 19-22, the text explains the negative consequences of betraying covenant relationship with the Lord. Again, couched in the conditional language of Ancient Near Eastern covenants and treaties, the Lord says if Solomon and his sons betray the covenant by worshipping foreign gods, then the Lord will punish the king. Further, if the people ignore their covenantal responsibilities, they too will reap the negative consequences. God will punish them as well and possibly invalidate the covenant; terminating the relationship between the Lord and Israel. For the Chronicler, who is overly concerned about the importance of Israel’s worship and their identity as covenant people, these stern warnings hint at the exile that comes in 587 BCE. The text says if Israel turns its back on God, it will become a bad joke, the temple that was just dedicated will become a ruin, and their reputation as God’s people will be devastated. People will say that God delivered Israel out of bondage and they repaid that liberation with betrayal.

Ultimately, these final verses remind Christians that our reputation and the reputation of God is at stake when we willfully disobey God’s word and ignore the responsibilities of covenant relationship. People will rip the name of our God to shreds! They will discount all of God’s goodness, God’s faithfulness, God’s forgiveness—God’s character—because we do not have our stuff together. Do we want to diminish the name of our God? Do we want to bring shame upon the God who has delivered us out of our places of bondage? Do we want the world to look at our mess and say our God is messed up? If we respond negatively to these queries, then the only way we can prevent this from occurring is to seek God’s face.

1) See Leslie C. Allen’s “The First and Second Books of Chronicles: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections” in The New Interpreter Bible Commentary Volume X (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015) p. 920.

2) See Benjamin Liebelt’s translation of H.P. Mathys’ article, “1 and 2 Chronicles” in John Barton and John Muddiman’s The Oxford Bible Commentary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) p. 287.

3) See Liebelt’s translation of Mathys p. 287 and Mark A. Thronveit’s article, “2 Chronicles,” in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003) p. 617.

4) Liebelt, p. 922.

5) Allen, p. 925

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