2 Chronicles 7:14 states, “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 heal their land.”
This passage of Scripture is an American favorite, often quoted endearingly by former Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Ted Cruz, and numerous others.
Even so, one of the most widespread misinterpretations of the Bible also occurs with this passage.
Detractors argue that this call to national repentance applied only to Old Testament Israel and is therefore not binding on nations outside of this context. Christians who interpret passages like this at face value, and thereby adopt ideas of Christian nationalism, are often “corrected” by other well-meaning Christians, typically those who advocate a strict separation of religion and state.
After all, it is argued, nations today are not recapitulations of Old Testament Israel, and the kingdom of God is not of this world.
To be sure, the question at hand is not whether God requires individuals to repent, for it is abundantly clear that God calls all people, everywhere, to turn from sin (Acts 3:19; 2 Pet 3:9). The question at hand is whether God calls nations—including magistrates and governing authorities—to repentance today.
First, what is repentance? In Scripture, metanoia is the original Greek term that is translated as “repentance” in our English language. It means “change of mind,” which entails regret and remorse, and thereby a turning away from sin.
Second, when it comes to biblical interpretation, the most fundamental axiom we follow is the analogy of faith (i.e., Scripture interprets Scripture). In this particular case, it is fitting to read the well-known Old Testament story of revival in Nineveh:
Jonah 3 (NKJV): 1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.”
3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. 4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.
6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. 7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, “Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?”
10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
To be sure, this is not just a story of revival, but of national repentance. Nineveh was not at all a part of national Israel but was its own distinct, separate country, and therefore part of the Gentile world.
Yet, God commanded the prophet, Jonah, to call Nineveh to repentance. After Jonah did so, the king of Nineveh himself turned from his evil ways; and thereafter, out of love for the God of Israel, issued a decree to his citizens to also repent.
Once the Ninevites put their faith in God and turned from their sins, God relented from the natural disaster he said would fall upon them, and instead brought blessing and healing to their land.
Can the same principle, therefore, be applied to nations today? Does God require our civil rulers to repent of sin and govern according to God’s Word? Does God command us as a citizenry to repent and put our trust in him, in order for our land to be healed?
The answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes. Scripture plainly teaches that national repentance is not only required of Israel but of Gentile nations as well.