The Unbelievable Goodness of God

by Bob Bradley

Texts: II Chronicles 6; Matthew 7:7-11; Psalm 107:10-20; Psalm 81:8-16

During this past year I have “discovered” a passage of Scripture that I had read dozens of times but had largely failed to grasp its significance. We are all familiar with II 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 I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. This is undoubtedly one of the best-known verses in the Bible, and is particularly precious to those believers whose hearts yearn for spiritual renewal. It is, however, usually lifted out of its context, and thus much of its power is missed. The verses that follow are wonderful, but the whole chapter which precedes it, II Chronicles 6, is absolutely amazing. Chapter 6 reveals something about the heart of God that cannot be fully expressed in the scope of a handful of verses.

Psalms 107, 145, 146 and 147 declare the tender mercies of God with simple eloquence, and Psalm 107, in particular, points out that God loves to show forgiveness and help to the rebellious when they call upon Him. But as wonderful as they are in their description of God’s goodness, these Psalms seem to me to fall short of II Chronicles 6. A good deal of the power of II Chron. 6 stems from the historical context in which the chapter was birthed. Let’s take a look at that context….

The people of Israel had proven themselves to be consistently rebellious and idolatrous from the earliest days of their existence as a people. Think of all the incidents of complaint and mutiny under Moses’ leadership in the desert. And then add to that the sorry story of the period of the judges, which was one instance after another of idolatry and corruption. Then the people rejected the leadership of Samuel as prophet and judge, and insisted on a king. God acquiesced in the face of their persistence, although He warned them of trouble to come. Their first king, Saul, started out with a humble heart, but before many years had passed he had hardened his heart and had become a murderous tyrant.

And then God chose a king for his people, a brave and unpretentious shepherd boy named David. Prophecies began to flow that God would make David the first in a line of kings that would rule forever. A descendant of David would be known as the Anointed of the Lord (Messiah), and would reign in everlasting glory. And then, in the midst of the prophetic excitement about the Davidic Kingdom, David falls. At the height of his power as the most influential king in the Middle East, David lusts after Bathsheba, and murders her husband, one of his most trusted captains. He then moves Bathsheba into the palace almost before Uriah’s funeral is over.

It looks as if the judgment of God must cancel out all the prophecies about a dynasty and a Messiah. But David, when confronted by the prophet Nathan, repents deeply. He cries out to God for mercy, and the Lord freely forgives him, although tragic consequences to his extended family and to himself would follow. David’s first child by Bathsheba dies, but when the second son is born, something wonderful happens. We would think, of course, that God would have nothing to do with any child that David would have by Bathsheba. How could a relationship which began in adultery and murder ever produce a child that would experience God’s favor? Would not God be compromising his righteousness and justice? The fact that we could ask this question shows how little we understand of God’s grace!

After the birth of his second son by Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan sends word that the child is loved by the Lord. David names his son Solomon, but Bathsheba calls him Jedidiah, which means “beloved of the Lord.” Solomon, as you will recall, in his youth had a heart that was deeply committed to the Lord. The above reflections bring us to the time of Solomon’s great prayer at the dedication of the temple, which was approximately eleven years after the beginning of his reign. It is this prayer which we are going to study in detail. It is not only the longest prayer recorded in the Bible, but it is perhaps the prayer most saturated with the heart of God and the wonderful grace of God.

But before we go on, let us dispense with one more argument that would stand in the way of God’s graciousness, and particularly the communication of this graciousness through Solomon. Although to this point Solomon had lived in faithful devotion to the Lord, this was shortly to change. Within a handful of years Solomon would begin to put his marriages to foreign women ahead of his commitment to the commandments of God. Granted that he did it to cement political alliances, but it was in direct disobedience to the commandment of the law. Solomon not only married foreign women, but he built temples and sacrificial altars to their gods so they would feel at home. He defiled the land of Israel that had been won by Joshua and defended by his father David at the cost of much blood.

The final step in this decline is unbelievably tragic. I Kings chapter 11: 4-8 tells us that:

when was Solomon was old….his wives turned his heart after other Gods….For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites…. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Moloch the abomination of the people of Ammon. And he did likewise for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.

Moloch was the Ammonite god whose idol had a fire in its belly, and little children were sacrificially thrown into the fire. This practice was so abominable in God’s eyes that it is listed along with homosexuality and bestiality as practices that God abhors (Leviticus 18: 21-23). The upshot of this is that Solomon permitted and endorsed such awful pagan worship in Jerusalem.

Didn’t God know about Solomon’s terrible fall in advance? Of course He did! But God is the God of past, present, and future. In His faithfulness, He always meets us in the present, which means that He always responds to our present attitude of heart. When God inspired this wonderful prayer in Solomon’s heart, Solomon’s devotion to God was uncorrupted. I need to also point out that Solomon did not create the magnificent prayer we are about to examine. He merely reported a revelation of God’s willingness to hear prayer that “took his breath away” even as he expounded what God was showing him. The fact that God gave such magnificent promises in the face of Solomon’s gross future disobedience--and the disobedience of most of the kings of Judah who followed him--powerfully accentuates God’s determination to shower mercy on any who will receive it.

II Chronicles 5 describes the sacrifices which were offered to God at the beginning of the temple dedication ceremony. The presentation of sacrifices was followed by the placement of the ark in the Most Holy Place, accompanied by 120 trumpeters and many singers and instrumentalists. Suddenly, the temple was filled with a cloud of supernatural glory, and the priests “could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.” Solomon turned toward the people to give thanks to God for His faithfulness to the promises given to David.

Then he mounted a low bronze platform, spread out his hands, fell to his knees, and began his great prayer. First, he thanked God for his infinite greatness, in one of the most profound statements in the Bible. “But will God indeed dwell with men on earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple that I have built!” Solomon is recognizing that the God who shows His supernatural glory in the temple cannot be contained even by His universe. It is an incredibly perceptive statement for a man who lived nearly a thousand years before Christ. “Yet regard the prayer of Your servant and his supplication, O LORD my God, and listen to the cry and the prayer which Your servant is praying before You…” And he sets up this marvelous paradox: God is limitless, but He commits Himself to men, and in particular, He commits Himself to answer the prayers of men. Solomon is saying, in effect, that all the resources of the limitless God are available at any time to those who call upon Him in sincerity.

Continuing his prayer, Solomon reminds the Lord, in verse 21, that forgiveness is an urgent priority for all who call on God. Here is the explicit understanding that we all approach God with sinful, selfish hearts and that we must receive His forgiveness at the outset if we are to receive further help from Him. Solomon goes on to ask God to intervene in personal disputes between men, and to correct the person in the wrong and support the person in the right. Then he gets down to the core of his request, beginning with verse 24.

Solomon goes to the worst-case scenario. When God’s people rebel against Him, and He brings corrective judgment in the form of military defeat and captivity, drought, famine, blight, mildew, pestilence, locusts, etc.--Solomon lists the gamut of tragic consequences--then, when God’s people come to their senses and repent, may God be gracious to restore them:

Whatever plague or whatever sickness there is; whatever prayer or whatever supplication is made by anyone, or by all Your people Israel, when each one knows his own burden and his own grief, and spreads out his hands to this temple: then hear from heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive….

Because Solomon is praying under the inspiration of the Spirit, it is clear that God’s will is always to restore men’s hearts to Himself, and to terminate corrective judgment. And it is very clear that God’s intention toward His people is always good and merciful, even if their rebellion is serious enough to warrant severe consequences.

How differently the Adversary talks to us! To hear him tell it, to experience the corrective judgment of God is the kiss of death. God has a chip on His shoulder toward men, and if trouble comes, you better not count on getting any mercy or help from the Lord, unless your record of performance has been nearly flawless. After all, He is the God of judgment, right? So when you are under His judgment you might as well give up hope and give in to despair--and on and on Satan goes, seeking to overwhelm us with guilt and discouragement.. There comes a time when we have to decide whom we will believe--the God Who always calls us back to fellowship with Himself, no matter how serious our sin, or the Adversary, who says we can never measure up to God’s impossible standards, so why try? Or, often our accuser switches bait, and tries to convince us that we can measure up to God’s standards if we try hard enough. If we bite on this ploy, we become unloving, self-righteous religious hypocrites just like the Pharisees. And nobody is in Satan’s hip pocket more surely than a Pharisee.

It’s very important that you read this whole chapter for yourself to experience its impact. Did you really catch the power of verses 28 and 29? “Whatever plague or whatever sickness…whatever supplication is made by anyone….then hear from heaven your dwelling place….” How could the Lord be more explicit about His commitment to bring you to a place where you fear Him and walk in His ways (v. 31)? And just in case you might respond that your ungodly background disqualifies you from receiving His mercy, listen to the next part of the prayer. Solomon now addresses the issue of the unclean Gentile who has no part among God’s people and who comes from a culture that worships false gods. We would naturally conclude that the Gentile would at best be fortunate to get a crumb of God’s favor. But Solomon at this point shifts into high gear. He uses the racial and cultural alienation of the Gentile foreigner as an argument for God to be particularly gracious to him, and to answer any request that the foreigner might make, that God might “do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, that all peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do your people Israel.”

Solomon might have concluded his prayer at this point, but he goes on to repeat the worst-case scenario that he has already covered. The Spirit of God is so concerned that we understand His heart that He repeats Himself for emphasis. And to make doubly sure we get the message, Solomon starts this last part of his prayer by emphasizing that all men have sinned, and so our sin can’t be a disqualification--if it were, the promise would be good for no one.

When they sin against You (for there is no man who does not sin), and You become angry with them and deliver them to the enemy….and when they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their captivity….then hear from heaven Your dwelling place their prayer and their supplications, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people who have sinned against You (vs. 36-40).

Solomon then called upon God to take up residence in the temple (“Arise, O LORD God to Your resting place”) and a most dramatic thing happened. Fire came down from the sky and consumed the many sacrifices that had been laid out on altars in the temple precincts, and the visible glory of God filled the temple-- to the extent that the priests were not able to enter it. Apart from the crossing of the Red Sea, this was the most dramatic supernatural manifestation of God’s glory in all of Israel’s history. Was God trying to impress His people with a display of holy fireworks? No, God is not a show-off. Rather, this incredible supernatural display was intended to doubly underscore every word of Solomon’s prayer. God was saying, “Solomon got it right, and all My power stands behind this prayer.”

Now let’s take a look at this event in a broader perspective. Solomon was the first in a line of Davidic kings upon whom rested the promise of the coming Messiah and His glorious kingdom. The fact that many of the kings descended from David did not live godly lives fails to detract from the faithfulness of God’s Messianic promise--it just resulted in personal tragedy for the unrepentant king. So Solomon was the first of the “sons of David” and as such he received a revelation of the glory of the Messianic kingdom that was expressed in his prayer. And the glory of that kingdom can be summed up in five words -- “God will hear your prayer!”

Solomon’s prayer anticipates many of the great themes of the New Testament: first, God seeks to be reconciled to everyone, no matter what the extent of his sin; second, this reconciliation has nothing to do with ritual sacrifices and Jewish religious practices (in other words, religious works)--but it has everything to do with a repentant heart that seeks God; third, all peoples of the world are urged to join the Jews in this adventure of getting to know the living God; and fourth, this relationship with God is based not on moral performance but on forgiveness. In other words, our relationship with God is based on His grace, not on our attempts to measure up to His standards. And of course, although it is not spelled out in Solomon’s prayer, forgiveness is granted only on the basis of atonement, which means that the blood of a perfect sacrifice is shed to provide a covering for our sin. In a very real sense, the prayer of Solomon silently points to Jesus, the promised Messianic King, Who is Himself the ultimate and perfect atonement for our sin.

Do you realize how astounding it is that all of these New Testament principles were at the heart of Solomon’s prayer nearly a thousand years before Christ? We can now better understand why Jesus was so angry when he entered the temple and found that the place of prayer designated for Gentiles had been taken over by the moneychangers and their animals? When Jesus taught on His Father’s willingness to answer any sincere prayer (Matthew 7: 7-11), He was re-emphasizing the largeness of God’s heart that had been revealed to Solomon a thousand years earlier. We need to remember that Jesus, Who was Almighty God in human flesh, perfectly expressed to us what was already in the heart of His Father. In others words, Jesus did not set aside the Old Testament revelation of God, but rather He fulfilled that revelation and made it very tangible and accessible to us in His person.

How would the Lord speak to you from Solomon’s prayer? If you are like me, you have probably been tempted to disqualify yourself from receiving much from God because of your past failure to serve Him with a perfect heart. In the spirit of Solomon’s prayer, I can almost hear God saying, “What? You are reluctant to ask because you’ve failed Me? Don’t you understand that no one has ever served me with a perfect heart? Look at the prayers I have answered for all those whose hearts have been very imperfect! I have promised to hear the repentant prayer of rebels. You say you are a rebel? Then acknowledge your disobedience and come to Me for blessing.” Psalm 107:10-20 and Psalm 81: 8-16 give great encouragement to rebels who are ready to respond to God.

Now, the point of the above study is this: God has made an unqualified promise to hear the prayer of anyone who is under His disciplinary correction. How much more, then, will He hear the unselfish prayer of the person who prays not for his own need but for the need of another! In John chapter 15 Jesus declares that those whose lives are shaped by His word (“if you abide in Me and My words abide in you”) have the privilege of receiving answers from God. The fact that intercessory prayer is often a struggle, and that answers often seem to be delayed, does not detract from the power of His promise.

I want to invite you to join me in the quest of believing what God has revealed about His own heart. As we reflect on, and believe in, these Scriptures that reveal His heart, our experience of prayer will be transformed. We will begin to experience prayer as an adventure, not a duty. And, we will begin to receive tangible — and often dramatic — answers to our prayers.

(Scripture quotations have been taken from the NKJV, copyright by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission).
 
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