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March 25 lesson: Keep My Statutes and Ordinances

March 19, 2018
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Keep My Statutes and Ordinances
 
Sunday school lesson for the week of March 25, 2018
By Dr. Hal Brady
 
Spring Quarter: Acknowledging God
Unit 1: Follow in My Ways
 
Lesson Scripture: 2 Chronicles 7:12-22
 
Lesson Aims
  1. Summarize the promises of both blessing and discipline that the Lord spoke to Solomon.
  2. Think how these promises serve to both encourage and warn Christians today.
     
The previous two lessons were about the dedication ceremony of the newly completed temple in Jerusalem. Today’s lesson follows with a solemn warning from God to Solomon that disobedience would result in disaster to that structure. How could something like that possibly happen? Scholars remind us that a structure dedicated to God meant nothing if the people themselves were not dedicated to being God’s people. And, without doubt, that is no less true in our time.
 
We are told in 2 Chronicles 7:11, “Solomon had finished the temple of the Lord and the royal palace, and had succeeded in carrying out all he had in mind to do in the temple of the Lord and in his own palace.” For sure, Solomon’s achievements were quite impressive and the people he ruled over were “joyful and glad.”
 
With his achievements, perhaps now King Solomon was tempted to rest on his laurels. However, God had much more in mind for Solomon and the Israelites than the mere construction of a building.  God wanted what he has always wanted from his people and leaders: “obedience.” A magnificent building or anything else could not substitute for that.
 
Additionally, scholars state that as today’s text opens, the year would have been sometime after 950 BC. And there is parallel content to today’s text found in 1 Kings 9:1-9.
 
So in this lesson before us, we are looking at the promises of both blessing and discipline that the Lord spoke to Solomon.

Promised Blessings (2 Chronicles 7:12-18)
 
God says, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices” (7:12). Note that this is the second time the Lord has appeared to Solomon at night. It is thought that perhaps God does this deliberately to call Solomon’s mind back to the first time when the Lord said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (1:7). And, in response, Solomon had requested “wisdom and knowledge” for governing (1:10). To say the least, God was very pleased with Solomon’s response and promised him that and much more as well (1:11,12).
 
God regards it important to affirm that he has heard Solomon’s prayer. Even so, the first decision that God says he has made was not in Solomon’s prayer requests: that is, to choose “this place” (the temple) “as a temple for sacrifices.” As we recall, Solomon indeed sacrificed countless animals during the dedication ceremony and made numerous requests in his prayer of dedication (see 6:12-42). But for the temple to be known as a temple for sacrifices was not explicitly one of those requests. God’s declaration brings to mind Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 12:5,6 regarding a chosen place of sacrifice. Now, according to scholars, some five centuries later God is announcing that such a chosen site exists, and it is Solomon’s temple. 
 
So what about our place of sacrifice? As we know, most religions have their holy places. Scholars inform us that for Hindus, it’s the Ganges River in India. Japan’s Mount Fuji is sacred to the Shinto and Buddhist religions. Muslims consider the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, a holy rite. And the Jews think of Jerusalem as their holy city since it’s the place where Solomon dedicated the first temple to God.
 
But what about Christians? We are informed that within the wider scope of the Christian faith there is no consensus. Some think of Jerusalem as a special place “more holy” than others. Others focus on Rome and the Vatican. Still others think of the church building where they worship each Sunday as a place in which God is especially near. And, of course, the room where Christians worship is often referred to as the “sanctuary.”   
 
However, as Christians, we need to keep in mind that the New Testament affirms that God doesn’t live in temples made with human hands (Acts 7:48, 49, quoting Isaiah 66:1,2). Therefore, Christians are themselves God’s temple, individually and collectively as the body of Christ – the church. His Spirit lives in us (I Corinthians 3:16,17;6:19). Scholars state that it’s even fair to say that the “temple for sacrifices” of which Solomon was told has transferred in concept to Christians personally. So, in reading Romans 12:1 in this regard, the question is, how will we apply it? A brief class discussion is in order.
 
Continuing on, God says in verse 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.” This language of the three negative situations are all reflected in the wording of Solomon’s dedicatory prayer (2 Chronicles 6:26-28). And Solomon has noted the cause of God’s needing to take such actions as “sin” (6:26).  Tracing it further back, we find these outcomes of famine and plague mentioned within the curses pronounced by Moses when he warned the Israelites of what would happen if they turned away from God (Deuteronomy 11:17;28:21,38).
 
It is not surprising that the key verse of today’s lesson is 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 will I hear from heaven and will forgive sin and will heal their land.” Scholars note that the conditional “if” statement here introduces reasons why the deadly conditions of verse 13 need not be permanent. With God there is and will be hope!
 
God’s disciplinary actions must be recognized as such by his people, and they must respond to it in the way God directs in this verse before us. God sets out here the four steps of repentance.
 
First, the wayward people are to humble themselves. Humility acknowledges one’s need for God and dependence on him (2 Chronicles 12:6).
 
Second, is to pray. As this scripture verse makes clear, prayer is a must when turning away from sin.  We see this both in David: prayer of earnest repentance in Psalm 51 and in the simple prayer of the tax collector in the parable: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
           
Third, to seek the Lord’s face implies a desire for the closest kind of relationship. Jeremiah’s promise to wayward people is the following: “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13).
 
And fourth, scholars remind us that it will do no good to take the first three steps of repentance without taking the fourth: “sinners must turn from their wicked ways.” Repentance in the biblical sense is more than simply a change of mind or the feeling of regret or remorse. It’s a decisive turning away from sin and back to God. In driving terms, it’s a U-turn! Words of contrition must be followed by actions that match.
 
The second part of verse 14 is full of hope. God says, “…then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” God’s response to such determination on the part of the people is total as well. Forgiveness of sin will go hand in hand with healing of the land. Of course, this suggests a reversal of whatever conditions have been part of God’s disciplinary action. As scholars point out, if rain has been withheld, it will now fall freely. The effects of any locust plague or any pestilence will be replaced by God’s blessings.
 
In his dedicatory prayer, Solomon had asked God to keep his eyes open and his ears attentive to the prayers offered in the temple. God now indicates that he intends to do just that. 
 
Verse 16 points out the fullness of God’s identification with the temple. The fact that God has consecrated this temple suggests its being set apart for a divine purpose. And although God states that his Name, eyes and heart will be there forever and always, the promise is not unconditional, as will be made clear. 
 
As we approach verse 17 and 18, we see that God’s message transitions from a focus on the temple and people to Solomon himself. The message begins with another conditional “if-statement” that focuses on behavior. And that behavior is based on David’s walk as an example for Solomon to follow.
 
The evidence of a right walk with God will be seen in obedience to God’s “decrees and laws.” Without doubt, Solomon’s responsibility before God is not fulfilled simply because the temple is complete. 
 
Now, to walk as David did does not imply perfection; we are aware of his sin with Bathsheba and his deep remorse.  But the overall direction of his life was pleasing to God, who calls him “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22).
 
In verse 17, we would expect the “if-statement” to be followed by a “then statement” and it is. The promise made to David in 2 Samuel 7:13,16 can also be Solomon’s as well.
 
Promised Discipline (2 Chronicles 7:19-22)
 
We begin to view the discipline of the Lord toward the people and the temple in three verses before us. That discipline against the people is seen in verses 19 and 20a.
 
Scholars inform us that the pronouns “you” in verse 19 are plural in the Hebrew text and the warning that follow there apply to the “my people” of 2 Chronicles 7:13,14. These warnings also apply to Solomon as the leader of God’s people. He is responsible to set the example of observing the Lord’s “decrees and commands.”
 
More specifically, we are told that the primary warning given in this segment of the text concerns idolatry – the decision to go off to serve other gods and worship them. As we know, this violates the very first of the Ten Commandments. And the prohibition against other gods is first because it is foundational to keeping the other nine.
 
Needless to say, the consequence of forsaking God and following other gods will be disastrous. If God’s people reverse their loyalty to him and turn from him, then he will reverse his loyalty to them and turn from them.
 
And, of course, this eventually happened with Israel (the northern kingdom), falling to the Assyrians, and later Judah (the southern kingdom) being conquered by the Babylonians. 
 
Next, we view God’s discipline against the Temple in verses 20b-22. Disaster will also come upon the temple, Solomon’s temple. Instead of God’s eyes being on the temple (2 Chronicles 7:16), he promises to reject it. Scholars point out that this passage clearly shows (as does the entirety of Scripture), the two sides of God’s promises. For sure, God will bless those who turn to him in sincere repentance (as described in 7:14); but those who turn from him and reject his commandments will experience his judgment. 
 
Once the temple has been rejected by God, it will become a “byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples.” In this situation, instead of being treated with reverence as a sacred place, it will be viewed with contempt. 
 
Now, this temple in Jerusalem is intended to be a place where God’s people can joyfully anticipate gathering for worship. But instead of being awestruck at the sight of the renowned temple, passers-by will be stunned to see it lying in ruins. The question will be raised, “Why has this happened?”  The reference to the people’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt (v.22) is extremely important; it suggests that the Israelites have forgotten their history, their roots. They will have forgotten that no other people have a history like theirs because no other people have a God who can do the wonders that only he is capable of. The judgment of God comes upon the Israelites because they have been worshipping and serving some other gods instead of the God who delivered them from bondage and established his covenant with them. They will have no one but themselves to blame for their sad state.
 
Now, the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14 include a very special promise from God to Solomon following the completion and dedication of the temple in Jerusalem. The verse reads, “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 will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” While it’s true that the words of this verse are addressed specifically to Old Testament Israel, it is not wrong to apply the principle and promise of the verse to any other nation in history. One of the foundational teachings of scripture is that God is willing to forgive any individuals or nation turning to him in true repentance.  So, as scholars affirm, the really crucial thing here is not trying to focus too closely on “my people” but in bringing as many individuals as possible to the place where they can address the Lord as “my God.”  And that place is the forgiveness available in and through Jesus Christ.
 
Action Plan 
  1. Have the class discuss the question, “How should evidence of genuine repentance manifest itself in the twenty-first century?”
  2. Do the requirements for walking before God differ from person to person?  Why, or why not?
  3. In the light of this lesson on “Keeping My Statute and Ordinances,” where do you see the United States today? 
     
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).

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