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Does America Have a National Covenant With YHWH? No, We Do Not!

In his best selling 1977 book, The Light and the Glory:  Did God have a plan for America?, Peter Marshall writes:

That a drought could be broken, or an Indian attack averted, by corporate repentance is an idea that sounds alien to many Christians today.  Yet it was central to the faith which built this country, and is one of the most prominent, recurring themes in the Bible.  One of the most familiar examples is, "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forigve their sin and heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Accepting Marshall's untenable hermeneutic (he ignores the fact that God's "national" covenant was made with Israel only), it is quite common to hear well-intended Christians claim that America is a “Christian nation” and in doing so appeal to biblical passages such as that just cited by Marshall.  Because our Lord’s promise of divine protection is given to the church (Matthew 16:18), the temptation is ever-present for Christians to mistakenly assume that our Lord’s promise of protection extends beyond the church they attend to the national interests and policies of the nation in which they live.  God's plan for our nation properly falls under the category of "providence" not "covenant."

The claim that “God is on our side” often comes to fruition when politically active American evangelicals see themselves in a “culture war”–contending with secular-progressives for the soul of the nation.  In the heat of battle, Christians invoke covenant promises made by God to Israel, thinking these promises apply to the United States because they mistakenly believe that the United States has some sort of covenant relationship with YHWH as did Israel.  This tendency is one of the key indicators of the popular but erroneous assumption that American is a Christian nation because it was founded on “biblical principles” and therefore possesses a unique relationship to God, just as Israel did under the Old Covenant. 

But America has no national covenant with God, as did Israel under the covenant God made with his chosen people at Mount Sinai.  This fact presents a serious problem for those who assume that the promises God made to ancient Israel somehow apply to the United States.  Covenant promises of blessing and curse which were given to Israel in a particular biblical context cannot be applied to contemporary political issues given the role such covenant blessings and curses played in Israel’s unique history.  

One such example of applying these covenant promises to modern America can be found on the website for the National Day of Prayer, where we read the following (echoing the previous words of Peter Marshall):

Our goal is to see communities transformed across America.  That happens one family at a time.  We know lives are being changed. We see the reports and statistics everyday (read Answered Prayer).  We pray in expectation knowing that God can and will make a difference if we seek Him, turn from our ways and repent (II Chronicles 7:14).

The stated desire of the national day of prayer is the transformation of communities and individuals.  Biblical support is taken from 2 Chronicles 7:14.  sadly, this passage is cited apart from any consideration of the redemptive-historical context in which the verse originally appears–the dedication of Solomon’s temple (2 Chronicles 6-7), specifically God’s private revelation to Solomon after the public manifestation of fire in the previous verses (2 Chronicles 7:1-3).
If America's founding fathers could repent and seek the face of God, as instructed by the Chronicler, so as to avoid drought or Indian attack, why shouldn't we?  Marshall's plea has been heard by many.  Those who see themselves in the midst of a culture war, or who are seeking a national revival, often affirm that if only God’s people living in America would act upon the covenant promises God made to Israel in 2 Chronicles 7:14, then God would spare our nation from some impending calamity–usually the election of some disagreeable political figure, or the passage of some worrisome piece of legislation, or a high court decision which is perceived to undermine Judeo-Christian values.  If God made this promise to Israel during the days of Solomon, then he is still making this promise to Christians who live in America today.  Right?

The invocation of 2 Chronicles 7:14, closely parallels warnings made by certain dispensationalists, who see the end-times centering around God’s program for national Israel.  Biblical passages which speak of covenant blessings and curses coming upon Israel’s enemies (i.e., Genesis 12:3), are interpreted to mean that unless the United States support the modern nation of Israel (specifically in terms of the land promise given to the physical descendants of Abraham), America risks coming under God’s judgment.  As one prominent evangelical in Congress contends,

I am convinced in my heart and in my mind that if the United States fails to stand with Israel, that is the end of the United States . . . [W]e have to show that we are inextricably entwined, that as a nation we have been blessed because of our relationship with Israel, and if we reject Israel, then there is a curse that comes into play. . . . We believe very strongly the verse from Genesis [Genesis 12:3], we believe very strongly that nations also receive blessings as they bless Israel. It is a strong and beautiful principle [From a speech given by Congresswoman Michele Bachman in February 2010 to the Republican Jewish Coalition].

Although it is believed that God’s promise to those who protect Israel applies primarily to matters of the on-going Israeli-Palestinian conundrum, biblical passages referring to Israel (or to Abraham) under the Old Covenant are applied to contemporary events without the slightest hesitation.  In light of Israel’s quite unique role in redemptive history, this kind of application should give us great pause.

If by “Christian nation” we mean that America has some sort of theological charter or covenant with God as set forth in a biblical passage such as 2 Chronicles 7:14, we are sadly mistaken.  2 Chronicles 7:14 applied to Israel in the days of Solomon when God’s glory filled the temple he had just dedicated to YHWH.  Passages such as this one are invoked the way they are because of a serious theological misunderstanding–the confusion of promises made regarding the kingdom of God with God’s providential purposes for the civil kingdom.  Unless we are willing to rip the passage from its context, it cannot be invoked as a promise applying to modern America.  In terms of our national relationship to God, America is every bit as “secular” as is Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, or even Israel, for that matter.  America is not a divinely-ordained theocracy with either national promises or threatened curses as was true of Israel.

The reality is that the promise found in 2 Chronicles 7:14 has nothing whatsoever to do with a national revival or the current fortunes of the United States.  It has everything to do with the dedication of Solomon’s temple nearly 3000 years ago.

Reader Comments (22)

But, Pastor Kim, Christians rips verses from the OT out of their context all the time. Last week, I heard a prosperity preacher preach that God wants us wealthy--and he took as proof, out of their context, the blessings from the Mosaic covenant from Deut 28 and applied it to believers today! And how many times do we hear TBN "preachers" yell that God desires to make us "the head and not the tail"! This is the American religion!
P.S.--love the new look
June 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRichard
June 19, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterreg
When I was a dispensational high school student this book was part of my curriculum as a home school student. Though at the time my theological framework wasn't reformed, I was very critical of the book for the same reasons. I'd imagine today it would be even more so.
June 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael
While I never miss an opportunity to pick on our dispensational friends, this type of covenant confusion in America can be seen in in the likes of Solomon Stoddard, Timothy and Jonathan Edwards, and most of the colonial Puritans (see George Marsden's "Jonathan Edwards: A life" or Kenneth Minkema's essay, "Personal Writings" in "The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Edwards".) The root of this seems grounded in an elevated (and sinful) sense of self-importance, coupled with a conflation of covenants.
June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDamian
Thanks for this great post. I think you've posted a picture of Peter J Marshall's father who died, I believe in 1949. This book was written by his son...who died in 2010. The book, again I believe, was written in 1977 not 1997.

Dave Van
Lenexa, KS
June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDave Van
It's a tragic irony that John Nelson Darby and C.I. Scofield are probably the two greatest influences on 20th and 21st century U.S. foreign policy.
June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNicholas J. Gausling

You are correct on both accounts! I fixed the date, but I'll leave the picture of Pa Marshall.
June 20, 2013 | Registered CommenterKim Riddlebarger
Richard, speaking of prosperity, the Christian America thing is the geo-political version of cash-and-bling dogma. Just like legalism isn't only and ever about substance use and worldly amusement (an assumption I think we Reformed are prone to fall into and missing it in other forms), prosperity gospel isn't only and ever about personal material health and wealth.
June 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterZrim
"Cash and bling dogma"! Love it, Steve. It's a theology of glory. And it always feeds on itself since it can never get enough. Our church has been going through Brown and Keel's book, "Sacred Bond," and the Mosaic Covenant--it's fun seeing how the Covenant gets ripped out of its context by the cash and bling crowd.
June 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRichard

Since you've pealed the lid back on this can of worms, here's another Dispensational 'Sardine':

"Jerusalem will become a burdensome stone for all people ."
Zechariah 12:3

"The God of Israel will seek to destroy all the
nations that come against Jerusalem." Zechariah 12:9

How about an article entitled: "The Truth About The Present Nation Of Israel, Did God Cause It To Supernaturally Come About?, If So, Why? and What Does The Future Holds For It."

Please.... no "plagiarizing" from "Iran, Oil & The Middle East" OK?
June 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBob Reese
I don't know if the belief that God has a covenant with America came from good intentions or the desire to be flattered, I suspect it is the latter. In any case, we should tat such flattery, or should we say self-love, covers a multitude of sins. It allows us to feel superior to others. It gives us permission to claim that we are special. But what we fail to pick up on is claiming to be special is normal
June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCurt Day
If America would truly seek the face of God, repent, etc, secular leftists like Barack Obama wouldn't get elected. When evangelicals pray for revival, we are praying for God to forgive our land for its many sins and transgressions against him and for a revival and healing of our land, so usually for liberals to be defeated or the Supreme Court to rule a certain way. That is more important than elections, court rulings or legislative actions. However, the disconnect is not absolute. Soloman wrote in Proverbs 14:34 "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to ANY people." "Any" includes the United States. When individuals sin, they invite consequences of that sin, both in this life, and in the life to follow, either in hell, if not saved, or possibly loss of reward, if so. When a nation codifies and celebrates open sin and deviant lifestyles (i.e. abortion, gay marriage, lax divorce laws, and so forth), it invites judgment from God. I have no doubt God's divine hand of protection was removed on 9/11, and that the increase in natural disasters is another show of God's growing indignation with America. I'm not a prophet, but I fear far worse things are coming, if we do not change course. II Chron 7:14 is the only workable solution to the problems of our nation, and it would be wrong to dismiss this.
June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDale Beavers
As someone who is Christian, Reformed, and a political leftist, I disagree with much in your note. But what I struggle with the most is that you seem to say that our other national sins does nothing to disqualify us from deserving God's protection while the specific sins you mentioned do. So our treatment of the Indians and Blacks as well as the wars we have prosecuted throughout our history have not pushed us past the tipping point in the protection we deserve from God but the sexual sins do.

In addition, didn't the article contradict the kind of use of II Chron 7:14 that you are suggesting?
June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCurt Day
Bachman and her ilk could read this excellent and biblical surmising by Pastor Riddlebarger ten times and I would bet not one of them would change their mind. They wouldn't get it and don't want to get it. Context means very little, if anything to the NAR and those of similar variety.
June 23, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermatt
Dale and Curt represent two sides of the same skewed cultural Christianity coin.
June 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterZrim
And it also shows, Steve, how well and alive in American evangelicalism is a distortion of and a continuing belief in the viability of the Mosaic covenant. After all--JerUSAlem is what it's all about.
June 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRichard
You need to be specific here. What are your problems with Dale's views and with mine?
June 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCurt Day
Curt, you both want to capture a particular piece of the American pie for Christianity. Neither of you are satisfied with simply having your politics but instead want them baptized. But God is no respecter of persons and his ways and thoughts are above ours. His program has to do with reconciling sinners to himself by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. Hint: it's not about the politics of sex or war.

Richard, nice rhetorical flourish. I'm going to borrow that some day, if you don't mind.
June 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterZrim
Is that why I am in favor of society recognizing same-sex marriage though I disagree with it because of the Bible? Or is wanting your nation to achieve some basic standard of morality using standards that other religions and philosophies adhere to?

I have to disagree with you. God's Word is not just about after-life insurance. It challenges every area of life. Likewise, basic morality speaks to societal problems with sex and war. All of these are God's conerns
June 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCurt Day
Curt, that's how you get cultural Christianity instead of doctrinal and ecclesiastical, which is fine if you're a culturalist. But we confessionalists just find it amusing to watch the culturalists fight about whose side God is on since there is absolutely no biblical warrant for any particular political conclusion. You may want to say the same about the doctrinalists fighting about whose theological side God is on, but the problem with that is the Bible is a doctrinal text. But this all presupposes Protestant first principles, e.g. sola scriptura, analogia fidei, etc. anyway, which is all more or less fubar to the Christian nation culturalists like you and Dale.
June 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterZrim

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