Dr. James J. S. Johnson

If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin, and I will heal their land.

2nd Chronicles 7:14

At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;  If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

Faith Foundations for National Days of Prayer

Many have used 2nd Chronicles 7:14 as a conditional promise to be applied for nationwide blessing following nationwide repentance.  Yet 2nd Chronicles 7:14 is, directly speaking, applicable to the nation Israel (especially in its Old Testament form).  America, or any other Gentile nation in existence today, is not the “people” of that specific promise.  Could it be that any attempt to apply this verse to Christians, living on Earth during the Church Age, is an out-of-context (i.e., anachronistic) and inappropriate application of “replacement theology”?

Not so fast!

Although America (or any other Gentile nation today) is not the theological equivalent (or replacement) of the nation Israel, that does not negate there being any relevant connection between the conditional promise of 2nd Chronicles 7:14 and the kind of blessings that a repentant and reverent Gentile people can experience, as the example of ancient Nineveh illustrates.

Accordingly, there is hope for a Gentile people who humbly prays for God’s providential blessings, including those who humbly and reverently ask for God’s mercy and grace, corporately, via “national days of prayer”.

Thus, the relevant question is this: can the repentance/humility/prayer principle of 2nd Chronicles 7:14 be applied to Christians in America (or to Christians anywhere in the world), since real Christians (during the “times of the Gentiles”, at least – see Luke 21:24 & Romans 11:25) have a right to call themselves God’s people (Acts 15:14; Psalms 33:12 & 117:1).

There is in, Scripture, an example of a Gentile nation – that feared God, and repented of its national wickedness, and collectively humbled itself (at the national level) before God, and pled for His mercy and forbearance

And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying,  Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.  So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of 3 days’ journey.  And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet 40 days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!  So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.  For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.  And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:  But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.  Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not?  10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of [literally, “was relieved of”] the evil, that He had said that He would do unto them; and he did it not. 

Jonah 3:1-10

That wicked nation (which could be called an imperial city-state), more than 2½ thousand years ago, became repentant at an almost unbelievable scale, was the Assyrian city of Nineveh, in response to the doomsday preaching of the (reluctant) prophet Jonah.

And the example of Nineveh’s national repentance – and prayer for God’s mercy – illustrates a Gentile society that asked for and obtained God’s mercy, at a time when that society almost experienced the total opposite of God’s mercy. 

In fact, if Jonah would have had his way (see Jonah 4:1-3 & 4:9), the Ninevites would have been destroyed in heavenly fire as was Sodom and Gomorrah!

Obviously, Nineveh’s revival was unprecedented – and there likely hasn’t been anything like it since! 

So can we rely on the national repentance of Nineveh, in reaction to the preaching of Jonah  —  as a general principle that God will do likewise  —  if a Gentile society undergoes similar humility and begs His mercy?

Happily, the answer is YES, based upon a promise delivered by the prophet Jeremiah, who served God years after the Ninevite revival.

At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;  If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

What a comforting promise!  

Amazingly, the passive form of the Hebrew verb nâḥam, which is translated as “repented” in Jonah 3:10 (and in Joel 2:13 & Jeremiah 26:3) is elsewhere translated as “comforted” (i.e., “is relieved”) in Genesis 24:67 & 37:35, — so the main idea is that God is “relieved” of the need to punish when we genuinely repent of our sins and plead for His mercy.  

Accordingly, when God is about to judge sinful behavior – whether it be personal or corporate, self-judgment of that sin invites God’s mercy and forbearance (compare 1st Corinthians 11:31-32 & 1st John 1:9 with Jeremiah 17:7-8 & Joel 2:12-14a). 

Amazing!  God’s inclination to punish sin is affected by — relieved by — our repentant humility; our plea for mercy actually relieves God!

Thankfully, we have a divine Editor who theologically corrects our sincere prayers for God’s grace – that divine Editor is none other than God the Holy Spirit, who dwells within every Christian (see Romans 8:26-27). 

So, we should pray without ceasing (1st Thessalonians 5:17; Romans 1:9; Acts 12:5; 2nd Timothy 1:3), for God’s mercy, at the personal level — and also for whatever group you (or I) belong to – including your nation! 

Let God the Holy Spirit adjust the theology of your prayer, on the way “up”, but there is no prayer to edit if no prayer is prayed!  

Festivals (or Holidays) Celebrated Near and Far

So how do people observe a “national day of prayer”?  In America the “national day of prayer” is a formal tradition, calendared on the first Thursday in May, according to a federal statute codified at 36 U.S.C. § 119, which says:

“The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.” [Public Law 105-225, enacted August 12th A.D.1998]

Earlier similar laws preceded the AD1998 version, such as one in AD195 (under President Harry Truman), plus similar proclamations for prayer were issued by the 2nd Continental Congress (from AD1775 thru AD1799, co-authored by Dr. John Witherspoon and John Hancock, and led by General George Washington) and later by USA’s second president John Adams (in AD1798 and AD1799), among others.

Other nations have observed similar calls to nationwide prayer and repentance. One such example is Germany’s Buß- und Bettag (Repentance and Prayer day), once an official holiday in Germany, based upon Lutheran/Protestant theology, and still one in the German state of Saxony. In Bavaria it is a school holiday.  This German holiday is linked to the Biblical history of ancient Nineveh, which repented at the preaching of Jonah (see above discussion of Nineveh’s historic repentance).

Family, Friends, Fellowship, and Fun

By definition, a holiday dedicated to prayer and repentance is a holy day, focusing on a people’s need for God, Who is holy, to deal mercifully with human sins, needs, perils, and crises.  Accordingly, “fun” and recreation are not prominent on such serious holidays, yet some traditions somehow link creative expressions of prayer and thanksgiving to crises of past generations. 

One such example is the periodic celebration of thanksgiving that is linked to a historic time of danger and death, when the Black Plague (a/k/a Bubonic Plague) was ravaging Europe.  The village of Oberammergau, corporately, begged God to spare their village – and promised to thank God for deliverance, by performing a “passion play” (portraying the days from Palm Sunday to Christ’s crucifixion and through the resurrection of Christ, sometimes involving 2000 actors, musicians, technicians, etc., involving half the village’s population!) every 10 years thereafter—in all years that end with a zero.  

This theatrical observance has been performed by residents of Oberammergau, faithfully, from AD1634 to the present, for about 375 years, with very few exceptions.  Exceptions include immediately after World War I, cancelation during World War II, and the ironic cancelation during AD2020 due to plague fears (of COVID-19 and/or epidemiological responses thereto). Thus, the last performance of the Oberammergau Passion Play was in AD2020, performed by more than 2000, involving more than half of the villagers of Oberammergau, and publicized by UNESCO.

Foods to Match Holidays

Often national days of prayer include some kind of fasting (e.g., Jonah chapter 3), so—other than partaking of the Lords’ Supper (i.e., the New Testament ordinance of holy communion, described in Luke 22:18-20, 1st Corinthians 11:23-25, etc.)—these holidays are not known for any traditions of celebratory feasting (or for featuring any particular type of holiday foods).

Final Thoughts on National Days of Prayer

Just as generations past (including the Germans of Oberammergau, since AD1634) have appreciated the precedential revival in Nineveh—at the preaching of the prophet Jonah—we too can (and should) beseech God for His mercy to our own people(s), so that God’s blessings are showcased in our lands and lives.

What better time than now, to pray for God’s providential blessings, that our own lands be justly cleaned up from the many widespread and deep-rooted evils that we need deliverance from? 

In fact, “now” is the only time we have to work with, so we need to pray now and much (1st Thessalonians 5:17-18).

A Biblical Precedent for Nationwide Prayer:  God Graciously Spared Nineveh When the Ninevites Humbly Begged God for Mercy

                        Jonah erred from his God-assigned path,

                        So God’s whale gulped Jonah (after his bath);

                                    When in Nineveh he preached,

                                    Humbled hearts there God reached,

                        So God mercifully spared them His wrath. [1]

[1] Limerick reprinted from James J. S. Johnson, “A Biblical Precedent for Nationwide Prayer:  God Graciously Spared Nineveh When the Ninevites Humbly Begged God for Mercy”, Limerick Legacy series (Cross Timbers Institute, Short Paper # AD2013-08-08-D; © AD2013 James J. S. Johnson, used by permission). 

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