A ‘solemn assembly’ is the mechanism we find in Scripture to accomplish corporate repentance. For more than two decades, we have been doing identificational repentance in America. But it is not enough. There has been no revival. It is right to consecrate, to set apart, to create the space and time for God to do a work. But identificational repentance, consecration in behalf of another – these are not enough. Such prayer cannot take the place of authentic, personal and widespread awareness of how we as a nation have offended our holy God. Intercessors, a remnant, have been praying and repenting. But the church itself, even the ministry leaders, have not torn their garments and wept at the potential of calamitous judgment. There are too few tears among Christians.
Solemn Assembly is a foreign term today, but it was the mechanism given by God to deal with national sin. In an age of hyper-individualism, we privatize everything. But sin, like a toxic liquid or vapor can’t be confined by barriers and borders. The pollution it creates requires a group clean-up effort. When a family sins, there are family consequences (Joshua 7; Prov. 15:27; Acts 5:1-11). When a city sins – it must repent (Jonah 1:5-9). When a people sin, the nation they constitute must repent before God. The idea is not mystical. If the sin, the destructive social and moral actions continue – the nation, the city, the company, the family will implode. It will self-destruct. Acceptance of sin as normal pervades and permeates. It removes all the protection that moral law and restraint provided, and does so in the name of freedom. The result is not only toxic, in terms of attitude and behavior, it is deadly to both the individual and to the social entity.
Every nation, every city – has ledger in heaven, an account of sins and of righteous deeds. In Ezekiel 14, God declares if “a nation sins” it will face judgment. God is the “governor among the nations.” Faith is not merely a ‘private’ thing. “He increases the nations … destroys … enlarges … and straightens them again” (Job 12:23). Edward Payson declared that “the perfection of God’s moral government … extend[s] to nations and communities, as well as to individuals.” James Hervey noted, “How then shall He that is Ruler among nations, maintain the dignity of His government over the kingdoms of the earth, but by inflicting national punishments for national provocations?” Spurgeon said, “National sins demand national punishments … God’s dealings with mankind proves that though a nation may go on in wickedness … multiply its oppressions … abound in bloodshed, tyranny, and war … an hour of retribution draws near. When it shall have filled up its measure of iniquity, then shall the angel of vengeance execute its doom … at the bar of God each man must be tried for himself. [But] … The punishment … of nations, is national. The guilt they incur must receive its awful recompense in this present time state.” John Knox said the moment of national judgment came when iniquity was so manifest, that even the flatterers could not excuse it.
Multiple times, Israel called a Solemn Assembly. They repented. Fasted. Sacrificed. Turned from sin. And God sent a revival. At times it was the king, at other times a prophet or priest who called the nation to repent. Solemn Assemblies have been critical in America history as well. The early Presidents frequently issued calls to prayer in the face of emergencies. John Adams declared, “The safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and blessing of Almighty God.” Lincoln said, “The awful calamity of civil war … may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins. … We have forgotten God … We have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become … too proud to pray to the God that made us!” Imagine a President saying that today, in response to September 11, or floods or tornadoes, or the rising tide of national debt?
The last authentic call, by a President to a genuine solemn assembly of penitence, fasting and humility, in consideration of the connection between national calamity and sin – was arguably Lincoln, April 30, 1863. We are 150 years overdue for a genuine national solemn assembly called by a President, Congress or the Supreme Court. Barring such a happening – national judgment may be inevitable.
“Why should I pardon you? Your sons have forsaken Me And sworn by those who are not gods. When I had fed them to the full, they committed adultery And trooped to the harlot’s house” (Jeremiah 5:7).