(Portions taken from “The Founders Bible” Calling the Nation to Prayer and Fasting, pp 711-715)
In Ezra 7, Babylonian King Artaxerxes commissioned the priest Ezra to gather Jewish captives, return to their ancient homeland, rebuild the holy temple in Jerusalem, which had lain in ruins for decades, and also set up a separate civil government. In chapter 8, Ezra assembled the people, but before they set out on their trek:
21 There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. 22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.
He called for a time of fasting and prayer so the group could beseech the Lord’s intervention and assistance; and as Ezra attested, God answered their prayers. They journeyed safely to Jerusalem and successfully restored both the temple and civil government in their homeland.
The practice of calling the nation to a time of corporate prayer and fasting is repeated frequently throughout the Scriptures. I want to focus on two of those occasions.
In late 1860, it appeared that a national conflict was soon to begin, so President James Buchanan called the nation to a time of prayer and fasting, reminding the country:
“In this the hour of our calamity and peril, to whom shall we resort for relief but to the God of our fathers? His omnipotent arm only can save us from the awful effects of our own crimes and follies — our own ingratitude and guilt towards our Heavenly Father.
Let us, then, with deep contrition and penitent sorrow, unite in humbling ourselves before the Most High, in confessing our individual and national sins, and in acknowledging the injustice of our punishment. Let us implore Him to remove from our hearts that false pride of opinion which would impel us to persevere in wrong for the sake of consistency, rather than yield a just submission to the unforeseen exigencies by which we are now surrounded. Let us with deep reverence beseech him to restore the friendship and good will which prevailed in former days among the people of the several States; and, above all, to save us from the horrors of civil war and “blood-guiltiness.” Let our fervent prayers ascend to His Throne that He would not desert us in this hour of extreme peril, but remember us as he did our fathers in the darkest days of the revolution; and preserve our Constitution and our Union, the work of their hands, for ages yet to come.
An Omnipotent Providence may overrule existing evils for permanent good. He can make the wrath of man to praise Him, and the remainder of wrath he can restrain. — Let me invoke every individual, in whatever sphere of like he may be placed, to feel a personal responsibility to God and his country for keeping this day holy, and for contributing all in his power to remove our actual and impending calamities.” 1
President Abraham Lincoln, while in the midst of the bloody Civil War, called the nation to a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer, explaining in most profound terms:
“Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord;
And, insomuch as we know that by His divine law nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.
It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness….. ….All this being done in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the divine teachings that the united cry of the nation will be heard on high and answered with blessings no less than the pardon of our national sins and the restoration of our now divided and suffering country to its former happy condition of unity and peace.”2
Times of corporate humiliation and prayer were called in time of national danger and also in times of national tragedy. America has a long history of following the Biblical precedent of observing times of spiritual discipline that every Christian would do well to personally develop (Matthew 9:15). Jesus noted that some situations in our lives change only through prayer and fasting (Matthew 17:21), and it allows us to spend time in concentrated prayer in our relationship with the Lord.
Now, therefore, in compliance with ancient tradition and in light of the speech given today by President Obama seeking approval to bomb Syria – I do by this proclamation, call all citizens to national humiliation, repentance, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all people to abstain from ordinary pursuits, and to unite at their places of public worship and respective homes, in keeping themselves holy to the Lord and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to solemn occasions.
May God save us…