Old Testament Revivals
There is considerable difference of opinion concerning which Old Testament events should be described as revivals. Horatius Bonar enumerates fourteen, Ernest Baker, twelve; Wilbur Smith, eight and Earle E. Cairns, twelve.
This is an integrated list.
1. A general awakening
Gen 4:26 – ‘At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD.’
Horatius Bonar agrees with Jonathan Edwards that this verse depicts a special work of the Spirit in the days of Noah before the Great Flood. In reality there are weak exegetical grounds leading to the conclusion that this was the first Biblical revival.
The story of Jacob’s return to Bethel with his household is cited by Wilbur Smith as his first choice of a Biblical revival. Again this is possible, but exhibits questionable exegesis!
This is Baker’s first choice, which he sees as Israel’s leader’s spiritual response to the promise of deliverance.
Cairns lists this as a revival. ‘The decline of the Israelites into idolatry while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments was followed by the restoration of the people and the building of the tabernacle.’ Nevertheless, it is difficult to class this as authentic revival when we consider Israel’s conduct in the wilderness.
Baker lists five specific revivals in the book of Judges but a careful reading reveals seven discernable periods of revival.
Under Othniel 3:1-11
Under Ehud 3:12-31
Under Deborah 4:1-5:31
Under Gideon 6:1-8:35
Under Abimelech 9:1-57
Under Jepthah 10:6-12:7)
Under Sampson 13:1-16:31
These are distinct revivals characterised by a discernable cycle of events (Henry Blackaby, & Claude King, Fresh Encounter, p57-58:
The Book of Judges chronicles this cycle of departure and return, describing the first cycle in Judges 2:
i. The People Served the Lord: “The people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the LORD which He had done for Israel” (Judg. 2:7).
ii. The People Forsook the Lord:”Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals” (Judg. 2:11).
iii. God Defeated Them Through Enemies:”The anger of the LORD was hot against Israel. So He delivered them into the hands of plunderers who despoiled them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies” (Judg. 2:14).
The second cycle is seen in Judges 3:7-11
The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. But when they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.
In addition to these seven, there were several other periods of revival that are not so distinctly delineated. Bonar remarks, ‘The seasons of alternate revival and decay are perhaps more marked during these four hundred years than at any other period.’
6. Under Samuel’s ministry
Baker, Bonar and Cairns refer to the revival that occurred under the ministry of Samuel. During the days of Eli the Priest, Israel had backslidden from God and incurred tragic losses at the hands of the Philistines. For twenty years they adopted ‘foreign gods’ in a desperate attempt to acquire supernatural help, to no avail. Samuel arrived and led them to repentance by purging the land of foreign gods, and turning to the Lord.
7. King David
Bonar sees the days of King David as ‘a most extensive revival of the work of God in Israel. The Spirit seems to have been plentifully poured out on the nation in those days….’
8. King Solomon
Bonar also reckons Solomon’s era ‘seems to have been days of refreshing’ having specific reference to the ‘dedication of the temple, making the people’s hearts to overflow with gladness when coming together to worship God…’
Clearly Bonar interprets the activity and presence of the Spirit in the time of David and Solomon as times of the outpoured spirit, but there is no justification for calling these ‘times of revival.’
9. 1 King’s 17-18
All are agreed that the divided northern Kingdom experienced authentic revival through the ministry of Elisha on Mt. Carmel.
Cairn’s remarks: ‘Spiritual decline came again to the northern kingdom in the days of Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kings 16:30-33) with consequent idolatry. Revival came to the people after Elijah humiliated Baal and his priests (1 Kings 18:21-39). Elijah challenged the people not to halt between serving God or Baal, but to serve God only.’ The people responded appropriately 1 Kings 18:39 ‘When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD — he is God! The LORD — he is God!”
The more spiritually attuned southern kingdom experienced a succession of revivals during their history, which are presented by most revival historians as models of true revival.>
Baker finds two revivals in the book of Jonah – one in the boat and one in Nineveh. Jonah’s disobedience brought disaster to him and his companions. They cried to the Lord, sacrificed to Him and paid their vows.
In Nineveh, Jonah proclaimed the word of the Lord and the whole city turned to the Lord! This is a notable evangelistic revival which stands alone in the Old Testament.
11. Under Asa
The revival under Asa. Interestingly this revival did not follow a period of religious decline, or national oppression. It came ‘after a period of increase and prosperity and after a great national deliverance.’ (Baker). This revival continued on into the reign of Jehoshaphat, who was blessed by God in his leadership of God’s people. (2 Chron. 17:9, 10, 12).
2 Kings 11-12; 2 Chronicles 23-24
Wilbur Smith lists this as a revival but it is more the record of a king (Joash) who is blessed by God for his adherence to God’s ways. 2 Chron 24:2 ‘ Joash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the years of Jehoiada the priest.’ During a forty-year reign there was a fresh commitment to God and a new generosity to God, particularly for the restoration of His Temple and the articles for its service. But the real hero in the sage was Jehoida, the High Priest. 2 Chron 23:16 ‘Jehoida then made a covenant that he and the people and the king would be the LORD’s people.’
This period of renewal does not compare with other histories of revival experienced by the southern kingdom.
13. Under Hezekiah
2 Chronicles 29-31
The revival under Hezekiah is one of the most sudden of those recorded in Scripture. 2 Chron 29:36 ‘Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people, because it was done so quickly.’
He began a work of restoration at the very inception of his reign and within a couple of months the whole land was swept with a wave of spiritual enthusiasm. Consecration, a recommitment to the Covenant, purification of the Temple, a restoration of worship with sacrifices and singing were marks of this revival. Three prophets were Hezekiah’s contemporaries: Isaiah, Micah and Hosea but though they are not mentioned in connection with the revival, they were certainly there – 2 Chron 29:25 ‘He stationed the Levites in the temple of the LORD with cymbals, harps and lyres in the way prescribed by David and Gad the king’s seer and Nathan the prophet; this was commanded by the LORD through his prophets.’
This revival prepared Judah and Hezekiah to stand against Sennacherib of Assyria, whom God humbled before them (2 Chron. 32:21; Isa. 37:33-38). Hezekiah’s experience suggests that revival can prepare people to face a crisis as well as prepare them for service.
Josiah was the godly son of the evil Manasseh, who led Israel astray. When he came to power the temple was in shambles, the Book of the Law had been lost and the people did not have a clue what God required of them. As a teenage King he began to seek God and purged the land of Baal’s altars and other idols. Whilst repairing the Temple the Book of the Law was found and when he heard its words Josiah was smitten with the fear of the Lord. He read the law to the people and there followed a reinstatement of the sacrificial system and a restoration of Temple worship. The people recommitted themselves to the covenant and expressed this in a massive Passover festival. 2 Chron 35:18 ’The Passover had not been observed like this in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel; and none of the kings of Israel had ever celebrated such a Passover as did Josiah, with the priests, the Levites and all Judah and Israel who were there with the people of Jerusalem.’
15. Under Ezra and Nehemiah
Ezra 5-6 and Nehemiah 8 -10
Most revival writers mention revivals in the period after the return from the Babylonian Exile. Baker sees four (under Zerubbabel, Haggai and Zechariah together, Ezra and Nehemiah). Smith recognises two: (Haggai and Zechariah with Zerubbabel, Ezra 5-6; and Ezra with Nehemiah 9:16; 12:44-47)
Certainly, Nehemiah 8-10 records unmistakeable revival scenes.
Characteristics of Old Testament Revivals
Wilbur Smith notes nine characteristics of these revivals:
1. They occurred in times of moral darkness and national depression;
2. Each began in the heart of a consecrated servant of God who became the energizing power behind it;
3. Each revival rested on the Word of God, and most were the result of proclaiming God’s Word with power;
4. All resulted in a return to the worship of God;
5. Each witnessed the destruction of idols where they existed;
6. In each revival, there was a recorded separation from sin;
7. In every revival the people returned to obeying God’s laws;
8. There was a restoration of great joy and gladness;
9. Each revival was followed by a period of national prosperity.
Winkey Pratney Revival, p13.
‘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.
These four elements can be seen in almost all the Old Testament revivals
Henry Blackaby and Claude W. King, Fresh Encounter, 1996
Horatius Bonar, Gillies’ Historical Collections, 1715, Supp. to the Author’s Original Preface, 1843
Ernest Baker, The Revivals of the Bible, 1906
Earle E. Cairns, An Endless Line of Splendour, 1986
Brian Edwards, Revival, A People Saturated with God, 1990
R. E. Davies, I Will Pour Out My Spirit, 1992
Winkie Pratney, Revival, Its Principles and Personalities, 1994
Tony Cauchi 2009