Posts Tagged 'Day of the Lord'

The Minor Prophets, Part 2

Joel is like a caricature of what most people think the minor prophets are all about. His ministry, like most prophets, took place during a terrible crisis: a locus plague and a drought. It was an extraordinarily bad time for Judah; the food stocks were running low and the outlook was bleak indeed.

In the locust invasion, Joel saw something else: the coming of the fearsome Day of the Lord when the Lord would lead an army against His own people in judgment. It sounds monotonous, but the the biggest problem with Joel’s people was that they were outwardly religious but inwardly far, far from God.

Nobody is sure when the locust plague took place or the drought. There are no references anywhere in Joel’s book to help us pinpoint a date. The fact that it is sandwiched between Hosea and Amos is irrelevant. Yet even with a shroud of mystery around it, Joel is an important piece of writing for modern Christians to take note of. God’s people always face one crisis or another and Joel’s words speak to us as much as they spoke to the people of his generation.

Call on God

The word of the Lord that came to Joel son of Pethuel. (Joel 1:1 | NIV84)

Here’s about all we know concerning Joel. His father’s name was Pethuel, a nice name which means “openheartedness” or “sincerity of God.” And that’s it. But the value in verse 1 are the opening words, “the word of the Lord that came to Joel.” This tells us that Joel’s words – the next three chapters, weren’t his idea, they were God’s. Joel was just a spokesman for the Almighty.

What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten. (Joel 1:4 | NIV84)

The locust plague was bad – the worst ever experienced by Israel. These insects came in waves, upon unrelenting waves, leaving nothing in their wake. Joel addressed the elders of the community first because they held positions of responsibility and influence. He challenges them to look at what was going on and compare it with past events, and to recognize that what was happening to them was unprecedented.

While the elders were his main audience, Joel wanted all citizens of the land to think about the plague and devastation and to pass on what they’ve learned to their children. This is important for modern Christian parents to take note of. It’s important to develop a Biblical worldview; to view the events and circumstances of the world and be able to put them into a perspective that has God and His Word at the center.

The destruction caused by this locust infestation was not unique, but that wasn’t Joel’s point. It was the degree of the destruction that made the locust attack in Joel’s time an extraordinary event and it was primarily what the locust plague exposed about the people’s relationship to God. They had drifted from Him and were consequently unprepared to face the crisis. That’s not an unimportant lesson. When God is at the center of your worldview, life is seen in perfect perspective. That goes for a locust plague.

This is something children need to be taught, hence Joel’s admonition.

Mourn like a virgin in sackcloth grieving for the husband of her youth. Grain offerings and drink offerings are cut off from the house of the Lord.The priests are in mourning,, those who minister before the Lord. The fields are ruined, the ground is dried up; the grain is destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails. (Joel 1:8-10 | NIV84)

The locusts had ruined the national economy, but far worse was the state of the spiritual lives of the people. The worship of God had been compromised. Why weren’t they concerned about that? In response to that – the fact that offerings couldn’t be made, not the plague itself – the people were to mourn like an espoused virgin whose intended was taken just before the wedding.

Mourning over what a ruined economy does to the Church of Jesus Christ is the proper perspective for a Christian to take, but how many of us have that perspective? When the downturn occurs, all we think about is how it affects us, rarely do we think about how it affects the Church. A Biblical worldview demands all the events of your life be viewed with an eye to their connection to the Lord.

Alas for that day! For the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. (Joel 1:15 | TNIV)

Joel made that connection. He rightly viewed the locust plague as sort of “mini day of the Lord.” The proper day of the Lord refers to the end times when the world is a complete mess just before Jesus Christ returns in glory and judgment.. In our lives, crises invade like a plague of locusts sometimes and produce that kind of “mini day of the Lord,” too. God uses the circumstances of our lives to remind us that we are accountable to Him for the way we live and to remind us that He is there, watching.

Repent

Chapter 1 looked at events that were happening in the here and now. But in chapter 2, Joel looks to the future. The events of chapter 1 served as a warning of things to come and now with a new chapter, Joel wanted his readers to know for sure that a real day of the Lord was coming.

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. It is close at hand—a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come. (Joel 2:1, 2 | TNIV)

The “mighty army” Joel sees here is the Assyrian army, an army so large and all-consuming, it will be “locust-like.” Now we know that the locust plague of the first chapter was a precursor of the plague-like Assyrian army. And the judgment wrought by the coming Assyrian army would be in turn a precursor of a greater judgment to come at the end times. The prophet Isaiah described this period of time this way:

Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. See, the day of the Lord is coming—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. (Isaiah 13:6, 9, 10 | TNIV)

And another minor prophet, Amos, described the day of the Lord like this:

Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness? (Amos 5:20 | TNIV)

The coming day of the Lord will be a time of great distress, destruction, and judgment. Remarkably, we read this in Joel 2:11 –

The Lord thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty is the army that obeys his command. The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it? (NIV)

It was the Lord who was calling the shots, not the Assyrians. God is ultimately in control, and in the case of Israel, He used the Assyrians to judge His wayward, rebellious people. But, all is not lost:

Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God. (Joel 2:12 – 14 | NIV)

So severe will be the coming judgment (“Who can endure it?”) that God provides an out. Judgment is coming; there is no escape. But, a person can prepare for it: Return to God. Repentance is the only way out of a bad situation. In light of the coming judgment, Joel wanted his people to respond the only way that made sense: Pray. The prophet saw a broken and contrite heart as the only response to a holy God. As important as outward acts of worship may be, the condition of the heart is more important to God. Joel’s people had the acts of worship down to a “T,” but their hearts had strayed far from Him. It was essential for them to get their hearts back to the a right condition in light of the coming judgment.

God’s Mercy and Judgment

Then the Lord was jealous for his land and took pity on his people. (Joel 2:18 | NIV)

When people turn to God in repentance, His promise is clear: He will have pity on them. He would restore them (verse 19), and would take away the threat of invasion (verse 20). There you have it. Israel need not have been destroyed. The destruction caused by the Assyrians need never have happened had the people repented and changed.

But there’s more yet:

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm—my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed.” (Joel 2:25, 26 | NIV)

This is God’s continued response to the repentance of His people. Should they truly repent, God would restore them and more. Of course, what we’re reading here is completely conditional on the people. Will they truly repent? If so, then God would fulfill His promises. Of course, we know they didn’t.

In between verses 27 and 28 is a gap of many centuries.

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28, 29 | NIV)

Peter referred to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts as the fulfillment of these two verses. Up to this point, God’s covenant people are in view, but here God widens the scope of blessing: All people would be blessed by the coming of the Holy Spirit, not just the Jews. Young and old, male or female, regardless of social status, all believers would be filled with God’s Spirit personally.

And in between verses 28 and 29 is yet another gap of an indeterminate number of years:

I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. (Joel 2:30, 31 | NIV)

Eschatologically speaking, these things will take place during the future day of the Lord, beginning with Daniel’s 70th week, a period of time known as the the Tribulation.

And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls. (Joel 2:32 | NIV)

Both Peter and Paul take this verse in a universal sense, but Joel had in mind a faithful remnant who would call upon the name of the Lord. This is one of many examples of Bible prophecies that meant one thing when originally spoken but in light of the New Testament, have come to mean something more. Of course, Joel had no idea how Peter or Paul would apply his words, but the Holy Spirit did.

The promise is forever established in Heaven. Everyone who calls upon God will be saved. Period.

A SURVEY OF THE MINOR PROPHETS, Part 8

OUR GOD REIGNS

Zechariah 14:1—21

The title of this book of prophecy comes from the prophet’s name, Zechariah, who preached in Jerusalem during its restoration, as a contemporary of Haggaih. His name, Zekar-Yah, properly means “Yahweh remembers.” What does Yahweh remember? His people of course!

This is a book filled with unending hope for the many Jews who felt they had been forgotten by God during the 70 years of exile.

This is the longest of the Minors and it is most frequently quoted elsewhere in Scripture. In all, there are over 70 quotations (direct and indirect) from Zechariah in the New Testament. Half of these are to be found in the book Revelation.

1. The day of the Lord, 14:1—8

The phrase, “day of the Lord” is a common one among the Minors. It speaks of the ultimate goal of the history of Earth: the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and His personal reign over all nations and people. However, before the coming of Christ’s Kingdom, the Earth must experience certain “birth pangs.” This is what chapter 14 deals with.

It is impossible to see this prophecy as being fulfilled at some time in the past. Though Jerusalem has been destroyed, captured, occupied, and destroyed again numerous times in the past, none of its history comes close to Zechariah’s prophecy. The “day of the Lord” is an eschatological phrase which refers a time in our future. And yet, over the centuries, the “day of the Lord” has had many inner-history fulfillments or partial fulfillments that foreshadowed the ultimate fulfillment. This supra-historical fulfillment of history will finally come to pass when Christ returns literally, physically, and visibly to the Earth to consummate the Kingdom He inaugurated at His first coming.

a. The end of judgment, vs. 1, 2

A day of the LORD is coming, Jerusalem, when your possessions will be plundered and divided up within your very walls. I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city.

Chapter 14 picks up a thought begun back in chapter 13:

In the whole land,” declares the LORD, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’” (Zechariah 13:8, 9)

A refining process looms on the horizon for God’s people, the Jews. The final “day of the Lord” will involve a final siege on Jerusalem; it will happen immediately before the Second Coming; it will involve Jerusalem and other nations gathering against it. In the early stages, the siege will be successful. What we are reading in verse 2 is history written backwards.

The fact that many nations will come against Jerusalem is stated repeatedly throughout the Minors:

I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will put them on trial for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel, because they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land. They cast lots for my people and traded boys for prostitutes; they sold girls for wine to drink. (Joel 3:2, 3)

What triggered Zechariah’s harsh words of prophecy? Even though Zechariah is seeing the far future, it was the selfish behavior of his people during his time that prompted the prophecy. The people should have been working tirelessly to rebuild the Temple and fix up Jerusalem after their 70 year exile. Instead, for some 16 years after they returned to Jerusalem, the Temple had virtually no work done on it. The people were more concerned about building homes for themselves than they were with restoring God’s House.

b. God’s breakthrough, vs. 3—8

In spite of how hopeless it will seem for Jerusalem, suddenly the King of Kings will return in full glory for all to see, in the face of the Antichrist’s forces:

Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. (vs, 3, 4)

In his book of Revelation, John describes the same event like this:

Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen. (Revelation 1:7)

The Lord will return personally, literally, physically, and visibly to the Earth, just as He said He would, at the exact location He departed from after His earthly ministry was over. Remember what the the early believers were told:

Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)

While Zechariah indicates that Jesus will return in power to fight for His people, ultimately He is coming back with “healing in His wings,” according to Malachi 4:2. But before the healing must come great Earth upheavals and catastrophic events that will change the landscape of the Middle East and beyond. See Revelation 16:18, 19, for example.

2. King of the Earth, 14:9—15

a. Return to Shema, vs. 9—11

The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name. (vs 9)

While on the island of Patmos, John was given a look into this same event:

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)

On that day, Jesus Christ will finally be seen by all and acknowledged by all people as the one and only “King of kings and Lord of lords.” And in a final nod to the Jews, their great confession, the Shema, will be regarded by all as true: there is one Lord.

b. Judgment on Babylon, vs. 12—15

This is the plague with which the LORD will strike all the nations that fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. (vs 12)

As we read about the literal Second Coming of Christ, it is sometimes difficult to separate the figurative language from the literal. We read about the splitting of the Mount of Olives, the spring of living waters, the interruption of God’s own day, and other strange events. But at verse 12, we see a literal horror which John writes about in Revelation 19:11—18. Here we seen a coming together of the Jewish and Christian Apocalypses.

3. Worship of the King, 14:16—21

Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. (vs. 16)

In spite of the awful decimation that will take place on Earth as described in the previous verses, there will be those who survive. Theologians are split as to whether these “survivors” will be a converted remnant among all the nations, or just people in general who are not touched by God’s various judgments. It seems to us that there will, in fact, be many, many survivors, some not converted at all, since there will be those who refuse to go and worship.

Three features of this worship become clear in this group of verses:

a. Jerusalem will be the center of faith in the world, 14:16

The Messiah will take His rightful place on the throne of David, and nations will stream to Jerusalem to worship Him and pay Him homage. We are told that all people will celebrate the “Festival of Tabernacles.” Why this festival in particular? This feast, out of all Jewish religious feasts, has been traditionally open to both the people of Israel and to strangers.

The Passover Feast pictured the death of the Messiah as our Redeemer; the Feast of Unleavened Bread pictured the walk of believers in fellowship with the Savior; the Feast of Firstfruits foreshadowed the resurrection of Jesus; and the Feast of Pentecost predicted the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. So the Feast of Tabernacles will remain unfulfilled until the Kingdom age and Israel is gathered to her own land.

b. All nations will come to Jerusalem annually, 14:17—19

Those who refuse to come will be dealt with harshly by God. This group of verses reminds us that, even in the great day when the glory of the Lord covers the earth, during the Millennial Kingdom, there be some who will simply rebel. Egypt is singled out here perhaps because as so often in the past it symbolized a defiant and rebellion nation.

Here is an accurate glimpse into the nature of the Millennial Kingdom. Just because Jesus Christ will rule and reign as the plant’s Sovereign, not every human soul alive at that time will be saved. It simply means that the Godly influence of a divinely ordered kingdom will be a positive influence over all the affairs of human beings. Justice, purity and righteousness will all be favored.

c. Holiness to the Lord will dominate all worship, 14:20, 21

On that day HOLY TO THE LORD will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots in the LORD’s house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar. Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the LORD Almighty, and all who come to sacrifice will take some of the pots and cook in them. And on that day there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the LORD Almighty.

This is a description of the true nature of the Messiah’s kingdom. It will be a holy kingdom, dominated by holiness in all things. Perowne observes:

The ornaments of worldly pomp and warlike power shall be as truly consecrated as the mitre of the High Priest, and every vessel used in the meanest sense of the Temple as holy as the vessels of the altar itself. Nay, every common vessel throughout the city and the whole land shall be so holy as to be meet for the service of the sanctuary, and every profane person all be for ever banished from the house of the Lord…All distinction between sacred and secular shall be at an end, because all shall now be alike holy.

We may sum up the teaching of these verses like this:

  • There will be holiness in public life (“the bells of the horses);

  • There will be holiness in religious life (“cooking pots in the Lord’s house);

  • There will be holiness in private life (“every pot in Jerusalem and Judah”).

And so Zechariah ends his book of prophecy in a most stunning way. This man, whose name means “Yahweh remembers” has proven that God has never forgotten His people. God Himself will end human history as He promised He would in His Covenant: His people will never be forgotten or foresaken.

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:14, 15)

(c)  2011 WitZend

Obadiah, Micah

The Bible is so common, many people own multiple copies of it. That’s not to say they are reading it, though. Even among Christians it’s not unusual to find several copies of different translations in the house. However, do we know what’s in it beyond the Gospels and the famous Bible stories, like Noah and the ark and the Exodus? The fact is, the Bible is full of “hidden gems” that go undiscovered. Obadiah is one such gem. Probably most of you have never read it. It is the shortest of the minor prophets, so a lot of us overlook it.

“Obadiah” was a very common name during Old Testament days and, like other minor prophets, we know almost nothing about him.

1. Consequences of withholding mercy, verses 10—15

a. Judgment day for Edom, vs. 10, 11

Obadiah’s ministry was a little different from other prophets; they mention the names of kings or priests who were working when that particular prophet was active. But Obadiah mentions no one, which has led Bible scholars to conclude that Obadiah was prophesying after Judah had fallen to the Babylonians.

Jerusalem and Judah lay in ruins and Obadiah’s message was directed at the Edomites.

Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever. On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.

Even though it sounds like the prophet is speaking to the Edomites personally, he probably was not; in fact, Obadiah probably never travelled to Edom. The prophet gave his messages against Edom for the benefit of God’s people; his messages were really addressed to the remaining Judahites.

“Jacob” is called Edom’s brother by Obadiah. The Edomites forgot that they and the Judahites shared common ancestry: Abraham. Because they woefully mistreated Judah, Edom was about to fall victim to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3—

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

During the Babylonian invasion, Edom should have come to the aid of Judah, but they did not. After the Babylonian invasion, Edom should have helped those who were left behind, but they did not. Not only did Edom stand idly by and not help, they willingly aided in the deportation of their brothers. This kind of conspiracy against a “brother” did not go unnoticed by God. Edom had behaved cold-heartedly in their betrayal of Judah.

b. Edom, scavenger of Israel, vs. 12—15

The Edomites were definitely guilty of “sins of omission,” for they stood by while the Judahites were carted off by the Babylonians. Despite the many ties and treaties Edom had with Judah, they, along with other nations, failed to help them when the Judahites needed them the most. But they were guilty of other sins, too.

You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble. (verse 12)

The prophet’s second issue with the Edomites was their attitude toward Judah and their predicament. They actually gloated and rejoiced over the misfortune of their brothers.

You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster, nor gloat over them in their calamity in the day of their disaster, nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster. (verse 13)

Sitting on the sidelines was bad enough, but the Edomites actually helped in the downfall of Jerusalem by looting it.

You should not wait at the crossroads to cut down their fugitives, nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble. (verse 14)

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, as the citizens of Judah fled the Babylonian hordes, the Edomites captured them and handed them over to the Babylonian army.

This prophet closes this part of his word with a reference to the “day of the Lord”:

The day of the LORD is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head. (verse 15)

Whenever a prophet, minor or major, starts talking about the “day of the Lord,” we know that he is now not only referring to the future of God’s people, Israel, but to the future of other nations as well. Very often, the prophet saw the immediate future of Israel mixed in with the far future of the nations of the world. And the “day of the Lord,” as all God’s people knew, would be a day that bring terrible darkness and judgment upon the world, but it would be day of light and salvation and joy for all God’s people.

Edom’s destruction would be real and complete—there is not a single Edomite alive today. But it would also trigger an escahtological event that would show the nations of the world how an unruly world would, one day, be restored to order.

The “Day of the Lord” was very near for the Edomites. It is near for us. What is the big lesson from the little letter: No human being, but especially believers, are to rationalize selfish conduct, assuming it can be justified before God and man because of circumstances. As far as God is concerned, nothing is ever “politically expedient.”

2. God hates oppression, Micah 2:1—5

Micah was in good company when he was actively proclaiming the Word of the Lord. He was working right alongside the likes of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Jonah. Even though Micah’s words aren’t as famous and quotable as some other prophets, at least to us, they must have made an impression. No less than a great prophet like Jeremiah was still quoting what Micah had written a century later (see Jeremiah 26:18, 19).

“Micah” means “Who is like the Lord,” and is a version of the more common “Michael” and “Michelle.” He came from an obscure village in Judah, Moresheth-gath, about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem, near the Philistine city of Gath. He ministered during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and the great Hezekiah. He did minister for a while to the northern kingdom’s capital, Samaria, before it fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC.

The people of Micah’s day were an incredibly religious bunch; religious, but not at all godly. While they would never miss a service at the Temple, it never occurred to them that they were obliged to practice their religion outside the Temple! Add to that the fact that the unprecedented peace, prosperity, and military conquests were coming to an end. The deaths of Jeroboam in the North and the Uzziah in the South and the rise of Tiglath-pileser III of Arryria spelled the end of both kingdoms, even though they didn’t know it yet.

But Micah, in spite of the declines of Israel and Judah and the prevailing ungodliness of the people, never despaired. Micah knew that the last word would not be spoken by the cruel oppressors of the people or by the cold, heartless kings and governing authorities that didn’t care for the citizens. He knew that God would have the last word.

a. Woe to the oppressors, vs. 1, 2

Chapter two begins with the word “woe,” and as we know, nothing good follows that word! This chapter continues God’s judgment against His rebellious people. Injustice was rampant in Judah. People took advantage other people, and they seemingly never stopped planning new and inventive ways to do that.

Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. (verse 1)

b. God will oppress the oppressors, vs. 3—5

I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves.” (verse 3a)

As far as Judah was concerned, the time for self-satisfaction was over and the time of disaster was about to begin. The law of reciprocity—reaping and sowing—is universal, and none can avoid it. Just as Obadiah had said, so the Lord said through Micah. Those who mistreated their brothers and sisters would not go unpunished. God hates all oppression. Human beings—all human beings—are created in God’s image and all human beings have rights given them by their Creator. Every human being, even those yet unsaved, are precious to Him and no one should ever take advantage of them in any way.

Therefore you will have no one in the assembly of the LORD to divide the land by lot. (verse 5)

To the powerful, to the rich and to the bully, this word was given. Our Lord taught in His famous Sermon on the Mount, that only the meek would inherit the earth. In that great future “assembly of the Lord,” the general land reforms of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years would finally find its consummation. When that happens, the “poor in spirit” will get their due:

LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. (Psalm 15:5, 6)

3. God delights in mercy, 7:14—20

After giving God’s message to His people, the prophet looked in vain for some sign of repentance in Judah.

What misery is mine! I am like one who gathers summer fruit at the gleaning of the vineyard; there is no cluster of grapes to eat, none of the early figs that I crave. (verse 1)

What terrible misery and grief was Micah’s as he not only found his message falling on deaf ears, but as he saw what was ahead for the people who refused to listen.

But all was not lost.

a. God will restore Israel, 7:14, 15

But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light. (verses 7, 8)

Micah remained faithful; he remained optimistic. The immediate future looked bleak indeed, so the prophet looked to the past for his hope for the future:

Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance, which lives by itself in a forest, in fertile pasturelands. Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead as in days long ago. “As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I will show them my wonders.” (verses 14, 15)

The prophet knew Israel would be restored some time in the future and he anticipated God’s manifested power at that time, just like in days gone by. Verse 15, in which God is speaking, confirms the fact that though it may appear otherwise, God was most definitely not finished with His people.

b. The oppressors would be eliminated, 7:16, 17

More reaping and sowing; only this time it would the nations that oppressed God’s people.

c. Never stop trusting in God, 7:18—20

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.

“Who is like God?” This is an oft-asked question in Scripture. It’s almost always asked in light of divine power and glory, with a sense of awe. But Micah asks the question for another reason. He’s not standing in awe of God’s power, but in awe of His great mercy.

Micah’s word is timeless; for every generation to hear it. It speaks of the essence of salvation, past, present and future. And it promises a hope for all mankind:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (5:2)

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

A SURVEY OF THE MINOR PROPHETS, Part 2

Joel: A Cry for Repentance

Because of its location in the Hebrew Bible, sandwiched between Hosea and Amos, we might think that Joel’s ministry occurred during the same time as those prophets, sometime during the eighth century B.C. However, Joel’s little book of big prophecy gives few hints as to when he ministered or when he wrote his book. Among Bible scholars, there is great debate as to when to date this work. Some place him in the ninth century B.C while others place him as late as the Maccabean Period, between the Old and New Testaments! It seems to us that Joel probably ministered early in the 800’s B.C., during the reign of King Joash, when Jehoiada was the high priest.

However, even though the date of Joel is uncertain, his message is timeless; this prophet speaks across the centuries to all the people of God who may be facing difficult and trying times.

1. God’s judgment on the unrepentant, 1:13—20

Joel” means “Jehovah is God,” and was a common name. About all we know about this prophet Joel is what we are told in verse 1:

The word of the LORD that came to Joel son of Pethuel.

That’s about it. After that briefest of introductions, Joel began his word from the Lord. It was His word, not Joel’s, and it was addressed to various groups of people, from the eldest citizen to the youngest, to give careful attention to it.

What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten. (vs. 4)

The collective memory of Judah could not recall such a devastating plague of locusts in the nation’s history. The locust swarm described in Joel was real, not symbolic, although this real locust swarm symbolized something very important. As frequently happens in the Old Testament, natural disasters are interpreted in light of God’s judgment on God’s people.

There are nine Old Testament Hebrew words for “locust,” and four of them are used in verse 4:

Gazam: cutting locusts
Arbeh: swarming locusts
yeleq: hopping locusts
chasil: destroying locusts

These are not four different species of locust, but four different stages in the life of the insect. Joel interprets this calamity as the judgment of God and he calls Judah to repentance. He challenges the seekers of pleasure to get sober so they can understand the seriousness of the plague of locusts. He warns the farmers, those most directly affected by the locusts, lament loudly their losses.

a. The Day of the Lord, vs. 13—15

Put on sackcloth, you priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God. Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD. Alas for that day! For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty.

After addressing the nation as a whole, Joel turns his attention the priests. Because this locust plague foreshadowed a much more drastic judgment to come—the invasion of a great nation—the prophet called for a solemn assembly to pray and repent. This is another common component of Old Testament prophecy: even in the midst of God’s judgment, there is always a hope and an opportunity for mercy and forgiveness.

In Hebrew history, the call for a national fast was extraordinary, but these extraordinary times demanded an extraordinary response from the people, and it was up to the priests, those closest to God, to make it happen.

b. The plague of locusts, vs. 16—18

Has not the food been cut off before our very eyes—joy and gladness from the house of our God? The seeds are shriveled beneath the clods. The storehouses are in ruins, the granaries have been broken down, for the grain has dried up. How the cattle moan! The herds mill about because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep are suffering.

The reason Joel wanted the nation to repent was because the Day of the Lord was just around the corner. As Joel used the term, it applied to his local, historical situation. The locust plague, though not part of the Day of the Lord, was really a warning of something much worse to come. The coming Day of the Lord would be time of terrible judgment for Israel and that time was immanent.

Verses 16—18 relate to the then-current situation caused by the literal locusts. The people had to pray and repent, not only on account of the coming Day of the Lord, but also because their present situation was terrible. The locusts left nothing alive in their wake. The devastation caused by the locusts not only wreaked havoc on the physical landscape of Judah, but it affected the worship in the “house of God.” There were no animals to sacrifice and no oil and no wine.

c. The need for intervention, vs. 19—10

To you, LORD, I call, for fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness and flames have burned up all the trees of the field. Even the wild animals pant for you; the streams of water have dried up and fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness.

In the face of the darkness around him, Joel cried out to God from his heart for help. Notice that Joel does not blame the Devil for the dire circumstances Judah found itself in, nor does he expect repentance to save the nation. Instead, Joel’s prayer stresses the fact that in the midst of trial and tribulation, God was the only One the people could turn to. This may seem odd because Israel’s impending judgment is coming directly from God! But God’s judgment of His people is never cold or callous or a result of rage or hatred. God’s judgment always has a purpose, and in this case, He wanted His people to turn to Him.

2. Evidences of true repentance, 2:12—17

Joel begins this part of his prophecy with a description of the Day of the Lord:

Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. It is close at hand—a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come. (vs. 1, 2)

Many Bible scholars believe that the prophet Joel actually coined the phrase “Day of the Lord.” It is an eschatalogical phrase, referring to a great day of judgment afar off in the future of mankind. For Joel, as he watched the plague of locusts, his mind looked forward, to a time in the future of his people. The locusts of Joel’s day foreshadowed a mighty army, probably the Assyrians, which God would use to judge His rebellious people.  But it meant even more than that.

a. Return to the Lord, vs. 12—14

Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing— grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God.

Here is God’s desperate plea to His people to national repentance. Israel can avert coming  judgment if only they would sincerely turn to God in repentance and mourning.

The nation was to turn with their whole collective hearts because they were all considered guilty. Every element of true repentance may be seen: fasting, weeping, and mourning. Those were external manifestations of repentance, but more was needed; the people needed to repent on the inside as well. They were to “rend their hearts.” God’s primary requirement has always been something many people seem unwilling to give Him: a broken heart.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

Sometimes a heart must be broken so that it can be remade into the kind of heart that beats for God. Sometimes God may use the hard times to correct our ways, to refine us, and ultimately purify us. Other times, the Lord will use the tough times draw us closer to Him or equip us to serve others. One thing is certain. If you do not have a Biblical worldview, in the midst of a trial you probably won’t see any reason for it. This is why there is so much non-biblical thinking in regards to suffering. The Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles understood something we had better: no Christian is exempt from hardship and life is seldom trouble-free.

b. A solemn assembly, vs. 15—17

Spare your people, LORD. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (vs. 17)

Back in 2:1, a trumpet was blown to sound an alarm, but here it is blown to call all the people together. They were called together to hear the Word of the Lord so that they might repent and turn to Him. Joel is explicit in his demand for repentance as a condition of restoration:

  • The condition: the nation was to turn with all its heart, 2:12—13;

  • The response: the grace, mercy, and kindness of God, 2:13

  • The conclusion: the restoration of the covenant, 2:14

But all this hinged on the people genuinely coming before the Lord in repentance.

The issue was not avoidance of trouble, but returning to a right relationship with God. Here is another lesson for the modern believer. God may choose to take the threat away from you or he may choose to allow you to go through some tough times. No matter what, your only hope is in Him. When the Assyrians threatened Jerusalem, God answered King Hezekiah’s prayers and spared the city. But several generations later, the Word of God to the prophet Jeremiah was that Jerusalem was doomed; that there would be no escape this time. But even in their Babylonian exile, God’s Word through Jeremiah and other prophets was that their deliverance would come; that they had a future and their hope was in Him.

3. Repentance brings restoration, 2:18—27

a. God’s response to repentance, vs. 18—20

Then the LORD was jealous for his land and took pity on his people. The LORD replied to them: “I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil, enough to satisfy you fully; never again will I make you an object of scorn to the nations. “I will drive the northern horde far from you, pushing it into a parched and barren land; its eastern ranks will drown in the Dead Sea and its western ranks in the Mediterranean Sea. And its stench will go up; its smell will rise.”

The little word “then” is important. It means, “not now, but then.” In His Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24—25), Jesus used the word “then” to indicate that He was teaching the disciples about a time in the future: then, not now, certain things would come to pass. Joel is doing the same thing.

This group of verses contain promises of a restored economy and the restoration of Israel’s agricultural sector after the plague of locusts and the drought. As is the case with many other promises in the Old Testament, some promises were fulfilled more or less immediately in the life of the prophet, and others, often spoken right alongside, have yet to be fulfilled. These are the “then” promises.

It is clear that God has taken pity on His people, and that He will restore the land in Joel’s present, but more would happen “then,” in the far future.

b. A psalm of praise, vs 21—24

This group of verses represents Joel’s spontaneous outburst of praise.

Surely he has done great things! (verse 20b)

The “great” or “marvelous” things are what caused the prophet to pause and praise. It’s important to praise God for the good things in our lives. According to the New Testament, every good thing comes from Him. We ought never be ashamed to give thanks to God when we prosper.

c. Restoration after exile, vs. 25—27

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm—my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the LORD your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed.

The land would be restored, yes, but now take notice that the very real locusts are compared to an army that will march across the land. What is significant here, though, is that it will be the Lord’s army! God will use a foreign army, the dreaded Assyrians, as a tool of judgment upon the nation. But after that period of judgment, restoration will come and it will last forever.

Here is the confusing nature of Biblical prophecy. There seems to several time lines going on here with no distinction between them. The locusts were a present hardship for the people and because the people repented, the Lord would restore the land from the damage caused by those locusts. But at the same time, the locusts are compared to the Assyrian army, which would eventually destroy the land. But, the Lord’s promises of restoration include the restoration that would take place after the Exile, during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. But there is yet another, future component to the words of Joel that speak of a permanent restoration that will occur in OUR future!

The depths of God’s word are deep, indeed.

(c) 2011 WitzEnd

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