Posts Tagged 'Joel'

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.

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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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