Highlights from the Book of Joel
2003-09-26 – “God in the midst of disaster.”
What the locust swarm has left, the great locusts have eatenWhat the great locusts have left, the young locusts have eatenWhat the young locusts have left, the other locusts have eaten. Joe1:4
Eugene Petersen points out that Joel is a good prophet – he accurately reveals God even in the midst of tragedy and disaster. When disasters strike our world or our society, all sorts of pictures of God emerge and many of these are not helpful – Some see God as being absent, others see Him as punishing, and others as impotent.The occasion of this prophecy is a devastating plague of locusts, and this becomes a platform to convey aspects of God’s nature to His people. May it be that we will learn that God is _always_ present and _always_ speaking, whether in the good times or the bad.The meaning of the four Hebrew words used to describe the locusts here is uncertain. Maybe one could translate them as the red, green, blue, and yellow locusts. Or maybe the chomping, munching, gobbling, and chewing locusts! The point, however, is crystal clear: The disaster was completely devastating and complete. One thing after another went wrong and it just can’t get worse.Have you ever been there? Joel has! And he is not afraid to articulate faith in God, and he does not hesitate to represent the comfortable and uncomfortable aspects of God’s nature. What is significant here is that Joel speaks on God’s behalf and it is God Himself who walks in the naked fields and orchards shaking His head at the devastation. Even when disaster is the result of our sin, God is there.When we have been stripped naked and left with nothing, God is not far away – He is with us. He sees the devastation and the tragedy – He can name the locusts, even when we can’t. When we feel like we’ve been chomped, munched, guzzled, and chewed, He knows our suffering and we will see that He has plans for our restoration and renewal.
2003-09-29 – “What disaster does…”
To you, O Lord, I call, for fire has devoured the open pastures and flames have burned the trees of the field Joe1:19
It seems as though final disaster after the locusts had chomped, munched, guzzled, and chewed was that the dry bits that remained then succumbed to a a devastating fire. The tragedy was now as far-reaching as could possibly have been imagined.The result? They call on God. Maybe the real tragedy about this disaster is that this is what it took to get them to turn to God! Can it be that comfort, complacency, and routine can so dull our hearts that we lose contact with Him? Could it be that God will _allow_ disaster (although He is not its author) to come into our lives to jolt us awake? Could it be that this is what it took to get Israel to open her eyes and realise that “the coffee was cold?”We are often guilty of asking the wrong questions when trouble strikes. We ask “Why did this happen?” or “What have I done to deserve this?” And although we can ask these questions, and the Psalms are full of examples of these questions being asked, they are still the wrong questions. The most important question has to do with my relationship with God and what He is saying to me.It the risk of sounding simplistic or unappreciative of the magnitude of pain that disaster causes, it remains – at its most basic level – a “reality check” : A challenge for us find the real God in the midst of real circumstances. When we are comfortable, God becomes a construct of our own idealised thinking. Tragedy and suffering often purge us of “comfortable” pictures of God. We are forced by suffering to revise our view of a Deity who will not hesitate to shake our physical comforts in order to make better people of us. In the Narnia Chronicles by CS Lewis which is a children’s allegory about Christ and Faith in which Christ is portrayed as Aslan the Lion, one of the characters asks about Aslan and gets this answer: “Safe? Aslan is not safe, but He is good!”
2003-09-30 – “The Day of the Lord”
Blow the trumpet in Zion Sound the alarm on my holy hillLet all who live in the land tremble for the Day of the Lord is comingIt is close at hand…The Lord thunders at the head of His army, His forces are beyond numberAnd mighty are those who obey His commandThe day of the Lord is great ; it is dreadfulWho can endure it? Joe2:1-11
So far we have received comfort from Joel’s commentary on the locust plague, but there is another aspect that must be understood… There is a sense that this relentless, unstoppable, uncompromising locust swarm is a reminder and symbol of the reality of God’s judgement. There will come a day – the Day – when the scales of the nations will be balanced and God will judge the nations, There have been shadows of this day in history – Egypt suffered the plagues (one of them was a locust plague,) the Northern tribes of Israel collapsed in 721BC, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586BC and the Romans did it again in 70AD. Whenever a nation is destroyed or disaster strikes it should be a clear reminder to us that there will be Judgement Day and that what we are experiencing now _may_ just be part of the self-inflicted judgment we inflict on ourselves. (Judgement is never a case of God giving us something we don’t deserve – that’s what grace and mercy are!)But God thunders at the head of the army, this is not just a mechanistic system of cause and effect. In some sense, God’s presence at the head of the army actually gives a sense that He is still in control. The army of judgement will march against us, but as Jeremiah (sitting in the ruins of Jerusalem in Lamentations 3) says: “Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed.” Put another way – “God was at the head of the army, holding it back so that we are not destroyed. He still has a plan for us, and we are still here!”Put another way, the brokeness of our world and our relationships that manifest as disaster and tragedy, are a reminder of the wound of sin that rests on us and on the world. God has a plan to deal that wound: Judgement. And before we think Him cruel and callous, let us remember that Judgement exercised its most devasting blow on the cross where Jesus died.
2003-10-01 – “Heart-rending”
“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.” Joe2:12-13
This is one of the most poignant calls to repentance in Scripture and it seems inappropriate to detract from the power of the words with commentary, so this will be short:1.When disaster and tragedy barge through the barriers and idols that we have set up and our false gods are lying in pieces on the ground, it is a good time to repent. Let us not delay.2.God is after our hearts – in Hebrew thinking the heart is not the seat of emotions, but the control centre of life.3.It must be real. Rending your garments was a flamboyant outward show of repentance but it could be false.4. God is slow to anger, and abounding in love. His “modus operandi” in dealing with us is that He wants to “abound” love in our lives and He will only send calamity if nothing else will get our attention!Now read the passage again slowly…
2003-10-02 – “Restoration: Repaying the chomped years”
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 armythat I sent amongst you. Joe2:25
The last two thoughts from Joel that we will be looking at can be summarised as Restoration and Renewal. In the light of tragedy and disaster, God’s repentant children have the promise of restoration. When hardship brings us back to God we can be certain that He is ready to heal us and restore us. This is not only in the life hereafter, but a promise that those who return to Him will be comforted and uplifted.God is pretty specific here – He once again names the four different kinds of locusts. The implication is clear: Although He has allowed disaster to befall us, and although He has marched at the head of the army, God has kept clear accounts: He knows what the damage is that has been done and it grieves Him so much that He is longing to bring restoration.Restoration is not the same as reversal. We will be repaid for the years that the locusts have eaten – we do not necessarily get the years back – we are repaid. Sometimes this repayment comes in the form of character, faith, and comfort and at other times this comes in the form of a new job, a new relationship, or a new opportunity. The key point to make is that the new is not to replace the old, because the new is different. The new will fill the gap of what was lost, but it will be different. Restoration is about a new beginning and I have seen God bring restoration to many who have held onto Him through the difficult times.
2003-10-03 – “Renewal”
And afterward I will pour out my Spirit on all peopleYour Sons and Daughters will prophesy,your old men will dream dreams and your young men see visionsEven on my servants both men and women I will pour out my Spirit in those days. Joe2:28-29
Yesterday we saw that restoration follows disaster for those who return to Him, but there is more: When the realisation of our brokeness and our need brings us to a place where we truly rend our hearts and not just our garments then God will do something wonderful – He will renew us.Not content to restore only our circumstances, God will actually help _us_ to change – to become better people. He will equip us, He will fill us, He will inspire us, and He will transform us by the powerful working of His Spirit in us.The way in which Joel describes to effects of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is that God’s people will be given a new excitement about God – they will prophesy (proclaim God’s truth) and see dreams and have visions (be motivated by a new and clear picture of God)God has no favourites when it comes to this outpouring. Unusually for the Old Testament, which written in the context of a patriarchal culture, Joel specifically uses gender-inclusive language and points out that the outpouring will be for all: Men and Women, Young and Old, Rich and Poor. All people are of equal value in God’s eyes and He brings new hope and vision to a people who had given up on their dreams.In the 1960s the church experienced a locust plague: The universities and theologians had declared “God is dead”, “Religion is the opiate for the masses”, and “We have out-evolved our need for God.” It seemed as though there was no future for the church but in the early 70’s people began to search for God and the charismatic renewal burst forth, bringing about new life – not just in the birth of the charismatic churches – but in mainline churches too. The church all over the world has experienced a new dynamism, hope, and life as a result of God’s powerful working through the outpouring of the Spirit.After the disaster of Jesus’ death on the cross came the restoration through His resurrection and then came the renwal at pentecost in the powerful outpuring of His Spirit and the incredible new life and growth of the church that spread from that small group of disciples to the rest of the world!Disaster, Repentence, Restoration, and Renewal. We are responsible for the first two, God in His mercy gives us the last two!