The Message of Joel
Minor Prophets Series (#3)
In the last several years we have seen a much destruction in our nation. The big headlines have been the L.A. riots, hurricane Andrew and devastating floods. Another force which is at work as well to undermined our peace and security is crime; which includes the drug trade, gang warfare and general disrespect for law. Moral principles which once guided our nation are being cast aside and I fear our nation is suffering the consequences.
Of course, not all is bad. There are still bright spots. Along with the looters and hucksters that appear at disasters are the givers which lend aid. There are still those who choose to live by a higher standard, and for this we are thankful. But still, generally the drift is away from these standards and principles.
Are these events God's wake up call to our nation? Are they His way of getting our attention? Will worse things follow if our nation does not heed the warning? Any answer I give, yes or no, would be speculation because I am not a prophet but only a preacher. I do not receive direct, special revelations from God, I simply teach Scriptures as is according to God's plan (II TIMOTHY 2:15; 3:16,17; 4:1-5). However, I see from the Scriptures how God has dealt with nations of the past undergoing similar moral and spiritual digressions. For example, the prophet Joel took God's announcement of His judgment upon the nation of Judah during that nation's drift. It is easy to see some parallels.
The Initial Judgment
"The word of the Lord that came to the prophet Joel...Hear this, O elders, and listen, all inhabitants of the land. Has anything like this happened in your days or in your fathers' days?...What the gnawing locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten; and what the swarming locust has left, the creeping locust has eaten...The field is ruined, the land mourns, for the grain is ruined...The seeds shrivel up under the clods; the storehouses are desolate..." (JOEL 1:1-2;4- ;10;17). The people of Joel's days had never seen such natural devastation. First, the crops were wiped out by waves of locusts sweeping the land. Also drought accompanied the locusts (1:12) and fires raged out of control (1:19). The cattle and sheep had no pasture (1:18) and the brooks dried up (1:20).
Joel was sent by God to announce the reason behind these calamities. Centuries before the Lord had told the people through Moses what would be the consequences if they broke their faith and turned away from God (DEUTERONOMY 28:21;23;38). The Lord's patience had run out and the people of Joel's day were seeing the beginnings of Divine judgment.
The Causes of Judgment
"Now it shall be that if you diligently obey the Lord your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you this day, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth...But if it shall come about, if you do not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you." (DEUTERONOMY 28:1;15). The people had ceased allowing God to be their light. There were still religious people in the land. Many had returned to paganism and the worship of nature and graven images. Others continued a warped form of Judaism which was not at all pleasing to God. And some had just become so occupied with luxury and leisure that they had little time for any religion at all. Unlike previous generations where the majority were interested and committed in their faith, the faithful of Joel's day were in the small minority. The nation had been blessed by God. Now, according to Joel, He was withdrawing the good He had done for them. I certainly do not need to spell out the parallels with our own day; to do so would be to state the obvious.
A Call to Repentance
"'Yet even now,' declares the Lord, 'Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.' Now return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness, and relenting of evil." (JOEL 2:12-13). Even now it was not too late for Judah. It was not a time for lip service or crocodile tears. Empty ritual was not enough. It was time for a genuine return unto God. "Return to Me with all your heart...rend your heart and not your garments." The rending of a garment was done to show sorrow or repentance. But doing so just for symbolism is not enough. Symbols do not mean much if genuine actions do not follow. Likewise today: what good does it do to sing God Bless America or print In God we trust on our coins if we are intent on rejecting His moral and spiritual counsel? Symbols are important only if they truly show what is on the heart.
Also, it is important to note that God is always quick to forgive and bless. He does not delight in our failures. He urges repentance, but at the same time He will not force it. If a nation decides it can do better without God, He will abide by their decision. But a nation cannot do better without God's help. In our own nation, the further we drift from God the worse things seem to get.
"They have cast lots for My people, traded a boy for a harlot, and sold a girl for wine that they may drink. Moreover, what are you to Me, O Tyre, Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia? Are you rendering Me a recompense? But if you do recompense Me, swiftly and speedily I will return your recompense on your head...put in the sickle for the harvest is ripe. Come, tread for the winepress is full; the vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon grow dark, and the stars lose their brightness." (JOEL 3:3- 4;13-15). This warning is to those who had persecuted God's people. They had cast lots for them and sold them into slavery. They had ridiculed them, their faith, their manner of life and their God. The Lord pictures their evil as filling up a winepress and is now beginning to overflow. He announces that He has reached a decision, or verdict. His patience is extinguished and the sickle of His judgment is in His hand. The sun, moon and stars growing dark symbolize the hopelessness of those who had lived so wickedly.
Today it also seems as if those who try to live faithfully before God are mocked and ridiculed. While laws are being passed to protect the "rights" of those who would speak evil of Christians, other laws are also being passed prohibiting Christians from speaking of the things important to them. The vats of wickedness had overflowed in Judah's day bringing God's judgment. How close to full are those vats today?
A Message of Hope to the Faithful
"And it will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will see dream dreams, your young men will see visions...And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those that escape, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls." (JOEL 2:28-32). Joel was not only a prophet of doom, but also of hope. He blends in the promises made to the faithful of Joel's day with Messianic promises to be fulfilled in Christ. Indeed, we find the fulfillment of the above verses centuries later when the apostles stood in Jerusalem and first proclaimed salvation in the name of the newly resurrected Lord Jesus. The age of the gospel had dawned and the Lord began saving the remnant. Peter announced that Joel's prophecy was being fulfilled (ACTS 2:16-21) and when the people asked what they must do in calling upon the name of the Lord they were told: "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (ACTS 2:38). Our hope lies in Christ Jesus. God's spiritual and eternal blessings are only to be found in Him. Nations come and go, but the one who does the will of God abides forever.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 4.3; March 1997