Joel is a prophet that speaks with verbal images of what God’s people must do to be saved from the pull of the culture around them. The Chosen must be redeemed of their sins of ignoring God, replacing God with idols, and completely turning their back on the One and Only God who loved them first and chose to love them completely, providing daily all they needed.
When disaster strikes, understanding of God is at risk. Unexpected illness or death, national catastrophe, social disruption, personal loss, plague or epidemic, devastation by flood or drought, turn men and women who haven’t given God a thought in years into instant theologians.
Rumors fly: “God is absent”, “God is angry”, “God playing favorite, and I’m not the favorite”, “God is ineffectual” or “God is holding a grudge from a long time ago, and now we’re paying for it”.
It is the task of the prophet to stand up at such moments of catastrophe and clarify who God is and how he acts. If the prophet is good—that is, accurate and true—the disaster becomes a lever for praying peoples’ lives loose from their sins and setting them free for God. Joel is one of the good ones: He used a current event in Israel as a text to call his people to an immediate awareness that there wasn’t a day that went by that they weren’t dealing with God. We are always dealing with God!
Joel, The Message
Get in Touch with Reality—and Weep!
1-3 God’s Message to Joel son of Pethuel:
Attention, elder statesmen! Listen closely,
everyone, whoever and wherever you are!
Have you ever heard of anything like this?
Has anything like this ever happened before—ever?
Make sure you tell your children,
and your children tell their children,
And their children their children.
Don’t let this message die out.
4 What the chewing locust left,
the gobbling locust ate;
What the gobbling locust left,
the munching locust ate;
What the munching locust left,
the chomping locust ate.
5-7 Sober up, you drunks!
Get in touch with reality—and weep!
Your supply of booze is cut off.
You’re on the wagon, like it or not.
My country’s being invaded
by an army invincible, past numbering,
Teeth like those of a lion,
fangs like those of a tiger.
It has ruined my vineyards,
stripped my orchards,
And clear-cut the country.
The landscape’s a moonscape.
8-10 Weep like a young virgin dressed in black,
mourning the loss of her fiancé.
Without grain and grapes,
worship has been brought to a standstill
in the Sanctuary of God.
The priests are at a loss.
God’s ministers don’t know what to do.
The fields are sterile.
The very ground grieves.
The wheat fields are lifeless,
vineyards dried up, olive oil gone.
11-12 Dirt farmers, despair!
Grape growers, wring your hands!
Lament the loss of wheat and barley.
All crops have failed.
Vineyards dried up,
fig trees withered,
Pomegranates, date palms, and apple trees—
And joy is dried up and withered
in the hearts of the people.
Nothing’s Going On in the Place of Worship
13-14 And also you priests,
put on your robes and join the outcry.
You who lead people in worship,
lead them in lament.
Spend the night dressed in gunnysacks,
you servants of my God.
Nothing’s going on in the place of worship,
no offerings, no prayers—nothing.
Declare a holy fast, call a special meeting,
get the leaders together,
Round up everyone in the country.
Get them into God’s Sanctuary for serious prayer to God.
15-18 What a day! Doomsday!
God’s Judgment Day has come.
The Strong God has arrived.
This is serious business!
Food is just a memory at our tables,
as are joy and singing from God’s Sanctuary.
The seeds in the field are dead,
Grain silos abandoned.
Who needs them? The crops have failed!
The farm animals groan—oh, how they groan!
The cattle mill around.
There’s nothing for them to eat.
Not even the sheep find anything.
19-20 God! I pray, I cry out to you!
The fields are burning up,
The country is a dust bowl,
forest and prairie fires rage unchecked.
Wild animals, dying of thirst,
look to you for a drink.
Springs and streams are dried up.
The whole country is burning up.
WHAT DO WE LEARN—HOW DO WE RESPOND?
A disaster has pressed them into a deeper relationship with God. What is pressing you right now into a deeper relationship with God? What decisions are you making that need God’s wisdom? Are you turning to Him for help, to leaning on your own understanding, or relying on the world for solutions? The answers will expose the depth of our trust and faith in God, right?
The locust event that created a national disaster was used to portray what God’s people must do—decide who they will love, serve, and worship completely. Joel projected on the big screen, using the locust plague to focus the reality of God in the lives of his people. Then he expanded the focus to include everything and everyone everywhere—the whole world crowded into Decision Valley for God’s verdict. This powerful picture has kept God’s people alert to the eternal consequences of their decisions for many centuries.
“There is a sense in which catastrophe doesn’t introduce anything new into our lives. It simply exposes the moral or spiritual reality that already exists but was hidden beneath an overlay of routine, self-preoccupation, and business as usual. Then suddenly, there it is before us: a moral universe in which our accumulated decisions—on what we say and do, on how we treat others, on whether or not we will obey God’s commands—are set in the stark light of God’s judgement.” (Eugene Peterson, Intro to Joel)
In our everyday experience, right and wrong and the decisions we make about them seldom come to us neatly packaged and precisely defined. Joel’s prophetic words continue to reverberate down through the generations, making the ultimate connection between anything, small or large, that disrupts our daily routine, and God, giving us fresh opportunity to reorient our lives in faithful obedience. Joel gives us opportunity for “deathbed repentance” before we die, while there is still time and space for a lot of good living to the glory of God!
God is still God and always will be God. We are not. Love, trust, obey God with consistent communion with God in all of life—in good times and bad.
We look forward to meditating and taking to heart what your prophet Joel will be teaching us. I love you, Lord with all that is in me. Teach me, Lord. I am yours.
In Jesus Name, Amen