Archive for the ‘Joel’ Category

The Future’s So Bright…

Posted: June 10, 2017 in Joel, Uncategorized

Joel 2:18 – 3:21, “The Future’s So Bright…”

“The future’s so bright…I gotta wear shades.”  That’s the way some of the promises of the Bible can seem.  Things may look dark now, but the future looks to be amazingly awesome!  It’s so bright, we’ve got to wear shades.

That’s certainly the case for Christians, as we look forward to the incredible promises we have in Christ Jesus.  He’s promised to come and receive us to Himself, in a home that He’s been building for the past 2000 years.  He’s made us His co-heirs in His eternal inheritance, we’ve been promised crowns of glory, we’ve been given new names & new natures, and (best of all) we will be united with Jesus in a marriage relationship so incredible that human marriage provides merely shadows and glimpses of what is yet to come.  The Church has awesome promises in the future!

That’s the Church, but what about Israel?  Do they have anything to which they can look forward?  Yes!  The Bible is chock-full of promises of future blessings for Israel, many of which have some sort of correlation to the blessings that will be experienced by the Church.  But never let it be said that Israel is forgotten by God, or replaced in His eyes!  There is a definite future for Israel, and it is wonderful.

Some of those promises are in view in the latter half of the book of Joel.  The first half looked at judgment; the second looks at blessing.  The first half looked at discipline; the second half looks at restoration.

The book began abruptly, without any note of the time-period or background of the prophet.  Joel simply begins speaking, and he sounds a warning to anyone in Judah who would hear him.  There had been a terrible locust swarm in the land, one that left the crops and economy in ruins.  Joel proclaimed that as bad as it was, it was merely a foretaste of what would happen when a future army swept across the countryside, destroying everything in its path.  Scholars debate the identity of this army (with it depending on when Joel lived & wrote), but it is clear that there are at least two armies in view.  There is the one that was about to overwhelm Judah in the present day, and there was another that was expected to come in during the fateful Day of the Lord in the end-times.  Joel foresaw a time when Jerusalem would be overrun, with soldiers running over the walls like a swarm of insects, all brought in by the Lord as His instrument of judgment and wrath.  As Joel wrote in 2:11, that day would be “great and very terrible; who can endure it?”

In light of these two expressions of certain judgment, the call went out for God’s people to repent.  They weren’t to simply go through the motions, doing ritualistic practices; they were to turn to God with all their heart, trusting in the goodness & graciousness of God.  All the people from all over the land were to gather in unified purpose to seek the Lord, knowing that even the worst judgment might be something from which God might relent.

It’s at this point in the prophecy that things start to change.  What would be the response to a repentant people?  What might the Jews expect from their gracious God?  Glorious results!  The promise God gives them is one of incredible grace.  God knew His people would be rebellious and would face certain doom in many ways – but He also knew that eventually they would repent, and God promised to pour out His salvation in abundance.  The blessings of God flow freely upon the people of God, when they are humble & repentant – and that is exactly what is promised to Israel.

God was going to bless them, and the blessings given unto them would overflow to the rest of the world.  Their future was bright…bright, indeed!

Joel 2:18–32

  • Healing: God restores His people (2:18-27)

18 Then the LORD will be zealous for His land, And pity His people. 19 The LORD will answer and say to His people, “Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, And you will be satisfied by them; I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations.

  • This is the answer to the question of 2:17.  In the repentance of the people, they were supposed to call upon the character and nature of God according to His promise, asking for His help & deliverance.  It was for His own fame and glory that God would rise up on their behalf.  The Jews weren’t worthy of God’s action, but God Himself is.  Why should the nations have reason to wonder where God is, in regard to His people?  The clear answer from verse 18: God is here & He is active!
  • God is not dispassionate towards His people.  On the contrary, He is “zealous” for them like a husband for his wife.  There is a renewed compassion for His covenant people as He pities them & spares them from the judgment they deserved.
  • The picture here is of internal & external blessings.  Internally, they have a renewal of their crops & economy.  Notice the restoration from 1:10: “grain and new wine and oil.”  All that the locusts (and future armies) had wiped out was now regrown.  Once more the nation was equipped to worship God through grain & drink offerings.  Externally, they are no longer a “reproach among the nations.”  Their public humiliation is rolled back, as they are once more in the favor of Almighty God.
  • Part of the external blessings is the Lord’s protection of Israel from their enemies.  Vs. 20…

20 “But I will remove far from you the northern army, And will drive him away into a barren and desolate land, With his face toward the eastern sea And his back toward the western sea; His stench will come up, And his foul odor will rise, Because he has done monstrous things.”

  • God had brought the army in; now He would drive them out.  Just as with the prophecy of Gog & Magog from Ezekiel 38, God does the same with this unidentified army.  (Be it the Babylonians, or an unnamed army during the Great Tribulation)  At one time, this army overwhelmed Judah like a swarm of locusts, but now God drove them far away into desolation.
  • And they deserved it!  Even though this had been God’s army, it doesn’t mean that they were excused from their own sin.  What they did was still odious in the nostrils of God.  God never excuses the sins of the unrepentant.  He may use pagans as His tool for judgment, but as long as they remain pagan, they are responsible for their own actions.  The only solution to sin is the grace of Jesus – no matter now those sins might be used by the Lord God.
  • How bad were their deeds?  They were “monstrous.”  That’s a very loose translation of the word, though it is not inappropriate to the context.  NASB, ESV, & NIV all translate it literally as “great.”  “Great” is not a moralistic judgment; it’s a comparison of size & grandeur.  And it’s that grandeur that Joel contrasts with the deeds of the Lord God…

21 Fear not, O land; Be glad and rejoice, For the LORD has done marvelous things!

  • Marvelous” is also a contextual gloss – a loose translation of the exact same word for “great.”  But the idea of one being “monstrous” while the other is “marvelous,” gets the basic point across.  The great deeds of God are greater than even the best efforts of the world.  The great deeds of God are greater than the best efforts of the devil.  God is simply greater…period.
  • In light of that, what was Israel’s reaction to be?  Joyful confidence!  No more fear…

22 Do not be afraid, you beasts of the field; For the open pastures are springing up, And the tree bears its fruit; The fig tree and the vine yield their strength. 23 Be glad then, you children of Zion, And rejoice in the LORD your God; For He has given you the former rain faithfully, And He will cause the rain to come down for you— The former rain, And the latter rain in the first month. 24 The threshing floors shall be full of wheat, And the vats shall overflow with new wine and oil.

  • Remember that the “fig tree” and “vine” are pictures of Israel. (1:7)  Before, they lay in ruins; now they are blessed and fruitful.  No longer did the people of Judah have reason to fear extermination – no longer did even the bests of the field have reason to fear desolation and hunger.  God removed all reason for fear when He gave them His grace.
    • What do you fear?  Why?  As a born-again Christian, what reason do you possibly have?  Yes, we have troubles, trials, and tribulations – yes, we have a spiritual enemy who hates us & worldly enemies that work against us.  But we still have no reason for fear.  We belong to the Most High God!  We’ve been bought with the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ!  We’ve been sealed & indwelt by God the Holy Spirit Himself!  We have no cause for fear – He has removed that from us when He brought us into His grace.  We are blessed beyond measure…even during the times that we cannot see His blessings.  Fear not, but rejoice in the Lord your God!
  • Question: was Israel to rejoice in their blessings?  No.  Their blessings were reason for joy, but the primary object of their joy is the Lord.  “Rejoice in the LORD your God.”  We thank God for the gifts we have received – we give Him credit for the blessings we enjoy – but we do not rejoice in those blessings.  Those blessings are not the things we seek.  We seek the Lord our God – we seek to live in His grace – we seek to walk in unfettered relationship with Him.
  • That said, the blessings would be abundant!  It would be overflowing.  Everything that they had lost in the past would be restored to the uttermost, with them having even more than what they had at the beginning.
    • Like Job.  He had lost everything he held dear, including his health and his children.  But God restored him, and abundantly so!  Job 42:12, "Now the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys."  Goes on to speak of his children & other blessings.  Can those children be replaced?  Of course not – but the idea is clear: God gave more to Job than what he had in the past.  It didn’t remove the pain of the past, but it certainly provided for him a glorious future.

25 “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, The crawling locust, The consuming locust, And the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you.

  • In Chapter 1, it was declared that this was what was lost.  Now there is a total reversal of what was listed in 1:4.  God promised to restore them.  What does restoration look like?  Wholeness.  The Hebrew verb is the same root from which we get the word “Shalom / peace / completeness.” (שָׁלֵם )  When God restores, He makes His people whole.  For Israel, it was restoring them to that place of blessing & favor in His sight.  It was a literal physical restoration of the land, their kingdom, and their economic prosperity.  For us, we are made whole in Christ Jesus.  We are restored from dead men & women walking to living, breathing, creations of the Most High God.
  • Restoration happens even in terms of discipline.  What was lost can be regained!  This is impossible from the point of view of men.  Years lost are lost forever – there’s no recovering decades of sinful living or re-doing youthful years of parenthood, etc.  What’s gone is gone…at least, humanly speaking.  But nothing is impossible with God!  Parents who lost years with their children can have relationships miraculously restored.  Time that seems forever gone can be transformed into future years better than we could have possibly imagined.
    • What have you lost?  God can restore it!  He can make you whole.  Trust Him for it!  So often, we lose something & then we lose hope.  Believers in Christ never need lose hope!  The restoration may come in a different form than what we can think in this present time, but there’s no question that when people who are submitted to God place themselves in the hands of God, restoration can come!

26 You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, And praise the name of the LORD your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you; And My people shall never be put to shame. 27 Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the LORD your God And there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame.

  • Earlier, it was God’s army & God’s discipline.  The Jews had experienced God’s focused hand of His wrath.  Now it is God’s grace.  They will be satisfied in their bodies & in their spirits.  Their restoration & wholeness is seen in far more than the physical land of Israel, but in their praise of God. 
  • No more shame – no more isolation.  No more being removed from God’s attention & blessing.  Now He looks upon His people as they look to Him.  They are promised a total restored relationship with Him – He is the LORD their God!
    • Question: how is isolation possible for God’s people if He promises never to leave us nor forsake us?  Answer: we isolate ourselves from Him.  This is what happens in our sin.  We shut our eyes to our heavenly Father as we turn away from Him to serve ourselves.  That’s why we need to “repent” – to “re-turn” to God.  What we’ll find is that He never left us, even when we had left Him.
  • Interesting trivia: the remaining verses in Chapter 2 are actually counted as a separate chapter in the Hebrew text.  Our English Bibles follow the example of the Latin Vulgate, which combined the Hebrew chapters 2 & 3 together.  Our English Chapter 3 is actually the Hebrew Chapter 4.  Obviously chapter breaks aren’t inspired, but the Hebrew chapter division seems to make better sense.  The following promises are so amazingly good that they are set apart by themselves. J
  • Outpouring: God gives the Spirit and salvation (2:28-32)

28 “And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. 29 And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.

  • Should be recognizable from Acts 2, as Peter quoted this entire chapter during his sermon on the day of Pentecost. Acts 2:16–17, "(16) But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: (17) ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams."  The disciples had all been speaking in tongues, and those from foreign lands heard these Christians praising God in their own languages.  What was going on?  It was a move of the Holy Spirit.  God poured out His Spirit on all flesh, exactly as He had promised through the prophet.
  • All flesh” – really?  All flesh = all believers.  “All flesh” is appropriate in the context of “all flesh who trust in God.”  The whole idea is that no one is left out.  Everyone experiences the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit.
  • How does this work today?  We need to keep the different ministries of the Holy Spirit in view.  “With, in, upon.”  He is among the world of non-believers, convicting them of sin, righteousness, & judgment.  He is “with” those seeking after Jesus, guiding us into all truth. (Jn 14:17)  He is “in” us the moment we become born-again believers. (Jn 20:22)  He comes upon us with power to equip us for ministry. (Acts 1:8)  In this last experience, it happens a first time (the baptism), but it also happens again & again (the filling).  It’s this final experience that is debated among Christians, as to whether it always happens for everyone at conversion, or if it takes place subsequent to it.  Whatever someone’s viewpoint of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, there is no doubt in the New Testament that the filling of the Holy Spirit is a repeatable experience, and is received through faith. (Eph 5:18)
    • The biggest issue isn’t what you call it, but whether or not you have it.  Perhaps you were filled once, but when was the last time you asked to be filled?  Perhaps you’re unsure if you’ve ever been filled with the Holy Spirit?  Nothing stops you from asking.  He is available to “all flesh” – to all those who believe upon Jesus Christ by faith.
  • BTW – the NT clearly shows an aspect of this prophecy that was fulfilled on Pentecost (and in the generations following).  But contextually, this is spoken to the Jews – so there is still an unfilled aspect of this even to this day.  The Jews still await the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them.  When will it come?  When they finally put their faith in Jesus as their Messiah!
  • That there are future unfilled aspects of the prophecy is evident from the following verses…

30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.

  • Obviously this did not take place in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost!  When will this happen?  During the days of the Great Tribulation.  This seems to be referenced by the apostle John in his description of the 6th seal.  Revelation 6:12, "I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood."  At that moment, those on earth realize that the day of the wrath of God has come, and they will seek to hide themselves in the mountains & under the rocks.  God will make His power & His presence known, and even the most hardened of skeptics will lose his/her ability to doubt the existence of God.
  • At that late hour, will it be too late to be saved?  No.  Vs. 32…

32 And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the LORD has said, Among the remnant whom the LORD calls.

  • There will be a “remnant” even at that time, and from that population, God will call people to put their faith in Jesus and be saved.  They will be able to flee to safety from the Tribulation destruction that is determined for Jerusalem, and they will find “deliverance.
  • That said, this offer isn’t limited only to the Jews.  “Whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”  This was quoted by Paul in his letter to the Romans.  Romans 10:9–13, "(9) that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (10) For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (11) For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” (12) For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. (13) For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”"  The offer is open to any & all in the entire world!  As many as the Lord calls to salvation will be saved.
    • The question is: have you heard His call?  Respond!
  • With all this in mind, if God has this sort of blessing in store for His people of Israel, then surely there are repercussions for the various nations of the world that oppressed them.  And there are.  That’s what the prophecies of Joel next address…

Joel 3

  • Vindication!  God judges the nations (3:1-17)

1 “For behold, in those days and at that time, When I bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem, 2 I will also gather all nations, And bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; And I will enter into judgment with them there On account of My people, My heritage Israel, Whom they have scattered among the nations; They have also divided up My land. 3 They have cast lots for My people, Have given a boy as payment for a harlot, And sold a girl for wine, that they may drink.

  • There are two possible interpretations of this future judgment: (1) the battle of Armageddon, when the nations of the world join forces with Antichrist to fight against God…  (2) The judgment of the sheep and the goats, when Jesus judges the nations that survive the Great Tribulation based on their treatment of Israel & the saints of God.
  • Whichever judgment this is, it doesn’t bode well for these nations.  They treated the Jews like a common commodity, and sold God’s people into slavery.
    • How people treat other people matters.  How people treat the Jews (in particular) matters.  They may be a nation in rebellion, but they are still God’s chosen people.  The covenant He made with Abraham is unconditional, and the nations of this world persecute Israel at their own peril.  These are things God sees, and these are things that God will judge.

4 “Indeed, what have you to do with Me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the coasts of Philistia? Will you retaliate against Me? But if you retaliate against Me, Swiftly and speedily I will return your retaliation upon your own head;

  • Tyre, Sidon, and Philistia are apparently included in this judgment.  Being that they are the regions that physically surround the nation of Israel (i.e. Lebanon to the north, and the Gaza Strip to the south), it makes sense that they would be specifically identified in this judgment for how the nations of the world treated the people of Israel.
    • That said, this isn’t necessarily a comprehensive list.  These named regions could also be symbolic of all the nations of the world that are to be judged by God at this time.
  • God’s retaliation would be swift upon them.  Why?  Because they stole from Him…

5 Because you have taken My silver and My gold, And have carried into your temples My prized possessions. 6 Also the people of Judah and the people of Jerusalem You have sold to the Greeks, That you may remove them far from their borders.

  • They stole God’s treasures, and (more specifically) they stole God’s treasured people.  They had sold the Jews into slavery.  When this happens, we don’t know.  We do know that the Jews have been treated as the castoffs of the world since the time Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70AD.  There’s no limit as to how this sort of slavery could be symbolically fulfilled throughout history.  Even so, there’s a potential of a future literal fulfillment – one of which has not yet been seen.
  • That said, it doesn’t last.  God redeems from slavery!  God redeemed His people once, and He will do it again.
    • God redeems us!  We have been freed from the slavery of sin & death!
  • God returns retribution!  Vs. 7…

7 “Behold, I will raise them Out of the place to which you have sold them, And will return your retaliation upon your own head. 8 I will sell your sons and your daughters Into the hand of the people of Judah, And they will sell them to the Sabeans, To a people far off; For the LORD has spoken.”

  • The punishment fits the crime.  The Gentile nations had enslaved Israel; now it would be their turn to be enslaved.

9 Proclaim this among the nations: “Prepare for war! Wake up the mighty men, Let all the men of war draw near, Let them come up. 10 Beat your plowshares into swords And your pruning hooks into spears; Let the weak say, ‘I am strong.’ ” 11 Assemble and come, all you nations, And gather together all around. Cause Your mighty ones to go down there, O LORD.

  • This seems to more specifically point to the battle of Armageddon.  The call goes out to the nations to “prepare for war” as they arm themselves and draw up battle lines.
  • Ultimately, their plans are futile.  To fight against God always ends in futility.  We see this on a spiritual level all the time.  How much more on a physical level?

12 “Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; For there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. 13 Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, go down; For the winepress is full, The vats overflow— For their wickedness is great.”

  • No small irony in vs. 13.  Earlier, there was no “new wine” for the vats.  Now the vats are overflowing!  This time however, it isn’t wine in view; it’s blood.  This is the harvest of the grapes of wrath, and the blood will be deep.
  • Again, the apostle John seems to call upon this imagery in Rev. 14.  Revelation 14:19–20, "(19) So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. (20) And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs."  Gory?  Yes.  Justified?  Without question.

14 Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. 15 The sun and moon will grow dark, And the stars will diminish their brightness. 16 The LORD also will roar from Zion, And utter His voice from Jerusalem; The heavens and earth will shake; But the LORD will be a shelter for His people, And the strength of the children of Israel.

  • The valley of decision = the valley of Jehoshaphat.  Similarity in the definitions, as “Jehoshaphat” means “God judges.”  God judges – He makes His decisions regarding the nations of the world.  Multitudes are destroyed because of their rebellion against God & their sin against God’s people.
  • Once more, this imagery of darkness comes up – seen at various times throughout Revelation. (4th trumpet, Rev 8:12 – 5th bowl, Rev 16:10)  Which is this?  It’s unclear.  Prophecy often looks at future events as occurring simultaneously to each other, simply because it is so far away in the future. (Mountain peaks)  Regardless, it’s a plain reference to the Great Tribulation.  Signs in the heavens will be clear that Jesus is about to return to Earth, and it is a warning to all the world to be ready for His arrival.
    • Are you ready?
  • When He comes, it will be with a “roar”!  It will be with power & might & glory! … The same sound that terrifies the world will strengthen God’s people.  The manifestation of the power of Almighty God causes those who are not reconciled to Him to fear & quake.  Yet that same manifestation of power is a comfort to those who trust Him.  He is our shelter & strength.

17 “So you shall know that I am the LORD your God, Dwelling in Zion My holy mountain. Then Jerusalem shall be holy, And no aliens shall ever pass through her again.”

  • The idea is repeated from 2:27.  Finally, they will know the Lord their God AS God.
  • Final, forever protection of Israel.
  • Conclusion: God blesses His people (3:18-21)

18 And it will come to pass in that day That the mountains shall drip with new wine, The hills shall flow with milk, And all the brooks of Judah shall be flooded with water; A fountain shall flow from the house of the LORD And water the Valley of Acacias.

  • Millennial blessings.  Every kingdom promise given to the people of Israel will be realized in the Millennial Kingdom of the Lord Jesus.  Every description given of the land “flowing with milk & honey” will be understood, and the prosperity of God’s people will be literally fulfilled.
  • Ezekiel 47 also speaks of a river flowing from the Millennial temple of God.

19 “Egypt shall be a desolation, And Edom a desolate wilderness, Because of violence against the people of Judah, For they have shed innocent blood in their land.

  • Reiteration of God’s judgment upon Israel’s enemies.
  • All of that is contrasted with Israel…

20 But Judah shall abide forever, And Jerusalem from generation to generation. 21 For I will acquit them of the guilt of bloodshed, whom I had not acquitted; For the LORD dwells in Zion.

  • Judah is “acquitted”!  God chooses to hold them innocent, declaring them free from future punishment.
  • He will forever dwell with His people in grace.

Conclusion:
What amazing promises for Israel!  What amazing promises for us!  Israel could look forward to a day when God personally dwelled among them, protected them, and poured out His Spirit & salvation upon them.  Yes, judgment and discipline was in their immediate future, but their ultimate future was one of the goodness & grace of God.  He would stand up on their behalf, judge their enemies as their defense, and generally bless them beyond measure.

What is promised to future Israel is already ours to enjoy today!  We are the ones upon whom God has poured out His Spirit!  He has saved us from the twin enemies of sin & death – He has passed judgment upon our accuser the devil – He already dwells among us spiritually & has promised to dwell among us physically in heaven.  There is hardly any promise in this text that has no corollary application to the Church today…which just goes to show how amazing our God truly is!

But remember: these promises come in the context of a repentant people.  They are given by the grace of God – they are assured by the faithfulness of God – but they are only given to a people in a right relationship with God.  They are given to those who trust God in humility and faith.

Is this you?  Then rejoice!  Live in the reality of this blessing, trusting Jesus for the restoration He brings.

Sound the Alarm!

Posted: June 1, 2017 in Joel, Uncategorized

Joel 1:1 – 2:17, “Sound the Alarm!”

When is “too late,” too late?  At what point does someone reach the point of no return?  It all depends on the circumstance.  Sometimes, it’s obvious.  If you’re going into surgery, it’s when you receive the anesthetic.  If you’re parachuting, it’s when you step out of the airplane.  Other times, it’s not so clear.

Most of the times, when we’re driving, the only time it is “too late” is when we’re on a schedule.  Otherwise, we can always turn around & head in the other direction – the only thing stopping us, being our pride.

Something similar could be said about our spiritual lives.  Every single one of us is on a schedule of sorts, for there will come a day that our heart stops beating, our brain stops functioning, and we find ourselves standing face-to-face with God.  But until that point, when is it too late to turn our lives around?  It’s not.  Typically, the only thing stopping us is our pride.

That’s not to say that we can avoid all consequences of our sin.  Some consequences are unavoidable, even though they are tragic & we meet them with broken & repentant hearts.  But in regards to a restored relationship with God through Jesus Christ, our main obstacle is ourselves.  It’s not that He is far removed from us; it is we who are removed from Him.  All it takes is for us to turn around in repentance – but that’s something we must be willing to do.

That’s one of the main ideas behind the prophecy of Joel. (יוֹאֵל )  The nation had just experienced a terrible consequence due to national sin.  A swarm of locusts had wreaked havoc on the land, and it was as if a conquering army had come in force for total destruction.  In point of fact, that is exactly what would happen (or did happen, depending on your point of view), as a result of generation after generation of unrepentant sin against their covenant God.  Yet was it too late to repent?  No.  Even at this late stage – even as enemy armies overrun the land – God’s people were still invited to repent and seek Him in sincere faith.  Even when Israel eventually faces the final Day of the Lord during the years of the Great Tribulation, the opportunity to repent will still exist.  The only time it will be too late is when people finally see Jesus with their own eyes.  They have a wonderfully gracious opportunity before them now…it’s not to be squandered!

The book of Joel is second in the Hebrew canon of the Minor Prophets, and though it’s a short book, it’s an important one.  Peter famously references it on the day of Pentecost when the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is witnessed by the multitudes.  The book of Joel is a book of judgment, but it’s also a book of hope.  Judgment is foretold, but so is restoration – destruction is seen, but so is blessing.  One leads to the other.  The promise of judgment was to lead people to repentance, which in turn leads to their restoration with their covenant God.  God’s desire was to bless His people…He just needed them to see their need.

Joel 1

  • Introduction (1:1)

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

  • Not much is given, by way of introduction.  What is said here is all we know about Joel.  The name (meaning “YHWH is God) is rather common throughout the Hebrew Bible, but his father’s name is unique to this verse alone.  There’s no further family history given – no king named during whose reign these prophecies were given – not even any cultural events, markers, or even occupation listed for Joel.  What we see is what we get.
  • This leads to quite a bit of questions as to the dating of the book.  Some scholars see reason to date the book rather early, perhaps early in the reign of Joash (2 Kings 11).  Enemies such as the Assyrians and Babylonians are unnamed in the book, perhaps indicating that they had not yet presented themselves as a threat.  Because no king is mentioned, it’s possible that this was written while Joash was still too young to assume the throne & the priest Jehoida was the regent ruler of Judah.  Other scholars believe that the book must have been written later, after the Babylonian exile.  Chapter 3 has some wording indicating a past-tense exile, and nations like the Greeks & Sabeans are mentioned – which make far more sense in a post-exile context.  Of course, if that’s the case, the question of why Joel was placed so early in the Hebrew canon needs to be answered.
  • All in all, we cannot say with any certainty when Joel was written – and that means some of our interpretation needs to be held loosely, open for debate and correction.  That said, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Even if the immediate context & interpretation for the past is unclear, there’s much written in Joel that clearly pertains to the future.  Those things are applicable to all people.  Perhaps an unclear date is a good thing…it helps to keep us from getting too comfortable, thinking that all of what’s said is for someone else.
    • That’s true regarding Scripture as a whole.  We always want to do our best to interpret Scripture according to its primary meaning to its original audience.  But we don’t leave it there.  We look for the principles that are timeless, and application for the present.  Bible study is never supposed to be Bible trivia; it’s supposed to be an interaction with the living word of God!
  • The call to wake up (1:2-7)

2 Hear this, you elders, And give ear, all you inhabitants of the land! Has anything like this happened in your days, Or even in the days of your fathers? 3 Tell your children about it, Let your children tell their children, And their children another generation.

  • Who’s speaking here: Joel or the Lord?  It’s unclear, but the message isn’t.  As the prophecies begin, the clear call goes out to listen up!  Pay attention!  Throughout Chapter 1, there will be a series of imperatives, calling certain groups to take action.  It’s only fitting that the first imperative is to listen.  We don’t know what to do, if we’re not first listening for instruction.  We may see a need to take action and end up taking the wrong action, if we don’t first listen to what’s being said.  The Jews were called to pay attention to the prophecy.  Just as the call had gone out by Moses to “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one!” (Deut 6:4) – a similar call goes out now: “Hear…give ear!”  What is about to be said is important!  This is something they needed to hear & something they needed to pass on.  Future generations needed to learn the lesson, and the only way they would know was if the initial generation listened in the first place.
  • We need to pay attention to the word of God!  One of the primary marks of being a disciple of Jesus is obeying all things that He has commanded (Mt 28:19-20).  We can’t do that if we don’t know what He’s commanded.  The Bible is not optional for the Christian – it’s not given only to the “super-spiritual.”  It’s given to all of us.  Every believer needs to read, to listen, to take heed.  Don’t just read to read…read to pay attention & see what the Lord your God is saying to you.  (And read to learn it, in order that you can pass it on!)
  • What did this message concern?  The tragedy that had come to them in the form of a locust swarm…

4 What the chewing locust left, the swarming locust has eaten; What the swarming locust left, the crawling locust has eaten; And what the crawling locust left, the consuming locust has eaten.

  • The question is sometimes raised of whether or not these were literal locusts, or perhaps a symbolic description of an enemy army.  The type of destruction that is described could easily be said of an enemy conquest, and later verses specifically talk about soldiers.  At the same time, all of the description could arguably be used of a devastating locust swarm – one that wiped out all the crops of Israel/Judah.  There are arguments on either side, but perhaps the best interpretation is that Joel has both in mind.  There was likely a literal swarm of locusts (grasshoppers) – something not uncommon in the region – and it was so bad that it left a total devastation upon the land.  But that very real imagery becomes symbolic for a future military invasion.  After witnessing the clouds of locusts, the Jews would have little trouble envisioning swarms of enemy soldiers descending upon them.  Joel was warning his people that as bad as the locusts had been, something was coming that would be even worse.
  • That a literal swarm of locusts was in view should not be surprising.  This was actually part of the prophesied curses for breaking the covenant.  Deuteronomy 28:38–42, "(38) “You shall carry much seed out to the field but gather little in, for the locust shall consume it. (39) You shall plant vineyards and tend them, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes; for the worms shall eat them. (40) You shall have olive trees throughout all your territory, but you shall not anoint yourself with the oil; for your olives shall drop off. (41) You shall beget sons and daughters, but they shall not be yours; for they shall go into captivity. (42) Locusts shall consume all your trees and the produce of your land."  What Moses wrote centuries earlier came true – all described in the prophecies of Joel.
  • The whole idea is that everything was gone – it was totally consumed.  Four different words are used for the locusts, which has led to all kinds of conjecture about the ages of the bugs, type of insects, etc., all of which likely misses the point.  The prophecy doesn’t focus on the details of bugs, but the details of the destruction experienced by the Jews.  They had experienced a terrible judgment – one which had been promised to them as a curse for breaking the covenant.  If that came true, what else might come true from the curses?  Everything.  The Jews needed to pay attention to what God was saying to them, and do it quick!
    • God will do what it takes to get our attention.  The key is to listen sooner, rather than later.

5 Awake, you drunkards, and weep; And wail, all you drinkers of wine, Because of the new wine, For it has been cut off from your mouth. 6 For a nation has come up against My land, Strong, and without number; His teeth are the teeth of a lion, And he has the fangs of a fierce lion. 7 He has laid waste My vine, And ruined My fig tree; He has stripped it bare and thrown it away; Its branches are made white.

  • Of all the people groups that could be called out, why does the Lord (via Joel) call first to the “drunkards”?  Because they would perhaps feel the effect of a destroyed grape vintage more than anyone.  Where would they get their wine?  With the whole harvest destroyed, they had nothing to drink.  Obviously, the Scripture is not encouraging drunkenness; this was just a reality to the people living through it.  The drunkards of the land had other reason to weep: they had sinned against the Lord, and were in the process of experiencing His judgment…and more was on the way!  It was just the lack of wine that would get their attention, hopefully breaking them out of their stupor.
  • What they would find is that it was more than locusts that brought destruction.  Something else was sure to come: an enemy nation like a lion!  Just like the locusts were “without number,” so would be the mighty men of battle.  They would be fierce, symbolically described as having sharp fangs.  IOW, these weren’t people the Jews would want to mess with!  Yet they were coming, and they were bringing devastation.  The vine of God & the fig tree of God (both common pictures of the nation of Israel) would be left barren.  It would be as if even the bark was stripped away from the branch/vine, leaving the flesh of the plant exposed.  Whoever this “lion” was, it was bad news for Judah!
  • Who were they?  This is where the debate over dating becomes a bit of an issue.  If Joel was written early, then it seems very likely that this is Babylon.  From all the later references to Jerusalem, it’s fairly certain that Joel was a prophet to the south, so Assyria wouldn’t have been the issue so much as Babylon would be.  If the book was written later, this becomes a bit harder to identify.  Some suggest it’s a reference to the surrounding enemy nations that close in on a weakened regathered Israel – others suggest that Joel is already looking forward to the future Tribulation.  While there’s little doubt that Joel does prophesy the Great Tribulation later on in the book, it’s uncertain whether or not he does so at this time.  Bottom line, we cannot know what specific enemy is in view, but we do know that the battle would be horrendous.
  • The devastation described, what should be the response?  Mournfulness & contrition…
  • The call to mourn (1:8-18)

8 Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth For the husband of her youth. 9 The grain offering and the drink offering Have been cut off from the house of the LORD; The priests mourn, who minister to the LORD. 10 The field is wasted, The land mourns; For the grain is ruined, The new wine is dried up, The oil fails.

  • Why did Joel describe their lamentation to be like an widowed “virgin”?  Because just like a woman in that situation had her future destroyed, so would Judah face the same sort of bleakness.  They were to mourn what they had lost.  They were to wail and cry out, with the full realization of what they faced.  No crops not only meant no wine – it meant no food, no drink, no economy.  It even meant no worship.  What kind of grain offerings could be given to the Lord if there was no grain that was harvested?  What kind of oil could be used in the temple, if the olive groves were destroyed?  How would worship be possible without the means given them in order to worship?
  • Again, this was part of the problem for their violation of their covenant with God.  If they had obeyed the Lord, following Him in sincerity & truth, then their land would have been blessed.  That would have helped them in their worship, and everything would cycle back around, with blessings abounding as worship abounded.  But that’s not what happened.  For generations, the Israelites ignored their covenant responsibilities, and now they would face severe consequences.  As Hosea pointed out elsewhere, the people would reap what it is they had sowed.
    • Some consequences are unavoidable, as grievous as they may be.  If we push too far into sin, we’ve got to expect certain things in return.  It doesn’t mean that we cannot be forgiven by God, nor even that a restored future is impossible (God can do anything!) – but certain things in our present may have to be endured.  If you find yourself in a place where “the field is wasted, the land mourns,” etc., don’t let that drive you away from the Lord; let it drive you to Him.
  • Joel goes on to describe more of the destruction that has come to the land.  Vs. 11…

11 Be ashamed, you farmers, Wail, you vinedressers, For the wheat and the barley; Because the harvest of the field has perished. 12 The vine has dried up, And the fig tree has withered; The pomegranate tree, The palm tree also, And the apple tree— All the trees of the field are withered; Surely joy has withered away from the sons of men.

  • Question: is this a reference to the already-performed destruction from the locusts, or the future-destruction from this future army?  It’s difficult to say.  Perhaps both are in view.  Either way, the imagery continues of a land that has been lost.  Everything that had once been a blessing had been cursed & stripped away from the people.  This was the result of their sin.
  • Anyone who has experienced this sort of consequence knows what it’s like to have their “joy…withered away.”  It is a sorrowful thing to endure these kinds of trials.  There is good news: the trials don’t last forever!  God can bring wonderful results even out of the worst of circumstances.  God can even use terrible sin to bring us to a place of wonderful blessing.  Think of the apostle Paul: he was in the very act of pursuing Christians to persecute them when stopped by Jesus along the road.  Paul immediately came to faith, and became one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) missionary in history.  Think of the cross: It was a terrible sin for men to nail Jesus to the tree…but that was the very act God used to bring about our salvation.  If God can work miracles from those things, what other circumstance is too hard for Him?  Trust God!  Surrender yourself to the Lord Jesus!  If your joy has withered, keep seeking the Lord until He brings restoration.
  • As for the Jews, they weren’t yet at that place.  They still needed to recognize their sin.  Vs. 13…

13 Gird yourselves and lament, you priests; Wail, you who minister before the altar; Come, lie all night in sackcloth, You who minister to my God; For the grain offering and the drink offering Are withheld from the house of your God.

  • There is an echo of verse 9 here, reiterating the impossibility for the priests to bring an offering to the Lord, because of the destruction of the crops.  They couldn’t follow through on the rituals of sacrifice, so what could they do?  They could “lament.”  They could allow their hearts to be broken on account of their sin.  They could recognize their consequences for what they were, and deal with them in the ways available to them.  Vs. 14…

14 Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; Gather the elders And all the inhabitants of the land Into the house of the LORD your God, And cry out to the LORD.

  • They might not be able to offer grain offerings, but they could certainly “consecrate a fast!”  They could “gather the elders” of Judah together, “call a sacred assembly” and “cry out to the LORD” together.  IOW, they could find a way to worship!  They could call upon everyone all over the land to humble themselves before God, and seek Him in spirit and in truth.  What was most needed at this point wasn’t the ritual of sacrifice; they needed humble, broken hearts.  Psalm 51:16–17, "(16) For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. (17) The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise."  David wrote this, knowing full well that sin offerings of bulls & goats could (and should) be offered at the altar of the Lord for the sins he had done.  But David also knew God didn’t want him to simply go through the motions; God desired real repentance, and that starts with sincere contrition.
    • Repentance never ends with remorse, but it doesn’t start without it.  Do we feel true remorse over our sin?  Do we understand how evil we have acted?  When we consider the things we have done against God, our hearts ought to break.  Those were the things for which our Lord Jesus died.  Thankfully, our sins are covered in His sacrifice – but that ought not minimize sin in our eyes.  It ought to make us cling even tighter to Jesus!

15 Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is at hand; It shall come as destruction from the Almighty. 16 Is not the food cut off before our eyes, Joy and gladness from the house of our God? 17 The seed shrivels under the clods, Storehouses are in shambles; Barns are broken down, For the grain has withered. 18 How the animals groan! The herds of cattle are restless, Because they have no pasture; Even the flocks of sheep suffer punishment.

  • Question: Is Joel still talking about locusts, or something more?  Again, it’s possible that both are in view.  The fields were destroyed, causing even the livestock to suffer.  All the food was gone, and the nation was left in shambles.  The devastation that had once come upon the nation of Egypt as God demonstrated His power in freeing the Hebrew slaves now had come upon the Hebrews themselves.  But even the terror left by the locusts paled in comparison to something yet to come.  Be it the Babylonians or the future Great Tribulation, something awful lay in the future.  People would rue the “day of the LORD” when it arrived!
  • Did all of that cause the prophet to run from God?  No.  Vs. 19…
  • Joel’s prayer of despondency

19 O LORD, to You I cry out; For fire has devoured the open pastures, And a flame has burned all the trees of the field. 20 The beasts of the field also cry out to You, For the water brooks are dried up, And fire has devoured the open pastures.

  • In the midst of all that destruction, that’s when Joel prayed to the Lord.  He cried out to God even while judgment was ongoing.  Why?  Because the Lord was Israel’s only hope.  Be it the men or the “beasts of the field,” the Lord God of Israel was the only one who could deliver Israel.
  • Likewise for us!  No matter what God has allowed to go on around us, the Lord Jesus is still our only hope.  To whom else would we go?  He alone has the words & the promise of eternal life.  He alone has saved us from the eternal consequences of our sin.  Our trials last for a moment; Jesus & His salvation lasts for eon upon eon.  In whatever circumstance you find yourself, cry out to the Lord!

Joel 2

  • The day of the Lord described (2:1-11)

1 Blow the trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; For the day of the LORD is coming, For it is at hand: 2 A day of darkness and gloominess, A day of clouds and thick darkness, Like the morning clouds spread over the mountains. A people come, great and strong, The like of whom has never been; Nor will there ever be any such after them, Even for many successive generations.

  • If it seems as if the scene changes somewhat, it does.  Again, there is debate regarding the interpretation of chapter 2.  Some scholars insist that all of this still describes the intense destruction brought upon by the swarm of locusts.  Yet it is almost certainly describing something far more fierce.  Locust swarms could surely look like clouds on the horizon, but locust swarms are relatively common.  What is described here is something unique.  This spoke of an invasion, “the like of whom has never been, nor will there ever be.”  This describes something unparalleled in history, even allowing the use of figurative language.  It seems far better to see this description of “the day of the LORD” as the actual day of the Lord.
  • With that in mind, does this speak of the approach of the glory of God (i.e. the thick clouds)?  Probably not.  Joel specifically mentions “a people,” i.e. an army that would approach Jerusalem.  Their numbers would be so vast that they would seem like clouds approaching on the horizon.  One could easily imagine rising smoke from the battlefield & weaponry, and the kind of darkness that would descend would be terrible.  This could easily describe the ancient Babylonian armies, but there will also be future armies that come against Jerusalem.  There’s the war of Gog & Magog (Ezekiel 38) – there’s the persecution of God’s people by the serpent (Rev 12) – there’s the field of Armageddon (Rev 16,19).  It’s difficult to identify this particular battle with precision, but it certainly describes something far bigger than a bunch of locusts!
  • How powerful will this army be?  They will leave a wake of devastation.  Vs. 3…

3 A fire devours before them, And behind them a flame burns; The land is like the Garden of Eden before them, And behind them a desolate wilderness; Surely nothing shall escape them. 4 Their appearance is like the appearance of horses; And like swift steeds, so they run. 5 With a noise like chariots Over mountaintops they leap, Like the noise of a flaming fire that devours the stubble, Like a strong people set in battle array.

  • The key phrase: “nothing shall escape them.”  However beautiful the land might be in front (“like the Garden of Eden”), it is left a burning rubble behind them.  There is no earthly defeat of this army, and those looking on from Jerusalem will tremble at their approach.  Not only is there the visual flame, but there is the audible noise.  All of the senses are assaulted as this enemy army comes near.
  • Again, there are several ways of interpreting this army: past Babylonians, past post-exile armies, or future Tribulation armies.  The futuristic interpretation is rather intriguing, especially in light of the description of having a “noise like chariots,” and leaping “over mountaintops.”  Surely that could describe something from the past, but it very easily fits the description of modern-day helicopters. 
  • As the army approaches, soon enough it comes to attack.  Vs. 6…

6 Before them the people writhe in pain; All faces are drained of color. 7 They run like mighty men, They climb the wall like men of war; Every one marches in formation, And they do not break ranks. 8 They do not push one another; Every one marches in his own column. Though they lunge between the weapons, They are not cut down. 9 They run to and fro in the city, They run on the wall; They climb into the houses, They enter at the windows like a thief.

  • Imagine a city (likely Jerusalem) being completely overrun.  The enemy soldiers are disciplined, yet overwhelm the city walls almost like the locusts hanging upon every building.  Modern Jerusalem is not completely surrounded by walls (though ancient walls do persist in certain parts of the city), but it is not difficult to conceive of a future day when walls are rebuilt as protection.  Even so, there is nothing about the city as it stands right now that could not be totally fulfilled in this prophecy.  This speaks of a total invasion, in which the city is overwhelmed.

10 The earth quakes before them, The heavens tremble; The sun and moon grow dark, And the stars diminish their brightness. 11 The LORD gives voice before His army, For His camp is very great; For strong is the One who executes His word. For the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; Who can endure it?

  • Not only will there be the approaching armies, but there will be signs in the heavens as well.  Again, it needs to be said that this could be figurative language indicating the darkness of the locust swarm, but it is highly doubtful that the original readers would have understood it that way.  The original readers would have understood Joel to be writing of the terrible day of the Lord, with His full approach of judgment – something which even the heavens would fear.  This invasion was no mere battle brought on by just another army; this was an army led by the Lord God Himself (vs. 11).  God has not hesitated to use heathen forces for His purposes in the past, and He will not hesitate to do it again in the future.  The war of Gog & Magog provides a clear example of the Lord doing exactly that: drawing a nation out to war against Jerusalem, while eventually destroying them in judgment. (Eze 38:4, 39:5)
  • Will it be terrifying?  Yes.  Will it mean the end of Israel?  No.  God will preserve His people – a point that will be driven home in the 2nd half of Joel.  God promised to truly bless His people, and they will indeed be blessed.  But the reality of His judgment needed to first be clearly proclaimed.  The salvation of God is rarely appreciated when the wrath of God is not understood.
    • This is one reason why the law & the gospel to hand-in-hand.  The law is our tutor to bring us to Christ. (Gal 3:24-25)  How so?  The law shows us our sin, which shows us our judgment, which shows us our need to be saved…and that takes us to the feet of Jesus.  We have to understand the bad news if we are to ever understand the good news.
    • That’s what is happening here in Joel.  The bad news of judgment is being clearly proclaimed – which will make the good news of God’s blessing all the better.
  • So how will God’s people experience that blessing?  They will need to repent…
  • God’s invitation to repent (2:12–17)

12 “Now, therefore,” says the LORD, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”

  • The invitation is clear!  In light of all the wrath that is sure to come, repent!  Turn around, turn back to the Lord.  Go to Him in sincere repentance, being truly remorseful over the sins of the past.  God doesn’t want a quick “I’m sorry,” and then back-to-business.  (You wouldn’t want that either!)  God wants real repentance, where a person not only feels remorse over the consequences of his/her sin, but feels remorse over the sin itself.  He wants us to realize just how bad it was & for our hearts to break over it, just as His was by our actions when we grieved Him.  And after the remorse, there is a turning – a returning to the Lord.  We had walked away from Him to do our own will, and now we are to turn around and walk with Him once again.  Not in pride, demanding our forgiveness & restoration as if God’s promises of grace were some sort of right for us to claim, but in true humility, symbolized here by the fasting, weeping, and mourning.
  • Is this what your repentance looks like?  If not, why?  May God break our hearts over our sin!  May we see it for what it truly is: a nail in the hand of Jesus – a thorn in His brow – a strike of the whip on His back.  Those were the things our Jesus suffered on our account, and that’s exactly why it’s so serious.  Mourn your sin, and turn back to the Lord in humility!

13 So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm. 14 Who knows if He will turn and relent, And leave a blessing behind Him— A grain offering and a drink offering For the LORD your God?

  • God is good!  We fear the Lord in reverence, and our attention is often gained by consequences & discipline – but we don’t repent because of God’s acts of punishment; we repent because of His goodness.  Our hearts are to be rent in true contrition – something far better than mere acts and lip service of ritual & custom.  But the only way that happens is when we see God for who He is in His goodness.  People who don’t know the Lord in truth will repent out of fear of punishment, but that’s not a repentance that lasts.  Israel was guilty of that during the days of the judges.  They’d get into sin, be turned over by God to their enemies, would do some repentance, be delivered…and then they’d start right over again, each consecutive cycle getting worse.  Why?  Because they were repenting for the wrong reasons.  What’s the right reason?  Remember the goodness of God!  “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness.”  His goodness is fully revealed to us in the Lord Jesus.  We remember what He has done for us, and we cannot help but surrendering ourselves to Him in humility.
  • As for Israel, they had the opportunity to repent, and perhaps even escape additional judgment.  It is reminiscent of the Ninevites during the ministry of Jonah.  They were told of the impending judgment of God, and despite no hope of deliverance being offered to them, they still decided to trust God’s goodness & mercy.  Jonah 3:9, "Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?"  The Ninevites experienced the mercy of God, and the same opportunity was open to the Jews.  All they needed to do was take it.
    • Is it ever too late to repent?  No!  We might not be able to avoid all our earthly consequences, but it is never too late for us to be reconciled with God.  As long as we draw breath, we still have the chance.  It may take our pride being broken – it will take humility & honesty (something not everyone is willing to give) – but the opportunity is there.  It can be done. 

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; 16 Gather the people, Sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and nursing babes; Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, And the bride from her dressing room.

  • Notice the echoes of 1:14.  The instructions hadn’t changed.  The nation was still called to corporate repentance, and God told them how it could be done.  It wasn’t just one or two people who needed to turn to the Lord; it was all of them.  The nation had to be gathered with one mind and one heart to seek their God…something difficult, but not impossible.  All it took was a people understanding the goodness of their covenant God, and being together in one accord.
  • Is this impossible?  By human standards yes – by the power of the Holy Spirit, no.  Does this not describe revival?  This is something for which we can (and ought) to pray!
  • The people were to seek God, and the priests were to pray for them as they did so.  Vs. 17…

17 Let the priests, who minister to the LORD, Weep between the porch and the altar; Let them say, “Spare Your people, O LORD, And do not give Your heritage to reproach, That the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’ ”

  • This is basic intercession.  This is what the priests should have been doing all along, but sadly were not.  They could have been praying for their people for generations.  It wasn’t too late to start.
    • Nor is it for us.  How often do you pray for the lost to be saved?  For the Church to have revival?  May we be those who weep for them – that we could cry out to the Lord on their behalf!
  • The prayer itself is interesting, as it is an appeal to God’s greatness.  It is not a prayer based on the worthiness of the people, nor of the priests (there is none!); it’s a prayer based on God’s glory.  His own fame is the issue, with the prayer being that the nations of the world would know the reality of the God of Israel. 

Conclusion:
It began with mournfulness over the consequences of sin – it looked ahead to more consequences certain to come – but it wasn’t too late to repent.  The time had come for the alarm to sound, for hearts to break, and for men & women to seek the Lord.  Israel still had the opportunity to do it, but it wasn’t an opportunity be wasted.

Likewise with us.  We have all experienced consequences that have come from sin…but it isn’t anything that needs to continue.  Thankfully, what we’ve experienced now will not follow us into eternity.  The cross & resurrection of Christ assures us of that!  But it is also the cross & resurrection of our Lord Jesus that ought to keep our hearts soft towards Him, and mournful over continued sin.

When aware of the need to repent, do it!  Don’t wait – don’t put it off. Be aware of the need, and act upon it. Listen to the alarm that’s been sounded, and seek the Lord.

The Prophet Out of Place

Posted: August 20, 2015 in Joel, Route 66

Route 66: Joel, “The Prophet Out of Place”

Trick question: If a prophet gives a warning in the Old Testament, does it apply to the people of the Old Testament?  It’s a trick question because usually the answer is both yes & no.  The OT is filled with all kinds of prophecies that have dual-application/fulfillment.  They apply both to the then-present time and also towards the future.  Sometimes the future fulfillment looked towards an event that is now past for us (such as Jesus’ 1st coming), while other times the events are still future (such as the Great Tribulation or Jesus’ 2nd coming).

In the case of the prophet Joel, all of this seems to have an exception.  Yes, Joel did write to his current people, using current events as illustrations, but his primary focus seemed to be the future…the far future.  Joel is the prophet quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost as the Church was being birthed.  Echoes of Joel seem to reverberate in the prophecies of John as he saw the events of the Tribulation.  Joel wrote in the days of ancient Israel, but he seemed to write more of the days of future Israel – primarily of the time they will endure great trial and finally come to faith in Christ.  To that end, we might call Joel “the prophet out of place.”

DATE:
Speculation abounds as to the dating of Joel.  Unlike other OT prophets who identify the kings under which they wrote (thereby providing a reference for time), Joel identifies nothing of himself other than his father (Pethuel).  Thus we cannot say definitively as to when he wrote.  Theories run the gamut, with some scholars believing Joel is among the very earliest of recorded prophets (perhaps even quoted by Amos), whereas others firmly believe he wrote after the years of exile.  Both camps have interesting arguments in their favor, and at the end of the day, we simply do not know.

It’s the lack of date that makes Joel so intriguing.  What he says is not tied to a specific generation, so there is freedom in applying it to other generations.  Even so, there is always a specific audience in mind with every written Scripture, and the audience that seems to suit this best is one that has not yet come to the foreground.  Perhaps God’s reason for leaving Joel undated was for the specific reason of making it perfect for a future generation of Jews – one that will know the proper application when the time is right.

THEME:
The subject of the Joel is the Day of the Lord, which automatically implies the judgment of God, and that is indeed seen.  Israel is first judged by God, seen by way of a terrible physical tragedy that inflicted the land.  However, that tragedy only prefigured a far worse trial yet to come: the Day of the Lord.  But even that would not spell the end of God’s people.  On the contrary, God had a wonderful plan for their repentance & restoration.  God’s Spirit would be poured out upon His people, and then it would be time for the rest of the nations to experience the Day of the Lord.  The Gentiles would be judged, and the Jews would know the comfort of God.  If that doesn’t speak plainly enough of a future generation, it’d be tough to get more specific!

SIGNIFICANCE
If Joel is so important to the nation of Israel, is it of any importance to the NT Christian?  Absolutely!  Again, this provided one of the foundational Scriptures of the NT Church at Pentecost, to explain God’s outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  But there is value beyond that.

  • As with many of the OT prophets, the fact that God keeps His word to Israel gives us great hope as to God keeping His word with the Church.  After all, what hope would we have for the rapture or resurrection, if God so freely violated His word to the Jews?  If God didn’t mean what He said to them, what hope would we have for what Jesus said to us?  But God does keep His word, so every promise He makes to Israel is of importance to the Christian.
  • Joel’s message of judgment is saturated with a message of grace.  Part of what is included in the Day of the Lord is a time in which God the Spirit is poured out upon His people, salvation is granted to any who call upon the name of the Lord, and God vindicates His people over their enemies.  The judgment of God almost always goes hand-in-hand with His grace, and it is wonderful!
  • It is good to be reminded of God’s future judgment.  After all, we live in terrible times.  Babies are taken from their mothers’ wombs & torn apart in the name of “research.”  Islamic terrorists bend over backwards attempting to invent horrific methods of execution in their pursuit of world domination.  Persecution of Christians is on the rise, even within countries previously believed to be immune from it.  With all that in mind, praise God for His judgment!  Praise God that He sees the plight of His people & has an answer for evil.  God neither ignores sin among His nation, nor among the various nations of the earth – and that’s a good thing!

GENERAL OUTLINE
As to the book itself, the size is tiny (only 3 chapters), though the message is huge.  Some scholars see two primary divisions (destruction & restoration), whereas others see three.  Considering the book was long ago divided into three chapters, we’ll follow a similar structure for our outline.

  • Present Destruction (the ravaging locusts)
  • Future Destruction & Restoration (the promise)
  • Future Judgment (upon the Gentile nations)

Again, all of Joel speaks of the Day of the Lord.  It is both terrible and wonderful at the same time!

Present Destruction
The land destroyed (1:1-12)
The book begins with the briefest of introductions, saying nothing about Joel other than his parentage.  His name means “Yahweh is God,” and it’s a fitting testimony to what he is about to preach.

Joel wastes no time calling the people to attention, specifically calling out the “elders” as well as the rest of the “inhabitants in the land” (1:2).  For those who believe Joel wrote after the years of exile, this is proof that the Jewish monarchy is gone, and there is no longer a son of David on the throne of Jerusalem.  There is no king mentioned, and the only leadership is that of elders.  For those who believe Joel wrote far earlier, they see this as evidence that the prophet wrote during the time that Queen Athaliah usurped the Jerusalem throne & the young Joash was placed into hiding (2 Kings 11).  If that was the case, then Jehu was reigning in Israel (having killed Ahab), and the northern kingdom was at one of its strongest points in history.  They had not yet fallen to the Assyrians, and obviously the Babylonians were far off in the future.  Other than the political troubles and assassinations, the people would not have had too many worries of outside enemies.  The northern kingdom freely worshipped false gods, and the southern kingdom had tendencies of doing the same.  God has a way of snapping people to attention, and that seems to have been one of the goals of Joel!

Even if this was a later prophecy, the people still needed to avoid complacency.  It was one thing to come back from Babylon; it was another thing to worship the Lord God in spirit and truth.  Just because they survived one set of trials doesn’t mean that they needed to go back to business-as-usual.

  • Likewise, we also need to be alert!  The days in which we live are not days to be lazy.  This isn’t the time to sit back & only remember how God worked in the past & think only of the “glory days.”  This is a time for us to be active in the Great Commission!  This is a time for us to be about the work of God.  Time is short – and that ought to be evident just by looking around.

In fact, that’s just what Joel points out.  He basically says: “Look around!  Listen up!  Has there been anything like what you’ve been witnessing now?”  The land had endured such devastation, they’d be telling their children about it for generations.  What happened?  Locusts.   Lots & lots of locusts.  Joel 1:4, "(4) What the chewing locust left, the swarming locust has eaten; What the swarming locust left, the crawling locust has eaten; And what the crawling locust left, the consuming locust has eaten." A massive swarm had descended & devoured everything in its path.  This is not terribly unusual in itself, as it happens quite frequently.  The fact that Joel describes this particular swarm as something that would be remembered for generations is telling…it must have been especially bad.

Some have wondered if Joel refers to a literal locust swarm, or if he uses figurative language to describe an army (or several armies) of some sort.  Some have even suggested that the various swarms refer to various empires: first the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, then the Persians – every successive empire sweeping up more in its path.  Whether or not the locusts were literal, the destruction certainly was.  Nothing had been left behind.

  • BTW, there is no reason that the locusts could NOT have been literal.  In fact, the Bible is clear that God will one day use locust-like creatures AS an army to pour out part of His judgment upon the earth.  This is seen during the 5th Trumpet judgment of Revelation 9.  Revelation 9:3–6, "(3) Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. (4) They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. (5) And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months. Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man. (6) In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them."  The two major differences there are: (1) these locusts are demonic in nature, and (2) they don’t harm the land, but people.  Even so, the locusts of Joel seem to be a terrible preview of what is yet to come during the days of the Great Tribulation.
  • Even here, the lesson is the same: don’t wait until it’s too late to repent!  Joel warned the people of his day to look around & heed the warning of God while they had the chance.  Likewise with the various judgments in Revelation.  Each one is another opportunity given by God for people to repent.  We need to take the opportunity we’ve been given!

Joel goes on to describe the utter destruction that has taken place.  The vineyards had been destroyed (1:5), the fig trees had been ruined (1:7), the grain & drink offerings cut off (1:9).  Everything was gone: Joel 1:10–12, "(10) The field is wasted, The land mourns; For the grain is ruined, The new wine is dried up, The oil fails. (11) Be ashamed, you farmers, Wail, you vinedressers, For the wheat and the barley; Because the harvest of the field has perished. (12) The vine has dried up, And the fig tree has withered; The pomegranate tree, The palm tree also, And the apple tree— All the trees of the field are withered; Surely joy has withered away from the sons of men."  This was not a good time for Israel!  When God first brought them into the land, He did so while describing the land in terms of blessing.  The people would receive houses they didn’t build & vineyards they didn’t plant.  This was a land flowing with milk & honey.  This was a land of physical prosperity.  And now it’s all gone.  Everything was ruined.

So is this just a lament over a ruined economy?  Is Joel just bummed about a financial recession?  No.  God promised material blessing to Israel as part of His covenant with them.  If the people obeyed God, they would experience immense prosperity with increased good & livestock, and able to lend to the surrounding nations, never at a lack for anything (Dt 28:11-12).  The fact that Israel was now suffering economically was a bad sign.  It meant that God was no longer pouring out His blessing upon them.  They had entered into the part of the covenant that did not bring blessings, but curses.  They had been disobedient & now were reaping the results of their disobedience.  Would they pay attention?

  • Will we?  God has given our nation immense mercy in light of all our sins against Him.  We are not Israel, so we are not governed by the covenant God made with Israel.  Even so, our nation blatantly sins against Him at our own risk.  We provoke Him to wrath, and hardly pay attention to the warnings He gives us.  The time to pay attention is now!
  • Beyond our nation, let’s be sure to bring it back to individuals.  How many times must God warn us about something before we decide to pay attention and turn away from our sin?  We tease God with certain behaviors, thinking that He’ll never let us face the full consequences of our actions.  Not so!  He might allow us to face a small bit now, in order to help avoid incurring the full amount later.  But we’ve got to pay attention.

The land mourned (1:13-18)
So that was the partial judgment that had already come (though surely nothing about it felt “partial” at the time).  Now it was time to weep.  Joel calls the priests, elders, and inhabitants of the land to wail, lament, and cry out to God. (1:13)  Be it through grain offerings or fasts, the people were to turn back to God in earnest, and seek His face in true sorrow and repentance.  This was a time that Joel could legitimately call “the day of the Lord,” (1:15) knowing that God had given them a taste of His judgment.  If they didn’t cry out to God now, they certainly would not be able to withstand what was yet to come.

Question: why does Joel call the people to weep & lament?  Does God want people to be sorry?  Yes!  When it comes to sin, yes – people are supposed to grieve over it, and be sorry.  It’s not that God lays a guilt trip upon us & that we’re supposed to be consumed with ourselves & force ourselves to shed “enough” tears to do penance.  That’s not what Joel (nor the rest of the Bible) teaches at all.  Our sorrow is to be sincere, but it is to be present.  If our hearts do not grieve over our sin, we probably don’t understand what our sin was to begin with. [Forced apologies don’t count]  It is when we recognize our sin for what it is, that it breaks our heart.  And it should.  It’s only when that happens that we can truly turn from it.  2 Corinthians 7:9–10, "(9) Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. (10) For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death." THAT kind of sorrow is a good thing, and that’s exactly what Joel called the people to have.

Joel’s prayer (1:19-20)
The writing turns to 1st person.  Whereas before, it was the word of God coming through Joel, now it seems to be Joel personally crying out to God himself.  He just called upon the priests, elders, and inhabitants to do it, and he does not exempt himself from the list.  His prayer is simple & to the point: Joel 1:19–20, "(19) O Lord, to You I cry out; For fire has devoured the open pastures, And a flame has burned all the trees of the field. (20) The beasts of the field also cry out to You, For the water brooks are dried up, And fire has devoured the open pastures."  Translation: “Things are bad, and so I turn to You.”  There’s nothing drawn-out or overly pious-sounding in any of that.  It’s just sincere & God-focused.  Joel doesn’t even ask for anything specific.  He just knows that he needs the Lord, and so he calls upon His God.

  • Sometimes we make prayer so much more complicated that what it needs to be.  God does not need us to describe our situations to Him – He knows what we need before we even ask. (Mt 6:8)  But He wants us to ask.  When we ask, we are declaring our dependency upon Him, and that is exactly the way it should be.  We might not even know what things to ask for, but at least we are calling upon God as we do it.  (And thankfully, the Holy Spirit interprets our prayers to God & prays for us! Rom 8:26)

We need to emphasize that Joel prayed this.  Was he one that needed to repent?  Not likely.  But he lived among a people who needed to repent.  Someone needed to intercede for them.  If not Joel, then who? (Likewise with us & our nation…)

Future Destruction & Restoration
The Lord’s army (2:1-11)
Joel once again calls out to the people, this time not as a charge to repent, but in warning of what it yet to come.  A battle was coming, and it was such a dreadful prospect, that it ought to cause everyone in the land to “tremble.” (2:1)  What was it?  “The day of the LORD.” (2:1)  This term was already given to the army of locusts that had earlier ravaged the land (1:15), so how could it apply here as well?  Is there more than one Day of the Lord?  Yes & no.  Technically any time the judgment or wrath of God is poured out, it can be termed the Day of the Lord.  At the same time, there is a specific Day coming, which will be equaled by none other before it.  That Day is the day of Jesus’ 2nd Coming, which in a sense is spread out over the entire time of the Great Tribulation.  During the 6th seal’s opening, when men & women are hiding in the caves & mountains, they acknowledge that day of the God’s wrath had come (Rev 6:17), and that was only the beginning!  It will continue for 7 years, finally culminating in Jesus’ return.

In regards to Joel, the question then becomes: which day was this Day?  Was this just one of another “Day of the Lord,” perhaps when God’s wrath fell on Judah with the Babylonians – or is this a reference to the final Day of the Lord, when God’s wrath falls upon the whole earth & the Jews especially experience their time of trial?  There is perhaps a dual-fulfillment in mind here, but the overall context seems to point to the Great Tribulation.  The army that is mentioned here is unique in history (“whom has never been; nor will there ever be any such after them…” 2:2).  This is an army from whom there is no escape, as all are consumed by their fire (2:3).  This is an army that seems to defy description, having the appearance of horses & noise of chariots, able to leap over mountains (2:4-5).  This doesn’t sound like an army of ancient days, but seems more descriptive of modern warfare.  Perhaps Joel describes the armies of Antichrist, maybe even in another veiled reference to the demonic locusts.

In any case, it is bad…and it is of the Lord.  Joel 2:10–11, "(10) The earth quakes before them, The heavens tremble; The sun and moon grow dark, And the stars diminish their brightness. (11) The Lord gives voice before His army, For His camp is very great; For strong is the One who executes His word. For the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; Who can endure it?"  The days described sound like the days of the Great Tribulation, yet Who is it that drives this army?  God!  The Lord God of Israel is the One controlling this terrible army & the One controlling the terrible situation.  Guess what?  That’s still the picture we see in the Book of Revelation.  On the one hand, there are hordes that are loyal to Antichrist, and it seems that the Devil is victorious.  On the other hand, it is all governed by the Sovereign God.  God brings them out for His holy purpose, and then casts His holy judgment upon the armies themselves.  Antichrist may rebel against God, but he cannot stop himself from being used by God.  God is sovereign over all!

Call to repentance (2:12-17)
Once more, Joel calls people to repent.  Whereas earlier, he told people to weep & lament, now he (via the Lord) tells them the full purpose of their weeping: Godly repentance & hope for mercy.  Joel 2:12–13, "(12) “Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” (13) So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm."  Amen!  This is what God desired from His people!  This was the whole reason for the armies and desolation.  God never destroys for the fun of it.  Even when someone truly deserves it, God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Eze 33:11).  It’s far better when someone repents & truly comes to faith in Christ!

In essence, that is exactly what God says to the Jews here through Joel.  Christ is not mentioned by name, but He is never far from the picture when God calls people to turn to Him in faith.  After all, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life – no one comes to the Father except through Him (Jn 14:6).  That’s true regardless which part of the Bible you read (Old or New Testament).  Here, God calls people to true faith – sincere faith.  This isn’t about rituals or going through motions of repentance.  This isn’t about outward actions appearing to mourn (such as ripping one’s outer clothing).  This about a heartfelt change when people truly turn to God in faith and worship.  When they did, they would learn of God’s true character (being “gracious & merciful”) and they would experience the kindness of God firsthand.

That was God’s desire for Israel, and that is God’s desire for all the world!  In reference to all of this judgment on the Day of the Lord, it most certainly will come, but God’s heartfelt desire is that people would be spared from all of it.  2 Peter 3:9, "(9) The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."  His promise of judgment will come, but His promise of mercy is here right now for the asking!  (So ask!  Humble yourself & repent!)

So what would happen if the people did it?  What would happen if they actually rent their hearts before the Lord in true humility & worship, turning to God in heartfelt sorrow & repentance?  See vs. 18…

Restoration of the land (2:18-27)
Joel 2:18–19, "(18) Then the Lord will be zealous for His land, And pity His people. (19) The Lord will answer and say to His people, “Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, And you will be satisfied by them; I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations."  God would answer their prayer!  He would take up the cause of His people, bless them once more materially & protect them once more militarily (2:20).  The armies would be drawn away from Israel, back to the north (perhaps a reference to Ezekiel 38?) – however it happens, the army itself would be judged by the Lord for their “monstrous things” (2:20).

In contrast with the evil army, God will do marvelous things! (2:21)  No longer did the people need to fear & wail – God would restore their covenant blessings that He promised in Deuteronomy.  Their land would once again yield fruit, the rains would come, and their vats would overflow with oil. (2:23-24)  In the process, God gives them a glorious promise, relating back to their first experience with judgment: Joel 2:25–27, "(25) “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, The crawling locust, The consuming locust, And the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you. (26) You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, And praise the name of the Lord your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you; And My people shall never be put to shame. (27) Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the Lord your God And there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame."

Restoration!  And more than just restoration of the land is the restoration of their relationship with God.  Everything that had been lost would be turned around again, and the people would live in blessing with the God who had taken them to Himself.  They would know the Lord, and the Lord would know them.

  • Even when it comes to our own discipline by God, this is always the goal.  God desires our restoration!  As the writer of Hebrews notes, no punishment feels good at the time, though it might be necessary (Heb 12:11).  But the end result of discipline is something so much better: restoration!  The whole ministry of the gospel is reconciliation.  In our sin, we are estranged from God, but through the work of Jesus at the cross, we are now reconciled – restored.  What was lost in the Garden of Eden is now found & made right again.  We can trust God for the restoration!

Restoration of the people (2:28-32)
Beyond the restoration of the land is the restoration of the people themselves.  This most definitely seems to be a prophecy with dual fulfillment in mind.  The original context is Israel, but the first application was to the Church.  This is what was quoted by Peter in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost, as he specifically said that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles was “what was spoken by the prophet Joel.” (Acts 2:16)  At the same time, there can be no doubt that not everything in this prophecy was fulfilled as Peter uttered the words that day.  After all, Joel prophesied of more than just tongues & prophecy, but about the Day of the Lord.  Joel 2:28–32, "(28) “And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. (29) And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. (30) “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. (31) The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. (32) And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the Lord has said, Among the remnant whom the Lord calls."

The Spirit was poured out on Pentecost, yes – but the sun was not turned to darkness, not the moon to blood.  That prophecy is yet to be fulfilled.  And it will be.  When: potentially on the day that the Jewish people as a whole have the spiritual blinders removed from their eyes & they come to faith in Christ.  The Jews of the Great Tribulation will finally call upon the Lord to be saved, and they will once more experience an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, even as the ministry of the Holy Spirit changes with the Church being in heaven with Jesus.  Just as the Spirit was poured out upon certain individuals in the days of Moses & David, so will He be poured out upon the nation, as they witness to the rest of the world of the coming Day of the Lord.

In fact, it is to those nations that the attention of Joel turns.

Future Judgment
God’s judgment upon the nations (3:1-17)
Those who believe the Book of Joel to have been written after the captivity cite 3:1 as potential proof that the people of God had indeed been taken captive & had to be returned to the land.  At the same time, this could also be said about Israel many times during their history.  Joel could have easily have written of the Babylonian captivity years in advance – or possibly be looking forward to the present time in which Jews are returning to Israel en masse

In any case, the people are now back in the land, reformed as a nation by a miracle of God, and the nations who had earlier come against them were now rounded up to be judged.  The Gentiles had scattered God’s people around the world, divided up the land of Israel among themselves, and had treated the Jews like property (3:2-3).  (Sound familiar?  Unless American foreign policy towards Israel changes, the United States could find itself doing things for which God specifically condemned other nations.)

God knew the sins of these people, specifically listed here as Tyre, Sidon & Philistia (3:4), and He promised to retaliate against them.  They had taken what was precious to God, so God would take what was precious to them.  They had not only plundered God’s temple, but His nation.  That was something for which God would take vengeance.

This time, it wasn’t the Jews who were to prepare for war, but the Gentile nations themselves (3:9).  They would beat their plowshares into swords in a vain attempt to fight against God.  If it sounds ridiculous to fight against the Lord of the Universe, it is…but that is exactly what will happen at the Battle of Armageddon.  The nations of the world, united by Antichrist, will believe that it can defeat Jesus Christ – they will be severely mistaken.  Joel writes of it here: Joel 3:15–17, "(15) The sun and moon will grow dark, And the stars will diminish their brightness. (16) The Lord also will roar from Zion, And utter His voice from Jerusalem; The heavens and earth will shake; But the Lord will be a shelter for His people, And the strength of the children of Israel. (17) “So you shall know that I am the Lord your God, Dwelling in Zion My holy mountain. Then Jerusalem shall be holy, And no aliens shall ever pass through her again.”"

At that time, ALL people everywhere will know that Jesus is Lord!  When Jesus comes in power & victory, there will be no more excuses, no more mistakes.  God will rise in defense of His people, and we as the Church will be right with the Lord Jesus to witness the whole thing!

God’s blessing upon His people (3:18-21)
Joel finishes up with a description of what life will be like for the restored nation of Israel to physically dwell with the Lord in her midst (i.e. Jesus reigning from Jerusalem).  It once more will be a land flowing with milk, and water will be abundant (3:18).  They will abide forever with the Lord, having been forever forgiven by the Lord. (3:21)  Why? “For the LORD dwells in Zion.”  When Jesus is there, everything is set right!

Conclusion:
Joel wrote of a terrible day in the future: one during which Israel would fear, tremble, and see everything consumed.  But Joel also wrote of a better day: one of restoration and protection as the Lord granted them grace, mercy, and His presence.  Part of this would come true during the captivity & return from Babylon, but Joel seemed to look past that event to something far bigger: the Great Tribulation.  Just as Jesus taught, it would be a time of terrible trial for Israel, and unless the days were shortened, all life would be lost (Mt 24:22).  But God does preserve His people, and He has a promise for His people.  They would see His glory & experience His grace.  They had a promise of restoration, and that promise was good!

We have a promise of restoration in the gospel & praise God for it!  We have been reconciled back to God, and though we may have lost much in our sin, there is no longer any separation between us and our Heavenly Father!

For others, you may have experienced loss of a different kind.  Perhaps due to sin of your own, you’ve also experienced locusts of sorts.  The discipline of God has come & much has been taken.  There is good news here: our God is a God who restores!  Will everything be just as it was before?  Maybe – maybe not.  But even if it’s different, it may be better, more full of grace than you can possibly imagine.  Trust God for His restoration!