Part of today’s Life Journal reading is the prophetic book of Joel, a short but power-packed (and vindictive!) oracle about God, his people Israel, and the nations. I want to make a few observations about the message of Joel, and later today or tomorrow I’ll post some thoughts about Joel, the New Testament, and Jesus. (This one is already a bit longer than I’d hoped. Sorry!)
Joel brings an unpopular prediction of judgment. (1.1-2.11) The whole first half of Joel is not good news. And it is not what God’s people expected or desired. The “day of the LORD” is not what they had hoped. Put simply, God’s people assumed that their capital city (Jerusalem) and its Temple were invincible. They took God’s promises to their ancient Kings David and Solomon to mean that God would make them victorious no matter what. Joel disagrees; because of Israel’s gross unfaithfulness – turning obedient faith into ritualistic religion, among other things – God was prepared to act decisively against them. Specifically, he would send pagan nations – here symbolized by locusts (see vv. 4-6) – to conquer and destroy them. Remarkably, this collection of pagan nations are here pictured as Yahweh’s army (2.11, 25). You can read the details for yourself; the lesson for us is that we must never think that because we call ourselves God’s people, God will always act in our favor. As Peter says, “Judgment begins with the household of God” (1 Pet 4.17). Sometimes God has to pull out the paddle for our own good.
Joel brings an urgent call for repentance. (2.12-17) As always in prophetic books, prediction is designed to call for an immediate response. The point is not to tell the future, less still to help us understand “the end of the world,” but rather to shock God’s people into waking up and coming to terms with our own infidelity to God. (Tim Lahaye, I hope you’re listening.) Once again you can read the details, but let me draw your attention to one example. At the end of verse 16 we see just how urgent this message is: “Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.” It’s enough for us to say that this was a very intimate moment, but even this should be interrupted because the situation is so severe! We too should consider our need to be awakened from what may very well turn out to be a drunken stupor; perhaps things are not as peachy as we often assume – and I’m talking about within the church, not outside it.
Joel brings a creation-wide promise of restoration. (2.18-3.21) As always with God, judgment is the second-to-last word. Mercy triumphs over judgment, as Scripture says elsewhere. And this picture of a redeemed future is not one of God’s people sitting on clouds playing harps; it is a portrait of creation celebrated precisely because it is renewed, not destroyed! All anti-creation elements have been removed (ch 3) and the earth is finally characterized by fruit-bearing trees, life-giving rains in autumn and spring, green pastures for wild animals to roam, an abundance of grain and oil, and most importantly, a community of persons equally empowered by God’s Spirit (2.28-32). God’s judgment – which is here equally doled out to God’s “friends” and his “enemies” – always serves the larger purposes of the full restoration and fruitfulness of all creation.
On that day of restoration, to paraphrase God’s message to Joel for our own day, “All will know that I am in my people, that I am Yahweh your God, and that there is no other.”