Category Archives: Joel

Joel 2:18-3:21: Promises, promises

Why do we do the things we do? What MOTIVATES us to do ONE thing, instead of ANOTHER?

We might say, “No,” to dessert because we’re trying to be healthy and lose weight.

We might mow the lawn or wash the car because we want to please our wives.

We might discipline our children because we want them to grow up as responsible, well-adjusted kids.

But there’s often a whole lot of ulterior, or HIDDEN, reasons why we do things.

We might say, “No,” to dessert because we want to look better than our bridesmaids in our wedding photos. And it’s really about our self-centredness.

We might mow the lawn or wash the car because we want to go fishing NEXT weekend. And it’s really about our selfishness.

And we might discipline our kids because we’re embarrassed when they muck up, and it’s really about our pride.

It’s so easy for us to do something ONE DAY with a GOOD motivation. But then the NEXT day do that SAME THING for a SELFISH OR SINFUL reason.

But what about GOD? Why does GOD do the things he does? What MOTIVATES him? Why does he CURSE, and why does he BLESS? Why does he JUDGE, and why does he RESCUE?

Sometimes they seem like OPPOSITE actions. And that God’s CONFUSED about his motives. Does he change his mind? Is he CONFLICTED?

We’re halfway through the book of Joel. We’ve seen how God has brought A LOCUST PLAGUE that’s destroyed Israel. Stripped the land bare. There’s no grapes or grain. There’s nothing for people or animals to eat.

And God’s done it all because his people have REFUSED to follow him. And he wants to get their attention. So they’ll RETURN to him. It’s DISCIPLINE and CORRECTION. Like Ch 2 v12.

12’Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ 13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

So why did God send the locusts? What MOTIVATED him?

First, he did it because he’s FAITHFUL. He’d PROMISED it, and he always keeps his promises.

Secondly, he did it because he’s LOVING. Which seems a strange way of showing love. But he wanted his people to RETURN to him. He was their God and they were his people. He WANTS them back. And he’s using the locusts to DO that.

And, once they DO come back, he ABOUNDS in love, and he RELENTS from sending calamity.

And so the prophetic word from Joel is for the people to come together to plead their case before God. To pray that he’d STOP the devastation. And restore the land to HEALTH. Look at the prayer in Ch 2 v17.

Let them say, ‘SPARE your people, O LORD. Do not make your inheritance AN OBJECT OF SCORN, a BYWORD among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘WHERE IS THEIR GOD?”

It’s an interesting prayer. It’s a plea for God’s mercy. But it’s not based on any merits of their own. They’re not saying, “Spare your people, O LORD, because WE DESERVE IT. Because we’ve CHANGED. We’re BETTER. We promise we’ll try harder next time.”

What they’re really doing is appealing to God’s good name. His HONOUR. They’re really saying, “If you DON’T spare us, then all the nations around are going to make fun of YOU. They’ll look at OUR hopeless situation. And question whether YOU’RE POWERFUL. So, SAVE US!

It’s an argument they borrowed from Moses. He used it quite often as he tried to stop God from wiping everyone out in the wilderness.

Like Deut 9.27.

27 Remember your servants … Overlook the stubbornness of this people, … their sin. 28 Otherwise, (Egypt) will say, ‘Because the LORD was not ABLE to take them into the land he had promised them, and because he HATED them, he brought them out to put them to death in the desert.’ 29 But they are YOUR people, your INHERITANCE that you brought out by your great POWER and your outstretched arm.”

Moses reminding God of his POWER and his LOVE. The two things Egypt would DOUBT if he destroyed them. Even though destruction’s what they deserved.

And that’s what Joel encourages the people to do HERE. Remind God of his character. “Don’t make your inheritance an object of scorn!” Don’t give them an excuse to RUBBISH you. Spare us!

Why God does what he does

And that’s where we finished last week. With “the ball in God’s court” (so to speak). So what will God do? And WHY?

Well, God IS going to do something,. And he makes some wonderful PROMISES we’ll get to in a moment. But let’s look at his MOTIVES first. WHY he does what he does.

And what’s somewhat SURPRISING is that God’s going to act because he’s JEALOUS. Jealous for his PEOPLE. And jealous for his NAME. Look there at v18.

18 Then the LORD will BE JEALOUS FOR HIS LAND and take pity ON HIS PEOPLE.

It’s so surprising that commentators want to use a different word. They say, “It really means ZEALOUS – committed, enthusiastic.”

Which is certainly TRUE. God IS committed to his land and his people. But that’s not what it SAYS. He’s JEALOUS.

It SHOULDN’T be surprising though. It’s CENTRAL to God’s character. It’s even in the Ten Commandments. It’s the reason why we’re not to worship other gods. Exodus 20:5.

5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a JEALOUS God,

So, what does it mean that God’s JEALOUS?

First thing to say is it’s not the same thing as ENVY. These days we tend use JEALOUSY and ENVY to mean the same thing. But they’re NOT.

I’m JEALOUS for something that’s rightfully mine. Like my family. So if someone tries to take them away, or hurt them. I will act because I’m JEALOUS. I’m protecting what’s MINE. Jealousy is directed towards MY FAMILY in this case. It can be a GOOD thing.

But ENVY is something different. It’s about wanting something that’s NOT mine. And it’s directed at THAT thing.

Tim Boyce caught the biggest fish on the fishing day, and he won the trophy. I could ENVY him. Envy the fame and the trophy and the flathead. They’re not mine, but I want them. That’s ENVY. And it’s NOT a good thing.

But God is JEALOUS for his land and his people. They BELONG to HIM. His INHERITANCE. it says in v17. His treasured possession. They’re his people, and he’s their GOD.

And they’re being RIDICULED by the nations. Made fun of. And so, God’s going to ACT. V19.

19 The LORD will reply to them: ‘I am sending you grain, new wine and oil, enough to satisfy you fully; NEVER AGAIN WILL I MAKE YOU AN OBJECT OF SCORN TO THE NATIONS.

Restoration

God’s going to RESTORE them to prosperity. REVERSE all the destruction and famine. And REPLACE it with fertility and abundance. Grain, wine and oil.

And V20. Reversal. The destroying army will ITSELF be destroyed.

V21. Three groups will REJOICE. Back in Ch 1 three groups MOURNED. (The drunkards, the priests and the farmers.)

But here we’ve got three groups REJOICING.

V21. The LAND rejoices.

V22. The ANIMALS can stop being afraid because the pastures will become green again.

And v23. The PEOPLE can rejoice because he’s bringing rain and grain. Wine and oil.

And as we get to the end of that section (down in v26), we see more of the same. “You will have plenty to eat, until you are full.”

But we also see ANOTHER of God’s motivations for acting. Why he DOES what he DOES. He’s jealous for his PEOPLE. But he’s ALSO JEALOUS FOR HIS OWN NAME (v26).

(You will have plenty to eat, until you are full) AND YOU WILL PRAISE THE NAME OF THE LORD YOUR GOD, WHO HAS WORKED WONDERS FOR YOU; never again will my people be shamed. 27 THEN YOU WILL KNOW THAT I AM IN ISRAEL, THAT I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND THAT THERE IS NO OTHER; never again will my people be shamed.

God’s the ONLY ONE who rightfully OWNS allegiance and worship and honour. The ONLY God. His character and power are PERFECT. None can compare. He’ll accept NO SUBSTITUTES.

So, when people worship OTHER gods. Or when they insult or put down God. Or when they try to REPLACE him on the throne. Then God’s JEALOUS for his NAME. For his REPUTATION.

And he acts for the SAKE of his NAME. That’s what it means in the Ten Commandments when he says.

5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a JEALOUS God,

HE owns worship and allegiance. No one else. And he’ll JEALOUSLY DEFEND his honour. Guard his reputation. His NAME.

It’s no different to the reason he brought the locusts on Israel IN THE FIRST PLACE. FOR THE SAKE OF HIS NAME. To show his faithfulness and reliability and justice.

In fact it’s why he does EVERYTHING he does. Why he created the world. For the sake of his name. It’s why WE exist. To bring honour to his reputation. To glorify god and enjoy him forever.

And it’s why he now promises to RESTORE his land and people. FOR THE SAKE OF HIS NAME. So that people will know that GOD IS IN ISRAEL. And there IS NO OTHER.

But wait, there’s more

But God’s got MORE in store for them. They prayed to be spared the famine and destruction of the locusts. But God’s going to do even BETTER. “But wait, there’s MORE,” he says. You don’t know the HALF of it!

In the SHORT TERM, he promises deliverance and prosperity. But in the LONG TERM, he’s got something BETTER in store. Look there from v28.

28’And afterward, I will pour out MY SPIRIT on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

First up, he promises to pour out his Spirit on EVERYONE. He won’t just pour out the RAINS on the GROUND. He’ll POUR out the SPIRITUAL refreshment of his Holy Spirit.

No longer for the select few. For the kings and prophets. But for ALL SORTS. Sons and daughters. Young and old. Even the lowest in society – on SERVANTS. They’ll be people receiving words and dreams and prophecies from God ALL OVER THE PLACE.

But that’s not all. SECOND, God’s going to bring JUSTICE. The nations have scorned Israel. Ridiculed them. And dragged God’s name through the mud. And God’s going to set the record straight.

So far, God’s promised only ONE SIDE of fixing things up. To RESTORE his people. But there’s nothing yet about how he’ll treat the NATIONS. The ones who’ve ridiculed God and his people.

It takes BOTH sides for God’s name to be vindicated. Salvation AND judgment. Justice doesn’t just mean RESTORING THE VICTIMS. That’s only HALF of it. It means PUNISHING THE EVIL-DOERS.

God will vindicate his name by saving AND judging.

And the day that’s going to happen is coming, says Joel. It’s THE DAY OF THE LORD. The day when God’s power and character are seen. When he acts for his name’s sake. Look there from v30.

30 I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of THE GREAT AND DREADFUL DAY OF THE LORD.

For those who CALL on his name (v32), there’ll be SALVATION on that day. Deliverance to those who HONOUR his name, and who look to him for HELP.

But for those who’ve TRASHED his name (moving into Ch 3) there’ll be JUDGMENT.

‘In those days…, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, 2 I will gather all nations and …I will enter into JUDGMENT against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel,

It’s all about how they’ve treated his people. Because God’s JEALOUS for them. And for his NAME.

And he goes on to talk about how he’ll come in BATTLE against them. And he’ll mow them down like he’s harvesting hay. Down to v13.

13 Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.

And he’ll SQUASH them like a vat full of grapes.

Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow- so great is their wickedness!’

God’s power will be SO magnificent, the heavens themselves will shake and disappear V15.

15 The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine. 16 The LORD will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble.

And the result of it all will be that the two concerns that motivated God – jealousy for his people and his name- will be satisfied.

But the LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel. 17(First) ‘THEN YOU WILL KNOW that I, the LORD your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. (Second) Jerusalem will be holy; never again will foreigners invade her.

It’s a wonderful picture. God dwelling among his people. His people safe and prosperous. His Spirit poured out on them. That’s the image in v18. A fountain flowing out of the Lord’s house. His Spirit flowing to his people.

And, v20, there’s STABILITY. Judah will be inhabited FOREVER. No more invaders, no more exile.

It’s a picture of PARADISE. Of the Garden of Eden revisited. But this time AS A CITY. Something wonderful for Israel to look forward to. And us, TOO.

So when was Joel thinking of? Was he thinking about JUDGMENT DAY AT THE END OF TIME, or of something else?

Like MOST of the Old Testament, it’s a very EARTHLY picture.

WE see the categories of judgment and salvation and paradise and the Day of the LORD with New Testament eyes. And think of eternal life, and of heaven and hell.

But the Old Testament only HINTS at those ideas. So it’s not surprising that Joel describes judgment and salvation and the day of the LORD in EARTHLY categories.

And I think that’s what Joel would have been EXPECTING. Certainly the restoration after the locusts was EARTHLY. And then after that, an earthly POURING OUT OF THE SPIRIT. And then signs in the skies before an EARTHLY Day of the LORD. A literal battle between God and his enemies.

But, like MOST prophecy, Joel spoke better than he knew. God had poured MORE meaning into his words than the simple, EARTHLY sense. And it’s all focussed around CHRIST.

And, with the blessings of Christ, and the New Testament, we can make better sense of God’s promises through Joel.

In 2:28 Joel says that AFTER the removal of the locusts, he’d pour out his Spirit on all people.

And that happened. In the fullness of time, maybe 400 years later, Jesus CAME, and the LAST DAYS BEGAN. He was baptised with God’s Spirit, and through his death and resurrection was AUTHORISED by the Father to pour out his Spirit.

And it happened in Jerusalem at the Festival of Pentecost. Jesus had returned to heaven. Acts Ch 2 tells the story (flip over there with me – p771). The apostles and the other disciples are all together.

2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (or languages) as the Spirit enabled them.

And Jews from every corner of the known world were able to understand, in their own language, the disciples declaring the wonders of God.

The Apostle Peter stands up and explains that it’s what Joel had described (Acts 2:16). We’re not drunk, he says.

16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

And he keeps going, even the bits about the WONDERS AND SIGNS in the heavens and earth, all the way down to the bit where Joel says,

21 And everyone who calls on THE NAME OF THE LORD will be saved.’ 

And then he says, It’s all because of JESUS. V22.

Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, WONDERS AND SIGNS, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.

That’s the “signs and wonders” bit of Joel’s prophecy. All happening IN THE LAST DAYS.

Peter goes on to describe Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jump down to v32.

32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 EXALTED TO THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, HE HAS RECEIVED FROM THE FATHER THE PROMISED HOLY SPIRIT AND HAS POURED OUT WHAT YOU NOW SEE AND HEAR.

Just as Joel described. And then V36.

God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

God’s exalted Jesus. Restored his own REPUTATION.

And the crowd recognise they’ve made a mistake in calling for his execution. And they’re DEVASTATED. And they ask Peter what they should DO. Peter says, “Repent and be baptised for the forgiveness of your sins. And YOU will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s a promise for YOU. AS WELL AS for those who are FAR OFF.”

That’s US! God’s promise that, when we repent, he forgives us, and gives us his Spirit. Making us his children, and guaranteeing us safety and ETERNITY.

Which is the SECOND bit of Joel’s prophecy. About THE DAY OF THE LORD. The FIRST bit’s already happened in the ministry of Jesus. The signs and wonders in the skies, and the pouring out of God’s Spirit.

And, at the moment, we’re living between THAT and the Day of the LORD. The FINAL day of the LORD. When not only will ISRAEL’S enemies be destroyed. But ALL God’s enemies. From every age. Raised to life to be judged.

Even THIS WORLD will be called to account.

A number of years later that same Apostle, Peter, wrote his second letter. And he talked about THE DAY OF THE LORD.

And he described a NEW sort of Paradise. Not in earthly Zion. But a WHOLE NEW heaven and earth. 2 Peter 3:10.

10 But THE DAY OF THE LORD will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, AND THE EARTH AND EVERYTHING IN IT WILL BE LAID BARE… 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

One day God will ACT. Motivated by what his motives ALWAYS are. For the honour of his name and of his people. Scoffers will be silenced, every knee will bow. Every injustice will be corrected.

There WILL come a day when PROMISE becomes REALITY. When FAITH and HOPE will see their GOAL. When all your longing and trust and perseverance will be REWARDED.

And Peter has TWO APPLICATIONS in LIGHT of that certainty. How we should live and think in response to those promises.

God GIVES us promises about the future through Peter FOR A REASON. For the SAME reason he gave promises about the future through JOEL. To CHANGE us. To make us CLING to him in trust and hope.

2 Peter 3:11 says.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE OUGHT YOU TO BE? You ought to live holy and godly lives

Since the old earth will be destroyed. Don’t CLING to it. Don’t pin your hopes on it SATISFYING you. It CAN’T! It wasn’t MADE to. Only ONE sort of long-term investment strategy counts. Living holy and godly lives.

God’s designed you for HIMSELF. To be filled with his Spirit. Living for him and with him and in him. To live that way NOW.

That’s looking BACK. To THIS world. But we’re to LOOK FORWARD AS WELL. V14.

We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO BE FOUND SPOTLESS, BLAMELESS AND AT PEACE WITH HIM.

That’s planning for the future! And notice that’s a GROUP assignment. We do it TOGETHER. That’s what CHURCH is for. Dear friends, we’ve been promised a spotless, perfect new home. Let’s make every effort to MEASURE UP. To be WORTHY of it. Worthy of the One who calls us there.

Cling to God’s PROMISES. Return to him. He’s gracious and compassionate.

He’s given us his Spirit. He’s promised to set things right. Promised us a new home.

And He’s faithful, reliable and consistent. He ALWAYS keeps his promises.

Joel 1:1-2:17: The ultimate attention-grabber

How does God grab your attention? I asked that question on facebook last week and I got some interesting answers.

Some I EXPECTED. Like Mark, who said God grabs his attention IN CREATION – with jaw-dropping beauty and majesty. Or Ross, who said God shouted at him through NATURAL DISASTERS – like the Boxing Day Tsunami.

Then there was Daphne who said that God grabs her attention through family sickness and difficult times. And Kathryn who said he did through a car accident.

Some were LESS obvious. Tom said that God gets his attention when there’s NO INTERNET ACCESS. And Kristian said that HIS WIFE has been used by God to get his attention. What a good wife!

God can use ALL SORTS of ways to get our attention. And he NEEDS to. Because we’re SO EASILY DISTRACTED. We’re so quick to take our eyes off him, and onto OTHER things. Or onto OURSELVES. So quick to think life is about US making the decisions and steering the ship.

When God wants us to put everything into HIS hands. To CONFESS our independence and rebellion. To walk humbly before him. Recognising our helplessness and need and our DEBT before him.

And that’s why some of the things people mentioned were TERRIBLE things. Like car accidents and family sickness. But God can USE those things to teach us to TRUST him. To put him FIRST. To break our pride. And to make us patient. And to fix our hope on eternity.

But the truth is we don’t really know if it’s GOD who’s trying to get our attention through those difficult things. Or if it’s just the way things work out.

Often, we only work out AFTERWARDS that God’s been using them to teach us things, or to change us. As we LOOK BACK. As we look at the FRUIT of the circumstances.

Or perhaps we haven’t even worked it out OURSELVES. Perhaps SOMEONE ELSE has noticed how we’ve changed. How we have a different ATTITUDE. A contentment. A hope. A humility.

And the REASON it’s tough to work out. The reason it’s so tricky to decide if God’s using circumstances to speak  is that there’s NO WORDS that go WITH it. We don’t have HIS WORD to tell what the message IS. We just have him banging on our heads to get our attention. But then not specifically telling us what his message is.

Except through his promises in the Bible. Which speak in a more GENERAL sort of way.

The truth is we only know if God’s trying to get our attention if HE TELLS US. Which is what he does for Israel in the book of Joel. It’s what makes the message of JOEL so different.

God’s using natural disasters to grab the attention of his people. In this case, a plague of locusts. A fairly standard event. Terrible! But not that unusual.

But what sets it apart is that he COMBINES it with his prophetic WORD. He SPEAKS to them once he’s got their attention. See it there? The very first verse of the book. Ch 1 v1

1:1 THE WORD OF THE LORD that came to Joel son of Pethuel.

We don’t know anything else about Joel. We don’t know WHEN he lived or WHERE he lived. There’s no historical circumstances we can work out to help us know the setting. And I reckon that means it was some time AFTER Israel had returned from exile. Some time after 500 BC.

Babylon ruled over them, sure. But they’d rebuilt their temple, and life was pretty normal. There was peace. Which was A PROBLEM, because it brought complacency and pride with it.

Which is where JOEL comes in. Because he’s got a word from God for God’s people. v2

2 Hear this, you elders; listen, all who live in the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your forefathers?

V4.

4 What the locust SWARM has left, the GREAT locusts have eaten; what the GREAT locusts have left, the YOUNG locusts have eaten; what the YOUNG locusts have left, OTHER locusts have eaten.

Complete devastation. Not a green leaf left. On trees or bushes or grass. Everything stripped bare.

V6. It’s like A NATION has invaded. Teeth of a lion.

Bad news if you’re one of three groups ESPECIALLY.

V5. Drunkards. Wine will be in short supply if there’s no grapes. Looks like you’re going cold turkey!

Or v9. The priests at the temple. Every day they’d offer grain offerings and drink offerings of wine. But when there’s no grain and no wine, then there’s no offerings. And when there’s no offerings, there’s no fellowship with their God.

And finally, v11, the FARMERS. They feel drought and destruction of crops much worse than WE do. We just pay more for our food, or buy something else. But it RUINS farmers.

11 Despair, you farmers, wail, you vine growers; grieve for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field is destroyed.

It’s a terrible situation. The nation’s on the ropes. No wine, no offerings, no food.

How to respond when God grabs your attention

It seems hopeless. But that’s where Joel’s message comes in. Because he’s come to tell them HOW TO RESPOND when God grabs your attention

You see, God doesn’t just bring tragedy on his people FOR NO REASON. This is no RANDOM disaster. God’s not fickle or unpredictable.

He’s RELIABLE and FAITHFUL. He ALWAYS keeps his word.

And the reality is he’d already WARNED Israel what would happen. And God ALWAYS keeps his word.

Back in Deut 28 (p144 – just flip back there for a moment). The people are about to enter the promised land. Perhaps 1000 years before Joel. And Moses spells out the covenant agreement they’re making with God. If they FOLLOW God. If they fully obey him, and walk in his ways. He’ll BLESS them. Children, crops, enemies defeated. They’ll be established as his holy people. v12.

12 The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands.

But then God promises the OTHER side of the agreement. If they DON’T obey him and follow his commands, they’ll be CURSED. Diseases, closed wombs. V22 scorching heat, blight and mildew. V25. The LORD will cause you to be defeat before your enemies.

V28. The LORD will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind.

All sorts of terrible things. INCLUDING, down in v38.

38 You will sow much seed in the field but you will harvest little, BECAUSE LOCUSTS WILL DEVOUR IT.

And then down in v42.

42 Swarms of locusts will take over all your trees and the crops of your land.

God PROMISED it. And God DELIVERED it in Joel’s generation. Because the people had FAILED to follow him. God brings the curses of the covenant on them. And the locusts strip the land bare.

Mourn

But there’s a PURPOSE to it all. It’s not just meaningless. That’s God’s message through Joel. He tells them how to RESPOND when God grabs your attention. (Back over in Joel again)

And the FIRST way, ch 1 v13, is you MOURN. EVERYONE. The priests and the elders are to organise a .NATIONAL DAY OF MOURNING.

Cry out to the LORD (1:15)

But not just grief IN GENERAL. Direct it towards GOD. The end of v14. “Summon all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God and cry out TO THE LORD.”

He’s the one you’ve SINNED against. He’s the One who can do something about it.

And it’s not just a plea for GOD to do all the moving. All the CHANGING. Flip over to Ch 2 v12. The way to respond when God gets your attention is to mourn, to cry out to the LORD. But then to RETURN TO HIM IN REPENTANCE. That’s the whole reason he brought the disaster IN THE FIRST PLACE. Ch 2 v12.

12’Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ 13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God,

To REND is to TEAR. And God wants sinful people to respond to him with torn HEARTS. Repentant, sorrowful hearts. Desperate for mercy and forgiveness. Desperate to make amends. To try harder to obey.

That’s what he wants.

And there’s TWO EXTRA INCENTIVES in Joel’s plea that the people mourn and return to God. One NEGATIVE and one POSITIVE.

Two incentives

There’s worse to come

First, the NEGATIVE. The people are to call out to God because of what’s ALREADY HAPPENED. (Look there at the end of Ch 1, v19.)

19 To you, O LORD, I call, for fire has devoured the open pastures and flames have burned up all the trees of the field

Already happened. And there’s nothing left. Nothing to eat or drink or sacrifice.

Which is bad enough. But there’s worse to come. Read on into Ch 2.

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, FOR THE DAY OF THE LORD IS COMING. It is close at hand-  2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was of old nor ever will be in ages to come.

So, what’s the day of the LORD? It’s the day when God’s POWER will be seen. In THIS case, Joel’s talking about a future event when an army will march against God’s people.

And they can’t expect any help from God. Because he’s marching at the HEAD of it. He’s the One who’s bringing it all on. Look down to v10.

10 Before them the earth shakes, the sky trembles, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine. 11 THE LORD THUNDERS AT THE HEAD OF HIS ARMY; his forces are beyond number, and mighty are those who obey his command. The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?

Joel’s saying, “If you thought the FIRST plague was bad, wait until you see WHAT’S NEXT!”

So what IS it? Is it an army? Certainly v2 calls it “a large and mighty army”. It’s an army in v10, too.

But I reckon it’s just a metaphor for MORE LOCUSTS. Look at how they’re described. V3.

Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, behind them, a desert waste- nothing escapes them. 4 They have the APPEARANCE of horses; they gallop along LIKE cavalry. 5 With a noise LIKE that of chariots they leap over the mountaintops, like a crackling fire consuming stubble, LIKE a mighty army drawn up for battle.

V7.

7 They charge like warriors; they scale walls like soldiers. They all march in line, not swerving from their course. 8 They do not jostle each other; each marches straight ahead. They plunge through defenses without breaking ranks. 9 They rush upon the city; they run along the wall. They climb into the houses; like thieves they enter through the windows.

Isn’t that just like a locust plague? NOTHING can stop them. Walls, pits, mountains. Doors or windows!

But, ultimately, it doesn’t really MATTER. Whether it’s locusts described using the metaphor of an army. Or an army described using the metaphor of locusts. The point is the same. It’s THE LORD’S DAY. When he comes in judgment.

And Joel finishes his warning (v11)

The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?

God abounds in love

Well, if it weren’t for God, the answer to Joel’s question would be, “No one!” Because we’re HELPLESS before a natural disaster like a locust plague.

Just like we are before a tsunami. Or a drought. Or bushfire. Or flood.

But God answers the question, v12. The only person who stands A CHANCE of surviving the day of the LORD is the person who throws himself on God’s mercy

That’s the POSITIVE incentive to return to God. Because he LOVES to forgive. “Who can endure it?” says Joel.

God answers (v12), “I’ll tell you. But EVEN NOW, with the locusts swarming in the desert, return to me with fasting, weeping and mourning.”

Joel joins in “Rend your HEART.

Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. 14 Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing- grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God.

He LOVES a torn heart. And he HATES to send disaster. He’s GRACIOUS, and COMPASSIONATE. And SLOW to ANGER. He MIGHT have pity.

What about us?

And it’s that same plea God makes TO US. “Return to me!”

We may not experience LOCUST PLAGUES. But it MIGHT be sickness or unemployment or a car crash or no internet or beauty in nature or our wives. God will use ANY MEANS to get our attention. To get our attention off OURSELVES and onto HIM. To get our attention of the beauty of HIS WORLD. And onto God’s OWN beauty. To turn us around from rebels doing our OWN thing. To Children, living obediently, for HIS honour and glory.

Jesus – God’s ultimate attention-grabber

We may not have the SPECIFIC word applied to our natural disasters and tragedies that JOEL did. But we do have a very DEFINITE advantage over Israel. We’ve been privileged to witness God’s ULTIMATE attention-grabber. JESUS. Heb 1 says

1:1 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days HE HAS SPOKEN TO US BY HIS SON, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

There came a point when God had HAD ENOUGH of prophets. So he sent his son instead. Jesus, God himself, with skin and bones.

And humanity SAW him. Touched and heard him. And he’s spoken a much clearer word than the PROPHETS ever did. And communicated God’s character much more RICHLY.

And, while Joel, can only ask the question, “Who can endure the day of the LORD?” And be uncertain about the answer. “Who knows?” We’re under NO DOUBT who can endure the day of the LORD. The day of God’s JUDGMENT.

Because those of us who belong to Jesus need never fear God’s curse. Unlike Israel. We need not FEAR the dreadful day of the LORD.

The Christian life might have plenty of tough times. It WILL have plenty. That’s God’s promise. But whatever happens to us, it’s not PUNISHMENT. Not CURSE.

Galatians 3.13 puts it like this.

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law BY BECOMING A CURSE FOR US, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”  14 He redeemed us in order that THE BLESSING GIVEN TO ABRAHAM MIGHT COME TO THE GENTILES THROUGH CHRIST JESUS, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

There’s a sermon itself in those couple of verses. But the BASIC idea is that Jesus suffered all God’s just judgment in our place. So that we didn’t HAVE to. He was CURSED that we might be BLESSED. Which is what we have NOW. Even if sometimes life SEEMS like curses.

Blessed with knowing GOD HIMSELF through JESUS. Blessed with his forgiveness and grace and love. Blessed with purpose and perspective and joy and meaning. Blessed with an eternal inheritance. Blessed with his Spirit living with us. Giving us the ABILITY to repent and to serve him truly. More on that next week.

And it’s HIS Spirit who enables us to ANSWER Joel’s question. “Who can endure the day of the LORD?”

“I CAN!,” We answer, “Because I belong to Jesus. Who took God’s curse FOR me!”

So what should we think about those OTHER attention-grabbers? The sickness and the natural disasters and the tragedies?

ONE part of the answer is to say that’s the way the world is. We live in a fallen and broken world. The sin of Adam and Eve. And of you and me. It’s had CONSEQUENCES for God’s WORLD. Romans 8:20-22 says

Creation was subjected to FRUSTRATION, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay…The whole creation has been GROANING as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

God’s world is a frustrating and groaning and broken place. And God’s ALLOWED it. Because ONE DAY, he’s going to RESTORE it. RENEW it. Because he’s going to RENEW US.

And in the meantime, he’s going to USE that brokenness and frustration FOR HIS PURPOSES. Just like he did with the locusts. Romans 8 goes on. V28.

28 And we know that in ALL things God works for the GOOD of those who love him, who have been CALLED ACCORDING TO HIS PURPOSE. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined TO BE CONFORMED TO THE LIKENESS OF HIS SON,

God’s got it all planned out. It all happens so that we’ll become more like Jesus.

It’s the same reason an EARTHLY father disciplines his kids. To make them better. To teach them manners, or to be safe, or what’s right and wrong. Heb 12:7-11 encourages us to

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as SONS. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are NOT disciplined …then you are ILLEGITIMATE children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had HUMAN fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. HOW MUCH MORE should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for OUR GOOD, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces A HARVEST OF RIGHTEOUSNESS AND PEACE FOR THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN TRAINED BY IT.

 

THAT’S the way to respond when God’s trying to get your attention to it. To rend your heart. To throw yourself on his mercy. To recognise the hand of discipline of a loving Father. Who works ALL things for your good. Good that means he’s conforming you to the likeness of Jesus. Planting a harvest of righteousness and peace in you. All for HIS glory. Amen.