Today we are going to turn our attention to the second of the Minor Prophets, the prophet Joel. We don’t know hardly anything about Joel other than the fact that his dad’s name was Pethuel and that he was called to speak to the people of Judah. Just as we saw in our study of Hosea, personal history and background information concerning the life of the prophet are never the focus—it is the message of the prophet that is paramount. The prophet opens his mouth and speaks because God wants the people to hear from Him.
There are differences of opinion as to when God raised Joel up to speak to the people of Judah. Some believe that Joel was a contemporary of Hosea and Amos. This is why Joel is placed between these two prophets in our Bible. Others believe that Joel prophesied later, after the fall of the Southern Kingdom. The timeframe of when Joel’s prophesy was delivered is not nearly as important as are the events that brought about Joel’s prophesy and the message that God had for His people following the devastation—prepare for the Day of the Lord.
There is no question about what had happened in Judah—the land had been devastated and the devastation had affected everyone living in Judah. Let’s take a look at the opening verses of Joel and then we will dig in and see what we can learn. Read along with me from Joel 1:1-7.
1 The word of the LORD that came to Joel son of Pethuel. 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? 3 Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation. 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. 5 Wake up, you drunkards, and weep! Wail, all you drinkers of wine; wail because of the new wine, for it has been snatched from your lips. 6 A nation has invaded my land, powerful and without number; it has the teeth of a lion, the fangs of a lioness. 7 It has laid waste my vines and ruined my fig trees. It has stripped off their bark and thrown it away, leaving their branches white. (Joel 1:1-7 NIV)
Joel steps onto the scene after the devastation. Locusts have invaded the nation and nothing is left. “What the locust swarm have left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten.” I need to let you know that through the years there have been many Bible teachers who have said that Joel used allegory to describe the invaders of Judah. In their opinion, it wasn’t really locusts that wreaked such destruction, but it was probably an invading army. Some doubt that locusts can do the kind of damage described by Joel? Well, I would have to differ. This past week I dug a little deeper to see if there are any instances of locust swarms doing damage similar to this outside of the plague of locusts in Exodus, when God sent a swarm of locusts upon the Egyptians.
I Googled, “plague of locusts” and found an article from the online version of Time magazine by Marina Kamenev dated August 9, 2010. Her article is entitled, The Perfect Swarm: Locusts Threaten Eastern Australia. Listen to what she wrote,
As early as mid-August, eastern Australia may be hit with the biggest locust plague in more than 30 years. Without intervention, there could be more than $1.8 billion worth of damage to pastures, cereal crops and forage crops. Chris Adriaansen, the director of the Australian Plague Locust Commission, said that 5 million hectares of land could be affected…
The locusts have already chewed through some farmland. Heavy rainfall during the Australian summer led to higher numbers of the insects. Those that hatched in autumn managed to destroy 35,000 hectares of wheat and barley crops in Forbes Shire in central-west New South Wales. Graham Falconer, deputy mayor of Forbes, calculates $36.7 million worth of damage. Falconer believes that Australia wasn’t prepared for the locusts in March and is even more worried about what will happen in August. “It’s like a war,” he says. “If we don’t win it, we lose billions of dollars in crop.” …Falconer says… “If you are driving along the road, it’s like constantly being hit with hail. They are everywhere, when you are walking on the ground there are 40 or 50 in every square foot.” For now, all that Australia’s farmers can do is hope that preparation is adequate, that the locusts won’t be as nightmarish as a decade of drought. (Read more: http://tiny.cc/xaikw)
This article is from less than two weeks ago. Swarms of locusts continue to do their damage all across the world. The effects of swarms of locusts have been felt worldwide throughout history. Our own country has been affected. The worst recorded plague of locusts in our country’s history dates from 1874-1875 when billions of locusts moved through Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Western Missouri. Listen to these descriptions.
They came in swarms, they came by the millions, they came in legions, they came by the mile, and they darkened the heavens in their flight, or blackened the earth’s surface, where in myriads they sought their daily meal. Henry County was visited from about the first week of May, and remained until the 1st of June, 1875, and during that time, every spear of wheat, oats, flax and corn were eaten close to the ground. Potatoes and all vegetables received the same treatment, and on the line of their march, ruin stared the farmer in the face, and starvation knocked loudly at his door.” (The History of Henry and St. Clair County, Missouri. 1883, National Historical Company, St. Joseph, Missouri.)
I can’t remember any time, during my lifetime, when I have experienced a plague of locusts. Because I haven’t experienced such, it is easy for me to conclude that it just couldn’t happen. I mean, after all, we are talking about insects. What real damage can they do right? I share this with you for an important reason. We have a problem that impedes our understanding of God’s Word. Our problem is this: If we have not experienced “it” then surely it couldn’t happen. This arrogant mentality leads us to easily dismiss God’s Word when it doesn’t fit our particular point of reference. I hope that what I’ve just shared with you will be etched on your heart and mind so that we will never be guilty of this misstep.
Let’s get back to our lesson for this morning. There are really two lessons that I want to highlight for us this morning. First, I want us to learn about the Day of the Lord. What is it? When does it take place? How can we prepare for the Day? The Second lesson is God’s redeeming love shown through Joel’s message. Let’s begin.
The “Day of the Lord” is the theme of Joel’s message. The phrase is found in Joel 1:15; 2:1; 2:11; 2:31; and 3:14. On a larger scale we can find the phrase the “Day of the Lord’ nineteen times, used by eight different writers, throughout the Old Testament. In the New Testament we find the Day of the Lord used five times (Acts 2:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10.) What is the Day of the Lord? Jeff Miller is the Pastor of Trinity Bible Church in Dallas, Texas. He has this to say about the Day of the Lord.
In many of the prophetic texts addressing the Day of the Lord, it is clear that the Day can be a time of unprecedented destruction or of overwhelming blessing contingent on one’s obedience to Yahweh. According to Obadiah, it is upon those who treat others unfairly that destruction will come. In Isaiah, judgment falls on the proud one. In Amos, however, the Day of the Lord is to be longed for by the righteous, though there will be great darkness for the wicked. The message of the Day of the Lord, then, is that it’s coming is inevitable. Its harshness, though, is directly related to our disobedience to Yahweh: The greater the disobedience, the greater the destruction; the greater the righteousness, the greater the blessing. (Miller, Jeff. The Day of the Lord. http://bible.org/article/day-lord.)
In The MacArthur Study Bible, Dr. John MacArthur writes about the Day of the Lord in his introduction to the book of Joel. Dr. MacArthur writes,
The Day of the Lord is frequently associated with seismic disturbances (e.g., Joel 2:1-11; 2:31; 3:16), violent weather (Ezekiel 13:5ff.), clouds and thick darkness (e.g., Joel 2:2; Zephaniah 1:7ff.), cosmic upheaval (Joel 2:3, 30), and as a ‘great and very terrible’ (Joel 2:11 day that would ‘come as destruction from the Almighty’ (Joel 1:15). The latter half of Joel depicts time subsequent to the Day of the Lord in terms of promise and hope. There will be a pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh, accompanied by prophetic utterances, dreams, visions (Joel 2:28-29), as well as the coming of Elijah, an epiphany bringing restoration and hope (Malachi 4:5-6). As a result of the Day of the Lord there will be physical blessings, fruitfulness, and prosperity (Joel 2:21ff, 3:16-21). It is a day when judgment is poured out on sinners that subsequently leads to blessings on the penitent, and reaffirmation of God’s covenant with His people. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Study Bible. pg. 1267-1268.)
The Day of the Lord is used to describe God’s judgment in the present time and also His future judgments which will culminate in the final Day of the Lord. For the prophets of the Old Testament, the Day of the Lord would be a final judgment, but it was also near, it was at hand, it was coming whenever God came to judge the people for their disobedience.
The Day of the Lord is not confined to an invading army like the Babylonians who overthrew Jerusalem and sent the Southern Kingdom into exile in 587-586 B.C. What had happened in Joel’s day was a visitation of the Lord. Joel used the plague of locusts in Joel 1 to warn the people of an even greater plague that was coming their way if they did not turn to the Lord. In Joel 2 we read,
1 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. 3 Before them fire devours, behind them a flame blazes. 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. 6 At the sight of them, nations are in anguish; every face turns pale. 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. 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 2:1-11 NIV)
This causes a lot of people, even many of the followers of Jesus, great problems today. The problem arises from the fact that we do not know the God of the Bible, we know a God that we have fashioned by our own ideals of what we think God should be and how God should behave. We serve an “Americanized,” romanticized God, not the Eternal, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Holy and Sovereign God who has revealed Himself through His Word. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. Whenever tragedy or trials come our way in any form, most of us head off into one of two directions: First, some of us immediately separate God from the experience. Remember 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina? Person after person said, “God didn’t have anything to do with what took place on that day!” There is another popular response to hardships and it goes like this: “Why would God do this to me?” It is not so much a question as it is an indictment of the unfairness of God. The question, “Why would God do this to me?” is not the same as “Lord, what are you teaching me through this?” Joel would have a very difficult time understanding this train of thought. In Joel 2:11, he makes it clear that the Lord is leading the swarm, He is leading His charges. Read along with me.
11 The LORD thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty are those who obey his command. (Joel 2:11 NIV)
The prophet Isaiah would also have trouble understanding why we dismiss God when trouble comes and why we blame God rather than seek God in the midst of our trials and troubles. In Isaiah 45:5-7, God made it very clear that He is Sovereign over everything in your life and mine. He is Sovereign over every aspect of life including nature. Read along with me.
5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, 6 so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other. 7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things. (Isaiah 45:5-7 NIV)
If God is not intimately involved in every detail of life then what are our options? Mere chance? That is certainly the solution for some. God’s Word never mentions “chance” as governing the affairs of our lives. It is impossible, absolutely impossible, to believe in chance and at the same time believe in the Sovereignty of God. For others who find the Sovereignty of God unacceptable, they still find other things to believe in.
Dr. James Lovelock is the author of Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Dr. Lovelock received his Ph.D. in 1948. He is a scientist who has conducted research at both Harvard and Yale. Dr. Lovelock developed the Gaia Hypothesis which means that both living and non-living parts of the earth comprise a unified organism. Gaia is basically what some call, “Mother Earth.” Listen to this.
The recent upsurge in volcanic action, earthquakes and unusual weather patterns may well be messages from Gaia, calling us to pay attention to her needs. If we continue to ignore her communications, there may be even harsher outbursts as Gaia is forced to take more drastic action to regain balance. Our survival may depend our listening to her and responding to her needs.
For Dr. Lovelock, and many radical “Green” folks today, the earth is our Mother and we need to listen to her when natural disasters strike. You can go ahead and listen, but I think I’ll turn my ear to the One who can answer.
That leads me to our next lesson: How should we respond when tragedy and trials come our way? We can find an answer in Joel. In Joel 1, after the land had been decimated, we read,
13 Put on sackcloth, O priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God. 14 Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD. (Joel 1:13-14 NIV)
We are to turn to God. It’s pretty clear isn’t it? The Lord calls the leaders to come together and mourn, fast, and call a sacred assembly of the elders, the leaders of the people. When tragedy strikes, when God comes in judgment, the leaders are to lead the nation in seeking God. We can see the next step in Joel 2. Read along with me beginning in Joel 2:12.
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… 16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. (Joel 2:12-13; 16 NIV)
Did you notice it? It’s not just the leaders who are called to come together, but everyone, even the nursing babies, are to gather with the rest of the community. It is a “sacred assembly” which means that everything else is to stop. Doesn’t matter how important it is, we are to stop what we are doing and consider what has happened as we cry out to the Lord.
In Joel 3 we find the teaching of the Day of the Lord pointing towards the final Judgment, THE Day of the Lord. It was mentioned earlier that the Day of the Lord is both a terrible day for those who are not walking with the Lord and a day of blessing for those who find their strength and refuge in God alone. Read along with me from Joel 3:13-17.
13 Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow– so great is their wickedness!” 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 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. But the LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel. 17 “Then you will know that I, the LORD your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. Jerusalem will be holy; never again will foreigners invade her. (Joel 3:13-17 NIV)
When the final Day of the Lord comes there will be no opportunity to repent and turn around, no more opportunity to turn from our ways and begin to walk in the ways of the Lord, no more opportunities. Throughout history, whenever the Day of the Lord comes, it comes as an opportunity for us to recognize our waywardness, recognize our need for God, and turn back into His arms of grace and mercy. There is a great illustration of this found in the prophet Amos. God sent tough situations into the lives of His people, but those trials came with a purpose. See if you can recognize the purpose of the trials they endured.
6 “I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD. 7 “I also withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away. I sent rain on one town, but withheld it from another. One field had rain; another had none and dried up. 8 People staggered from town to town for water but did not get enough to drink, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD. 9 “Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards, I struck them with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD. 10 “I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD. 11 “I overthrew some of you as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD. 12 “Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel, and because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel.” 13 He who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals his thoughts to man, he who turns dawn to darkness, and treads the high places of the earth– the LORD God Almighty is his name. (Amos 4:6-13 NIV)
What was the purpose of each of the troubles the Israelites encountered? It was to return to the Lord wasn’t it? Over and over again the Lord brought hardships to try and wake His people up, turn them from their ways, and help them realize that they need to turn to Him. Did it work? Most of the time it did not, but if you read Joel then you will see that sometimes God’s people did listen. In Joel 2:18-3:21 we read, not about the judgment of God’s people, but about the restoration that God brought to His people. In Joel 2:18-27 we read that God will restore His people’s material lives in the immediate future. He is going to replenish their vineyards, orchards, fields, and flocks. This time they considered what had taken place and they turned to the Lord, but sad to say, most of the time God’s people did not turn back to God.
We see the same result in the lives of the Ninevites when Jonah delivered his message of the soon coming destruction that God would visit on them if they did not turn around. The Ninevites fasted and put on sack cloth, they turned from their ways, and they sought the Lord. Sad to say, most of the time God’s people didn’t get it, after the initial sting of the tragedy died down they would dismiss the thought that God had anything to do with it.
Are we any different? Remember 9/11 when baseball and football stadiums became sanctuaries for the masses who gathered? Remember when the Murrah Bombing took place and the Fairgrounds Arena was filled to overflowing as Billy Graham and President Clinton led the worship service? What happened? Where did the desire to seek God go?
Oh my friend, I don’t know what will come of our nation when the Day of the Lord visits us next, but I know that you and I don’t have to wait for that day. We can see Him even now, right here in this sanctuary. I would urge you this morning to turn to the Lord. I’m not talking about simply going to church, but I’m talking about really getting to know Him. See His hand at work in your life. When troubles come use those troubles as opportunities to cry out to Him, fall into His arms, and consider what it is that He desires to show you. Don’t turn a blind eye to God when the day of trouble or sorrow comes knocking. Don’t lash out and say, “Why is God doing this to me!” Instead, cry out to Him, turn to Him, and consider what it is that God desires to do in your life through your troubles. Won’t you turn to Him even now by inviting Jesus into your heart?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 22, 2010