Joel 2 What A Day

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Questions: Is God’s day coming a good thing? Should we be alarmed? Is it His fault? Should we repent? How? Why? Is God really good? In what way? Do we need to call on Him? Will we?

“Read More” to pursue answers from the Prophet Joel.

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Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love.
Draw me into your Presence, and fill me with your Holy Spirit
That I might know you as my Father,
And manifest the image of Christ
In this world, and the world to come. Amen.

Joel 2:1-32

Blow ye 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 cometh, for [it is] nigh at hand;

Y’know, I usually like to think of the day of the Lord as a positive event. But I wonder whether that is more due to my naïveté rather than my pïeté. 🙂 Certainly, Joel sees this as cause for alarm, not celebration — in fact, as an epic terror:

A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, [even] to the years of many generations.

and devastation:

A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth: the land [is] as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them.

Ouch. Though presumably just puny locusts, they are as scary as horses and chariots (the “tanks” of their day).

The appearance of them [is] as the appearance of horses; and as horsemen, so shall they run.Like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains shall they leap, like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble, as a strong people set in battle array.

Not a pleasant sight to behold:

Before their face the people shall be much pained: all faces shall gather blackness.

And their numbers and “discipline” make them more effective than any human army:

They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; and they shall march every one on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks:

Neither shall one thrust another; they shall walk every one in his path: and [when] they fall upon the sword, they shall not be wounded.

They shall run to and fro in the city; they shall run upon the wall, they shall climb up upon the houses; they shall enter in at the windows like a thief.

In fact, they literally are a force of nature:

The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining:

And shockingly, God claims to be in all of this:

And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp [is] very great: for [he is] strong that executeth his word: for the day of the LORD [is] great and very terrible; and who can abide it?

I know there are some — on both the Right and the Left — who would protest at claiming that “natural events” are “acts of God.” However, to even phrase the dichotomy that way is to miss the point. My understanding of divine sovereignty is that He is the First Law behind all natural laws, and that our First Duty is to submit to that Law (in all its manifestations). Israel, in their headstrong folly, seems to have interpreted their momentary prosperity through the lens of self-sufficiency. Whether they brought the locusts upon themselves through ecological mismanagement or spiritual idolatry is mostly besides the point. The point, ultimately, is that we need to submit to God, as He is the only one who can save us:

Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye [even] to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:

But lest they think he is merely asking for some sort of ritual:

And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God:

Why?

for he [is] gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.

Bam! Now, there’s a paradox for you. Joel isn’t saying, “repent in fear because God is gonna’ get you.” On the other hand, neither is he saying, “Oh, God loves you so much He really doesn’t want anything bad to happen to you.” Rather, God’s goodness is apparently revealed in both His justice and His giving us an opportunity to repent.

Not that we can be sure we’ll escape this current suffering — but its worth a try:

Who knoweth [if] he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; [even] a meat offering and a drink offering unto the LORD your God?

In fact, it is worth full-scale national mobilization:

Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet.

And just to be clear, this isn’t a time of debate or blame-casting, but of anguished cries for mercy:

Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where [is] their God?

Now, this is a bit disturbing. To modern ears, this sounds downright manipulative, as if they are trying to shame God using His vanity. But perhaps the problem isn’t with their behavior, but my hearing. What if they’re actually right — and God is too?

That is, let us assume that they are making a valid argument. They are asserting:

  1. God wants to destroy them
  2. They don’t want Him to.
  3. It would be unwise for Him to do so

Naively, one could interpret this as claiming God doesn’t really know what’s good for Him, so we have to point out the obvious. But these people aren’t lecturing God, they’re pleading. Moreover, their plea is not based on any presumed innocence, but the fact that they are God’s heritage.

Intriguingly, this ties into something I was journaling about this morning, on the difference between “condemnation” and “conviction.” The sense I got — which I haven’t learned to articulate well — is that condemnation results from being outside authority, whereas conviction occurs inside authority.

In other words, Israel is demonstrating their conviction — that they are God’s people, and beholden to Him — and that therefore He need not destroy them. In other words, it is not that God had “overlooked” certain facts, but rather that the facts themselves have changed through the process of confession.

I apologize if that was hard to follow, but I think this is a crucial distinction, at least for me personally. The lesson is that God’s will for me depends (at least to some extent) on how (and whether) I submit to that will. The more I submit, the more He can bless me (in keeping with His character):

Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity his people.

Yea, the LORD will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen:

But I will remove far off from you the northern [army], and will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the east sea, and his hinder part toward the utmost sea, and his stink shall come up, and his ill savour shall come up, because he hath done great things.

Which is a (perhaps “the”) great reason to be happy:

Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the LORD will do great things.

And the implication is that nature — which shared in our punishment — will also share in our bounty:

Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength.

The key, of course, to rejoice in God.

Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first [month]. And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil.

And here’s the best part of all, one of my favorite verses in all of scripture:

And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.

Wow. As someone whose had many years eaten by locusts — mostly through my own folly — this sends a shiver down my spine. The flipside of Pharaoh’s dream — the lean years have been swallowed by an abundance so great, we won’t even remember the suffering:

And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed.

Double wow. Not only are our physical needs met, but our shame will be taken away. How?

And ye shall know that I [am] in the midst of Israel, and [that] I [am] the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed.

I don’t know if I can ever understand — much less articulate — how powerful it is to belong; though I can easily see the horror that comes from not-belonging. One of the great tragedies of modernity (or perhaps post-modernity) is that we have lost our understanding of shame, and thus forgotten the cure (submission to what is right). What would it be like, to live among — and become! — a people who are never ashamed?
But as if even that wasn’t enough, God goes for the triple wow score:

And it shall come to pass afterward, [that] I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:

And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.

After prosperity and freedom from shame, the only greater joy left is to know that our children will do even greater things — and have an even deeper experience of God than we do. O, that the Lord would pour out His Spirit even now; even upon me.

And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.

This is one of those places where the timeframe gets confusing, perhaps deliberately. Is this all the same “day”? Is verse 31 just looking back to verse 10, or forward to some future judgement, after the spirit has been poured on?

It isn’t clear here, and I suspect it doesn’t matter all that much. What matters a great deal is how we respond:

And it shall come to pass, [that] whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.

Prayer

God, I am just in awe. From the cycles and systems of nature, to your terrible justice, to your never-ending mercy, and then your super-abundance towards us. Who is like unto thee? What folly is it that I should set my understanding and power against thine. Lord, have mercy on me a fool. Father, I submit to you. I accept that your judgments are right, and your justice is true. Forgive me, for I have sinned. Cleanse me by the outpouring — and indwelling — of your Holy Spirit. That I may more perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name, through Christ our Lord. In whose name I pray. Amen!

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