(348) December 14: Joel 1-3 & Revelation 4

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read note what God promises his people.

To ponder:
It is hard to decide whether the opening oracle about a huge plague of locusts refers to a literal natural disaster, or is a figurative description of the coming military invasion that the locusts seem to be an image for in chapter 2. Our reading is that the former describes a literal event that prompted its use as a metaphor in the next chapter. We’re told the locusts totally ravaged the land, and the unique seriousness of the event is seen in Joel calling the elders and all in the land to tell of it to the next three generations, and the stress that whatever was left by one category of locusts was devoured by the other (1v1-4). They are described like an invading nation with the teeth of a lion. And in the light of it Joel calls the drunk to wake up, recognise they have lost the source of their wine, and mourn like a woman mourning the loss of her husband. He adds that the priests are in mourning because the destruction means there can be no grain or drink offerings at the temple, the farmers should despair because they have lost their harvest, and without it the joy of mankind itself withers away (1v5-13).
            This all stresses the significance of the land for Israel. Its fruitfulness was a sign of God’s blessing for the covenant faithfulness of the people, and so its destruction a sign of his curse and their sin (Deut 28-30). The joy that accompanied good harvest then was not simply that of enjoying its fruits and the wealth that would accompany it, but the joy of living in peace and harmony with God. And so it is natural in the light of the disaster for God to call the people to repentance. Joel therefore urges the priests to declare a fast, summon the elders to the temple, and cry out to God because the locusts have reminded them that “the day of the LORD” and so of judgement and wider destruction is imminent (1v14-15).
            The implications of the disaster are then outlined: The joy of feasting in the temple is lost, the granaries are broken, and the livestock moan in hunger. Here we see another hint that this disaster was indeed a judgement. It was followed by a drought so that surviving vegetation was burned up and even wild animals left panting in thirst (1v16-20). Natural disasters cannot be assumed to be judgements today, as God has not entered into an equivalent covenant with nations. Nevertheless, we have seen elsewhere that he does sometimes bring nations low because of their sin. So there is a sense in which any disaster that befalls should lead us to repentance (see Lk 13v4-5).
            Chapter 2 considers the day of the LORD that the disaster looks to. Joel calls for the alarm to be sounded so that the people would tremble to consider God’s coming. It is described with the images of earthquake and darkening of the skies, which denote judgement. Some read these verses as referring to another attack of locusts, but we’re told the locusts have the appearance of horses, chariots and a conquering army that swarms into cities and houses as the insects would. God is said to be at the head of this army, and that the day it comes will be like no other. They will devastate the land as fire, so that what was like Eden would become a desert waste (2v1-11).
            In the light of this God calls the people to return to him with sincere mourning, and so rending their hearts not their garments. Reminding them of his grace (as Ex 34v6) he implies he might have pity and so leave behind blessing so that the people can enjoy their grain and wine offerings in worship of God. Again, he then urges that the trumpet be blow to call the people, no matter who they are or what they are doing, to assemble and fast, and the priests to weep before the altar, praying that God would spare the people and land so that the watching nations would not scorn them by implying their God could not or would not save them (2v12-17).
            Here God promises that if they did this, he would be jealous for the land, not wanting it to fall to others, and take pity on his people, granting them abundant harvests, and scattering the northern army into desert and sea. This implies the threat in mind is from Assyria or Babylon. And here the prophecy seems to move from a possible future to a certain one. God declares the land need not fear but rejoice for the one who has done great things in the past, will cause it to be abundant again to the joy of Zion (2v18-24). 2v25 implies the locust-like army will utterly devour the land after all, but that God would compensate them for the loss by his future blessing, so that the people will praise him for what will be seen as a miracle, know that he alone is their God, and never again be ashamed for causing him to act in judgement (2v25-27).
            This would have been understood as fulfilled at least in part in the return from exile. And we are told that some time after that, God would pour out his Spirit on all his people. Peter’s use of this quote in the context of Pentecost (Acts 2v17-21) implies that the language of prophecy here stresses not that everyone will literally experience visions and dreams, but that every one of God’s people, regardless of station, will know an intimacy and knowledge of God that was previously reserved for the prophet, and so be able to speak of God’s wonders to others (2v28-29). Here we read of another “day of the LORD” signified by even greater signs in the sky and on the earth that were fulfilled to a degree at the crucifixion (2v30-31, Matt 27v45, 51). The point is that the giving of the Spirit is a sign of a coming day of judgement. Yet God promises that until then everyone who calls on his name (ie. calls on him to act in mercy according to his charater) will be saved. So he says, from amongst those surviving the coming exile, God will “call” a number to “call” on him – and it is these in Jerusalem who will be delivered from the final great judgement. Here we can see how appropriate Peter’s use of Joel was (see also Acts 2v39). This promise urges us all to ensure we have called on the Lord.
            The context implies “in those days” (3v1) refers to what will follow the previous events, being linked to God restoring the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem. Joel speaks of God gathering and judging the nations for their abuse of his people, and particularly their children. Obviously it is impossible to get all nations into one valley. Rather, this is an image of the nations assembled for God’s verdict (or decision, 3v14) and exposed to his attack. Here he asks if their plundering and enslaving was to pay him back for something, implying that it wasn’t. And so he declares he will have the same done to them, calling them to prepare to fight his warriors, who will cut them down like a great harvest (3v2-13). Again, we have the images of darkness marking this day, as we are told multitudes will be judged, whilst the LORD will be a refuge to his people (3v14-16). This must refer to the final judgement. And we are told that God’s people will know he dwells amongst them, Jerusalem will be holy and safe, the land will be like Eden, watered with a river from his temple, and forever populated by those whom he has pardoned. But Egypt and Edom, signifying those who oppressed Israel, will be desolate (3v17-21).  

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for the gift of his Spirit and the life of the world to come. Pray that you would continually call on him for salvation.

Thinking further:
To read the NIV Study Bible introduction to Joel, click here.

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