Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Think about what stories have you heard from your parents, grandparents or aunts and uncles.

My great aunt Lucille used to tell these vivid stories of the Civil War. She would talk about living in Virginia and how the armies would come in – sometimes the Yankees and other times the Confederates. They would take the good horses and leave the tired, worn out horses. They would eat all of the hams in the smoke house. The women would have to cook biscuits for everyone. One day, toward the end of the war, her father reached the age of 13, which was old enough to be drafted in the army during the last days of the war. The family hid him in the mountains, because all of the other brothers had gone to war. Many of them had died, and others had lost legs and arms.

Great aunt Lucille would tell that story over and over. I have her on audio tape telling that story, and then 10 years later I asked her to sit in front of a video camera to tell that story. The words barely changed. She knew that story so well.

But she didn’t live through that story. She was born years after the end of the war, but she heard her father and grandfather tell that story at the dinner table until their stories became her story.

What are some of the stories you were told by your parents and grandparents?

Joel begins his book by saying, “Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.” (Joel 1:3).

So what happened in Joel’s day that needs to be told and retold?

Grasshoppers. Sounds silly to us perhaps, but some species of grasshoppers go through a swarming stage that are best known by another name – locusts.

In Joel’s day these swarming grasshoppers devour and destroy the food supply and the main industry of the community.

Joel 1

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 ancestors?
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.

Before we move further into the book of Joel, let’s talk about the writer.

Joel is unlike Hosea and most of the other 12 Minor Prophets in that he does not mention any kings of the nation, so that there is no historical time table.

The name “Joel” means “Yahweh is God” and it is a fairly common Old Testament name (I Samuel 8:2; I Chronicles 5:4, 8; 15:7, 11; Ezra 10:43; Nehemiah 11:9).

He appears to have lived in Jerusalem, since his entire orientation is around the Temple (1:9, 13-14, 16; 2:17) Mount Zion (2:1, 15, 32; 3:17, 19-21) and Jerusalem (2:32, 3:1, 6, 8, 17, 19).

Joel is well versed in the Scriptures, as he quotes the words of prophets who went before him. He is familiar with Isaiah (Joel 1:15), Amos (Joel 3:16) and Zephaniah (Joel 2:1-2).

Joel also has poetic gifts of his own. His figures of speech are wonderful. The swarming locusts are described as an attacking nation or as a ferocious lion (1:6).

Joel is a man of deep empathy and sensitivity. He has been impressed by the sound of a

5 Wake up, you drunkards, and weep! He has been deeply moved and impressed by the sound of a bride in tears (1:8). He has heard the groans of starving cattle and describes them as perplexed, dismayed and even crying to the Lord (1:18, 20).

Joel is aware of the broad range of the community of the people of faith. He addresses the elderly (1:2) and he is concerned about the children (1:3). He invites the children, even nursing babies, to join in worship services (2:16). The gift of the Spirit is poured out to young and old, male and female and to wealthy and servants (2:28-29).

And this is the man who lives through a disaster.

We’ve seen natural disasters – the tsunami in Japan, and the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the earthquake in Haiti, on this island, Hurricane Charlie, or a few years earlier for those living in another part of Florida – Hurricane Andrew.

Let’s listen to how this man Joel, who is a man of faith, compassion, and eloquence, writes about this disaster of locusts swarming in and destroying the crops.

6 A nation has invaded my land,
a mighty army without number; (Note – not a literal army, but the army of insects)
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.

8 Mourn like a virgin in sackcloth
grieving for the betrothed of her youth.
9 Grain offerings and drink offerings
are cut off from the house of the LORD.
The priests are in mourning,
those who minister before the LORD.
10 The fields are ruined,
the ground is dried up;
the grain is destroyed,
the new wine is dried up,
the olive oil fails.

11 Despair, you farmers,
wail, you vine growers;
grieve for the wheat and the barley,
because the harvest of the field is destroyed.
12 The vine is dried up
and the fig tree is withered;
the pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree—
all the trees of the field—are dried up.
Surely the people’s joy
is withered away.

Beginning with the next verse there is a transition. Up to now, Joel has been describing a terrible crisis. Now he tells the people what they need to do about it.

And the direction the people are given is to grieve properly.

When we have a tragic loss, it is a spiritually appropriate response for us to grieve. It does not matter if the loss involves a baby, child, spouse, parent, best friend – or in the case of Joel, the loss is prosperity, jobs, employment, industry, food supplies, security. Sounds a lot like America of recent years.

The call to grieve begins with verse 13:

13 Put on sackcloth, you 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.

Isn’t this an interesting way to respond to the locust. The food supply has been threatened, so the people are to enter a period of fast.

On one hand, this is a spiritual discipline. Fasting is to deny yourself food, or to reduce your food intake, so that one focuses more on God than on one’s self.

However, in this case it may be that Joel is a leader in the community who is thinking on several levels – one is certainly spiritual, but the other is out of a concern that the people ration the remaining food. Lean times are certainly in store for them.

One more thing about Joel’s call to fast. Remember he is familiar with Isaiah.

Look at Joel 1:15 and keep your eye on it while I read from Isaiah 13:6

6 Wail, for the day of the LORD is near;
it will come like destruction from the Almighty.

Joel is quoting Isaiah.

And what sort of view did Isaiah have about fasting?

In chapter 58 this is what we read…

3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;

Let’s go back to Joel, chapter 1, where we left off with verse 14

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.

15 Alas for that day!
For the day of the LORD is near;
it will come like destruction from the Almighty.

The “Day of the Lord.” That is an interesting phrase that Joel uses, and it may be one that is familiar to you.

In Amos (5:18-20) the Day of the Lord is a time of salvation. It is viewed as a time of happiness, brightness and joy. Part of the “Day of the Lord” is a time of destruction of the enemies of God’s people. This is also the view of Ezekiel (30:1-3), Isaiah (13), and Obadiah (1:8, 15).

However, the term “Day of the Lord” is also seen as a time of doom for Israel. Amos reversed the usual term of the Day of the Lord as being a time of salvation and hope and talked about it being a time of “darkness and not light, gloom with no brightness in it.” (Amos 5:18-20).

Joel uses the phrase “Day of the Lord” in both ways. In 2:31 and 3:14 it is an occasion for the doom of Israel’s enemies, but for the salvation of Israel. In this verse, 1:15, Joel uses it as a time of doom and destruction for Israel.

Joel uses this phrase again in chapter 2 verse 1:

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 in ancient times
nor ever will be in ages to come.

And Joel again uses this phrase in 2:11:

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

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.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent
and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
for the LORD your God.

Joel changes the tone of the book in chapter 2:18.

18 Then the LORD was jealous for his land
and took pity on his people.

19 The LORD replied to them:

“I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil,
enough to satisfy you fully;
never again will I make you
an object of scorn to the nations.

This attitude continues and I love the way Joel expresses it in verse 22

22 Do not be afraid, you wild animals,
for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green.
The trees are bearing their fruit;
the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.
23 Be glad, people of Zion,
rejoice in the LORD your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains
because he is faithful.
He sends you abundant showers,
both autumn and spring rains, as before.
24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain;
the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.

Now let’s take a moment here to talk about the structure of the book of Joel. You can easily divide it into two parts. Part one is the natural disaster and the people’s response. Part two is all about Joel’s future, and ours.

With Joel 2:27, we come to the end of the first section and in the next verse, we move into the future.

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.

We talk a lot about the church being inclusive today, and Joel is certainly inclusive here. God’s Holy Spirit can call everyone – young or old; male or female; servant and master.

This section, Joel 2;28-32, has an important place in Christian history. It was the text for the first apostolic sermon, preached at Pentecost by Peter (Acts 2).

The theme for the book of Acts is explained in Acts 1:8, where Jesus promises the apostles: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses.”

Now let’s think about what Joel is doing here with his book.

Many times in a group of people, or an organization, or a business, will go through some sort of crisis and come out of it and then reflect on the crisis – and often they will use the phrase, “what’s the take away from this?” In other words, what did we learn from this?

Joel is telling the people that they have been through a natural disaster. They turned back to God. And what do they learn from this? To remember God the NEXT time there is a disaster, and there will be a next time. That is the theme for chapter 3.

The first talks about a gathering of the nations for judgment and a time of warfare.

3:9 Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare for war!
Rouse the warriors!
Let all the fighting men draw near and attack.
10 Beat your plowshares into swords
and your pruning hooks into spears.
Let the weakling say,
“I am strong!”

Remember – Joel knows Isaiah’s work. In Isaiah you see an interesting turn of a phrase. Keep you eye on Joel 3:10 while I read from Isaiah 2:4:

“He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

What is the difference between Isaiah and Joel?

Isaiah declares peace, Joel uses Isaiah’s words, turns them around and declares war.

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 heavens will tremble.

Where do you turn at a time such as this?

In a time of man made disaster, as with the earlier natural disaster of locusts, you turn to God.

Continuing in the second half of the 16th verse:

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.

18 “In that day the mountains will drip new wine,
and the hills will flow with milk;
all the ravines of Judah will run with water.

Stop here and notice that what Joel is doing is referring to the earlier part of the book.

Remember Joel 1:5

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.

But now jump to the end of Joel, 3:18

“In that day the mountains will drip new wine,”

Remember Joel 1:18, 20

18 How the cattle moan!
The herds mill about
because they have no pasture;
even the flocks of sheep are suffering.

20 Even the wild animals pant for you;
the streams of water have dried up
and fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness.

But in Joel 3:18

and the hills will flow with milk;
all the ravines of Judah will run with water.

Joel starts with the question, “What shall we tell the children?”

And it continues that theme through to the end.

Tell the children, of today and of the future, that when bad things happen, and they will happen, look to God as your refuge and God will bring restoration.

No comments:

Post a Comment