Joel 3

This chapter concludes the book and ends with the judgment of the enemies of Israel and justice for God’s people.

All the nations seem to come together at the Lord’s command at the Valley of Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat means “the Lord judges”, so therefore suggests that this about when everyone is finally judged at end times. God will judge the nations for what they did to Israel and his people.

God almost taunts the nations in this passage to come fight him. He tells them to bring everyone, even the weakest, to attack him in battle. And then he says that he will sit to judge them. He doesn’t even attack back, he just sits. Then he plucks them like a ripe harvest. It’s not the image of an epic battle; it’s a picture of God just harvesting them like crops. There’s no resistance, no power to fight back. He tramples them like grapes in the winepress.

The whole of heaven and earth will tremble at God’s judgment, but the people of Israel will find refuge in him.

At this, Jerusalem will never be threatened again. She will always be holy and blameless; full of wine and milk. The other nations will be desolate and empty, but Jerusalem and Judah will live forever.

I think this chapter just goes to prove the awesome judgment of God. His judgment is right and holy but also mighty and powerful. We often turn God into Santa Claus, who merely gives good things and if you’re really bad, you might get cross off the list. But that’s it. However, this chapter speaks of a God who is so powerful, he does not need to defend himself against all the nations. They’re a joke to him. He just destroys them like grapes underfoot.

Proverbs 9:10 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Joel 3 perhaps goes to show why.

Joel 2

Joel 2 discusses the judgment of the Lord coming on his people like an army. Its horror is far greater than the plague of locusts: it destroys crops, cities and even the sun, moon and stars.

So the Lord calls his people to repentance. This is not just an outwardly, superficial repentance, but an inward repentance. Verse 13 tells its readers “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.” The Lord doesn’t want displays of repentance that mean nothing. He wants people to genuinely feel loss, as if their heart has been torn in two. Yes, there are outward signs, as verse 12 asks for “fasting and weeping and mourning”. But this, again, is meant to be genuine, as the Lord also asked that they “return to me with all your heart”. These acts were not trite and glib pretences. They were acts of humility: weeping because your heart has broken, mourning because your God has been wronged.

It’s currently the season of Lent, which is a time of introspection and repentance, so these verses are particularly timely. This repentance isn’t easy; in fact, it’s heart-breaking.

Of course, with Christ, we look to him and ask for him to save us. But often, I think we have the tendency to make it too easy. But our hearts should break. The one in whom all things were creator, the Son and Saviour, the most loved of the whole universe, died. He was tortured, humiliated and murdered. But more than this, his heart was rent as he took on the sin of all and was separated from his father. We should mourn his death with weeping and fasting. But then we should rejoice because on Easter day, he rose again.

And how does Joel 2 end? Not with our response but how the Lord responds to our repentance. First, those suffering from the famine will have their crops and lands restored. Then, God promises to pour out his Spirit on all people.

“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.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
I will show wonders in the heavens
    and on the earth,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
    there will be deliverance,
    as the Lord has said,
even among the survivors
    whom the Lord calls.”

Joel 2:28-32

What a fantastic promise. That all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Joel 1

After reading through Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, I thought I would turn to the Old Testament. I don’t know much about the minor prophets, so I thought I would start with Joel.

Joel is pretty bleak. It’s about a devastating locust swarm and how it has destroyed the nation. The description is pretty discouraging: waves of locusts eating what the last wave had left. Food, wine, temple offerings, all gone and eaten.

Joel then tells the people to mourn this loss, to put on sackcloths, weep like a virgin who has lost her fiancé. The elders, priests and people are called to cry out to the Lord.

It’s interesting because there are currently locust swarms destroy huge quantities of crops in East Africa and Pakistan and its surrounding countries. In one day, apparently one swarm can eat as much as 35,000 would. That is terrible. Now they are mating, meaning another swarm is coming. It looks like what happened in Joel.

And yet where are the sackcloths and where is the mourning? Who is praying and crying out to the Lord for these nations. South Sudan, which has already been destroyed by conflict, has been hit. As a church, I think we need to get better at crying out about these terrible things that are happening.