Summary: The Book of Joel is a wake up call. God is good but he is not safe.
The challenge of national tragedy. In his poem, The Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot writes,
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
People can only accept reality in very small doses—just as a small child accepts his medicine only on teaspoon. One musician writes, “Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real” (Tupac Shakur, American).
9/11 was a defining moment in the history of the world. The time when thousands of innocent people were murdered by terrorists. The Lindt Cafe siege. Two people lost their lives and thereafter our nation feels vulnerable. Another Indonesian tsunami. Lives literally washed away. The devastation of widespread drought.
Life is full of wake up calls. The near miss in the car that could have taken my life. The time I was almost killed on a pedestrian crossing. The people in Kenya shot down and those who barely escaped the terrorist’s gun. The passenger plane forced to land on the Hudson River. The reality of death thrust upon us at every funeral.
Life is full of wake up calls.
We cannot cope with very much reality. Where is God and how should we respond? What are we to make of the terrible things that fall upon us?
The Book of Joel teaches us how to respond to disaster. For Judah, in the south of Israel, experienced disaster like it had never known. An unprecedented national disaster of huge proportion. The type remembered for generations to come.
The prophet Joel is God’s voice in the midst of confusion and suffering. How are Judah to make sense of the locust plague that wiped them up? This was their 9/11. How do they pick themselves up and carry on? If God loves his people, why does he allow these things to happen?
Their questions are our questions. Like Judah, if we are to make sense of life, we must turn to the word of Lord for he alone brings us in touch with reality.
Now in the interest of reading the Book of Joel carefully, and with integrity, it is interesting to note that some interpret the locust plagues described in chapter 1 as symbolic of a foreign army of people. So big was the army that attacked Judah they were like a plague of locusts. In your Bible, you may see a footnote against the word “locust” which reads, “The precise meaning of the four Hebrew words used here for locusts is uncertain”.
In my view, the evidence favours an army of real locusts. But if we were to adopt the other view and say that the locusts were really people then the conclusions drawn wouldn’t substantially change.
So what is Joel saying to his people?
In the first part of the book—chapter 1 to 2:17—Joel argues that disaster is a summons by God to repentance and prayer. Disaster is a warning which we all must heed.
Ch.1. We must face the reality of disaster. We can’t be an ostrich carry on as though nothing has happened. The way we respond is important. 2:1–17. Further develops the theme of response. Heed the warning. Judgement day is approaching so sincerely repent, call on the name of the Lord and you will be saved.
That’s the first part of the book. Disaster is a call to repentance and prayer. The second part gives assurance to all who make the right choice and find their refuge and security in the Lord. Joel 2:18–3:21 shifts from earthly disaster to the bigger and final day of judgement and says that God’s people have nothing to fear when the world feels the full force of his wrath. And we know what Joel could not explain—that those “in Christ” are exempt from the wrath to come for Christ has satisfied God’s anger on the cross and on our behalf.
Describing the disaster. I encourage you to have your Bible open to Joel 1 in which we shall spend the remainder of our time. The invasion is described in verses 1 to 4:
The word of the LORD that came to Joel son of Pethuel. 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? Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation. 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.
Then verses 6 and 7:
A nation has invaded my land, powerful and without number; it has the teeth of a lion, the fangs of a lioness. 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.