Summary: The message of Joel is one of hope and restoration in the darkest times.
At 9.40am on 1 Nov 1755 one of the greatest earthquakes of all time hit Lisbon, Portugal. The epicentre was only 7 miles out into the Atlantic. The earthquake only lasted 6 minutes- but in that time all public buildings and 12,000 private dwellings were razed. Then the 60 ft tidal wave came. (in fact- when the wave got out to Martinique, 3,740 miles away, 10 hours later it was still 10 ft high. 60,000 people died and the area burnt for 6 days.
But the context in which it came made it even harder for people to deal with. It was a time relative peace and prosperity in Europe, and philosophic optimism. Actually- the optimism was partly the legacy of a philosopher called Gottfried Liebniz, who (though he had been dead 40 years) still influenced people with his well meant thoughts of this place down here being ‘the best of all possible worlds’. He argued that evil was really ‘imperfection’ and so this ‘best of all worlds’ proved God’s existence.
But now they were confronted with the reality of evil and horror. Worse- it stuck on All Saints Day- and many had been in churches when they died.
Idiotic English protestants said the event was judgement on Catholic Lisbon. Equally narrow Catholic Lisbon said it was because they’d tolerated some protestants among themselves that it happened. Francoise Voltaire ridiculed the whole thing completely, and Christians trying to make sense of it. He wrote a novel called Candide in which a philosopher ‘Pangloss’ kept saying “this is the best of all worlds. All this is for the best”. (basically mimicking Leibnitz).
Pangloss lit means ‘gloss over it all’. Not a bad reflection on those who don’t take such events seriously, or who gloss over evil.
Mind you- Voltaire is the one who said Christianity & the Bible would be dead within 100 (50?) years- and his house is now used by the Bible society- so what did he know!
The context of Joel is not dissimilar.
- We don’t really know when Joel was written and people make great arguments for dates of 800BC, 600BC (just before the fall of Jerusalem) or about 500BC, after the exile
o truth is we don’t know, and it’s all a bit irrelevant anyway. It wouldn’t be to understanding Hosea- but it is to Joel
o (I favour about 500BC as there’s this sense of ‘never again’ 2:26- but that’s merely a prejudiced guess on my behalf)
- But we do know it’s written in the context of a national disaster
o Of similar impact to the Lisbon event
Nobody had never known anything like it (1:2)
An army of locusts had decimated the land
Now- you may think: “ah, little grasshoppers. Not much problem there, then”
History records a similar event. Let me read to you: In 1915 a plague of locusts covered Palestine and Syria from the border of Egypt to the Taurus mountains. The first swarms appeared in March. These were adult locusts that came from the northeast and moved toward the southwest in clouds so thick they obscured the sun. The females were 2.5 to 3 inches long, and they immediately began to lay eggs by digging holes in the soil about four inches deep and depositing about 100 eggs in each. The eggs were neatly arranged in a cylindrical mass about one inch long and about thick as a pencil. These holes were everywhere. Witnesses estimated that as many as 65,000-75,000 eggs were concentrated in a single square meter of soil, and patches like this covered the entire land from north to south. Having laid their eggs the locusts flew away.