Joel - The Imminent Day of the Lord
Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations.
Fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden before them, but behind them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them. Their appearance is like the appearance of horses, and like war horses they run. As with the rumbling of chariots, they leap on the tops of the mountains, like the crackling of a flame of fire devouring the stubble, like a powerful army drawn up for battle. Before them peoples are in anguish; all faces grow pale. Like warriors they charge; like soldiers they scale the wall. They march each on his way; they do not swerve from their paths. They do not jostle one another; each marches in his path; they burst through the weapons and are not halted. They leap upon the city, they run upon the walls, they climb up into the houses, they enter through the windows like a thief.
The earth quakes before them; the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The Lord utters his voice before his army, for his camp is exceedingly great; he who executes his word is powerful. For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it?
"Yet even now," declares the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?
Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, "Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a by-word among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'"
Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people. The Lord answered and said to his people, "Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.
"I will remove the northerner far from you, and drive him into a parched and desolate land, his vanguard into the eastern sea, and his rear guard into the western sea; the stench and foul smell of him will rise, for he has done great things.
"Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things! Fear not, you beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit; the fig tree and vine give their full yield.
"Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given the early rain for your vindication; he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before.
"The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.
"You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
Messaging and Context
A great deal of Joel's relevancy to us is contained in the idea and understanding of the phrase - "The Day of the Lord." I believe that Joel's "Day of the Lord" as a prophetic call is more relevant for us now than at any other point in the history of mankind - today is the day of salvation - tomorrow is not guaranteed. But for us to gain better understanding, we might need to take a closer look. To begin I would like to propose that Joel's context for his message to Jerusalem regarding and imminent Day of the Lord was three-dimensional in two very significant ways:
Dimensions of Time - Past, Present, Future (because the day belongs to God)
Dimensions of Response - Gathering, Worship, Battle (because these are the biblical and appropriate responses to the call of God)
The Day of the Lord for Israel or for us is never a one-time singular event or happening. For example; Judgment Day, Armageddon, or The Return of Christ - events. Joel's Day of the Lord could describe any day, any moment, that God would so choose to initiate or effect His Will, His Word, or His Ways into the lives of any people in covenant or called by His Name. That could be past, present, future or, all three intersecting together. It could be judgment, reckoning, deliverance, worship or salvation. It could be intended corporately or personally. His Day - His Say - His Way. The Day of the Lord. Joel saw it coming!
Once he had gotten Jerusalem's attention with the detailed images of imminent terror and doom, Joel began to immediately prepare them for that Day (that is what prophets, pastors, teachers, leaders do). History confirms that Joel was describing through a prophetic word of knowledge an actual Assyrian invasion that took place during the reign of King Hezekiah, in 701 B.C. (check out Isaiah 36-37). This invasion really happened - and Joel told all Jerusalem it would, before it did. True to His word, God allowed the Assyrians to ravage most of the land of both northern and southern kingdoms, but He miraculously chose to deliver Jerusalem from the devastation. Here is a very accurate biblical account of what Joel did and said in chapter two that makes his words relative to us today. After the shofars were blown to give purposes for gathering there were three main instructions Joel gave the people of Jerusalem.
Blow the Trumpet! (Joel 2:1-11)
This was real call to war, so Joel commanded the watch-men to blow their trumpets (shofars), and warn the people (Teruah). The Jews used trumpets to call assemblies, announce special events and observances, mark various forms of worship or religious festivals, and finally warn the people that war had been declared (Numbers 10; Jeremiah 4:5; 6:1; Hosea 5:8). In this case, they blew the trumpet to announce war (Teruah) and to call for a fast and prayer (Shevarim Joel 2:15). Their weapons against the invading enemy would be repentance and prayer; the Lord would fight for them.
Twice in this passage. Joel tells us that the invasion would signal a devastating "Day of the Lord" (verses 1 and 11), in this context, a very intentional period of divine retribution - planned, directed and enforced by God alone. "The Lord thunders at the head of His army" (verse 11). It was God who brought the locusts of the land, and it was God would allow the Assyrians to invade the land (Isaiah 7:17-25; 8:7). He would permit them to ravage Judah just as the locusts had done, only now these Assyrians would not be mere images and words, they would truly terrorize and brutally kill people.
"Woe to Assyria, the rod of Sly anger and the staff in whose hand is My indignation. I will send him against an ungodly nation ... to seize the spoil, to take the prey, and to tread them down like mire in the streets."
In his graphic account of the invading army, Joel sees them coming in great hordes, "like dawn spreading across the mountains" (Joel 2:2). Once again, he uses the locusts to describe the soldiers. Just as the locusts had destroyed everything edible before them, so the army would use a "scorched earth policy" and devastate the towns and the land (Isaiah 36:10; 37:11-13). Everything destroyed. Joel also makes it clear that the Lord will be in charge of this invasion; this is His army fulfilling His Word (Joel 2:11). God can use even heathen nations to accomplish His purposes on this earth (Isaiah 10:5-7; Jeremiah 25:9). The awesome cosmic disturbances described in Joel 2:10 are Joel's way saying... The Day of the Lord - His day, His say, His way.
Rend Your Hearts! (Joel 2:12-17)
Once again, Joel called for a solemn assembly where God's people would repent of their sins and seek the Lord's help. The nation didn't know when this invasion would occur, so the important thing was for them to turn to the Lord now. But they must be sincere. It's easy to participate in a religious ceremony, tear your garments, and lament. Its altogether different to confess your sins in humility and bring to God a repentant heart.
This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart these, O God, You will not despise.
Understanding who God is (His character) usually leads the genuine believer to repent, redirect, and return to the Lord. Knowing that God is indeed "gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love" (Joel 2:13) should surely to motivate us to seek and to worship Him. This best (politically incorrect) biblical description of the attributes of God goes back to Moses' meeting with the Lord on Mt. Sinai, while interceding for the sinful nation of Israel.
The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.
Knowing that God was the motivation and courage Joel needed to call all of Jerusalem together to prepare for war by first making their hearts right. Verses 15-17 - "But all the people must assemble and then turn to the Lord." This call included everyone: elders and children, nursing babies and priests, and even the newlyweds who were not sup-posed to be disturbed during their first year of marriage, not even because of a war. Joel even gave them a prayer to use.
Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, "Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'"
This prayer gives two reasons why God should deliver them:
(1) Israel's covenant privileges as God's heritage.
(2) The glory of God's name and reputation before the other nations.
These are God's chosen people. "The Jews" - God's treasure, heritage, the very people to which He gave His laws, His covenant, the temple, the priesthood, designated land, and the promise that their offspring would bless the whole world (Genesis 12:1-3; Romans 9:1-5). Yet, here they were (one more time) blowing their trumpets and rending their hearts, pleading for the mercy of God.
What they should have been doing is giving witness to the other nations that their great and mighty God was the one and the only true God. They could have pointed to their blessings, to their abundance, and to the favor of God over their lands and labor, and their families and faith. How could God be glorified and worshipped if His people were self-destructive, self-focused, and defeated? Even the pagans could sarcastically ask, "Where is your God?" The nation had to choose between revival (getting right with God) or reproach (robbing the God of glory). Sound familiar? They chose humility, repentance, and renewed faithfulness to God.
Believe God's Promises! (Joel 2:18-27)
Joel now looks beyond the invasion to the time when God would heal His land and restore his blessings to His people. Just as He blew the locusts into the depths of the Dead and Mediterranean Sea's (eastern and western seas), so He could drive the invading army out of the land. In one night, God killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers, and the great Sennacherib went home a defeated king (Isaiah 37:36-38). That gives new meaning the term - night, night, sleep tight. The question once more arises for these people. How can you doubt a God capable of this?
Some Bible scholars believe that Psalm 126 grew out of this event, as it describes a sudden and surprising deliverance that startled the nation. (Judah's return from Babylonian Captivity was neither sudden nor surprising.) "The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad" (verse 3) is echoed in Joel 2:21, "Be glad and rejoice; for the Lord will do great things." Both Joel 2:23-27 and Psalm 126:5-6 describe the restoration of the ravaged earth and the return of the harvests. This fulfilled what Isaiah promised to King Hezekiah (Isaiah 37:30).
Without the former rain (March-April) and the latter rain (October-November), the land could not hear its crops: and one visual and practical way God blessed or disciplined His people was to pour down or shut off the rain (Deuteronomy 11:13-17). But the Lord promised to give such bumper crops that the harvest would more than compensate for all the people lost during the locust plague and the drought. "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten" (Joel 2:25) is a word of promise to all who return to the Lord with sincere and broken hearts.
One of my favorite Charles Spurgeon quotes... "You cannot have back your time, but there is a strange and wonderful way in which God can give back to you the wasted blessings, the unripened fruits of years over which you mourned... It is a pity that they should have been locust-eaten by your folly and negligence; but if they have been so, be not hope-less concerning them."
And why will God do this for His undeserving people? So that they will praise His name and never again be shamed or ashamed before the heathen, the atheist, or the anti-christ antagonist.
"Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other, never again will my people be shamed."
No, chapter two of Joel was definitely not written to us - but it is, unmistakably for us. As never before our lands, our people, our nation, today needs hope and healing. We are polluted and diluted, we are hostile, hateful, and hurtful, we are disenfranchised and marginalized, we are delusional and unconstitutional - and yet we are free and we are God's people - called by His name, bought with a price, chosen and included, redeemed and not rejected. As our "Day of the Lord" fast approaches, we can blow the trumpets, sound the alarm, call a worship gathering and claim God's promises because "we too" are His people.
2 Chronicles 7:13-15
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.