Joel 1:2-14

Key Verse(s):

Joel 1:14 (CSB)
14 Announce a sacred fast; proclaim an assembly! Gather the elders and all the residents of the land at the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.

Reflection/Application:

Joel wastes no time in getting into the prophecy, the vision, he has received. This passage is dominated by the description of a plague of locusts and the destruction, both agriculturally and spiritually.

We are immediately informed that this is a message of great importance in Joel 1:2. Both the elders, and in fact all inhabitants, are to pay attention. And the message to come is to be retained and passed down through the generations. If this prophecy was that important for the Israelites, it most certainly holds importance for us.

The passage’s focus is the locust plague, detailed in Joel 1:4. We see what appears to be four “waves”, or “swarms”, of locusts, each one devouring what the previous wave has left in their wake. In the end we are left with a sense of complete and total destruction. This is solidified by the verses following, through the picture of wine having been taken away, “devastated grapevine”, and broken and stripped fig trees. Joel 1:6 is of interest with its reference to a “nation”. It would seem that Joel is possibly providing a double meaning: not just the obvious reference to the locust swarms, but also to the coming invasion of a northern army from Babylon. But no doubt the focus here is on the decimation that Joel sees coming.

Another interesting thing to note is the mention of the “cutting off” of the grain and drink offerings due to the locust destruction. There is nothing left to offer! Personally, I think this is an allusion to the fact that the offerings themselves are not anything that can save man. It is clear that the prophecy Joel is describing is a result of a disobedient people. A grain or wine offering is not what will save them, it will not reconcile them to God. What will? A heart change. God is after our hearts, not our sacrifices (see Hosea 6:6).

Yet, despite the dire conditions agriculturally, and the apparent spiritual bankruptcy of God’s people, the passage turns towards hope. We read in Joel 1:14 the command from God to “cry out to the Lord.” We have no reason to think that God is done with the Israelites here, and by extension we should not think he is done with us, but instead he awaits our cry to him, our taking our proper place of reliance and focus solely on him.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for never forsaking us. We push you away, we deny and disobey you, yet you constantly call us to repent and return. I am sorry for my disobedience, and I recognize the plagues allowed to enter my life. And I praise you for those plagues and the work they’ve done to bring me back to you in full reliance and love. I pray we would all endure the locusts that eat and destroy us physically, emotionally, and spiritually, through your power and strength. Amen.

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Joel 1:1

Key Verse(s):

Joel 1:1 (CSB)
1 The word of the Lord that came to Joel son of Pethuel:

Reflection/Application:

The beginning of Joel, the first verse, is a simple, straightforward introduction of the writing to follow. There are a few things we should note:

  1. “The word of the Lord” – What follows is not the word of man, of a man, but the word of God. That, obviously, should carry weight with us as believers. It also suggests that this book is of a prophetic nature, as the phrase is also used in other prophetic books such as Hosea, Jonah, and Micah, as well as others. So we should also understand the writing as such: the prophetic word of God, given to the prophet Joel.
  2. Although the name Joel appears a number of times in the Old Testament, but the author of this book, this prophet, is not any of the other Joel’s mentioned. The name Joel also means, “Yahweh is God.” Although this is a neat fact, and may help solidify any doubt about Joel’s status as a prophet, there does not appear to be any further significance to the name’s meaning other than to remind us of the nature of Yahweh.

Just like other prophets, we should not get lost in the person, rather we should focus on the message. Perhaps this is why the author of this book is not mentioned in other OT books and stands alone here. It does not diminish the validity, nor the impact, of the prophetic writing that follows. And this is a testament to our Lord, who works in whatever way he sees fit, and through whomever he desires.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for delivering your message through a wide array of people. Help us to remain focused not so much on the author, as if to take away from your message, but to place primacy upon your word. I pray that you would reveal your message for us as we work through the text of Joel’s prophetic message, given by you. Amen.

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 34:6 (CSB)
6 He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab facing Beth-peor, and no one to this day knows where his grave is.

Reflection/Application:

Deuteronomy ends with the account of a final exchange between God and Moses, Moses’ death, and a sweeping review of Moses’ impact and legacy.

As had been emphasized leading up to this point, Moses was denied entrance into the promised land. But, as God said back in Deut. 32, Moses was allowed to see with his own eyes the land which God was giving to his people. And again, Moses is up on a mountain, alone with God, speaking with him.

The actual death of Moses, as well as his burial, is interesting, and, I think, points to a couple things:

  1. Moses was not frail, nor seemingly “close” to death. In fact, just the opposite is suggested in Deut. 34:7: “his eyes were not weak, and his vitality had not left him.” Moses did not die of old age, sickness, or any sort of natural cause. Instead, it would seem that Moses died because his work in this life, for God, had come to a close. Our natural reaction, upon reading that Moses was still apparently full of life, is to feel sad, almost as if his death was unjust. But, if we consider that Moses time in this life ending meant the start of his new life, then our indignation turns to joy.
  2. I find it interesting that apparently God himself buried Moses. There are proposed reasons why: it prevented the Israelites from worshipping Moses’ dead body, or it may have something to do with the passage in Jude 9 and keeping Moses body hidden. Certainly these are reasonable, and may very well be reasons for God’s handling of Moses burial and keeping it secret. But it also is a neat picture of a loving God taking special care, full investment in Moses, the one person described as having as intimate a relationship with God as anyone else. To me it shows that side of God that should reassure us that we are truly loved and cherished, and our Maker is fully invested in us.

The closing epitaph of Moses just reminds us of what a great man Moses was. And we should take some time to reflect on what that really means. Moses was no great man in and of himself. After all, he was a baby floating down the river, a slave by blood raised in the house of his people’s oppressors, a murderer, an exile. Yet God worked through him to make him “unparalleled” in what he did. We should remember Moses for the man God made him, through his obedience and love for the Lord, and strive to model his example.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for Moses, for the example he set for us. I fall far short, and I am sorry for that. But I am reassured that just as you cared for and loved Moses, you feel the same for me, with the cross as the proof. Help me to be the man you work in and through, for your purposes, for your glory. Amen.

Deuteronomy 33:1-29

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 33:26 (CSB)
26 There is none like the God of Jeshurun, who rides the heavens to your aid, the clouds in his majesty.

Reflection/Application:

Following the reminder of Moses’ coming death, we read his blessing upon Israel. Rather than a prophetic passage, telling what is to come of Israel, this truly reads like this is Moses’ intercessory prayer on behalf of the people he has led for decades, from his death bed. The structure is interesting as well, as it opens with a poetic summary of God’s rescue of his people, then addresses all twelve of the tribes with specific blessings, and ends with a general prayer of blessing and praise for all of Israel.

Following the pattern throughout Deuteronomy, vv1-5 review the fact that God has rescued his people out of slavery, and brought them to the land he had promised them as a possession. Moses here though, rather than the previously literal recounting of events, provides a poetic picture, symbolic of the power and might of God.

Deut. 33:6-25 contain the blessings for each of the twelve tribes: Reuben, Judah, Levi, Benjamin, Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh), Zebulun and Issachar, Gad, Dan, Naphtali, and Asher. Further, it is interesting to note the two significantly longer sections for the tribes of Levi and Joseph. Presumably the additional focus on Levi is due to the spiritual significance of the tribe, being the priestly tribe of Israel. It is also interesting to note the difference between Moses’ positive blessing here, versus Jacob’s not-so-positive one back in Genesis 49. Not surprisingly though, the blessing for Joseph is positive here, from Moses, just as it was from Jacob.

Finally, the passage closes with the general blessing, and praise for God, in vv26-29. I find the first line of v26 to be the main point of this sub-section: “There is none like the God of [Israel].” The entire section continues the same vision of the opening of the chapter, with God in this mighty warrior picture, driving out the enemy, guarding his people, the shield guarding them, and the sword cutting down their enemies.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for Moses’ words, and for being the God he described. Because of your love, might, and grace, we have the hope that Moses expressed and prayed for. Amen.

Deuteronomy 32:48-52

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 32:52 (CSB)
52 Although from a distance you will view the land that I am giving the Israelites, you will not go there.”

Reflection/Application:

I have to admit, when I get to this passage I am rooting for Moses. If this was a Hollywood movie, this is the point where Moses starts to head up the mountain, and God comes down from the clouds at the last minute and says, “Moses, you can join them!” But that’s not the case, and, thankfully, life is not a Hollywood movie. Instead, we can see two major aspects of who God is.

  1. God is just.
    As much as we might like the idea of Moses “getting off the hook,” we would not like what that would mean for who God is. There are plenty of writings, by people much, much smarter than I, that say this. But even a lay person like I can understand it: a world without justice would be total chaos, and destructive. Lawlessness would be “ok”… in fact, there would no longer be anything that wasn’t “ok”, because there would be no ultimate standard bearer and judge to say anything wasn’t! Well, I suppose technically an unjust God would be able to
    say something was wrong/bad/evil/etc., but what weight would that carry if he were impotent when it came to any associated consequence? Instead, God becomes trivial, meaningless, he becomes toothless. That may be exactly what many people want, after all, that means I can never be told I’m wrong, or bad, or evil, or whatever I don’t feel like being told. But we know that is not the case, we know there are absolute truths about good and bad, about some sort of “law”, and, therefore, there must be a lawgiver: God. And that lawgiver is just, and that is why Moses received his penalty for his unrighteous behavior. And that is why Christ hung on a cross to pay for my sin, our sin, so that our debt, God’s justice, would be satisfied.
  2. God is merciful.
    Moses was to receive his penalty: he would die before entering Canaan. But God brought him to the border, right to the edge. And then he leads Moses up a mountain so that he can at least see the fruition of his obedience, Moses would see the promised land that he led Israel to. God didn’t have to do this. This is God’s mercy: compassion on the guilty, and consideration for Moses. Just as we do not want to imagine a world without a just God, we should be thankful beyond measure that we have a merciful God who relents on full punishment and consequences for us so often.

In the end, this picture provides a glimpse of the perfect balance of justice and mercy, in our perfect God!

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for being perfect! We deserve your wrath, and it is just for us to suffer punishment for our sin. Yet you relent, you are merciful, and withhold full punishment, and we are thankful for it! I pray that we do not lose sight of who you are, all aspects of your nature. Help us to remember your wrath and justice, as well as your compassion and mercy, and the perfect balance that you are. Amen.

Deuteronomy 32:1-47

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 32:39 (CSB)
39 See now that I alone am he; there is no God but me. I bring death and I give life; I wound and I heal. No one can rescue anyone from my power.

Reflection/Application:

The vast majority of this pericope, and chapter 32, is the Song of Moses mentioned previously in Deut. 31. The song was to be remembered by the Israelites, and would serve as a testimony against them when they fall away from God.

The song begins by praising God, declaring how great he is, and proclaiming his perfection. This is important, as much for us today as it was for the Israelites then. It’s so important, the nature of who God is, that the song starts with, “Pay attention, heavens, […]; listen, earth.” the heavens and earth are called to take heed of what is to be sung… that’s important!

The song quickly shifts to the corruption of the Israelites though. Starting in Deut. 32:5, God outlines the failure, the corruption, the sin, of Israel. All the way through Deut. 32:14 we read how God cared for, protected, looked after, led, his people Israel (using Jacob as the focus of the verses). It is made clear what is said in v5: “this is [Israel’s] defect.” God did not bring about the rebellion of his people, it was their sin.

Deut. 32:15-18 describe Israel’s failure, their rebellion. Despite God’s provision and protection, gluttonous Israel rebelled. They sought after false gods, they “forgot” God. How careful we should be not to fall into the same trap. Those of us in the US, including myself, can so easily turn from God, placing our faith in any number of worldly things: our political leaders, money, possessions, jobs, etc. We, as a nation, have become fat and gluttonous, and we must be careful to cling to the one and only God who saves, protects, and provides.

The song then turns from what Israel has done, their sin, to God’s response. God determines to “hide” from Israel. What a scary place to be when God appears to be missing, nowhere to be found! Not only that, but God determines to provoke Israel in a similar fashion to their provocation of him, by sending a foreign nation to “enrage them”. And disasters are prophesied to be unleashed.

Then is an interesting passage, in Deut. 32:26-27 it almost seems like God is worried about his adversaries. It should be clear, especially taken in context with the opening of the song, that God does not really “fear” the enemy. What is described here, is God revealing that the enemy (and probably humanity) is too dumb to understand who was in control had the just punishment of being blotted out been administered. Instead of realizing it was God’s hand, his retribution, they would have thought their own evil ways and power had completed it. This is God deciding that it would be made clear for the enemy (and humanity?), just who is in absolute control. The next section continues this thought, as well as contrasting the lack of power of the false gods with the true God.

Deut. 32:34-42 follow with what the fate of Israel is, along with God’s enemies. It also reinforces the absolute, centralized power and control in God alone. There is this picture of Israel hitting “rock bottom”, and then God being there, asking where their false gods are. Where are the powers that they worshipped and followed. God alone will be standing. And the song closes in v43, with God purifying his land and his people. God remains faithful, merciful, and saving! I love v39 as well: it is a verse we should recall when we catch ourselves turning from God, remembering that he aloe is God, he alone is orchestrating everything, and he alone has the power that overcomes all.

The pericope closes with Moses commanding the people to remember the song, and conveying the great import of the message contained within it.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for having mercy on me, for rescuing me, and for purifying me. I don’t deserve your love or mercy, because so often I deny you, I put my faith in other things and people, and flat out deny you through my actions and words…. yet you love me. Yet you wait upon me, take me back, and rescue me from the enemy and myself. I pray that Moses’ song remains in my heart, and I always remember my one and only true God. Amen.

Deuteronomy 31:24-30

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 31:27 (CSB)
27 For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you are rebelling against the Lord now, while I am still alive, how much more will you rebel after I am dead!

Reflection/Application:

Things have certainly taken a turn for the worst. Following God’s prophecy that Israel would rebel and, therefore, suffer the punishment for doing so, Moses lays into the people.

The passage starts with the completed transcription of the law, and the command to keep it with the ark of the covenant. The law was to be “a witness against” the Israelites for their coming rebelliousness. “The song and the scroll, then, would be two witnesses, all that the law required in legal testimony (cf. Deut 17:6; 19:15).” 1 Moses goes on to repeat God’s prophecy of rebellion to the Levites. And the passage ends with the transitional verse that leads into the song that Moses was to deliver to the Israelites to remember.

In the middle of the pericope though, is verse 27, “For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you are rebelling against the Lord now, while I am still alive, how much more will you rebel after I am dead!” The verse catches my attention. It is not just Moses repeating God’s words here, it is more personal. The Israelites not only had God with them (remember the pillar of smoke and fire for example?) but they also had God’s appointed spokesperson and leader: Moses. And they still complained, were disobedient, and, when left on their own, sought after and fashioned idols for false gods! And I thought, “Surely I would have been ‘better’ than the Israelites.” But would I have been? Am I now? They may have had great signs and miracles, and God’s hand-picked leader, but we have God dwelling within us, and a direct line to him, no need to go through a priest. But don’t I still complain and want more and more? Don’t I still rebel? Don’t I still chase after false god and fashion my own idols to worship?

The problem was not an Israelite problem, it was is a human problem; a sin problem. And it was not the law that was going to resolve it, but God’s long term, permanent, perfect plan that would.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for having that perfect plan, which was you taking my penalty, and making me new, free, and forgiven! I am sorry for chasing after false gods, for rebelling against you. Help me to continue chasing after you, and you alone. Amen.

 

 

1 Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 404.