Joel 3:17-21

Key Verse(s):

Joel 3:17 (CSB)
17 Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain. Jerusalem will be holy, and foreigners will never overrun it again.

Reflection/Application:

The previous events that Joel has prophesied will be evidence of who God is, and this is stated in the beginning of this pericope. The great judgment of God has proven his sovereignty. God will “dwell in Zion”, he will be among his people again. Jerusalem will be holy, no longer will God’s people be disobedient and unclean. Further, God promises that “foreigners”, surely meaning those opposed to God, will never “overrun” the city again: God has secured eternity, the struggle with sin is over, God is victorious.

Again we see the contrast of what it will be like in God’s presence and what was described as a result of the locust plague. Abundance and life flows from God. Note in Joel 3:18 that the source of a spring is God’s house: again we see God dwelling amongst his people, the source of life.

In Joel 3:19, Egypt and Edom are probably not meant to be the only literal nations that will become “desolate”, but instead are a picture of the rest of the pagan nations. Both Egypt and Edom would have been good candidates to represent the world: enemies of God’s people, the Israelites, and, by extension, God himself. This is the contrast with the future of the pagan nations and God’s people: one lives forever, one is empty.

The first part of Joel 3:21 is difficult to understand. As is, “I will pardon their bloodguilt, which I have not pardoned,” seems to suggest that God will pardon some previously unforgiven sin of his people. This seems odd here at the end of Joel. As it turns out, the Septuagint actually has this part as “I will avenge their blood and I will not pardon,” which seemingly makes much more sense and fits nicely with the previous verse and the second half of v21. Ultimately, either reading “works,” and neither detracts from, nor changes, the impact of Joel’s prophecy.

Finally, “the Lord dwells in Zion,” closes the prophecy with a reiteration of God dwelling amongst his people.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the promise of your redemption, judgment, and renewal of your creation. We look forward to the day when we can commune with you as intended! I pray that we would always remember that great work you have promised, and are working out daily. Help us to join you, and worship and praise you alone. Amen.

 

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Joel 3:1-16

Key Verse(s):

Joel 3:16 (CSB)
16 The Lord will roar from Zion and make his voice heard from Jerusalem; heaven and earth will shake. But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the Israelites.

Reflection/Application:

This passage provides a description of a coming final “battle” between God and the disobedient nations of the world. As it turns out though, the “battle” isn’t much of one. The one true God is in complete control, and the “battle” is actually his sovereign judgment upon those who reject him. Yet his chosen people, Israel, not literal Israel, but spiritual Israel, remains in him, the great, and gracious, stronghold.

Joel 3:1-3

Seems this is either referring to the surrounding nations, the enemies of Israel at the time, or literally all nations, the whole world, in the final judgment. I think the latter seems more likely. The idea of God gathering all these nations for judgment only makes sense in that context.

Joel 3:1

God’s people will no longer be “prisoners” of the world. In v2 we see that one of the tribulations of god’s people is to have been “scattered” by the nations.

Joel 3:2

“Jehoshaphat” = “Yahweh judges”

God gathers the nations, God is the initiator and in control.

The nations are to be judged, and they will be judged of their opposition to God as demonstrated by their division of his land and people.

Joel 3:3

“Cast lots” brings a reminder of Christ at his crucifixion.

The other two symbolic examples are of children (innocence) being traded for wicked, sinful lusts: sex and drunkenness.

Joel 3:4

The mentions of the ancient peoples of Tyre and Sidon, and the Philistines, seems more likely a representation of examples of the enemies of God, not that these are literally the nations to be gathered.

The rhetorical question is interesting though, and maybe suggests a spiritual struggle going on between the divine enemies of God and the Almighty.

Joel 3:5-8

Again, it seems that the crimes outlined here are again examples of the nation’s opposition to God, not a laundry list of what is to be judged. Likewise, it seems improbable that the judgment of the nations is solely a reversal of fortune, or just a case of giving them “a taste of their own medicine.” Instead, I think, it outlines the reversal, and setting right, of the obvious power and glory of God, and his favorable grace for his people. The phrase, “for the Lord has spoken,” put s finality upon this as well.

Joel 3:9-12

These verses outline a call to the nations to gather everyone to come face God in “battle”. And the call is comprehensive, “even the weakling,” is called to join as a warrior. Certainly this is not a literal, physical, battle, but the imagery is clear in the oppositional nature of the conflict.

The reversal of Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3 to convert plows into swords and pruning knives into spears, again emphasizes the conflict.

The end of v11 is somewhat confusing, as it doesn’t seem to fit the surrounding verses, but the meaning of the section remains clear.

Joel 3:12 reminds us of the nature of the gathering though, not a literal battle, but the judgment of God upon the nations.

Joel 3:13

The imagery here is interesting. Joel is clear that the “abundance” of the harvest and the grapes are a sign of the “fullness” of wickedness in the nations, they are “overflowing” with wickedness. But we would have expected, following the destruction of the locust plague and it’s tie to agriculture, that this reference would have been a boon to Israel. It would seem that there is a twist here and the abundant harvest if of God’s wrath through judgment instead.

Joel 3:14

Tons of people, countless, stupendously numerous, exceedingly bountiful… the emphasis here is the sheer number of people present at judgment. “Valley of decision” is not a suggestion that there is still time to “make a choice” for God… it is too late at this point, the “decision” is the execution of God’s judgment.

“For the day of the Lord is near,” does not suggest that at this moment in the valley it is still not yet the day of the Lord. This scene is the day of the Lord. Instead, it is the reminder that this day is close.

Joel 3:15

Darkness suggests death. The final moments are upon the earth.

Joel 3:16

The power of God comes through here, his “roar” shaking both earth and heaven. There is a finality here, that the earthly and heavenly disobedience against God will come to an end at the exertion of his almighty power, through his judgment, culminating in this roar that Joel has recorded.

But Joel does not leave it there, he reminds us that amidst this great judgment of sin and evil, on earth and in heaven, that God remains the solid, protective, stronghold for his people.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your sovereign judgment. It seems odd to be thankful for it, but it is who you are, our nature, you are just. And no truly great God could be anything but just! And we also thank you for your grace! Unearned grace, applied to those who place their hope and faith in you alone. And you are our stronghold, saving us from your wrath. I pray that your kingdom would continue to expand, that the valley of decision has less and less people as they come to you. Help us to reach them, speak through us to save lives. Amen.

Joel 2:28-32

Key Verse(s):

Joel 2:32 (CSB)
32 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, for there will be an escape for those on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, as the Lord promised, among the survivors the Lord calls.

Reflection/Application:

Joel’s prophecy switches now to provide a picture of what is to come following the locust plague and the Israelite repentance. Although there is no specific time frame given, it would seem the prophecy covers the broad time frame of sometime following the end of the plague (starting at Pentecost perhaps?), until the final judgment.

Joel 2:28

  • “After this” – This section is to occur at some later point in time: separate and distinct from the previous passage.
  • Although the term “all humanity” is used, the remainder of the verse frames this in the context of God’s people through the use of term “your”: “your” sons, “your” daughters, “your” old men, and “your” young men.

Joel 2:29

  • There is no discrimination about who will receive God’s Spirit: male & female, wealthy & slave… all believers.

Joel 2:30

  • The destructive nature here seems counter to the previous two verses. But, it would seem Joel is prophesying about the coming of God to judge, which means life for some, and death for others.
  • The fire and smoke imagery recall the fire and smoke of the Exodus. Blood would seem to be simply a sign of death?

Joel 2:31

  • Darkness and blood again appear to symbolize judgment and death. And note that it comes “before” the day of the Lord, before his return.

Joel 2:32

  • Joel makes an inclusive statement of “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” It seems unlikely he speaking only of Jews (see v28). So the escape from the “terrible day of the Lord” (i.e. judgment) is this faith in God.
  • Surely the reference to those who would be saved as “those on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem,” is symbolic, having a spiritual meaning rather than literal physical presence. Mount Zion being the seat of God, and Jerusalem being his city. So the picture here is of those spiritually present with God, or saved.
  • The phrase “among the survivors the Lord calls,” has a ‘predestination’ feel to it, but certainly can fit into a simple foreknowledge theology as well. The real point being that those who are saved are those who have responded to the call of God in faith.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your saving grace, that you work through faith. Thank you for calling us yours, your people, and providing the escape from your righteous judgment. I pray that your Spirit will continue to work to save those that belong to you. I am sorry for the times I’ve stood in the way of your mission, and I ask for the vision to join you. Amen.

Joel 2:18-27

Key Verse(s):

Joel 2:27 (CSB)
27 You will know that I am present in Israel and that I am the Lord your God, and there is no other. My people will never again be put to shame.

Reflection/Application:

This passage outlines God’s response to the Israelites repentance. We see God’s sovereign power, and how he can, and sometimes does, relent from the judgment and calamity he sends in response to the outcry from his people.

We read that God “answered his people,” in Joel 2:19. This seems to suggest that the previous corporate prayer should be viewed as a literal occurrence, and that God hears such please, and recognizes such true heart change.

God’s response is to not just alleviate the destruction that was send, but to reverse it fully. Although Joel 2:20 could be taken to refer to the locust swarms, it seems almost assuredly to refer to a human enemy. We see the total destruction now being turned upon the enemy of the Israelites. A noteworthy point here is to recognize the phrase “he has done astonishing things,” relating to the enemy and his terrible actions.

This is followed up by outlining the restoration that God is to bring. Again we see the phrase, “has done astonishing things,” but this time in reference to God, and his mighty and wondrous works. It is also noteworthy that we see an order of restorative actions, and commands, that are in the order (i) the land, (ii) animals, and (iii) man. Is there a loose parallel to the creation story and this restorative account?

Both the land and the animals are commanded, “do not be afraid.” The reason for this lack of fear is that God will have restored things, and the land and animals no longer have to endure desolation and starvation. And we cannot miss the fact that the restoration is the good work of God alone: all good flows from God.

The Israelites, or “children of Zion,” are exhorted to “rejoice and be glad,” rather than “don’t be afraid.” Perhaps the difference is that God’s people should not just exhibit and absence of fear, but instead exude a joy and reverence in God and his love, grace, and mercy.

Joel 2:23-26 relays the promise of God to restore the abundance that was taken by the locust swarm. We see the agricultural rains return, abundance of grain, wine , and oil, and hunger satisfaction. All a direct response to the calamity previous wrought upon his people: hunger, agricultural decimation, and drought.

Finally we see that God’s people will not be shamed again, stated in both Joel 2:26 and 27, meaning that they would no longer be known as a people whose God has turned his back on. And not only will they not be put to shame, but God is “present in Israel.” And most remarkably, and possibly most significant, is the monotheistic confirmation that God is alone in his “kind”: “there is no other.” Perhaps another direct response to a previous condition, namely Israel’s failure to worship God alone, but chase after other gods. Yet those false gods could not do anything before the one true God, hence his sovereign supremacy, and deserving of worship alone.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your relenting in judgment upon us. Despite our failures, our chasing after idols and false gods, you are gracious, you hear our please, the call of our changed hearts, in the midst of the trials brought upon us, and you respond. You provide for us, dwell among us, and under your new covenant, within us, and you alone are the unique and true Savior. I pray we would worship you alone and by wrapped up in your grace. Amen.

Joel 2:12-17

Key Verse(s):

Joel 2:12 (CSB)
12 Even now— this is the Lord’s declaration— turn to me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning.

Reflection/Application:

Joel’s prophecy to this point has been dark and dismal. But now he offers a picture of another side of God’s nature: mercy.

First, and critical to note, is that this is God’s declaration, his desire, not mans. The scenario that is about to be laid out is not the plan of Israel, but that of God. In other words, the judgment that his rebellious people have more than “earned” is not the desire of God, but instead he urges them to turn back to him.

And this “turning” back to God is not one of outward displays. Despite the list of outward actions: fasting, weeping, mourning, and tearing clothes (vv 12, 13), the real turn is one of the heart. We see it first in v12 with God’s declaration to “turn to me with all your heart,” and it is confirmed, and the true nature of this repentance made clear, in v13 by the command, “Tear your hearts, not just your clothes.” The order is this: repent and have a heart change to return to God, then the outward confirmation of such a heart change is the fasting, weeping, and mourning. Without a changed heart, all those other displays are just that displays, they have no meaning.

Then we see the merciful side of God. I love the second half of v13 and v14. First we see the absolute statement of who God is: “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and he relents from sending disaster.” This is who God is, no ambiguity in the statement, and no dependence on anyone or anything else… it is an aspect of God’s nature. And then we read v14… and rather than this idea that God can do nothing other than withhold his judgment, we see that there is a chance that he might. I think this is on purpose, the two juxtaposed representations of God’s mercy. I think maybe it reminds us of two things: 1) God is not just merciful, but he is just, and judgment is required in order to be just, and 2) God is in control, and if he exercises his mercy it is his decision and will, uncoerced by anything we might do, including our repentance.

We also should take note of the second half of v14. We might expect the blessing that God might leave to be something spectacular on a worldly scale… but instead it is something spectacular on a spiritual scale: the hope of receiving grain and wine in order to offer it back to God! What are our prayers filled with, requests for blessings that we can hand right back over to God?

The remainder of the passage is a call to the Jews to gather together to worship God, to corporately return to him. We see in v16 that this calling transcends all ages and states, as both the elderly and infants are called to gather, as well as traditions, shown through the calling together of the groom and bride prior to their marriage. Repentance and a return to God trumps everything else!

Finally, we see in v17 that this return to God by the people is to be spearheaded by the priests. Who are the priests today (see 1 Peter 2:11)? Are we spearheading the return to God? We might find our answer in the last question of the passage, “Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘here is their God?'” Isn’t this the question of the world today? And if the world is asking this, is it a sign of God’s absence, or our rebellion?

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your mercy and grace, for being a God that desires to hold back destruction. I pray for our corporate repentance, and each of our individual return to you via a changed, a torn, heart. Help us to be your priests, to lead your people back to you. Amen.

Joel 1:15-2:11

Key Verse(s):

Joel 2:11 (CSB)
11 The Lord makes his voice heard in the presence of his army. His camp is very large; those who carry out his command are powerful. Indeed, the day of the Lord is terrible and dreadful— who can endure it?

Reflection/Application:

This passage spans the end of chapter 1, and the start of chapter 2. In addition to spanning two chapters, it seems the passage spans two different, but related, tones.

The remainder of chapter 1 conveys the dire circumstances of the Jews agriculturally. The most significant part here though, is Joel 1:15 and the mention of the “day of the Lord.” It is most interesting because of the mention that the day “is near”, not yet come, which seems odd if speaking of the locust swarms which apparently have already come and gone. It may, in the end, be safest to read this as a double, or even triple, meaning, referring back to the locust plague, forward to the Babylonian army, and even further forward to the final judgment of the world.

Chapter 2 continues the theme of apparent double-meaning in its message, but the tone changes from the agricultural woes of Israel to the threat of invasion. There is much to observe through the remaining verses, following are some selected notes.

  • Joel 2:1 – God’s people should be alarmed, and should be aware, that the “day of the Lord”, or judgment, is coming. This applied to Joel’s audience, his contemporaries, as well as to us today. We may be facing different threats, some not all that much different, but we ultimately know that the day of the Lord, the day of his final judgment looms ever closer.
  • Joel 2:3 – The description of destruction continues. What I found a bit striking was the reference to Eden packed in here. The picture of the perfect garden, designed by God to be the home of his creatures man and woman, and the subsequent smoldering desolation behind the army of God, the direct result of his judgment, is startling.
  • Joel 2:11 – There is a lot packed into this verse.
    • This army, whether men or locusts (or both), is God’s army! We must not lose sight of God’s sovereign power and his ability to step into his creation and use whatever he chooses, however he chooses, to execute his purposes and achieve his plans.
    • God speaks and is heard by his army. An interesting thing here is that the ESV translates the beginning of the verse as “the Lord utters his voice,” conveying a somewhat subdued vocalization, not that much different than the CSB, while the NIV and NET translations use the term “thunders”, suggesting a loud and powerful voice. Whether it takes only a whisper from God, or his voice is like thunder, the point is his power and command via just his voice, his words.
    • The army is not powerful on its own, or because of itself or size. Its power is derived from “carrying out his command.”
    • God’s judgment is absolute, unrelenting, and horrific: “who can endure it?” Nobody.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for being a just God, unwilling to endure our sin forever. Instead you mete out judgment, you justly deal with iniquity. But you are also a merciful and gracious God, and have prepared a way for us to be delivered and saved from your eternal wrath. I pray that we would take heed, just as Joel’s prophecy warns us to, and turn to you. Amen.

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.