05 June 2008

New series: Verse-by-verse through the book of Joel

Today we begin a verse-by-verse study of the book of Joel. You don’t hear too much about this prophet. Not many sermons are preached on this book. Many believe that because he wrote so long ago, and because he wrote to what seems like a certain people at a certain time that his message is not relevant today. But here’s the problem these people have: Just because Joel did not write a huge amount of material, this does not mean that we cannot learn something from the word of the LORD which came to him. And while the message was aimed at the nation of Israel for a certain period of time, we can see a pattern in this word that can be applied to our lives and even our own nation even today. Now, this is not to say that every time a prophet writes to a certain group at a certain time that those words can apply to us today. This is not selective interpretation, but simply common sense.

You see, those who preach the heretical “prosperity ‘gospel’” take many of the promises that God gave specifically to Israel for a specific time and try to say that since God promised those people wealth at that time, He promises wealth to all believers. This is simply not true. If anything, God promises all believers a struggle, tribulation, persecution, wrestling against the devil, separation from family and friends, and so one and so forth. But when God brings judgment against His people Israel for some grievous sin they have committed against Him, we can pretty much count on Him bringing judgment against us for that same sin. When He commanded Moses to order the destruction of those who made the golden calf, we can count on a similar—if not greater—punishment to come upon us for our idolatry. When God caused the ground to swallow Korah and those who followed him, we can count on the same punishment—if not worse—for daring to rebel against the commands of God. And when God spoke through the prophet Joel, to speak to Israel when they had stopped trusting in the LORD and forsook Him and went their own way and said to themselves, “We don’t need God”—we can expect a sore punishment from God—if not worse—when we sin against Him by thinking that we are the source of everything we have.

You see, every time God is preparing to bring a most severe judgment against His people, He always sends them a picture—some type of lesser punishment as a warning of the great judgment to come. It’s as if He says, “I am getting ready to judge you. But before I do here is just a small taste of what it will be like. Repent now, turn from your wickedness and follow Me, or I will bring a judgment against you that you will not be able to bear.” And in the word He gave to Joel, God warns Israel that if they do not turn away from their self-sufficiency and remember the LORD their God, He will bring upon them a punishment far worse than what He has already allowed. In the first chapter and the first half of the second chapter, God reminds them of what happened when they were invaded by wave upon wave of locusts, which had devoured everything in their path. And He tells them, “You think those locusts were bad? I’m getting ready to send armies upon you that will kill and plunder and destroy and take into captivity.”

Chapter 1, verse 4 gives a picture of the utter destruction these locusts have caused—“What the chewing locust left, the swarming locust has eaten; what the swarming locust left, the crawling locust has eaten; and what the crawling locust left, the consuming locust has eaten.” In the midst of so much peace and prosperity, they had lost focus of who their security came from. It did not come from the abundance of crops. It did not come from their treaties with other nations. And God was going to show them this by taking away everything they depended on.

We do not know much about the prophet Joel, nor do we read anything about his father elsewhere in Scripture, this being the only place his name is mentioned. The name Joel means “YHVH is God.” This is the only writing we have from this man’s pen. Joel was a prophet in the land of the southern kingdom of Judah. He prophesied during the same period that Elisha spoke to the northern kingdom, shortly after Obadiah spoke to the southern kingdom, and shortly before Hosea, Isaiah and Amos, and during the reign of King Jehu in Israel and Joash in Judah. The prophet begins his discourse by referencing the name of his father in order to set himself apart from other prophets named Joel, such as the one who was the son of the prophet Samuel. In fact, some have theorized that they are one and the same. But we can see from Scripture that this Joel who penned this word is not the Joel who was the son of Samuel. In fact, it was because of one of Samuel’s sons that the abominable practice of naming kings in Israel began. 1st Samuel 8:1-51 Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice. 4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.”

In Biblical chronology, Joel wrote during the time that the events of 2nd Kings 9-11 and 2nd Chronicles 22-24 were taking place. However, we do not have a biblical record of when the invasion of locusts actually occurred. Many have theorized, many have tried to pin down this catastrophe to a certain time. And because we do not have any record of such devastation, many skeptics will say this is evidence against the perfection of Scripture. But consider this: why would the Hebrew scribes whose job it was to collect the sacred writings of the prophets who proclaimed the word of YHVH include this book if no such event actually happened? Answer: they wouldn’t. It would be treated with the same regard as the Gnostic “gospels” were considered by the early Christian church. They would be read, analyzed, and a determination would be made as to its accuracy. If the “gospel” held an account of the works or words of Christ that was not an accurate depiction, it was not considered to be canon. Much the same standard was used by the Old Testament scholars. If a book held some account of a historical event that did not take place, or the account was wrong, then the account was not regarded as “Scripture.”

Not only did the Old Testament scholars see fit to consider it as sacred as the writings of Moses and Isaiah and Ezekiel. But the apostles—the men who walked with and learned from Jesus and who spent the rest of their lives and even gave their lives preaching the gospel—considered the prophet to have been speaking from the mouth of God. In Acts 2, as Peter is preaching the first Christian sermon ever recorded, he quotes the prophet. Joel said in chapter 2, verses 28-32 the words Peter brings to the mind of the assembled Jews. “28 And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. 29 And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy. 30 I will show wonders in heaven above and signs in the earth beneath: blood and fire and vapor of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. 32 And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” (Acts 2:17-21).

And although Joel’s writings are not as voluminous as someone like Isaiah or Ezekiel or even Zechariah, he was given a very distinct ministry—he was the first to write of the “day of the LORD.” Now, when we talk about the “Day of the LORD,” we need to tread very carefully. Because depending on the writer, and the context, the “Day of the LORD” can refer to one of many events. In the Old Testament it usually refers to an imminent judgment from God. Ezekiel 13:3-53 Thus says the Lord GOD: “Woe to the foolish prophets, who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! 4 O Israel, your prophets are like foxes in the deserts. 5 You have not gone up into the gaps to build a wall for the house of Israel to stand in battle on the day of the LORD.” This refers to the Babylonians conquering and destroying Jerusalem. Isaiah speaks of the Assyrian invasion when he wrote Isaiah 10:33 What will you do in the day of punishment, and in the desolation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help? And where will you leave your glory?

However, Zechariah spoke of the future “Day of the LORD” in Zechariah 14. He saw the tribulation, the tragedy and the horrible displays of human cruelty that would take place. But then God showed him how God Himself would come down and destroy those who were committing such abominations. Zechariah 14:1-51 Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, and your spoil will be divided in your midst. 2 For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city shall be taken, the houses rifled, and the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity, but the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city. 3 Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. 4 And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south. 5 Then you shall flee through My mountain valley, for the mountain valley shall reach to Azal. Yes, you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Thus the LORD my God will come, and all the saints with You.

In the New Testament, it normally refers to that time when Christ will begin bringing everything to an end.
  • Matthew 24:29-30“29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
  • 1st Corinthians 1:4-84 I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus…eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Philippians 1:6He who began the good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.

Joel speaks of the “Day of the LORD” 5 times. And four of those times he depicts the “Day of the LORD” as being near.
Joel 1:15Alas for the day! for the day of the LORD is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.
Joel 2:1let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand;
Joel 2:11And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?
Joel 2:31The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.
Joel 3:14Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.

Only in 2:31 does he talk about the future, end-time “Day of the LORD.” But that is really the only mention he needs to make. Because if the people really understood what the near-at-hand “Day” would bring, then he would only need to associate the two “days” one time for it to sink in. But they did not understand. They did not want to. They were more than happy going on blindly with their little lives, blissfully unaware of the coming judgment of God, and the greater judgment that it pictured.

Now, there is, of course, some disagreement as to whether these locusts came of their own accord, or whether God sent them. It does not really matter, and we can waste much time debating the merits of both sides. I tend to think these were sent by God. Because I believe He was trying to shake the people up by bringing upon them one of the same plagues He sent upon the nation who enslaved them for so many years.

It seems as though He was saying, “Remember when I sent a great army like this on a nation? You are, at this time, no closer to Me than that ungodly nation was. Remember how I delivered you from bondage by such an army, and repent, lest you go into captivity under the yolk of an ungodly nation once again.” And while it would have sunk in for people who were open to hearing from the LORD, these were some hard-headed people. They were like the Jews who stoned Stephen. He called them “stiff-necked, uncircumcised of heart and ears!” (Acts 7:51).

Consider what the Scriptures have to say about locusts. Deuteronomy 28 is a chapter filled with 14 verses of blessings for obedience and 54 verses filled with curses for disobedience. In verse 15 God says, “But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.” What follows is a lengthy litany of curses, of which verses 38 and 42, God says that these curses shall include, “38 You shall carry much seed out to the field but gather little in, for the locust shall consume it…42 Locusts shall consume all your trees and the produce of your land.” In 2nd Chronicles 7:12-14, God promises Solomon that there will be times when He himself will send locusts. 12 Then the LORD appeared to Solomon by night, and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. 13 When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, 14 if My people who are called by My name will 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.”

And in the Revelation, God will send the angel with the fifth trumpet to send a plague of locusts upon the earth. But these will not be locusts like anyone has ever seen before. Because they will not eat grass and herbs. They will be sent to harm those who do not belong to God. Revelation 9:1-41 Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit. 2 And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit. 3 Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. 4 They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.

Next time we will begin looking at the word that the LORD gave to the prophet Joel. It is a message that I truly believe is being repeated here in this country as we speak. A nation that has been relying on its self-sufficiency, has been trying to eradicate the name of YHVH and His Christ from the lips of any who would speak their names. This is a nation that has over-indulged itself on its own goodness, has descended into the depths of consumerism, and has placed a far greater value on bigger and brighter and shinier things than they have on the clear teachings of God. This is a country that professes to know God, but whose churches are filled with half-hearted and lukewarm congregants. A half-heartedness and lukewarmness that has poisoned those who fill the pulpits of such churches, seeking to please God by making friends with the world.

America has become a land like what was written by he prophet Hosea, 7 The more they increased, the more they sinned against Me; I will change their glory into shame. 8 They eat up the sin of My people; they set their heart on their iniquity. 9 And it shall be: like people, like priest. So I will punish them for their ways, and reward them for their deeds. 10 For they shall eat, but not have enough; they shall commit harlotry, but not increase; because they have ceased obeying the LORD (Hosea 4:7-9). For the church in America is filled with those with itching ears (2nd Timothy 4:3). Who want to hear nothing but “Peace! Peace! And there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). They want to hear “Peace and safety, and sudden destruction shall come upon them” (1st Thessalonians 5:3).

The church in America needs to hear the wake-up call given by Joel, to turn its back on its own prosperity and focus first on the things of God, lest we arouse Him to anger, and He brings a sore judgment upon us, one that would make 9/11 look tame in comparison. A judgment that will cause us to view it and say “Has anything like this happened in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?” (Joel 1:2).

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