23 June 2008

Verse by verse through Joel (1:4-1:9)

Joel 1:4-9

4 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. 5 Awake, you drunkards, and weep; and wail, all you drinkers of wine, because of the new wine, for it has been cut off from your mouth. 6 For a nation has come up against My land, strong, and without number; his teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he has the fangs of a fierce lion. 7 He has laid waste My vine, and ruined My fig tree; he has stripped it bare and thrown it away; its branches are made white. 8 Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth. 9 The grain offering and the drink offering have been cut off from the house of the LORD; the priests mourn, who minister to the LORD.

The land of Judah was very prosperous, both economically and spiritually, under the rule of King Joash. In 2nd Chronicles 24:1-4 we find the expanded version of Joash’ reign. And to clear up any confusion, in 2nd Kings 12 he is called Jehoash, while in 2nd Chronicles 24 he is referred to as Joash. Same man. Just to set the stage: Judah has been going through a roller-coaster ride of kings. Jehoshaphat had reigned in righteousness and did right in the eyes of YHVH, but he did not take away the high places and the altars to foreign gods.

After Jehoshaphat, along came Jehoram, who was as wicked as Ahab. It was for this wickedness that God, as it says in 2nd Chronicles 21:16-1716 Moreover the LORD stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines and the Arabians who were near the Ethiopians. 17 And they came up into Judah and invaded it, and carried away all the possessions that were found in the king’s house, and also his sons and his wives, so that there was not a son left to him except Jehoahaz, the youngest of his sons. It was during the reign of Jehoram that the prophet Obadiah was prophet, and spoke what we have in the book of Obadiah. And when Jehoram died, there was no grief. He had caused much grief to the people of Judah, and his leaving this earth was a welcome sight for the people. In fact, 2nd Chronicles 21:20 says, He was thirty-two years old when he became king. He reigned in Jerusalem eight years and, to no one’s sorrow, departed. However they buried him in the City of David, but not in the tombs of the kings.

Then after Jehoram died, Ahaziah, Jehoram’s youngest son and the only male left from his household after the invasion of the Philistines and the Arabians, became king in Judah. There’s not a lot to say about his reign as king because he only reigned for one wicked year, after which his mother Athaliah assumed the throne. Her parents were Ahab and Jezebel, her grandfather was Omri. You will not find many bloodlines more pagan, more heathen, more ungodly and more treacherous and murderous than this. Athaliah continued the family tradition, ruling Judah in much wickedness. Her reign was so wicked, in fact, that even the high priest Jehoiada convened a group of men to kill her. So, Jehoram is dead. His sole surviving son Ahaziah has died. Ahaziah’s mother—and Jehoram’s widow—Athaliah—is dead. But the bloodline would continue. One of Ahaziah’s sons, Joash, would become king in Judah. 2nd Chronicles 24:1-41 Joash was seven years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba. 2 Joash did what was right in the sight of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada the priest. 4 Now it happened…that Joash set his heart on repairing the house of the LORD. 5 Then he gathered the priests and the Levites, and said to them, “Go out to the cities of Judah, and gather from all Israel money to repair the house of your God from year to year, and see that you do it quickly.” He was a child at seven years old, yet because he was under the influence of the godly high priest Jehoiada, he knew to fear and worship and revere the LORD. But…

2nd Chronicles 24:15-18, 15 But Jehoiada grew old and was full of days, and he died; he was one hundred and thirty years old when he died….17 Now after the death of Jehoiada the leaders of Judah came and bowed down to the king. And the king listened to them. 18 Therefore they left the house of the LORD God of their fathers, and served wooden images and idols; and wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem because of their trespass. To get a better grasp of the words of an Old Testament prophet, it helps to understand what was going on at the time they prophesied. Both kingdoms were constantly teetering on the brink of disaster, both spiritually and militarily. But what would you expect when the people would rather be led by men than be led by God? They had seen what happened to even the most beloved kings in the history of Israel, David and Solomon. How these men, who had so fervently loved the LORD, fell so far and so deeply into sin. And you can almost hear them say, time after time, “It will be different this time.” But it wasn’t.

Look at the end of 2nd Chronicles 24:18. Wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem because of their trespass. We are living at a time when this nation, the United States of America, is teetering on the brink of destruction—both spiritually and militarily. In the 1600’s, those who came and settled here brought with them a love for God. They were seeking religious freedom without the bonds of human rule to shackle that freedom. This nation was founded, in spite of the best rhetoric of the humanists and atheists and “rationalists” among us, as a Christian land. Not as a theocracy, where men ruled BY the Bible, but where men USED the Bible to set down laws that would benefit all inhabitants of this land, both Christian and non-Christian. But now, we are beholden to the laws of men concerning when, where and how we can worship or even mention the name of Jesus Christ. And it will not be too awful long, mark my words, when even the sermon of your local pastor will be subject to the scrutiny of law enforcement officials. Isn't that an odd paradox. People don’t want to be ruled by the Bible, but they don’t have a problem being ruler over what can be said from the Bible.

Friends, this trend has not only wormed its way into the mainstream culture, but it has so permeated the church that it would take a full generation, if not more, to purge out that leaven. Churches are bowing down to the altar of self. They are allowing people’s feelings to dictate what is preached, what is taught. Rather than being led by the Holy Spirit, even if it means offending someone. This is the downward spiral the church in America has taken. This was the downward spiral that sucked Judah down the vortex into apostasy. 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. The chewing locust of comfort has driven out the truth from many churches. The churches that have not succumbed to the god of comfort have been invaded by the swarming locust of compromise. What churches have not been affected by the swarming locust of compromise have been split into factions by the crawling locust of contention. Those that are left have been feeling the gnawing of the consuming locust of callousness—they have become so lukewarm and happy in their lukewarmness they have absolutely no desire to return to the truth. They have become like Joash. They have lost their moral compass, and have become like men without a head, following whatever doctrine comes along and fits most neatly into their little man-centered programs. So, after we see this UNPRECEDENTED CATASTROPHE in verses 1-4, we move on to the UNANTICIPATED CORRUPTION in verses 5-9.

Verse 5. Awake, you drunkards, and weep; and wail, all you drinkers of wine, because of the new wine, for it has been cut off from your mouth. The word “weep” means more than shed a few tears. It carries a much deeper connotation, as a lamentation. Gesenius says it is “often used of the people lamenting in public calamities.” Here, I believe, is where the prophet is warning those who left the house of YHVH to follow after their Baals. For the worship of Baal included much drunken debauchery. And if the wine was cut off, what would be the point of worshipping Baal? Is this not a stinging rebuke from YHVH? Baal was long considered by those who worshipped him as a god of fertility—for humans as well as crops. The Tyndale Bible Commentary says of the locusts of Exodus, “The devastation of all green living things by the plague of locusts demonstrated the impotence of Isis, the goddess of life, and Seth, the protector of crops.” The people had forgotten that God had sent locusts once before to destroy the false ideas of a pagan culture that their fake gods somehow gave them life and protected them.

Do those in the church today, who think they are protected by their comfort and their compromise with the world, and by contending against those who contend for the gospel, and by their callousness toward truth—do these people think, honestly think, that they are safe? They do not know, nor do they understand, that their comfort will condemn them. James 5:1-31 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Did you notice something there? How does James begin this passage? “Weep and howl” How does Joel 1:5 begin? “…weep and wail…” The KJV says, “…weep and howl…” Joel says, because of the new wine, for it has been cut off from your mouth. James says, Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Could James have been giving us a warning, updating the words of Joel?

You see, the reason so many churches seek comfort and compromise is to bring glory to themselves. They may not say it in so many words. They may not even think that is what they are doing. But what is the purpose of watering down the word of God? Well, to make it more appealing to more people. To appeal to human flesh. To make people feel good about themselves. To bring them back in the doors next week. Where is God in all that? Nowhere. This is a man-centered message they preach to those who seek the wine and the new wine of self-congratulation. This is a gospel message that leaves God’s holiness and righteousness and justice out of the equation. They do not fear the coming wrath of the LORD. They do not seek His comfort and His protection. They would rather be built up and edified and surrounded by people whose itching ears need another fix. And one day, because our eyes are closed to the truth of God, His eyes will be closed to our distress when it comes upon us, and His ears will be stopped. Psalm 66:18If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear. What dread, what hopelessness, to know that the very same God who sees all, knows all, hears all, will stop His ears when we cry out to Him, and will not hear us, and will deny us the help we need. God sent locusts upon His own people in Judah. He will not be afraid to do it again.

Verse 6. For a nation has come up against My land, strong, and without number; his teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he has the fangs of a fierce lion. Another verse that makes skeptics cry “Contradiction! Locusts don’t have fangs!” And, once again, because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1st Corinthians 1:25). No, locusts do not have fangs. This is another metaphor. Like telling someone they are a ray of sunshine. Does this mean they are a bolt of light emanating from the ball of fire that illuminates the earth? Yeah I’d like to answer that. Uh…what? What the prophet is saying is that these locusts eat with the voraciousness of a lion. Just as a lion, with its fangs, can tear through the thickest flesh, so can these locusts rend crops asunder in an instant.

And keep in mind, these were sent by God. He calls them here a nation…strong, and without number. In chapter 2 He calls them My great army which I sent among you. Think about this: the locust is a small creature. No matter if it’s the chewing, swarming, crawling or devouring kind, the largest ones are but 3 inches long. Yet they cannot be fought with a sword. They cannot be defeated by great armies. For though they are small in size they are mighty in number. A legion can swing their swords with all their might against them and do them no harm. This shows us that God can send an army against any nation, any group—an army that cannot be defeated.

Verse 7. He has laid waste My vine, and ruined My fig tree; he has stripped it bare and thrown it away; its branches are made white. HIS vine. HIS fig tree. The earth and all that is in it belongs to God (Psalm 24:1). And He can do with it whatever He wishes. Psalm 115:3But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases. Sometimes He has to purge the land of corruption. Sometimes He has to purge it BY corruption. There are times when God must send persecution and distress and calamity and devastation and destruction in order to accomplish His purpose and bring His people back to Him. You see, when God sends or allows persecution, it is for one of two reasons (if not both): One, to show the world who belongs to Him through such trials. Two, to weed out those in the midst of His congregations that claim to belong to Him, but have not shown forth the fruits of repentance. The Demases of this world.

In Philemon, Paul writes to Onesimus’ master, 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, 24 as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers (Philemon 23-24). But by the time Paul’s life was about to end, he lamented to Timothy, 9 Be diligent to come to me quickly; 10 for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world (2nd Timothy 4:9-10). God knows who belongs to Him. And who does NOT belong to Him. And when someone who does not belong to Him, but claims they do belong to Him, and that person bears rotten fruit, that one will be purged by God by whatever means necessary. Have these churches—who may have at one time been a city on a hill, but are now located in the valley of the shadow of death—have they forgotten the words of our Lord Jesus Christ? John 15:1, 2, 61 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit... 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”Thrown into the fire.” Much like the prophet said, “thrown it away.” If you are not bearing fruit to God, if you are claiming the title “Christian” yet you are walking in the world as the world walks, you are in danger of being pruned out of the vine and gathered up and cast into the fire. Just as God used the locust to strip His fig tree bear and expose it to the elements that it may wither and die, so will He expose the workers of iniquity.

Verse 8. Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth. The Hebrew word for “lament” is remarkably similar to the word for “wail” (“howl”—KJV) in verse 5. Listen to these words the prophet uses in this section. Weep. Wail. Lament. Cut off. This is not a message of hope. This is a dire warning of destruction to come. We need to look at that word “virgin” for a moment. Because it is not the same word Isaiah uses in Isaiah 7:14. The word Joel uses here is כּבתוּלה (bethulah), not עלמה (almah). Almah refers to a chaste virgin, while bethulah refers to a young bride. Why is this important? Because this “bride”—Judah—had been betrothed to God. And she had lost the favor of that husband. The “husband of her youth.” Her lover—Baal, the one she had committed spiritual adultery with—had been exposed as a liar, the truth of his impotency had been exposed, he had been shown to be worthless, useless. And her true husband—YHVH, the LORD, the one who was true and faithful to her—had removed His hand of protection from her, and was about to expose her to everyone around.

The same thing will happen one day to all these “churches” who abandon the truth of God, the truth of His word, who embrace another gospel, which is not any gospel at all. They have left their husband—the Lord Jesus Christ—and have gone whoring after their own little Baals. They have become as the church at Ephesus by the time John was given the Revelation. “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5). Keep in mind, this was written to that church as a whole, not to an individual person. Once a church as a whole has repented from the Lord, He will remove their light, and they will be given over to darkness. These places may profess a love for Christ. They may crack open their Bibles once in a while. They may say some of the right things. But in truth, and in whole, they are apostate, they are useless, they are not the shining city on a hill any longer, and they are in danger of having their lampstand removed and having God take away His hand of protection and expose them for what they are. They will weep, they will wail, they will mourn, they will lament. We may not see it in our lifetime. But it will happen.

If you don’t think He will, consider verse 9. The grain offering and the drink offering have been cut off from the house of the LORD; the priests mourn, who minister to the LORD. Not only had God stripped away and destroyed those things they needed in their offerings to Baal, but He had also taken away the things they needed to worship God! He has taken away the grain offering and the drink offering. They could no longer bring these things to the temple to atone for their sins. They were now truly alone, truly cut off, truly abandoned by God. He had given them over to their enemies, He had removed every means by which they could plead for mercy. They were alone. Not even the temple priests could do anything for the people, because their ceremonies and their rituals had been terminated. By God. They had been living in a land of abundance. They had had at their disposal every offering to give to God for their transgressions. And now, they were in a wilderness—not only physically, but spiritually.

The same wilderness the church in America will find itself one day. Romans 1:23-2823 [they] changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions… 28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting. When a people or a church want to follow a God of their own creation. When they do not want to know God for who he is. When they want to follow their own gospel, God will say, “Fine. Go ahead.” And He will let them heap up wrath for themselves for the Day of Judgment. And as Paul said in another place, those that preach another gospel will be damned (Galatians 1:8-9).

He sent these locusts as a temporary judgment upon the people. To remind them that He is God, He will not be mocked, He will not be trifled with. He is a jealous God—not jealous OF us, Oprah, but jealous FOR us. He wants us all for Himself, He wants us to know Him for who He is—the one who gives us life, the one who sent His Son for us, the one—the only one—who can save us from His wrath. Churches that trifle with His word are in danger of judgment, having their tree stripped bare, having their lampstand taken away. For You have magnified Your word above all Your name (Psalm 138:2). It will come as an UNANTICIPATED CORRUPTION.

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