30 June 2008

Verse by verse through Joel (1:8-1:12)

Joel 1:8-12—

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. 10 The field is wasted, the land mourns; for the grain is ruined, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails. 11 Be ashamed, you farmers, wail, you vinedressers, for the wheat and the barley; because the harvest of the field has perished. 12 The vine has dried up, and the fig tree has withered; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree—all the trees of the field are withered; surely joy has withered away from the sons of men.

The successive waves of locusts have come in and stripped bare every tree and every stalk of grain they could find. They have devoured with a voracity unlike anything these people have ever seen, or their fathers, or their fathers’ fathers. Everything is gone. Their crops—their beautiful crops that they loved so dearly, and which came about because of their own hard work (or so they thought)—were gone. Because they had forgotten the LORD their God. And now, not only could they no longer make their wine to worship Baal—they couldn’t even go back and give offerings to YHVH. What an unenviable position to be in.

There is a show on television that, if a woman thinks her boyfriend is sneaking around with another woman they’ll send private investigators out to follow the guy. Sure enough he’s sneaking around with his secretary or his assistant. And at the end of the show, they confront the guy. They bring the girlfriend along for extra drama. And there he stands, caught, guilty, dead to rights. And he will stand there and deny it. Even with all the video evidence—they usually have a bunch of videotape to show the philanderer that yeah, it’s true—and what do you think happens? Well, for one, the girlfriend tells him it’s over. And then the other woman—who had no idea her boyfriend was already seeing someone else—doesn’t want any part of him, and she leaves. So now, here’s this guy that had two girlfriends at once—and now he has no one. This was the situation the nation of Judah found itself in.

For so many years they had been favored by God. Anything they needed, all they had to do was ask and they had it. So long as they were faithful to God, and kept the covenants they were protected by the mighty hand of God. But too often, that wasn’t enough. Too many times they got too big for their britches, they found some pleasurable thing they just had to have. They mixed their worship with the pagans around them. Some, like Ahaz and Manasseh, went so far as to burn their children in the fires of Molech. When they did not repent, God took away His hand of protection, they went into captivity, and they found out that not only were they abandoned by God, but they also found that the pagan gods they followed after had done them no good. A long, hard lesson the church in America will learn one day unless she repents.

Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth. This of course is a picture of a funeral. The young bride—which is the meaning of the word here; it is not a reference to a chaste virgin as we saw last time, different word—she has lost her husband. Not because HE left HER, but because SHE left HIM. She has gone playing the harlot with other lovers, and she has lost the intimacy she had with the one to whom she was betrothed. He is still there, He will wait for her to return to Him, but in the meantime He will have nothing to do with her, and will remove from her the glory she shared with Him. This was what happened to the church at Ephesus. Revelation 2:4-54 “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 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.” Jesus told this congregation—which had been so fervent in their worship of God and their love for the Lord Jesus Christ—that they had grown cold. They were doing some good things, but they were neglecting to do the best things. It was not a total apostasy; they had not ceased to worship Christ. But they were not doing those things He had commanded them to do. And just as Christ commanded them here to repent and restore their broken relationship with their Savior, so God was telling the people of Judah, through the prophet Joel, to lament and mourn over their broken relationship with their Creator.

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 field is wasted, the land mourns; for the grain is ruined, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails. God was telling them they were not to come into His house. And He has taken away everything they would need to come into His house. In order to bring in their daily offerings, they had to bring flour and oil and wine with them. Exodus 29:38-4138 “Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs of the first year, day by day continually. 39 One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight. 40 With the one lamb shall be one-tenth of an ephah of flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of pressed oil, and one-fourth of a hin of wine as a drink offering. 41 And the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; and you shall offer with it the grain offering and the drink offering, as in the morning, for a sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to the LORD.” Without the flour and the wine and the oil, they could not offer their daily sacrifices. And without their daily sacrifices, their relationship with God was broken.

The church that relies on the elements of the world—music that is detestable to God, movies that are filled with foul language and smut and all kinds of humanism and occultism—the church that brings that stuff into the house of God is committing spiritual harlotry. They are chasing after Baal, they are forgetting the commands that have been given by the LORD our God and His Christ. They are quenching the Holy Spirit, they are not listening to the calling of the Holy Spirit and are instead sowing new cloth on an old garment. However, unlike the message Jesus was giving in Matthew 9:16-17, the new cloth these churches are using is the cloth of the world they are sewing on the garment of Christ. And I doubt it will not be long until God says, “Enough! I’m through with you! Out you go!

Be ashamed, you farmers, wail, you vinedressers, for the wheat and the barley; because the harvest of the field has perished. The vine has dried up, and the fig tree has withered; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree—all the trees of the field are withered… A lot of symbolism here. Why would these farmers be ashamed of the failure of their crop due to something that was beyond their control? Or was it? This blight was a judgment upon Judah as a whole. It’s more than likely that these famers and vinedressers were also caught up in devotion to a pagan religion. You see, a religion that worships any other than YHVH is a religion that worships self. All religions that worship any other than YHVH are geared toward satisfying the flesh. These farmers were crying out to Baal to make their fields and crops abundant and numerous—not so they could consecrate these to God, but so they could reap the worldly benefits. Matthew Henry writes:

“Let them be ashamed of the care and pains they have taken about their vineyards, for it will be all labour lost, and they shall gain no advantage by it; they shall see the fruit of their labour eaten up before their eyes, and shall not be able to save any of it. Note, Those who labour only for the meat that perishes will, sooner or later, be ashamed of their labour. The vine-dressers will then express their extreme grief by howling, when they see their vineyards stripped of leaves and fruit, and the vines withered, so that nothing is to be had or hoped for from them, wherewith they might pay their rent and maintain their families.”

Jesus, in one of His parables, while not explicitly alluding to this prophecy of Joel, makes it clear that a vinedresser is symbolic of the spiritual leaders of the nation Israel, in Matthew 21:33-46 in what is known as the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers. The vinedressers are those who are charged with making sure the branches of the vine are keep clean and healthy. They are to make sure the branches are kept up off the ground to prevent mold from forming on the crop and damaging it. They are also charged with making sure no foxes get into the vineyard to eat of the grapes. What was Jesus’ accusation against the husbandmen of the vineyard of God? This: instead of taking care of the crop in a way that would please the owner, they sought ways to take it and spend it on their own pleasure. James 4:3 addresses that subject. And what happened to those wicked vinedressers? Matthew 21:40, 41, 4340 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” 41 They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons”…43 [Jesus said,] “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” These Pharisees heard the truth. They knew the truth. They even spoke the truth. But they did not do the truth—perhaps they did not believe even their own words.

Now, one thing we need to remember is this: not only are there husbandmen (vinedressers) here on earth. We have a Vinedresser in Heaven who is not afraid to come down and prune out a few branches on His own. 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.” If anyone in a position of authority in their church is not pruning true branches so they can grow and bear fruit; if they are not purging branches, lest the canker that grows on them spreads to the other branches, then God Himself will come and prune and purge. And He just may prune and purge those vinedressers as well. Do not think that your pastor will be immune if God decides he needs to be pruned. All of us who are in a position of teaching God’s word always need to be mindful that just because we are in the position we are in does not mean that we are guaranteed that position for life. And let us never think we are in this position because of our own efforts or intellect. We are teachers of God’s word because He has given us that gift. He can just as easily give it to someone else. 1st Corinthians 4:7For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? God has given us various gifts. Why do some act as if they do not come from God? God will purge and prune all who disgrace His name and His word.

However, He may not necessarily take that person completely out of the ministry. God knows who belongs to Him. He knows who will, as my mom used to say, “Straighten up and fly right.” Aaron, the brother of Moses, participated in the idolatry of the golden calf at the base of Mount Horeb, going so far as to craft the molten image himself. When God commanded Moses to go to the bottom of the mountain Moses found Aaron, who was ashamed when he was found to have been caught up in pagan idolatry. Exodus 32:21-2521 And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?” 22 So Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord become hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. 23 For they said to me, ‘Make us gods that shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.” 25 Now when Moses saw that the people were unrestrained (for Aaron had not restrained them, to their shame among their enemies). A calamity that comes to the people of God is not necessarily a shame to the name of God. He let His people suffer in bondage to Pharaoh for 400 years. What did they do to deserve it? Nothing. It happened. Why do good people of God suffer today? There’s not always a reason, other than God allows it.

But when a nation’s sin against God is the reason for a calamity, then the name of God is blasphemed, shame is brought upon the name of Christ, and our Lord is grieved. Look at that last part of Exodus 32:25(for Aaron had not restrained them, to their shame among their enemies). The nations laughed and mocked the children of Israel. Their nakedness, which they reveled in, was their shame. The prophet Hosea, writing to the Northern Kingdom some 60 years later, recorded these words of Almighty God, in Hosea 2:10-12--10 “Now I will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and no one shall deliver her from My hand. 11 I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her New Moons, her Sabbaths—all her appointed feasts. 12 “And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, of which she has said, ‘These are my wages that my lovers have given me.’” It is amazing how similar the prophecies of Joel to the southern kingdom and Hosea to the northern kingdom are, especially when you consider that they were written some 60 years apart. It was as if Israel did not learn a lesson from her southern sister.

What is even more amazing is that many in the church today have not learned a lesson from both of these nations. But that is simply a symptom of the spiritual malaise that is happening in churches these days. People don’t want to be bothered with the truth. They just want to come in, hear a nice little speech, have a little fellowship, sit in a small group with their coffee and donuts, and sit around asking each other “What does this mean to you?” It doesn’t matter what a passage of Scripture means to us! What matters is what God meant when He commanded these men to write what they did. And one day, these vinedressers who are neglecting their duties and who are allowing the fruit to wither and mildew on the vine, and who are allowing foxes to come in to eat of the crop that is meant for God will be ashamed, they will wail, they will lament.

…surely joy has withered away from the sons of men. Why do people go to church? No, let’s back up. What is the reason we are to come together to worship? Is it not to hear the word of God spoken, the truth preached, the saints equipped and the body of Christ edified? Yet what is the cry of those who are drawn like moths to a group that hails itself as being “seeker-sensitive?” Why do they look for “churches” like that? Because when they go looking for a church, the first question on their mind is, “What can this church do for me?” The surest sign that a person in the congregation is already headed for apostasy is when they ask what’s in it for them. Now, in a new believer, or a person who is curious and has only just started looking for truth, this is understandable. But too many who have been in church for far too long are still asking that question. They are all about getting something out of it. That’s the world we live in. It’s all about me. There’s a day-care center here in Knoxville called “It’s All About Me Daycare.” Is it any coincidence (a word, by the by, I do not have in my vocabulary any longer) that the breakdown of authority in the church has almost exactly paralleled the breakdown of authority in the home?

We are feeding our children’s ego at an earlier and earlier age. It used to be that parents knew they were parents, children knew they were children, and the family structure was obvious and lines were drawn. Not so anymore. Now, children have to have this and they have to have that. They need a cell phone and they need $100 jeans and they need an iPod® and they need and they need and they need. Junk. They need junk. They have to have their smallest needs catered to or run the risk of having to undergo years of therapy. Because their childhood wasn’t perfect. And how many years of therapy do parents have to go through, how much stress and strain do parents feel because they didn’t get their kids just the right thing that their kid just had to have? Ever see the movie “The Santa Clause?” Two hours of my life, by the way, that I will never get back. Judge Reinhold plays a character who has spent many years pining over not getting a stupid little toy when he was a kid. Art imitates life.

Now, consider what is going on in the church. People come into church, having needs. Of course, many times these needs are only felt needs. People need self-assurance. They need self-esteem. They need to learn how to feel good about themselves. And because they can't feel good about themselves, they feel lousy about themselves. But let me tell you something friend. The only way you are ever going to feel good about yourself is when you feel crummy about yourself. The only time you will realize how fortunate you are is when you realize how rotten you are. The only time you will ever know true acceptance is when you turn your back on this filthy, rotten, disgusting world of sin and death and corruption and greed and materialism and stuff and junk and you embrace the cross of Christ and you understand that even though you were completely lost, without hope, separated from God, He came down, took your place of death on the cross, and has made you accepted by being acceptable.

But the Purpose-Driven gospel and the gospel of “good works” have so supplanted the true gospel of Christ, that churches are filled not so much with sinners who clutch dearly and desperately to the cross of Christ, as they are filled with patients. They're not so much churches anymore as they are psychiatric outpatient centers. Preachers aren't preachers anymore, they're therapists. They're psychologists. They're counselors, who feel that their job is to assuage people’s guilt and give them a little pep talk to get them through the next few days. Until their self-esteem starts to run out and they need another pep talk. That is why the church in America is so weak and so inept. Because salvation isn't about God saving sinners anymore. It’s about a guy on a stage helping people cope with their miserable little lives. Until the church in America wakes up to the fact that our lives are miserable without Christ, they will continue to be miserable without Christ.

In Psalm 51:12, after he has committed his abominable acts with Bathsheba and against Uriah, and ultimately against God, David cries out to God, Restore to me the JOY of my salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. And that is the root of the problem. Because no one wants to preach about sin, people do not realize that sin is the root of all of their problems. That if they came back to the cross of Christ, and sought to follow Him, they may realize that some of their problems are because of some sin. Whether it’s greed or selfish ambition or love of self or love of stuff, the cross would show that sin to be sin. They would see that this world has yoked them to itself, and has drawn them away from God. …surely joy has withered away from the sons of men because they have forgotten their God.

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