14 July 2008

Verse by verse through Joel (2:1)

Joel 2:1

1 Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the LORD is coming, for it is at hand…

The Day of the LORD. But doesn’t every day belong to the LORD? Does not the earth, and everything in it, belong to the LORD (Psalm 24:1)? This concept, first spoken of by this prophet, conveys a stronger sense of awe, and judgment. When one hears the phrase Day of the LORD, that person should be filled with fear, with trembling, and with sadness. For when the Day of the LORD draws near, the closer it comes, the more swiftly it approaches, there is nothing that will stop it. Who can stop the will of God? Who can hinder His purposes? 7 “Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty? 8 They are higher than heaven—what can you do? Deeper than Sheol—what can you know? 9 Their measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea. 10 If He passes by, imprisons, and gathers to judgment, then who can hinder Him?” (Job 11:7-10). In fact, the only thing that stopped God from destroying Nineveh was when they repented in dust and ashes and worshipped the Living God. Had they not, surely within forty days after Jonah gave the warning, that great city, hundreds of miles in circumference, would have been hewn down like a sapling.

Here, the prophet is charged to bring the news to the people. That the UNPRECEDENTED CATASTROPHE that led to an UNANTICIPATED CORRUPTION, and which called for an UNCONDITIONAL CONSECRATION would bring about an UNSTOPPABLE CALAMITY. Verse 1. Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the LORD is coming, for it is at hand… Blow the trumpet—the שּׁוֹפּר (shofar). The shofar was no mean musical instrument. When its sound went forth, it was not simply for entertainment. It was, rather, to call the people together for a certain purpose. Gideon and the 300 men with him blew their shofars and brought confusion and chaos to the armies of the east (see Judges 7:19-22). When an army blew a shofar, it normally commanded about 1000 men. The enemy heard 300 shofars and concluded that they were facing an enemy 300,000 strong. Well, in fact, they were. For when it is God who fights for us, hundreds of thousands cannot withstand Him (see 2nd Kings 19:35). When the shofar blows, there is always a reason. Paul asked the Corinthians, if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle? (1st Corinthians 14:8). Blow the shofar, let the people know it is time to gather together in solemn assembly (Joel 1:15), for it is time to get our hearts right.

Sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Sound a ריע (rua). “Split the ears! Raise a sound, cry out, cry out in distress!” according to Brown-Driver-Briggs. This is more than just making rabble. This is a call to lament and wail and weep. Because something dreadful is approaching. How many times do we know there is some matter that is on the horizon that will require our full attention. Yet in the days and weeks leading up to it, we just go on about our happy little lives as if that day will be like any other. Joel is saying, “No! This is not a time to promote jocularity. This is not a time to break out the champagne. This is not a time to rev up the jukebox and throw a party.” But how many times do “churches” treat the time for worship as if it were some festival. These gatherings where they will have clowns officiate the Lord’s Table. They make funny videos about how “hip” and how “cool” and how “relevant” (I must brace myself every time I see that word) their services are. Even as the final Day of the LORD approaches.

But this is not how it is to be. That’s why the writer of Hebrews told us, 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see—as you see what?—as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25). When we gather together, it is not meant to be a carnival. It is not a circus, and it certainly should not resemble a Las Vegas gambling hall, nor should we be bringing the music of atheists and pagans into said venue. It is a time that is to be sanctified to the LORD our God. Yet how many times do gatherings (the name I will give these places where people meet in a building and hear a guy give a speech) treat so flippantly the call to gather for godly—GODLY—edification. What is going on in gatherings these days is the exact opposite of how this prophet was calling the people to act. Blow the trumpet to call the people to solemnity. Split the ears to cry out in distress.

Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble… Here we get to the reason that gatherings—and yes, even many churches—are having an ever-diminishing impact on the culture around us. Because many of these groups are so consumed with helping people boost their self-esteem. They are devoted to being “warm and inviting” rather than preach a gospel that makes people realize they are sinners. They are committed to not offending anyone, lest they not come back. So they water down the gospel, they do not teach the fear of the LORD. They ignore the cross, and repentance. They treat sin as if it is simply a little, um, a little character defect, rather than treating sin for what it is—sticking our middle finger up in the face of God. They don’t treat God as if He were a crutch.

What’s that you say? God is a crutch? Isn't that what the unbelieving world says we think about Him? Isn't God more than a crutch?” Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. Yes, of course God is much more than a crutch. Follow me here. When Jesus is addressing His disciples in the upper room the night before His death, Whom does He tell them He will send after He ascends to the Father? The Holy Spirit, right? What name does our Lord give the Holy Spirit when He gives them this discourse? “Comforter.” Your translation may say “Helper” or “Counselor.” Whatever English word you have, it comes from the Greek παράκλητος (parakletos). Thayer calls the association of this word παράκλητος to the Holy Spirit, , “destined to take the place of Christ with the apostles (after his ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom.” So, in the sense that when we are tempted to fall; when we are in the midst of a trial we could not possibly make it through on our own; when we are so beaten down by the world that it would seem we have no choice but to give in and follow the world, God—the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Helper—is the One who holds us up through that valley. Psalm 37:23-24The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD--does what?--the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.

But that’s not the Christ that is being spoken of in these gatherings. The only Christ these people know is simply some kind of Divine cheerleader, looking on from the sidelines and shouting encouragement to us when we don’t feel good about ourselves. These places do not teach a Christ who is personally involved in the lives of His children. They do not teach a Christ who, with His rod, drives off the wolves and the lions and the bears who seek to devour the sheep. They don’t teach a Christ who, with that same rod, breaks the legs of His sheep when they go off on their own one too many times, and He has to carry them on His shoulders. They do not teach a Christ who, with His staff, reaches out and guides His sheep in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. I don’t think I have to quote all of Psalm 23 for you. Even many unbelievers and scoffers know the words. But how many gatherings, how many churches, know the deeper meaning behind the words.

That is the kind of person God seeks. That is what He requires here. Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble How is one going to tremble in the presence of a God he doesn’t fear? Some say we are not supposed to fear God. They paint a picture of God as being some buffoonish old uncle who just kinda rattles around, and gives us $5 when we come and visit Him. No! No! No! We are to fear God with every ounce of our being. Why shouldn’t we? Have we forgotten that he destroyed the world once? That He rained fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah? That He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day (Jude 6) those angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation? Fear the LORD! Fear Him in everything you do! For, as the Psalmist wrote, Blessed is He who fears the LORD, who delights greatly in His commands! (Psalm 112:1). Who is it that the LORD seeks? Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and—listen closely—him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word (Isaiah 66:1-2).

Many of these teachers who do not teach the full counsel of God are not preachers. They are lawyers, looking for loopholes in God’s word, that they may get out from under His judgment. They do not treat God as a crutch, who upholds them in times of need. They do not treat Him as a crutch, but as an ottoman. But if you have an ottoman at your house, you know how easy it is to trip over it. If they want to treat Christ as an ottoman, then He shall be an ottoman to them. Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed (1st Peter 2:7-8).

Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the LORD is coming, for it is at hand… Call the people together. Let them know distress is nigh. let them know it is time for them to return to the fear of the LORD they once knew. Because it is at hand. It is קרוֹב (qarob). Near. It is not “about to arrive.” It is not “Lurking somewhere close by.” It is not even “within the general vicinity.” It is standing on the doorstep, getting ready to come in. And it ain't gonna knock. As I mentioned earlier, this Day of the LORD mentioned here is not to be confused with the “Great” Day of the LORD. In fact, according to Keil & Delitzsch, the word “cometh” is in the perfect tense. Do you know what that means? It means the proper way to read this is to understand that this Day of the LORD, while not fulfilled as of yet, is none the less upon them. It will happen. In fact, it is as if it has already happened.

I mentioned earlier that Joel was one of the first prophets to write about the Day of the LORD. Isaiah wrote many times about it. So did Ezekiel. And Amos and Obadiah and Zephaniah. But here’s the thing. He was the first of any of these prophets, save Obadiah, to write, period. It is believed that he and Obadiah did in fact did prophesy at about the same period of time, the onset of Obadiah’s ministry preceding Joel’s by perhaps 10-15 years, with some overlap between the two. And only Elijah’s prophetic ministry completely preceded Joel’s, as Joel proclaimed the word of YHVH the same time as Elisha.

Why does all this matter? Because there are some who will point to the phrase “Day of the LORD” and say this is some kind of contradiction (setting it opposite the Great and final Day of the LORD) and ask whether there are two “Days of the LORD.” Or, they will make the accusation that the New Testament writers (and even Christ Himself) borrowed this phrase from the Jewish prophets—hijacked it, so to speak—and formed some new theology. But consider this: even the prophets Zechariah and Malachi wrote of the Day of the LORD. And these wrote some 400 years after Joel and Obadiah. Now, considering that the writers of the Bible were led by the Holy Spirit to write as they did, and knowing that God cannot lie, what do we make out of the fact that Joel said the Day of the LORD was upon them, yet Malachi wrote that the Day of the LORD was coming? Did it occur once? Twice, perhaps? Are there many “Days of the LORD?”

Again, this is where we need to rightly divide the word of God. As we find so many times, with so many prophecies, there are often two aspects, if you will, to these prophecies. There is often a near fulfillment, and a future fulfillment. Much like the Levitical offerings that pointed to the Messiah, this prophecy from Joel pointed to a judgment from God that was as good as done. Yet, it also was meant as a warning to future generations of the swift and sore and severe judgment that God will lay upon the world at the end of all things. As we will see in verse 2 next week, the prophet describes this punishment as The like of whom has never been; nor will there ever be any such after them, even for many successive generations.

Gatherings that call themselves “churches” would do well to heed this call. For what are locusts? They're bugs. They eat stuff. The stuff grows back. But what will happen one day in the future? Paul told the saints in Thessalonica that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night (1st Thessalonians 5:2). That day when Christ returns to rule over the whole earth,
…when he will show himself to be King of kings, and Lord of lords, and the Judge of the whole earth; and which is sometimes styled the day of the Son of man, and the day of God, for Christ will appear then most gloriously, both in his divine and human nature; the day of redemption, that is, of the body from the grave, and from corruption and mortality; and the last day in which will be the resurrection of the dead, and the day of judgment, in which Christ will come to judge the quick and dead: and which so cometh as a thief in the night; at an unawares, and the Lord himself in that day will so come (Revelation 3:3) respect is had not to the character of the thief, nor to the end of his coming; but to the manner of it, in the dark, indiscernibly, suddenly, and when not thought of and looked for; and such will be the coming of Christ, it will be sudden, and unknown before hand, and when least thought of and expected…” (John Gill, from his Exposition of the Whole Bible).

This day will come without warning.

But what of the prophecy of Malachi? When God told him, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD” (Malachi 4:5). Will He be sending Elijah to warn the people, or will that day come without a warning? The answer: Yes. Huh? That’s the point. The Day of the LORD Joel is talking about is a destruction that is at hand. The Day of the LORD Malachi is talking about is the first advent of our Lord. As He said, “But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.” (Matthew 17:12). The Day of the LORD spoken of by Paul to the Thessalonians is the Day of the LORD that will come near the end of all things, when Christ begins His 1000 year reign, and He shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God (Revelation 19:15).

What will that great and final Day of the LORD be like? We will see next week. But we do know this: it will not be pleasant for the wicked. It will be a day when they shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation (Revelation 14:10). Joel writes in verse 11 of chapter 2, For the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; who can endure it? John saw a vision of the great day of God’s wrath, and how on that day the wicked cried out, “For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand? (Revelation 6:17). Whether it is an imminent judgment, or the final execution of His wrath, the Day of the LORD is an UNSTOPPABLE CALAMITY.

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