03 June 2009

Verse-by-Verse through Joel (2:20-2:27)

20 "But I will remove far from you the northern army, and will drive him away into a barren and desolate land, With his face toward the eastern sea and his back toward the western sea; his stench will come up, and his foul odor will rise, because he has done monstrous things. 21 Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for YHVH has done marvelous things! 22 Do not be afraid, you beasts of the field; for the open pastures are springing up, and the tree bears its fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their strength. 23 Be glad then, you children of Zion, and rejoice in YHVH your God; for He has given you the former rain faithfully, and He will cause the rain to come down for you--the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month. 24 The threshing floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with new wine and oil. 25 So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you. 26 You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of YHVH your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you; and My people shall never be put to shame. 27 Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am YHVH your God and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame.

When a man has lost everything he owns, he will look to God and do one of two things: beg His forgiveness. Or curse Him. Of course, those who have lost everything and have none but themselves to blame--these are the ones who will blame God. They think they are entitled to a comfortable living, and if the Almighty dares to allow hardship to come into their life, then they want nothing to do with Him, and will look to some earthly means of comfort. This was the accusation lobbed against God's servant Job by Satan himself. Then YHVH said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?" So Satan answered YHVH and said, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!" (Job 1:8-11). But when Job lost his sons and his daughters and his house and his servants and his cattle and his oxen and his sheep. And as Satan watched all those calamities fall upon God's servant--how dreadful and how sickening must have been the cry that Satan let loose in Heaven when Job sat down and declared "Blessed be the name of YHVH."

Even after God had allowed Satan to curse Job with sore boils from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet--and friends, think about that. Every part of his body was covered with ulcers--in the old days they called them bedsores. If he tried to sit--pain. If he tried to stand--pain. If he tried to lay down--pain. And as his wife tried to nag him into cursing God so he could die, God's servant responded thus: "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks." Gentlemen, I would not advise using that approach with your wives. If you do you may see a side of a frying pan you hadn't seen before. "Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips (Job 2:10-11). God sends adversity into our lives for many reasons. In the case of Job, it was two-fold: One, He was showing Satan just who Job belonged to. And number two, He was showing Job just how little he understood about the ways of God.

But then there's another reason God sends adversity into our lives: our disobedience. No......kidding. If you have a child, and you tell that child to do something. They don't do it. Do you give them a lollipop for not doing what they were supposed to do? I would hope not. But there are some who do, and I think we know how those children turn out. But the Scriptures are very clear that a child is to be disciplined by their parents. Proverbs 13:24--He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly. Proverbs 23:13--Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. And it's not just an OT principle. Hebrews 12:5-6--And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.

God has just finished chastening His people in Judah. He has sent wave after wave of locusts to absolutely devour every piece of green in the land, to leave it desolate, to exterminate anything that even had a chance of growing into food. As the prophet wrote in the second verse of this scroll, Has anything like this happened in your days, or even in the days of your fathers? Tell your children about it, let your children tell their children, and their children another generation (Joel 1:2-3). This army was sent for one reason and one reason only: the people had become so numb to their sin, they had become so dependent upon the sacrifices and the burnt offerings to appease God's wrath that God finally up and said, "I'm sick of it! Get that stuff off My altar!" And to bring the people to a point of repentance, to wean the people off their dependence upon the offerings and the goats and the bulls and the burning animals, He took them all away.

But in the last section, we saw that if the people would repent, return to God, give up their sins and their Baalim, that God would have mercy on His people, and restore their sacrifices. Joel 2:18-19--Then YHVH will be zealous for His land, and pity His people. YHVH will answer and say to His people, "Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, and you will be satisfied by them; I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations." There are three things we see in this section that He will do. He will Dismiss His Army, He will Defer His Anger, and He will Deliver Abundance.

First, He will Dismiss His Army. Verse 20. "But I will remove far from you the northern army, and will drive him away into a barren and desolate land, With his face toward the eastern sea and his back toward the western sea; his stench will come up, and his foul odor will rise, because he has done monstrous things."

Back in verse 11 we see the prophet foretelling the calamity of invading locusts. We saw that they were basically a swarm of dumb bugs who were carried on the wind. And who was it that moved the winds to send them to devastate the land? The LORD gives voice before His army, for His camp is very great; for strong is the One who executes His word. YHVH gave voice to this army. And when we get to verse 25 we will see that God refers to it as My great army which I sent among you.

But if Judah will turn her back on the paganism she has embraced. If she will instead return to the husband of her youth (1:8), God will send away His army which He has sent. And He would send them into a barren and desolate land, with his face toward the eastern sea and his back toward the western sea, the "face" most likely denoting that the first of the swarm to leave and which would be sent into the Dead Sea to the east. The "back" probably being the last part driven out, and into the Mediterranean to the west. These would not all be driven out at the same time, as this would require the wind to be blowing in different directions at the same time.

And just so the people would not think they would easily forget what had befallen them, God tells them that his foul odor will rise, because he has done monstrous things. The Babylonians, the Chaldeans, the Egyptians. These were all instruments God has used in the past as rods of correction against His people Israel. But, does the fact that God used them, and that they had no idea that they were instruments of God's wrath, excuse them from being judged and punished? No. Romans 9:19-23 is very clear about that: God prepares vessels of wrath--prepares, fashions with His own hands, these vessels. In fact, in verse 22 of that passage, the word "prepared" ("fitted"--KJV) is in the PASSIVE voice. They are prepared, they do not prepare themselves. These locusts were prepared by God--they cannot prepare themselves.

And when God was done with them, He sent them into the sea to fall and die--and the odor of their decomposition would fill the air for miles. What a contrast to the offerings God required! He ordered animals to be burned as a sweet savour unto YHVH. These dead animals, drowned in water, would be a putrefying odor. Jerome, who wrote in the 300's AD:
Even in our own times we have seen the land of Judaea covered by swarms of locusts, which, as soon as the wind rose, were precipitated into the first and latest seas, i.e., the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean. And when the shores of both seas were filled with heaps of dead locusts, which the waters had thrown up, their corruption and stench became so noxious, that even the atmosphere was corrupted, and both man and beasts suffered from the consequent pestilence.

The stench would go up, it would cover the land, it would be a reminder that life and death are in God's hands, and that their sins had brought this stench upon the nation. How soon (or, rather, how late) shall America realize that her stench is rising into God's nostrils, and there will come a day when we will suffer such a fate for our acceptance and tolerance of sin? But for now, God has dismissed His army.

Next He will Defer His Anger. Verses 21-24. Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for YHVH has done marvelous things! Do not be afraid, you beasts of the field; for the open pastures are springing up, and the tree bears its fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their strength. Be glad then, you children of Zion, and rejoice in YHVH your God; for He has given you the former rain faithfully, and He will cause the rain to come down for you--the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month. The threshing floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with new wine and oil.

Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for YHVH has done marvelous things! When the people sin, the whole land suffers. Many cultures have their pagan gods of wheat and harvest and so on and so forth. But there is only One who controls what will grow and what won't. And He is not bought and persuaded by rituals and sacrifices. See, these cultures, they think that if they sacrifice something, their "god" will have pity on them and yield them a bountiful crop. And while our God did require sacrifice from His people before He will give them a harvest, it was not to try and buy His favor. It was because of their unfaithfulness and their sins. And if they kept on sinning, and they kept on being dependent upon their sacrifices to buy favor with God, He would take away their ability to bring sacrifices. If they did not show true repentance, and if they went whoring after other gods, YHVH would strike the ground and give no rain and cause the crops to die. It's not the sacrifices of grain and goats that brings favor from God. Those aren't the sacrifices God wants. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise (Psalm 51:17). And God tells the people, in 2nd Chronicles 7:12-14--"I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, 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."

Do not be afraid, you beasts of the field; for the open pastures are springing up, and the tree bears its fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their strength. Not only have the crops and trees suffered because of Judah's sins. If there's nothing growing, what else suffers? Yeah, the animals, the sheep, the livestock. You didn't go down to Yakub's Feed Store and buy 50 bags of Ox Chow®. If there was no grain, your cattle died. Period. Tough luck. Did the animals do anything to incur God's holy wrath? No. They're just dumb animals. But they suffered the consequences of the sins of the people. Animals know their Creator. Isaiah 1:3-6--"The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider. Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward. Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment." Want to know when those words were written? About 70 or 80 years after the destruction of these locusts! We call animals stupid--but how stupid are we to not even remember the wrath that God has poured out time after time! But we forget, and everything suffers. And it is because of sin that all creation is crying out for deliverance even as we speak. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now (Romans 8:19-22).

Be glad then, you children of Zion, and rejoice in YHVH your God; for He has given you the former rain faithfully, and He will cause the rain to come down for you. Almost as a type, a foreshadowing, of what will happen when God makes all things new (Revelation 21:5), Joel declares this word from YHVH. If it were not for His grace, God would have destroyed us all long ago. Not simply a temporary, physical drought and famine, but He would have destroyed us with an everlasting destruction. However, God is faithful, and in His grace He sends us the drought and the famine so that we may repent and return to Him. When we suffer God's temporal wrath--the chastening, the scourging of His sons; the droughts and the famines--we should use that as a reminder that we are not in control of anything. We should use it as a way to warn people of God's eternal wrath--when the body falls asleep, and those who do not know God have gone past the point of salvation.

The phrase "former rain" is actually, by many accounts, better translated "Teacher of Righteousness." The debate over the proper rendering is still being pondered by those who are much smarter than I am, so I will do the best I can. Judging by the tenses of the verbs, and the fact that the previous verses say that the pastures are springing up and the tree bears its fruit and the fig tree and the vine yield their strength,--all of these either past or present, indicating that repentance has taken place and God has caused the rain to fall--I'm gonna split the difference and say that it means He has given you the former rain in righteousness. Now, you may say, "Just wait a second! What does righteousness have to do with rain?" Everything! What had they just gone through? They had just faced nearly total obliteration. Why? Because of their sin. So they have returned to YHVH, He has cause the former (autumn) rain to fall, and He will cause the latter (spring) rain to fall. And just for the record, I ain't gonna get into all the heresies that belong to the "Latter Rain Movement." That hogwash doesn't even deserve the bandwidth. So, God has dismissed His army and He has deferred His wrath.

Finally, He Delivers Abundance.
Verses 25-27. So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of YHVH your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you; and My people shall never be put to shame. Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am YHVH your God and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame.

Let's go back to our friend Job. He was blameless and upright, yes. But he had sin in his life. He was by no means perfect. Because although he knew that God was soverign over all, he thought that "good" people should always be blessed, and that only "bad" people should ever suffer. But God put him through what He put him through to show him that God's purposes belong to God and God alone. In fact, when Job saw how great God is, and how puny he himself was, what was his response? "You asked, 'Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, 'I will question you, and you shall answer Me.' I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:3-6). And God's response to this righteous man' humility? And the LORD restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before (Job 42:10).

Let's consider David. He had slept with Bathsheba, made her pregnant. He had murdered Uriah. One day, in walks Nathan to the king. Confronts the king about his sins. And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die" (2nd Samuel 12:13-14). But was that the last child David would father? No. One of his sons would go on to be one of the greatest and wisest--although, ironically, also one of the most foolish--men to ever live, of course, Solomon. And we also know that our Messiah was called "Son of David."

You see, When God takes something away from us because of the sin in our lives, it takes more than just losing those things to get them back. It takes honest repentance and a humble reckoning before God will give a holy restoration. And if there is a holy restoration, then God will dismiss the enemies He has sent, He will defer His anger while we repent, and if we do repent He will deliver the abundance according to His will.

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