Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Have you heard? Are you ready? Be prepared; for “The word of the Lord that came to Joel son of Pethuel” (Joel 1:1)! What revelation did he receive? What tale did God send Joel to tell us? Listen!
Here this, you elders;
Listen, all who live in the land.
Has anything like this ever happened in your days
Or in the days of your forefathers?
Tell it to your children,
And let your children tell it to their children,
And their children to the next generation (Joel 1:2-3).
Spread the word! Tell it to every generation to come! Never forget what will happen! Never before has a generation seen something quite like this!
Blow the trumpet in Zion;
Sound the alarm on my holy hill.
Let all who live in the land tremble,
For the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand-
A day of darkness and gloom,
A day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains
A large and mighty army comes,
Such as never was of old
Nor ever will be in ages to come.
Before them fire devours,
Behind them a flame blazes.
Before them the land is like the garden of Eden,
Behind them, a desert waste- nothing escapes them (Joel 2:1-3).
Pure destruction is coming! Darkness, gloom, fire, desolation!
A nation has invaded my land,
Powerful and without number;
It has the teeth of a lion,
The fangs of a lioness.
It has laid waste my vines
And ruined my fig trees.
It has stripped off their bark
And thrown it away,
Leaving their branches white.
Mourn like a virgin in sackcloth
Grieving for the husband of her youth (Joel 1:6-8).
Total war! Everything is laid bare before the army and is left unable to recover in its wake! This must be the most destructive force sent by the Lord ever!
So…what is going on? Between all the wonderful destructive imagery that I was able to pick out from the first couple chapters of Joel, the prophet actually explains what is causing all of this destruction. We read in Joel 1:4,
What the locust swarm has left
The great locusts have eaten;
What the great locusts have left
The young locusts have eaten;
What the young locusts have left
The other locusts have eaten.
That’s right, the world’s most destructive army, capable of such destruction that their siege will be discussed for generations, is (according to Joel) locusts. It seems a bit over-dramatic, but the locusts that Joel and Israel faced were not just a bunch of wandering large-sized grasshoppers. Joel explains why they have a leg up on the armies of man in Joel 2:11,
The Lord thunders
At the head of his army;
His forces are beyond number,
And mighty are those who obey his command.
The day of the Lord is great;
It is dreadful.
Who can endure it?
You see, these locusts that are destroying all they see come not by themselves, but in the power of the Lord. He is the head of their army and when he directs them, they move. God uses locusts frequently in the Bible, often as a destructive, yet very organized force. Proverbs 30:27 describe them like this: “Locusts have no king, yet they advance together in ranks.” The locusts have no earthly royalty like bees, ants, and humans. However, they are extremely well organized at what they do, which is total warfare. Who then leads them? As we just read from Joel, they answer to no earthly king, but the King of Kings- the Lord. We can learn from all of this.
The book of Joel is a book that promotes repentance. Through the experiences of Israel we are called to learn and to know that God is real and he is reaching out to everybody who is separate from him. We know that the Lord brings trouble for the unrepentant. But the Lord is not all fire and brimstone. Sure, we can imagine an enraged God bringing down fire from above and wiping out a city or two like he did to Sodom and Gomorrah. Showing his power in such a way is nothing for the Lord and probably less surprising for us (though we’ve not seen something like that in our generation). However, the Lord also can use ways to wake up the sinful that we might not expect. Case in point: the locust. Locusts are small and easy to kill; however, the Lord used them in Joel’s day to show that when the God is in charge, those who are with him are unstoppable. Just listen to the organization and destructive power of the Lord’s army,
They charge like warriors;
They scale walls like soldiers.
They all march in line,
Not swerving from their course.
They do not jostle each other;
Each marches straight ahead.
They plunge through defenses
Without breaking ranks.
They rush upon the city;
They run along the wall.
They climb into the houses;
Like thieves they enter through the windows.
Before them the earth shakes, the sky trembles,
The sun and moon are darkened,
And the stars no longer shine (Joel 2:7-10).
This sounds like the glory of Rome, or some other very well-prepared army. But no, the Lord’s army in Joel consists of a bunch of untrained insects. And yet, the earth shakes at their presence (and I don’t think Joel is exaggerating as locusts are incredibly destructive when they attack). How can this be? As humans we forget the full power of our Lord, sure, he could rain down fire, but personally, I think a sun-blackening swarm is more terrifying. No amount of preparation could have ever safeguarded against these bugs, they get everywhere. But remember, they serve no king other than God. Those of you who think that you will find all the answers here on earth and think that in our world we can do all things- I’m sorry to say but you are wrong. True power and strength lies not in the world, but in God. The psalmist writes,
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?
The Lord is with me; he is my helper.
I will look in triumph on my enemies.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
Than to trust in man (Psalms 118: 6-8).
When we serve the most high, no matter how little we may bring to the table, he will prove us to be victorious. And so the Lord used the locust to teach that to Israel, which had left the God of their fathers.
But the Lord does not bring destruction without reason. If you are away from the Lord and facing hard times (financially, emotionally, physically, or otherwise), it’s never too late. Joel, in the middle of the invasion speaks out to the people of Israel (and to us today),
“Even now,” declares the Lord,
“Return to me with all your heart,
With fasting and weeping and mourning.”
Rend your heart
And not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
For he is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger and abounding in love,
And he relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and have pity
And leave behind a blessing-
Grain offerings and drink offerings
For the Lord your God (Joel 2:12-14).
Before I continue on, let me explain that when it says to rend one’s heart and not one’s garment, the reason is that in Israel it was generally tradition to rip one’s clothes when in great distress. For us it would be like wringing our hands or pulling out our hair. So, um, wring your heart, not your hands. Overall though, the message from Joel is clear: repent! Repentance brings recovery from calamity, and who knows, maybe God will bless you after all of it.
Now, repentance can take different forms. The first one is that of personal repentance. That is to say, each person that is away from God is personally doomed for destruction, and each person in Christ is guaranteed eternal life (and likely blessings for walking with God). For those of you who are away from God, but want to change, the Lord has made it very easy. John tells us about the forgiving love of God in 1 John 4:9-10,
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved god, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came down and died for your sins and mine so that we may be brought back into the light of the Lord. God then proved its effectiveness by raising Jesus from the dead back into life (after three days of being dead no less!). Paul tells us,
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved (Romans 10:9-10).
It’s that easy. Just confess that you are a sinner (and we all) and let Jesus, who died for you, come in.
However, there is another kind of repentance that we need to consider these days as well. As a nation, we must repent. Joel tells us to
Blow the trumpet in Zion,
Declare a holy fast,
Call a sacred assembly (Joel 2:15).
Remember, the locusts were attacking Israel as a nation that had left God. As Christians we are called to do three things in order to facilitate national repentance. First of all we have to acknowledge the truth. Though in Christ we are personally saved, we (especially in the west) stand aboard a sinking ship. This is an emergency situation, people are turning away from the Lord right and left and the entire global economy is falling apart (these two things are not separate). Without God in our country, we will face the punishment of God on our nation (even if we ourselves are saved). So the Lord tells us secondly to call a fast, which is to say that as Christians we need to pray and seek God with our whole hearts. No more lazy-Christianing, it is time to obey the Lord and represent him on this earth rightly. Finally, we are to call a sacred assembly. All over the world, professional evangelists are trying to revive the nations with huge events. Take everyone you know to these or get people to come to them. You can send someone a link or write something on the internet, but it is largely ineffective (I think I just convicted myself). If you can get a non-believer in front of a real evangelist, someone who has been gifted specifically for that, and let the Holy Spirit work, you may not have only saved a soul, but also gotten closer to saving your country.
Through repentance (both personal and national) we can turn the tide. When people come to Christ, the Lord heals and forgives. The Lord tells us,
“Their bloodguilt, which I have not pardoned,
I will pardon.”
The Lord dwells in Zion! (Joel 3:21)
But forgiveness is only the first benefit of repentance. When there is repentance, the Lord brings restoration and even blessing. For he tells us,
I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten-
The great locust and the young locust,
The other locusts and the locust swarm-
My great army that I sent among you.
You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
And you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
Who has worked wonders for you;
Never again will my people be shamed.
Then you will know that I am in Israel,
That I am the Lord your God,
And that there is no other;
Never again will my people be shamed (Joel 2:25-27).
Now, in the passage the Lord talks about Israel and locusts; but the same can be said for America and Europe with the global economic crisis or Africa with its wars and epidemics. Or any other nation that is facing some sort of “bring you to your knees” kind of situation. If we submit to God, he will fix things.
But there is more, where there is the acknowledgement of the Lordship of Jesus, there is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can help to power revival the land and further increase restoration. We know that we shall receive this, for the Lord tells us,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days (Joel 2:28-29).
In a situation of national repentance, people will be given new vision to create a better nation, but even those already in Christ will receive an upgrade in their Spirit as the atmosphere will be alive with the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us about the power the Holy Spirit brings in Mark 16:17-18,
And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.
Can you imagine it? If the whole nation (or at least the majority) completely turns back to the God who created the people; anything will be possible again! Clever laws and political tactics won’t save the economy, but God can and will if we come to him.
On that note, as we sit aboard our sinking ships waiting for the inevitable collapse of everything we’ve come to hold dear; know that through repentance, the Lord will turn the defense into offence, the losers into the winners, and the poor into the wealthy. For we are told,
The Lord will roar from Zion
And thunder from Jerusalem;
The earth and the sky will tremble.
But the Lord will be a refuge for his people,
A stronghold for the people of Israel.
“Then you will know that I, the Lord your God,
Dwell in Zion, my holy hill.
Jerusalem will be holy;
Never again will foreigners invade her” (Joel 3:16-17).
Through repentance, revival, and real obedience to the Lord, we open up blessing after blessings for ourselves and for our nation. Moses tells us,
The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your god that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom (Deuteronomy 28:13).
These days the Lord has thrown down his warning shots to the nations; from economic collapse to government upheaval to pandemics, and the like. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Atheists can say all they want about being “free” and doing whatever they please, but they are doing so on the edge of a volcano waiting to go off. When the time comes, and the real testing fire sweeps across the earth, those that have given themselves to the mercy of God will see his power, and those who denied our Savior Jesus Christ will feel his sting. For the Word of God says,
In that day the mountains will drip new wine,
And the hills will flow with milk;
All the ravines of Judah will run with water.
A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house
And will water the valley acacias.
But Egypt will be desolate,
Edom a desert waste,
Because of violence done to the people of Judah
In whose land they shed innocent blood (Joel 3:18-19).
Again, in Joel the idea is much more localized. However, this is a message not just for Israel, but for all nations. Those who will repent will stand above those who do not. Are you ready for the next invasion?