The Prophet Joel’s Greatest Hits

The Prophet Joel’s Greatest Hits

The Prophet Joel’s Greatest Hits. 

One could easily put Joel in the category of “The Gospel According to Joel. It is full of amazing thoughts that can easily be put to good use in the Christian life. Joel doesn’t lend itself to the writing of introductory paragraphs. We know next to nothing about who Joel actually was, apart from his being a prophet to Judah. We also don’t know when the book was written, or by whom. And finally, there is much discussion of judgment of Judah’s sins and transgressions, but we are never told what their sins were! This book of Joel is a combination of treasure trove of powerful images, beautiful words of wisdom, and prophecies concerning the future messianic era. But it’s also a bit of a mystery. Here are Joel’s greatest hits, and the greatest pointers to the gospel.

1:3 – “Tell your children about it, let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.”  In the Judeo-Christian faith, the child’s first pastors are the parents. They are called to hand the faith to their children and spread the Word to the world starting with their family. That is the paramount duty of parents… teach your child about God, about faith, about obedience to Him, about the teachings of Scripture. The central prayer and statement of faith in the Hebrew Bible, the shema, includes “Hear O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength… You shall teach these words diligently to your children.” Parents are called to be pastors to their children. Sunday School is a daily event at home.

1:15 – “Alas! Alas! Alas!” The Hebrew version of this verse translates it as “Alas for the day!” It is the Greek version that has this three-fold woe. Joel’s lament cries out in light of the coming of the “Day of the Lord.” Destruction will come to Israel when God intervenes, Joel is saying, just like the horde of locusts, if the people and priests do not repent of their sins. This word of Alas is Joel’s response to the coming disaster. For, Yahweh God is coming, offended at their sins.

2:1 and 2:15“Blow the trumpet in Zion!” The trumpet is traditionally used to call a religious gathering. In this case it is to summon Israel for community grief over their sins. The trumpet is calling for national repentance, a sacred assembly to consecrate a fast. The trumpet is calling the alarm, a warning of danger, of God’s judgment. This trumpet blast broadcasts the impending punishment of Israel.

2:12-13 – “Turn to me with all your heart.” Joel speaks for the Lord as He calls on Israel to repent and return to Him, to fast and mourn. Don’t tear your clothes in your grief, He says, but instead tear your hearts. And now Joel reminds the Israelites of God’s character, and Joel’s words seem to be a direct quote from Yahweh’s self-revelation to Moses in Exodus 34: “For He is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger, filled with kindness and unfailing love, and He is eager to relent from doing harm.” This is the golden highlight of Joel’s prophecy, and is the pivotal verse in his book.

2:17 – “Let the priests weep.” Joel exhorts the priests to weep between the porch of the Temple and its altar. He encourages them to do their job, to intercede for the people and fulfill their proper function. Joel doesn’t want the people to be scorned, and he doesn’t want their God to be rejected by the surrounding nations. The sins of the people are never specifically mentioned in Joel, we never really know what specifically Israel is guilty of. But we can safely assume the priests were implicated in the sinfulness.

2:18 – “The Lord will be zealous for His land and have pity on His people.”  The Hebrew word for zealous means jealous. Our God is a jealous God, one who is impassioned, a God who has passionate energy to protect His eternal glory and the honor due Him. He doesn’t want the people to be led astray by those who honor other gods, who proclaim that other gods are worthy. We serve a God who zealously guards what is of primary importance to Him, such as His truthful standing in the world and creation, and His love for the people. God becomes practically indignant at anything that would jeopardize His rightful glory or His relationship with His followers. God is love, He is worthy of people’s faith, and that is simply a permanent truth in the universe. God is love, and as Tim Keller once said, “God’s jealousy is an angered love that stays love.” The Lord explained very clearly to Moses in Exodus 34:14, “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord Yahweh, whose name is The Jealous One, is a jealous God.” God’s zeal to protect His rightful standing in the world knows no bounds.

2:22 – “And the tree bears its fruit.” The early church fathers saw this verse as a foretelling of the Cross of Christ. The Cross is the tree that bears the greatest fruit of all, the sacrificial Lamb, Jesus Christ.

2:25 – “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locusts have eaten.” The Lord is full of grace and loves to redeem. God wants to redeem all those years of destruction and sin, those days of impurity. Because He is compassionate, He will make up for what was lost. In His lovingkindness He will forgive the wasted years and bring us to the point when we will revel in His favor. We needn’t be worried about wasted years, when we wandered away from God. He will restore those years as if they never happened. He will faithfully cause His Spirit to rain down on us and redeem our time of rebellion. “Fear not, be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done marvelous things.” (2:21). The wasted years of the past will be no more.

2:28-29 – “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” God doesn’t play favorites with His Spirit. Young and old, men and women, sons and daughters, servants and nobles. There is no discrimination in the kingdom of God on earth. These words from Joel were quoted by Peter at Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21) when the Spirit came down in power to kick-start the Christian Church. The Spirit of God is freely offered to all mankind, resulting in prophecies, dreams and visions. The Greek word for vision can mean, “Our eyes opened to have divine encounters and see into the heavenly realm.” Moses long ago hinted at this miracle in Numbers 11:29, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon all of them!

2:32 – “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This is pure gospel, the central core of the Good News. Peter closed his Pentecost sermon with this verse (Acts 2:21). Paul quotes this verse in Romans 10:13. It is a key idea in the Christian faith. We cannot save ourselves. Only God can save us, and we need to call on Him. Only God can deliver us from the effects of sin and death and bring us into life.

3:10 – “Let the weak say, I am strong.” A central and very practical truth of our life in Christ is that when we are weak, we are strong. God’s power shows itself most effective when we are vulnerable or handicapped. God’s strength comes into its own in our weakness. When we are in honest touch of our limitations, we can be assured of God’s power surging to our aid to work His will. That’s why weakness is a gift, a spiritual gift even. It puts God’s power to work in us. It brings us to our knees. Weakness is only a prelude to God’s strength. We learn to let God take over as we surrender our weakness to Him. When we are weak in human strength, then we are powerful in divine strength. Ironically, the weaker we get, the stronger we become. (2 Cor 11:23-39 and 12:7-10). “God’s power is secure in us only when it is linked to something that keeps us weak.” (R. Bieber).

3:16 – “The Lord will be a shelter for His people, a stronghold to the children of Israel.” God has time and again promised to be a refuge, a shelter, a hiding place for us. Heaven knows we are vulnerable to attacks in our life journey with God. We need protection from the elements, the spiritual elements, that would like to defeat or antagonize us. God is the spiritual roof over our heads. God is our stronghold, our fortress, our sure defense. With God as our shelter, our souls are protected from the enemies of our spiritual life. Physical shelters protect us from the elements, from the extremes of weather, from pests and predators. God’s shelter over us does the same in the spiritual realm.

3:21 – “For the Lord dwells in Zion.” Joel’s golden oldie here is his very last line in his book, promising the Lord’s presence in our midst. What could be better news in this world? The Word became flesh and lives with us. The Lord became Emmanuel, God-with-us. We are not ever spiritually alone. We need never starve for His presence or feel like orphans. Through His Spirit, God pervades our world with His presence. As St. Patrick put it, “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I arise.” The Lord is with us, right here where we live, a light in our darkness.