A Plea For Commitment
Joel is terrified by a recurring nightmare! His beloved homeland was struck by a devastating natural disaster – a cloud of locusts billowed over the land, blocking the sun, swarming into homes and stripping the land of its greenery. He cannot stop remembering its terror and he begins to realize that God has provided him with a real-life object lesson about future punishment.
Background to Joel
We know nothing about Joel personally other than that he lived in Judah. Judah as a nation was formed after the death of Solomon, when the Kingdom of Israel, torn into two parts, was led by separate kings with separate capitals. The northern area maintained the name of Israel but its size now was a shadow of its former grandeur. The larger area in the south became the nation of Judah and its capital was Jerusalem.
While Judah contained the holy city of Jerusalem, the nation was characterized by increasing ignorance of Gods claims on His people. Of the 19 kings of Judah who followed Solomon, the Word of God describes only eight of them as good. While the eight good kings stimulated revivals, they were few and far between and as time progressed, the peoples dedication to God waned to insignificance. The worship of Judah devolved into love for Baal, temple prostitution, elevated locations dedicated to pagan idols (high places), and infant sacrifices. What a sorry condition for the people of God who had been so blessed by Him in redemption and His provision of a land of plenty. Sensual pleasure and material plenty had blunted their commitment to God.
Judah had become a land of superficial religion. The revivals that occurred never penetrated to the heart (ch 2:12), eliciting the full commitment of Gods people. As Israel to the North, Judah appeared for public gatherings and pretended to worship God, but then would slip away to the high places and be unfaithful to Him.
Summary of Joels Message
Joels message is short but blunt. It divides naturally into two sections:
Section 1 (1:2-2:17) contains Joels own words describing his experience with the locust calamity and his recurring horror as he realizes that it is a foretaste of a human cloud of locusts that God will be sending into Judah to punish it. Joel looked on this insect horde as a forerunner of even more terrible punishments, all in harmony with Gods intentions for a wayward people. Joel refers to coming judgment as the day of the Lord (ch1:15) and describes its arrival in apocalyptic terms. He realizes that discipline is the inevitable result of wavering between holiness and evil; between the Lord and the sensual gods of the local Canaan culture.
Section 2 (2:18-3:21) contains Gods own words responding to Joels calamitous predictions. God promises blessings if Judah will commit to Him (whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered ch.2:32) but punishment if they continue to ignore Him or only give Him lip service. He promises that after His people return to Him with all your heart (2:12) they would enjoy the blessings of the ancient covenant of God with Abraham, including:
- A land filled with economic prosperity – the land would produce bountifully (2:19, 21-26; 3:18);
- Judah would eliminate its adversaries (2:20; 3:1-17, 3:19-20);
- God would reveal Himself specially in the midst of His people (2:27);
- All Judahs citizens would return from foreign lands to which they had been exiled (3:5-7); and
- As a result of the return of Judah to God, great spiritual blessing would spill over on to the rest of the world, including the Gentiles (2:28-32).
Elements in Joels prophecy refer to events that still lie in our own future. Joel resonates with a tremendous promise from God, I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh (ch 2:28). This was partially fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost when God the Spirit fell upon the first Christians. In fact, Peter quotes from the book of Joel in his sermon on that day (Acts 2:17-21). Today, we also enjoy the benefit of the Spirit within us as a consequence of our salvation. The final fulfillment of Gods promise to pour His Spirit upon all flesh waits for a future day of the Lord for ultimate completion.
Summarizing Joels message
- A nations or persons lack of commitment to God will bring discipline (judgment);
- We should listen to warnings and commit to God with all our hearts
- If that happens, God will bless us and others.
Implications for Christians Today
Joels message is just as relevant to us as it was to Judah. It is possible for us to become complacent toward Gods claims on us. We can easily lapse into lives that reflect the values of our cultures worldview, ignoring our responsibilities to reflect Christs values. We need to challenge ourselves to see the extent to which we are devoted to His way of living. Too often, our ignorance of His Word and our satisfaction with lackluster prayer lives result in a form of godliness but the substance of complacency with our environment.
We need to be warned, as Joel warned Judah, that God will not abide hypocrisy and will discipline those who misuse His name. Superficial revivals, like those of Joels Judah, betray divided hearts and lukewarm Christianity. The corollary is to commit and submit to Him completely, with all our hearts, and with all our souls and with all our minds (Matt.22:37). To know God and to be His people calls for full commitment. Such lives devoted to Him are lived in the flood of Gods blessings – blessing of the heart, of the mind, and of the soul. Furthermore, the impact spills over, positively affecting the lives of others, both Christian and unbeliever.
This is a real and personal challenge. As Gods people, lets pledge our loyalty only to Him. Lets walk in light of the Spirit within us and pursue Christian living with vigor. Blessing will result!