Sunday, October 2, 2011

Scripture Sunday: The Book of Joel

Joel is a short 3-chapter book, and its length is one of the reasons that Joel is classified one of the "minor prophets", though the scope of his discussion is very big. He's talking about a major plague on Israel, a plague of locusts to be exact. It seems to be more than one plague, too, like a whole series of small devouring creatures: "That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten." (1:4). And rather than just being a severe inconvenience like the giant and disgustingly loud cicada bugs that hit my home state every other decade, these insects literally eat up almost all the food in Israel. A famine begins. It's like a war is being waged against Israel and the enemy is not human, but rather a natural disaster that God is allowing to happen.

Joel himself seems pretty good at voicing the pain and severity of this plague. Now, it can sound as if all Old Testament prophets are saying variations on the same thing--turn and repent--and they are, but they also do have subtle personalities that you can pick up on just a bit. Joel seems somewhat fiery, what with all the apocalyptic imagery he uses. He does keep emphasizing, though, that the Lord wants to reunite with his people after these judgments are over: "Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil" (2:12-13). The Lord doesn't want to keep up these harsh judgments. They are necessary, but God's heart doesn't delight in punishing people for wrongdoing; he delights in showing mercy to his children.

From halfway through Chapter 2 onward, Joel talks about God blessing his people in the future, and talks about God's future judgments on the nations that oppose Israel. God is willing to punish his own people for a time, but he does not look favorably on other nations who oppress them. The last part of Chapter 2 is usually seen as a end-times prophecy, and it closes on an amazing note: "The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance..." So judgement and mercy mixed, yet again. It sounds both scary and wonderful to me.

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