The Message of Joel – Part 1

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

Friedrich II of Prussia (or Frederick the Great, 1712-86) once remarked, “All Religions must be tolerated (Tollerated), and the Fiscal must have an eye that none of them make unjust encroachment on the other; for in this Country every man must get to Heaven in his own way” (Thomas Carlyle, History of Friedrich II. of Prussia, 10 vols. [1858; London: Chapman and Hall, 1873] 4:11).

Toleration, in Friedrich’s perspective, is understandable in view of the religious wars (1560-1715) that ravaged Europe for more than a century subsequent to the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. English historian Edward Gibbon (1737-94) noted the Roman Empire for a similar manner of tolerance. Gibbon wrote, “The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful” (The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 6 vols. [Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen, & Haffelfinger, 1875] 1:34).

Not every 18th century advocate of religious freedom was as pessimistic as Friedrich or as Gibbon depicted. In the United States, the Continental Congress produced the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which did not merely guarantee religious toleration, as characteristic of the European countries. The United States Constitution established a government founded upon legitimate principles that guaranteed religious liberty. To the Americans of the late 18th century, their belief in an absolute God—who created all humanity equally in His image and whose providence they believed was involved in the framing of the Constitution—demanded that religious liberty be extended to people of all faiths.

An unfortunate (and hazardous) notion in present times is the assumption that reflecting apathy toward religious differences (or that such beliefs are maintained privately) is the means for protecting religious liberty. Concern develops only when those distinctions are regarded with significance and solemnity; that is, as truly corresponding to reality (particularly in determining eternal destinies). An example of such thinking is evident among those who regard Christian evangelism as coercive, which is entirely untrue since authentic biblical conversion can never occur by coercion.

The purpose of this article is not to discuss the political and social implications that arise among different faiths cooperating in one society; rather, the intent is to address the more urgent matter as to the question of salvation, and whether any of the various world religions is truthful. In other words, what if certain religious teachings are true and others are false? Is there truly a Creator who made you in His image? Is the Creator a just entity? What demands does He require from you? Will the Creator reward those who diligently seek Him, and will He punish those who do not? Does the Creator God have any concern for justice, and what impact does such interest have upon our earthly lives?

Many dismiss the preceding questions either with antagonism, offensiveness, or politeness, yet—within the Holy Bible—those inquiries are most vital. Questions regarding political policy and procedure, in addition to civil liberties and social tasks, must be asked and answered. Nevertheless, our personal interests are preeminently more relevant in the question of salvation, certainly our own. Who will God save? Will the Lord save you? The prophet Joel addresses the necessity of God’s salvation, and in the process answers how to be adequately prepared so you will receive it.

THE DAY OF THE LORD
The background for Joel’s prophecy is a locust plague. Athaliah (“whom Yahweh has afflicted”) was the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. She was the granddaughter of Omri, who was Ahab’s father. Athaliah married Jehoram, the son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, and introduced pagan worship into the southern kingdom.

Through her pernicious influence she led her husband and son, Ahaziah, into crime and idolatry. Ahaziah came to the throne when Jehoram died. Ahaziah “walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother was his counselor to do wickedly” (2 Chron 22:3). Ahaziah reigned one year and was put to death by Jehu (v. 9), whereupon Athaliah “rose and destroyed all the royal offspring of the house of Judah” (v. 10). From the slaughter, only Joash, the youngest son of Ahaziah, escaped, due to his aunt Jehoshabeath rescuing him (vv. 11-12).

Joash was reared under the care of Jehoiada the priest for six years. In his seventh year, Joash was publicly declared king, and Athaliah was put to death (2 Chron 23:1-21; 2 Kgs 11:1-21). At approximately this time, a devastating locust plague invaded Judah. God often uses natural disasters to awaken people’s conscience to repentance. The incredible catastrophe was a call for repentance, as a harbinger of a greater judgment to come: the Day of the Lord. Embedded in physically vibrant imagery, this time of ultimate calamity, which is still future for humanity today (2 Thess 2:2; 2 Pet 3:10), makes evident the solemnity of God’s judgment against sin.

The prophet Amos referenced Joel twice (cf. Amos 1:2 and Joel 3:16; and, Amos 9:13 and Joel 3:18). Amos’ prophecy is dated 760 BC (Amos 1:1); by comparing the prophecies of Amos and Joel, the latter can be dated approximately 835 BC, which constitutes Joel as one of the earliest prophets.

Joel (whose name means “Jehovah is God”) is the prophet of the Day of the Lord, a concept well-known in Old Testament prophetic texts. Several times in his three-chapter prophecy, Joel made reference to “the day” (1:15) or “the day of the LORD” (2:1, 11, 31; 3:14). The term Day of the Lord designates any time period in which God brings judgment upon Israel (and all nations); it is an appropriate concept for the prophets to use in relation to such divine punishment.

The expression “that day” has a broad range of meaning in Scripture, and can designate both calamity and favor (e.g. the tribulation and millennium). According to the Jewish calendar, a day begins in the evening at sundown, which means that a period of darkness is followed by a time of light. Not only does such chronology reflect the creation account (“there was evening and there was morning,” a day), but also the nature of God’s dealings with Israel (and the world): first in judgment (darkness), and culminating in blessing (light).

THE SOMBER MESSAGE
(Joel 1:1-14) Joel referred to a judgment well-known to the people of his day—a locust plague—as historical background for his prophetic message concerning the Day of the Lord. The message was proclaimed and written to the southern kingdom of Judah in about 835 BC. This means that Joel was a contemporary of the prophet Elisha, who was the prophet Elijah’s successor (2 Kgs 2:15-25). Chapter 1 begins the historic period of Joel’s prophecy, whereas chapters 2—3 contain the prophetic phase.

Joel 1 prophesies that the locust plague is imminent (a forecast fulfilled in the prophet’s own day). Many classes of people—the elders (older men), the children, the drunkards, and the farmers—were called upon to mourn in response to the locust invasion (vv. 1-12). Four varieties of locusts consumed all land vegetation (v. 4), succeeded by a national drought and famine (vv. 8-12).

Verses 13-14 call for the people to join together in an expression of national repentance. The spiritual leaders are commissioned to take initiative in leading the people to cry out for God’s mercy. In referring to the dreadful locust plague, Joel was able to speak in such a manner that the heart and mind of his listeners would be imprinted with the prophetic message. The purpose of the Day of the Lord is both purification and restoration.

THE EARNEST PRAYER
(Joel 1:15-20) In response to the somber message of the opening verses, is the earnest prayer before God, seeking relief from the Lord. The prophet modeled the appropriate response by crying to the Lord God for His help and mercy. Perhaps he humbled himself and trusted in God’s promise to forgive and heal the land (2 Chron 7:14). Certainly, it is not enough to merely express sorrow regarding the consequences of sin (2 Cor 7:9); rather, one must also have inward repentance (Matt 3:8; Luke 17:1-4; Acts 26:20).

Prophetic messages like the kind we have from Joel (or even in the pages of the better-known book of Revelation) often may appear distant from our commonplace existence. Nevertheless, the vivid depictions of the Day of the Lord should arouse our senses from any spiritual stupor. Prophetic texts are important to engage us when we are tempted to become complacent. The prophetic imagery that we find in the book of Joel should awaken us regarding how essential it is to live with obedient faith in God every moment of life.

Midnight Call - 09/2018

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