17 May 2016

Joel 2:21-32

“I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” (vv. 28-29)

Psalm: Psalm 133


In the account of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-39, the Apostles and the women, among others, gather together. When the Holy Spirit falls upon them, they pour out into the streets to proclaim the good news in every language. The words Peter speaks to the crowds are an interpretation of Joel 2. According to Peter's speech, the day foretold by Joel has arrived when the Spirit will be poured out on all flesh; when the sons and daughters are prophesying. There will be dreams and visions and the Gentiles (non Jews) will also receive the outpoured Spirit. So, the proclamation of the Church begins as a fulfillment of Joel's promise that God's people will receive a great and abundant gift of God's Spirit.

In the context of the second chapter of Joel, the words highlight God's generosity, as well as God's power to restore and empower all people. In the first chapter and early verses of the second chapter, Joel describes a plague of locusts, calling to mind one of the ten plagues that God sent to punish Egypt. Joel calls on the people to repent and pray (Joel 2:12-13). They respond to Joel's prophesy with both repentance and faithfulness. The latter part of the second chapter (today's passage) describes in related terms the restoration of the people, the generous gift of the Spirit, and the coming Day of the Lord.

Of particular interest in light of the theme for this week is the connection between reception of the Spirit and responsive action. The Spirit comes as a gift to the people - one that flows in abundance. They are empowered to interpret God's word to them, highlighted by the word "prophesy". Prophesy in this context may mean faithfully expressing God's words of warning or hope. These words are grounded in the traditions, literature, and liturgies of the people. The promise of visions and dreams is directly related to the proclamation of God's word, recalling the people to their relationship with God and one another and filling them with hope.

To Ponder

  • What does the word prophecy mean to you?
  • In addition to worship, how do Christians proclaim their hope in Christ to the wider culture?
  • If the Spirit is poured out on "all flesh", how might that impact our understanding of hospitality to strangers and those who are vulnerable, such as migrants and refugees?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Cindy Wesley

Cindy Wesley is the director of studies at Wesley House in Cambridge. She is responsible for the life of the chapel and for advising students about their courses and modules.