23 January 2017

Joel 1:1-20

“Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your ancestors? Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.” (vv. 2-3)

Psalm: Psalm 91


We are told nothing about the prophet Joel except his father's name (verse 1) and we have no references to the man or the events he describes in any other writings. Therefore we can only speculate as to when in the history of God's people Joel delivered this message; fortunately this does not significantly affect its meaning and relevance.

Joel begins by calling on the elders and the general population to reflect on the unprecedented nature of what they are experiencing. And then we learn in verse 4 that the incident is a plague of locusts, described graphically in a way that suggests wave after wave of them descending on the land till every growing thing has been devoured.

In verses 5-14 the prophet calls on various subsets of society to mourn, though in reality he is largely describing the sorrow they are already expressing. He starts with those whose pleasures focus on alcohol (verse 5), and later farmers whose livelihood have been destroyed. Verses 9 and 13-14, concerning the priests who minister in the temple, should be seen as capturing the heart of the anguish, as offerings of grain and drink were essential aspects of the daily ritual of sacrifice (Exodus 29:38-42; Numbers 28:1-8). This worship was a sign of God's continuing presence with and blessing of the people, so the loss of opportunity to maintain the worship pattern felt like desertion by God.

It becomes clear in verses 14-15 that Joel, like all prophets, sees God as the author of calamity, which he views as God's judgement on the people's failure to live in God's ways. A fast and "solemn assembly" (v. 14) should be called as a focus for repentance.

The unrivalled seriousness of the disaster leads Joel to believe that "the day of the LORD is near" (v. 15), the time when it was believed God would act decisively in judgement, salvation or both.

To Ponder

  • In what senses, if any, is it right to believe God is sending us a message through natural disasters?
  • Quite often in Scripture God's people are instructed to tell their children about the good things God has done. In verse 3 the command is to pass down the generations the memory of this exceptional tragedy. How do you feel about the repeated marking of tragic events from history within public ceremonies and school curricula?
  • Note Joel's sensitivity to the suffering of animals as well as humans (verses 18, 20). Do you think that today we care too much or too little about the plight of animals when disasters affect humans and other creatures? Why do you take that view?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

Stephen Mosedale is a recently retired Methodist minister now living in Devon. He is enjoying the freedom that gives, whenever mood and weather dictsate, to walk on Dartmoor, photograph varied and ever-changing seascapes, or grow vegetables in the garden.