24 January 2017Joel 2:1-17
“Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” (vv. 12-13)
Psalm: Psalm 92
Chapter 1 has described a massive locust invasion of the land, and today's passage describes the same event in terms of the imagery of an invading army, and also (developing an idea introduced in Joel 1:19-20) that of a ravaging fire sweeping through the land. Also notice that the devastation of the farms and orchards in the first chapter is now developed with the overrunning of the cities (verse 9). The wingbeats and jaw crunching of millions of locusts creates large volumes of strange noise, not unlike the rumbling of chariots and crackling of flames referred to in verse 5.
The people's natural response to the locust plague should not merely be fear at being overwhelmed by insects and losing their crops, but they should recognise this as the LORD executing judgement as he leads this army in their destructive mission (verse 11). The invasion is a harbinger of the day of the Lord (verse 1). Belief was widespread that God would intervene in world affairs for the blessing of people and for God's own credibility. But like the prophet Amos (Amos 5:18-20) Joel wants God's people to realise that this apocalyptic day will involve first and foremost judgement on them (verse 2).
Verse 12 marks a change of tone however, with its use (the only one in this book) of the prophetic oracle formula, "says the LORD", where God speaks directly, calling for repentance which might even result in the avoidance of the judgement. The tearing of clothing (verse 13) was a common expression of grief and often symbolised an attitude of repentance (eg 1 Kings 21:27; Esther 4:1).
- Verse 12 suggests it is never too late to turn back from wrong actions and lifestyles and to return to God. To what extent are you able to accept this for yourself, for others, and for the life of your nation?
- Outward signs of repentance are insufficient by themselves (verse 13). What do you think "rend your heart" might mean in practice for you?
- Verse 17 suggests that the worst outcome of God judging people without mercy would be that others poke fun at their God's apparent powerlessness. What things might cause people to say of Christians today: "Where is their God?"?