We usually didn’t pray when Mom tucked us in at night growing up, but we started in January of 1991. I was in 1st grade. It was the first war that live video was fed from the front lines. I sat in the living room and watched CNN as scud missiles flew through the night sky and that night Mom led my sister and I in prayer for the troops over there.
I was in 5th grade when Timothy McVeigh blew up the Federal building in Oklahoma City. I first heard about it as we were exiting the classroom to go to lunch. I remember seeing the pictures on TV of the building with a crater in the side of it.
Sophomore year of High School, I sat in Mr. Switzky’s Human Anatomy class. We were just a few minutes into the class when a school secretary walked into the room. She made her way to the front of the room. She whispered something to him and exited the same way she entered. He sat silently for a moment and then reached up and turned on the T.V. mounted above and behind him. CNN came on the screen with a smoking tower centered in the picture. Minutes later, a second plane hit the towers. Just before we dismissed for the next class (mine was wood shop), the Pentagon was hit. Then Flight 93 crashed. I watched, in the woodshop, the Towers fall. At noon, the TV’s were still on in Ms. Scarborogh’s Mythology class. By the end of the day, Bloomfield’s Construction Science class, we weren’t watching. Just before Cross Country practice rumors of $4.00 gallons of gas and draft rumors were swirling…I knew where I was.
Every generation has those moments: Bombing of Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination, the ’66 tornado, Columbine. People knew what they were doing, where they were, and when it happened.
What does one say to a community in crisis? What is the word that is needed for a nation suffering?
That is what Joel was commissioned to address. He confronts the issue with this statement:
Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity. (Joel 2.13)
It’s comforting. The people walked away from God. Verse 12 makes it abundantly clear that their worship and their hearts are not where they should be. There is a crisis in the land as well. Locusts have invaded.
What the locust swarm has left
the great locusts have eaten;
what the great locusts have left
the young locusts have eaten;
what the young locusts have left
other locusts have eaten. (Joel 1.3)
The identity of the locusts has been debated; whether they were the insects or an invading army. I think they are best understood as the insect for reasons that are irrelevant here. Moses alludes to this at the end of Deuteronomy. The people are getting ready to enter the promised land and God gives Moses a message for the people. Their first instruction upon entering the land is to have half the tribes on Mt. Gerizim reading blessings for obedience and the other half of the people on Mt. Ebal pronouncing curses for disobedience. One of the curses reads:
You will sow much seed in the field but you will harvest little, because locusts will devour it. You will plant vineyards and cultivate them but you will not drink the wine or gather the grapes, because worms will eat them. (Deuteronomy 28.38-39)
The locusts came and devoured all the grain because of the sins of the people. So what do you say to a nation in chaos? What do you say to a person in crisis? (I understand that not all crisis’ come because of sin, but we do live in a fallen world)
Message 1: Return to God.
“Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God. (Joel 2.12-13)
The people need to turn back their hearts through confession and repentance. If comfort and peace can be brought back to a people, to a person, the first step is to return to God. People are never at rest if distance from God remains. When crisis comes, it often reveals our distance and our independence from God. To save our churches, our nations, our families, and our communities, the first thing that needs to happen is a returning to God. The first word in verse 13, translated as “rend” by the NIV, is the Hebrew word, qara’. Most often it is translated as “tear”. It was an act of confession, repentance, and worship. “Tear open your hearts to God” is the first message gives to the afflicted.
Message 2: Trust God’s Character
As discussed previously, God has made himself known. He has declared His identity. In fact, that is what Joel’s name means. Jo-el means “Yahweh is God”. And there is the description:
…he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. (Joel 2.13)
The key verse in the entire book by the man whose name means “Yahweh is God” is a vivid description of His character. When I was going through a particularly dark time, alcohol became the sedative. It easy the pain, or so I thought. At least it erased the memories and I could sleep. During that time the question was posed: “Do you think God wants good things for you?” My answer was a resounding “NO!”. Then I began this study. There are still times where I question whether God does want good for me. Mom’s passing has been hard. The foot thing is inconvenient. There were some reopened ministry wounds and some fresh ones that began last summer. But restoration can only come if we as a community, a people, a nation, or a person trust in the character and integrity of the Lord.
Message 3: Remember God’s Promises
With God, a promise given is the same as a promise kept. He has promised to take care of us. He has promised to be with us.
19 The Lord replied to them:
“I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil,
enough to satisfy you fully;
never again will I make you
an object of scorn to the nations.
20“I will drive the northern horde far from you,
pushing it into a parched and barren land;
its eastern ranks will drown in the Dead Sea
and its western ranks in the Mediterranean Sea.
And its stench will go up;
its smell will rise.”
Surely he has done great things!
21 Do not be afraid, land of Judah;
be glad and rejoice.
Surely the Lord has done great things!
22 Do not be afraid, you wild animals,
for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green.
The trees are bearing their fruit;
the fig tree and the vine yield their riches. (Joel 2.19-22)
He promises restoration and then provides restoration. Once the character of God can be counted on; His promises can be remember. A promise is only as reliable as the person making it. God has proved over and over that He can overcome whatever comes our way. For “it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2.24) He is sending new grain, new wine, satisfaction and protection. How does one respond: “Surely he has done great things!” (2.20) He has/is/will bring: rain, abundance, new wine, oil, grain, full-bellies, and repayment for the locusts (23-26). Joel is switching back and forth in verb tense because with God a promise made is a promise already kept. To what end:
…and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
that I am the Lord your God,
and that there is no other;…(2.26-27)
Once God’s character is on display, His faithfulness carries eternal significance. How do you respond to that: “Surely He has done great things!”…to be continued…