46. Joel

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 46.  Joel

Joel 2:28,29   I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

Commentators are all over the place as to dating Joel but, as I read it, my conclusion is that the date is really irrelevant because he deals with such major issues spanning history. Simply by what is said, here I believe, is a reasonable suggestion to what is in it:

Part 1: 1:1-2:11  The plight of Israel

Part 2: 2:12-18   That concludes in a call to repentance

Part 3: 2:19-27   That flows into an assurance that the Lord will hear and bless.

Part 4: 2:28-32   Now a jump to the period of salvation, the period of the Church

Part 5: 3:1-21     This flows on to the last days, of judgment on the nations.

Now before we examine the contents of each part, note in v.15 the first reference to “the day of the Lord” which we’ll examine in a moment. It is significant in the number of times it appears (5) but it is unclear initially, I would suggest, whether this refers to just one specific day of judgment at the end, or is simply a phrase used to describe the various times God comes to bring judgment. Perhaps we should look more closely:

1:15  Alas for that day! For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty.”

2:1b  “Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming.”

2:11  “The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?

2:31  “the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.”

3:14,15 “For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine.”

The common thing about this day is that it will be terrible and will be accompanied by judgmental destruction. So now let’s note how it appears.

Part 1: The Plight of Israel: (1:1-2:11) starts with a call to recognise the plight of the land, having been ravaged by ‘locusts’– an invader from the north (v.6) who has ravished the land. It appears to conclude with the first call to repentance (v.13,14). Yet although that has already happened, there is coming a worse day (v.15), the ‘day of the Lord’. However he then appears to pick up and continue bewailing the present state of the land in the same tone as the earlier verses (v.16-20). It is almost as if the Spirit breaks in on his anguish about the present state, as if to say, yes, but there is a much worse day that will come later in history that makes this present time pall into insignificance.

Continuing the same section, bemoaning the state of the land, in Chapter 2 we find the Spirit seems to break in yet again with this reference to ‘the day of the Lord’ (2:1,2) but when he says, “It is close at hand” (v.1c) we should understand that in prophetic language, terms and experience, it so often does NOT mean ‘it’s coming shortly’ but ‘it’s high on my prophetic horizon as of major significance in the world’s history’; be aware of this day, pray, repent and adjust your lives in anticipation of it.

I say these verses in chapter 2 are all part of this first section because in v.3 Joel  keeps on referring to “them” and “they”, (count the number of times), referring to this invading army from the north (see in v.3 to 11). But then we appear to have a problem, for this description finishes in v.11 with The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?” which seems to point back to what has just been written. Again, in prophetic terms, what we find is that this latter part (v.3-11) of the whole section is a description of what is happening in the IMMEDIATE FUTURE, indeed what seems to have already started according to the earlier verses, AND what we might term the END TIME FUTURE.

Part 2: The Call to Repentance: (2:12-18) In the light of this awareness of the state of the land and of the invading army, both now and in the long-term future, together with the reasons for both, the obvious call is for repentance. That is the only way to stop the present disciplinary judgment and to avoid the wrath of the end-time Day.

Part 3: The Lord’s Response – Blessing: (2:19-27) Whenever there is repentance, the Lord will always bless. The blessing spelled out is provision, (v.18,19) deliverance from the invader (v.20), abundance of harvest (v.21-24), and restoration after the work of the ‘locusts’ (v.25-27). In the light of what follows it seems this could well describe the restoration that followed the Exile.

Part 4: The Period of Salvation: (2:28-32) Although this might be seen as ongoing blessing continuing on from the period of the Lord restorative goodness above, we have separated it out (as our highlight of this book!) because of the words, “And afterward” in v.28 and the application of these verses under the anointing of the Spirit on the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost in the light of the outpouring at the beginning of Acts 2 (see Acts 2:16-21). Those verses have just been fulfilled, he says. It was the start of the period of the Church, a period during which “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” (Joel 2:32 & Acts 2:21) and it will end at “the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” (Joel 2:20)

Part 5: Judgment on the nations:  (3:1-21)  The coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD,” referred to in 2:31 is clearly spelled out in chapter 3, a time of restoration of Israel (all the people of God) and judgment of the (unbelieving) peoples of the nations (v.1 & 2). And why this latter judgment? Because of the way the nations had treated the people of God (v.3-8).  OK, get ready for battle, says the Lord, you versus me (v.9-11), just as we see in Rev 19:11-21.  This will be a time of great judgment on all who oppose, reject and rebel against the Lord and against His people (v.12-21)

To summarise: the word comes to the people of God in the Promised Land (Judah is not mentioned until chapter 3) to a) take stock of their situation, ravaged by an enemy and b) repent so that God may bring blessing on them. In due time, part of that blessing will be the outpouring of His Holy Spirit, which will usher in a new era, the era of salvation for whoever believes in the Son of God and his work on the Cross. It is an era that will continue until the Lord winds up history on that fateful “Day of the Lord” when He enters into judgment with all who oppose Him, a time of accounting and final judgment. In this short three-chapter book, this amazing prophet catches the sense of the day and puts it in the perspective of the whole of history yet to come, yes a time of trouble that will give way to blessing, a time of trouble that will appear minor in comparison to the end-time judgment that he also senses. What a prophetic spectrum!

11. Judgement

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 2 :  11 :  Judgement

1 Thess 1:9,10   They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath

I said in the previous meditation that it is very easy to pass verses or words by with little thought – especially when we don’t like the word and ‘Idolatry’ was just such a word. “Wrath” is another of those words. It occurs here in verse 10 and it also appears later in respect of the unbelieving Jews: The wrath of God has come upon them at last,” (2:16) and then later more generally, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (5:9)

Now before we look at what it actually means, may I deal with our psychological or ethical hang-ups about this word. We’ll accept from the outset that it means righteous anger, but I want to remind you of a particular teaching that comes out again and again in the Bible – that God is perfect. Now be under no illusion that perfect means complete and faultless, and cannot be improved upon. Therefore whatever God thinks, says or does is perfect, is faultless and cannot be improved upon.

We need to let this truth sink in. Let’s see it as it crops up through the Bible: “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” (Deut 32:4 – song of Moses). “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.” (2 Sam 22:31 – song of David). “From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.” (Psa 50:2 – song of Asaph).  “O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago.” (Isa 25:1 – Isaiah). “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48 – Jesus). “You will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:2 – Paul). “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:8,9 – writer to the Hebrews)

There you have it: Jesus was begotten and was thus perfect because he was God.  God is perfect and everything He says or does is perfect – they cannot be improved upon!  Now start thinking about these difficult subjects from that angle or through that lens if you like. If God is angry about something then it is right, proper and appropriate to be angry and we can even go further and say it would be wrong not to be angry. We tolerate wrong and shrug our shoulders over it, but God sees it and sees it spoils the Creation that He made which was “very good” (Gen 1:31) and if God says something was “very good” you may take it that it was perfect. And now sin spoils it. The wonder and the beauty and the perfection has been spoiled and marred and desecrated. Imagine you were a master painter and you had spent months creating a most beautiful masterpiece and a teenager, say, comes in spits on it, writes on it in felt pen, throws paint on it and finally cuts it to pieces with a Stanley knife. Would you still be as calm and equitable about it as we so often are about wrongs in our world? No, we would be livid that this wonderful masterpiece with all its beauty has been utterly desecrated.

Why don’t we get angry? It’s all a matter of perspective. If we could see the whole picture with the completeness and perfection of God our emotions would be different. It is right to be angry, it is right to be upset and indeed, to go further, it is wrong not to be. Righteous anger is, as a dictionary puts it, “right and just passionate displeasure”. Please distinguish angers from hostility or revenge. Righteous anger is simply an objective emotion that responds rightly to wrong. What follows, when it is God, is a dispassionate assessment of what to do about it. God’s judgment is His dispassionate assessment of what to do about the wrong which has been highlighted by His anger. Anger is instinctive. Our passionate displeasure rises up in the face of something awful, something wrong. If it is us, we react and may over-react and get it wrong but God, we saw, is perfect so He looks and He assess what is the right thing to do, the perfect thing to do, the thing to be done in the light of ALL of the facts of both past, present and future, for only He can do this, for He knows all things and He knows how things could work out and how they can work out and how they will work out, and all the differences depend on His actions now. He chooses that which is perfect.

So when we look at His acts of judgement in the Bible, realise you don’t have all the facts, your emotions are stunted, you see imperfectly, but God has seen, God has assessed perfectly and even though you cannot see it, know that what He has done has been The best, The only right thing to be done.

Bear ALL of this in mind when you think of the Judgment of God.  This may give us a great deal of fuel to ponder on WHY God brings a particular judgement and why having made a dispassionate objective assessment of what to do about it, God’s judgement is this particular thing – which, with all the facts and information available to Him, is faultless!

So note again what Paul writes in this letter: Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath  (1:10) and God did not appoint us to suffer wrath (5:9). The Old Testament reveals a “day of the Lord” when He will come to judge all sin and unrighteousness. Rev 19 shows us Jesus coming again to bring in that ‘day’. But we, now as God’s people do not, as Paul says, have to suffer wrath for Jesus rescues us from it by his death on the Cross dealing with all our guilt and shame, so we no longer fear a punishment. The second reference to the Jews, The wrath of God has come upon them at last,” (2:16) can be rendered, “upon them to the uttermost,” or “on them entirely” or “on them fully”. It is suggested that this simply refers to them being rejected while they stay in unbelief. Scripture seems to indicate a possibility that before the end they will turn and believe and those will be saved, but salvation follows belief; wrath and judgement follows rejection and unbelief.

29. The Day

Meditations in Romans : 29 :  The Day of the Lord

Rom 2:16 This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

“It will never happen!”  I think that is a response of many people to warnings that are given in life. The smoker is warned that smoking brings cancer and the individual thinks, “It might in others but it won’t in me.” The young person is told that sexual promiscuity brings a high risk of STD’s but thinks, “But not for me!”   And so it is in so many ways in life, our self-centred and protective inner systems deny risk. “It will be all right!” It is just the same as when Satan whispered to Eve, You will not surely die.” (Gen 3:4). When it comes to sin we may warn people that God will hold them accountable and they say “Yes” but think “No, not me.”  We may actually quote Paul saying, “A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7) and the blindness of sin thinks, “Others, but not me. I’ll be all right.”  Well, no, you won’t!

There are two particular outworkings of this that involve us in long-term thinking. We warn, “You’re not going to live for ever, you never know when you might die and then you’ll face God,” and the person thinks, “Yes, but that won’t be for many years,” and yet a lot of people don’t reach old age, but we all think we will.  Or the preacher speaks about the day when the Lord will wind up all things and there will be a universal accounting, and the person thinks, “Yes, well that won’t be for hundreds of years yet.” We don’t know!

There is yet another ‘escape route’ that people use when we say these things: “It’ll be all right, no one knows about my sin,” as if their sin being hidden from human eyes means they will not be accountable to God. Nevertheless the belief that what we have been doing has been in secret leads many people to foolishly think they are safe. No you are not because God sees everything!

We say all this because of where Paul has got to now. “This will take place…” What will take place?  Well if you look at the verses in the paragraph from which the above verse comes, you will see that verses 14 and 15 are an aside in brackets. So the ‘this’ refers back to what was said in verses 12 and 13: “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.” i.e. there is coming a time of judgment when we have to account for what we have done or not done. That is the starting place.

Now something else is then made clear: “on the day when….” This isn’t something general, which could happen any time. There is coming a day, a specific time and day, when God has decided that this will happen. It won’t be an accident and it won’t be forced by circumstances but it is a day that God has decided upon before anything else happened. It is part of His sovereign plan, so it WILL happen.

So what will happen? “God will judge men’s secrets.” This is going to be a sovereign act of God. It won’t be that circumstances will pile up against us, but that on this appointed day, God Himself will step forward and He will hold a court case against us and the evidence will be put forward and our lives displayed – everything about us, even the things we thought were secret that no one else knew about – and God will pronounce judgment on these lives of ours. Already we are starting to feel uncomfortable. How can we possibly hope for a good outcome? Perhaps we can make excuses? I didn’t know. Yes, you did; your conscience told you. Or maybe, well I’m no worse than anyone else. So what? You’re still talking about your sin. Or perhaps, it wasn’t my fault? You mean you are unable to make your own choices in life? You didn’t choose to do those things? No, the outlook is not good!

But on what measure or standard will God judge us? “Through Jesus Christ.” What does that mean? I suggest there are two applications. First, He will measure us against the standard of the life that Christ lived. How do we stand up to that test? That’s unfair, we cry, he was the Son of God. Yes, but he was still living in a human body with human feelings and human free will. Oh dear, we’re going to fail that one!

But there is yet, fortunately, a further possibility. I say fortunately because I hope the answer to what is coming is positive. The other way that God will assess us, is how we have responded to Jesus. That is what the gospel is all about that Paul then refers to.  Jesus came and lived on the earth and we saw all of his goodness and the love of God displayed through him. How do our hearts respond to that?  If it leaves us cold we condemn ourselves. But then he died on the Cross to take the punishment for our sins. How do we respond to that?

If it is with indifference we condemn ourselves. If we receive his salvation gladly we are not only saved today, but we will be saved on that day when we have to stand before God and account for our lives.  We will surely fail when we are measured on the basis of our personal goodness, but when it comes to how we responded to Jesus, that is much easier if we can say, I heard, I responded and I took him as my personal saviour and was born again.  THAT and that only is the only way we will be able to stand with any confidence before God on that last day.