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!

20. God said it

Meditations in Acts : 20 :  God said it

Acts 2:15-16  These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

There are some things in Scripture that are so obvious and come up so often that I believe many of us who read the Bible regularly, probably take them for granted, and our verses here now includes one such thing. As Peter seeks to explain what is happening he has, first of all as we have already seen, discounted the idea that these apostles are drunk because it is too early in the morning. He then goes on to say why this is happening and it is that, I suggest, we take for granted – that this is happening because God said it would!

It is as simple as that. These events are unfolding because God had said they would. When Peter refers to “the prophet Joel” it is immediately implied that Joel had spoken prophecy under the empowering of the Holy Spirit and so it was in fact God speaking. Now, as I said, this is so obvious that we need to pause up and reflect upon it.

To say that God speaks is simply to reflect on what the Bible says, yet there have been whole groups of men who would purport to be Christian scholars who denied that such a thing was possible, denied that the divinely supernatural was possible. Some of these men still are living loud and well in the church. They are what some call liberal scholars, but if we are to fully appreciate the wonder of the things we read in Scripture, we would do well to face their challenge.

At the end of the day it is a matter of belief, a matter of faith. You will either say, “I believe what the Bible claims of itself, that this collection of writings are those which have been inspired by God and are a genuine account of God’s dealings with the world.” Moreover we will say, “I believe it when it describes God as a living being, supreme, almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, who communicates with His creation which He brought into being.” The alternative is to say, “I do not believe the unity and harmony that is in this book and so I do not believe in the God you have just spoken of and so I do not believe that there can be divine communications or divine actions.”

But can we see that this later viewpoint is a rejection of the immense evidence that is this book, the Bible, and a blindness to the wonder of what is there. It is a viewpoint that STARTS by saying “I do not believe in the supernatural or the spirit world” but that is not an open-minded scientific approach. The open-minded researcher looks at every page of this book, considers the possibilities, sees how the book came into being, sees the harmony and unity that turns individual books into one book, sees the harmony and flow of history that is coherent and understandable, and says, “It is true.” Yet even that is a statement of faith because by the very nature of it we cannot guarantee it – yet it makes sense.

We would go a step further and suggest that there is really not a mid-way view, between these two views we noted above. The latter view above is ultimately atheistic, and the middle view is agnostic, but the agnostic is in reality nearer the atheist than the believer, because there is within such people a refusal to go and search out the truth with an open mind. Remember, the two possibilities are ONLY i) there is a God as described by the Bible or ii) there is no divine being and all the Bible writers were deluded and there is no meaning or purpose to life because life is pure chance. There really is NO mid-way!

So, we believe, and find ourselves with this amazing declaration, that Almighty God is a communicating God and the Old Testament is full of His communications. The communication, I would dare suggest, is not perfect because it comes through human beings and prophet or not, the effect of Sin in us means that we struggle to ‘hear’ God. It may be for that reason that God did not lay out a systematic theology, but simply shared Himself with those who were open to Him, and shared little bit by little bit, aspects of the divine plan.

Perhaps He did not want it to be blindingly obvious because, as Jesus hinted in his teaching between the two parts of the parable of the Sower, it is only those with open hearts who will truly understand what He says and that God’s word comes in ways that only seekers will understand and receive to be saved (Mt 13:14,15).

But the fact is that God did speak and His prophets did hear and write down what they heard. It is a fact that Joel did catch something from God and it was about God pouring out His Holy Spirit, and that, says Peter, is what is happening here. God said it and so now God is doing it. This is God doing what He said He would. This, in front of you, is an act of God being unfolded before you!

So now, to this matter of preaching! We have in this meditation confronted the heart of the preacher. You either believe this book is the inspired word of God and take it as it is, or you make excuses for it and about it and you bring nice homilies instead of God inspired, life changing, Bible-based messages. If you are a preacher, reread this meditation and check out your approach to the Bible and to your preaching. There is too much faint-hearted, wishy-washy, powerless preaching around in the Church today. As we will see later, this sermon came with such power that thousands of lives were changed. Isn’t that what we want?

8. Revealed

Meditations in 1 Peter : 8 :  Revealed

1 Pet  1:12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

I have to confess to not liking secrets, they smell of division, and yet I recognise that sometimes secrets are quite valid. You keep secret the presents you have bought for a birthday or at Christmas. You keep secret difficult times you may be going through from your young children who could not handle the worry. If you are working on an invention it is legitimate to keep it a secret until you have patented it. If you are planning changes in business or war, it is legitimate to keep the plans secret until they have been finalised and thought through properly. In Britain we struggle with a ‘Freedom of Information’ Act  which is sometimes abused so that people are required to relinquish information prematurely. We also live in an age when ‘leaks’ appear common and someone ‘spills the beans’ before the information is ready to be released.

The prophecies about the Gospel in the Old Testament are God’s ‘leaks’. It was like He was so excited about what the Godhead had planned, that He couldn’t help sharing bits of it with His prophets. But why keep it a secret? Why not come out with it to Abram, say? “In many centuries I am going to send my Son from heaven to reveal my love on the earth and then to die for the sins of the world.”  Why didn’t God say that? Well, I suspect the answer has got to be that it wouldn’t have helped us. We wouldn’t have understood it and we’d still have been sceptical of Jesus when he came and threatened our religiosity.

As Peter continues to talk about the prophets who received the revelations in the Old Testament period he says, It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you.” Now I confess to finding that strange, I’m not sure I understand it, and I haven’t found a commentator who explains it satisfactorily, because he is basically saying that they were told by God that this was for a future generation but in reality they could not have known which generation would enjoy the fulfilment of their words. It has, therefore, to be a general sense that is being referred to, the sense that this is going to happen at some future date.

Possibly an example of this was Balaam who eventually brought a word that is usually taken to refer to Jesus: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” (Num 24:17) and then, “A ruler will come out of Jacob.” (v.19) It is a word that is also so dressed up with references to other nations being subjugated that it has to be very much spiritualised to be applied, yet the point is that he does know that it is yet for some time in the future.

These things have now been brought right into the present by the preaching of the Gospel says Peter: when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel.” On the day of Pentecost Peter started his message by a long reference to Joel (Acts 2:17-21), explaining how what was happening was a direct fulfilment of his prophecy. He then cited David’s psalm writing (Acts 2:25-28) that indirectly pointed out the fact of the resurrection, and then about Jesus ascending back to heaven (Acts 2:34,35).

After the healing at the gate called Beautiful, Peter taking the opportunity to preach again declares, “this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.” (Acts 3:18) and “He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. For Moses said, `The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you.” (Acts 3:21,22) and, “Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, `Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” (Acts 3:24-26). In each case the general teaching followed by a specific example.

Of course Jesus himself on the road to Emmaus said to the two disciples, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Lk 24:25-27)

The message is very clear: the Old Testament prophecies clearly pointed to Jesus and Jesus and his apostles used that to verify all that had taken place and which we now call part of the Gospel. The angels in heaven were likewise kept in suspense as they looked on and saw what was happening on earth yet the revelation was not given to them but to prophets and then apostles. It’s a Gospel for mankind and it was to mankind that it was shared. Hallelujah!