Of all the little books in the Old Testament which one do you know the least? Or which one have you never read? Or which one would you find the hardest to locate in the Bible if you had to find it? On many of those counts Joel might well be the one that would be mentioned – even if you remembered it existed!
It is only three chapters long and we shall be able to read through it in a week. A small section of it (2:28-29) is often read on Whitsunday – or Pentecost as it is now usually called. Peter quotes it in his sermon in Acts 2 as foretelling the coming of the Holy Spirit. There are other themes in it however, so be ready for a bumpy ride in prophecy!
v 2. Hear this, you leaders of the people. Listen, all who live in the land.
In all your history, has anything like this happened before?
Living with a plague.
In fact several plagues! Four varieties of locust stripped the land bare. The cereal crops had gone, the vines had been devastated, and the fruit trees were bare. V 12 paints a sorry picture: ‘The grapevines have dried up, and the fig trees have withered. The pomegranate trees, palm trees, and apple trees— all the fruit trees—have dried up. And the people’s joy has dried up with them. ‘ The whole nation was suffering, and there had never been anything like it before.
Ring any bells in your recent experience?
All sorts of questions were raised over the Coronavirus pandemic. Fingers were pointed at governments; inadequately equipped hospitals; visitors from China; people who ignored social distancing; yes, and even the new 5G telephone masts! We want somebody or something, to blame.
These Jews in Joel’s time were no different – except they missed the real culprits. The tale is going to get even darker in the next part of Joel’s prophecy; fires and droughts make matters worse and it is not until later in the prophecy that the fingers are turned back on themselves – God is running the show and they themselves are the people needing to change.
When disasters like this occur and we are tempted to look for causes and scapegoats, just perhaps it is wise to ask a more basic question – ‘Is God saying anything to us in this situation?
It is not a question of apportioning blame, but rather learning from a situation and discovering what God might be saying about how to move forward.