Message from Joel for Times of Tragedy
We often feel sad and helpless when we face troubles in our lives. For example, as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic many people have died, the economy has become unstable, our lives have become disorderly, and we don’t really know what was going to happen next. For times like this, the small book of Joel is very relevant.
The message of the prophet Joel came to God’s people when a locust invasion had destroyed the land (1:4). This incident was similar to the recent onslaught of locusts in different regions of our country.1 For an agrarian society, this invasion was a national emergency, which was not much worse than a military invasion (1:6-7). Just like we think that the Coronavirus is unprecedented, and that we will tell our children and grandchildren about it, Joel says, “Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers? Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children to another generation” (1:2-3). At such a time, God gives his people a message through Joel with three main parts.
1. A Call to Repentance.
Joel says this time is a time for repentance. In 1:13-14 and 2:12-17, he tells the people to lament, to call for a fast, and to humbly return to God. He says, “rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God” (2:13). Joel does not tell us this invasion was a punishment for a specific sin, but we know based on Deuteronomy 28 that in the Old Testament such tragedies and plagues were God’s judgment for the disobedience of the people. This is why God wants his people to repent.
When our lives become disorganised by any circumstance, it is an opportunity for us to repent. It is true that because we are in the New Covenant we are no longer under the curses of Deuteronomy 28. But it is also true that we are sinners. Our deeds, words, thoughts, and attitudes fall well short of God’s standards. And usually we spend so much time in our prayers asking for ‘blessings,’ and don’t spend time confessing our sins. So, in such days and seasons, let us take our sins before God in prayer.
2. A Warning to God’s Coming Judgment.
Along with encouraging God’s people to repent, Joel draws their attention to the coming “Day of the LORD” (1:15; 2:1-11, 31; 3:14). For the Israelites the locust invasion might have felt like a military invasion, but more than than, the Day of the LORD would come as “destruction from the Almighty” (1:15). Joel warns that, “For the day of the LORD is great and very awesome; who can endure it?” (2:11). In the Old Testament, God’s people experienced the Day of the LORD on a small scale when they were defeated by foreigners and made slaves. But a Day of the LORD even bigger than this was going to come when God would judge the nations (3:1-15).
In the New Testament, we learn that this will happen when Jesus Christ comes again and judges everyone. The Apostle Peter writes, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Pet.3:10). And he tells us we should keep that day in mind and walk in holiness in the present (3:11-14). Jesus’ Second Coming is a central teaching of the Bible about which we don’t think that often. We are so busy in the present and in the news that we forget the coming judgment. So, in days like these, let us be serious about God’s coming judgment.
3. A Glimpse of Hope in God.
While Joel calls the people to repentance and warns them about the Day of the LORD, he also gives God’s people hope. His message has some assurance for the people: God will change the circumstance, and “ will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you” (2:25). And along with physical revival, God also promises spiritual revival–God will pour his Spirit on his people (2:28-29), and he will be his people’s refuge and stronghold at the time of judgment (3:16).
People who believe in Jesus Christ have hope even in the midst of troubles. We have assurance that God will set everything right. If it is God’s will this can happen in the preset. But even if our lives are full of struggles, God will restore everything, when he himself will wipe the tears from our eyes (Rev. 21:4). All this is possible because Jesus Christ faced God’s judgment for us sinners. When we believe in Jesus with the help of God’s Spirit, He becomes our refuge and stronghold. So in the midst of our troubles, instead of being afraid of God’s judgment, let us look to that day with hope.
Whether we are faced with personal, national, or global disasters, the book of Joel teaches us to repent from sin, be alert towards judgment, and look towards the New Creation. And all this is possible because our God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (2:13). Praise the LORD!