Estimates for the dates of the book of Joel range from the ninth century to the second century B.C., but most scholars agree that this is a post-exilic book-written after Cyrus of Persia freed the Jewish exiles from their Babylonian captivity in 538 B.C.
The first part of the book (1:1 - 2:17) consists of the prophet's lament over the ruin of his country (1:1-12) and his call to the people to repent and to pray for deliverance. The second part of the book (2:18 - 3:21) consists of Yahweh's response and promise of deliverance.
The problem provoking this lament is a plague of locusts that has decimated the fields (1:2-7), threatening the people with starvation. Primitive agrarian societies have little slack to help them through this kind of crisis. Neighbors might help a farmer whose crops fail, but a crisis that affects all farmers is too large for human solutions.
Joel clearly understands this crisis as judgment by Yahweh for the sins of the people (1:18; 2:18), and calls the people to repent and petition Yahweh for relief (1:13 - 2:17). They have reason to hope, because Yahweh "is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness" (hesed) (2:13). "When applied to Yahweh, hesed is fundamentally the expression of his loyalty and devotion to the solemn promises attached to the covenant.... Though the majority of the occurrences of hesed are translated 'steadfast love,' there are undeniable elements of 'mercy' and 'kindness' that underlie each of these occurrences" (Renn, 633-634).
This hope for relief, however, is posited on the assumption that the people will "turn to Yahweh, your God" (2:13). Apart from their repentance, they have no hope.
JOEL 2:12-14. TURN TO ME WITH ALL YOUR HEART
12 "Yet even now," says Yahweh, "turn (Hebrew: sub) to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning." 13 Tear your heart, and not your garments, and turn to Yahweh, your God; for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness (Hebrew: hesed), and relents from sending calamity. 14 Who knows? He may turn (Hebrew: sub) and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, even a meal offering and a drink offering to Yahweh, your God
"Yet even now, says Yahweh, turn (sub) to me with all your heart" (v. 12a). The tone changes dramatically with this verse. The prophet, conveying Yahweh's summons, invites these people to return (sub) to Yahweh with all their hearts-no half-hearted measures will suffice.
The word, sub, implies repentance. To return to Yahweh will require these people to change their minds and the direction of their lives. It will require them to let go of the things that have separated them from Yahweh and to embrace wholeheartedly Yahweh and Yahweh's commandments.
"and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning" (v. 12b). Yahweh prescribes three actions to demonstrate the people's repentance-fasting, weeping, and mourning. Fasting involves abstinence from food, and can be used to express grief or to prepare a person for worship. In this verse, Yahweh is requiring fasting as an act of contrition.
Weeping and mourning express grief. Yahweh is requiring that these people mourn their sinful ways.
"Tear your heart, and not your garments" (v. 13a). The rending of garments, like weeping and mourning, is an expression of grief-an outward sign of inward pain. However, Yahweh will not be satisfied with outward signs. He wants broken hearts-hearts full of grief at the remembrance of their sins.
"and turn to Yahweh, your God; for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness (hesed), and relents from sending calamity" (v. 13b). The prophet holds out hope-not that the people can convince Yahweh that they are worthy, but that Yahweh's character inclines him toward mercy, not punishment.
The word hesed is has a rich variety of meanings-kindness, lovingkindness, mercy, goodness, faithfulness, or love. Like the Greek word, agape, in the New Testament, hesed is an action word. It isn't enough to have warm and loving feelings. Hesed requires loving acts such as withholding punishment.
"Who knows? He may turn (sub) and relent, and leave a blessing behind him" (v. 14a). In verses 12-13, the prophet relayed Yahweh's call to repentance. Now, in this verse, he begins to speak in his own voice. Verses 12-13 sounded positive that Yahweh would respond to repentance with mercy. Now the prophet sounds less certain. He holds out hope, but hardly a guarantee.
The hope that the prophet holds out is that Yahweh will respond to the people's turning (sub) with his own turning (sub)-that Yahweh "may turn and relent, and leave a blessing."
"even a meal offering and a drink offering to Yahweh, your God" (v. 14b). As things stand at present, the people cannot make the sacrifices prescribed by Jewish law, because the locusts have devastated everything. The people have no grain to use for cereal offerings. However, the prophet holds out the hope that, if they repent and return to Yahweh, Yahweh will restore them so that they can once again give him offerings out of their prosperity and thanksgiving.
JOEL 2:15-17. BLOW THE TRUMPET IN ZION-SANCTIFY A FAST
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion! Sanctify (Hebrew: qadash) a fast. Call a solemn assembly. 16 Gather the people. Sanctify the assembly. Assemble the elders. Gather the children, and those who nurse from breasts. Let the bridegroom go forth from his room, and the bride out of her room. 17 Let the priests, the ministers of Yahweh, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, "Spare your people, Yahweh,and don't give your heritage to reproach (mashal-a proverb or parable), that the nations (Hebrew: goyim-Gentiles) should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'"
"Blow the trumpet in Zion!" (v. 15a). In verse 1, blowing the shofar was to warn of danger, but as noted in the comments on that verse, the shofar can also be used to call people to worship. That is the intent here.
"Sanctify (qadash) a fast. Call a solemn assembly" (v. 15b). The people are to observe a sacred fast and a solemn assembly-religious observances both to demonstrate their faith and to strengthen it.
Qadash involves making something clean or holy. In this verse, the people are to observe a holy fast. In the next verse, they are to make the congregation holy.
"Gather the people. Sanctify the assembly" (v. 16a). In verse 15, Yahweh called them to sanctify the fast. Now he calls them to sanctify the people-to make them holy.
"Assemble the elders. Gather the children, and those who nurse from breasts" (v. 16b). This defines the scope of the observance. Everyone is to participate, from the suckling child to oldest graybeard.
"Let the bridegroom go forth from his room, and the bride out of her room" (v. 16c). Jewish law exempts bridegrooms from military service during the period of betrothal (Deuteronomy 20:7) and for one year after the wedding (Deuteronomy 24:5). However, bridegrooms should not expect to be exempt from this call to fasting and solemn assembly.
"Let the priests, the ministers of Yahweh, weep between the porch and the altar" (v. 17a). The vestibule is a large room (20 cubits wide x 10 cubits deep x 120 cubits high) located on the east side of the temple. It spans the width of the temple and serves as the entrance to the temple. The altar of burnt sacrifices is located in the inner courtyard of the temple, and is the place where priests offer burnt offerings to Yahweh to atone for the sins of the people. This verse, then, calls for the priests to enter the temple weeping and to continue this expression of their grief until they reach the altar. Their tears are to express their contrition for the sins of the people-and their grief at the punishment that the people have experienced.
"and let them say, "Spare your people, Yahweh, and don't give your heritage to reproach (mashal-a proverb or parable), that the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples (goyim-Gentiles), 'Where is their God?" (v. 17b). Once the priests have made their way to the altar, they are to plead with Yahweh to spare the people of Judah and Jerusalem.
The prophet tells the priests how to make their plea effective. He doesn't tell them to emphasize the character of the people-to make the case that they have not sinned or that their sins were insignificant. He tells them instead to tell Yahweh that his reputation is tied inextricably to the fate of his people-his covenant people.
"The nations" (goyim) are Gentiles-those who are not Yahweh's chosen people. If Yahweh allows his covenant people to be destroyed, the goyim will say, "Where is their God?" They will assume that Yahweh was unable to protect his people. "Their shame (will become) Yahweh's shame" (Hubbard).
Joel 2:12-27 - IT'S NOT TOO LATE
Intro: The nation of Israel is in trouble! They are under constant by their enemies, 3:2ff. They have experienced a terrible drought and a massive invasion of locusts, 1:7-20. These tragedies have left the land ruined and the people demoralized.
The prophet Joel uses these events as an illustration of God's judgment upon Israel. Their specific sin is not named in this book, but a careful reading of the book indicated that the people had slipped into a state of complacency and apathy about the things of God, 2:13.
God used nature and Israel's enemies as His means of divine judgment. He used the trials they faced as a nation to awaken the hearts of His people and to call them back to Him.
The book of Joel is a book of judgment. But, it is also a book of hope. In this book, God's people are made to understand that even in the midst of divine judgment there is always hope if they will seek the Lord.
The book of Joel was written to the people of Israel. It deals with their past and it deals with their future. It looks back to the judgment of God on them for their sins. It also looks forward to a glorious day when they will enjoy the great blessings of the Lord.
While this book was written to the Jew, there is something here for us as well. Like Israel, we live in a land that is under divine judgment. We look at our nation and at our world and we wonder if there is any hope for the future. We wonder if there is any hope for revival. We wonder if there is any promise for us in these dark days.
These verses teach us that there is hope! These verses remind us, that with our God, It's Never Too Late. I want to share some thoughts from the book of Joel today. As I do, I want to preach on the subject: It's Not Too Late. I want you to see that there is hope for our churches, our nation and our future.
l. 1:1-2:11 THE PROBLEM
(Note: As I read about the judgment that fell on ancient Israel, I am reminded of where our nation and our churches are today. We commented on it last Wednesday, but there can be little doubt that we are facing the judgment of God in America, Rom. 1:18-32.
Natural disasters rip through our nation with far greater frequency than I can remember. While the south is gripped by drought, the mid-west, the bread basket of our nation, is devastated by severe flooding. In many places, the spring planting of corn was ruined. Higher food prices and food shortages will be the result. Consider the tornadoes, hurricanes and fires that inflict damage totaling in the tens of billions of dollars. America is under judgment! Or, am I the only one who sees this?
Now, consider the sin and evil that runs rampant in our world. We are living in a generation that calls "evil good and good evil" (Isa. 5:20). We are living in a society that protects the wicked and punishes the righteous. We are living in a world where fear has replaced faith; sin has replaced sanity; greed has replaced God; and hatred has replaced holiness.
There is no doubt that America is under the awesome judgment of God today. You can see it in our homes. You can see it in our population. You can see it in our streets. You can see it in our entertainment. And, most devastating of all, you can see it in our churches!
Preaching has been replaced by praise songs. Holiness has given was to happiness. Commitment has been replaced by complacency. Our pews are full, but our altars are empty. We get more excited about a shopping trip than we do about a revival meeting. We wink at sin and wince at the holy demands of God. We have lost our fire, our power and our desire for the things of God.
We would rather play than pray. We would rather have our ears tickled than our hearts searched by the Word. We would rather be entertained than challenged. We would rather stay like we are than become more like Him.
We are under the judgment of God! That is why our nation is in the shape it is in today. That is why our churches are in the shape they are in today. That is why we are experiencing a spiritual drought. That is why our young people have little desire for the Lord. That is why we have become cold, lifeless and impotent. God has weighed us and found us wanting!)
ll. 2:12-17 THE PLEA
(Ill. Even though they are experiencing the judgment of God, there is still hope! God reaches out to them one more time to address their condition and to call them back to Him.)
A. 12-14 There Is A Plea For Repentance - Genuine repentance is the only hope they have for survival. God calls on them to "turn" to Him "with all your heart". He calls on them "rend" their "hearts" and not their "garments". God isn't looking for mere external displays of religion; He is looking for heart change. He is looking for a people who are broken over their sinful and who are willing to change. He is looking for a people who will be sorrowful over their sins, (i.e. "with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning") This is the kind of people God will bless, restore and use.
(Note: I know that noone wants to hear it, but genuine repentance is the only hope we have! God is still looking for a people that are sorrowful over their sins. He is still looking for a people who are honest, open and repentant before Him. He is still looking for a people He can bless. His blessings are only for those people who will be honest about their condition and who will deal with their sins His way, Pro. 28:13; 1 John 1:9.
The only hope our nation has of being saved from the judgment of God is for God's people to seek the Lord in genuine repentance. When the church comes home, America will be affected. Until God's people repent, there will be no power, no glory and no hope for our nation.
As long as the church continues to walk in rebellion against God, the world will mock us and our God. When we repent and are restored to a place of blessing, the world will be forced to acknowledge the God Who dwells among us. The only hope the church has is repentance. The only hope America has is repentance.)
B. v. 15-17 There Is A Plea For Restoration - God calls on all the people, from the oldest to the youngest, to come back to Him, v. 16b. He calls for those occupied by the consuming matters of life to put Him first, v. 16c. He calls on the spiritual leaders of the people to come back to Him, v. 17. God wants His people to seek His face once more. He wants them to get hungry for Him one more time. God calls His people back to a place of closeness and holiness, v. 16a. (Ill. The word "sanctify" means "to separate, to be holy, to consecrate, to dedicate".) God is calling His people back to Him.
(Note: That is the pressing need of our day as well. We live in a generation that puts everything ahead of God. We live in a generation that yields itself to everything but God. We live in a generation that has essentially abandoned God. We need to come home!
The people of God need to reach a place where He is our first priority. We need to come to a place where nothing matters but His will for our lives. We need to come to a place where we are willing to separate ourselves from our sins and dedicate our lives to Him. We need to reach a place of total surrender to the will and ways of God. It's the only hope we have! It's the only hope our nation has!)
REVIVAL: A SOLEMN ASSEMBLY (Tony Evans) - Joel 2:12-17
12 "Yet even now," declares the Lord, "Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping and mourning;13 And rend your heart and not your garments."Now return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindnessAnd relenting of evil.14 Who knows whether He will not turn and relentAnd leave a blessing behind Him,Even a grain offering and a drink offering For the Lord your God?15 Blow a trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly,16 Gather the people, sanctify the congregation,Assemble the elders,Gather the children and the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom come out of his room And the bride out of her bridal chamber.17 Let the priests, the Lord's ministers, Weep between the porch and the altar, And let them say, "Spare Your people, O Lord,And do not make Your inheritance a reproach, A byword among the nations. Why should they among the peoples say, 'Where is their God?'"
MESSAGE GOAL: The goal of this message on A Solemn Assembly for Revival is to learn that God controls all situations and often directly intervenes, and that we must recognize these interventions and respond to Him.
INTRODUCTION: We all want a great and historic movement of God in our lifetime, we want a change to our hearts and the heart of the church. Despite these desires that many of us have, perhaps we're not really serious about them.
1. GOD'S PEOPLE OFTEN FAIL TO REALIZE GOD IS MOVING:
2. YOU KNOW IT'S A DIVINE VISITATION WHEN THERE IS NO HUMAN SOLUTION
There is a difference between man's day and the Lord's Day: The Lord has the solution to everything.