I recently heard that pastors tend to use the same set of scriptures over and over when speaking. It’s probably not even on purpose — you just naturally go to the verses you know well and are comfortable with when writing about a given topic. I wondered if I do that in this blog, and started trying to think of scriptures that I don’t regularly quote. The minor prophets came to mind. I spend time in Hosea, but not really any of the others. And so I though, why not start a study on these 12 books and see what the Lord might have to teach me.
Repent From the Heart …
Joel begins with prophecies of destruction. First, he warns Israel that locusts will sweep through and destroy the food crops. There wouldn’t even be enough harvest to supply the offerings in the temple (Joel 1:9).
Consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord. Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as destruction from the Almighty. (Joel 1:14-15)
Mercy triumphs over judgement (James 2:13), but that doesn’t mean God won’t punish sin. Sometimes, that’s the only way to get our attention and save us by turning us back to Him.
In chapter 2, the prophecy shifts to what is still for us future events (at least, that’s what it looks like to me. Zodhiates’ study Bible says there is some disagreement among scholars). It sounds a lot more like Revelation, though, than a famine caused by locusts. Regardless of the timing, the conclusion of both prophesies is the same — an immediate call to repentance.
“Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him — a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? (Joel 2:12-14)
We should stay close to God through both good times and bad, but if we have drifted away He is still ready to hear us as individuals and as a nation. Genuine repentance from the heart will always get God’s attention.
… And There Will Be Blessings
Joel tells us that when all the people — including the elders, youth and ministry (Joel 2:16-17) — come to God with tears and a request for mercy, He will hear.
Then the Lord will be zealous for His land, and pity His people. The Lord will answer and say to His people, “Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, and you will be satisfied by them; I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations.” … Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done marvelous things! (Joel 2:18-19, 21)
God promises to send so many blessings that they will make up for everything that was lost in the plagues described earlier (Joel 2:25). This makes me think of a passage in Romans, where Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). There’s certainly no reason Christians can’t be happy and joyful in their lives today, but often our walks are marked by trials and touched by sorrow. Either way, we have a magnificent future to look forward to, and focusing on that can help us endure as we follow in Christ’s footsteps (Heb. 12:1-3).
Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the Lord your God and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame. And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:27-29)
Fulfillment of this prophecy began on the Pentecost where the disciples were given the Holy Spirit, which Peter points out as he quotes Joel 2:28-32 when he explains what’s going on (Acts 2:14-21). The remainder of the prophecy, and Joel chapter 3, relate to future judgement.
In Joel, we’ve already seen cycles of judgement, repentance, and blessing. Now, the subject turns back to the tribulation and wars before the coming of Jesus Christ. Though things look extremely bleak, once again it will ultimately result in blessing for the people who stay faithful to God (Joel 3:16-21)
The Lord also will roar from Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem; the heavens and earth will shake; but the Lord will be a shelter for His people, and the strength of the children of Israel. (Joel 3:16)
There is hope and help for us now, and in the future if we whole-heartedly draw near to God. That’s a main message of the book of Joel — bad things are going to happen because of sin, and therefore we need to draw near to God and repent so good things can happen to us in the end.