The book of Joel is one of the first descriptions of how God is going to adjudicate enemies, and even His own people, after much patience and warnings on His part.
Joel, the writer, is thought to be one of the Bible’s first prophets (making him one of the oldest). He is thought to be a contemporary of Elisha putting the former during 835-796 BC. Mention of royalty, countries, or cities of an era contribute to commentators determining dates of prophecy. One deciding factor here is there is no mention of the Assyrians. Other topics covered in this book (rituals, temple, locusts) align it to an earlier era then where in the biblical chronology it is listed.
A devastating drought and locust plague is the object lesson warning of a future invasion on the Israelites in “The Day of the Lord.” This expression, means its the day when God will deal with the wickedness of man directly and in judgment. In the Old Testament, it means to adjudicate the people and is referenced with over eighteen times in the Bible.
It means something different in the New Testament which will be covered then. In some instances, just the use of the word “On the Day” is used. And as seen, this can also refer to the Israelites. Often “the Day of the Lord” points to a future event with the ultimate one described in the book of Revelation, revealing Jesus who finally takes care of the evil men.
The mention of locusts, one of the ten plagues God used to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, occurs again. This metaphor, Joel compares the people to be as bad as the Egyptians. He prophesies (Joel 2:30-31) in the similar description also found in the book of Revelation. Specific sins of the people are not mentioned or listed here as in other prophetic books. It shows God’s encompassing concern about all sin, not just a few certain types.
The book highlights two major events. One is the invasion of locusts which symbolizes the cleansing out the invading evil of the land. The other event is the outpouring of the Spirit, later recorded in the New Testament.
It was an eye opener for me (like a “future shock”) when my childhood bubble of world perception popped, causing me to really see and acknowledge evil for the first time. As mentioned in Genesis, there are two kinds of evil: human evil and natural evil (weather disasters, disease). Human evil is because of the fall of man when disobeying God in the garden of Eden and the fact God made man as a moral free agent to make choices. Much of the evil of the world comes from man’s hand, and I would dare say some disease and disaster from weather incidents are due to man’s shortsightedness in using advance developments (like chemical fertilizer as one example in regards to disease) without thinking about the consequences, or how he is not taking care of the earth (cf. Gen. 1:28, the creation mandate) consequently causing an imbalance in the environment or how man stubbornly tries to bend the laws of science in building in unsuitable and vulnerable places without taking proper precautions and considering the stakes at risk of over development. Evil comes in many forms. God takes this evil, created outside of himself, and turns it around into a greater good. The best examples is him turning Jesus’s death around for our salvation.
I, of course, didn’t know all that truth at the time but never did I think God was punishing man. I never thought of God that way. If anything, I turned inward into myself instead of crying out to God. I have since learned He is omnibenevolent. And it is within his timing not ours that He makes it right. Interestingly it was during this time I turned to God for a sense of security, love, forgiveness, grace and mercy that I accepted and professed through his son Jesus’s crucifixion. Until then I believe, now in hindsight, I was protected by my birth baptism.
My awareness of evil was from accumulated worldly events beginning in 1960s. During my first year in school, the president John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Then assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy followed in 1968. I remember the creeping insecurity and confusion as these things transpired to being overwhelming and uncertainty about what the heck was happening in the world when my dad also died in April 1968. My little brother was murdered in the early 1970s (mention in the chapter on Daniel).
Then there was the upheaval of the then current events. Not everyone wore lovebeads during the late 1960s of the Vietnam conflict; some wore dog tags. In 1971, a group of high profile celebrities and performers, to include actress and activist Jane Fonda, came to the town I grew up in to meet at an anti-war revue for the soldiers stationed at the nearby military base. The U.S. still operated under the mandatory call to military duty before ending the draft call in 1972 (mentioned in the chapter on Daniel).
This group met at this bar, the Oleo Strut, ironically named after a shock absorber for helicopters. It was commonly known to be a haven for soldiers to express their opinions about the war. There was no violence; mainly a peaceful protest march in town with hateful words spewed by the high profiles that begot press coverage. Meanwhile, the rest of American people were disrespecting and ostracizing the troops who were coming home from Vietnam individually (not with their units as is done now). They were spat upon at airports and in public places, called them baby killers, etc.
My dad was a veteran of WWII and Korea. The outlook in my home while growing up was respect for military protocol and order. My childhood understanding was that criticism of the commander-in-chief (president) or any senior government official or military personnel was not said in public. My parents may not have agreed with the commander in chief but for the sake of the unity of the country and their loyalty to their military oath they did not publicly voice their opinions. In Matthew 12:25, it is written “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand.”
I grew up in days that are no more. It was a period when reverence for the flag was prevalent. When flown, it was always intact, not tattered or torn. It was a period before the stars and stripes of the flag were worn as apparel.
It was a turbulent time to grow up, and it still holds vibrant images in my mind. I left the innocent child perspective and began to see what was going on in the world. As in all paradigms experienced by individuals, it shaped who I am. Some may call part of my upbringing archaic or maybe backwards. I can live to tell how I survived in spite of spankings, lead paint, rusted playground equipment, second- hand smoke from dad’s cigarettes, toy rifles and guns, no seat belts, no safety helmets and I drank water from a hose. Now it has changed, some for the better, but not all change is for good. I miss that which was considered sacred, of expected behavior in the public square and the defining qualities of respect.
Fortunately, now we don’t hate the soldier who goes to war Instead hate and condemn the war. As a country, we learned from Vietnam, and we are kinder, more caring and understanding of the soldier’s role in the war. They are not responsible for the war. We again see them as the selfless patriots that they are, as we did back in the days of the World Wars I and II. The philosophical construct of the military is for a purpose, and it is incomparable to anything in the civilian sector. Part of the military oath is as a binding document that requires obedience to legal military orders of superior officers.
People routinely forsake the sacred and run the gambit by taking God’s name in vain, denouncing Him or teaching selective doctrine at the exclusion of others. They do evil things to each other in the name of Christianity. To most, it seems God does nothing about it. The book of Joel warns that God will respond in His time.
If I hadn’t become part of a church community, I might not have made it through the period mentioned above (and future ones associated with my family life) in the same way. Participating in religious communal rituals and shared beliefs helps me to cope and connect with a higher being. I would not have had as many tools sharpened in my foundational moral kit without that community. With each significant trauma that happened to my biological family, members sought out different ways to make sense of it; trying routes alternate to mine (of the church culture) in attempts to cope. What difference one letter makes between the word cope and hope. I periodically would venture, briefly, to travel the routes they were on. Doing so I saw the future destination of their journey on my horizon, and it was not healthy. I went back to my coping mechanism.
Revolutionary socialist Karl Marx said, “Religion is the opium of the masses.” He said religion gives people artificial, illusory happiness, and that freeing people from that unrealistic illusion was part of building a better society. My older siblings would taunt and accuse me of using religion as a crutch. My curt response was “Well at least I am still standing.” There are too many strong, logical, scientific, and philosophical arguments for the existence of God. In the history of humanity, many of the most intellectually brilliant writers and thinkers were theists.
Little did I know that it was also during the 1960s and 1970s that the tide began to turn towards questioning the interpretation of the Bible as being inspired revelation. It was a turn away from outside authority of all sorts toward individual autonomy. C. S. Lewis says “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
Do some use religion as a crutch? Sure. Does it mean religious claims are invalid? No. Religion is a natural response to the evidence for the existence of God and the recognition that I have a real tendency to think evil judgmental thoughts of others (if not myself) and need repentance. The hurt, damage, and duress in the world is apparent. Part of my life advocacy is to make a difference in places while simultaneously working on myself as well. I come away from reading the book of Joel contemplating the locust that permeates the land to cleanse it knowing it is going to get worse before it gets better and look to the future hope of Jesus who redeems us through His Spirit to His people (cf. Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17).