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 contributes 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 it’s 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. 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 or moral 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 advanced 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 (Gen. 1:28, the creation mandate). Consequently, it causes an imbalance in the environment. Or how man stubbornly (and perhaps in greed) tries to bend the laws of science in building in unsuitable and vulnerable places without taking proper precautions and considering of the stakes at risk of overdevelopment on a tedious hilltop or an earthquake fault in a flood zone. Insurance companies have not helped the reality of a good God when they call disasters acts of God. Recently I read how Pope Francis is calling for a translation of the phrase about temptation in the Lord’s Prayer to be changed. Instead of “lead us not into temptation (God does not lead humans to sin), he suggests “do not let us fall into temptation.”
I, of course, didn’t know all that truth at the time but never did I think God was someone who punishes. He does judge man though and that frightened me because I knew I didn’t measure up. If anything, I turned inward into myself when things go wrong instead of crying out to God. I have since become convinced He is omnibenevolent (endless divine goodness and provision in view of evil) And it is within his timing not ours that He makes it right. It was during this time I turned to God for a sense of security, love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy when the Holy Spirit prompted me to turn to his son Jesus. My daily sanctification (growing closer to God each day by setting myself apart from the world while a part of it, me working on character development through the Fruit of the Spirit [Gal. 5: 22-23], me dying to self ) seems to have taken a longer route compared to others. It has taken me awhile to sift through the world doctrines and subtle liberal influences and biblical truths. But better late than never, eh? Until then I believe, now in hindsight, I was protected by my birth baptism. Today, the trend is toward want a conversion experience versus this sacrament of baptism. Augustine’s definition of a sacrament is the visible form of invisible grace.
My awareness of evil was from accumulated worldly events beginning in the 1960s. During my first year in school, the president John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Then there were the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy following 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 youngest brother was murdered in the early 1970s (mention in the chapter on Daniel). 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.
Then there was the upheaval of the then-current transitions. 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 lived 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.
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. 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.”
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 social and spiritual tsunami of change, a confusing 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 backward. I can live to tell how I survived in spite of spankings, lead paint, rusted playground equipment, secondhand 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 of 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 communal religious 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 consonant will make 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 falsely frees people from that unrealistic illusion towards building a better society. In other words, if we are guilty of placing too much emphasis on personal salvation alone, religion can truly become what Marx says. But if part of that salvation is experienced as that of being part of a community, helping and improving situations in life, we remain true to biblical religion. An example of this latter truth is the positive movements started by a disproportionately large number of humanitarian advances in history (in education, medicine, law, arts, working for human rights, in science) done by people of religion (i.e. slavery abolitionist William Wilberforce, or civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr.).
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 took the turn towards questioning the interpretation of the Bible as inspired revelation. The advancement in technology of the two World Wars earlier in the century, then the turbulent 60s took their toll. The conclusion by most was that the world is not self-explanatory as the enlightened generation said, no one is in control of their destiny. The traditional biblical moral values were deemed oppressive for those trying to figure out life. 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 probably do at times. 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 are 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 ( Joel 2:28, cf. Acts 2:17).