The weather has been extreme. I personally do not recall the heavy rains and flooding being as wide-spread as it has been this past week. Many mobile homes were totally washed away leaving some families completely devastated. One man featured on the news Wednesday told how his cabin was washed away with him in it and he was convinced that he would drown. It took 10 hours before he was found and rescued. Another told how lightning killed over 30 of his cows—an estimated $70,000 loss. Bridges have been closed and some swept away from all the flood waters, leaving communities isolated with no way out. And the stories of destruction and tragedy along with stories of miraculous rescues abound. I especially liked the testimony of the woman who prayed for the 2 little children who were taken from the vehicle that was caught in the flood waters. As the rescuers performed CPR, the woman prayed and suddenly the children coughed and began to breathe. To God be the Glory!
The Old Testament Book of Joel tells of another time when disaster came upon the Nation of Judah—the invasion of Locusts. A description of a similar event that occurred in 1915 in Jerusalem gives us a glimpse of the disaster:
A loud noise was heard before the locust were seen, produced by the flapping of myriads of locust wings and resembling the distant rumbling of waves. The sun was suddenly darkened. Showers of their excrements fell thick and fast, resembling those of mice. Their elevation above the earth was at times hundreds of feet; at other time they flew quite low, detached numbers alighting. “In Jerusalem, at least,” Mr. Whiting said, “they inevitably came from the northeast going toward the southwest, establishing the accuracy of Joel’s account in chapter 2:20.” Tons were captured and buried alive; many were thrown into cisterns or into the Mediterranean Sea, and when washed ashore, were collected and dried and used for fuel in Turkish bathes… Mr. Aaronsohn, another witness of the plague in 1915, testifies that in less than two months after their first appearance, not only was every green leaf devoured, but the very bark was peeled from the trees, which stood out white and lifeless, like skeletons. The fields, he says, were stripped to the ground. Even Arab babies left by their mothers in the shade of some tree, had their faces devoured before their screams were heard. The natives accepted the plague as just judgment because of their wickedness.” (from Beacon Bible Commentary, volume 5, page 90).
An interesting fact about the Prophet Joel is that scholars cannot pin down the exact time when he lived and prophesied. Most of the other prophets make reference to an historic event or a reign of a king that helps us determine the approximate time they lived, but Joel does not make any such reference. It was sometime after the kingdom divided, but that is as definitive as we can get. While there are arguments that he was one of the earlier prophets, there are also arguments that he was much later in Judah’s history. This timelessness factor reinforces to me the relevance of his message to our day and our time.
This little prophetic Book seeks to put the disaster from the Locust invasion into a spiritual context and in so doing helps us to come to grips with the disasters that invade our lives.
- THE MEANING BEHIND THE CALAMITY.
- Those who think Joel was one of the earlier prophets also think that he is the one who coined the Phrase “The Day of the Lord” that is repeated so many times as the prophets point to the climatic time when this present Age ends and God ushers in a new Age. The devastation caused by the locusts must have brought the phrase to Joel’s mind: “The Day of the Lord.” Joel pointed out that Judah and Israel had not kept the terms of the Covenant they had made with God. God had promised to bless and prosper the nation if it would stay true to Him. But that promise was conditional and the nation had not stayed true to the terms. The Covenant agreement had very clearly warned the nation that if they broke the terms of the covenant there would be severe consequences.
- The question we ask is, “Did the locust come because of God’s Judgment?” “Or did the locust infiltration simply awaken the nation to their own sins?” Someone this past week made this statement about all the flooding, “God must really be angry with us!” How should we respond to that? Here are some of my thoughts: Yes, God does punish people who are disobedient to Him. When He does, though, it is a way that He uses to help people make the decision to get right with Him. But just because we are experiencing disasters it does not necessarily mean that God is punishing us. It may mean that God is allowing us to be tested. That is what happened to Job in the Old Testament. His friends tried to blame Job with being sinful, but the Bible is very clear that Job was a righteous person that Satan was attacking. But there is another possibility for the fact of disaster: We live in a fallen world and bad things just happen. When that occurs, instead of seeking to place blame, we need to just seek God’s mercy and grace. I’m sure there are other possible explanations. And sometimes there just not a good answer to the problems we face. Volumes have been written on the subject of “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.” It was happening to Judah during Joel’s lifetime. Natural Disasters happen to someone somewhere almost every day. That is the world in which we live!
- THE SOLUTION TO THE TRAGEDY
- Joel called for the people to go through a time of mourning and repentance. Joel 1:13-14 says, “Put on sackcloth, you priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God. Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the Lord.”
- Regardless of the reason for the disaster—whether it because of personal or national sin, whether it is a time of oppression and testing by Satan, or whether it is just a random act that is the result of living in a fallen world, THE BEST SOLUTION ALWAYS IN EVERY SITUATION IS TO SEEK GOD!. If there is sin involved—even if it is not the cause for the disaster—the correct solution is to Confess and Repent and seek God’s forgiveness! If the problem is caused by spiritual oppression from satanic forces, call upon the Lord. He is our strength. 1 John 4:4 reminds us that “The One who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world.” Paul in Philippians 4:6 wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.” Peter in 1 Peter 5:7 wrote, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”
- Chuck Swindoll, in his book, Hand Me Another Brick, (Thomas Nelson, 1978, pp. 82-3, andBits & Pieces, November, 1989, p. 12.) wrote this about Thomas Edison: Thomas Edison invented the microphone, the phonograph, the incandescent light, the storage battery, talking movies, and more than 1000 other things. December 1914 he had worked for 10 years on a storage battery. This had greatly strained his finances. This particular evening spontaneous combustion had broken out in the film room. Within minutes all the packing compounds, celluloid for records and film, and other flammable goods were in flames. Fire companies from eight surrounding towns arrived, but the heat was so intense and the water pressure so low that the attempt to douse the flames was futile. Everything was destroyed. Edison was 67. With all his assets going up in a whoosh (although the damage exceeded two million dollars, the buildings were only insured for $238,000 because they were made of concrete and thought to be fireproof), would his spirit be broken? The inventor’s 24-year old son, Charles, searched frantically for his father. He finally found him, calmly watching the fire, his face glowing in the reflection, his white hair blowing in the wind. “My heart ached for him,” said Charles. “He was 67–no longer a young man–and everything was going up in flames. When he saw me, he shouted, ‘Charles, where’s your mother?’ When I told him I didn’t know, he said, ‘Find her. Bring her here. She will never see anything like this as long as she lives.'” The next morning, Edison looked at the ruins and said, “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.” Three weeks after the fire, Edison managed to deliver the first phonograph.”
- Rather than allowing disasters and tragedies to cause us to blame God, we should be running to Him for help. He has His arms wide open as he welcomes you into His care. Here the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30—“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
- THE PROMISE FOR THE FUTURE
- It is in this context of national disaster and a call to seek God that Joel, inspired by God, delivers a promise for the future. It is the scripture we read earlier. Let me read it again from Joel 2: 28-32:
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
30 I will show wonders in the heavens
and on the earth,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
31 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
32 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
there will be deliverance,
as the Lord has said,
even among the survivors
whom the Lord calls.
- Bible Commentaries connect this powerful promise with the words of Moses after God had directed him to call for 70 elders to come before the Tent of Meeting so he could take some of the Spirit that was upon Moses and place it on the 70 so they could help carry the responsibilities that Moses had tried to carry by himself. When 2 of the elders stayed in their tent we are told that the Holy Spirit came upon them as well as those who had gathered together. Joshua complained and asked Moses to stop these 2 who had been disobedient. Moses responded in Numbers 11:29 saying “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” Now Joel is saying that God is promising to do just that: Put His Spirit on all His people!
- This passage from Joel may sound familiar to you. It is the very passage the Peter quoted on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. God’s plan that is revealed in the Old Testament Book of Joel as well as in other places is to Put His Spirit on all of us—Or, as Jesus said in John 14:17, “…for he lives with you and will be in you.”
- The Holy Spirit of God, the same Spirit that hovered over the waters in Creation and that came upon individuals in the Old Testament when God wanted that person to do extra-ordinary things for His glory, that is the same Spirit that has been released in this New Age—the Church Age—in which we are living. He wants to live in each of our hearts, empowering, teaching, guiding, blessing, energizing as we allow Him to be in control!
Yes, we live in a fallen world. Yes, tragedies and disasters occur. Yes, the trials of this life can be very severe at times. But take heart! God has delivered on the promise that he gave through Joel. The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples at Pentecost and He is still moving upon us today.
Paul asked some believers in Ephesus an important question –one that we should answer as well: “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” (Acts 19:2).
Surrender you life completely to Jesus and Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you! Would you like to do that right now?