During the time when the nation of Israel was divided into the northern kingdom (called Israel) and the southern kingdom (called Judah), God raised up a prophet in the south named Joel. It was a time when God was blessing Judah with prosperity, but His people returned that kindness with ingratitude, idolatry, and indifference toward Him. Joel burst onto the scene with a warning that God was going to judge their sin.
Joel’s warning was that God was sending a natural disaster to punish Judah — swarms of locusts. Bugs. Hungry, flying, unstoppable bugs. That doesn’t sound so frightening to us because we have powerful insecticides at our disposal. But in the agrarian society in which Joel lived, the only option was to stand by and watch as the locusts ate everything in sight, destroying crops, vineyards, and orchards (see 1:4). In a matter of minutes a farmer’s very livelihood could disappear. Joel called the impending judgment “the day of the Lord”, and he sounded the alarm to the nation (2:1).
Joel described the locust swarms as a marching army of destroyers that would leave a path of devastation (v.3-10). He was clear about the fact that this “army” was not just something God would allow; it was something God would personally cause and command (v.11). God was teaching His people that a lifestyle of sin will inevitably bring down His judgment. If we are bound to sin, we are bound to suffer. Just as the people of Judah faced the consequences of their sin, we will face tragic judgment if we live in sin and turn from the Lord.
One thing I have learned in Scripture is that whenever God pronounces judgment, He also provides a way to escape it. He is gracious, merciful, and loving that way (v.13). Through Joel, God called His people to repent of their sin and return to Him (v.12). He called for a “solemn assembly”, a gathering of the people, young and old, to acknowledge their sin and their regret (v.15-16). God wasn’t looking for a performance. He wasn’t interested in the people acting like they were sorry. He expected broken hearts and deep-down sorrow (v.13). He wanted to see the tears of the ministers and to hear their heart-felt cries for mercy (v.17). If Judah responded to this call for repentance, the Lord would have pity on them (v.18). He promised to restore the lost years and to replenish their supplies — but only if they would humble themselves and come together to return to Him (v.23-27).
The last section of this chapter is truly prophetic, a message of far-reaching importance. With the pronouncement of Judah’s judgment and the promise of restoration as a backdrop, Joel predicted a future judgment on a global scale and a future blessing with an eternal impact. We do not know when the “great and awesome day of the Lord” will take place, but we know it will be the end of life as we know it. The cataclysmic events of verses 30-31 will announce the Second Coming of Christ, at which time all opportunities for repentance will expire. But between now and then, salvation is available to anyone who will call on the Lord in faith and repentance (v.32; see also Romans 10:13). Like Joel, we need to “blow the trumpet”, get people’s attention, and announce that salvation is available in Christ.
While the “day of The Lord” is still in the future, the great pouring-out of the Holy Spirit described in verses 28-29 has already taken place — and we know exactly when! On the Day of Pentecost in 30 A.D., the Holy Spirit filled the disciples of Jesus and the church was born (see Acts 2:16-21). We are still living in “those days” when God is pouring out His Spirit, the window of time in which He is saving those who place their faith in Christ (v.29). We do not know how long that window will be open, but we know that it is open now. So now, while there is time, let us tell the good news that Jesus saves! Are you with me?