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Online Text Sermon - Survey of Joel, Joel ch.1 v.1-ch.3 v.21

Date31/05/2001
Time19:30
PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleSurvey of Joel
TextJoel ch.1 v.1-ch.3 v.21
Sermon ID583

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It is only fair to say for the benefit of those who may be here for the first time that we have been looking at these Old Testament prophets. Taking one for each Thursday evening with a view to trying to understand exactly what the message of these prophets is. We are not trying to be exhaustive or to go verse by verse through these great books, though they would be well deserving of that, but really to have a study each evening, of one of these prophets so that we might hopefully be able to read them in our own devotions with greater understanding.

We come then to this prophecy of Joel. Joel is one of the Minor Prophets. We have seen that at the end of the Old Testament there are twelve small books and all of them are prophecies and the Jews used to refer to them as the twelve. We have seen also that they are called Minor Prophets because they are short in length and all of them put together scarcely make up the length of a book like Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel. However, they are not 'minor' in the sense of being unimportant or less important; they all have an inspired message which we cannot afford not to know. It was Robert Murray McCheyne who well said that we need to know every part of the Bible and our soul will suffer if there is any part of the Bible which we do not know. I suppose that these minor prophets are not so well known as many other parts of scripture, hence our study in them.

No one knows the date when Joel prophesied, it is probable that he spoke to the southern kingdom of Judea not to the northern kingdom of Israel and it's likely that his prophecy occurred at some time similar to the prophecies of Hosea who comes before him, and Amos who comes after him. I'll give you one verse to glance at to indicate that this is probably correct. "Yea, and what have ye to do with me, O Tyre, and Zidon, and all the coasts of Palestine? (Joel 3, 4). The point of noticing that verse is that you will see these are the enemies of the people of God. You will notice that these enemies are not the great nations of Assyria or Babylon but they are those minor enemies of the earlier period of the Jewish life: the Philistines living on the sea coast and these states round about Israel. The probability is that this prophet prophesied at a similar time to Hosea and to Amos - that is the 8th century before Christ. Now, the theme. The theme and the subject which this prophet deals with, the theme which runs through Joel's prophecy, is that of judgment - the judgment of God. He handles this theme in several different ways. Let me indicate how he does this.

In chapter 1 (which I am going to come back to shortly, but I am giving you now a bird's eye view of the whole book), we have a prophecy of the coming of a plague of locusts upon the kingdom of Judea. This was a judgment upon the people of God. In chapter 2, verses 1 - 28, we have a second judgment coming upon the people of God - an army. Their name is not given, we are not told which army it was but it was a form of judgment to come upon the people of God at that time. Then at the end of chapter 2, verses 29 - 32, we have judgment in a form which is rather different: judgment in the sense of the Lord judging His people with blessing. It is a strange thing that the word 'judgment' in the Bible can bear two quite distinct senses. Sometimes when God judges it means He punishes and He brings calamities upon a nation, and there are many times in the Bible where that is the meaning. But there is another word, another use of this word judgment, which we find in the Bible: God judging in a sense of pleading their cause, and so delivering them and also saving them. It is in that sense that we have the word judgment used in chapter 2 at the end, this section verse 29 - 32. At the same time as he refers to that he gives a prophecy of the New Testament age, as we shall see. And then, fourthly and finally, in the last chapter of this prophecy of Joel, we have a judgment upon all the wicked and the salvation of all the righteous. So he gathers up the theme of judgment in one great vision of the end of time, in which he sees all the wicked finally defeated, Satan and all the powers of darkness and all the human agencies and forces that have conspired and collaborated together against the people of God. In the last chapter they are all overthrown. At the same time, in the last chapter, we see the vision of the salvation of all believers, the eternal redemption and bringing the glory of those who truly do believe in God and in the Gospel of God, the final salvation of the Church.

I can use an illustration if it helps in order to gather these four different pictures together. I have said that the theme is judgment, but you see he works the theme in different ways, it is rather like an embroidery which a woman makes. She has a motif or theme for the embroidery but she works it in different colours and in different styles but it is easy to see that the pattern is the same all the way through and that is what this prophecy is all about, judgment. It is judgment worked out in connection with God's people, and then the enemies of God's people, and then ultimately the salvation of God's people.

Let's look briefly at these three chapters and four sections. The first one, as I say, is a description of locusts coming to destroy the nation. Locusts were a plague in ancient times and still are, of course, in some parts of the world. Something similar to a grasshopper, they come in millions upon thousands of millions and then move like a dark cloud flying through the air and they settle on vegetation and when they have stripped it, there is nothing left: neither leaf, nor fruit, nor flower, nor bark upon the tree; they strip everything naked and bare. "Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers? Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation. That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten. Awake, ye drunkards, and weep; and howl, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the new wine; for it is cut off from your mouth. For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek teeth of a great lion. He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white" (Joel 1, 2-7). And so on....

I read these words to show you the fact is that God is predicting an invasion of locusts to come upon the land as a judgment upon Judea for their sin. The question has been asked by Bible students over the years: Were they real locusts or were these locusts a sort of symbol of an invading army? The answer I think we must give is they were intended to be real locusts. I give you two reasons why. First of all because, as I mentioned earlier, it was a common experience in ancient countries like Palestine for locusts periodically to invade the land. You may remember what happened in the ten plagues in Egypt when Pharaoh would not let the people go. One of the terrible plagues upon the country was a plague of locusts.

Another reason why I believe we must regard these as real locusts is because, well amongst many others, a famous biologist from America witnessed a locust invasion in Palestine and he compared it to what is to be found here in this chapter one, and these were his words of comment. This biologist, this expert, he said this, "Joel's description is unsurpassed for accuracy, it is exactly what an invasion of locusts looks like." Therefore we take it that it is intended to be a literal invasion of literal locusts. What is the teaching that comes to us from this? What are the lessons for us? Well the great lesson is that not only will there be the final judgment at the end of the world but in course of time God sends temporal judgments upon men and nations. We are to believe that the calamities and the catastrophes, the plagues and the illnesses that come like an epidemic upon nations from time to time, do not come without a moral and spiritual purpose and reason. They come from the hand of God! We are to believe in such a thing as the temporal judgment of God. They come upon nations for their sins and they come upon populations and sometimes even upon churches, for their sins. We are to mention this and make this clear to ourselves because there are people who do not believe this teaching. There are professing Christians who do not believe this teaching. They may believe in the final judgment but they do not believe in temporal judgment. But this and many other passages of scripture show that God is judging the world now and when people sin against Him and nations sin against Him and churches sin against Him then we are not to be surprised when temporal judgments come upon these people and these communities and these churches, even now in this life. That's one lesson we are to learn and the still more important lesson we are to learn is to be found in verses 13 and 14: "Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests: howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meat offering and the drink offering is withholden from the house of your God. Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord" (Joel 1, 13-14). The message here is that when God's temporal judgments come upon us or upon our communities or upon our churches and nations, it is a call from God for the Lord's people to weep and to pray and to fast and to call upon God. This is, you might say, one of the most fundamental lessons of this book and prophesy of Joel. That is the proper reaction of spiritually minded and godly people when they are aware of the judgments coming down upon any community. They are to take themselves to prayer and even to fasting with prayer.

We come now to the second section which is to be found in Joel 2, 1-28. It's quite a long section and refers to the invasion of an army. There are some people who take it that this is not a literal army, some people interpret it to mean that this is a picture of the locusts so that in chapter 2 they say we have the locusts again described in Joel 1. Let's read a few verses: "The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses; and as horsemen, so shall they run. Like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains shall they leap, like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble, as a strong people set in battle array. Before their face the people shall be much pained: all faces shall gather blackness. They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; and they shall march every one on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks" (Joel 2, 4-7). And so on.... So, some people take it that here we have a description of the locusts, a second time. We might say a fuller picture of the locust invasion, however, my own personal feeling, following such writers as the great John Calvin, is that he is talking now, not about locusts, but about an army which is to come and invade and attack the land. It's not so important really which view you take. Whichever view you take, what is more important is to note what we are to do when such things happen. Here I point you to these verses: "Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the Lord your God? (Joel 2, 12-14).

Whichever view you take about that army earlier in the chapter, the important thing to notice is how the word of God teaches us to react to all terrors, all judgements. It is, as he puts it here in these verses: "To turn to the Lord with all our hearts." That is a tremendously important lesson; it is a lesson for life. When calamities and trials and sorrows come upon us, we are to turn to the Lord with all our hearts. You know what is meant by the words 'with all your heart'. There are some times we pray, you and I, sadly sometimes we pray and we are not fully concentrating. It is a terrible thing that sometimes we pray and a little part of our mind is doing something else. That is terrible, but we do it, sadly. However, says God, we must concentrate with all our heart. Indeed, this is one of the great secrets in secret prayer as well as public prayer: to endeavour when we pray to pray with all our heart, to pour ourselves into our prayers, to concentrate everything we have and to cry out to God. It is something to be done in sequence. I would suggest that is one of the best ways to grow in prayer, which is what we all need, isn't it? Go into a room when there is no one there, no one can hear you, shut the door, make sure you are on your own and cry mightily to God! There are times when that will not be possible but every now and again it is an excellent exercise to stretch the soul in prayer, to cry mightily to God. It is a time when says the prophet, you are to 'rend your heart and not your garment'. That needs a note of explanation.

In Jewish culture when bad news came to a person's ears or when some calamity was reported, it was the custom for people to take hold of their clothes, their outer-garments anyway, and to tear them so that the sound of the material rending could be heard. That is expressive of their grief. If you hear of a bereavement or of the approach of war or some sudden death or something, they would take hold of their outer-garment and tear it so that the sound of the material rending could be heard. It was expressive as I say of the inward grief and agony of their heart, a very powerful expression of it. "But now", says God, "Don't so much tear your garment but tear your heart to repentance, to break off the sins of life which have become the cause of your trouble", and he says, "God is gracious, who knows whether he will turn and return and leave a blessing behind him." Of course that is a lesson for everyday. In our troubles, who knows what God may do when once we truly turn back to Him.

All of these things are full of relevance to the day and age in which we live because the answer to the problems of our day and age are not to be found in the appointment of a Conservative Party, or Labour Party, or the Scottish this and that and the other. That is not going to solve anything. It is returning to God in our hearts, that is the solution to our national woe and calamity. The problem of crime and the problems in the classroom, the indiscipline, the collapse of authority at every level, the contempt for God at every level - there is a solution. There is the answer, whether we are Nationalists or Independent or Conservative or Labour or anything else, take your pick, it is entirely up to you. The Gospel doesn't command us to be party politically bound, let no one think that they can hoist upon you their own party political views. There are some Christians who try to do that, that if you are in our church you must be Socialist or you must be Conservative - nonsense! Take your pick but realise that none of these things have the answer, it is returning to God which is the answer. If the answer were everything - the answer for every personal problem and every church problem - we must return to God with all our hearts, says he, and with all our soul. Who knows because He is gracious but that He will return and send a great blessing upon you. That is why Prayer Meetings like this little Prayer Meeting here, are not in vain; the Lord is gracious, He hears prayer. There is no saying what God may send in answer to your prayers, not only the spoken prayers of men that stand and use a microphone or something, but the unspoken prayers of every one of us. He is gracious and ready to hear prayer and is merciful to those who seek Him with all their hearts. That is also true on a private level, whenever you have some personal or some private problem, here is the solution; that is what Joel is teaching us. When God sends any trouble upon us, here is the formula, as it were. This is the thing to do, to seek him with special prayer. We are to believe in special times of prayer, that is what he is telling us to do.

I move on quickly to the third section, which is in chapter 2 and verses 28-32. This is a wonderful section: "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call" (Joel 2, 28-32). This is a prophecy of a different kind of judgment. It is the prophecy of the day of Pentecost when God, as you remember, poured out the Holy Spirit upon the apostles of Christ and upon the waiting Jewish Church who numbered no more than one hundred and twenty souls at that time, men and women; when the Spirit came down three thousand were converted. You recall how Peter refers in his sermon to these words; he quotes these words and by inspiration tells us that these words were literally and precisely fulfilled when the day of Pentecost had come. Some of these words are not easy, let me just tell you what he was referring to. In verse 28 the 'pouring out of the Spirit' is the coming of the Holy Spirit in his fullness. The Spirit of God was not given to the Church in the Old Testament in the same measure of fullness. They had the Spirit of course but not in the same degree. The reason for that was the fullness of the Spirit given to the Church only took place after Christ had finished His work on the cross and was risen in glory and ascended. It was the reward for Christ's finished work that resulted in the outpouring of the Spirit. We must believe in the Holy Spirit and we must believe that anytime again God could pour out his Spirit upon the Church and even a tiny group could become a great influence in this world. It has happened many, many times. Let us never fail to pray for the coming of the Spirit again and again, upon our nation, upon our churches, upon our governments, upon us all. He is the answer to everything.

I just touch on two or three things in that section in the time we have. You notice that the Church now is universal. He says here that he will 'pour out his Spirit upon all flesh', and that is very significant. The Church of the Old Testament was Jews only. The Church of the New Testament consists of Jews and all the nations. All the nations now are called into the fellowship of Christ whereas in the Old Testament, it was not so in that full sense. Then you come across - "I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness...." (Joel 2, 30-31). What was that about? Well, that must refer, surely to the portents and the signs which God will perform before the second coming of Christ. Our Lord takes up these words in His great sermon on the end of the world in Matthew 24. He talks about the fact that the sun will be dark and the moon turned to blood before He returns to judge the world. So, this is a portent, these are the signs we are to look for but when these things happen it is the immediate warning from God that the Second Coming of Christ is drawing very near and we must prepare ourselves with a special care. Therefore these warning signs are on record for the people of God of all ages and when they happen, the people of God will know that they must in an especial manner prepare for the coming of the Lord. He will draw nigh then and you and I of course must be day and daily waiting and watching lest we should be found without the grace of God in our hearts.

That leaves me just time to touch on Joel 3, which is the fourth and final section of this prophecy. It is again on the theme of judgment. This is the final judgment. I can't of course read in any detail what is said here but the gist of it is this; that in the course of history there will be many enemies to the Church but at the end of history Christ will destroy them all. "The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. The LORD also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the LORD will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel" (3, 15-16). So it is going to be a time of judgment in which the Lord himself shall appear in glory to overflow Satan and all the powers of darkness and all human instruments that seek to destroy His people.

Three verses before I close: "And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim" (Joel 3, 18). Now what is that? It seems to me very clear: it is a picture of the spiritual blessings which will be upon the people of God in a state of grace. There is a fountain and there are continual refreshings It is the Holy Ghost being poured upon the souls of God's people in this life, a state of grace.

Then the last two verses: "But Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the Lord dwelleth in Zion" (Joel 3, 20-21). What's that? It is the bringing of the people of God from a state of grace to a state of glory. Listen to this, "I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed" in this life. We still have indwelling sin; there is something still to be cleansed. When our blessed Lord returns He will then finish the work in righteousness and cut it short and will bring His children to Zion, for the Lord dwells in Zion. In a word, what we have here is Heaven for the righteous and Hell for the wicked. It is the same as we have at the end of Isaiah. The same as what we have in the end of the book of Revelation: Heaven for the righteous and Hell for the wicked.

Oh beloved friends, this is the prophecy of Joel, let us make sure that we are going to the place of glory, immortality and eternal life.


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