Whom will the Lord Save? (A Study of the Prophet Joel)

History is a great teacher. 18th Century Irish statesman, Edmund Burke, said,

“Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.” 

History is instructive. King Solomon reminds us of this truth in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes,

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. (Ecc. 1:9-10)

There is nothing new under the sun so looking back into history can help us understand our present reality.  The problem with learning from history is not history itself, but the pride that befalls in the present.  Our challenge is that we have to be willing to listen to the voices of the past.  And those unwilling to listen are those filled with pride and arrogance. Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  We must humble ourselves to listen to the voices of the past for if we don’t, we will fall. 

            Yet there is another important aspect of learning from history, there must be those with wisdom who help us understand the past and apply it to the present.  I am a firm believer that if the younger generation was willing to listen and the older generation was willing to share, there would be much more wisdom displayed in our present age.  The older need the younger and the younger need the older.  In 2008, America went into a mini-depression.  It may not have felt like something small to those who lost their jobs and homes, but compared to the Great Depression of 1929 our last recession was indeed small.  Modern-day Americans have no idea the sacrifices made by parents for their children.  I was sitting with one of our members recently and she told me how her mother would often go to bed without eating supper because she would give her portion to her children.  By 1933 almost 20% of the population was unemployed and half of the country’s banks closed. Food was in short supply and people often went to bed hungry.  The 3-4 years during the height of the Great Depression were some of the most difficult years that our country has ever faced.  It was a national problem leaving no one unscathed.

            The book of Joel starts with Israel facing its own “Great Depression.”  The exact date of the book of Joel is hard to date because it is without any biographical information. All we have is the first verse, “The word of the Lord that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel.”  We do not know when this great distress happened, but we know that God spoke through His prophets in the midst of it.  The Lord used the events of Joel’s day as a foreshadowing of a greater day that was to come.

The Shadow of the Future

            The prophecy starts with a plea to share the events of the day with the future generation so that they would be instructed about a future day. Verses 2-3,

Hear this, you elders; give ear, all inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers? Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children to another generation.

Things were so bad that no one could remember a worse time.  The Lord felt that it was important for the older generation to pass this on to the younger generation.  What was so bad?  A swarm of locusts came in to destroy the land.  Listen how bad things had gotten in the land.  Verse 4-12,

What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten. Awake, you drunkards, and weep, and wail, all you drinkers of wine, because of the sweet wine, for it is cut off from your mouth. For a nation has come up against my land, powerful and beyond number; its teeth are lions' teeth, and it has the fangs of a lioness. It has laid waste my vine and splintered my fig tree; it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down; their branches are made white. Lament like a virgin wearing sackcloth for the bridegroom of her youth. The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of the LORD. The priests mourn, the ministers of the LORD. The fields are destroyed, the ground mourns, because the grain is destroyed, the wine dries up, the oil languishes. Be ashamed, O tillers of the soil; wail, O vinedressers, for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field has perished. The vine dries up; the fig tree languishes. Pomegranate, palm, and apple, all the trees of the field are dried up, and gladness dries up from the children of man.

This was a national tragedy where every man, woman and child were affected.  If you did not live through the Great Depression, it is hard to understand this level of tragedy. There have been national things that have happened in our country where everyone stopped and took notice like Pearl Harbor or September 11th, but nothing as long and as devastating as the Great Depression.

We have it so good now that we have lost the knowledge of how hard things were in the past. It is imperative that we never forget how hard things were in the past.  We need to place ourselves in the shoes of those who came before us. And not only them, but we also must place ourselves in the shoes of our brothers and sisters who are currently suffering in the Middle East.  Empathy paves the way to understanding.  The Lord speaks to Joel and reminds them that this horrible day that they are experiencing is nothing compared to the future day when the Lord will execute His justice on the earth.  The Day of the Lord is the theme that weaves together the entire book of Joel.  The Day of the Lord will be far worse than the destruction of the locusts. As the locusts have come to destroy the land so will the army of the Lord come and destroy all that is in their path.  The army will be so vast that it will look like a swarm of locusts. 

The current tragedy serves as a reminder of a greater tragedy for everyone who does not call upon the name of the Lord.  As the Day of the Lord approaches, people must repent.  Joel 1:13-15,

Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests; wail, O ministers of the altar. Go in, pass the night in sackcloth, O ministers of my God! Because grain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God. Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD. Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.

All of history is moving toward that Day when the Lord will come and destroy the earth.  The day of the Lord is near and destruction from the Almighty is coming.  Joel 2:11,

The Lord utters his voice before his army, for his camp is exceedingly great; he who executes his word is powerful.  For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it?

There is the eternal question placed in the mouth of Joel by the Lord.  “Who can endure the great and very awesome Day of the Lord?” “Who will be saved?”

            The goal of the West is comfort.  We want to make things efficient and quick.  We have air conditioning and the world placed at our disposable on the smart phones in our pocket.  We are so privileged and our great privilege blinds us from the future reality of suffering.  It is hard for us to believe in suffering, because we have never truly experienced it. Do you ever think about Hell?  Judgment? Wrath?  Agony?  As much as we want, we cannot erase Hell. Tragedy in this world reminds us of the Terrible Day of the Lord that is coming, but there is hope. 

The Savior of the Future

            I love the grace of the Lord.  He lays out the dreadful day that is approaching and he asks, “who can endure it?” and then he answers the question.  Verse 2:12-17,

Return to the Lord “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep and say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’

The Lord promises forgiveness and mercy for those who turn to Him in repentance.  Even after all our sinful neglect and willful disobedience God calls out to us, “Return to the Lord your God.”  Why should we return? We return on the basis of HIS character.  “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” Our trust is never in ourselves, but always in the character of our God.

            Joel shows how the Lord granted His promise to bless His people in 2:17-27.  The reason why the Lord turns to bless the people is found in verse 27,

You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame.

The greatest blessing of the Lord is the Lord Himself.  He blesses His people so that they will know that HE is in their midst.  Hear the personal language used, “I am the Lord your God” and “my people.” The Lord is taking personal responsibility for His people.  And we know He ultimately shows this by becoming one of His people, being clothed in humility as a man.  God shows us that He is always in our midst by coming to be in our midst.  We never have to doubt this promise again, because it is realized in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Our God can be known personally through His Son and through the Spirit He places in our hearts.  Romans 5:5 states that we have hope that, “does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  The Holy Spirit confirms God’s presence in our lives and this is promised in the book of Joel 2:28-29,

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.

This was quoted during Peter’s sermon after Pentecost confirming this prophecy that God will dwell with His people.  The Lord promised us His presence and it was confirmed with the giving of the Holy Spirit.  And because Jesus Christ came, lived, died, and rose again; the Spirit is promised to us.  We can receive His presence, when we call on Him to help us.  Joel 2:32,

And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.

Who can endure the great and awesome Day of the Lord? The one who calls on His name. Notice that the promise of salvation is not just to the nation of Israel, but to everyone who calls on the name of the Lord.  And those who will be saved on the last day and those who shall escape will be those whom the Lord calls. God calls us and we in turn call upon His name. 

The Sovereign of the Future

            The only hope for anyone to stand before the Lord will be to have Jesus Christ standing in front of them as their mediator.  There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus who gave himself as a ransom which is the testimony given at the proper time.  The Lord will call all the nations on that Day. Joel 3:9-12 begins as a call to battle, but ends very clearly as the battle being already over. Joel 3:9-12,

Proclaim this among the nations: Consecrate for war; stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, “I am a warrior.” Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down your warriors, O LORD. Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations.

There is only one who is in control of the final outcome.  The Father told the Son to sit at His right hand until He puts all His enemies under His feet.  Jesus is victorious and one day His victory will be consummated.  And on that Day, who will the Lord save, only those who call upon the name of the Lord. Roman s 10:9-13,

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13 ESV)

The Day is coming…will you be saved? Have you called upon the name of the Lord?  Hear the promise, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Amen.

[1] Title taken from the Mark Dever’s Promises Made: The Message of the Old Testament Eternal Questions Series.
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