Profiles of the Bible: Joel
What does a revival look like? When does it happen? Many church leaders and lay people throughout history have longed for revival in their cities and in their churches. There is a greater sense of God’s presence; a greater desire for people to draw closer to Christ and align their lives in accordance with His will. The book of Joel is a call to God’s people for revival. The circumstances however of this revival were not pleasant.
The book of Joel talks about locusts that have come into the country and devastated the land. On occasion we may hear of this strange ecological disaster in a far off land, but a locust invasion is rare today. In the ancient world, nations rose and fell depending on the harvest of the year. If there were a locust invasion the effect would be disastrous. Locusts were known to come and eat everything and leave total devastation. Grain, vegetation and any plant would be gone after they had gone through the land. This meant no grain for bread and no food for animals. Needless to say many have died and suffered starvation because of these pests.
We are not told whether this was an actual physical locust invasion. Some have speculated that language could be a reference to the Babylonian invasion. It could also refer to God’s army coming to invade and inaugurate God’s kingdom here on earth.
The ESV Bible study notes points out four themes in the book of Joel. The first theme is a repeated phrase in the book- “the Day of the LORD”. In many instances this day refers to the last day of reckoning- Judgment Day. But this phrase is not limited to it. It referred to Israel’s punishment- past and present and also to Israel’s deliverance from its enemies.
The second theme is repentance. Revivals are always deeply connected with repentance. Instead of responding to God in bitterness and anger, Joel was calling his people to turn to God. The national disaster that was seen was an opportunity for the people of God to come before God and repent over their sin. This is a repentance that was not just externally, but from the heart. It was a repentance that sought God’s presence in all of life.
The promise of God’s presence was the third theme. The promise of repentance was God’s presence once again. The sin that had separated the people from God had led to disaster. While God still had prerogative to restore or avert disaster, repentance was the means by which the people would be able to once again seek after God. The promise was that God would hear and turn toward his people again.
Lastly, Joel ends his book with the future promise that the Spirit of God would dwell in the hearts of people. This outpouring of the Holy Spirit would be on people regardless of gender, age, or nationality. It would be the ultimate sign of God’s presence among His people.
As Christians we cannot help but see the fulfillment of the promises to Joel in the New Testament. Christ was God in the flesh and truly embodied God’s presence. Human beings rejected Christ, but instead of sinful human beings receiving the punishment, God poured out his wrath onto His Son. Jesus received the wrath that we deserve on “the Day of the Lord”. He received the wrath. We receive the mercy. But not only that, but the New Testament also describes how the presence of God dwells in the hearts of believers. Christ poured out his Spirit on believers at Pentecost and continues to fill people’s heart with an awareness of Christ and His sacrifice. Every day, people are putting their faith in Christ. Scripture reveals, a person only comes to believe through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Lastly, we are still awaiting the full manifestation of “the Day of the LORD”. There will be a day when God will bring judgment. Christ has promised that he will return. For believers however, this is a day of hope. God will fully save his people and make an end to all evil. In the meantime, we are continually called to repent and seek after the LORD.