Righteous Judge–Merciful Savior: Meditations on Joel

I see in the writings of this little known prophet a message that should fill the pulpits of 21st century America. Our world and congregates are often demanding and calling for positive, uplifting, and ear-tickling sermons that present Jesus as solely an excellent moral example and as a lovie-dovey guy with a perfectly groomed beard and shiny white cloak who never judges or condemns. However, this message is far from the biblical witness. Jesus is full of love. Jesus is also full of wrath. He came with a message of impending judgment and wrath and a message of repentance.

 “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance…I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:8, 11-12).

This warning from the mouth of John the Baptist speaking of Jesus the Righteous Judge and merciful Savior echoes the message of Joel.

Joel has a message that is universal in scope and worthy of being told from generation to generation (1:3). The description of the “cutting”, “swarming”, “hopping”, and “destroying” locust in Joel 1:4 parallels the dramatic and climactic catastrophe of the Day of the LORD, “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness” (2:2). This Day of the Lord is the day when righteous King Jesus will judge the nations, separating the wheat from the chaff and the sheep from the goats. The tremendous destruction of the crops via the swarm of locusts is a foreshadowing of an even greater calamity that is to come. This terrible destruction of land and crop is minuscule in comparison to the day of the Lord, but it does well for a word picture. We need to employ such destructive language as this in our description and foreshadowing of the impending judgment of God on the hearts of men. This should be done with the purpose of beckoning sinners to repent and spurring saints unto further holiness. This judgment from God is completely righteous which leaves no room for hope for sinful man.

This isn’t the end of the story in Joel, though. There is hope for the land, the crop, and the people of Israel for the LORD “became jealous for his land and had pity on his people” (2:18). Joel gives the hope of restoration from the LORD as he will provide the needs of his people and satisfy them with grain, wine, and oil (2:19, 26). The land itself will also be restored (2:21-22). There is hope, redemption, and restoration in this message from the Lord: “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten” (2:25).

Similarly, while the Day of the Lord, which is full of impending judgment and destruction and darkness, is coming, there is hope. A hope rooted in repentance and culminated in the pouring out of the Spirit. In fact, it is the empowering and pouring out of the Spirit that brings about this repentance as it is the life-giving Spirit that makes dead hearts become alive (2 Cor. 3:6; Eph. 2:5; Col. 2:12-13). God desires sinful man to “return…with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning” (2:12). Even though the day of the Lord is great, very awesome, and unbearable (2:11), God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (2:13). The character of God is the basis of our repentance. We repent with confidence in and by means of the grace and mercy of God. While God is a righteous Judge, condemning and destroying as locusts all that oppose him, he is also a merciful Savior redeeming and restoring all who repent. This call to repentance is culminated in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (2:28), a promise that is fulfilled on Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21). Indeed, the Spirit of God himself was poured out on all flesh enabling men and women to “bear fruit with repentance”.

The God of Joel is a righteous Judge sending temporal judgment in the form of locusts and eternal judgment in the form of eternal separation from his presence in darkness and death. However, praise be to God that he is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love saving all who call on his name with a repenting heart (2:32)!


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