We are looking at the prophecy of Joel as God gives a message to his people to show them that he is all that they need. Joel stands as a timeless message as God teaches us what we should do when calamity and disaster strikes. In the first chapter of Joel, we read about the day of the Lord that has past. There has been an unprecedented locust attack that has completely wiped out the people’s prosperity. We learned that God shut down their worship, cutting off their sacrifices, so that they would go to the house of the Lord for worship. God wanted to get their eyes upward and move them to call out to him because he is sovereign over the earth. But God also wanted to get their eyes to look forward. The locust attack was a warning of another day of the Lord that was coming very soon. In Joel 1:15 the Lord proclaimed that another day of the Lord was near. As we come to chapter 2 we are going to see the day of the Lord described. Then God will tell the people what they should do.
A Day of Darkness (2:1-11)
Chapter 2 begins by describing this coming day of the Lord. It is not far away but is near (2:1). A large army is coming against Judah. In the first chapter we read the locust attack sounding like a coming army. Now in chapter this coming army is described in terms of a locust attack. It is a day of darkness, gloom, and clouds. Fire devours before them and flame blazes behind them. They wipe out nations like locusts wipe out crops. Before them the land looks lush like the garden of Eden. But when this nation is done, the land looks like a desert wasteland (2:3). Their horses and armies come with rumbling chariots leaping on the mountaintops. The warriors charge and scale the walls. The army comes and nothing will cause them to swerve from their path. They leap on the city, run on the wall, and climb into the houses. You will notice that this whole description sounds like actual locusts leaping on the mountains, running on walls, and climbing in houses. But just as the locusts devastated them in the past, the coming terrifying army will devastate them and there will be nothing left.
Now I want you to notice the language of verse 10. The prophecy states that the heavens are trembling and the earth is quaking. The sun and the moon are darkened and the stars will stop shining. Did God suddenly change gears and talk about the end of the world? No. This is not the context at all. Rather, God uses this kind of graphic language to show that when this army comes that it is the end of the nation. The doom of the nation is proclaimed. Judah is going to be destroyed by this coming army. When a nation is described as coming to its complete end, God describes it as the earth shaking, the sky fall, the sun being darkened, the moon not giving light, and stars falling or no longer shining.
One more very important point we need to see in this section is in verse 11. Notice that the Lord describes himself as the one leading the army against his people. Though the locusts are depicting a world power using its army to come against Judah, the Lord says that he is the one leading the charge. This is the Lord’s doing. He is bringing this army and no one can stop him. “For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it?” (2:11). When God sets his face against you, you have no chance. Therefore, the nation is doomed. The people will be judged for their sins. So the people have experienced disaster and more calamity is coming. You would expect that this would be the end of the story. But I want you to notice that God still has a message for his people.
What To Do (2:12-17)
Please notice the first words of verse 12. “Yet even now….” Please see this about our God. Yet even now it is not hopeless. Even now there is still an opportunity. Even now things can still change. Even now things are not set in stone. Even when things seem set in stone, even now God will listen. Friends, even though disaster had already wrecked Judah and even though God had decreed a coming day of the Lord that was near with an army coming to destroy, God still says “yet even now.” It is never too late with God. God never says, “Too bad. It’s too late.” There is always hope in God. It does not matter how bad it is, there is still God telling you today, “Yet even now.” It does not matter how evil our nation gets, there is still God telling us, “Yet even now.” So how do we access this hope?
First, God says to turn to him with all your heart (2:12). God begins by saying that if we will meaningfully turn to him, then there is hope. God’s first words are just to turn to him. Please turn to him. The repeated problem that God delivers to his people is that they would refuse to turn to him. God would do good in their lives and they would not turn to him. So God would bring calamity to their lives and they still would not turn to him. God is working in your life to turn you to him. Turning to God means hearing what he is saying and to do it. Hosea said that the people needed to return because their sins have caused them to stumble.
Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. (Hosea 14:1 ESV)
Listen to what God said through the prophet Amos about the need to pay attention and turn back to God.
“I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD. “I also withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away. I sent rain on one town, but withheld it from another. One field had rain; another had none and dried up. People staggered from town to town for water but did not get enough to drink, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD. “Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards, destroying them with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD. “I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD. “I overthrew some of you as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD. (Amos 4:6-11 NIV)
It did not matter what God did and did not matter what happened in their lives, the people stubbornly refused to turn back to the Lord. God is teaching us that there is hope if we will turn. If we will turn from our sins and turn our lives back to God, there is hope.
Second, tear your hearts and not just your clothes (2:13). God first tells us that we need to change the direction of our lives if we want to receive the hope of God. Then God tells us that we need to be broken by our sins. God does not want just an outward display of sorrow, the tearing of the clothes. God wants us to be cut to the heart. God wants us to be upset by our sins. Friends, please hear this. What God wants is for us to upset that our relationship with God is broken. It is not that we are upset because we have failed. We are upset because our relationship with God is severed because we have turned away from him. But we are not supposed to let our deep sorrow take us from God’s presence but move us closer to God. The crushing weight of our sins is not supposed to cause us to give up. Why? Why should we not give up when we are broken by our sins? Why should we not be crushed by our guilt because we have failed so catastrophically? God gives two reasons why we can still draw close to God in spite of our sins.
The first reason to not give up is because of God’s character. Look at this in verse 13. God is gracious and merciful. God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. God relents from sending disaster. You do not have to give up because of who God is. God is gracious and merciful. This is why we should tear our hearts over our sins. God will receive us because he is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The second reason to not give up is because of God’s ability to reverse our condition. We see this in verse 14. God can do the opposite of what he just decreed. If we will turn to God and tear our hearts, Joel says that God himself may turn and leave a blessing. Friends, it is possible even in the most hopeless situation for God to turn and leave a blessing. Even in the day of darkness and deep gloom God can turn and leave you a blessing. Why should we turn to God? Why should we tear our hearts? Why should we seek the Lord? The reason is because it is not too late for God to completely change your life. It is not too late for God to change your circumstances. It is not too late for God to turn the darkness to light in your life. Who knows whether God will relent and leave a blessing. God is gracious and merciful. Who knows what God will do!
Finally, God wants us to reach toward him in worship (2:15-17). Yet again God calls for the people to assemble and worship the Lord in the face of the proclaimed disaster. Notice in verse 16 that the call is to gather all the people. Gather the aged. Gather the infants. Gather the children. Let everyone stop what they are doing, even if they are getting married (2:16). Gather the priests and bring in the Lord’s servants. Get them all together. What should they do? Look at the end of verse 17. Let them all gather and call out to God saying, “Spare your people, O Lord.” Don’t let the nations say, “Where is your God?” Rescue us and show them who our God truly is. We are so tempted to neglect worship in the day of our calamity. We are too eager to quit on God when life goes bad. When unprecedented things happen in the world, we want to close the doors to worship rather than opening the doors and calling out to the Lord to help us. God says get everyone together and cry out to me. Do not stay home and pray. Rather, get together and pray. Assemble, every one of you, and call out to the Lord your God. This is the second time in this book that God has said that they need to assemble together and worship as an answer for what to do in the day of calamity.
Friends, “yet even now,” if you will turn to the Lord, tear your hearts, and gather yourselves together in worship to him, he can turn and leave a blessing. God can turn and leave a blessing in your life because he is gracious and merciful. He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He relents from bringing disaster. He wants to bless his people, even in the day of darkness and gloom. Return to him before it is too late. God is all you need in your time of difficult. God is more than enough because he rules over all that is going on in this world and rules over all that is going on in your life. Yet even now everything can change if you will look to the Lord your God.