Photo credit to http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/madagascar-locust-crisis-in-pictures-9456788.html
“…so that joy has withered and fled away from the sons of men.” Joel 1:12
Here’s a little background. Joel was the son of Pethuel. That’s it as far as Joel’s background goes. Other than knowing about the time period he lived, that’s all we know about him. Oh, and that his name meant “Jehovah is his God” and that his father’s name meant “enlarged of God” or “the sincerity of God, “ or “godly simplicity.” So maybe who one is isn’t as important as who God calls you to be? Maybe our identity ought to be wrapped up in who You have created us to be and not who the world wants us to be or maybe even who we want to be. And maybe that means that anyone has just as good a chance at being used of You, Lord, as the next guy, whether we are big or little, important or insignificant in the eyes of others.
Well, actually there is more background to what was going on in Joel here. Here’s an unprecedented event that Joel is warning is about to occur. Here is coming this invasion so big that no one has seen one like it ever before. It will be something that should be remembered among the generations. And who is the invading army? Locusts. Really? Locusts? Yep, and not just one type. Four kinds of invading locusts. There’s the multitudinous one. The palmerworm is a gnawer or biter. The canker-worm is the licker, or one who licks off. Then there’s the caterpillar who is the devourer and cuts off. As if one wasn’t enough, what the first doesn’t finish off, each successive locust will destroy. But why?
Because the people of Israel had lost their focus. Why does that keep coming up over and over again? Maybe because it is really easy to lose our focus on God. Maybe good times are easy times to forget Who brought us there. And maybe hard times are easy times to fight against our being there. Either way, we lose our focus. I suppose in the good times it’s a lot easier to just stop feeling like we have to be careful or alert or pay attention, but that’s the danger.
Danger hit those who were enjoying the juice of the grape too much. They were probably enjoying everything too much and getting caught up in that instead of being caught up in You, Lord. They needed a wake up call and nothing else would work. Sometimes I need a wake up call. I pray I don’t need one like that!
But the overdoers and the enjoyers of life weren’t the only ones being warned. The priests and the ministers are being warned too. Maybe Joel is helping us to see that we all stand on even ground whether we are “commoners” or “religious” people. We can all get our focus wrong if it’s not focussed on You. And when that happens, everyone around us suffers. It doesn’t just effect us alone.
When these locusts come in and destroy everything, that means that what used to bring joy will be gone. Hey, no more grapes? Doesn’t that mean no more wine? And no more wine means no more happy hour! And on a more serious side, no fruit of the field means no wave offering. Starving animals also means no burnt offering. There won’t be any meal or cereal offerings or drink offerings. All those things that the priests and ministers in the house of the Lord did toward our atonement, well, it all just went out the door. There went everyone’s hope of being made right. This was serious stuff. And if you know you can’t be made right with God, well there goes joy right out the door!
But God, You don’t let Joel leave us without hope! Even though tragedy is all around and the beasts groan and the cattle are perplexed, Joel tells us we can still call on You. Where is the answer? It’s in true repentance. It’s deeper than sackcloth. It’s accompanied with deep sorrow over sin. It’s when we give up everything to be right again; we would even fast. We would confess the state of our heart and sin before others and cry out together.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the products and fruit that God gives when He is supposed to be our joy. That’s why joy “has ceased or been taken away.” I need to check my heart that the products and fruits are not my joy as they were for the sons of men. I need to make sure that You alone are my joy. Self-examination, if continuous, keeps the locusts away. Self-examination ought to bring forth repentance and lamentation. Both turning from our wrong actions and ideas, and sorrow over them and the way they affect our relationship with You are both “outward signs of inward grace.” The sackcloth was just an outward symbol. In itself, it is not enough.
I could put on sackcloth just as easily as say I’m sorry and keep on acting the same way. But fasting and truly bearing my heart, take that to a new level. Well, I could fast and put on a facade. I could fake anything. But I can’t fool God and I don’t think I ever really fool myself either. But fasting can be a time of entreating the Lord, or changing our heart, of remembering and affirming that You are our Reason for everything. It’s an opportunity to humble ourselves before You, to prostrate ourselves as we should have been all along.
The locusts came and devoured everything off the trees so badly that Thomson wrote “their branches ‘made white’ in melancholy nakedness to the burning sun.” God always has a way of exposing our nakedness in a way that we can see. And in that, He shows us what it is to be naked without Him. And it’s no better now than it was when Adam and Eve discovered their nakedness. Life outside of Divine worship is empty and futile. Life outside of the Divine Presence is not life. Rotten seeds point to a rotten future. But a forgiving and holy and life giving God points to hope and so much more.
Here’s the problem. We sometimes act like the herds. We go around confused and wander up and down. They don’t know where to go for drink or pasture. But God has always told us where to go. He was telling the people through Joel’s mouth where they should go. He’s telling us. And You tell us all that we can find living water and the bread of life in Your Son, Jesus. The question is, will I wake up and run to Him? Will I run to You and be alert and surrendered to You? What will I find my joy in? Actually, Who will I find my joy in? I want to find my joy in the Lord all the days of my life, straight through eternity!