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Responding to God's Discipline / Joel 1-3

The Book of Joel as preached by Zach Thompson.

The book of Joel is God's call for his people to repent. In it we are exhorted...

1. Don't ignore God's discipline (1:1-11).

2. Instead, repent before greater judgment comes (1:12-2:11).

3. Because God will respond with forgiveness and blessing (2:12-32).

4. That will last for eternity (3:1-21).

If you have your Bibles, we are going to be in book of Joel this morning. If you are using one of our provided black Bibles, that is on page 712. As you turn there, let’s consider a few things about the book of Joel. Joel is one of the minor prophets. Remember, the minor prophets are called minor because they are relatively smaller than the books that we call the major prophets, which are bigger. They were written during some of the most tumultuous years in Israel’s history. Throughout Israel’s history, they had gone through patterns of rebellion and repentance. But as they grew complacent, the repentance stopped and the rebellion increased. So the prophets wrote to them pleading for them to turn to God. As I was studying for our time today, I was reminded of something that I want to make clear for all of us. Often when readers approach the minor prophets, they read it like it is some kind of secret map to the end of the world. People will totally ignore everything that the prophet says and treat all of the prophets as if it is some kind of secret code that we have to crack so we an understand the book of revelation and all of the details of a timeline for the end times. But for all of the prophets—both major and minor— their chief goal isn’t merely to predict the future. It’s to call the people of God to turn to him. There is definitely prophecy about the future. But it’s only about 10% of what the prophets say. And of this, the majority of it was fulfilled in the person of Christ. We have to read the Bible in it’s context. So let me encourage you in this. You can read the prophets without needing to have a secret knowledge about how the end times will happen. Most of what is there is meant to be clear for the people of God so that they would respond with repentance and hope. And if you read it as a book that is meant to be read on it’s own terms, you will understand a lot more than if you read it as an end times commentary. So let’s talk about Joel. We don’t know too much about the prophet Joel as a person. He is the son of Pethuel, and he was a prophet. It’s not certain exactly when he ministered or whether he was in the Northern kingdom or Southern kingdom. But the message of Joel is clear. The book of Joel is written to the people of Israel, and he is calling them to repent. He points to the past. He points to the future. He points to that character of God, but in all of it he is calling them to repent. What does it mean to repent? To repent is to call sin what God calls sin and to respond with real brokenness that turns away from that sin toward God. That is what the prophet Joel calls people of Israel toward. Let’s turn now to the text. If you are able to, stand in honor of the reading of God’s word. Joel 1:1, 1 The word of the Lord that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel: 2 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? 3 Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children to another generation. 4 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. 5 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. 6 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. 7 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. 8 Lament like a virgin wearing sackcloth for the bridegroom of her youth. 9 The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of the Lord. The priests mourn, the ministers of the Lord. 10 The fields are destroyed, the ground mourns, because the grain is destroyed, the wine dries up, the oil languishes. 11 Be ashamed, O tillers of the soil; wail, O vinedressers, for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field has perished. 12 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. 13 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. 14 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. 15 Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes. 16 Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God? 17 The seed shrivels under the clods; the storehouses are desolate; the granaries are torn down because the grain has dried up. 18 How the beasts groan! The herds of cattle are perplexed because there is no pasture for them; even the flocks of sheep suffer. 19 To you, O Lord, I call. For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and flame has burned all the trees of the field. 20 Even the beasts of the field pant for you because the water brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness. Let’s Pray. Let’s jump right in here. I. Don’t ignore God’s discipline. (1:1-12). This is what we just read about in chapter 1. Joel is calling them to respond to the discipline of the Lord that has already happened. He described a plague of locusts that absolutely destroyed all of the greenery and harvest in the land. Look up in 1:4. “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.” Locusts are a regular occurrence in the Middle East, even today. But this plague in Joel was something different. It was swarm after swarm after swarm after swarm. This was total destruction. This was a swarm of locusts that was more akin to an invading army. Look in verse 5. He tells the drunkards to weep because there won’t be any wine. There aren’t any grapes left. Look at verses 9-10. “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.” There is nothing left. That mention of the grain offering and the drink offering are a reference to the offering of first fruits. This is the offering that a farmer would bring when he has harvested the first of his crops for the season. And it was an important source of food for the Levites. There is not an offering of firstfruit because there is no harvest! And in light of all of this, Joel calls them to repent. Look in verses 13-14. “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. 14 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.” He is calling them to repent. Then in verses 15-20, he even tells them what to say. And you can look at it, but let me summarize it. There are two pieces to it. They recognize to God all that has happened, and they call on God as the only source of relief. Recognize the discipline of the Lord and turn to him. That’s the call of the book of Joel. Notice something here. Everything in verses 1-12 has already happened. Did you see that? It’s all past tense. He is pointing to this horrible plague, but he isn’t foretelling anything. He is describing a past event. Why? He is telling Israel to wake up! This didn’t just happen for no reason. This is the Lord’s discipline. The Lord was disciplining them, and they were going about life as usual. A few years ago, a friend of ours got married in Las Vegas. So Courtney and I took Lana and Hope down to Vegas for a short weekend. The wedding was Saturday afternoon, and as soon as it was over we should have left. But we didn’t. We hung out with some friends there, and we ended up leaving later than we should have. Vegas isn’t too far away, but that 5 hour drive home felt like an eternity. For the last hour, I was struggling. For some reason, I didn’t want to ask Courtney to drive. Maybe it made me feel more manly or independent or whatever. But when we were about 10 minutes from the house, I almost totally fell asleep at the wheel. My head nodded, and we almost swerved off the road. It was absolutely terrifying. 10 minutes from home. We were on the freeway in Orem, and I pulled the car over and told Courtney I couldn’t drive any more. I was too tired. That moment of nodding off put the fear of God into me. It woke me up to my stupidity. Joel’s reminder here is like that brief moment where I nodded off. He is saying, “Wake up! Stop acting like you’re okay, and humble yourself. See this for what it really is! Recognize that you are in sin and turn to your God.” We sin. And we experience the consequences of our sin. God disciplines us. The discipline of the Lord is like the throbbing pains that accompany an infection. Have you ever had a cut that you probably should have put some antiseptic and a bandaid on but you didn’t? It turns a bright red color and it doesn’t scab over. And it throbs. It will throb in a way that you can’t focus on anything else. The discipline of the Lord is like this. He will make it clear that you are being disciplined. But we are so quick to cover things like this up. Because they make us feel ashamed. So quick to act like sins didn’t happen. And we’ll walk through the discipline of the Lord and acting like nothing is happening. It’s ridiculous. It’s like walking into a house party with a literal nail sticking out of your head. A friend says, “Hey man, are you okay?” Then you say, “Yeah I’m fine, just have a bit of a headache.” If you were that friend, would you just move on? Would you accept that answer? NO! Of course not! “You have a nail in your head!! We gotta get that out. We gotta get you to the emergency room. And let’s find a way to make sure you never do whatever you did to get that nail in your head!” We need this. We need each other to point at things in our lives and say, “Hey something seems off. What’s going on?” You don’t have to be condemning like Job’s buddies. Listen with grace, but do it with discernment. And if you are the person being asked, this is at least an opportunity for reflection. You might have a nail in your head and genuinely have no idea, so don’t waive off the question when someone is genuinely checking in on you. But really we usually know. Don’t we? We just don’t want to recognize it. But whether it is the word of God or a brother in Christ, don’t push away the hand that would shine light on your sin. If it’s really there, don’t act like there isn’t a nail in your head. Recognize the discipline of the Lord for what it is. Another thing from these first verses. Did you notice the examples of worldly grief here? The drunkards are weeping because there is no wine. The priests are mourning because they don’t have food. The tillers of the soil and the vinedressers are ashamed because they don’t have a harvest. But none of this is godly grief. It’s grief because of consequence, not because of the broken relationship they have with their God. Worldly grief looks sad. And it is sad. But worldly grief doesn’t turn to God. 2 Corinthians 7:10, “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Take a moment to consider that for yourself. Do you feel like you are under the discipline of the Lord? Or do you remember a time when you were under his discipline? Why were you grieved? Was it because of consequence of the discipline? Or was it because of what the discipline revealed? When God is disciplining us, he is calling us back to him. When you are under his discipline it means that in some sense, you are walking away from him instead of toward him. Is it the pain of consequence? Or the distance from God that grieves you? Something to ponder. II. Don’t ignore God’s discipline. Instead, repent! Before greater punishment comes (1:12-2:11). Joel has recognized the past judgement of God, but he doesn’t just point it out. He calls them to repent. We saw that in verses 13-20 that we read earlier. But in that call to repentance, Joel slips in a phrase that is really important for us to understand. Look in 1:15. “Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.” The phrase “day of the Lord” is a phrase that is used throughout the Bible, but it’s especially used a lot in the prophets. And among the prophets, Joel emphasizes this reality more than most. What is the day of the Lord? The day of the Lord is a phrase that is used to refer to the day where God’s justice finds satisfaction. It’s a day where he takes vengeance on those who rebel against him and where preservation is found for those who are innocent. The day of the Lord isn’t a one time event. There have been many days of the Lord throughout history. The day that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed was a day of the Lord where Sodom and Gomorrah found judgment for the sins that they had been piling up. And Lot was spared. Another day of the Lord was the judgment of Egypt and the redemption of Israel. And these are like shadows pointing to the great and Final Day of the Lord that will come at the end of days when every single person will come before the throne of God. Joel just finished talking about a type of day of the Lord when he was describing the Locusts. But he sees that another one is coming if the people don’t repent. This is what he foreshadows in 1:15 that we just read. But he describes it in detail in 2:1-11. We won’t read the entire thing, but look at verses 1-2. “Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near, 2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people there like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations.” They have just endured a plague of locusts that had the destructive power of an invading army. But now Joel is describing an invading army that will swarm like a plague of locusts. “Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people.” Joel sees it coming, and he warns the people. And this is one of those times where we can say that Joel really knew his Bible. Joel isn’t making a mysterious prophecy here. He is just following God’s promises of punishment that are laid out in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. You can just walk down the list. God promises to take away their harvest and the rain and that he would bring pestilence. All of these things have already been accomplished. But if the people continue to live in rebellion, God also promises a sword. Back before the Israelites even entered the promised land, God promised that if they rebelled and continued to rebel against him, he would allow an army to invade and take away everything that he had given to them. Joel is preaching in light of the already revealed word of God. He was taking God’s promises seriously and shaping his life and message around it. Do you think that God’s promises of judgement are an idle threat? Do you think that he won’t do what he has said he will do? God doesn’t promise punishment then lighten up on it because it’s inconvenient. Israel thought they were untouchable because they were the people of Israel—the descendants of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. But they were about to find that his word is unassailable. He will always accomplish what he promises. This is instructive for us. We can’t assume that God is going to give us a pass at his judgement seat because you think you are special. The self esteem movement in America has done more than cause people to think they deserve a participation trophy. It’s just highlighted the arrogant place in our heart that thinks God will make an exception for me because I simply exist. Romans 2:4-5 says, “do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” Do you remember that promise in Isaiah that we love to claim? Isaiah 55:11, “The word of God will not return void.” Joel is reminding us that this doesn’t only apply to the promises that are comfortable to talk about. God’s word isn’t a collection of empty words and meaningless phrases. When he speaks, he follows through. And remember who God is speaking to here. God is speaking to his people. Not the nations. He is speaking to the people whom he has called by his name. This is why we rebuke and reprove and admonish one another. This is why we call out sin when we see it in each other. We want to be faithful to pursue each other’s holiness because God is pursuing our holiness. And don’t be deceived. This isn’t a light rebuke that Joel is talking about here. This is an army that is meant to invade and destroy homes and carry off people to other lands. This punishment is severe. And Joel tells the people of Israel that it’s not far off. Joel doesn’t hedge his bets on this. He doesn’t say that the Lord MIGHT do this. It’s a certainty. And we can look at Israel’s history and see that they didn’t repent. God allowed invading armies to come in and scatter the people to distant lands. But God still didn’t abandon his people. The worst discipline on earth is when God abandons you to your stubbornness and let’s you think you are fine. This may not even rightly be called discipline. It may be more appropriate to call it judgment. But God hasn’t abandoned his people in our text. And 2:11 seems like the height of hopelessness for the people of Israel. Look there. “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?” The rhetorical answer—No one can. It is unendurable. But keep reading in verse twelve. “‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning; 13 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. 14 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?” Even after ignoring God’s discipline. Even after continued rebellion, and God’s preparing a literal army to punish his people—God calls them to come home—to return to himself. Because he is a God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. And this brings us to our third point. III. Don’t ignore God’s discipline. Instead, repent before greater punishment comes, Because God will respond with forgiveness and blessing (2:12-32). I hope that verse we just read sounds familiar to you. That God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. It’s a reference back to Exodus 34 when God revealed himself to Moses. We talk about it a lot here. But do you remember the context of when that happened? It was right after they worshipped the golden calf. Moses was on the mountain with God, and God said, “Israel has already turned aside from my commandments, so I’m going to go ahead and destroy them so I can start over with just you.” This is right after they left Egypt. And they are already failing. And in his justice God was going to totally destroy them. But Moses prayed. He interceded for them, and God relented. And then he proclaims this about himself soon after that. This truth that rang true all the way to the day of Joel and continues to ring true today. “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.” Do you think that you have hidden your sin for too long to bring it into the light? Do you think that the consequences would be too severe? Do you think that God won’t forgive you? Or that your relationship with God would never be the same. Friend, if you throw yourself on God’s mercy, you will have a peace that surpasses any shadow of hope that you have now. And it will be eternal. If the Lord would call you to repent and you respond, he is gracious and merciful. And even if there are consequences for a time, you will find satisfaction in him. This is the promise of verses 17-19. By verse 17 they have called a solemn assembly and consecrated a fast, Then it says in verse 17, “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?” [By the way, in that prayer, Joel is echoing how Moses prayed to God back after the golden calf incident] Then in verse 18, it says how God would respond. “Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people. The Lord answered and said to his people, Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.” In these verses and those that follow, God is systematically replacing his punishment with blessing. Where there was famine, there will not be feasting. Where there was drought, there will be rivers. Invaders will only be a memory. Let me be clear here. This isn’t about promising the people that they will never have any hardship or that the consequences didn’t linger. But it’s a promise to remove his hand of discipline. But when he removes his hand of discipline, it is opening them up to all kinds of blessings. Having peace with God is better than any temporary consequence. And God did this. While his people were off in other lands, some of them repented and God returned them to their land, and these things were fulfilled there. But this physical blessing is just a shadow of a spiritual blessing. God promises that water will be poured out on the land, but then he promises that His Spirit will be poured out on his people. Look in verse 28. “‘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. 29 Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. 30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 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.” The chief blessing for the repentant people of God is the presence of God! And his presence will be without regard to status—male or female, slave or free, Gentile or Jew, along with every other human identity construct—he will dwell with his people. And why does he dwell with his people? Because they have turned to him. The people of God are characterized by the fact that they have all turned to him. They have all repented, and so they have him. Do you feel weary of fighting your sin? Do you feel hopeless like there won’t be a day when you would overcome it? Rest in this. The peace of God’s presence with you now in the Holy Spirit is better than a lifetime of indulgence. Anyone who has ever hidden sin and brought it into the light can tell you this. There may be consequences, but peace with God is better than a spotless reputation. It’s better than the fleeting pleasures that only leave you hunger and secure only judgment. Built turning to Christ doesn’t just gain us peace now. When we repent from trusting our own weak efforts and turn to trust Jesus, our identity is changed, and it carries eternal implications. This brings us to our final point. IV. Don’t ignore God’s discipline. Instead, repent before greater punishment comes, because God will respond with forgiveness and blessing that will last for eternity. (3:1-21). We talked about the Day of the Lord earlier. There are days of the Lord throughout history where God’s judgment will find a type of satisfaction but all of those are shadows of the one great and Final Day of the Lord. This is what chapter 3 in Joel is about. Look in Joel 3:1–3. “For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, 2 I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land, 3 and have cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it.” Then skip down to verse 11. 11 Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down your warriors, O Lord. 12 Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I ill sit to judge all the surrounding nations This is a picture of the Final judgment, where all of the nations will be subject to the judgment of God. The valley of Jehoshaphat isn’t a real place. It’s a metaphor. Jehoshaphat means, “The Lord judges.” The nations are coming into the valley of judgment. One of the operative words here is vengeance Look in verse 21. “I will avenge their blood, blood I have not avenged, for the Lord dwells in Zion.” God is punishing the nations for their sins against his people, and their sins against his name. And if you read it here, God isn’t planning on a light punishment. But who are the nations here? Who are the people of God? This isn’t just gentiles and Jews. The people of God aren’t here thought of as merely the biological descendants of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. The people of God are the descendants of Abraham according to faith. That’s part of the promise from 2:32, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” We are made into the people of God because we are trusting in the same savior. The nations aren’t the non-Jews of the world. The nations are the people who continue in their rebellion against God. And this is our impetus for preaching the gospel. The gospel begins with the goodness and perfect justice of God, and that because of our sin, we can’t come in to dwell in his presence. And every wrong will be avenged. God won’t leave any sin unaddressed, so turn to him! That’s the message that we preach. It’s what we implore of our coworkers and neighbors and friends and everyone who will listen. Because judgment isn’t something that God might do. He has promised it. Think about your patterns is sharing Christ with those around you. Does your life reflect this urgency? Jesus took the vengeance that we should have received on himself. And so now when we simply turn from trusting ourselves and instead trust in him, we are made into the people of God. And the promises of eternal blessing in this text become ours. Look in verse 17. 17 “So you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it. 18 “And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord and water the Valley of Shittim. 19 “Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate wilderness, for the violence done to the people of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land. 20 But Judah shall be inhabited forever, and Jerusalem to all generations. 21 I will avenge their blood, blood I have not avenged, for the Lord dwells in Zion.” When we turn to Christ, we are counted as one of the people of God. And these promises become eternally ours. We will dwell with God and we will be satisfied. And this is what we remember as we come to the table.


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