Sermon: The Book of Joel (Part Two)
Martin G. Collins
Given 07-Jan-17; 74 minutes
Previously, in part one of this sermon series on Joel we saw that Joel had insightful faith in God, and he taught reliance on the sufficiency of God in every section of the book. Joel focused on the basic principle that God is sovereignly guiding the affairs of earth’s history toward His preconceived final goal.
Joel reminds us that God is the God of grace and mercy; of loving kindness and patience; of justice and righteousness. He calls for true and vital worship on behalf of His followers who have trusted Him for salvation by grace through faith. In view of that, Joel emphasizes the place of prayer and repentance in our lives.
Joel taught that when sin becomes the dominant condition of God’s people, they must be judged. And God may use natural disasters, as in chapter 1; or political means, as in chapter 2, to chastise His people. For a repentant people there will be the blessing of restored fellowship and restored blessings in nature also.
Joel began chapter 1 with a description of a locust plague that did heavy damage to Judah in his day. He amplified the horrors of this plague and spoke of it as a precursor of the even more terrible Day of the Lord, which is pending. This led him to call for repentance, which he did by quoting the Lord directly for the first time here in Joel 2.
Joel 2:12 “Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” [You may recall that God wants us to have a contrite and humble attitude.]
The following verses analyze repentance, encourage it, and call on the leaders of the people, the priests, to lead the people in a rejection of sin and a return to God.
But here is the problem. We may assume that some at least have heard Joel’s call and are moved by his warning. They are willing to repent, to turn back to God. But what is the sin(s) for which they are to repent? We have already seen that repentance involves confession of specific sins, but what are they in Judah’s case here?
Unless this question is answered, the situation of Judah would be similar to the personal dilemma of the people standing humbly before God but with no clear knowledge of why they were there or what they were to do. In verses 18-27, the center and heart of the book, we see the sin and its remedy.
Joel 2:18-20 Then the Lord will be zealous for His land, and pity His people. The Lord will answer and say to His people, “Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, and you will be satisfied by them; I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations. [Keep in mind that this section of Joel has to do with the land being refreshed.] But I will remove far from you the northern army,and will drive him away into a barren and desolate land, with his face toward the eastern sea and his back toward the western sea; his stench will come up, and his foul odor will rise, because he has done monstrous things.”
Joel 2:21-26 Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done marvelous things! Do not be afraid, you beasts of the field; for the open pastures are springing up, and the tree bears its fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their strength. Be glad then, you children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God; for He has given you the former rain faithfully, and He will cause the rain to come down for you—the former rain and the latter rain in the first month. The threshing floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with new wine and oil. “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; and My people shall never [or some translations say “never again”] be put to shame.”
In these verses, Israel’s old sin of spiritual adultery and idolatry are exposed again. This is made clear toward the end of this section where God is promising restoration after repentance. God concludes in verse 27.
Joel 2:27 “Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the Lord your God and there is no other. My people shall never [or never again] be put to shame.”
In the Bible, God is revealed not only as the Creator, but the one who sustains and who rules His creation, intervening in the affairs of His servants to guide and to bless and to deliver us.
Matthew 4:4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”
The written Word of God is the entire Bible, both the Old Covenant and the New Testament, as we are aware of, and the apostles lived by and referred to the only Scriptures they had which were the books of the Old Covenant and they lived by the Ten Commandments.
One does not have to know the Old Testament very well to realize that Joel 2:27 is a reference to the first of the Ten Commandments, which, as you know, in Exodus 20 which says:
Exodus 20:2-3 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.”
This commandment stands at the head of God’s laws and in a sense sums them all up. If one worships the true God and Him only, the moral standards of this God will inevitably guide the worshipper in other areas as well. So this law directs and guides the people’s understanding of religion and morality.
But it is not just a law for Israel. It is a law for us as well, and since we are studying Joel for what it says to us today, as well as for what it said to Judah in Old Testament times, we must relate this law personally to ourselves.
Now obviously, to worship any god but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is to break this commandment. But it is not necessary to worship a clearly defined god to break it, such as Baal, Zeus, Minerva, a Roman emperor, or one of the idols of the many pagan tribes of our own day.
We break it whenever we give some person or some thing that first place in our cares that belongs to God alone. Quite often this substitute god is ourselves or our opinion of ourselves. Sometimes it is such things as success, material possessions, fame, or personal dominance over others.
But why do we do this? Why should we have no other gods but God the Father? The answer is in the preface to this commandment, a preface that is at the same time a preface to the whole of the Torah, that is the first 5 books of the Bible. It is in two parts: 1) because of who God is, and 2) because of what He has done.
The first of these, dealing with who the true God is, is expressed in the words “I am the Lord your God.” In Hebrew they are the words YHVH Eloheka.
The reason we should obey these commands is that the God who is speaking in the commandments is YHVH, the true God. He is the God who is without beginning and end: “I am who I am,” He says in Exodus 3:14.
He is self-existent. No one created Him and He is responsible to no one; He is self-sufficient, He needs no one and He does not depend on anyone for anything. So quite obviously, any god less than this is not God. It is because of who He is that He can demand such worship.
Second, we should obey these commandments because of what God has done. He indicates this in the words: “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” This applies first to physical Israel, who alone of all nations was literally delivered out of slavery in Egypt. Nevertheless, it also applies spiritually to the church which God has brought out of sin and bondage, which Egypt represents. Israel and the church owe Him reverence for this deliverance.
But this keeping of the first commandment is not limited only to Israel and the church. It must apply to any who have experienced deliverance, whether from death or slavery or poverty or disease. There is no one who has not been blessed by God in at least one of these areas, even though he or she may be unaware of it and not acknowledge God as the source.
In addition, the deliverance must apply to spiritual as well as material matters. Even in the case of Israel, the deliverance was not merely physical but rather deliverance from Egyptian idolatry. It was a deliverance from false gods.
In the same way, the calling of Abraham is significant as a call to serve the Lord God rather than the strange and unworthy gods of Mesopotamia.
Joshua 24:2-3 And Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac.”
Joshua 24:14 “Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord!”
So the stipulations of the covenant renewal in Joshua’s day were restated: Israel must fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and in truth. Israel and Judah were expected to make the conscious decision to devote themselves to the Lord.
In Joel we see that they were far from that and so there was a renewal that Joel was trying to inform the people of that was long overdue.
The reasoning behind the first commandment applies to every human being. All have been blessed by God and all have received of God’s abundant blessings from His creation and all have benefited from the advance of truth over superstition through the revelation of God’s church.
Do we worship God exclusively and absolutely as a result of what we have been given and the deliverance we have received? The answer is no we do not! Consequently, the first commandment virtually shouts to the world that we are ungrateful, disobedient, rebellious, and ruled by sin. And, even members of God’s church sometimes share in the shame of this, as Judah was doing at that time. If you look at the world, and it is a shameful world, it totally ignores the things that God has delivered them from.
As I mentioned last time, we do not know precisely when Joel was written. So we cannot say at what point of Israel’s apostasy these warnings and the accompanying promises were given, whether before the exile or after it. It is very likely that it was about the same time Amos prophesied to Israel, but that is just an estimate.
But the message is nevertheless clear. If the people of God will return to Him with all their heart, then He will hear from heaven, turn back His wrath, restore them, and heal their land.
Earlier in Joel chapter 2, the prophet expressed this desirable outcome tentatively. He was writing in his own name, under God’s inspiration, and said in verse 14,
Now he quotes God directly, saying that blessing will indeed be in the fullest measure. It will be in three areas: First, material prosperity, which we see in verse 19.
Joel 2:19 The Lord will answer and say to His people, “Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, and you will be satisfied by them; I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations.”
The second promise of blessing is in the way of national security, which we see in verse 20.
Joel 2:20 “But I will remove far from you the northern army, and will drive him away into a barren and desolate land, with his face toward the eastern sea and his back toward the western sea; is stench will come up, and his foul odor will rise, because he has done monstrous things.”
The third promise is a restoration of the lost years which we see in verse 25.
Joel 2:25 “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you.”
When we speak of the first blessing, material prosperity in Joel 2:19, we have to be careful of two things. First, we must not attribute everything we have, particularly our excess or what we have gained at the expense of other people, to God in the sense of justifying our avarice or injustices by God’s name.
Secondly, we must not attribute all we have to ourselves and our ability, rather than acknowledging God and thanking Him for it. The first is probably the characteristic sin of all God’s people. The second is the sin of the godless, in general terms.
Now there is a wrong idea in mainstream Christianity, though it has been present in other cultures and other ages too, that the closer we are to God the more He will bless us physically and the richer we will become. The obvious conclusion of this way of reasoning is that the wealthy Christian is closer to God than the poor one, and that the poor one is farther away. But nothing is farther from the truth.
It is true, as Joel clearly says, that if we seek God’s face, He will provide the “grain, new wine and oil, enough to satisfy [us] fully.” But the promise is only that we will be satisfied, not stuffed. We will have enough but not necessarily an excess, particularly when that is achieved at the expense of other people.
This does not mean that one cannot be wealthy. Job, Abraham, and David were all wealthy men who were nevertheless upright and fully obedient to God. But they are the exceptions, and it would be true to say that most of God’s people, in biblical times as well as in other periods of history, were not wealthy and yet were fully provided for both physically and spiritually.
Now the believer’s duty is to be careful that what he has really comes from God, that his priorities regarding material and spiritual things are right and that whatever he has does not control him.
The other problem concerning material prosperity is the sin of the godless: attributing what is possessed to human strength and ability and not to God. Nebuchadnezzar is an example, he stood on the roof of his palace looking out over the magnificent city of Babylon and said, in Daniel 4,
Daniel 4:30 “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?”
Nebuchadnezzar took credit for his accomplishments while refusing to recognize that God was the ultimate source of these and that he held his possessions in trust for God. His was an intolerable sin, and God responded to it by taking his “things” away, including his sanity.
In that hour, Nebuchadnezzar became insane and was driven from the palace to live with the wild animals, which he did for seven years. At the end of that time his sanity was restored, both physically and spiritually, and he praised God. Verse 37 says:
Daniel 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.” [Or you might say humble or humiliate.]
A person is humbled, but if they have been sinning they are humiliated from their own sense of pride.
The second blessing that God says will follow on repentance is national security mentioned in Joel 2:20. Sadly, the language of the verse in which this is mentioned is somewhat obscure, because when Joel mentions “the northern army,” he can be speaking of: 1) the locusts, 2) actual physical armies from the hostile nations round about, or 3) the metaphorical army of God to be unleashed at the final judgment.
The precise meaning is probably unimportant for our purpose today and, certainly, all three may be in view. Nevertheless, what Joel is saying is that God will keep all enemies away and that He will throw up a hedge of protection around His people.
That is the only security any people or any nation has, because there is no wall, no army, no weapons system that can be counted on ultimately for salvation.
Decades ago the United States spent billions of dollars constructing an extensive military radar network called the DEW line, which stood for Distant Early Warning, which stretched across the North American continent. It was designed to limit to a minimum the breakthroughs of Russian long-range bombers coming to attack the United States.
It was good in its time, but it was quickly outmoded by the proliferation of long-range ballistic missiles. Today it is useless against sophisticated low-flying missiles, multiple warheads, nuclear armed submarines, and other probably little-known devices of destruction.
Now notice what the psalmist said in Psalm 33 in relation to such a thing.
Psalm 33:16-20 No king is saved by the multitude of an army; a mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain hope for safety [We know horses to be instruments of war at that time, but this could also include anything related to human military strength.]; neither shall it deliver any by its great strength. Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield.
Now the final blessing of the three that God says will follow genuine heartfelt repentance is restoration of the lost years. We, as people probably would not like to relive our lost years, but we would like to restore some of the things we did or time wasted.
Joel 2:25 “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you.”
Now this is a special blessing. Many of us have run from God and have wasted many years and it is only by returning to God that the loss of those years can be made up.
When we disregard God and run away from Him, we enter a downhill course, like Hosea’s wife, Gomer. We do not think this will happen when we start out., but it does happen, because God has established this as one of the laws governing spiritual disobedience, and He is faithful to His laws.
When we disregard God, life inevitably declines and degenerates. We miss our opportunities; we fail in small and then in greater things; we become hardened by sin; we increasingly live for ourselves and disregard others and we lose friends, family, and so on. Eventually we are all alone and are totally miserable in our loneliness. God can change all that. We usually cannot undo what is done. Sin is sin, and the effects of sin often continue for long periods of time, but God can restore what the locusts have eaten.
Joel 2:26 “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; and My people shall never be put to shame.”
So opportunities may have been lost, but God can give new and even better opportunities. Friends may have been alienated and driven away, but God can give new friends and even restore many of the former ones. God can break the power of sin and restore a personal holiness and joy.
This not only applies to people in the world but also to those in the church who have turned their backs on God and left Him for physical and material things. God wants to restore us all!
Verses 26 and 27 end with God again giving fullest assurance of the truth of their restoration. In verse 26 it is used of temporal benefits; in verse 27, of spiritual benefits. God is the sole and only guarantee that all His promises will be accomplished.
Joel 2:27 “Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel [the church]: I am the Lord your God and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame.”
Now, by the fulfillment of His promises and by all God's benefits, they should know that He was among them by special grace as His own peculiar people. Still more was this to be fulfilled to Christians, in whose heart He dwells by love and grace, and of whom He says, in Matthew 18,
Matthew 18:20 “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Now this brings us to the next section of Joel 2. Joel 2:28 begins chapter 3 of the Jewish text and ends with verse 32. Joel 3 of the KJV begins chapter 4 of the Jewish text. So the Jews believe this to be a distinctly separate subject here in Joel 2:28-32.
These verses predict the Lord’s promise of personal spiritual endowment in the lives of His saints. Joel 3 predicts His final triumph on behalf of His saints at the culmination of the history of mankind.
While God may allow other nations to chastise Israel for her sins, He has reserved a remnant to Himself. On them He will pour out His Spirit, to them He will manifest Himself with wonderful signs, and He will regather them and bring them to the Promised Land.
Joel 2:28-29 “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, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”
The Bible itself sometimes takes the prophecies in more than one way. They can be applied to a then current event in Israel, for example, but they can also refer to a future Day of the Lord. While recognizing this, we know that many Old Testament prophecies are interpreted to us by the New Testament.
Joel 2:28-29 is a passage interpreted by the apostle Paul as applying to the events at Pentecost AD 31 as a type of what was to continue in the church down through to the end time. And then, following the Day of the Lord and when Jesus Christ sets up God’s government on earth, the Holy Spirit will be poured out on a much greater number of people. This pouring out of the Holy Spirit will continue through the Millennium.
Note the time indicated in verse 28. The events set forth here are designated as “afterward.” What does that mean? Does “afterward” mean after the crucifixion or after Christ returns? There seems to be an application to both. We find the word “afterward” used in Hosea 3; and there it is coupled with “in the latter days.”
Now Peter’s words in Acts 2 show when it is talking about.
Acts 2:17 ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams.’
It will be universal in character and scope. But does this “all flesh” mean for all believers; for all Israel; or for all mankind generally? We know that all true believers receive God’s Spirit, it is what distinguishes us from the world.
From the context and the prophetic teaching of other portions of the Old Testament we know that all Israel eventually receives God’s Spirit in the Millennium. And the Gentile world will have access to it as well. Differences of age (young and old), sex (sons and daughters), or position (menservants and maidservants) will not constitute barriers or hindrances to this gift of the Spirit.
The dreams, vision, and prophecy spoken of in Joel 2:28 are the three modes previously mentioned in Numbers 12:
Numbers 12:6 Then He [God] said, "Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream.”
So what is stated there in Joel about God’s Holy Spirit and speaking prophesies is not something new, it is something that is stated that would happen even back in Numbers 12.
Joel 2:29 reiterates the same truth given in verse 28: “I will pour out My Spirit.” This is not the first mention of an outpouring of the Spirit of God upon Israel in the Old Testament prophetic books. There are at least eight other places.
Now accompanying the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in those days and as visible signs of God’s supernatural and overseeing intervention in the history of mankind, God will cause extraordinary phenomena to be seen in nature. Consequently, the totality of man’s experience will be affected. Continuing on here in Joel 2,
Joel 2:30-32 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before [important to show the timing here] the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem [code word for God’s church] there shall be deliverance [some translations say salvation], as the Lord has said, among the remnant [survivors] whom the Lord calls.”
Although the heavens are mentioned first, the order that follows is one of ascending emphasis, beginning with events on earth, that is blood, fire, and smoke, and moving to signs in the sky, the sun and the moon. God will perform mighty transformations in heaven and on earth. It will be followed by the great and fearful Day of the Lord!
Nevertheless, the outpouring of the Spirit will result in salvation for those who call on God. There will be those who call upon the Lord for physical deliverance and whom God will call to spiritual salvation.
There is a two-fold use of the thought of “calling” in Joel 2:32. First, calling on God, which this means salvation.
Romans 10:13 For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
The second use of the thought of calling is God calling them. In Joel 2:32, God has foretold that there would be an escaped remnant and these will be a blessing to the whole earth. There is a reference to the remnant in Zechariah 14.
Zechariah 14:1-5 Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, and your spoil will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city shall be taken, the houses rifled, and the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity, but the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south. Then you shall flee through My mountain valley, for the mountain valley shall reach to Azal. Yes, you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Thus the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with You.
So this remnant here in verse 2 appears to be a different remnant than what Joel is talking about. The term remnant has often been used in Scripture as people whom God has called and this may very well be the same situation here, a group of people that God has called, whereas there may be another remnant of God’s church in the place of safety at this time. It is unclear and is speculation so I will not go any further here.
As I mentioned earlier, in a sense, Joel’s prophecy was pre-fulfilled in a very limited way as a type of what was to come beginning with Pentecost, which could be said to have also begun a type of the latter days continuing down to the end time. Nevertheless, Joel’s prophecy is yet to be fulfilled completely, as the Old Testament passages on the outpouring of the of the Spirit show.
There are four things associated with this outpouring of God’s Spirit that we need to see: 1) The need for this particular outpouring of God’s Spirit, 2) the promise of it, 3) the fulfillment of the promise in Acts, and 4) the result of that fulfillment.
Numbers 11:29 Then Moses said to him, “Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!”
That was a bad time for Moses. The people had been complaining of their wilderness diet of manna, and Moses, perhaps in sheer physical weariness, was overcome with the burden of leading the people and dealing with their complaints. There may have been 2 million people or more at that time and can you imagine the number of complaints that he must have received?
God sympathized with him and told him to select seventy of the elders of Israel and bring them with him to the Tent of Meeting. God promised in verse 17:
Numbers 11:17 “Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone.”
That is what happened. These men received the Holy Spirit and began to prophesy. It was a sign to the people that they had received this gift and were therefore chosen by God to minister alongside Moses.
Two of these elders were not with the others at the Tent of Meeting, but the Spirit of God came on them as well, and they also prophesied. This bothered some who were closest to Moses. Continuing on in verse 27-29.
Numbers 11:27-29 And a young man ran and told Moses, and said, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” So Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' assistant, one of his choice men, answered and said, “Moses my lord, forbid them!” [Moses’ reply was the root of the promise found in Joel.] Then Moses said to him, “Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!”
The incident shows that in this early period God’s Spirit was not given to all His people, Israel, in the way He does His church. God was with His people, but His Spirit did not come on them or dwell in them at that time except in specific and unique individuals. Instead, it came on certain individuals for specific purposes. Sometimes it left them, as happened in the case of Saul.
I Samuel 16:14 But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him.
So we must consider God’s Spirit to be precious to us and not just take it for granted. We are, in a sense, responsible for its care. It is God’s mind and He controls it, but we have our part in using it because if we do not use it, we will lose it, as the saying goes.
The first reference in the Bible to any individual’s possession of the Holy Spirit is in Genesis 41, where Pharaoh asks concerning Joseph. Now this is not to say that people earlier did not have it, I am sure the special line of individuals of God did have it. But in Genesis 41:38 it says: “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the Spirit of God?”
This was because of Joseph’s ability to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. In Exodus 31:3, the craftsmen who helped build the tabernacle are said to have been “filled with the Spirit of God.” Joshua is described in Numbers 27:18 as a man “in whom is the Spirit.”
The Israelite judges: Othniel, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson were also in this category. So probably was Deborah, who served as a judge and functioned in the name of the Lord, though it is not specifically said of her that she was filled with the Spirit, but her function was similar to that of the judges.
The Holy Spirit indwelt both Saul and David and presumably all the prophets, though, like Deborah, this is not said specifically in every case. In the Old Testament period the Holy Spirit was not the common gift of God to all His people. So when Moses said: “I yearn that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit on them,” he was expressing a very real need and longing for Israel and eventually for all humanity.
God’s promise through Joel is remarkable because it is the book’s first mention of spiritual rather than mere physical blessing. It is understandable that material blessings are emphasized, such as material prosperity mentioned in Joel 2:19; national security mentioned in Joel 2:20; and the restoration of lost years mentioned in Joel 2:25, because the locust plague was a material disaster and it formed the focal point and occasion of the prophecy. Still, we are glad to find spiritual blessings too, because we know, as Jesus Christ taught, in Mark 8.
Mark 8:36 “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”
Joel’s emphasis is on the universal nature of this gift because he shows that it is for “all people” as opposed to being for “some only” as it had been previously. So we do not miss it, the point is spelled out in detail. It will be for the young, meaning “your sons and daughters,” and the old meaning “your old men,” the strength of the nation meaning “your young men,” and servants “servants, both men and women.” So we see the universal nature there.
This is truly a momentous thing, because it is a way of saying that in the church age, which the coming of the Holy Spirit would inaugurate, all would be part of a royal priesthood, not merely a special group of workers.
I Peter 2:9-10 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light [we might say by His Spirit]; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
Of course, there will be different tasks to do and different gifts given to enable God’s people to do them. Men and women, young and old, slaves and free men will not necessarily do the same work. But all will have work to do and will be indwelt by God’s Spirit so that the work can be done effectively.
The Spirit helps each to develop and use their gifts to serve others.
Ephesians 4:11-13 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
Sometimes, some men in the ministry want to “lord it over” the other brethren, to dominate those who attend church, and this often leads to outright abuse or tyranny. A prime biblical example is found in the New Testament in the person of Diotrephes who scripture says, “loves to be first,” according to the apostle John who wrote about him in III John 9.
The name Diotrephes means “nourished by Jupiter.” Jupiter is the same person as Zeus in the Greek, but a nickname he as among the Romans is “light bringer,” among other names. Diotrephes loved to have the preeminence and in doing so, he refused to see the letter sent by John, thereby declining to submit to his direction or acknowledge his authority. He circulated malicious slanders against the apostle and exercised an arbitrary and pernicious influence in the church.
The word preeminence occurs twice in the New Testament, in Colossians 1 Paul speaks of Christ having the preeminence in all things.
Colossians 1:18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
As used regarding Christ, it is the Greek word proteuon which means to be first in rank or influence. However, when the term “preeminence” is used regarding Diotrephes in III John 9, it is the compound Greek word philoproteuon which means: love to have the preeminence. It is literally in the Greek, “to be fond of being first,” that is ambitious of distinction.
A warning against this attitude is found in I Peter in a passage conveying instruction to church elders.
I Peter 5:2-3 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
The chief biblical example is Jesus Christ who, though Lord of creation, nevertheless put on a servant’s garment and performed a servant’s job in washing His disciples’ feet. There has never been a greater example of humility in the entire history of the world. However, there is the willingness of some members to sit back and “let the pastor do it.”
Sir John Lawrence, a prominent British statesman who served as Viceroy of India from 1864 to 1869, described the type of pastor that, at that time, Protestant laymen preferred saying: “What does the layman really want? He wants a building which looks like a church, a clergy dressed in the way he approves, services of the kind he has been used to, and to be left alone.”
This is not what Joel 2:28-29 envisions. People seem to want church organizations which do something for them, but what is needed is for people to do something for the church.
The conservative theologian Bela Vassady points out an important difference in serving something or someone, saying:
The words ‘servant’ and ‘service’ are often used in our everyday life. We call the experts who service our cars service men, the clubs we join service clubs, and the time our young men spend in the army is regarded as a time devoted to military service.
But we all feel that such services usually have mixed motives; that they are more or less compulsory. And unless something else is added to them, they are but the products of rapid calculations and enlightened self-interest. That something else is exactly the unique quality of Christian service: initiated by a call to “sonship,” motivated by thankful obedience, rendered primarily to the Word of God, and designed to benefit the whole world.
Now let us get back to the subject of God-given gifts. It is important to recognize not only that gifts of teaching and leadership are given to some for the church’s well-being, but also that there is ample biblical teaching about the need for such leadership.
Judging from Acts and the various Pauline epistles, it was the apostle Paul’s regular practice to appoint elders in every church and entrust to them the training of the flock.
Acts 14:23 So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. [So these individuals who were ordained as elders were already faithful members.]
In the Pastoral Epistles the appointment of such leaders is specifically commanded.
Titus 1:5-9 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you [now the qualifications are given]—if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.
These qualities are specifically emphasized toward the bishop or elder to have these qualities, but they are qualities that all Christians should strive for as it applies to their gender. These righteous qualities should be the goal of every member of God’s church and if you are in this royal priesthood, you are expected to try to meet these qualifications. But this applies specifically to God’s ministry in the church even more.
Luke 12:47-48 “And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”
So we see there the emphasis on if you know what it is to do good and you do not do it, the penalty or the discipline is much greater.
I Timothy 3:1-13 also gives the character qualifications in even more detail and I suggest you read these verses because these are qualities we should all strive for, no matter what our position in church is.
What is the true ministerial pattern in the church? Ephesians 4:11-13 describes it well, because in pointing out that: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are to equip the saints for the work of ministry; it is saying that the proper relationship of ministers to other brethren is, in one word, service.
God’s ministers are to equip the other saints; that is, assist them and train them to be what they should be and to do the work they should do, which is helping to prepare the Bride of Christ and the proclamation of the gospel to the world. In this pattern of service we have no lesser example than that of Jesus Christ.
Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Verse 45 is a key verse in Mark's gospel and summarizes the book: Christ came in chapter 1, ministered in chapter 2-13, and gave His life as a ransom in chapters 14-16.
By calling Himself a servant and defining His mission as “giving His life a ransom for many,” Jesus identifies Himself with the suffering servant of Isaiah 53:10-12. Although the servant's mission had been given to Israel as a whole, Israel through disobedience could not fulfill it, so that the One who would fulfill it had to restore Israel as well as bring light to the Gentiles.
Now remember, Joel’s prophecy began to be partially fulfilled in a limited way at Pentecost AD 31 as a type of what would transpire when the Holy Spirit came on all believers down through history. But, the comprehensive fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy will not be realized until the Millennium. A new era was inaugurated on that first Pentecost and it is said of the church at this period, in Acts 2, that:
Acts 2:44-47 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
What happens when the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to a person? In each of nine cases in which it is said that the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, the consequence of that filling was a witness to Jesus Christ.
The first of these cases is Pentecost AD 31. We are told that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” and that they at once began to witness. Peter did so officially and effectively.
Acts 2:8-11 And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”
The second case is Peter’s being “filled with the Holy Spirit” just before he addressed the Sanhedrin on the occasion of his first arrest in Acts 4. He preached Jesus at the time.
Acts 4:8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel:”
The third case is the description of a prayer meeting in verse 31 in which the believers “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”
Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
The fourth reference, in Acts 6, says that deacons were chosen on the basis of their being “full of the Spirit.” They were already active as witnesses because they had been living God’s way of life and doing some of the responsibilities of a deacon.
Acts 6:3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.”
The account of the choice of these deacons is immediately followed by the story of the death of the deacon Stephen, which certainly contains an effective witness to the grace of God in Christ’s ministry.
The fifth example of a person being filled with the Spirit is Stephen.
Acts 7:55-56 But he [Stephen], being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
The sixth and seventh examples are when Paul is twice said specifically to have been “filled with the Holy Spirit.” The first time is found in Acts 9 at his conversion when Ananias came and placed his hands on him.
Acts 9:17 And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 9:20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.
The second time is found in Acts 13 when Paul confronted Elymas, the sorcerer, and pronounced a judgment on him in the name of Jesus.
Acts 13:9 Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him.
The eighth example is Barnabas who is said to have been “full of the Holy Spirit.” He was a Levite of the country of Cyprus; and he gave himself, his property, and his all to the service of Jesus Christ.
He was a preacher of the Gospel.
The ninth example is the company of disciples at Antioch who were “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” and who doubtless revealed this by continuing to spread the gospel even after Paul and Barnabas had been expelled from their region as we read in verse 52.
Acts 13:52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
This is a clear and distinguishing mark, but not the only mark, of a person being filled with the Holy Spirit, and it is the sense in which the words in Joel must be taken: “Your sons and daughters will prophesy.”
There may be prophecy in the sense of foretelling things to come. Paul, Peter, John, and some others did that. But in the sense that all will prophesy, what is involved is proclamation of God’s truth concerning Jesus Christ as Savior. And, how can a person proclaim such a thing if he or she is not living the way Jesus Christ lived?
The result of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the consequent testimony to Jesus Christ by those who are so filled is repentance. We are told that after Peter preached, about three thousand repented of their sins, were baptized, and were added to the number of the early Christians. This was only the beginning of what Joel prophesied.
It was only a small but powerful precursor of what was to happen to both Israelites and Gentiles who would be called into God’s church by our heavenly Father down through human history. But the global fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy is yet to happen and will follow the Day of the Lord and Christ’s return.
Acts 2:37-41 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
Repentance brings us back to Joel and the purpose of Joel’s prophecy. Joel had been calling on the people to repent of specific sin, the sin of worshipping other gods and of failing to give the true God the worship and obedience He deserves. Therefore, they broke the first and second commandments, which means they were guilty of breaking them all.
James 2:10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.
God had promised blessing if the people would repent. Would the Jews repent? Could they? The answer to that question is perhaps unknown in the context of the prophecy itself. But it is important to note that at the same time that God calls for repentance He promises a time in which He will pour out His Spirit on all people, and when that happens, repentance is the first evidence of that in people’s lives.
Millions of people in the Millennium will be convicted of sin, repent of it, and turn to our God and Father and to our Savior Jesus Christ.
It is the same today. Following limited revealed understanding of what sin is; repentance is always the first visible evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence and good fruit.
In my next sermon we will see that God will gather for judgment those nations that have dealt severely with His people and bring them to a great and final battle near Jerusalem. On that awesome day, He Himself will lead His people in triumph, thereby ushering in an era of unparalleled peace and prosperity.
Essential to all Joel’s prophecy is his teaching about the Day of the Lord. By the skillful use of this term, which gives cohesion to his entire message, Joel demonstrates that God is sovereignly active in all that comes to pass, directing all things to their appointed end.