A good Old Testament prophet is able to take the circumstances of the day and help us understand them through the will and word of God. Whatever is pervasive in culture, whatever crisis is impending, the prophet helps the people of God understand God’s view on things. Isaiah helps Israel hear God through the death of a king and the threat of Assyrians. Jeremiah tries to get Judah to repent and avoid the invasion of the Babylonians. Daniel lives as a faithful child of God in a pagan land and sees the power of the kingdom of God.
Joel gets bugs. To be a little more specific, the crisis Joel’s generation faces, and the issue God wants them to understand, is a plague of locust. It may not be glamorous, but through the faithfulness of Joel we end up learning a lot about God’s people and the power of a restoring God.
To begin with, the spiritual leaders of Israel are called on the carpet. There is no evidence in Joel that they are responsible for Israel’s sins, but they are responsible to fulfill their role in a day of crisis. They are spiritual leaders, and God’s people need to be lead back to him. God’s appointed spiritual leaders are exactly that – they are not primarily business men, politicians, lawyers, or managers – they are leaders in things spiritual. If the congregation of God is to come back to their senses and a right relationship with God, they will need to be lead by the priests and elders.
But the rest of the population is not let off the hook. They are called to see what has gone on around them and learn how to respond faithfully. They are not allowed to sit on the sidelines and watch as the priests and elders put things right with God, they are expected to be fully engaged in the process of repentance and restoration.
And then Joel tells the story of the locust. A devastating plague has swept through their countryside and left nothing to them. A plague of locust comes in waves, day after day. Joel describes just that when he tells us that what the first wave didn’t eat, the second wave ate, and what they left the third wave ate, and so on. From eyewitness account after account we can be sure of what happened to their countryside. Nothing was left. Crops, grass, seeds, heaps of stored grain, the bark on the trees – all gone. Their consumption was complete.
When the locusts come through, nothing edible is left. Nothing promising any future value remains. Joel and his people face a few pressing questions. What can be done in the face of such destruction? How can the people of God be faithful on a day like this? Is there anyone who is great enough to restore all that was lost?
As it turns out, there is a God who is both powerful enough and faithful enough to restore what was lost. And there is a way for God’s people – even people who have rebelled against God – to be faithful in a time like this.
To believe in a God of restoration is to understand the depth of the destruction. And then we begin to understand how much greater this God we worship really is. All is gone. Everything we thought would take care of us tomorrow has been taken away from us. So it is to you, O Lord, that we turn.