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Joel: Return to the Lord

Updated: Apr 8

The sun rising over the fog reminds us of the consistency of the returning sunrise and reflects Joel's call to return to the Lord
Photo Credit: Dawid Zawiła

April 12, 2023

Dear Friends,

It is always good for us to turn our focus to the God who knows us through and through. This is the same God who loves and cares about us and those we are praying for.

Today, we jump back into the Ancient Scriptures and consider the little three-chapter-prophecy of Joel.

While scholars don’t know exactly when the prophecy of Joel was written, his message was very clear and pointed. The principles found there apply to any period of time. God’s people had sinned, they had turned from Him, and judgment was inevitable. It is described in this book five times over as the day of the LORD.

As Joel looked back, he recounted how the Lord had judged His people. Right at the outset, he spoke about the locusts and what they had done. “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” (Joel 1:4).

This could be taken figuratively, but it may very well be a description of what real locusts had done to the land of Israel. These little creatures fly in large swarms and destroy any vegetation they find. This is a reminder of the 8th plague in the land of Egypt, when God's judgment fell due to the disobedience and tyranny of Pharaoh. In our present passage, it was not just one type of locust but 4 different kinds that brought certain devastation.

The prophet was seeking to get the attention of His people. In his message, he used language of awareness: “Wake up…mourn…despair…put on sackcloth…” (Joel 1:5-12). He wanted them to be convicted by their departure from God so that change could take place.

Then, in the center of the book, the announcement was made for them to return to the LORD: “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments” (Joel 2:12-13).

God wanted reality and honesty. He wanted the inward condition of their hearts to affect their outward actions, and not just an external show.

To rend one's garments was a sign of deep remorse. It would be relatively easy to rend your garments, to put on a big visible display of what might or might not be happening on the inside.

God didn’t want that.

God wanted them to rend their hearts. He wanted them to understand their sin and experience the power of true repentance.

Returning to the LORD is a marvelous thing to do. God loves humility, contrition, and honesty. When His people return in such a way, they find the fullness of God’s heart. They discover what they didn’t expect and what they didn’t deserve. They find that God loves them deeply.

And this reality has not changed.

Joel says, “Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13). What beautiful words describing the character of our God!

When God says a thing once it is important. When He says it twice, He is emphasizing its importance.

These identical Hebrew words are found 7 times throughout the Old Testament Scriptures (Exodus 34:6, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, Psalm 105:8, Psalm 145:8, Joel 2:13, and Jonah 4:2).

There is nothing more valuable than knowing the heart of God. His steadfast love (che.sed) is loyal love, faithful love, or as the ESV puts it, steadfast love. God wants you to understand just how significant it is, so He greatly emphasized it in the Old Testament. He referred to it not once or twice, but about 245 times!

This love says that God will never give up on His people! They may turn from Him, slander Him, hurt Him, come under His judgment, but nothing, absolutely nothing, can shake this quality of love that He has for them.

It is worthwhile noticing that God doesn’t just possess this love, che.sed is His very nature. He abounds with che.sed and loves to shower it upon His people. When His people repent and return to Him, this is what they find — a loving Father who is faithfully waiting for them with open arms.

God is eager to bless His people, and through Joel He says, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25). What is being said here?

All those wasted years of wandering and departure that the locust had taken are swallowed up by His grace. There’s no browbeating, no scolding, no penance required, just full, complete, wonderful restoration though delightful divine grace.

As Joel pointed forward, there was a partial fulfillment of blessing manifested in the early chapters of Acts, after the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus at the day of Pentecost (Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:17-21). It was an exciting time because the Spirit of God was poured out in full measure. The full prophecy of the Day of the Lord is still yet to come.

He tells us that once sin is fully and forever dealt with and removed, the mountains will drip with new wine, the hills will flow with milk, and a fountain will flow out from the Lord’s house. You can read about it in Chapter 3. It will be a glorious day!

Never forget that we, too, are God’s people. The application of this prophecy is for us. This God, who loves us with che.sed is our refuge and stronghold.

He will receive us. He will bless us. He will restore us. Thank you for praying for our prodigals and for revival.

Love in Christ,

Bryan and Rachel


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