By Mark Scott
David Brymer sings a worship song entitled “Restoration.” The people during the time of the prophet Joel would have liked that song. Regardless of when the book is dated, the contents make it clear that God’s people have sinned. To restore them God sent a plague of locusts to gain their attention. The locusts literally trashed the land (Joel 1:4; 2:25). (We have yet to realize—and maybe even admit—the connection between our sin and groaning creation—Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 8:18-25.) God will use a natural disaster as a first step in his restorative love. Let’s discover what it takes for restoring love to work.
We do not want to suggest that by mere human effort on our part God’s restorative love can be wrestled to the ground. However, God’s love must be appropriated in some way. God has prescribed that way to be repentance. (Keep in mind that twice in Acts repentance is viewed as a gift—Acts 5:31; 11:18.) Joel had already called God’s people to repentance (Joel 1:13, 14). He returned to that theme here.
Return is one of the most common Hebrew words in the Old Testament. It literally means “to turn back or turn around.” But this turning has to be genuine. No hypocrisy is allowed. It has to be done with all your heart. Three activities accompany this contrite spirit: fasting, weeping, and mourning. The repentance cannot be just skin-deep. It must go down deep into the primal reality. Joel told the people to rend your hearts and not your garments. What else does it take for restorative love to work?
Joel 2:13b, 18, 19
God uses our genuine repentance to assist him in getting the world back, but he is not constrained by it. More often than not he will act on the basis of his own character. Five of his qualities are mentioned in the last part of Joel 2:13: God is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, and relents from sending calamity. His character creates the perfect environment for us to repent.
God’s righteous jealousy causes him to take pity on his people. So after the locusts had inflicted their havoc on the land, God started sending new waves of grain, new wine, and olive oil. This pictures the age of the Messiah (see John 2:1-11) and God restoring creation. Additionally, and maybe even most importantly, he removes our shame (scorn to the nations). Think back through the elements of grace evident even in the cursing of creation in Genesis 3:14-19.
Holy Spirit Power
It is hard to unread this passage. People familiar with the New Testament will immediately recognize this text as quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21). We want to read the text forward (from the Old Testament uniquely) before we read it backward (importing freight from the New Testament). However, it seems as though Joel is looking down the corridors of history to a time when God will do something more wonderful than restore physical creation from locust plagues. There is coming a time when God will pour out his power and presence in large and generous ways.
When God does this, gender specificity will not matter (sons and daughters will prophesy). When God does this, age, means, and methods will not matter (old men will dream dreams and young men will see visions). When God does this, the physical will give way to the spiritual (wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke—miracles that indicate God’s presence and power). When God does this, cosmic signs will be used to speak of nations submitting to God’s kingdom (the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord).
The restoring love of God works through the convicting power of the Holy Spirit to create an environment where people want to call on the name of the Lord to be saved. The good news will come out of Jerusalem and spread throughout the world (Acts 1:8). Heaven comes near when even one person responds to the restoring love of God.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.