March 26, 2017
Last week, we talked briefly about the concept of God actively bringing pain into the lives of His people.
You might remember that I asked whether God ALLOWS pain in the lives of His people. Everyone in the room nodded and said, Yes. But then I asked whether God ever BRINGS suffering into the lives of those who are His. I think I would describe your assent to that idea as muted, at best.
Scripture tells us that God is good, that He loves us and that every good thing we have comes from Him. I think we (and here I’m pointing at myself, too) sometimes tend to interpret those things to mean that God would never bring us pain.
But our lesson today in Joel Chapter 2 — and in fact in many parts of Scripture — tells a different story. Just as nobody can bring the good things in our lives quite like God can, nobody can bring the pain quite like God can.
I want to give you a little context for our study in Joel, so let’s turn to the book of Judges, Chapter 2.
After the Jewish people were taken into the promised land by Joshua, they fought behind God to subdue Canaan, but they didn’t completely wipe out the inhabitants there as God had directed. They left a remnant that God said would ever be a thorn in their sides. This period of conquest ended in 1381 B.C., when Joshua died and God began to raise judges to rescue His people from their wickedness.
In Chapter 2 of the Book of Judges, we are given a thumbnail sketch of the cycle the people of Israel fell into.
Read Judges 2:8-23
Who brought the pain to the people of Israel?
What was their response?
What was God’s response?
And then what happened?
And once God had delivered them, what happened then?
Do you see the cycle?
Why did God bring His people trouble?
This is the central point I want to get to today. God brings trouble into our lives in order to draw us back to Him.
Now understand that I’m not saying every time we’re in pain it’s because of disobedience. Sometimes it certainly is. But here’s the thing: Whether our troubles are a result of our disobedience or not, the proper response on our part is the same: We need to draw near to God.
When we draw near to God, what does the Bible tell us will happen? Do you see that in the cycle represented in Judges, Chapter 2?
Now, let’s see if we can see the same concept in the Book of Joel.
Turn with me to Joel, Chapter 2.
A little background here: Not much is known about Joel, including when he wrote his book of prophecy. Scholars seem to be split over whether he wrote it in the 9th century B.C. or in the 5th century B.C. Either way, the nation of Israel had drifted far from God by that time. The people had demanded a king – like all the other nations around them – and their mortal kings had proven to be just as corrupt as God had warned. Furthermore, God’s warning that the people would follow after the false gods of Canaan had proved just as accurate.
Joel, writing whenever he did, spent the first chapter of his book talking about a terrible plague of locusts. One locust is creepy. Oh, those eyes! A plague of them can lay waste to an entire region. Imagine the terror the people must have felt in Judah, where Joel probably lived, when swarms of locusts descended upon their land.
The locusts were so numerous and so violent in their work that in Chapter 1, Joel describes them as a nation attacking the land.
Now, let’s not miss this point. These locusts were brought to Judah to wreak their destruction by God.
God sought to draw his people back to Him, and doing so required that He get their attention.
I know this is hard for some of you to believe, but when I was a little boy, I had a tendency upon occasion to act up in public. Once in a while, I would smart mouth my mother when we were out shopping or at a restaurant. Or maybe I would serially disobey her.
What do you think happened?
Well, she brought the pain, that’s what happened. Or my father did. Either way, I was going to be snapped back to attention, and quickly.
Why do you think they did that? Did they hate me? Were they just mean?
The reason they disciplined me then (and I still bear the emotional scars!) was that they loved me and wanted to be sure that I didn’t suffer even worse because I’d been allowed to continue in my wrong ways.
Even today, if Mom says, “Res, do you want me to take you to the bathroom?” I cover my behind and simmer down.
So back to Joel. In the first chapter, he reminds the people of Judah about the terrifying and terrible event of the plague of locusts that God had brought as both punishment and teaching.
In Chapter 2, he warns of a day that will be infinitely worse for those who do not learn the lesson, for those who do not repent, who do not turn from their wicked ways and turn to Him.
This day will be the Day of the Lord. In one sense, that’s the time when Babylon invades and takes the Jewish people into captivity. In another sense, it’s when the Romans occupy and oppress Israel. And in a greater sense, this points to God’s final punishment of the world.
Joel is warning his people to remember the pain of that little correction God gave them in the plague of locusts so that they will avoid the far worse suffering to come.
Chapter 2 starts with a description of another invasion. This one, however, isn’t locusts. This is far worse.
But God — who is just AND merciful — reminds His people, just as He still reminds us, that He is there if we call on His name.
In your time of trouble, turn to God with all your heart, Joel says. Not just with words or empty gestures.
And when we do so, in his great mercy, God will sustain us and deliver us from evil.
This is where we must break the cycle. This is where we are meant to be. This is what God wants. He wants us to turn to Him with all our hearts, not just our words, not just the tearing of our clothes.
The people of Israel tore their clothes as a symbol of their mourning, but they — and we — mostly didn’t mean anything beyond the symbolic in the gesture. God wants our true repentance. He wants our hearts broken over our sins against Him. And He wants our hearts truly turned toward Him, whether the pain we’re suffering is a result of our disobedience or simply the brokenness of this fallen world.
Whatever the reason for our pain, the proper response is the same: Turn to God with all our hearts. Draw near to God and He will draw near to us.
Are you suffering today? Is there pain in your life? Do you need a little hope?
Look at Verse 32.
No matter the threat, Joel encourages all the faithful of every land, culture, and nation to trust that the Lord is in their midst.
Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you.