Valley of Decision - Divine Disaster
Sermon Date: Oct. 8, 2023
TITLE: Divine Disaster
TEXT: Joel 1:1-20
TASK: To help believers understand how God dispenses His judgement.
TEACH: On the first day of November 1755, one of the great earthquakes of modern times struck the city of Lisbon, Portugal. The epicenter was located several miles off the Portuguese coast, in the Atlantic, so tremendous tidal waves struck the city and contributed to the damage. The earthquake came at 9:40 a.m. and lasted for six minutes. In those six minutes all public buildings and 12,000 dwellings were demolished. Sixty thousand people died, including those who were killed as a result of the tidal waves and a fire, which raged for six days. Heavy damage occurred in Fez, Morocco, to the south, and in Algiers, 700 miles to the east. On the coast the tidal waves were sixty feet high.
TRUTH: Nothing personal is known about the man Joel, and considerable debate exists as to the date of his prophecy. Jewish tradition placed Joel between Hosea and Amos, though the reasons for this location are debated.
Joel is typically dated during the postexilic, second temple era. His apocalyptic perspective is thought to have more affinities with late OT apocalyptic as identified especially in Daniel, Zechariah, and parts of Isaiah, as opposed to the earlier apocalyptic of Isaiah and Ezekiel. The references in chap. 4 to Phoenicia and Philistia and their dealing with Greece are thought to reflect conditions in the Persian era, typically the fourth century b.c. The lack of any mention of a king, compared to most other pre-exilic prophetic books, also seems reason to avoid a preexilic dating.
Joel’s Message: Like all the canonical prophets, Joel depended on the Mosaic covenant of the Pentateuch for the basic points of his message: the covenant’s curses must come as a result of national disobedience; but after a period of chastisement, God will restore his people and bless them in ways they had not yet experienced.
I. The destruction caused was unique in its nature (vv.1-4)
a. “Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your father.” Literally, “have they ever seen anything like this before?”
b. Joel begins his oracle with a description of a locust plague that has recently devastated Judah and that has been followed by drought. Joel commands that the memory of the catastrophe be passed on to future generations and he calls three groups to mourn.
Illustration: In 1915 a plague of locusts covered Palestine and Syria from the border of Egypt to the Taurus mountains. The first swarms appeared in March. These were adult locusts that came from the northeast and moved toward the southwest in clouds so thick they obscured the sun. The females were about two and one-half to three inches long, and they immediately began to lay eggs by digging holes in the soil about four inches deep and depositing about 100 eggs in each. The eggs were neatly arranged in a cylindrical mass about one inch long and about as thick as a pencil. These holes were everywhere. Witnesses estimated that as many as 65,000–75,000 eggs were concentrated in a single square meter of soil, and patches like this covered the entire land from north to south. Having laid their eggs the locusts flew away.
Within a few weeks the young locusts hatched. These resembled large ants. They had no wings, and within a few days they began moving forward by hopping along the ground like fleas. They would cover four to six hundred feet a day, devouring any vegetation before them. By the end of May they had molted. In this stage they had wings, but they still did not fly. Instead they moved forward by walking, jumping only when they were frightened. They were bright yellow. Finally the locusts molted again, this time becoming the fully developed adults that had invaded the land initially. “They stripped every leaf, berry, and even the tender bark.” They ate away “layer after layer” of the cactus plants, “giving the leaves the effect of having been jackplaned. Even on the scarce and prized palms they had no pity, gnawing off the tenderer ends of the swordlike branches and, diving deep into the heart, they tunneled after the juicy pith.”
Throughout this chapter the text consistently portrays the locust plague as an act of God. At no time does it entertain the idea that this is simply one of the crises that confront people as a matter of course. That is, the locust plague is not viewed as a “natural” event in the way that we normally understand the term. In this book disasters do not happen simply because (in this case) the natural world has grasshoppers in it and sometimes grasshoppers multiply excessively and cause great damage. Disasters happen because God chooses for them to happen. For Joel the locust plague was an “act of God” in the most literal sense. There are no accidents because God, not an impersonal “fate,” governs nature. For many readers this represents an extremely troublesome view since it seems to imply that God is cruel or at least indifferent to human suffering.
II. The destruction caused challenges for the people (vv.5-14)
The most remarkable thing about Joel’s prophecy is not that he describes the locust invasion so accurately, however. The remarkable thing is how he deals with it.
The philosopher Pangloss is unshaken by the evil of the Lisbon earthquake. He argues that since the earthquake occurred in Lisbon, it did not occur anywhere else. And since this is the best of all possible worlds, the fact that it did not occur anywhere else and occurred only in Lisbon is good. This thinking is entirely alien to Joel and indeed to any other of the Hebrew prophets.
First, he calls on the elders. They are the leaders of the people. They are to take the lead in facing up to the enormity and meaning of this disaster. They are to measure it fully and then remember it so they can tell it to their children that they in turn might tell it to theirs (v. 3).
The second group Joel appeals to are drunkards. At first sight this seems strange, but it is soon clear that the appeal is made ironically. Others might shrug the disaster off, but the drunkards at least will not do this since the invasion means the destruction of the tender vines from which come the grapes to make wine: “Wake up, you drunkards, and weep! Wail, all you drinkers of wine; wail because of the wine, for it has been snatched from your lips” (v. 5). Joel’s concern is broader than this, however. For, as he points out, it is not only the vines that are affected; the fig trees are also destroyed (v. 7); the grain is devoured (vv. 9–10); the oil of the olive is lost (v. 10); the pomegranate, palm, and apple tree are ruined (v. 12). Even the ground is dried up (vv. 10, 12). Nor is it only the fields that are affected: “Surely the joy of mankind is withered away” (v. 12).
Pity the farmers, the third group! “Despair, you farmers, wail, you vine growers; grieve for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field is destroyed” (v. 11).
The last of the groups addressed by Joel are priests. He calls on them to lead the nation in mourning.
Joel challenged them: 1. To show remorse. 2. To repent. 3. To rededicate. 4. To realize 5. To recognize the inability to survive.
III. The destruction caused carried with it a significant warning (15-20)
Sorrow and grief were not merely possibilities of the future but were in fact already present in the land. The locust plague had devastated the country, and the house of God, which was meant to be a place of joy (cf. Ps. 122:1–4), had become a place of gloom because of the lack of offerings. A dearth of food led to the absence of joy and gladness.
The picture is of a drought so severe that the ground has dried up into clods, seeds have shriveled beneath them, and storehouses and granaries decay because of disuse.
The picture of famine continues, although now cattle and sheep, not humans (v. 16) or crops (v. 17), are in focus. Both herds of cattle and flocks of sheep are distressed because their normal pastures provide no feed. Even when there is no grass for cattle, sheep can survive on roots, but now even that source of food is gone. Just as Israel groaned when under bondage in Egypt (cf. Ex. 2:23), so now the beasts groan in their present distress.
This is the reason why Joel is dealing with the disaster caused by the invasion of the locusts. To be sure, the first chapter merely bemoans the disaster. But as we get farther into the book we discover that the locust invasion is a foretaste of the coming day of God’s judgment and is sent in advance of that day as a warning of it.
Peter wrote in 2Peter 3:8-13 (look-up).
1. When a so-called natural disaster takes place, we need to ask, “is God calling us to repent?”
-We too must: show remorse, repent, rededicate, realize the warning, recognize the inability to survive it without Christ.
TIE-UP: In America we have not seen many disasters of this magnitude. But few would deny that times are not good and that even worse times may lie ahead. We have not had earthquakes of the size of the one in Lisbon, but our cities have been ravaged by blight and riot, by corruption and other forms of decay. We have not been destroyed by locusts, but we have our economy weakened by the declining value of the dollar. We have had droughts. Are we to make light of such thing? Are we to dismiss them and then merely go on our normal way until even greater judgments overtake us? Are we to say, “Such things just happed”? Are we to blame Russian or communism or Islam? But we would be wise to see these things coming from God and lead us to personal and national repentance.