The name Joel has two syllables, both of which actually stand for God; that Yahweh is God and that there is no other God but Jehovah. Therefore even if the prophet Joel stood before the people and said nothing, his name would proclaim that Jehovah alone is God. Joel is a common biblical name with twelve others appearing in biblical history. But the Joel, who prophesied in Judah, was the second of the twelve Minor Prophets and is believed to have been a contemporary of Amos because of the similarity of their messages.
In the first chapter of the book of Joel, the prophet calls the people's attention to the devastation that is in the land, he then calls them to devotion, repentance and deliverance. He laments to the elders to jog their memories to see if any such thing had ever happened before. He says that what is happening is extremely unusual and the seriousness of the whole thing is seen in the way that he calls their attention to it by not really telling them what is happening, thereby working from the unknown to the known. In verse four he talks of four categories of locusts which have cleared the land of its produce. Some scholars, however, think that the text may be referring to different swarms that devour the land for four different generations. Either way, it is noteworthy to remember that a locust consumes an equivalent of its body's weight; one hundred million of them would cover a square mile. Locusts can generally cover upto 400 square miles. The first swarm would of course eat the softer things and leave the tougher things for the last ones. Such envisaged waste can only call for weeping in Joel's estimate because the devastation would make it impossible to bring offerings to the Lord's Table, so everyone is at risk.
In Proverbs 31:10-23 we see that elders who sat at the city gates were respected if they had good wives. Now however, Joel asks that the farmers and drunkards in their midst should lament instead because they are all in the same boat.
Farmers were the professionals of the time, hardworking and sustaining the rest. They depended, for their lively hood, on their labour and were self reliant. Usually people who are self reliant tend to be arrogant and dismissive but in this book we see all people brought to their knees by the same measure of devastation to the land. The poor man, the pleasure loving drunkard, the vine grower and the rich man must all suffer. In Joel 1:9, priests are not spared either because the absence of grain offerings in the Lord's house will affect them too, for this is what they are dependant on. The cattle too moan and there is no joy left in the land.
Today in our nations, we see a parallel situation. We have pleasure lovers who do not want to be restrained and will go after anything and everything that brings them fleeting satisfaction. The farmers of our time are the professionals who toil day and night to hold our economies together. Our clergy men, just like the priests of old, depend on the congregation for their upkeep. Locusts eat until they can eat no more and they always come in swarms. A coalition of liberals found in all sectors such as professionals, civil society, media, sometimes other nations and of late Christians who are only so by name and who do not know what they really stand for, are determined to eat through the very core of our beliefs and wipe away our values. The church is under siege. Hatred, insults and mockery is directed at us. Like the locusts in Joel 1:4, what one group leaves behind, another comes and clears away.
Christians are under attack like never before, to the extent that we even have people who now call God names. In some countries, Christians are persecuted and silenced with death; the blood of these innocents cries out. Weep, oh ye Christians for devastation has come our way; let us all be ashamed enough to repent for those who have defiled the land of God. Has anything this shameful happened before in our world? We must weep, but we must do so with focus and do so strategically. In verse 13 Joel changes the focus of wailing and asks the people to do so, not because there are no offerings, but because they are being withheld from God. He also asks that they may declare a holy fast; that despite there being no food, a deliberate one should be partaken with a new sense of devotion.
Locusts, although eating for themselves, are actually servants of God. 2Chronicles 7:13-14 says, 'When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land'. We tend to attribute all good things that happen to us to God and all the bad to the devil but we forget that heaven can send locusts to devastate the land. Amos in 5:19-20 talks of a day such as this when one will flee from a lion only to meet a bear or maybe a cobra. When judgment begins, it begins with the house of the Lord. There will come a time when we believers will be put through the judgment seat of Christ for the testing and weighing of our works on earth, it will also be a time to see what we did with our talents. The other will be the judgment seat of God which will be a lot like a referendum whereby will have to give a yes or no answer to the question of whether or not one believed in Jesus Christ as his or her Savior.
In times of repentance, we must start with ourselves. In Joel 1:19-20 we see Joel crying for the people and animals as well. This is the cry we too must bring to God; we must stand in the gap for others. Like Nehemiah and David, we must go in sackcloth and cry to the Lord for our inequities and those of our people. In times of crisis, as may well be expected, there will be all sorts of voices, the optimists who will feel there is no big deal, the pessimists who will think that it can only get worse, the alarmists who will see non-existent enemies at every corner and the scoffers who will shrug off any report. But the realists will carry the day and like Joel will look at life from a standpoint of God. Like Joel's name suggested, Jehovah is God.
We too must put everything, including our ingenuity, our hard work or our good leaders in God's perspective. We should not stop at optimism or get stuck at pessimism because God can and does restore the land and His people just like He did for Nineveh after they had repented. God's mercies and love endure for ever, as such we always have a chance to be forgiven and restored.
May these words (sermons), from various men and women of God be a blessing to all.