Gary V. Smith in Prophets as Preachers compares the Biblical “day of the Lord” we see discussed in Joel, to a parent sending a child off to college. Consider first the perspective of the student. The student has been looking forward to the college experience for years, the freedom and fun with expectation and excitement. Everyone for months has been asking about this next step and sharing about their own stories, building the anticipation for the student. Then consider the parent. Perhaps they are looking forward to launching their child, for their own new experience of freedom it will bring, but the emotions are mixed. They may be dreading the end of an era, fearing perhaps what life might be like after this epic shift in their household. One day, one major event, bring so many mixed emotions. This is like the day of the Lord for the people of God. Everything has been pointing to this day. Some wait with hopeful expectation, and yet fear the coming judgement. The book of Joel describes these mixed, sometimes contradictory emotions- fear and hope, dread and comfort, sadness and joy.
Joel 2:30-31 depicts the signs of the day of the Lord- columns of smoke, sun turned to darkness, moon turning to blood. All off these are throwbacks, links for the people of God to think back to the time of the Exodus.
Columns of smoke would have reminded God’s people of the scene at Mount Sinai from Exodus 19:18. The columns of smoke, along with earth shaking thunder were powerful symbols of God’s presence in their midst. Symbols that reminded them of the power of God, symbols that invoked fear, and yet also brought hope and peace that God was with them. But the other signs in this passage are far less pleasant. The darkened sun and the blood moon would be reminders of the plagues of judgement sent upon the people of Egypt in Exodus 10:5-15. Reminders of God’s power over all creation, and a reminder that with God’s presence also comes God’s justice and judgement. Here are those mixed emotions for the people of God. We long for God’s justice, the day when all will be made right, and yet we fear judgement, afraid that God’s gaze may fall upon us and find us wanting.
Judgement seems to also have already come to the people of God in the time of Joel through their own version of the locust plague once sent upon the Egyptians. Locusts are grasshoppers, and in small numbers do very little damage. But, at least according to a quick Google search, when they grow great in number, they can rapidly decimate a field of crops. The people of God had walked through famine due to swarms of locusts. They knew what it meant to be hungry; their crops and livelihood taken from them, leaving them desolate and hopeless.
Many of us have experienced this type of loss in recent years. Many of us have had much taken by sickness, violence, nationalism, racism, and the lies of the enemy. Many of us feel desolate and hopeless. And yet in the midst of this loss, we see the promise of God that indeed all is not lost. The Lord says in Joel 2:25, “I will repay you for the years that the cutting locust, the swarming locust, the hopping locust, and the devouring locust has eaten,” (CEB). The Hebrew word translated as repay is the word shalom. Shalom is best understood as to make whole or complete. The Lord will restore the people to wholeness and restore what has been taken from them. God can redeem and revive that which seemed lost and dead.
This passage is perhaps best known for its quotation in Acts 2:17-21. The Lord will pour out God’s Spirit on all people. “Sons and daughters will prophesy,” (CEB). Often we get the idea of prophecy as fortune telling or seeing the future. But here it means to speak forth words, to preach, to share with others the story of their encounter with God. And in this pouring out, God is not holding back. God offers the Spirit abundantly to all. Listed here are sons and daughters, youth, women, and older folks who are to receive God’s Spirit and prophesy. Those who many think aren’t valuable, aren’t prepared, have maybe outlived their usefulness are vital to the kingdom of God. God will hold nothing back, even from those whom others may marginalize.
I can think of no better Scripture for the people of God in this season. God desires to use all of us. God holds nothing back. And God longs to make all things right, redeeming even the years we feel were wasted or taken from us.
Smith, G. V. (1998). Prophets as preachers: An introduction to the Hebrew prophets. Broadman & Holman Pub.