Christ in the Minor Prophets: No. 3 - God's Center of Blessing

Joel 1‑3  •  21 min. read  •  grade level: 8
H. P. Barker
No. 3. — Joel
God’s Center of Blessing
Joel 1:1-191The word of the Lord that came to Joel the son of Pethuel. 2Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers? 3Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation. 4That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten. 5Awake, ye drunkards, and weep; and howl, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the new wine; for it is cut off from your mouth. 6For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek teeth of a great lion. 7He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white. 8Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth. 9The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the Lord; the priests, the Lord's ministers, mourn. 10The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted: the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth. 11Be ye ashamed, O ye husbandmen; howl, O ye vinedressers, for the wheat and for the barley; because the harvest of the field is perished. 12The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men. 13Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests: howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meat offering and the drink offering is withholden from the house of your God. 14Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord, 15Alas for the day! for the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come. 16Is not the meat cut off before our eyes, yea, joy and gladness from the house of our God? 17The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered. 18How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate. 19O Lord, to thee will I cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field. (Joel 1:1‑19)
“The word of the Lord that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.
Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?
Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.
That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten.
The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the Lord; the Priests, the Lord’s ministers, mourn.
O Lord, to Thee will I cry.”
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In the days of the prophet Joel, the land of Judah was visited by a terrible plague of insects. Such a thing had never been experienced before; and so fearful was the scourge, that generations yet unborn were to hear the story of the dire calamity which had befallen the land.
Devastation had spread on every side. With first the palmerworm, then the locust, then the cankerworm, then the caterpillar, nothing had escaped. The vines and the fig trees were destroyed, the fields of wheat and barley were laid waste, the grass of the pastures was consumed, and the whole land lay in utter desolation.
But what caused the prophet special grief amid all this sorrow was the fact that the meat offering and the drink offering were cut off from the house of the Lord. The means were no longer forthcoming to keep up these sacrifices. Twice in chapter 1 is this fact lamented, and no wonder, for the meat and drink offerings spoke of Christ. And now they had ceased, and as God looked down from heaven there was no longer anything in Judah that presented Christ typically to His eye.
Here then we get the dark background of the prophecy we are to consider, a prophecy which brightens into such glorious splendor at its close.
We must remember that all these things have a moral bearing. The desolation all around was the counterpart of the havoc that sin had wrought within. The people had grievously wandered from Jehovah, and their state was such that He could take no pleasure in them. The whole scene was one of ruin and departure from God.
Were there none that felt all this? None that viewed things according to God? None that groaned in secret over the condition of the land and the people?
Yes, there was Joel. No doubt there were others, godly men who feared Jehovah, just as in Elijah’s day there were 7,000 who did not bow the knee to Baal. But Joel comes before us here as the one who mourned over the state of things, and carried the burden of his people’s trouble upon his spirit. And who can fail to recognize the voice of Christ in the way he speaks? Who is it, think you, that speaks in verses 6 and 7 of “my land,” and “my vine,” and “my fig-tree”? Who is it that in verse 19 cries out, in the midst of all the stress, to Jehovah, as the One in whom alone a resource and refuge is to be found?
It is, I believe, the blessed Lord, in the spirit of prophecy, identifying Himself with His people in their woe, Himself feeling the pressure that is upon them, and giving voice to the feelings that the Spirit of God would produce in them through the trial.
Precious Savior!’ with what deep delight can we, who know Him in a still more intimate way, and stand in a still closer relationship to Him, trace out His ways of grace with His people of old!
But the state of the nation was hopeless. The meat and drink offerings ceased; the people had, so to speak, lost that which was a presentation of Christ, and what possible hope could there be apart from Him?
Joel 2:1-131Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand; 2A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations. 3A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them. 4The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses; and as horsemen, so shall they run. 5Like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains shall they leap, like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble, as a strong people set in battle array. 6Before their face the people shall be much pained: all faces shall gather blackness. 7They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; and they shall march every one on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks: 8Neither shall one thrust another; they shall walk every one in his path: and when they fall upon the sword, they shall not be wounded. 9They shall run to and fro in the city; they shall run upon the wall, they shall climb up upon the houses; they shall enter in at the windows like a thief. 10The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining: 11And the Lord shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; and who can abide it? 12Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: 13And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. (Joel 2:1‑13)
“Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand.
A day of darkness and of gloominess....there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations.
And the Lord shall utter His voice before His army: for His camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth His word.
Therefore also now, saith the Lord..... turn unto the Lord your God: for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.”
But in chapter 2 the whole situation is changed. God brings forward His great resource. If there was no outlook for Judah but one of darkness and despair, if their sky was covered with murky clouds without a gleam, their extremity gives God His opportunity to bring in that which He ever had in view, and which is completely secure from all possibility of breakdown, the fruit of His own counsel.
So in chapter 2 the whole situation is changed by the introduction of Mount Zion, and the prophecy forthwith carries us on into the future.
The plague of insects is then seen to be figurative of a still more terrible scourge that should come upon the land and the people of Israel in the last days (days yet to come); a time of which it could be said with even greater truth than with respect to the devastation by insects “there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations.”
Into the details of the prophetic future I do not propose to enter, for my subject is not exactly an exposition of the book of Joel, but to show how Christ is presented therein. But we must have some understanding of what is referred to, in order that we may see how God brings in His great resource.
In the last days, when the Jews are gathered back to their own land, and are again acknowledged by God as His people, a great enemy will come up against them from the north. This enemy is not to be confounded with the Antichrist, nor with the great king called in Scripture “the Beast,” who reigns over the empire of the west. This other enemy who comes up against Jerusalem from the north is frequently referred to by Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah, and other prophets, and is generally spoken of as “The Assyrian.” The first part of Joel 2 describes his invasion of the land of Israel and the manner of his army’s advance upon Jerusalem. Terrible indeed will be their coming. With sword and flame they spread destruction all around, “nothing shall escape them.”
But it is not to the enemy, or to the havoc that he works, that God would direct our attention by His servant Joel, but to the way He brings in Mount Zion as His resource. In connection with Mount Zion we have the utter overthrow of the enemy and the final deliverance and blessing of God’s people.
Now, of course, all this is yet future. But there is a passage in Hebrews 12:11Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, (Hebrews 12:1) would like to remind you of: “Ye are come unto Mount Zion.” Zion has not yet come; the blessing of God which will be secured for the earth in connection with it is still in abeyance. But though Zion has not yet come, we (Christians) have come to it. That is what Hebrews 12:2222But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, (Hebrews 12:22) states. The meaning is clear enough. Zion is really a type of the Risen Christ, the One in whom God has made His blessing sure, not on the ground of fulfilled responsibility on man’s part, but on the ground of His own purpose. When everything on our side had broken down, and every claim upon God forfeited, He was pleased to set forth Christ as His great Resource, the One in whom blessing is treasured up for man, according to His own purpose, and in such a way as to be eternally secure from all fear of breakdown or forfeiture.
I have no wish to follow in the steps of those who “spiritualize” the prophets, and make their references to Israel apply to the Church, and who interpret all the literal blessings promised to the chosen nation as referring, in a spiritual and allegorical way, to Christians. Great harm has been done by that sort of thing.
When Israel is spoken of, Israel, not the Church, is meant. When the Jews are mentioned, the reference is to them literally, and not to Christians.
At the same time we Christians have come to that of which the literal Zion is a type, and with that thought in mind I will ask you to look with me at the seven passages in which Joel speaks of Zion.
The first thing is that from Zion an alarm is sounded. The effect of it, in the future day, is described in verse 11.
The calamity under which they suffer is recognized as coming upon them from God, the devastating army was executing His word. Then a proclamation of God’s goodness follows, and a call for fasting and repentance.
Now see how that applies to us when we think of Zion as a type of Christ. In Him we have a perfect expression of God’s grace and goodness, and the first effect of that upon our souls is to bow us down in repentance. An alarm is sounded, we acknowledge our lost condition and fall at His feet. It is a great mercy to’ be able to learn our state in the light of the Risen Christ, for by this means we learn it in the presence of infinite grace. Otherwise, like Judas, we should be filled with remorse at the discovery of our condition, and with bitterness in our hearts we should turn away, as he did, into the darkness of eternal alienation from God.
We cannot be too thankful that it is from Zion that the alarm has been sounded; that is, that the light that has shone upon us, and brought us down (as it did Saul the persecutor on the road to Damascus), is the light of the grace of God in Christ risen.
“Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children: Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare Thy people, O Lord, and give not Thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: Then will the Lord be jealous for His land, and pity His people.
Fear not, O land: be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things.”
Again the trumpet is to be blown in Zion, not this time to “sound an alarm,” but to gather the people together that they may learn how God is going to intervene for them. Though they have sinned and have suffered, they are His people, His heritage, His land, and He is jealous on their behalf, The enemy has done great things; God has allowed him to; but now He shows Himself to be on the side of His people, and the promise is “The Lord will do great things” (verse 21). The great things that He would do for them would far surpass the great things that the Assyrian had done against them.
Again let us remember that we have come to Mount Zion. In Christ God has set forth a great rallying point for man, and in Him we learn the precious truth that God is for us (Rom. 8), The enemy’s power may be ever so great, but can he touch us if GOD is on our side?
This is a most establishing thought. We begin by seeing that God’s judgment is against us, and righteously so, because of our sin. Then we see how Christ has been down under that judgment, and has borne it for us, and that now God Himself is righteously for us. It is not merely that in Christ we have a complete settlement of the question that stood between God and us; but that the question between God and the enemy has been settled, by the utter overthrow of the latter, and the right secured for God to come in on our behalf, as our Deliverer, as the One who is for us. We have the light of this in Christ Risen, the true Mount Zion. And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God.” (verses 26 and 27).
Then, the gift of the Spirit is promised. The “wonders” of verse 30 happen, we read, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come. But “afterward,” it says, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” God will be able to dwell with complacency among His people, and to signify His pleasure in them, as children of Zion, by pouring out His Spirit upon them.
To all this we, Christians, have already come. After learning that God is for us, we learn that we are on a new footing before Him, associated with the risen Christ, “children of Zion.” We can now take account of ourselves as the companions of Christ, and of His order. We live of His life, and have received the gift of the Spirit. As the companions of Christ we share in His anointing. He always retains His place of pre-eminence (how gladly do our hearts accord it to Him!), but we have His Spirit, and are thus able to enter into the joys of the new position into which we are brought as “children of Zion,” companions of the Risen Christ.
“Be glad, then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God:
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh.
And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.”
The people now become identified in the mind of God with Zion, and are addressed as “children of Zion.” Suffering and sorrow are things of the past, joy and gladness fill their cup to overflowing. “Ye shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,” they are told, “and praise the name of the Lord your God that hath dealt wondrously with you: and My people shall never be ashamed.
“And it shall come to pass that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom, the Lord shall call.”
Here we find that salvation, or deliverance, is in Zion for Israel in the last days, but it is in connection with the call of God, and will be made good in a remnant. It will be there for all, for “whosoever shall call,” but the call of God has to come in to make it effective. He calls a remnant, and this remnant get all the good of the deliverance that is in Zion. Again I quote that passage from Hebrews 12 that I am using as a key to these prophecies: “Ye are come unto Mount Zion.” We have, in Christ, the One in connection with whom the call of God is made effective, and in whom we therefore have deliverance. In Him, blessing for man is lifted entirely off the plane of responsibility, and put on the ground of the call of God. 2 Timothy 1:99Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, (2 Timothy 1:9) brings in salvation in this connection. God’s purpose and grace are spoken of as having been given to us in Christ Jesus before the world began. According to this (and not by any means according to our works) is His salvation and holy calling. In speaking of salvation in this way we must not limit it to salvation from hell. It is salvation from every form of power that the enemy can bring against us. Those who get the good of this great salvation are those who are the subjects of the sovereign call of God, and who are connected, according to His purpose, with Zion, that is, with Christ risen.
5. Joel 3:1-161For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, 2I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land. 3And they have cast lots for my people; and have given a boy for an harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink. 4Yea, and what have ye to do with me, O Tyre, and Zidon, and all the coasts of Palestine? will ye render me a recompence? and if ye recompense me, swiftly and speedily will I return your recompence upon your own head; 5Because ye have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried into your temples my goodly pleasant things: 6The children also of Judah and the children of Jerusalem have ye sold unto the Grecians, that ye might remove them far from their border. 7Behold, I will raise them out of the place whither ye have sold them, and will return your recompence upon your own head: 8And I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the children of Judah, and they shall sell them to the Sabeans, to a people far off: for the Lord hath spoken it. 9Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: 10Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. 11Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord. 12Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. 13Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. 14Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. 15The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. 16The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel. (Joel 3:1‑16)
“For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem.
Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about.
Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision (threshing); for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision (threshing).
The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the Lord will be the hope of His people, and the strength of the children of Israel.”
In this last chapter the prophecy looks on to the time of full blessing and glory. But first it shows us how the world has to be prepared for it by the sweeping judgment of God upon the nations. Zion is the place from which that judgment goes forth. The nations are summoned to the valley of Jehoshaphat (which means “Jehovah judges”). They are seen in their multitudes in this valley of threshing. Then the Lord roars out of Zion, and the very heavens shake at the sound. But for His people He has something very different in store; He is their hope, or their “place of repair,” their “harbor,” in that day It is a solemn thing to remember tha the Risen Christ is not only the Fountain, head of blessing but the Executor of all judgment. The guilty nations will meet their doom at the hands of a Man, no the man of their choice, but the Man of God’s choice. If He is to hold the universe for God and fill it with what is agreeable to Him, He must first remove all that is contrary. That involves judgment. It is a necessity, if the blessing centered in Christ is to fill the earth, that what blocks the way should first be removed. And Christ, the Mighty One, will gird His sword upon His thigh, and will sweep out of His kingdom all things that offend.
But we “are come unto Mount Zion.” The world, for us, is already a judged thing. In Christ Risen we have arrived at the blessing with which the whole earth is to be filled, and all that is outside of that lies under judgment. That is how we view things from the standpoint of the Risen Christ. It was Paul’s outlook when he said “the world is crucified to me.”
If a Christian is going on with the world, it is evident that he does not realize this. But Zion is a great reality, and involves the disappearance in judgment of man’s world as a vast moral system. How happy to be able to say that for us it has gone already. It no longer holds us by its power, for its true character has been exposed in its rejection of Christ.
In times of war, a well-equipped naval port is the “place of repair” for the king’s vessels. But from the same place engines of destruction go forth against the enemy’s fleet. That is like our scripture. In Christ Risen there is a harbor, a place of repair, for His people, and from Him destruction will go forth against all that has wrought confusion and damage in the world.
“So shall ye know that I am the Lord your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem he holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more.”
Here we find a very important thing. Not only will God establish blessing in Zion, but He Himself will dwell there. He will take exclusive possession, no stranger’s foot shall ever again defile that holy mountain.
To this, also, we are come. For in the Risen Lord we are brought to the very dwelling-place of God. Not only do we find God fully revealed, for the blessing of His people, but that He is pleased to dwell in their midst, in infinite rest and satisfaction. God could not dwell in a scene where there was anything contrary to Christ. But where the excellency and fragrance of Christ pervades the whole atmosphere, where all is of Him, God can dwell with unspeakable delight.
As children of Adam, men of that order, there is nothing in us that God could look upon with pleasure. But as in Christ, God can find the most perfect satisfaction in us. How is that? “If any man be in Christ there is new creation,” and, viewed in that light, there is nothing in us or about us but what is of Christ. And in a house where every stone is part of Christ, where nothing is visible but Christ, where His fragrance pervades every part — in such a house the blessed God dwells, He makes His home there, with unutterable delight.
The practical result in us, should be holiness. When God dwells in Zion, Jerusalem shall be holy. And holiness is more than mere abstinence from sin. It involves the exclusive possession of us by God, so that “no stranger” has any part in us.
“The Lord dwelleth in Zion.”
Here the fact that we were considering just now is again stated, but in this case it is spoken of as the great end that God has in view. Reading verse 17 and no further, one might think that holiness was the end, and that God’s dwelling in Zion was merely the means whereby this end might be secured.
But it is not so. Holiness in itself is not an end or object. I say this because there are plenty of Christians today who seem to make holiness their great object. I believe they have a very faulty notion of what real holiness, according to God, is. In the way they pursue it, they really make SELF, in a most subtle form, their object. How fearfully insidious a thing is self! What could seem more right than to aim at a holy life, and an experience of continual joy? But how that ugly “I” shows itself even in connection with a desire of that kind! How nice if “I” could be holy and good, and if “I” could have this wonderful experience. I do not want to be uncharitable, but I know of no people more self-occupied and self-complacent than those who imagine that they have reached this state and enjoy this wonderful experience.
God’s great end, however, is that He might dwell. With that there must, of course, be holiness. But holiness, in itself, is not the object. If we have any object or end before our souls short of God’s end, we shall be losers.
How good to have before us God’s great end, namely, that He is pleased to surround Himself with a universe filled with Christ, every part of it fragrant with Him, and there to dwell. It will actually come to pass in a day that is ever drawing nearer (never so near, thank God, as at this moment), but it is already established in Christ, and we have come to this by faith, and by faith may enjoy the glory of it now in some measure.
When Susanna Wesley was asked how she managed to bring up such a large family, and all of them in the, nurture and admonition of the Lord, she gave this never-to-be-forgotten answer — “ There is no mystery about the matter. I just took Jacky alone with me into my own room every Monday night, and Charles every Tuesday night, and Molly every Wednesday night, and so on, all through the week: that is all.”
And did she not get her reward, when one of her family came forth from his mother’s room to be the great and God-honored evangelist he was, and another stepped forth to be one of the sweetest of singers in our modern Israel.