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"A People Come, Great and Strong" (Joel 2) February 13

Joel's warnings now turn specifically to the final trumpet warning to Israel and Judah (Ezekiel 33:3-6; Amos 3:6). They have been warned repeatedly about not following God, but now their time is about to run out. It is clear from the evidence in this and the following chapters that much of the prophecy is for the end time. In addition to the expression "day of the Lord" (Joel 2:1), there is a strong indication of the end time in verse 2: "The like of whom has never been; nor will there ever be any such after them, even for many successive generations." This is reminiscent of other prophecies about a time of great distress like no other (Daniel 12:1; Jeremiah 30:7; Matthew 24:21). Verses 10 and 30-31 describe dramatic heavenly signs that are also mentioned in New Testament prophecies (Matthew 24:29; Acts 2:20; Revelation 8:12).

However, the strongest evidence here for this not being a prophecy for Joel's time is the latter part of the chapter that describes the outpouring of God's Spirit—which finds initial fulfillment in the New Testament Church age following Jesus' first appearance, greater fulfillment at the time of the heavenly signs preceding His future return, and ultimate fulfillment under the rule of the Kingdom of God on earth, when the way of salvation will be open to all mankind (compare Acts 2:14-21).

Some consider the "day of the Lord" to refer to the whole Christian era, from apostolic times onward. However, the references to it in Joel and other places generally refer to the time immediately surrounding Christ's return and beyond (compare Joel 3; Zephaniah 1:18; Zechariah 14:1-4; Acts 2:20; 2 Peter 3:10). Note especially this paraphrase of Amos 5:18-20 in the New Living Translation: "How terrible it will be for you who say, 'If only the day of the Lord were here! For then the Lord would rescue us from all our enemies.' But you have no idea what you are wishing for. That day will not bring light and prosperity, but darkness and disaster. In that day you will be like a man who runs from a lion—only to meet a bear. After escaping the bear, he leans his hand against a wall in his house—and is bitten by a snake. Yes, the day of the Lord will be a dark and hopeless day, without a ray of joy or hope." Clearly, this does not refer to the whole Christian era starting with the days of the apostles—and neither does Joel 2.

The invading army of chapter 2 is represented as a huge locust swarm—extremely loud, climbing walls, entering through gaps, darkening the sky and utterly devastating everything in its path. In this chapter, then, the locusts of chapter 1 (verse 4) are thus revealed to be an army of people (2:2, 25). Also interesting is the fact that though this is a foreign, gentile army, Joel refers to it as God's army (verse 11). This is because they are acting as the agent of His judgment. Similarly, God elsewhere refers to Assyria as "the rod of My anger" (Isaiah 10:5). As ancient Assyria was located to the northeast of Israel, its forces could rightly be described as the "northern army" (Joel 2:20). Yet while these prophecies apparently found some fulfillment in the destruction brought against Israel and Judah by Assyria in the eighth century B.C.—beginning less than a century from when it appears that Joel wrote—the ultimate fulfillment, for the end time, is yet to come. Later, when we come to Isaiah 10 in our reading, we will consider evidence showing that modern Assyria is located to the northwest of Israel—in Central Europe.

However, it should be pointed out that "God's army" of verse 11 is not necessarily synonymous with the "northern army" of verse 20—as it may be that "God's army" in this context is the 200-million-man army of Revelation 9:16 reacting to the takeover of the Holy Land by the "northern" (i.e., European) army. Indeed, that event does occur during the Day of the Lord, as it follows Revelation 6:17, whereas it is evident from other passages that the end-time European invasion of the Holy Land will occur before the Day of the Lord, at the beginning of what is termed the Great Tribulation (compare Daniel 11:40-41; Luke 21:20-24; Matthew 24:15-22). Still, there may be other possibilities regarding the identities of these armies.

In any case, Joel's message is a serious warning of great "doom and gloom." Yet it also reveals the loving, gentle and patient character of the Creator. He sends out a plea for repentance (a complete turnaround, not just an outward show, Joel 2:12-14) and assures everyone that "He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm" (verse 13). Even when God has warned people of punishment for their sins, He is willing to change His mind if they repent (Jeremiah 18:8; Psalm 106:40-45; Jonah 3:10). Here is an example for all of God's people to follow—to be gracious, merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.

Joel continues with his serious request for change by pleading with all the people, from the priests even to the children, to take the warning seriously, to fast and pray.

After the call to repentance comes the reference to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (verses 28-31). This has enormous significance for the Church today as we near the end of the age. If we are prepared to heed the warnings and turn our lives around with the help of the Holy Spirit, we too can reap the promised blessings.

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