We’re in dire need of a revival. Evangelicals need to be born-again. The Pentecostals need to be Spirit-filled. The Reformed need a reformation. The Methodists need a Great Awakening. Joel lays out for us what such a Heaven-born revival consists of, what God’s people should do to ready for it, and the consequences of indifference towards the coming Day of the Lord.
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; [. . .]
Summary of the Text
After imploring the priests and the people to mourn and fast (1:14) in response to the locust swarms devastating the land––cutting off the ingredients for the meat & drink offerings (1:9)––Joel then invites his audience to look through the locust plague, and discern the cosmic implications.
There are two trumpet blasts in this text (v1 & 15). The first describes the day of the Lord as a marauding army and the right response to it (vv1-14); the second trumpet blast describes how a contrite people will enjoy the relenting of God, and experience the Day of the Lord as a day of the Spirit outpoured (vv15-32). The Day of the Lord is first described as a day of horror, and thus an appeal to repent is made. But then for those who repent, the Day of the Lord is described as a great deliverance.
The warning trumpet should be sounded, for the day of the Lord is near (v1). This is the Helms Deep of the OT. It is a day of unrivaled darkness (v2), Eden turns into Mordor, and none can escape (v3). The locust swarms give way to an invading army: swift as horses (v4), determined, well armored (v5), fierce and fearful (v6), disciplined and indefatigable (v7); they move with remarkable coordination and are not deterred by pain (v8); this invasion will be total, leaving no place to hide (v9); these events shake the earth and throw the heavens into turbulence (v10). This is Lord’s army and has come at His command (v11). The prophet closes this description of the coming day of the Lord with the rhetorical question: “Who can abide it?”
The Lord Himself then speaks to the people to describe the right response to the news of this coming day of judgement: “turn to me (v12).” This returning is to be entire, heartfelt, and accompanied with fasting, weeping, and mourning; and lest they think they can go through the motions of mourning, He admonishes them to rend their hearts and not their garments (v13). This repentance is founded upon God’s covenant mercies (v13, Cf. Ex. 34:6-7). Repentant sinners hope for a repentant God. But should God relent from His wrath, and leave the blessing of the restoration of the meat and drink offerings, it will be purely from His great mercy (v14).
Now the second trumpet blast sounds. All the residents of Zion––the elders and infants, the bridegroom and his bride––are summoned to solemnly assemble (vv15-16, Cf. 1:14). Joel paints a touching picture of what this repentance should look like: priests and people in the temple courts, with the priests crying out on behalf of all the people, “Spare thy people, O Lord (v17).” If Judah responds with this sort of total repentance, the result will be God’s aroused jealousy and pity (v18). What will follow is His restoration of the Deuteronomic blessings: bountiful crops, reproach removed, and the invaders driven back (vv19-20). The land shall be refreshed, and all which the locust had eaten would be restored (vv21-25). The people would enjoy the Sabbath rest of the Promised Land once more, and offer thankful praise without shame, all so that it might be known that the Lord is in their midst (vv26-27).
After this, the Spirit of God would be poured out upon all the people (vv28-29). The Cosmos themselves would reverberate to this radical turning of the redemptive tides (vv30-31). The repentant people, being restored to communion with God, are assured that the Lord shall ever be their Deliverer, and any who call on Him shall enjoy this salvation (v32).
The Layers of Prophecy
One of the key tactics of the prophets is how they look through current events. The immediate tragedy of swarming insects was just a forerunner of a greater day of judgement which awaits. Think of it as standing atop a high hill and being able to see the next ridge, and beyond that a higher mountain, and further still the snow-capped peaks.
Joel has rebuked the people for failing to respond appropriately to the locust swarm (the first ridge). He then employs the locust as a portent of coming invaders (the higher ridge). The prophecy then concludes with a Messianic crescendo foretelling the downfall of all God’s enemies, and Zion enjoying His blessed reign (the snow-capped peaks).
So the people ought to have responded to the locust with full-throttled repentance. In order to stir them up to this, Joel warns that an army––fiercer than the swarms they just endured––will soon invade (likely the Assyrians, Cf. v20). Looming behind this is an even greater “Day of the Lord” which will be experienced one of two ways: either great blessing, or great ruin. All of it hinges on the sort of repentance which fills the people. Is it heaven-born sorrow––which God alone gives––or just earthly sorrow?
Innovation is often mistaken for repentance. But just because we’ve made some innovations culturally, doesn’t mean we have repented. Repentance is a returning. Returning to God’s Word. Our modern debates within Christendom center––as they always do––on the authority of God’s Word. The rejection of God’s word as the standard for justice, in favor of embracing Marxist and humanist definitions of justice indicates that we are not truly interested in righting wrongs. Those loudly ringing the bells of social justice are offering a semblance of repentance, but it is mere innovation. Giving minority families $500––of tax-payer money––a month, might seem a noble way to right past wrongs, but is socialism true justice? Most Americans agree that abortion should be illegal after the 1st trimester; so if we pass a law that is based on our national “consensus” have we repented of the evil of the slaughter of the unborn? All these sorts of things are mere innovations. It is not reformation, which would be a humble return to God’s Word.
The Sermon at Pentecost
This text from Joel was the text which the Apostle Peter went to in Acts 2:17 (Cf. Is. 2:2) to describe the day of Pentecost. Peter insists that what Joel prophesied had come to pass in this marvelous outpouring of the Spirit. Pentecost wasn’t innovation, this was a return to what God had promised He would do when Messiah came. Consequently, Peter informs us how to read Joel. The Day of the Lord had come.
God’s compassion forms the basis for Joel’s vision of the future blessing of the outpoured Spirit. An army of destruction comes, but those whom God mercifully humbles and brings to repentance––the first fruits of the outpouring of the Spirit––will enjoy deliverance. The fire fell, and now empowered a nation of priests for prophetic service in a new temple, the church (Cf. Num. 11:16-30). So, Peter tells us that the Day of Pentecost was the Day of the Lord, commencing with the outpouring of the Spirit, and culminating in the Romans’ destruction of Jerusalem.
A Prophetic People
Joel’s vision is of a prophetic people. To quote Spurgeon: “Unless we have the spirit of prophecy resting upon us, the mantle which we wear is nothing but a rough garment to deceive.” The Spirit emboldens us to proclaim that Jesus is Lord (Cf. Rom. 10:13). When the Spirit applies what Christ purchased, the result is a new heart. A heart assured that sin is forgiven.
This promise is for us and our children. Notice that Joel’s solemn assembly of repentance includes the child on the breast, as well as the most learned of elders. All receive the Spirit’s clarity. Dreams, in the OT, are indicative of clarity, and men of God are given the Spirit to see the dreams clearly and speak their meaning plainly. The Spirit comes upon us, and we walk in the clear light of day (Cf. 1 Jn. 1:7).
A mom no longer riddled with shame will be bold in teaching her children to follow Christ. A formerly resentful teen will no longer cower before his peers. A businessman whose confidence is in Christ’s work and not his own will freely speak up about Jesus in his workplace. This is because the Spirit gives boldness.