Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Friday, 31 May 2013

The Lord Will Pour Out His Spirit (Joel 2:28-32)

The experience of recovery described in the previous verses is remarkable for its richness. Yet the Lord informs his readers that more is to come. They may ask how more could be given. An answer is given in this section when the prophet predicts days of worldwide spiritual blessing. Because we have the Book of Acts we know that Joel prophesied here of what would happen on the Day of Pentecost and afterwards. Therefore he is describing the onset and growth of the Christian church.

Who is speaking in verse 28? Acts 2 tells us that it was the exalted Jesus who poured out the Spirit on those gathered in Jerusalem. So here in Joel, Jesus is speaking before he became incarnate. And he is able to pour out the Spirit on all flesh because he has been exalted to rule over all the earth.

When the Spirit is poured out, all the recipients of the blessing will become prophets (v. 28), that is, they will be able to speak about God and his kingdom (the reference to dreams and visions is another way of saying that they would have prophetic functions). Moreover, the blessing will be given to even the humblest of them, those described as servants (v. 29). This is a great privilege, to be able to speak for God wherever we are.

Who is the Speaker addressing? In verse 28, he refers to ‘your’ sons and daughters and to ‘your’ old men and ‘your’ young men. He is speaking to those who had received the blessings described in the previous verses. Yet they had left the world long before the prophecy began to be fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost. Nevertheless there was a real, living connection between them and the believers of the future. Here is a reminder of the oneness of the people of God.

The coming of the Spirit would be the equivalent in the spiritual world of a cataclysmic change in the natural world (vv. 30-31). We are not expected to regard the depicted changes in a literal manner. Instead, graphic changes in the physical world are used to picture dramatic changes in the development of God’s kingdom.

When the Spirit comes, there will be an increased focus on salvation. He will lead many to call on the name of the Lord and, by doing so, they will escape the judgement of God and live with him in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem. Joel’s readers may not have realised that the Zion and Jerusalem here is not a reference to an earthly location. Instead they are other names for heaven (as Hebrews 12:22 makes clear). We should be glad that we live in the period in which this prophecy about the coming of the Spirit is being fulfilled.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Divine Recovery (Joel 2:18-27)

In the previous verses, the prophet had urged the leaders of Israel and the people in general to meet in a national gathering in order to repent publicly together and to pray together for the Lord’s blessing. When they did this, the Lord heard them and indicated with delight that he would bless them.

His blessing would include ample harvests and complete deliverance from the enemy that threatened them. The recovery of the land would be very great and even the animals would share in the provision. Not surprisingly, the people of God are commanded to rejoice (vv. 18-24).

In verse 25, there is a wonderful promise of spiritual recovery for those who have repented of their sins and returned to the Lord. They could have assumed that the years of decline and of experienced judgement by the locusts could not be recovered. Yet here the Lord promises something different and says that they will be recovered. Perhaps the idea is that the new harvests are so great that they now comprise what the people would have received had they remained loyal to God throughout those wasted years.

The outcome of such great restoration is satisfaction in the present and assurance for the future (v. 26). They will enjoy an increased knowledge of God (v. 27). We must remember that this is what is promised to recovered backsliders. It shows us the greatness of God’s restoring grace. 

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

What Kind of Repentance? (Joel 2:1-17)

Joel 2 begins with a prediction of an invasion of Israel by a powerful army. The enemy is not like any enemy they have encountered before, indeed there will not even be such a powerful foe in the future (v. 2). They destroy everything (v. 3), natural barriers are no obstacles to their progress (vv. 4-5), they do not get tired (vv. 6-7), and there is no effective resistance against them (vv. 8-9). This is an army that uses more than human resources. What is surprising is that the Lord is the One who is in command of it (v. 11). The lesson from this description is that the Lord can sometimes use previously unheard of weapons against his people when they fail to obey him.

Yet through the prophet the Lord also sends a call for repentance to them (vv. 12ff.). The repentance he is looking for is internal, not merely external. When such repentance takes place, the penitents will be fasting (because they have no desire to be distracted from seeking God, even by legitimate things) as well as weeping and mourning (dry eyes are signs of unaffected hearts).

Why should they return to the Lord? The basic answer is that he is their covenant God who does not wish to bring judgement on them. He wishes to deal with them in gracious and merciful ways; therefore he delays his judgements. If they repent, then he will remove the threatened judgement that the prophet had just described.

Joel urges them to take this possibility seriously (v. 14). They could still know God’s blessing on their harvests, although the prophet highlights that the best part of such a blessing is having something to give to God.

The prophet urges them to call a national gathering of repentance (vv. 15-16). All ages (old and young, including infants) are to be present, and even those newly married are to take part. Those age groups highlight the priority that the prophet wants people to have. The leaders of God’s people are to pray for deliverance, and pray for it with tears, so that the unbelieving nations would not deride the Lord’s cause (v. 17).

This passage is both a rebuke and an example. It is a rebuke of our indifference to the spiritual decline all around us (how many tears were shed today for the spiritual state of our country?). It is an example of how to respond when we want the Lord to reverse the decline.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Repentance is called for (Joel 1)

Very little is known about Joel. His name means Yahweh is God, which could indicate that he had pious parents. Nor can anyone be sure regarding what time he lived, although some internal references in his book indicate he ministered after the exile. In a sense it does not matter that we cannot pinpoint when he lived. After all, if God had wanted us to know he would have provided the information.

His book is best known for predicting the events of the Day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2. But it has other important lessons as well, including how we respond to adverse circumstances.

The first half of Chapter 1 describes the effects of a terrible plague of locusts. They were sent by God as a judgement on his people for their sins. One consequence of the devastation was that it was not possible to offer grain offerings in the temple. Every crop was devastated and everyone was affected.

The important detail to note is that it was the Lord who was in control of the locusts. Their arrival was not primarily caused by the natural turn of events. Instead the Lord had intervened and brought it about. Why?

The answer is given in the second half of the chapter. He sent the locusts in order to call his people to repentance. The repentance was to begin with the religious officials who were to call a National Assembly for the purpose of seeking the Lord. This gathering was a special occasion brought about by dire circumstances.

One of the obvious applications connects to this chapter is how we respond to sudden adverse circumstance in providence. Sometimes we are quick to acknowledge the sovereignty of God but slow to engage in repentance. This response suggests that we think the reason for the problem is connected to the sins of someone else.

Instead we should respond by thinking that we should repent as well. While our particular sins may not be as bad as someone else's, (but who are we to make that conclusion?), the fact of the matter is that each of our sins is disobedience to God and grieves the Spirit.

Repentance should be a prominent spiritual discipline in the lives of Christians, both personally and corporately. It should occur even when things are good. And it should definitely occur when sin is rampant, as it is today in our society.