18 Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people. 19The Lord answered and said to his people, “Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil,
and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations. 20“I will remove the northerner far from you, and drive him into a parched and desolate land, his vanguard into the eastern sea, and his rear guard into the western sea; the stench and foul smell of him will rise, for he has done great things. 21“Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things! 22Fear not, you beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit;
the fig tree and vine give their full yield. 23“Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given the early rain for your vindication; he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before. 24“The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. 25I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. 26“You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. 27You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
28 “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. 30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls. i
We really don’t know much about the prophet Joel or his background. We know his father’s name was Pethuel (1:1). Everything else is an educated guess. It’s likely Joel was a priest and/or prophet in the Jerusalem temple. It’s probable he quotes previous prophets like Isaiah, Amos, and Zephaniah (or they quote from him).
As he crafted these beautifully complex prophetic poems from the Holy Spirit’s revelations, it’s certain he knew what he wrote would be read by God’s people for long ages to come. We know this because the apostle Peter told us (1 Pt. 1:10-12):
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. ii
What we do know about Joel’s circumstances is that the covenant land God had given his people experienced at least a couple of devastating years of drought and successive waves of locust swarms. The land was dry and bare. The livestock was starving. The people were starving. Yet they failed to see this as anything other than a random natural occurrence.
Joel proclaimed to these starving, bankrupt people that they were to stop hoping into the return of their stuff, the daily blessings they idolized, and to agree with God that they were rebellious sinners in need of repentance and renewal. That’s not a popular message in the best of times; but imagine telling that to hurting, starving, devastated people.
Over the course of his ministry, people heard Joel’s message. They began to go through the motions of repentance, tearing their clothes and showing up to church a little more often. Now, a good pastor would want to encourage any step in the right direction. But Joel is constrained to go back and tell the people that they are still God’s enemies (like Egypt and Babylon) and they must tear their hearts rather than their clothes. The great and terrible Day of the Lord is coming and God will settle his account with his enemies.
The people of Judah were to see their sin for the hopeless condition that it was; they had no remedy except God’s covenant loyalty love. Their remedy was HIS faithfulness to them, not their faithfulness to him. He promised, in the midst of their utter poverty, to bring them a fellowship sacrifice.
So, in our prophetic poem this morning, we find that God did move his people to heartfelt repentance and renewal. Perhaps this prophecy takes place months after Joel’s previous prophecy in 2:1-17. In this new prophetic poem, God promises to renew the land. In addition, he promises an even greater spiritual work to come. We will concentrate primarily on the land promises in 2:18-27 this morning and take a closer look at the Spirit promises of 2:28-30 next week.
The Old Covenant prophets called for repentance and renewal over and over and over again to show the people their desperate need for a better and more permanent solution to this constant cycle of blessing, complacency, idolatry, punishment, repentance, and blessing again.
A JEALOUS GOD
Recall last week how Joel posed the question, 14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him…”?iii Why did the prophet say “Who knows”? Because there was no sacrifice available for deliberate sins. So Joel’s question is theologically correct. Under the Mosaic Covenant, God was not obligated to forgive King David for his adultery and murder. And he was not obligated under the Mosaic Covenant to forgive the people of Joel’s day for abandoning him and idolizing their wealth, much less demon gods of other nations.
In order for God to forgive David or the people of Judah in Joel’s day, he had to do it on the basis of another covenant and another sacrifice – something outside the Law he gave through Moses. WHY would God do that? Why would he forgive deliberate covenant-breakers who have no sin offering? And the answer is found partly in 2:18, “18 Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people.”iv
Isn’t jealousy a bad thing? Not when the object of your jealousy is yours by right. And God’s people are his by right of his creating them, choosing them to be a people for himself, saving them out of slavery to idols, and granting them a land of their own – which he rightfully calls his land (Deut. 11:12-15; Joel 1:6,7). God made a covenant with a Mesopotamian pagan named Abram and promised him a land long before he gave his law to Moses.
God called Abram out of a land of idolatry, promised him a new land and innumerable descendants, and one particular descendant (seed, Gal. 3:15-29) through whom would come blessing to the whole word (Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male, female, young, old, all flesh; Gal. 3:16-29). To seal that promise/relationship, God alone walked through a line of cut up animals within Abraham’s view to say that he alone would suffer death as the punishment of deliberate covenant-breaking.
Repeated deliberate covenant-breaking was far more serious than God’s people could understand because it triggered God’s obligation to suffer the curse of covenant-breaking. The Promised Seed had to die. Since God ordained that event before he ever created the world and our covenant-breaking father Adam, and he ordained all that comes to pass for his own glory, God is rightly jealous of his glory.
So God is jealous for the land he designed for his people. As Joel is prophesying, it is not a land flowing with wine, oil, and grain, much less with milk and honey. The few animals left are gaunt and groaning. His now-contrite people are suffering. And all the demon-worshipping countries surrounding Judah see Judah’s devastation and decide Judah’s god must be weak to allow his land to become so desolate. (2:17, “…make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’ ”).v
How can God restore a permanently fruitful land (that displays his glory) to a people locked in a constant cycle of blessing, complacency, idolatry, punishment, repentance, and blessing again yet still remain true to his own sense of justice expressed in the Mosaic Code with all its promises conditioned on the people’s performance?
Here’s the original conditional “do good to earn good” land-blessing promise God made to Israel in Deut. 11:13-17:
13 “And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14 he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. 15 And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. 16 Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; 17 then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you.” vi
Back to Joel 2:18-27. God promises grain, wine, and oil (19) to vindicate his people among his enemies. He promises the locust army will pile up and rot on the coasts of the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean (20, glorious stink). He promises green pastures for the animals and great yields for the orchards and vineyards (22). He will send the rain to make all this produce possible (23-24). He promises to restore everything the locusts destroyed so the people will have plenty to eat and be grateful for their blessings (25-26).
But here’s the permanent promise at the end of verse 26: “And my people shall never again be put to shame.” vii That is a UNCONDITIONAL PROMISE of permanent blessing! AND he makes it not once, but twice. Verse 27, “27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame.” viii
How is it logically and legally possible for God to make an unconditionally-permanent land-blessing promise to his people hopelessly locked into a cycle of blessing, complacency, idolatry, punishment, repentance, and blessing? How can he do that and be true to his conditional Mosaic covenant “do-good-to-earn-good” demands?
Adam, in the Garden of Eden, had a conditional land, seed, blessing promise with God and Adam broke it. When Adam sinned, heaven and earth were separated. Eden was no longer paradise because God no longer lived there with is people. But God made Adam and Eve and new promise in Gen. 3:15, that he would make the Seed of the Woman a conquering enemy of the serpent-dragon. He sealed his promise by killing an animal and covering their nakedness with the animal’s skin.
Century upon century, millennium upon millennium passes as a faithful remnant wait upon YHWH’s promise look for the Seed of the Woman. Out of a Mesopotamian nation who worships the moon god, the Lord God reveals himself to a pagan named Abram. Once again, God makes a promise of land, seed, and blessing. Only this time he alone takes on the curse of death for covenant-breaking by passing through the slaughtered animals while Abram sits and watches.
Again, hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of years pass until the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob-Israel have multiplied (to about 2 million), but are enslaved in a nation of demon-worshipping Egyptians. God sends Moses to deliver them; he takes them to Mt. Sinai; and he makes another CONDITIONAL promise of land, seed, and blessing much like the one he originally made with Adam.
When Adam broke God’s conditional promises he earned death for all his seed and brought a separation of heaven and earth upon the land; God no longer lived physically with his people. And Adam passed on a congenital disease we know as a “sin nature.” It was that condition of sin inherited from Adam that made it impossible for the Children of Israel to live in an Eden-like land. They could not maintain the perfect obedience God required. Thus, the constant cycle of blessing, complacency, idolatry, punishment, repentance, and blessing.
But here we are staring at some rather plain letters in the book of Joel, chapter 2, verses 26 and 27, promising God’s people a shameless existence in a land of plenty with God living among his people (“You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel…”) – heaven and earth reunited in permanent blessing.ix
Why did God bind his people to a conditional relationship they could never keep and yet still make these (2:26-27) unconditional promises through the prophet Joel? The apostle Paul, in Romans 5:13, 18-21, gives us the answer:
13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. …18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass [Adam’s sin] was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification [rightness with God that brings dwelling with God] that brings life for all men. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. x
NEW LAND, ETERNAL SEED
Joel has preached two “turn or burn” prophecies to Judah, “give-to-get” sermons promising even more devastating judgment on the unrepentant people and the land. But NOW God has promised to end this cycle of blessing, complacency, idolatry, punishment, repentance, and blessing. He will live with them in a land of perfect abundance.
Joel’s prophecy has an “already but not yet” flavor to it. God is sending the rain that will begin to restore Judah right away. But the vines won’t produce grapes immediately; the figs won’t magically appear on the trees. The grass and grain will take a season to grow. In the meantime, the people have the sure and certain promise of God that restoration is absolutely certain to come.
But there is even more of a future component to Joel’s prophecy, a future eternal land of abundance where God will physically, eternally dwell with his people in a re-united heaven and earth not seen since Adam’s fall. St. Author of Hebrews (11:8-16) told us Father Abraham and his children understood this to be the true fulfillment of God’s land promise:
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. xi
In order to make conditional promises into permanent promises, God had to suffer the curse of covenant-breaking he long ago promised Abraham that he alone would suffer. Christ, the promised Seed of the Woman had to fulfill his covenant with Abraham to make the promises Joel preaches come true. Paul writes in Gal. 3:12-14:
12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. xii
Paul’s language of the promised Spirit brings us to next week’s passage in Joel 2:28-32 with its partial fulfillment of God dwelling in the midst of Israel (2:27) at Pentecost. But for now, let’s finish with a look at the complete fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy of the perfect, eternal land promise (Rev. 21:1-8):
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” xiii
The only way to enter into God’s presence in his New Land, is by trusting into the perfect obedience and the sacrificial, covenantal death of the risen Messiah Jesus:
17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. xiv
i The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Joe 2:18–32.
ii The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 1 Pe 1:10–12.
iii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Joe 2:14.
iv The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Joe 2:18.
v The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Joe 2:17.
vi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Dt 11:13–17.
vii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Joe 2:26.
viii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Joe 2:27.
ix The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Joe 2:27.
x The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Ro 5:18–21. See also: Gal. 4:2
xi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Heb 11:8–16.
xii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ga 3:12–14.
xiii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Re 21:1–8.
xiv The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Re 22:17.