Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 18, 1958
NUMBER 20, PAGE 11-12a

Jehovah's Just Judgments

Irvin Himmel, Richmond, Virginia

The name "Joel" means "Jehovah is God." The prophet Joel distinguishes himself from others of the same name by referring to himself as "the son of Pethuel." Beyond this we know little of the man who foretold the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the last days.

Joel's book bears evidence that he lived in Jerusalem and prophesied against Judah. The frequent mentions of Zion, Jerusalem, and Judah make it hard to doubt that he belongs among the prophets of the Southern Kingdom. Though the term "Israel" is used, evidence is lacking that it is to be understood in the limited sense of the Northern Kingdom; the people of Judah were as much Israelites as were the ten tribes to the north. Several times Joel refers to the priests, ministers, elders, and offerings. Moreover, he talks about the "house of the Lord." All of this indicates that he lived in the center of Jewish worship — Jerusalem.

It is rather difficult to establish the exact time of Joel's ministry as a prophet. I am inclined to the view that he lived before the time of Isaiah, Hosea, and Amos. The circumstances of his book seem to fit the early years of the reign of Joash better than any other. If he lived at that time, it is easy to see why he mentions the priests, ministers, and elders, but does not refer to the king. Joash began reigning at the age of seven, so Jehoiada the priest carried the burden of responsibility in the affairs of government. Furthermore, if he lived at that time, it is easy to see why Amos used as the keynote of his first chapter a statement from the closing chapter of Joel. (Amos 1:2; Joel 3:16.) Although the arguments for the early date of Joel may not be conclusive, it is possible that he was the earliest of the prophets to write a book of prophecy.

Three leading thoughts are found in the book of Joel. These three points outline the book and give us some practical considerations.

The Day Of The Lord

Old Testament prophets used the expression "day of the Lord" to mean a time when God executed judgment against sin. That judgment might be brought about through famine, war, pestilence, or some other calamity. Isaiah, for example, in prophesying the overthrow of Babylon, announced, "Howl ye; for the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty." (Isa. 13:6.) God brought just judgment against the heathen nation of Babylon when the Medes came with their conquering army. The approach of that day was the coming "day of the Lord" for Babylon. Isaiah continued, "Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it ... Therefore will I shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger." When would this occur? It was to be when the Lord "stirred up the Medes against them." (v. 17.)

Joel foretold God's judgments against Judah as the coming "day of the Lord." "A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains." (Joel 2:1,2.) In the first nine verses of chapter 1 he pictures a plague of locusts. Like a nation strong and without number, the insects were to lay waste the vine and bark the fig tree. This would cause Judah to weep like a virgin who has lost the husband of her youth. The latter part of chapter 1 gives a more detailed description of the devastation brought by the locusts and portrays a severe drought. The offerings were to be cut off, the corn wasted, the new wine dried up, the trees withered. "Alas for the day! for the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come." (1:15.) The beasts would groan, the herds would be perplexed, and the rivers dried up. This same terrible day of vengeance is further pictured in the first eleven verses of chapter 2. The locusts would appear as an invading army: "The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses; and as horsemen, so shall they run. Like 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." (2:4,5.)

While Joel's language plainly refers to a plague of literal insects, it might well represent the invasion of some army of men upon Judah. If so, the first act of judgment would be but a type of a far more devastating and ruinous "day of darkness" to come. God brought days of wrath to the heathen, and He brought judgments against His own people for their sins. Joel's task was to warn Judah of the consequences of rebellion.

What reason have we for supposing that Jehovah does not now bring judgments against nations and His own people in much the same way that He did in the long ago? Surely, God is behind the rise and fall of nations. "He removeth kings, and setteth up kings." (Dan. 2:21.) We have no way of determining how closely related to God's plans and purposes various movements and events may be, but we do know that "God is the King of all the earth," and "God reigneth over the heathen." (Psa. 47:7,8.)

The letters to the churches of Asia bear testimony that the Lord comes against His unfaithful in acts of judgment. To the church at Ephesus He wrote, "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent." (Rev. 2:5.) Here the Lord threatened to speedily "come unto" Ephesus if they did not repent. That coming would result in their candlestick's being removed out of its place. Can a congregation have its candlestick removed now? If so, the Lord comes now in acts of judgment. The church at Pergamos was warned, "Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth." (Rev. 2:16.) If Pergamos did not repent, we may be certain that the Lord carried out His threat. His coming in wrath and vengeance would have been the "day of the Lord" for Pergamos.

Of course, the New Testament speaks of the great and final day of judgment as the "day of the Lord." (1 Thess. 5: 2; 2 Pet. 3:10.) Every time and act of divine judgment against sin, no matter how it might be brought about, is a pledge of the final judgment at the end of the world. We, like Joel, need to preach what God has revealed about the consequences of sin. As the prophets foretold calamities upon Judah, the New Testament foretells the certain and everlasting ruin awaiting all who reject God.

Call To Repentance In 2:12-17 Joel urges repentance. There is a close connection between his description of the terrible judgments upon Judah and his plea for repentance. Coming judgment is a strong motive for repentance. In the New Testament the judgment to come is frequently named when repentance is preached. When Paul was trying to bring Felix to repentance, he reasoned about "righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come." (Acts 24:25.) When he preached at Athens, speaking to heathens, he taught, "And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness . . ." (Acts 17:30,31.) The same apostle wrote, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men ..." (2 Cor. 5:10,11.) More preaching about the judgment and the punishment of the wicked would bring more people to repentance.

Joel urged genuine repentance. "Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God . . ." The Jews would tear their garments when greatly agitated. Joel called upon them to tear their hearts. Unless there is a contrite spirit and a change of heart, there can be no real penitence.

Joel urged repentance on the basis that God is "gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness," and willing to withhold punishment. This brings to mind a statement in the Roman letter, "Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" (Rom. 2:4.) Another way to get people to turn from sin is to preach God's goodness. The prophet did not use one motive to the exclusion of all others; neither should we. It is proper to lead men to fear God's wrath, but it is not proper to fail to teach men His loving kindness.

"Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children ..." In this language Joel exhorts a new dedication to Jehovah. "Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar . . ." Here again the prophet stresses sincere repentance, pointing to another motive. There must be sorrow of a godly sort for sins committed, "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation." (2 Cor. 7:9.) Joel sets forth the same incentives for repentance that we find being used in the New Testament.

Repentance is the one command that is really hard to get people to obey. An honest person finds it more difficult to disbelieve in Christ than to believe; confessing Christ and being baptized present little difficulty to one who has made up his mind to quit sin and obey God. The hardest command is repentance.

Promise Of Blessings

From 2:18 to the close of his book Joel pictures the blessings reserved for Judah. After urging repentance, he states, "Then will the Lord be jealous for his land and pity his people." When? "THEN," that is, when they repent. Judah's deliverance was not unconditional. If she repented, God promised to bring back her corn, wine, oil, green pastures, fruit trees, and refreshing showers. Our deliverance from sin is likewise dependent on repentance. God does not favor us with forgiveness when we lack the humility and courage to say, "I have sinned."

While discussing Judah's future blessings, Joel looks on beyond the Jewish age to the time that God would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh. The prophecy of 2:28-32 was quoted in full by Peter on Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21), showing that its fulfillment began on that day. As Isaiah told where the kingdom of the Messiah would begin, and Daniel told when, Joel told how. When an apostle quotes an Old Testament prophecy and says, "This is it," there can be no doubt of its meaning.

In the last chapter of his book Joel shows God's judgment on other nations after bringing back "the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem," and how Zion would be gloriously blessed. The prophets never spoke of impending judgments without offering hope to those who would be faithful to Jehovah. In these turbulent times of uncertainty among nations and unrest among God's people, let us not fail to preach sermons that will comfort, encourage, and give hope to the faithful in Christ Jesus.