Joel 1:1-3:21 - God's Mercy
Appropriate God's MercyBackground Passage
Joel 1:15-16; 2:12-13,18,25-32
Lesson Passages Outline
- Regard God's Warnings (Joel 1:15-16)
- Respond to God's Invitation (Joel 2:12-13)
- Rejoice in God's Promise (Joel 2:18,25-32)
The Lord warns through His Word that sin brings His certain and harsh judgment, and He encourages people to repent and thereby appropriate His mercy.
To help you appropriate God's mercy
Disasters often make people think of their relationship to the Lord. I became a Christian at the age of seventeen. God had been convicting me of my need of Christ prior to that time.
One night a gas pipeline near our home exploded. The noise caused me to dream that the Lord was coming, and I knew I was not prepared. I also knew from God's Word that God judges sin seriously and harshly, and I knew I was a sinner. Shortly after that, I talked with my pastor and he led me to Christ. Thank God that a sinner can appropriate God's mercy.
How did God make you aware that you needed to repent of your sins and receive His mercy?
The study of this lesson will help people who need to:
- take seriously God's warning of judgment on sin now and in the future;
- understand the need for repentance and how to repent;
- experience daily the ministry of the indwelling Holy Spirit and live godly lives;
- love and serve God more and thereby honor His name and enjoy His blessings.
As you study Joel's message of judgment and mercy, focus on ways you can lead adult learners to experience the Life Impact of this lesson by appropriating God's mercy. As you continue your personal Bible study, prayerfully read the Background Passage and respond to the Study Questions as well as to the questions in the margins for the June 3 lesson in Explore the Bible: Adult Learner Guide.
The Bible in Context (Joel 1:1-3:21)
In Joel's day the people of Judah did not take seriously God's attitude toward sin. They thought they were safe from judgment because they were Abraham's descendants. God called Joel to prophesy to the people of Judah—to warn them of God's judgment and to urge them to repent and turn to God.
Judah experienced a devastating plague of locusts and drought. Locusts in every stage of development invaded the land and destroyed everything in their paths. God revealed to Joel the locust plague and the drought were His judgment on Judah's sin (Joel 1:1-20).
God made clear to Joel that in addition to the locust plague, Judah soon would experience an invasion from an enemy army. God would send that army against His people just as He had sent the locust plague. That invasion also would be a judgment on Judah's sin (Joel 2:1-11).
However, God is not just a God of wrath and punishment. He is also a God of grace, mercy, and love. Therefore God offered Judah an opportunity to escape judgment. He extended an urgent call to repent and to turn to Him. If the people repented, He would have mercy on them and deliver them from further judgment (Joel 2:12-17).
Whereas God's judgment on Judah was harsh, God's mercy to the people, which was based on their repentance, would include firm assurance of their restoration to God's presence, protection, and provisions. God also would pour His Holy Spirit on all of them. The presence of the Holy Spirit would be a sign of God's favor on them and of their continued relationship with Him (Joel 2:18-32).
God also would judge Judah's enemies. Because He is sovereign over all people and nations, He would bring every nation to judgment for all the wrong they had done, especially all they had done against His people (Joel 3:1-21).
Review the material on the Book of Joel in the Introduction (pp. 8-9). Joel warned Judah of God's present and coming judgment. Judah needed to cry out to the Lord and repent of its sins.
Regard God's Warnings (Joel 1:15-16)
15 Woe because of that day! For the Day of the LORD is near and will come as devastation from the Almighty.
16 Hasn't the food been cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God?
Verse 15. Joel had called for a personal and national repentance in the house of the Lord (Joel 1:13-14). Verse 15 may have been the prayer the people were to or did pray. God revealed the locust plague was a warning or a sign of the Day of the LORD. [See Exploration: "Day of the LORD," p. 20.] Joel described it as a day of woe. The Hebrew word translated woe expresses an exclamation of pain. Judah was in big trouble with God.
The locust plague was a devastation from the Almighty. The name Almighty is Shaddai, a Hebrew term that carries the idea of power and destruction. Judah needed to fear the Day of the Lord. The nation was already suffering from the locust plague. However, the reference to the Day of the Lord being near was probably a warning of the imminent invasion of an enemy army (2:1-11).
The Day of the Lord is always a possibility, for God can intervene at any time to bring judgment on sin or to bring unusual blessings and deliverance to His people. Therefore, Joel's prophecy about the Day of the Lord had a specific, current application for Judah as well as a future warning. The ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy will be at the return of Christ and the final judgment. The last sentence in this verse might have been a statement the prophets used frequently when they made reference to the Day of the Lord.
Verse 16. The locust plague produced severe conditions in Judah, which are described throughout chapter 1. The expression before our eyes emphasizes the people watched helplessly as locusts destroyed their food sources. The land also had experienced a drought. Joel described the devastation (1:5-12) and declared the famine was proof God was acting in judgment on them.
Because the food supply was cut off, there were no offerings to bring to the house of God. Therefore, the temple services had ceased. Through those temple services the people of Judah had maintained fellowship and contact with God.
Being cut off from the temple was proof God was not pleased with the people. They had lost the joy and gladness they usually experienced in the temple festivities. They were learning that God brings certain judgment on His people's sins.
However, not all natural disasters are necessarily God's judgment on sin. Luke 13:1-5 and John 9:2-3 provide help on this subject. The passage in Luke describes a judgment of God on sin; the passage in John does not. At times of disaster we need to look for the hand of God and ask Him what His message to us is. Also, God can use adverse circumstances to warn us of wrong directions or activities in our lives and of our need to turn back to Him.
How do you view times of catastrophe in your life or in the lives of other believers? What have these times taught you about God?
Respond to God's Invitation (Joel 2:12-13)
12 Even now—
[this is] the LORD's declaration—
turn to Me with all your heart,
with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
13 Tear your hearts, not just your clothes, and return to the LORD your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, and He relents from sending disaster.
God warned Judah of judgment but revealed His mercy in His invitation to repent. Joel 2 begins with God's command to the watchman on the wall to blow his horn, warning Judah the Day of the Lord was coming. Verses 2-11 tell what that day would be like. Using the locust invasion as an illustration, the prophet described the might and devastation of an approaching human army. Who could endure such a time? No one, except for the intervention of God.
Verse 12. In spite of the hopelessness and helplessness portrayed in verse 11, God offered Judah an amazing invitation. The words even now express action contrary to expectation. Joel indicated God's people still had time to repent. In case the people might not believe him, Joel reminded them he was saying the LORD's declaration or message.
God's invitation was a call to Judah to turn to Me with all your heart. The word translated turn means to go back to the point of departure, God's people had turned away from Him. They had not obeyed Him, instead they abandoned their relationship to the Lord by turning away from Him in their hearts.
Since they had turned away in their hearts, they needed to turn back to the Lord in their hearts. They were not to weep just because of the calamity and devastation upon them (1:5-14). They were to be remorseful for sin and cry for forgiveness. The fasting, weeping, and mourning (signs of people sorrowing over the weight of their sins) must be outward expressions of their true inner feelings.
Verse 13. People in the ancient Middle East often tore their clothes and pulled out their hair as signs of deep sorrow. But Joel knew God did not want just external or ritualistic acts. He instructed them to tear their hearts, not their clothes. His instructions to return to the Lord meant they were to turn from sin and turn to the Lord and His will.
God invited His people to repent because of four characteristics of His nature. He is gracious. The verb form of this word means "to be considerate, to show favor." Because of His grace, God gives us what we do not deserve.
Compassionate also means "merciful." That God is merciful means He does not give sinners what they deserve. He is also slow to anger. God is long-suffering and patient with His wayward children, but His patience can come to an end.
God's mercy and His long-suffering come from the fact He is rich in faithful love. The words faithful love contain such ideas as "loving-kindness" and "steadfast love." This is one of the great terms in the Old Testament that describes who God is. He eagerly grants mercy and forgiveness because of the abundance of His faithful love.
Since these words describe His nature, God relents from sending disaster. Relent means "to repent," "to be sorry in a favorable sense." God preferred to revoke the threatened judgment, not send disaster on Judah. The people's sincere, heart-felt repentance would lead to His withholding the disaster about which He warned. Joel urged his people to respond to God's invitation and receive His mercy.
Can you recall an experience when some disaster prompted you to turn to the Lord either in repentance or in renewed dedication and commitment? Why do you think hard times often cause us to come closer to the Lord?
Rejoice in God's Promise (Joel 2:18,25-32)
18 Then the Lord became jealous for His land and spared His people.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
25 I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust ate, the young locust, the destroying locust, and the devouring locust—My great army that I sent against you.
26 You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied. You will praise the name of Yahweh your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. My people will never again be put to shame.
27 You will know that I am present in Israel and that I am the Lord your God, and there is no other. My people will never again be put to shame.
28 After this I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions.
29 I will even pour out My Spirit on the male and female slaves in those days.
30 I will display wonders in the heavens and on the earth: blood, fire, and columns of smoke.
31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and awe inspiring Day of the LORD comes.
32 Then everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved, for there will be an escape for those on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, as the LORD promised, among the survivors the LORD calls.
Verse 18. Joel 2:18-32 is the wide-reaching promise God made to the people of Judah if they would repent. His promise contains both physical and spiritual blessings. Verse 18 implies God's people repented somewhere between the time described in Joel 2:17 and in 2:18.
God is described as becoming jealous for His land. Therefore He spared His people. The word translated jealous (or zealous) does not refer to hostile and disruptive passions, but it implies "consuming zeal" focused on a loved one. God eagerly came to His people's aid. He spared them willingly, not grudgingly or reluctantly.
Verse 25. God's promised blessings included both physical and spiritual blessings. He listed many of His physical and material blessings in Joel 2:19-24.
Verse 25 gives God's promise to repay or restore the loss the people suffered from the locusts, which are described as My great army. The locusts destroyed the food supply for both people and animals. God promised to repay His people by making food plentiful again.
Read "Locusts" in the Summer 2007 issue of Biblical Illustrator or Biblical Illustrator Plus (CD-ROM).
Verse 26. Fruitful crops were a sign of God's favor. God's blessings would produce three important results. First, the people would have their physical needs satisfied. Next, God's people would praise the name of their God, Yahweh, for dealing so mercifully and so wondrously with them.
Also, God's people never again would be put to shame. They had been shamed by their belief that God had abandoned them, and thus they felt they needed to look elsewhere for food instead of looking to God. Also, they were shamed in the face of other nations whose people thought God had forsaken Judah.
Verse 27. The invasion of the locusts and the threat of invasion from other nations had indicated God was no longer with His people to protect them and supply their needs. However, since they had repented, they had come to know more about God. The people of Judah learned that though He judges sin harshly, He will forgive. They found God was present in Israel with them because He delivered them from their disaster and restored His provisions to them.
They also knew God and no one else was their God. He is sovereign over all and faithful to His people. Also, they knew He and not some idol was the only God. They knew He would protect His faithful people and ultimately they would never again be put to shame.
Verse 28. The words after this implies Joel moved to events of a more distant time in his prophecy. The Old Testament often tells of God giving the Holy Spirit to people He chose and called out for service such as prophets, priests, and kings. Joel 2:28-32 announces God's promise to pour out His Spirit on all humanity.
Through Joel, God promised His Spirit to all who repented and turned to Him. Sons, daughters, old men, and young men alike would be able to prophesy, have dreams, and see visions. All would have spiritual illumination and power through the Holy Spirit. Also, all would have the immediate and personal relationship with God through the Spirit.
Simon Peter declared God was fulfilling Joel's prophecy on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:14-21). All believers who were there that day were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke of the magnificent acts of God. The gift of the Holy Spirit was a vindication they were God's people. Also, the Holy Spirit enabled them to be an obedient and a serving people.
Verse 29. No segment of society was left out. The male and female slaves who were God's people also would experience the Holy Spirit's being poured out on them. Everyone who is part of God's family today experiences this outpouring. One is reminded of Paul's words: "There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). All believers receive the Spirit.
Verse 30. This verse says God would display wonders in the heavens and on the earth to announce or signal the final Day of the Lord. Wonders can refer to miracles or signs—something that is conspicuous enough to signify a divine act or a display of power that only could come from God.
God performed such acts in Egypt just before He rescued Israel from the Pharaoh. Blood, fire, and columns of smoke are evidence of God's presence or of war. Thus God's final battle against His enemies would take place. God was coming to deal finally with all people. For some it would mean death; for others, life.
Verse 31. All of creation would be involved in that final Day of the Lord. Reference to the sun's being changed into darkness and the moon becoming blood red emphasize how great and cataclysmic and foreboding the Day of the Lord's judgment will be. Because the Day of the Lord will be a great and awe-inspiring day when God judges sin, biblical writers often describe that day against the backdrop of dreadful signs. For God's people, however, that day will be a joyful day of final restoration and deliverance. For all who are disobedient and rebellious, it will be the day of final judgment.
Verse 32. Deliverance on the Day of the Lord will come to everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh. The word for call implies a specific verbal request to a specific person from whom a specific response is requested. To call on the name of the Lord means to acknowledge God as one's God and to ask Him for salvation.
Those who call on the Lord sincerely and in faith will be saved. The Hebrew word translated saved can mean "be delivered" or "escape." Only Yahweh (God's personal, covenant name) can save a person and provide a way to escape from God's judgment on the Day of the Lord.
God promised to provide that escape on Mount Zion, which is another name for Jerusalem. The physical city would not provide escape, but the Lord God who resided there would provide deliverance. Those who call on the Lord were called survivors the LORD calls. The word survivor means "one who escaped." In this context those who were survivors were those who, when the Lord called Judah to repentance, obeyed that call and received His forgiveness. Paul quoted part of this verse in Romans 10:13, "For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
Everyone needs to appropriate God's mercy. A person who confesses sins and asks for forgiveness receives God's mercy and is prepared for the Day of the Lord whenever it may come.
What would you say are one or two of the greatest blessings of having the Holy Spirit dwell within you?
Biblical Truths for Spiritual Transformation
- We can consider whether adverse circumstances may be the Lord's way of warning us that we are going in the wrong direction and need to turn back to Him.
- We can trust the Lord to welcome us with mercy when we turn to Him in genuine repentance.
- We can rejoice in God's promises, especially the promise that He is rich in mercy and will save all who call on Him.
If sinning against God is serious (and it is), what sins do you need to confess so you can appropriate His mercy?