Repentance, Response, & Reversal

In two recent posts we have been looking at the prophecy of Joel to observe how God calls His people to respond to coming calamity, then that this proper response of repentance does not bend God’s will, rather, He extends mercy and relents of His wrath out of His own freedom. As we have seen the prophecy progresses in chapter 2 from the call to repentance at the coming Day of the Lord to the freedom of God to relent of pending judgment, leaving us in suspense as to what will happen. Will Israel repent? Will God relent or bring judgment? Is there a developing tension between moral responsibility of the people and God’s sovereignty in salvation and judgment? Thankfully, we are provided with a conclusion that more than meets our expectations.

In Joel 2:15-17, following up on the question about whether God would relent or not, we find the prophet calling for a widespread repentance.
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16     gather the people.
Consecrate the congregation;
    assemble the elders;
gather the children,
    even nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
    and the bride her chamber.
17 Between the vestibule and the altar
    let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep
and say, “Spare your people, O Lord,
    and make not your heritage a reproach,
    a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
    ‘Where is their God?’”

Joel 2:15-17
In reading this, we must not forget that God desired heartfelt repentance, not external actions, as in Joel 2:13. When read in this light, the actions called for by the prophet are genuine, outward expressions of the internal work of repentance in the heart. The trumpet blast, in Zion no less, was to signal the initiation of the fast and a solemn assembly of the people. We may recall chapter 1 and the call to repentance and solemn assembly there it was in the context of a lamentation in light of God’s past actions. Here however a hopeful call to repentance is made with the prospect that God might relent of His wrath at the coming Day of the Lord. It is significant that this call extends broadly to include the entire congregation from elders to infants, brides and bridegrooms particularly when held alongside the individual groups from Joel 1:2-15 and the collectivism of Joel 2:28-29.

In verse 2:17 the movement is from the congregation of the people to the mediators of the people, namely the ministers and priests. We may again recall that they were singled out in chapter 1 and called to mourn for the lack of available offerings. Comparatively, here they are called to make intercession to God for the people. Depending on when Joel is dated, the reference to vestibule and altar could be temple language, but it is uncertain. Nevertheless, as with Moses’ intercession that we saw in the last post, the priests are called to make a similar plea to the Lord imploring Him to relent of His coming wrath.

The plea has three key elements beginning with a reminder to God that Israel is His people, then, His heritage. By using both the language of possession and inheritance it brings to bear on God’s mind, as it were, the covenant which He had made, again recalling Sinai but also as it was built on the Abrahamic Covenant. Third and finally, there is the negative consequence of God’s people, God’s heritage, becoming a “byword among the nations.” This phrase is not an accurate translation. Instead, as Garrett points out, the phrase is more accurately translated, “Do not let the nations rule over them.” Translated this way helps us better understand the transition from locusts to armies in Joel 2:1-11 and the upcoming judgment on the nations in Joel 3:1-16. The threat of reproach was the threat of subjugation to foreigners.

When viewed covenantally, allowing the nations to rule over Israel is the ultimate undoing of God’s plan for them. Briefly, they were called to be His people and His heritage, as we have seen, but more than that God’s law was to regulate them and He was to be their King, later embodied by David. Being ruled by a pagan nation is the opposite of implementing God’s covenant plan and it is to that point that the priests were to appeal. Should this happen, it would in turn cause the nations to question God. Here then we have the implied repentance which included reminding God that they were His people, His heritage, and in danger of undoing the covenant and becoming a byword to the nations. The question is, how will God respond?
Then the Lord became jealous for his land
    and had pity on his people. Joel 2:18
In Joel 2:18 the question is answered as we see a two-part response from God followed by a reversal of the pending calamity. First, God responds out of His jealousy for His land, “Then the Lord became jealous for his land”. We might ask what the land has to do with the coming calamity and then why has it aroused the jealousy of God? If we recall that earlier in Joel, the destruction of the land by the locusts and the downward spiral that this led to, including being unable to bring sacrifices to God, then we can better appreciate the role that the land plays. In other words, there is a geographic (land) dimension to sin and cursing. This becomes clear when we consider the fall of man in Genesis 3 and the curse levied on the land as God addresses Adam. Land, alongside seed or offspring, becomes a key covenantal element throughout Genesis as men seemed to focus on land and women seemed to focus on offspring. Furthermore, in Deuteronomy 28 we read that God had assigned blessings to the land for obedience and curses to the land for disobedience. In Joel, we found ourselves within the occasion of curses placed upon the land.

As to God’s divine jealousy, this brings up an interesting and crucial connection with the book of Exodus, which as we have seen was the background for Joel summarizing the familiar phrase of God’s character and reminding the people that God relents of disaster (Joel 2:14). Notably, Exodus 34 is the foundation for Joel’s statement and the basis from which he calls the people to repent, informs them that God relents of disaster, and alerts them to the possibility that He may do so once again. Indeed, it is in this very chapter of Exodus where we read that God is a jealous God springing up out of the restatement of the second commandment (Exodus 34:14; c.f. Exodus 20:5).

God’s jealousy has often been misunderstood, confused, or simply ignored. However it is important to note that it is rooted in His very character and is just as much an expression of His wrath and judgment as it is His love. In fact, it is on the basis of His covenant love – often symbolized as marriage, that His jealousy for His people and in this case His land, is derived. As such, we mustn’t think of jealousy in a humanistic way that sees it as negative and regards it as a synonym for coveting. In other words, we shouldn’t view God’s divine jealousy as being jealous of someone/something instead that He is jealous for someone/something. This positive use is how jealousy is most often used in Scripture.

Next we see that God’s response shifts from the geography, or His land, to genealogy, or His people. It is towards them that He expresses pity. This expression of God’s compassion, flowing from His love towards His people and His mercy is likewise covenantal in nature, but not from the Mosaic Covenant which they have broken. Rather the covenant made with Abraham (Isaac and Jacob; a point of clarity should be made here concerning the dual nature of the Abrahamic Covenant).

After noting the jealousy and pity within God Himself, in verse 19 God is moved towards directly responding to the people, “The Lord answered and said to his people”. His response comes by way of a reversal or undoing of the calamity. In a sense, it is the reversal of the curse, particularly as it has been described through the first two chapters of Joel. Joel 2:19b through the end of the book describes this reversal in vivid detail, though our interests here are primarily focused on Joel 2:19-27. The reversal begins by countering the barren condition of the land, which had led to several layers of lamentation among the people. Instead God promises to send, “grain, wine, and oil” leading to the satisfaction of the people. Further undoing or reversing what was to come, we note a direct response to the prayer request of how Israel would be viewed by the surrounding nations given the calamity that was about to happen. God specifically addresses the taunt and threat of becoming a “reproach” by saying He would take it away.

Continuing the reversal, in verse 20 the invading armies from the north are removed, blessing and abundance are returned to the land, and vindication has come to Israel in the form of abundant rains. Not only are these reversals of previously described calamities, but by God specifically addressing the land and animals (Fear not) and the reemergence of abundant vegetation, there is an echo of creation. The result of God’s action would be abundant threshing floors and overflowing vats of wine and oil (Joel 2:24). Furthermore, that which the locusts had taken away in chapter 1 would be restored, here stated in terms of years. Again we see the blending of locusts and armies. The restoration stated here especially addresses the setback that had been caused by the invading locusts. As the calamity was described in chapters 1 and 2, in this passage there is a near point by point reversal declared in this response from God.

Finally, in Joel 2:26-27 we have a summary of the restoration which will ultimately result in praising God by recognizing Who He is and what He has done. Their physical needs once marked by desolation are now marked by abundance. The threat of reproach upon God’s people, which they had feared, is now lifted with the promise of never again to be put to shame forming bookends around the recognition formula supremacy and uniqueness of God.
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. Joel 2:27
This passage from Joel 2 relieves some of the tension and anticipation concerning how God would respond to Israel’s heartfelt repentance. To be sure, as we have just seen God is slow to anger and will have mercy on those whom He will have mercy as He was with Israel in Moses’ day and so too now in Joel’s. In the face of calamity, God’s consistent call for His people is repentance, indeed for all those involved. There is no guarantee that He will relent from His anger, but that does not remove or negate the responsibility to repent. For God’s children, those who have faith in Christ, they may rest assured that they will be hidden in Christ from the ultimate Day of the Lord that is to come. Then in the majestic unfolding of God’s redemptive plan, the ultimate Day of the Lord will bring to completion the destruction of sin and death and usher in the reversal of the curse by establishing the New Heaveans and Earth. Hallelujah, come Lord Jesus!

Soli Deo Gloria

About the author

Christian saved by grace through faith.

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