The people of Israel were reeling. A tsunami of locusts had swept through the nation and ravished the land from one end to the other. In the wake of this devastation, the prophet Joel has been assigned the unenvious task of letting his wayward countrymen know why it happened and what they must do to get back into God’s good graces (2:12, 13).
For most of us, a locust plague is so far from our realm of experiences, that the magnitude of such a disaster is difficult to comprehend. Although we tend to relegate calamities of this order to the far reaches of ancient history, they are much more common than you might expect. As recently as 2020, for instance, these voracious invaders launched an horrific assault on the countries on the Horn of Africa, resulting in devastation that affected more than 35 million people. Scientists, in fact, warn that as the earth’s climate continues to warm, such insect plagues will only get worse (www.wired.com). Such dire predictions should come as no surprise, however, since Jesus, Himself, warned that in the last days we should expect to see an increase in pestilences (Luke 21:11).
Joel begins by reminding his readers that the recent locust plague was sent from the Lord and he calls upon the people to repent and return to Him. Then to the peoples’ consternation, the prophet forecasts yet another invasion, one even more devastating than the first (2:1). He informs them that a vast and terrible army is poised on their borders waiting to attack. Imagine what must have gone through the minds of Joel’s readers at this point. How could they possibly survive another such catastrophe? Surely, there would be nothing remaining of their country.
Midway through his book, however, Joel steps aside from his message of doom and encapsulates their dire predicament in one succinct sentence. Quoting their beloved King David from Psalm 103:8 he reminds them: “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (2:13b, ESV).
First, they must return to the Lord.
Second, He describes four specific characteristics of God:
- He is gracious
- He is merciful
- He is patient (slow to anger)
- He is abounding in steadfast love
Third, He will relent over the impending disaster. After reading these words the Israelites no doubt felt an enormous sense of relief, for God was assuring them of his steadfast love and as such was providing a way of escape. It reminds one of a parent, who after disciplining his child, takes the little one in his arms and tells the child that they are still loved.
It is interesting that the first of the divine attributes highlighted by the prophet is grace: the unmerited, unearned love of God. Grace has been described as the most important concept taught in the Bible. We see in this verse that God’s grace is grace in action, for springing from His grace comes mercy, patience and love. The prophet continues by describing just how thoroughly God will demonstrate His grace to them.
First of all, He promises to meet their immediate physical needs. Grain, oil and wine will be abundantly provided so they will be completely satisfied (2:19). Next, He ensures their physical safety from the army lurking on their borders, for the enemies of Israel will soon feel the power of Almighty God and be driven far from their presence (2:20).
He also shows a concern for their emotional needs, telling them that soon their hearts will turn to gladness and rejoicing because they will no longer be a reproach among the nations (2:19, 23). Revealing more of His tender heart, God even comforts the land itself and the beasts of the field, telling them that even though they have suffered, they will no longer need to live in fear. Once again, the pastures will be green, and the trees will bear fruit in abundance (2:21-22).
All these blessings from the hand of God are concrete evidence to the people of His steadfast love, a love He has manifested to Israel, even to this very day. It is also a precious reminder that He also now expresses this same grace, mercy, patience, and love to the followers of His Son.
The writer of Hebrews exclaims, “God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? …but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Heb. 12:7b, 10, ESV). God’s ultimate purpose in disciplining His children is so that they might share His holiness. The writer then goes on to develop this thought, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11, ESV). What then is the peaceable fruit of righteousness which we receive when we share in His holiness? Is not it the very four characteristics ascribed to God by Joel:
- Being gracious
- Being merciful
- Being patient
- Abounding in love
Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote, “What the sunshine is to the flower, the Lord Jesus Christ is to my soul.” May the love of the Savior warm our hearts in this way, so that the grace, mercy, patience, and love we show to others will leave a visible reminder of One who loves them so deeply that plumbing its wondrous depths will reach beyond time and eternity. Such is the Father’s love for us.