by Andrea Koehler
I have this friend who has what appear to be prophetic dreams. And once? Once she told me she had a dream about me. About my future. She even told me a little of what it portended (which basically means predicted, but in a more mysterious and prophety way so it seems like the right word to use). I suppose a lot of us haven’t had this sort of experience but I can tell you from mine that it’s a bit weird. What am I supposed to do with this information? Do I act on it? Assume that kind of stuff is all made up? Or have faith that it means something? How do I know what’s true??
I was thinking about this as I started doing research about Joel to write this post. And here’s what I found out: nobody really knows exactly what’s up with him. There’s very little in the context of the book that helps pinpoint just when Joel lived or whether the book is a continuous prophecy or a collection of fragments. So I found myself again asking questions. What am I supposed to do with this information? Do I need to figure it out to understand what Joel is saying about God? How do I know what’s true??
And then of course it came to me: The Holy Spirit. I think it’s at the root what all of this is about—Joel, what he says about God, and all the sons and daughters of the Lord dreaming dreams, seeing visions, and prophesying. Here’s how I read it.
Up until 2:12, we’ve been treated to a graphic picture of God’s fearsome wrath. Unstoppable locusts devouring the land. The warning against the greater terror of Judgment Day. But then in verse 12 the darkness suddenly breaks as God shows his people another way. “Even now,” he says, “I still want you.” “Return to the Lord your God,” he says, “for he is gracious and compassionate.” God is alwaysseeking a way to bring us back to himself, just as we saw in Hosea. So in 2:12-17 he gives the nation of Judah another chance to repent, promising to be gracious if only they’ll put him first. Then in verse 18, we see how his intense love overwhelms even his wrath. Judah deserved to be punished for disobedience, but instead God “was jealous for his land and took pity on his people.” He promises them bounty, protection, and joy. I love the absolute richness of what God promises in 2:18-27. It’s a picture of everything beautiful, and the complete opposite of the whole locust experience.
And then it all comes together in the last part of the chapter.
2:28-32 refers again to the coming Day of the Lord, but now God reveals something more. There is talk of smoke and fire and dread. But in the midst of it there is a promise not only of restoration, but of himself. He says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” He has already decided all the way back in the Old Testament that he will continue to restore his people and share himself with them. It’s a theme that comes up again and again in the Old Testament prophecies: God decided from the start that he would be present with us and that he would redeem us and that he would continually reveal his truth to us.
I love the way this plays out in Acts, when Peter quotes this very passage from Joel. It’s just after the Holy Spirit has shown up in a great display of wind and fire and words. Because the disciples all begin speaking in tongues, this huge crowd around in them Jerusalem—all the Jewish people who have gathered for Passover—think they’re probably drunk. But Peter says “No! Listen! We are not drunk. Don’t you see? God has promised this to us and HERE HE IS.” God has promised and he has come through. His word can be trusted. He is moving among us now, calling us back to himself.
And that brings be back to where I started. How do I know what’s true? It might not always be easy to tell what happened hundreds and hundreds of years ago to the prophet Joel or to anticipate my own future. But it’s clear that right now, at every moment, God wants us to be near him. He wants to show us the truth about who he is and the sort of people he wants us to be. He wants us to put him first. And above all, even now, he will be with us.
Today’s writing is entry #6 of our Minor Prophet series. Join with our study throughout the week, and as we gather on Sundays at 9:15 at The VINE at Chapel Rock to unpack the truth of God’s word together. This week’s study is focusing on the writing of the Prophet Joel.
Today’s reading is Joel 2:12-2:32 and Acts 2:17-21