Joel 3: The Hour is Comingby Ed de la Cour on July 11, 2016
Joel 3 The Hour is Coming
by Ed de la Cour
I think I may have a clue what many of you may be thinking. If today’s message is going to be about the judgment of God, it’s likely to be a scorcher, full of shouting and screaming and gloom and doom. Not many preachers enjoy preparing and delivering sermons about God’s judgment because it’s not a happy topic and also because we are generally not gloom and doom people. The truth is, though, the judgment of God stands against sin and rebellion and against those who love sin and rebellion. Even on our very best days, you and I are plagued by sinful thoughts and by a personal and unhealthy attraction to all kinds of rebellious behaviors. Therefore, on that basis we ourselves are likely candidates to be judged, so we are not eager to listen to preaching on the subject.
The book of Joel is only three chapters in length. At the start, this powerful message features a plague of hungry locusts as an illustration of the coming judgment of God upon the nation. Joel described in terrifying detail the march of these locusts, locked in formation, moving across the landscape with disciplined determination. They devoured everything in their path. What a frightening metaphor of God’s judgment! Frankly, God was using these critters to cause desperation to be sparked, fueled by Joel’s call to repentance and the subsequent promise of the eventual outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We could spend some time thinking about the need for that kind of desperation in our own hearts. They had locusts. We have opioids. We have all kinds of destructive behaviors ruining families and destroying lives. They had kings who sold their souls to foreign gods. We have political candidates and they all seem to be similarly motivated. Joel called them to become desperate for God, even to the extent of putting off that expensive and very important wedding reception in order to attend to the infinitely more important task of seeking the face of God for His mercy.
Now, we come to the third chapter of Joel, the culmination of this prophetic word. Joel began by saying, “In those days.” That is a linguistic device often used by the prophets, similar to “in that day,” or “in the latter days.” These are phrases the biblical prophets used to speak of the last days, of the end times, what we now understand as all the events that will culminate in the Second Coming of King Jesus. The last days are the times prophesied in the Old and New Testaments when our holy and righteous God will bring His final judgment against the nations of this world.
God has a great interest in speaking to His people of the end times, and there are at least three reasons for this interest. First, God wants to bring us a word of warning. He wants everyone to know that apart from their sincere and heartfelt repentance, the nations, and all those who populate the nations, will surely meet God as their Judge on that day. The lives of all men and women will seen through the lens of the Law of God. Apart from repentance and trusting in Jesus for forgiveness, they will be judged and hell will await them.
Second, Jesus is coming soon. Paul says in Romans 13: 11, “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” It does not require super intelligence to draw the connection between what God said then and what is happening before our eyes today.
Third, God wants to bring a word of hope to His people. The faithful remnant, the folks who love God, those who appreciate His love for them; they have lived on the edge of despair for untold generations, persecuted for their faith and suffering because of their trust in God. Knowing that the end of all things is near means their suffering will end soon and their lives are not hopeless. Even in painful and difficult times, our God is still on the throne, still directing the course of history.
As Joel declared in verse 3, the nations to be judged are characterized by their abuse of the people of God and their shameful treatment small children. The way this world treats the vulnerable, the very young as well as the very old, the poor, the broken, and the lonely, is indicative of just how ripe our culture is for God’s wrath. The world needs to know that God’s judgment is unavoidable. You can run but you cannot hide. We all seem to have this cloak of invincibility we love to wear. We believe nothing can touch us. We think we are immune to God’s judgment, but the truth of Joel is that God’s judgment is not only real, but it is just around the corner. The hour is coming.
In verses 4 – 6, God spoke through Joel and told the nations to step up and explain themselves. He was saying, if you think God has wronged you somehow, here is your opportunity to take God to task. Our God is a big God and He can handle these little insolences, so tell Him, what did He do to you? The prophet Micah asked the same questions in his prophecy.
God asked, is there some reason, some rationale, for the way you are behaving? Are you trying to get back at God? God specifically called out Tyre, Sidon, and Philistia. Those nations are exemplars of the antichrist world system around us today, so God’s questions to them are applicable to us.
In verse 9, God launched into a call to arms directed to the nations of the world. You people who hate God, you who are itching for a fight, those of you who are just dying to get into the ring with God, bring it on! Even if guns were to be outlawed, sharpen your farm tools and turn everything you have into weapons of war. Let even the weak among you wax bold and say, “I’m no wimp; I am strong! I’m a lean, mean, fighting machine!”
In verse 10, you will no doubt notice the similarity to the Bible quote that was adopted by the United Nations, speaking of beating swords into plowshares. What happened here? I believe this version reflects the empty hope of godless men. The hope of the people of God is based on the sure and certain promises of God. God alone brings true peace. The peace God gives is rooted in obedience and trust in God. Man is essentially rebellious at his very core. Man constantly seeks his own path, constantly demands his own way. For the people of this world, the false promise speaks to man’s need to turn to wickedness and violence to accomplish his purposes. Man chooses weapons to achieve his ends and he refuses to put his hope in God. He will not trust in God. He will not obey God.
So God calls the combatants onto the field of battle. As He does so, God also calls His warriors to advance. God’s warriors are His angels, summoned to come into the valley of judgment as well. They witness the nations in all their glorious and shiny uniforms, proudly arrayed in readiness for battle, as they line up in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. They are ready to take on the God of heaven. In verse 14, we see this final confrontation will be fought in what Joel called “the valley of decision.” In that valley, God will make His decision about the fate of the millions who are engaged in a great civil war against His rule.
Throughout history, wars have been fought in the valleys and the plains and not on the mountains because large forces cannot maneuver easily. Mountainous terrain is one of the reasons why Afghanistan has proven to be a very difficult land for the British, the Russians, and the Americans to conquer. The Valley of Jehoshaphat is no different. It is a convenient place for decisive combat – and God holds the high ground!
There in the valley of decision God will sit in judgment. The God of the Bible will command His angels to be His harvesters. Judgment arrives when evil and wickedness in this world have grown and multiplied and finally achieved its full measure in the eyes of God. The sickle is an instrument of harvest. Then there is the winepress. Here, wine is not a pleasant drink to enjoy with dinner. For the prophets, wine and the winepress are often metaphors that speak of the wrath of God coming upon the wicked. God is saying He is ready for judgment to begin. The harvest is ready. The vineyard is ready. The winepress is ready. The warrior angels of God are ready. The hour has come for judgment to begin.
The hour draws near. Frightening signs are displayed in the sky and on the earth. There is a general panic as the public realizes they are not safe from God. They can actually hear the Lion of Judah roar! Although His roar is a fearsome thing for them, it has the opposite effect on God’s children. The same signs in the sky and earth that frighten the nations offer hope to God’s people.
Isn’t that the way it is so often? The God we love, who offers us hope and peace, is the same God the wicked love to hate. But for us, as Joel declares, our God is our refuge. Our God is our stronghold and our safe harbor. Our God is our shelter in the time of storm. Our God is our hope in the day of destruction. Our God is our sure defense. A mighty fortress is our God!
You need such a fortress today. We cannot run from judgment. The judgment of God always overtakes man’s attempts to change the subject or to run away from hard truths. There is no escaping it, even if we are good people. We live in a nation that is about to be judged; so if you see judgment coming your way, don’t try to run and don’t try to hide. Instead, run to Jesus. Jesus is your only hope.
None of this is easy to think about. When God says the hour is at hand, the time is near, or Jesus is coming soon, it is hard for us to take that information to heart. We have wives and husbands, children and grandchildren. We’ve bought homes. We are invested in this life. We have plans, hopes and dreams for the future. Yet, God says to us even as He spoke through Joel, “The day of the Lord is near.” On that day, God will bring down the curtain of history on all of man’s efforts to live life independently of God. Even though those efforts always fail, man still will not surrender himself into the hands of the God whose only Son died for us.
Sadly, we do bring a certain clinical response to the Word of God. Many of us have heard it all before. Others of us are not exactly sure how relevant any of this can be to our lives. And so we have a tendency to yawn: a plague of locusts? Really? Seriously? Think about that. You and I are really no different from the people who listened to Joel preach.
Because some of us have studied history, we know that eventually what Joel predicted did come true. It was a disaster of unprecedented proportions. Everything was gone. Their livelihoods decimated, their food supply ruined. All their plans dwindled to nothing. Jeremiah wrote of mothers who were reduced to eating their own children in order to stay alive. Is yawning still a temptation for you? What will it take for God to awaken us? Will it take a foreign invasion or an earthquake? Do we need an F-5 tornado or a major hurricane? Do we require an economic disaster when trunks full of cash will be worthless, our retirement accounts evaporated? Do we require an outbreak of some horrible or incurable disease? Must all of us be reduced to abject poverty before we will arouse ourselves to the spiritual realities around us and open our hearts to God? Connect the dots, people.
What we portray to the world is nothing more than a sham, a pose that declares we are not at all concerned. We smirk and cry out, “I am invincible!” What does God have to do to encourage us to respond to Him rather than to react against Him? We see here that the nations reacted; they did not respond. They balled their fists and shook them at God. They mobilized their armies to teach God a lesson.
On the other hand, God’s people do respond to Him. When God disciplines us, we turn to seek His face. We run to Him and we do not run away. We allow the Holy Spirit to create a sense of desperation in our hearts. We begin to seek God, not out of boredom, but out of a personal recognition of just how deep is our own hunger and thirst for the Lord.
The last five verses (verses 17 – 21) are a source of great hope for us and they are Joel’s final word on the subject of judgment. The whole point is that judgment enhances the holiness of God. Our God is holy. He is completely and perfectly holy, with nothing that can be added or taken away that might improve His character. But we are conceived in sin. We can’t even tolerate anything that is holy. But when God finally does judge, Joel says in verse 17, “Then you will know that I, the Lord your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. Jerusalem will be holy.”
On the one hand, judgment deals with sin and wickedness and removes them from the presence of God. On the other hand, judgment makes it safe for God to come and fill you and me with Himself. The other side of judgment is the blessing of God. In salvation from judgment, we find favor in His presence. We find the goodness of God. When you know the mercy and love of God in your life, you have found His favor and His blessing.
The end of the wicked is certainly just, given their rebellion, given the way they profess and declare hatred for the things of God. But Lord has another plan for us. God has a good plan for His people. For Judah, which represents the people of God, for you and me, the end of history is only the beginning. For those who love God, verse 21, there is pardon. Pardon means full forgiveness and complete peace with God. The good news is that pardon, that forgiveness, and that peace is available to you. God wants nothing more than for you to be able to make the words of David your own words as in Psalm 23,“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
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