Housegroup notes on Joel (Part 1) Sunday 2nd May
Over the next three weeks we will be looking at the Old Testament Prophet Joel (whose name means Jehovah is God). As it is a short book, and it seems to make more sense if it is read all at once, please take the time to read through the whole book together before embarking on any more detailed discussions. Joel appears to be writing between two events, both of which he describes in terms of invasions by locusts (Chapter 1:2-20 & Chapter 2:1-11). He goes suggests in fairly strong terms what the people’s response should be (Chapter 2:12-17) and then describes what God will do in response to that, in the more immediate term (Chapter 2:13-27), ‘afterwards’ (Chapter 2: 28-32) and ‘in those days and at that time when He will restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem (Chapter 3 all). It is written in language that mirrors some of the other prophetic writings in the Old Testament, as we hope you will find as you study this together, although scholars cannot pin down exactly when this was written, and it is always helpful to remember that the language used is trying to describe something that the prophet has ‘seen’, but has not yet happened, using language/metaphors and grammatical techniques of the day. Please pray together for insight and not to get too ‘caught’ in some of the specific details.
1. The Day of the Locust.
People remember major events. If you want a short warm up, pick a couple of major events (e.g. 9/11 2001; The Tsunami; Haiti/China Earthquake; the 2003 Rugby World Cup...) and see where people were and how it made them feel. Has anyone been to Ground Zero in New York? Haiti? Somewhere else?
Joel uses a major event, a locust invasion, to get people to remember how they felt. (See v2.b-3) It was a story that would be told through the generations.
- Talk for a moment about why Joel may be doing this. What are the main aspects he is hoping to get them to recall through talking about this significant event they have been through?
In setting the scene for describing what is coming Joel is pulling together a framework that the hearers will understand, to provide some understanding of the effect/feelings that the future may hold (c.f v15 and Chapter 2ff). His main point seems to be the completely destructive nature of the event (have a look at the 10 different terms use in verses 10-12 to describe the havoc created by the locusts) and the sense of helplessness/powerlessness that those who experienced it felt.
The destruction came in waves – just when you thought it was all over... (the 4 different phases of verse 4 – these could be 4 stages of Locust development with the egg laying of the first wave turning into the following wave, or four different types of Locust - there are 90 or so in that region and there are 9 usable words in Hebrew for Locust. This is one of the ‘don’t get too caught’ points but interesting mainly in the fact that the Lord redeems of the effects of all four when He intervenes (c.f. 2:25’) which could also suggest a literary tool for emphasis or comparison.
- Have a think about the different groups of people Joel picks out for consideration. (V2, V5, V8, V9, V11, V13). Drunkards can no longer find alcohol to dull their pain; Worshippers must now go to the temple empty-handed; Farmers can no longer provide produce the basic needs for either rich (Wheat) or poor (Barley) and their society was fundamentally agricultural. Priests cannot fulfil their responsibilities for the people.
What then could they do? Read vs: 13-14. Fast and Pray.
- We have recently done a series on prayer but you may want to spend a few moments on thinking about when and why the people of God fasted and the part that we think it plays today (c.f if you want to go down this path Mt 6:16 & 9:15; 1 Cor 7:5; Acts 13:2,3 & 14:23 and consider some of the following: dependence on God, attention to prayer, sacrifice of personal comfort, self discipline, spiritual and mental alertness, earnestness and urgency)
Joel’s ‘set-up’ has been leading to this point where a transition happens. It is a transition from the past to the future. It is a transition from listening to acting. It is as if he has been saying ‘what does it take to get your attention? Be warned - You need to understand that this event is nothing compared to what will happen if we don’t get ourselves in the right place! Judgment is coming!’
- What did it take for God to get our attention?
- When have we seen the greatest periods of personal growth as Christians?
- Does trouble cause us to come to Him or want to argue/be angry with Him – or both?
- Do we find a message that there will be a judgment difficult?
Joel now introduces for the first time in V15 the ‘Day of the Lord’ which is ‘near’ and ‘will come like destruction from the Almighty’. We are going to cover this more in the next two weeks so for now, please take note.
- Verses 16-20 cover the effects of the disaster on both livestock and agriculture, the two bases of and agrarian society. Can we identify other events that can bring our society to a standstill?
Joel then moves to another army (Chapter 2:1-11). This is a picture of a potential invading army, described again in terms of a locust analogy. Was this foretelling another locust plague, an impending invasion of the Assyrian or Babylonian armies from the North, establishing that there would be a future day of judgment when the armies of the Lord would arraign against his enemies, or all three? What is clear is that this passage is topped and tailed by the notion of the day of the Lord which is described in powerful and destructive terms. What is clear is that Joel is saying ‘the locust plaque was only the ‘starter’’. He is, in some ways, raising the perceived ‘threat level’ – sounding the alarm – acting in the role of watchman on the city walls. In the discussions that follow we will look further at the ‘Day of the Lord’, His response to repentance, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the time when He finally concludes that the new heaven and new earth will be established.
- If there is no judgment – there is no need for grace! What we might pray for?
- Pray that He will continue to bring His word alive for us
- Pray that we would continue to allow the Holy Spirit to create urgency in us to bring the message of the gospel to those we know.
- Pray that we would lay the troubles we have before Him and seek his grace daily
Charles Nelson, 28/04/2010