Today: [Joel 1] When Gnawing Problems Overwhelm Us. We come to the study of Joel as being written at a time of great natural disaster. Plagues of insects had overrun the nation and the prophet calls the people to awaken out of the stupor of worry and fear to once again seek the Lord at His altar. What a comparison to our day when fear and worry seem to strongly distract us at times, but the call of God through Joel is that we awaken and seek His face for the salvation that only our Heavenly Father can bring about!
[Joe 1:1-20 KJV] 1 The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel. 2 Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers? 3 Tell ye your children of it, and [let] your children [tell] their children, and their children another generation. 4 That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten. 5 Awake, ye drunkards, and weep; and howl, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the new wine; for it is cut off from your mouth. 6 For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth [are] the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek teeth of a great lion. 7 He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast [it] away; the branches thereof are made white. 8 Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth. 9 The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the LORD; the priests, the LORD’S ministers, mourn. 10 The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted: the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth.
We now come to a study of the book of Joel. Joel is the 29th book of the bible, believed to be written by the prophet bearing its name. Joel’s name means “Yaweh is God”. Joel’s father was a man by the name of Pethuel, also of whom little is known. There is consensus that Joel lived at the same time as the prophet Elisha. He lived in or near Jerusalem. Hosea lived in Jerusalem and prophesied to the northern kingdom of Samaria. Joel’s prophesy is directed at the southern kingdom of Judah at the time of the reign of king Joash. Joel is significant to Pentecostal/Charismatic believers because Peter quotes Joel on the day of Pentecost in explaining the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the incidence of the 120 speaking in other tongues which was witnessed by the throng standing round about. Throughout the book of Joel there is a recurrent theme of disasters including plagues of locusts, famine, raging fires, invading armies and celestial phenomena portending various apocalyptic events. Apparently at the time of Joel’s prophesying, some plagues and disasters had already occurred but in his book, he tells the people that further cataclysm can be avoided through repentance and forsaking of the sins of the nation. This is interesting to make note of in view of the fact that it is popular today to insist that there is no connection between natural disaster and the moral decay of a nation, although in this book and other places in the scripture the exact opposite is inferred. Because of this we have to decide whether we want to hold to popular opinion or believe the scripture, no matter how inconvenient a proposition it may declare to us.
Verse 1 begins with the prophet introducing himself without elaborating on his background. Jewish sources make reference to a plague of locusts in Joel’s day that was so great that only the plague of locusts on the Egyptians in Moses’ day surpassed it. From this context Joel cries out in v. 2 “hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?”. We see then the occasion upon which Joel was moved by the hand of God to speak up and to move upon the world scene in such a way that his renown reaches down to us even today in the pages of holy writ.
Verse 4 describes the strategy of escalating assault that comes against the people of God. First the palmerworm, then the locust, and after the locust the cankerworm and the caterpillar. These insects, defined by the etymology of their names connote for us the “gnawer”, the “swarmer”, the “licker” and the “consumer”. Just as a side note, when my spouse and I moved to Arizona, we settled in at the beginning of the rainy season. We went for a walk along a planted field of leafy produce when to our shock the dirt road we walked on was carpeted with caterpillars making their way into the field to devour it’s produce. By the time we realized it – it was too late to turn back and it was impossible to step anywhere without stepping on the caterpillars. The scene summoned up at least in part a faint description of what Joel is referring to.
When the enemy comes against us he begins with the palmer worm strategy. The word for palmerworm hear means “to gnaw”. Have you ever faced gnawing and nagging problems? In and of themselves they don’t seem to be so devastating, but they keep gnawing away at our peace and our blessing until our whole life is focused upon them like the little foxes that ultimately destroy the vines planted by God’s goodness in our lives.
After the palmerworms come the locust. The word for locust here means “the swarmer”. This is an insect like the palmerworm, with the addition of wings. In your life have you ever felt like you were dealing with “gnawing” problems and suddenly as soon as one situation was dealt with, another appears in its place until these difficulties are so numerous, you don’t know where to put your attention first. This is when the URGENT in your life usurps and eclipses the IMPORTANT and your life is swept into a total focus upon dealing with problems, then concentrating on those priorities of eternal significance.
After the palmerworm and the locust comes the cankerworm. The cankerworm is a despicable creature who assaults by licking its prey. This speaks of the residue of contamination that begins to afflict our entire life because the multitudinous swarm of gnawing problems coming at us to the point that our walk with God suffers and carnality and corruption by decay sets in. Sometimes just walking around on the earth in a fallen environment corrupts our lives and the only antidote is to seek out spending time in the word of God to receive from Jesus the declaration “now you are clean through word that I have spoken unto you”. It is the word of God that works as an antiseptic to cleanse us from the defilement of the onslaught of the enemy against us.
If we fail to run into the high tower of the name of the Lord by prayer and time in His word and surrounding ourselves with the fellowship of the saints, the final assault of the caterpillar comes whose name means in Hebrew “the devourer” or the “consumer”. Jesus declared that in the last days men’s hearts would fail them for fear because they are consumed with the problems of the day, problems on the world scene and problems in the lives of those around them. There is a point at which you have to shut yourself away from the narrative of the world and the input even of close companions, in order to find cleansing and deliverance from this pernicious assault of the enemy against you portrayed for us in the book of Joel.
Joel’s antidote is “awake you drunkards…” Awake from what? We are to awake from the stupor of worry and fear. Look at what Jesus said about fear and worry in the gospel of Luke:
[Luk 21:34 KJV] 34 And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and [so] that day come upon you unawares.
The palmerworm, the locust, cankerworm and the caterpillar come upon us as the cares of this life, that Jesus says can work devastation in your life just like gluttony and drunkenness. Just as gluttony and drunkenness render your senseless and unaware of what is going on around you, even so fear and the cares of this live stupefy the soul and put us in a spiritually catatonic state, to which Joel cries “wake up!” What are we awaking to? To the reality that the cares of life have as Joel says in verse 5 cut off the New Wine from our mouth. What is the New Wine? It is the wine of the Spirit of God that Peter referred to specifically when he quoted Joel in the book of Acts on the day of Pentecost.
Speaking in other tongues and praying in tongues is a direct assault against the gnawing, consuming work of the enemy against our souls. The enemy’s process tears us down, but Jude declares that praying in tongues builds us up – reversing the devastation of the enemy against us:
[Jde 1:20 KJV] 20 But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost,
11 Be ye ashamed, O ye husbandmen; howl, O ye vinedressers, for the wheat and for the barley; because the harvest of the field is perished. 12 The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, [even] all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men. 13 Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests: howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meat offering and the drink offering is withholden from the house of your God. 14 Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders [and] all the inhabitants of the land [into] the house of the LORD your God, and cry unto the LORD, 15 Alas for the day! for the day of the LORD [is] at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come. 16 Is not the meat cut off before our eyes, [yea], joy and gladness from the house of our God? 17 The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered. 18 How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate. 19 O LORD, to thee will I cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field. 20 The beasts of the field cry also unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness.
In v. 11 Joel calls the shepherds and husbandmen into accountability for the condition of the vineyards and the flocks of God. Leaders sometimes are very adept at shifting blame for things God holds them accountable for. And in trust every one of us stands in leadership in some capacity. Whether it is as an example to your family, or on the joy, in your marriage or in the church setting, everyone of us carries some level of responsibility and when things are in decay and the enemy is devouring God’s people the call is for LEADERS to act and to preserve what is remaining by calling people to the meditation of the word, and to the place of prayer. We are not just to TELL others to read the word we are to read it with them. We are not to demand people to pray we are to PRAY with them, and the joy that has been whithered away from the people of God will be restored – not by man and his methods and solutions but by the hand of God and the outpouring of His Spirit upon our lives.
Verse 13 says it is time for the priests (and we are all priests) to come and lay all night in prayer. This isn’t just for someone else to do – this is for us as God’s kings and priests in the New Covenant to do. Have you ever known what it was to lie all night in prayer? I’m not talking about a Holy Ghost slumber party. I’m talking about setting aside a night of prayer where we deny sleep to our eyes and gather together crying out to God against the gnawing, swarming, licking and consuming threat of the enemy against our lives. Verse 14 goes on as the prophet declares boldly “sanctify a fast and call a solemn assembly…” I wonder if Joel presented that word for approval to the pastor before he made that declaration? Surely what he suggested was not convenient. The church calendar would have to be revised. The men’s ministry softball game would have to be postponed. The bus trip to Gatlinburg would have to be canceled, and the tickets were already sold!
Joel declares in v. 15 “alas for the day!” The problems that were facing the people in their day were so egregious that there was no false savior who dared stand up and say “I have the answer!” For this reason Joel echoes the cry in v. 19 “O Lord to thee I will cry…” They weren’t calling out to politicians in Joel’s day. They were posting strongly worded Facebook posts on social media. They knew – they had AWAKENED to the fact that ONLY GOD HIMSELF could spare the nation and it was to HIM ALONE that they called!
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