Pay Attention!

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A couple of months ago, in my commentary “How to Be a Christian,” I wrote about the book of James—one of my favorite books of the Bible. Here’s a quick review: James, the half-brother of Jesus, presents a condensed version of the tenets of Christianity, covering all of the big sermon topics—temptation and sin, faith and works, controlling our tongues, etc. This week, in contrast, I’m going to tell you a little about one of my least favorite books—the Book of Joel.

Joel was a prophet to ancient Judah who lived anywhere from 850 to 500 years before the birth of Christ, depending on which scholar you consult. The name Joel translates from the Hebrew as “Yahweh is God.” Joel’s message from God is not a new one. He writes that we must repent and honor God—a message that is repeated throughout the Old Testament over and over (and over and over…). God makes a covenant with His people—the Hebrews—and they straighten up and fly right for awhile and then they backslide.

If you grew up going to Sunday School every week, you’ll be familiar with much of the imagery that Joel uses: locusts, trumpets, fig trees, vines, jars of oil and wine, blood and fire, clouds and smoke, the day of the Lord. There’s judgement followed by punishment followed by endless repeats of the same plot line.

But it’s not all doom and gloom in Joel. He actually prophesies about the coming of the Holy Spirit—hundreds of years before God sent the Holy Spirit as our comforter! In the second chapter of Joel, the prophet says, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions…then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:28-32). In the Book of Acts, Peter actually quotes Joel’s, stating that the prophecy has been fulfilled with the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21).

Times were tumultuous during Joel’s life. There were illnesses, locusts, droughts, famine, and foreign conquerors. And here we are in 2022, bombarded again by the calamities in the world—pandemics, droughts, floods, famine, sexual confusion, political unrest, and violence. King Solomon knew what he was talking about: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV). The (rhetorical) question is this: are we going to heed the voices of the world (the media, politicians, celebrities), or are we going to go to the Holy Scriptures for the answers?

When I state that the Book of Joel is one of my least favorite books, I’m not making a judgement about the importance of its message. But where the book of James can make us feel all warm and fuzzy and hopeful, Joel basically says, “If you’ve been told once, you’ve been told a thousand times!” and “Wait until your Father gets home!”

The central theme of Joel is that when we break our relationship with God, He disciplines us. But if we repent, we can be forgiven and reconciled. God is in control even when we are in crisis, and He uses discipline to get our attention. Are we paying attention yet?

Sources for the information in this article:


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