A Lingering Look at the Second Chapter of Joel
This week we continue our study of the book of Joel as we linger a little longer on the second chapter (listen to Pastor Nate’s sermon from Joel 2 here).
Can I just start by recognizing the sheer beauty of this chapter? The imagery, the powerful metaphors, the precise rhythm, evoking terror upon terror, and then just when we think we can’t bear the weight of another word, we see past the dust and blood and blade to the steady beat of The Good Warrior Heart that beats with unwavering love for His beloved.
Let us begin here, with the rhythm of this great and fearsome Warrior Heart. Let us step back from whatever is our particularly familiar approach to scripture. Let us slow down until we’ve found the sound of that beating heart. It maybe faint at first, but let us lean into it and follow it until we are close enough to feel its reverberations resonating in our own chests.
I’ve never heard of anyone who loves to dwell and meditate on the wrath of God. It is terrifying. In the second chapter of Joel we see that “fear grips all the people; every face grows pale with terror” (2:6) as “God’s army” marches in perfect unison, shaking the earth as they advance, never breaking rank. They swarm the city and scale its walls, entering into houses like thieves through windows (2:7-10). We read these lines and shutter, but the most unnerving line of all is “The Lord is at the head…he leads them with a shout. This is his mighty army, and they follow his orders.”
Whether you prefer to engage scripture from an academic and formal mindset or the cozier, just-give-me-Jesus-and-a-warm-blanket option, passages like this can shake us out of our familiar places where we have learned to relate to God from the security of our own solid ground. And this is a very good thing. For it is God, himself that is our security, not our carefully calculated ideas and defendable doctrine about God, but God himself. Texts like Joel 2 don’t allow us to keep God in a tame and manageable box and, it is unnerving. But would we really be able to find security in a God who did not posses this kind of strength. God is full of mercy and abounding in love, as the chapter later spills in rushing and adamant emotion, and we will get there. But let us dwell a little longer with the fierceness we find in God as he commands with militant force and precision.
What We Find in the Garden and the Wasteland
In verse 3 we find just how thorough this invasion of God’s army is upon the land, “Ahead of them the land lies as beautiful as the Garden of Eden. Behind them is nothing but desolation…” At first glance, there is nothing comforting about this image, but look again. Let it take us back into Eden. What do we find there? The creation, let your heart swell as the layers of beauty multiply and deepen with every stroke of God’s words. The temptation, feel the fear, the panic that rises in your heart that maybe all you thought was true, was really just a mirage. The fall, remember what it felt like to live under the anguish of hopelessness and the shroud of shame. The cursing, try to see through the dizzy haze and confusion in the wake of what you’ve done long enough to understand that the God you once walked with in the cool of the day is cursing you now. The damage done rips at us, the confusion overwhelms, the regret threatens to swallow us whole.
But step back with me once more and listen for the sound of that beating heart. Where is our God? Has he turned his back on us? Maybe he’ll maintain a mild interest, a general concern for our well-being? Or is he indifferent? Or worse, is he angry? Surely he even has cause to be unforgiving and embittered by our treason?
Where is our God? He is drawing near, he has come looking for us. We are ashamed and try desperately to cover ourselves and he comes and wraps us in a cloak he has fashioned himself, and somehow right in the wake of what we have done, he hands us a bit of our dignity back. He curses us, yes, but these curses are designed, each word carefully chosen to thwart our further destruction, making it impossible to be satisfied in anything but Him.
An All-Powerful King and Ally
Oh, there is destruction in Eden, the garden has turned into a “desert wasteland” but what I find here, in both Joel 2 and Genesis 3, is that God is the one with all the power. Satan was not granted the power to invade and plunder paradise. His only leverage is to deceive us out from under the pleasure, purpose, and protection of God, for it is God who holds all the power, and it is us who decide whether we want to run through the forest, climb the highest mountains, and drink from the waterfall of God, or crawl through a cracked and empty desert, looking for water that will not be found. The point is, God is the one who has made the world and there is a way things work. If we live within his way, we will know peace and joy and purpose even in the face of opposition; but if we can be tempted into rebellion, then destruction will follow because we have stepped outside of the way things work.
Sometimes, I think we are tempted to see good and evil as equal foes, but that is just not the case. God creates in a way that stuns us speechless, and he also destroys in a way that grips us with fear and turns our faces pale. What do we do with this? How can we take comfort in such a God, how can be find peace in relationship with such power.
But when I stop and actually consider the answer to these questions, I find myself saying, how could I derive all of my security from anyone less powerful. We can trust God because he posses this kind of fierce strength and power, not in spite of it. God is stronger than any other force in all existence, this does not lessen his goodness and love, it increases it. Just as a woman longs to rest under the protection of a man who will use his strength to fight for her, so in God we can find peace as we draw close to His untamed masculinity.
In Joel 2 we find a powerful picture of what masculinity could look like and it isn’t safe, but it is deeply good. He is powerful and fierce, and slow to anger and filled with faithful love—what a picture of masculine strength at its best. In verse 12 we see the beginning of a call to repentance and it is almost as if the pulse of God quickens with desire for his beloved to return to him. God is no half-hearted lover, he is a jealous God who is not satisfied with the facade of devotion, he wants the real deal, the full heart, no half measures will do. That is the reason he says, don’t tear your clothes, tear your hearts, in other words, don’t bother with the outward expression if the inward remains unchanged. I want your heart, I long to show compassion to you and bring you back under the protection and goodness of my love.
“Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
but tear your hearts instead.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He is eager to relent and not punish.
Who knows? Perhaps he will give you a reprieve,
sending you a blessing instead of this curse.
Perhaps you will be able to offer grain and wine
to the Lord your God as before.” (2:13-14 NLT)
Continue to read and you will find, it just keeps getting better and better. God is power and God is love and in his divine chest beats a warrior heart. Do not rebel against him, but submit to him with authentic devotion and watch his strength being wielded on your behalf.
There is so much more in this passage to unpack, the longer I look, the deeper and more interesting it gets, there’s the powerful foreshadowing of the New Covenant, the imagery of restoration, the Kingdom of God, bearing fruit, utter satisfaction, living shamelessly, and with single-minded devotion, and this is just gathered in a day’s study. There is so much more here to be discovered and I encourage you to explore some of its treasures on your own. For now, let me end with a few verses that evoke in me the hope of my own restoration.
“I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you.
“You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.” (2:25-27 ESV)
Article by: Makaila Mobley