The Day of the Lord
Joel 2: 12-17 Intercessory Prayer
12 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. 14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly;16 gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.17 Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”
The Corruption of Judah
Judah was a whore riddled with the pox from all her adulteries with pagan gods, there was no soundness in her. The executioner’s axe was raised above the neck of Judah, she had been weighed and found wanting. Now not even with the proper sacrifice would God remove Judah’s sin. Her temple sacrifices had become a farce, God said to them, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices… I have had enough of burnt offerings … I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers I will not listen” (Isaiah 1:11 & 15).
God abhors both syncretism – the mixture of pagan practices with God’s ordained methods of worship, and pluralism – the worship of pagan gods along with Yahweh. The Judeans had moved to polytheism, the worship of more than one god. They continued to worship God, carrying out temple sacrifices, but they had introduced other gods onto the Temple Mount, God was sharing His holy place with Baal and Ashtaroth.
Yet there was still hope for Judah, God in His mercy gave them one more opportunity to repent saying, “Come now, let us reason, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow… If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel; you shall be eaten by the sword” (Isaiah 1:18-20).
Syncretism in Judah
During the wilderness experience the nation of Israel were nomadic herders, keeping cattle sheep and goats. When Joshua led the nation into Canaan, they were able to not only to keep their herds of animals, but also farm the fertile land. In the minds of many Israelites, God was identified as a nomadic God who brought Israel out of Egypt. In Canaan they became an agricultural nation, they therefore turned to the gods of the land and the sky for blessing – the Canaanite gods, Baal and Ashtoreth. The Israelites not only worshipped false gods but also blended their worship of Yahweh, mingling man’s philosophies with God’s wisdom.
Ashtoreth was the Canaan version of an ancient Phoenician goddess of love and fertility named Ishtar. Clay figurines of Ashtoreth have been discovered by archaeologists in Israel, and she is portrayed in the nude, holding ample breasts as an expression of the fertility she promises her devotees. Asherah poles in groves of trees, were worshipped through sexual fertility rites – an act of sympathetic magic, which is magic based on imitation (Deut. 7:5, 12:2-3; 2 Kings 16:4, 17:10; Jer. 3:6,13; Ezek. 6:13).
Baal, which means Lord, was the god of storms and lightning, and was believed to be responsible for the much-needed rain. Because of his association with storms, Baal was often depicted holding a lightning bolt. He was also portrayed as a man with the head and horns of a bull. Baal and Ashtoreth, as gods of land and sky respectively, were both linked in the bounty of the land. The Israelites also took up the detestable practice of the Canaanites which required the sacrificing of their firstborn son to Baal.
Requirement to Repent
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning” (Joel 2:12)
Judah had failed to heed the prophetic warnings of the past, and Joel once more appeals to them to repent. The Lord’s merciful plea to the people is a dire warning of the severity of the coming judgement. Verse 12 is an indicator of the extent to which the nation had continued their rebellion against God, and their continual refusal to heed His warnings to worship Him alone, and to obey the covenant promises that their forefathers made at Mount Sinai. “Even now,” reflects back to the prophesied locust plague; Joel’s warning was that even with the invasion threat gathering in the distance, there was still time to repent and avert disaster.
In Hebrew, repentance is represented by two verbs: שוב shuv (to return) and נחם nacham (to feel sorrow). God wanted the Judeans to feel deep sorrow for their rebellion and to return to Him. The New Testament uses the Greek word metanoia which meant to have a change of heart and mind. God wanted the Jews to think about what they had done; they had forsaken their covenant relationship with Him; they had committed spiritual adultery. This knowledge would then bring Judah to a position of sorrow, and a desire to mend their ways and restore their relationship with God.
A Penitent Judah
“and rend your hearts and not your garments.” (Joel 2:13a)
God did not want a mere outward display of remorse; the Judeans were to have a brokenness of their hearts. There are three steps to true repentance:
- Repentance reveals a change of mind. The prodigal son, eating corn husks in the mud of a pig pen, had an epiphany that changed his mind and brought true repentance.
- Repentance affects the will. Understanding that his fathers servants were treated better, the prodigal son made a wilful decision to change his circumstances.
- Repentance affects the emotions. The prodigal son was filled with remorse at what he had done, not only to himself, but most importantly to his father.
- The above three points are from David Levey, JOEL The Day of the Lord, Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc. Bellmawr, New Jersey, 1987. P31
The truly contrite person mourns over their transgressions, and is comforted by the warmth of God’s forgiveness; “blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
Confession Leads to a Restored Relationship
David in the 51st psalm expressed the torture he felt at the great displeasure that he had caused God through his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. He compared it to the agony of broken bones: “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice” (51:8). The original word David uses to describe the breaking of his bones is dicchita, which signifies more than broken; rather that they were entirely crushed. David is writing that all his bones were aching from the guilt of unconfessed sin he had hidden in his heart. All joy and gladness had been missing from his life.
The joy David wanted to experiencing was the same as a man who had been entirely healed after being crushed under a collapsed building. This joy and relief come from a restored relationship with God through open confession.
Change in Conduct
The truly repentant person must make changes in their conduct, this is wonderfully illustrated in the narrative of Zacchaeus the wealthy tax collector in Jericho (Luke 19:1-10). Tax collectors were notorious for their cheating of people out of their hard-earned wages, and were consequently social pariahs in a community. On his conversion, Zacchaeus promised to give half his possessions to feed the poor and to pay back four times the amount to anyone who he had cheated. On recognising Jesus as the Messiah, Zacchaeus opens his heart to Him, this then results in Zacchaeus repenting of his past behaviour. Zacchaeus confirms his rejection of his past by the very evident change in his attitude to money – he gives rather than takes. He no longer served self, but took on the example of Jesus by looking to serve others.
God expects the same commitment from a believer today, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11-12).
“Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:13b).
God desired to bring reconciliation between Himself and Judah, so He reassures them of His love, compassion and commitment to them. God’s graciousness is the foundation for His mercy, and because of His mercy, He is slow to anger (longsuffering), which manifests itself in steadfast loves (abundant goodness) toward His people. It is clear that God is giving the Judeans assurance that God would hear their prayers of repentance and stay His hand – if Judah repented of her sin, God would repent of His judgement. To understand how God “repents,” we need to distinguish between God’s nature, character and action toward man. There are no variables or change in God, His attributes work together in perfect harmony, they cannot contradict each other. So, repentance on God’s part involves God’s reaction to sin, He either extends mercy, or brings Judgement!
“Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?” (Joel 2:14).
The rebellious sin of Judah was great, yet Joel indicates that through repentance the Judeans could still affect the coming Judgement. The possibility existed that if their repentance was extensive, God could withdraw His intended judgement, as He did with Nineveh at the time of Jonah (Jon. 3:9-10), or as He did in the time of David, show compassion and withdraw His wrath before the full effect of the judgement. A three-day plague during David’s rule, was the result of David’s sin in ordering a census to be taken. However, because David repented, weeping for the suffering of his people, God stopped the angel of death on Mount Moriah, before He introduced the plague into Jerusalem (2 Sam. 24:16). The threshing floor on Mount Moriah where the angel stopped, became the site for Solomon’s Temple, where God would show His mercy and grace to all who sought to restore their relationship with Him. The same principle may apply to Judah, the judgement may only be partial, and there would be grain and wine available at its completion.
Christians are also held accountable by God for their actions – there are consequences for sin. However, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us…” (1 John 1:9), we are cleansed of our sins and made righteous. Our slate is wiped clean in heaven, but we could still be held accountable for our actions here on earth.
The Nation Repents
“Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:15-17).
Joel had already made the call for the people to gather at the temple for repentance (1:14; 2:1), but now he details what must be involved in their petition for forgiveness. The whole nation was required to appear before God in a solemn assembly, age would not exempt anyone, nor would circumstance. The priests were to then stand facing the entrance to the Holy Place, weeping and pleading on the behalf of the people, hoping that God would, in His great mercy spare the nation. They were to make a plea, that God would consider what the swarm of locusts would do to His own reputation. A ruined Judah would be scorned among the nations, and God would be stigmatized as a God who could not protect His people. God is “longsuffering towards us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter. 3:9), however God’s righteousness trumps His reputation in the eyes of pagans. He is a Holy God who deals justly with sin.
God’s longsuffering is not infinite, God’s patience with mankind does run out. As part of His judgement against the serpent in the Garden of Eden, God said “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed” (Genesis 3:15). The seed of the woman is Jesus, and the seed of the serpent is Satan’s counterfeit messiah, the Antichrist. For two thousand years God has been patiently waiting for mankind to repent and recognise Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. The result of mankind’s continual, hard-hearted, rejection of Jesus, is that God will in turn harden mankind’s hearts and provide them with what they want, a messiah that meets the philosophies of man – Satan’s messiah. Paul writes of this in his second letter to the Thessalonians:
“The coming of the lawless one (Antichrist) is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth (Jesus) and so be saved. Therefore, God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).
Joel’s warning to repent applies even more today than it did in His day, a far greater judgement is gathering over the horizon, soon to pour down upon the earth. The arrival of the Antichrist will see the start of seven years of Tribulation, the like the earth has never seen before, as rebellious mankind receives their judgement. The last three and a half years of the Tribulation, referred to as the “Great Tribulation,” (Matthew 24:21), will witness judgement after judgement from God, as the Trumpet and Bowl judgements are poured out onto the earth. The judgement on the two sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will pale in comparison. Can you not hear God calling out to the people of the earth: “Yet even now… return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments”?
Landscape with the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, oil on wood by Joachim Patinir, c. 1520; in the collection of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands.