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Any mirror will do!

The storyline in Joel is simple and straightforward: Judah has drifted from Yahweh and His ways (2:12-13). While drunkenness is the only sin specifically identified (1:5), the command for them to “rend your hearts and not your garments” (2:13) suggests an empty ritualism has taken the place of living faith. If Joel belongs to the eighth century, this is certainly in accord with what we hear from other prophets of this time (Hosea 6:4-6; Amos 4:4-5, 5:21-24, 8:4-6; Micah 6:6-8).

In an attempt to rouse them from their stupor, God sends locusts upon the land (2:25). For more than a year the insects wreak massive destruction upon the land that is like nothing the people have ever heard about or seen (2:25; 1:2). And yet, these invaders are just a foreshadowing of what could happen if the nation doesn’t return to God (1:15; 2:1). All of this is in the first half of the book (1:1-2:17).

The second half of the book begins with an abrupt change. We’re told, "Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people” (2:18). Elizabeth Achtemeier sees this as God being faithful to His promises despite Judah’s unfaithfulness so the nations won’t misinterpret His character and power (v. 17-19; Exodus 32:12-14). Most commentators go the other way and understand Judah’s repentance to be implied by God’s show of mercy. G. A. Smith suggests there is an interim after v. 17 in which Judah repents so that when Joel takes up again in v. 18, the situation has changed.

In light of the heavy call for penitence in the first half of the book (1:13-14, 2:12-14—especially v. 2:13-14’s suggestion that God might relent from sending disaster), I think we’re compelled to understand the second half of the book as being in response to Judah’s repentance.  In the same way that He withheld judgment from Nineveh (Jonah 3:4-10); He will do so with Judah. Still, it’s important to note that Judah’s response doesn’t merit such mercy (they’ve already “earned” their punishment), rather it is rooted in God’s gracious character (2:13). Note how the language of 2:14 is careful not to presume what God will do (something we’ll do well to remember).

What immediately follows is an outpouring of God’s goodness upon His people. Just as He had sent locusts, He will now send satisfaction (v. 19). In the place of fear, He will bring gladness and joy (v. 21). He will even restore what was lost to the locusts (v. 25). He will bring healing and wholeness to His people. He is dealing “wondrously” with them (v. 26)!

This is more than eighth century Judah’s story—it’s our story as well! Take a look at Psalm 103 (especially v. 8-14) and rejoice in what you hear there. “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities . . . As a father has compassion on His children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.”

If you’re looking for an example of the wondrous way that God treated Judah—any mirror will do! 

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