Joel 2 contains some of the most beautiful descriptions of divine comfort in the Minor Prophets. Yahweh’s people are assured of the “pity” he felt for them (v. 18) and are promised “grain, wine, and oil” so that they will be “satisfied” (v. 19). Thy are told to “fear not” by to instead “be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things!” (v. 21–23). They are promised, “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied” (v. 26) and that they “shall never again be put to shame” (v. 27). These are glorious promises that reveal the character of God we love to worship.
Unfortunately, that is not all the chapter reveals about God. The first eleven verses contain a warning of dire judgement to come upon Yahweh’s people. It is debated whether these verses are a heightened, metaphorical description of the locust plague of chapter 1 or whether they are a prophecy of another judgement to come—possibly an Assyrian invasion or even a description of final judgement at the end of the world. Regardless, the language describes an inescapable judgement falling on Yahweh’s people.
Joel describes “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness” (v. 2). He talks of a devouring fire and writes of the prophesied invading army, “The land is like the garden of Eden before them, but behind them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them” (v. 3). He describes the anguish and blood-drained faces of their victims (v. 6). And rather than identifying the army, Yahweh himself claims to be behind this terrible judgement. “The LORD utters his voice before his army, for his camp is exceedingly great; he who executes his word is powerful. For the day of the LORD is great and very awesome; who can endure it?” (v. 11).
Notice carefully that Yahweh himself—the one who, in the latter part of the chapter, promises wonderful comfort for his people—claims to be the General of the punishing army: “The LORD utters is voice before hisarmy.” We learn from this that the same God who promised glorious comfort to his people also reigned severe judgement on them. We see here the complex character of the God we worship.
We live in an age in which people have very defined views of God. Many view God as a kindly grandfather who exists only to smile knowingly at their failures and offer ice cream to take away their pain. Others may view God more sternly: as a n angry judge who itches to rain down fire and brimstone on those who oppose him. Joel 2 brings tension to the fore that we must embrace if we will praise God as he is. He is both the God of wrath and the God of comfort and to emphasise either of these to the detriment of the other is to embrace an idol.
The privilege of Christian worship is that we worship the God who is. The challenge is that we may only worship him as he is. We do not get to determine the ground rules for worship. Our worship is a reverent response to who he is. We must, therefore, be careful to embrace a fully-orbed view of who God is if we will praise him as we must. Embracing God as he is is transformative. It is transformative in many ways. Let me briefly highlight three.
First, and most obviously, embracing God as he is transforms our theology. When we are committed to embracing God as he is, we do not seek to explain away the difficult parts of Scripture. Rather than trying to somehow apologise for Scripture’s difficulties we will begin to look at them in an attempt to understand what they teach us about the character of God.
Second, embracing God as he is transforms our worship. When Paul spoke of God as “invisible” (1 Timothy 1:17) he was saying more than that we cannot see God. Indeed, we cannot see God, but God’s invisibility is more significant than that. God’s invisibility has intensely practical implications for our worship. God forbade making graven images and worshipping them precisely because he is invisible. Any image we conceive falls short of God as he is. We therefore may not create images for worship. We may not design worship as we conceive of it. We worship God as he has commanded because we respond to him as he has revealed himself to be. Innovation plays no role in the worship of Yahweh.
Third, embracing God as he is transforms our ethics. When we see God for who he has revealed himself to be, we will bow to him. We will live life his way and do things his way. We will cease calling darkness light and light darkness and instead view the world and the way we interact with it through the lenses he provides.
As you meditate on Joel 2 this morning, ask God to reveal himself to you and then ask for the grace you need to respond to him as he is.