The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.…
The literary style of this book deserves the consideration of every student of Scripture. With the exception of Isaiah and (as some think) of Habakkuk, Joel surpasses all his brethren in sublimity. His pictures of the disasters following upon sin are marvellously vivid, and his promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit was still living in the memory of the Jews when Peter, on the day of Pentecost, declared that its fulfilment had come. The first half of the book describes the Divine judgments which were at hand, and the second half (beginning with the eighteenth verse of ch. 2.) unfolds the promise of Divine favour. Its readers pass from darkness to light, from grief to joy, from estrangement to reconciliation; and in this book, as in experience, the transition hinges on the penitential prayer to which it was the prophet's mission to summon the people. We know scarcely more of Joel than the fact that he was the son of Pethuel. But the meaning of his name - "Jehovah is God" - was suggestive; for it was none other than the cry of the people on Carmel, when fire came down from heaven in answer to Elijah's prayer, and would therefore serve as a reminder to his auditors of their solemn acknowledgment of Jehovah's supremacy and claims.
I. THE PREPARATION WHICH JOEL RECEIVED FOR WORK is described in the single phrase, "The word of the Lord came to Joel." This was the one fact necessary to authenticate his message. If God was speaking through him, then - whoever he might be - the world was bound to listen to him; his word was a declaration from the Unseen. There is now a general forgetfulness of the possibility of such revelation. It is accepted by some as an axiom that the God who created the world and set it going cannot interfere further with his own handiwork; that if he exists at all, he lives at an infinite remove from mundane affairs, as did the god of Epicurus. If we speak of works done which cannot at present be accounted for by the laws we have deduced from observed ordinary phenomena, and urge that men have had glimpses of an outlying sphere of energy which surrounds what is visible, we are regarded as credulous enthusiasts. But in an earlier age there were men whom scientists would be the first to condemn, who, having never seen a comet blazing in the sky, nor heard of such a phenomenon, would have laughed to scorn its possibility. Yet the world now not only believes in the existence of comets, but has found out the law of their return, and has assigned them their own places in the planetary system with which once they appeared to have nothing in common. Is it not possible that the same process will take place in regard to what we now call supernatural? There are psychical phenomena still awaiting explanation which have convinced us that we have influence over each other, apart from physical contact; and if one human spirit can affect another, surely it is not incredible that the Father of spirits was able to touch the springs of thought and feeling in those ancient prophets. Indeed, this was not peculiar to them; it is an experience of to-day among the devout and prayerful, who obey the command of their Lord, "What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light."
II. THE OBSCURITY OF WORK with which Joel was content. His was the spirit of John the Baptist, who was willing to remain only the "voice" of God. The world little thinks how much it owes to its silent workers in literature, in politics, and in religion. Many are living in quiet homes, or in poor lodgings, whose names are never heard, whose duties are not suspected, who by their pens are leading the nation in ways of righteousness. God's most faithful servants are sometimes personally obscure. Some are patiently plodding away at monotonous work, and bear in the spirit of their Master many an injustice and cruel slight. Others in business stretch out the helping hand to weaker brethren who, but for such timely aid, would sink in a vortex of ruin. And ministering angels still venture into haunts of vice to seek and to save those who are lost. The Father who seeth in secret will hereafter bestow some of the highest places in his kingdom on those who all their life long have been without honour or applause.
III. THE INFLUENCE OF JOEL'S WORK it would not be easy to over-estimate. Several of the later prophets were indebted to him for suggestive thoughts and phrases. Peter quotes his prophecy about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; and John, in his Book of the Revelation, makes use of his image of the locusts. It is thus that God builds the temple of truth. We see its stately proportions and exclaim, "Behold what manner of stones and what buildings are here!" but how often we forget the quarries from which the stones were dug. and the workmen who did the first rough work of shaping them for the Master's use! It is not so with God. We often admire the hero who, in advocacy of the truth, compels the world to listen; but the germs of his character may be traced to the nurture of a gentle mother, whose character and teaching, with God's blessing, made her son what he is. He is the living witness of the issues flowing from her obscure work.
IV. THE COURAGE AND HOPEFULNESS which Joel showed in his work. All was dark around him, and he knew things would be darker still before the sunshine came. He was living in a kingdom which, after the revolt of the ten tribes, was about equal in area to the county of Suffolk, and even with the addition of the district belonging to Benjamin was not so large as Yorkshire. Yet he boldly looks forward to a time when that kingdom would be the centre of light to the world. We talk of the "materialism of the old dispensation;" but here is faith in spiritual force which may put us all to shame. We ought not to be unduly discouraged by statistics which compare the numbers of Christians with the numbers of heathens. We should reflect that on the side of Christ are the leading nations of the world - not those falling into decay, but those which are planting the future empires which will rule the future. Yet, with all our thankfulness for this, our confidence must be not in it, but in him who can and will work through these peoples till all the kingdoms of the world become the kingdoms of our God. - A.R.
Parallel VersesKJV: The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.