Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Book of the Twelve for Lent - Joel (4)

The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016

The Lord “Relents” - Joel (4)

Lent 9

          The nature of God’s relation to his people as their divine Parent who sometimes has to exercise “tough love,” the Day of the Lord as moments of judgment and restoration throughout rather than just at the end of history, God’s penchant for “relenting” from his determination to judge – these are key themes we have explored thus far in Joel. In today’s post, the last one on Joel in this series, we’ll look at a couple of other matters in the book that emphasize God’s role as the Lord and Ruler of history.

          First of all, God declares his intent to be “known” by his people and the watching world as faithful God willing and able to do what he promises his people (2:27; 3:17). In 2:27 God specifies that knowledge to be of him “in the midst of Israel and that he is God alone. He is the great God Almighty of all the nations of the world, yet he is also “Immanuel” – God with his people. What precious knowledge to carry into our services as agents of God’s reconciling, renewing work. The one we know as Father is also the one who rules the world. He whose purposes will not finally fail is the One who dwells in our midst – and will forever – as the One who loves us beyond measure and merit.

          To know this God is to know that with him we have been caught up in something far bigger and far more significant than simply ourselves. This God has worldwide, even cosmic purposes to fulfill and has “drafted” us (as it were) as those he will use do that. Those of us in the west who have been nurtured on a “Jesus and me” personal salvation whose horizons stretch only as far as assurance of my place in heaven forever have a hard time getting their heads and hearts around this. To such folk, I like to say (provocatively) that what God is doing is not about us (in that reduced western sense) but what it is about we have graciously been included in!

          The Day of the Lord, the knowledge of God as “with” us and at the same time world ruler both point to the great purposes God intends to fulfill. His creation dream of dwelling with his people in the midst of a new creation temple forever, that’s the big thing God is doing. And each one of us is included to enjoy and play the role in it God has assigned us.

          So let me say it again: what God is doing is not about us but what it is about we have graciously been included it. And that, friends, is but another name for salvation!

          In Joel the prophet summons the people to a national fast in the midst of the onslaught of locusts. Confessing their sins and lamenting their faithlessness, the people – all of them from the old to the infants to the newly married on their honeymoon to the priest and the farmer – all the people are gathered to deal with this calamity (2:15-16). Their only recourse now, as it should have been all along, is to “return” (remember Hosea) and allow God to the work he promised in Hosea of tearing the cover off their hearts (Hosea 13:8; “rend your hearts,” v.13). Only such submission will count as genuine “return” and repentance.

          The cry of the priest for God to spare his people leads to a second and related matter in Joel (2:17):

Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.
Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord,
    and do not make your heritage a mockery,
    a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
    ‘Where is their God?’”

          They appeal to God’s reputation among the nations as a reason to spare his people. If Israel were swept away in judgment, where would God’s promises be? Why should the nations be given the chance to mockingly cry out “Where is their God?”!

This might seem more than a little self-serving, and perhaps I some of the people it was, but in this context of a necessary and presumably genuine “come-to-Jesus” moment in the life of the people, we may generously allow that these are expressions of the people’s genuine concern for God and the fulfillment of his creational dream. If there is a being concern for whose reputation and faithfulness is perfectly legitimate, it is Israel’s God. For if this One is not faithful to his purposes or his character, then all is lost – for all of us!

The priests know the people have presumed on God’s goodness and faithfulness and used both as a cover for their perfidy. They call out for a fresh encounter with God, one which reorients them to just who their God is and the heinousness of trifling with him the way they have. This kind of encounter, a genuinely evangelical encounter with the true and living God, is perhaps nowhere better described than by Kenneth Grahame in his story The Wind and the Willows. Rat and Mole have been drawn by mystical music to seek out its source in the forest. Their search finally lands them in proximity to an august presence they both know is the one they seek.

“Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden. Trembling he obeyed, and raised his humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fulness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humourously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter. All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.      

'Rat!' he found breath to whisper, shaking. 'Are you afraid?'

'Afraid?' murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. 'Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet— and yet— O, Mole, I am afraid!'

Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.”

          May it please God that this be so for us this Lent!

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