“‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;’” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Have you ever been so deep in a mess of your own making that you figured you were just going to have to ride it out and endure it until the end? That’s an awful place to be. Is there anything we can do there other than to simply hang on for dear life? As a matter of fact there is. We can repent.
Well, sure, we can technically always repent, right? But once we’re in the midst of the mess, isn’t it a little late? Perhaps, but consider Joel’s words here.
The prophet Joel was called by God for a very specific purpose. Some prophets were called to a lengthy ministry of calling the people to get back on track for many years in order to avoid the hard end that was waiting at the end of the road they were traveling. Joel’s call, on the other hand, was short and specific. He was to warn the people of just one thing: A locust invasion.
I know, I know, a locust invasion seems almost too cliche of a “biblical” punishment to be a real thing, but it is. In parts of the Middle East and Africa, locusts are actually a real threat. Just recently, in fact, The Jerusalem Post had an article warning its readers about an imminent locust invasion that was going to impact the region that includes Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
I watched a tv special on locusts one time. Locusts are basically grasshoppers. Normally, grasshoppers don’t present any kind of a threat. Sure, they’re kind of a heart-stopper if they suddenly jump on your lap, but that’s about it. But when conditions are just wrong (for us), they start getting together in big groups. As things get crowded and they start rubbing up against each other, and as they do, a switch gets flipped in their brains and they go into eating machine mode and their swarms can plow through whole fields in frighteningly short order.
Today, when we have things like pesticides, the ability to store crops safely in reserve for a long time, and houses we can seal off from the outdoors, this isn’t necessarily such a life-altering event. For folks in the ancient world who didn’t have any modern conveniences it was a different story. A locust invasion might as well be a sign of the arrival of the end of the world. And Joel was telling Israel to buckle down, one was on its way.
The reason was clear: God had had enough of their sinful unfaithfulness and was dropping the hammer on them. So…what were they supposed to do? Just lie down and take it? No, they were to repent. “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”
The prophet’s call, his message from the Lord for the people, is as clear as it could be: Repent. In the next verse he tells them to tear, not just their clothing as they would in times of great distress and mourning, but to tear their hearts. They were to be absolutely, devastatingly broken-hearted over their sin. And why? He goes on to remind them in terms that should have been immediately familiar that the Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and he relents from sending disaster. If the people so responded and He so chose, He could stop that locust invasion from ever coming near.
Indeed, that’s exactly what He says: “Who knows? He may turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him so you can offer grain and wine to the Lord your God.” How would they be able to make an offering of food staples to the Lord? Because the locusts never arrived to destroy all of them. In other words, even with this sin-caused disaster bearing down on them like a one-ton weight, if they would just repent, God may very well put a halt to it all before it has a chance to wreck their lives completely. He may even provide for them by restoring what had already been lost. What a word of hope in the midst of a falling disaster!
Are you ready for the point? We serve this same God still today. Now, we may not have the same relationship with Him that they did, but His character hasn’t changed. He is still gracious and compassionate. He is still slow to anger and abounding in faithful love. He still relents from sending disaster in response to heartfelt repentance.
If you are in the midst of a mess of your own making, a mess that is the direct result of some sinful choices you have made, then yet even now return to Him with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him so that you can in turn offer Him a sacrifice of thanksgiving. This offer is for you. It is for me. It sounds like something we ought to take. Let’s do it.