“Hear this, you elders; listen, all you inhabitants of the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your ancestors? Tell your children about it, and let your children tell their children, and their children the next generation.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
What kind of stories do you tell? What kind of vehicles do you use to tell your stories? The prophet Joel used a recent plague of locusts to tell his. I think there’s something we can learn from him. Let’s talk about what that is.
When Moses was summarizing the Law for the people of Israel before his death, one of the things he made a point of telling them was that they were responsible for making sure the Law got passed from one generation to the next.
This comes primarily in the context of what would become known as the “Shema.” After telling them to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and strength, he told them that they should teach their children diligently so that they might learn the faith.
Now, certainly the passing of the Law would have involved teaching them the finer details of the Law—you know, all the rules that can get a little boring? But, a significant part of the Law was the stories. I can imagine that in a day before television and even books to read, the telling and retelling of stories was big entertainment. Many a night was spent in sitting around a fire variously laughing or gasping in fright, crying or sitting on the edge of their seat as they heard once again a story they all knew well.
But, stories are powerful. They do more than simply entertain or inform. Over time, they begin to craft a world for us. They set expectations as to what is reasonable and what is not. They help us understand what is a hero and what is a villain. They give us a sense of a world that is bigger than the one we see each day. Thus, more than simply giving us a list of rules that could be recited over and over again, God gave us a set of stories that would define what it would look like to follow Him.
These stories did one more thing as well. They gave us a picture of the kind of stories that are God’s stories. Why did this matter? Because it enabled us to continue telling stories that are God’s stories. It allowed us to begin to recognize the activity of God in the stories we experience on a daily basis.
You see, just because the canon of Scripture is closed, doesn’t mean God isn’t still moving in the midst of His people. He is still writing His story; the grand story that involves all of us. When we are grounded in His story that reveals His character and the way He has always moved in His creation, we can begin to recognize His activity in our own stories.
That’s what was going on here. Joel is telling about a locust invasion that had happened recently. Locust swarms are a destructive thing now. Then, they represented existential threats to the lives of the people. They were apocalyptic in their impact. They felt like the end of the world was descending on the people. That’s where things landed on a spiritual truth.
One of the truths about this world is that it will not last forever. At some point it is going to come to an end. Most religions—including ancient Judaism and Christianity—have imagined this time to be pretty violent and destructive. What else could the end of the world be? So, Joel used the event of a locust plague to call the people to repent before the day of the Lord arrived. And, he called the people to think in similar terms. He called them here to see this story—hard as it was—through the lens of the bigger story and to recognize the call to repent latent in what was undeniably a tragedy.
Now, this doesn’t mean that the plague itself was a punishment from God. In a world broken by sin, sometimes natural disasters happen. But, just because something isn’t the direct activity of God doesn’t mean we can’t still look at it through the lens of His story and respond appropriately. Joel was led by the Spirit to do this very thing and the results are pretty powerful.
So then, what kind of stories are you telling? What worldview frame are you using to interpret the stories happening around you all the time? Is it one that is pushing you in the direction of God and understanding the world better in light of who He is, or one leading you somewhere else? Only one of those two options will lead you to the life that is truly life. Make sure the stories you tell are worth telling.