“Even now — this is the Lord’s declaration — turn to me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning…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.”
— Joel 2:12, 14 (CSB – Read the chapter)
On occasion our youngest will do something ornery. He’s only five and a pretty sweet kid, so it’s not like he ever does but so much to get into trouble. But every now and then he’ll get out of line. Often on these occasions, we are more amused by what he’s done than upset and so we really aren’t looking to punish him. When he knows this he’ll grin really big at us with a little light in his eyes. He does this because he knows what’s coming. We smile back at him and say, “It’s a good thing you’re cute.” That’s a little like what we see here.
There are three really key verses here, but the first and last go really well together, so I’ll treat those now and deal with the middle verse on Tuesday. That being said, think about what we were talking about yesterday. Click the link above and read through the verses immediately before these. What has been going on?
Hosea was using the awful occasion of a recent locust invasion of the land to make the spiritual point that the people were on a track that was going to invite God’s judgment of them if they didn’t straighten up. And in light of recent events, he put that judgment in terms that would have been vivid for them. He put it in terms of another locust invasion.
This would be a little like traveling to the Bahamas right now, proclaiming that if the people don’t repent, God’s judgment is coming, and then describing that judgment as coming in like a hurricane. This was an image the people would have reacted to strongly.
Now, that doesn’t mean they were for sure going to repent. It may be that their reaction was strongly negative and they refused to repent entirely. Just because this is in the Bible doesn’t mean the people didn’t react the way people might react today. The prophet Jeremiah preached several messages of repentance that the people reacted to by not only not listening, but by coming after him instead. Negative or positive, though, a strong reaction was preferable to a weak reaction or even no reaction at all. The prophets had vitally important messages to which the people needed to listen. Their very lives were often at stake. For Hosea, this meant describing God’s judgment in terms of an army coming in like an even more terrifying invasion of locusts than they had experienced before.
With the people all tuned in and many of them likely upset that he would play on their emotions from recent tragedy like he did, what do you think would be the next thing he had to say? This is the moment they are eating out of your hand, Hosea, is time to drop the hammer on them; it’s time to bring them to their knees in tearful repentance. To be a bit anachronistic, take a page out of the playbook of the fire and brimstone Puritan preachers. George Whitfield was known to make such vivid and terrifying descriptions of Hell that people would be repenting of their sins before he ever got to proclaiming any good news.
But what does the Lord use this emotionally charged and particularly tuned in occasion to tell the people through His prophet? Repent! Judgment is not assured! Even more, with this second and more terrible invasion, this day of the Lord imminent, repent of your sins. Repent with sincerity and passion.
But why? Why bother? Look at what’s coming. We are going to be overrun. Look at just how sinful we’ve been. There’s nothing we could do to change that. The Lord is great and terrible in His righteous anger. We don’t stand a chance.
Hosea’s response? The Lord’s response through the prophet? Who knows what might happen. Maybe He comes for judgment, but who knows? He just may turn from His fierce anger and relent from the destruction He has planned. He may come and leave a blessing in His wake so that we can worship Him once again with joy and gladness. He may provide for us so that we can give to Him generously out of the overflow of what He’s given us.
Today, we do not have to live with anything like the imminent threat of terrible judgment on the lips of the prophets like the people of Israel did. Well, sometimes preachers in America like to paint us as if we are Israel and the words of the prophets apply directly to us, but this is irresponsible exegesis and they are mostly wrong to do it. That being said, we do have the record of John’s Revelation to deal with. We don’t have to be told over and over to repent because judgment is coming; Revelation is right there for us to read anytime we want.
But Revelation is a confusing book. How are we supposed to make any sense out of that? All the imagery aside, the two things that are clear are just what Hosea made clear here: there is a time of judgment coming, and the way to avoid being on the awful receiving end of that judgment is to repent and throw ourselves on the mercy of the Lord. Indeed, we may not be cute when we sin like our youngest is when he’s being ornery, but our God loves us so much that He just can’t bear the thought of dropping the hammer on us unless and until He absolutely must.
So hear the message well: there is a time coming when judgment will happen. God will not let the fruits of sin ripen in His world forever. And when that judgment comes, it is not going to be pretty. In fact, it’s going to be awful. The only way we can have any impact on what it will be like is to repent. We repent of our sins and throw ourselves on the mercy of God which has already been gloriously revealed and guaranteed to us in Jesus Christ. When we turn our lives over to Him, we have already been promised that we will receive in judgment what He will receive in judgment—eternal life. That isn’t remotely fair, but it is grace, and it’s amazing. So repent of your sins and receive the grace that has always been in God’s character to give in the face of genuine repentance. He’s waiting to receive you.