Every Generation Must Understand - Joel 1:2-12

God’s judgment isn’t a popular topic. It’s easier to talk, sing, or write about a New Testament passage such as “God is love” than one like “God is a consuming fire,” a God of judgment. Even the mention of God’s judgment can make us cringe or get nervous. In our society today, judgment is generally a bad word. 

Every Generation Must Understand - Joel 1:2-7


And so it’s not hard to see why we naturally want to talk about God’s mercy while avoiding the topic of his judgment. We don’t want to come off as harsh, unloving, or off-putting.

Yet, in his word, God talks at length about both for this reason: to know God’s mercy, we must understand his judgment. What do you think is the most recognized symbol of Christian belief? Is it not the cross? Every time we see that symbol of the death of Jesus Christ, we see a symbol not only to the love and mercy of God but also of his judgment.

The cross was a symbol of judgment in the ancient world. To make sense of the mercy extended to us by God through the death of Jesus, we have to understand God’s judgment. And to tell others of God’s mercy, we have to be able to help them understand his judgment.

What we see in passages like these first verses of Joel 1 is that every generation must help the next understand the judgment of God so they can also know and value the mercy of God.

But what should every generation understand about God’s judgment? Looking closely at Joel 1, I listed two things in the worship guide on page 6.
To know the mercy of God:
1. Every generation should understand the reality of his judgment (v.2-3)
2. and the totality of his judgment (v.4-12)

According to the Scriptures, God’s judgment is real and it is all-consuming, and Joel communicates this in these 11 verses. So let’s look at these together.

First, the reality of God’s judgment.

Last week we looked at the role of the covenants in the Bible, because we need to know something of them to understand the book of Joel. We can’t overestimate the importance of the covenants in Scripture. J.I. Packer writes, “The gospel of God is not properly understood until it is viewed within a covenantal framework.” We learned that the Biblical covenant is more than a promise. It is a contractual relationship between two unequal parties. A relationship already exists, but the covenant structures, secures, and confirms the relationship. Probably the closest example we have to the covenants God has made is the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman. It is an oath-bound relationship and commitment from both parties, and there are blessings for keeping the covenant and curses or penalties for breaking it.

The marriage covenant, sadly, can be broken, and there is obvious fallout from that. But the blessings of keeping the covenant of marriage are obvious and numerous. So it is with God’s covenants. All mankind is naturally in covenant relationship with God through Adam, the first man.

And the covenant with Adam is called by various names: Covenant of Works, Covenant of Nature, Covenant of Life. All refer to the same covenant by which we understand
that all people are born sinners as a result of the sin of Adam, our representative in the covenant.

Adam was entitled to life if he obeyed and death if he disobeyed. He sinned, and as Romans 5 says, “death reigned.” You may wonder why it’s fair for Adam to represent us, but clearly Adam had a better chance of keeping the covenant than any of us would. Again, God is the greater party and he alone dictates the terms of the covenant. But what followed Adam’s sin was the first glimpse of another covenant. A covenant of grace. And after Genesis 3, the Bible documents the development of this covenant. And this is important for understanding what Joel preached and wrote. Just 8 chapters after Adam’s fall we see big things happening with the covenant of grace.

Genesis 12, God calls Abram, whose name is later changed to Abraham.  The Scripture says,
[1] Now the LORD (that’s Yahweh, the personal name of God)  said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. [2] And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. [3] I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Then in Gen. 15 we see further dev of this this covenant. To have descendants or offspring, 
Abram and his wife first needed a child, but they had been unable to conceive. 
And so God leads Abram in this covenant ritutal. The Scr says,
[5] And he (the LORD) brought him (Ab) outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 
[6] And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. [7] And he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” [8] But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” [9] He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” [10] And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other.”

The literal words in the making of a covenant were to “cut” the covenant. These ancient covenants, not just in Israel but throughout the land at that time,were bonds made in blood. Animals were killed, severed and placed in two parallel lines. And a representative from both parties, the kings of both nations, would walk together b/w the lines. The implication was that with the contract being made, let the penalty for breaking the covenant be like these animals we have killed and severed. Let the penalty be death. That’s what you call “giving your word.” Obviously there was much more to it than a mere promise. Genesis 15 goes on, remember these animals have been cut.

[12] As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. [13] Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. [14] But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. …[17] When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. [18] On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land.” The pot and the torch were symbols of the presence of God.

Notice that God alone passed through between the lines. In his covenant of grace, if God does not keep it, he invites a curse upon himself.

Reading the rest of Genesis, we observe Abraham’s descendants going into the 400 year captivity in Egypt as foretold by God in Genesis 12. Until the time had come for another stage in the development of the covenant of grace.
Exodus 2 says, “the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. [24] And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham.”

God then appears to Moses in the burning bush; he then famously leads Israel out of Egypt. He leads them through the wilderness. He leads them to Mount Sinai and gives them his law. The giving of the law is sometimes interpreted as separate covenant. But it’s not. It is in fact the further dev of the covenant of grace. It is the inscripturation of the covenant of grace, the writing-down of it for preservation and future generations.

Some point to the 10 commandments in Exodus 20 as the making of a covenant of law.
But listen to these words from Exodus 19.
“Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall…tell the people of Israel: [4] ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. [5] Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; [6] and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

God brought them out of Egypt because of his grace. And if they would obey him, they would enjoy the blessings of the covenant relationship. As we read earlier, the chief end of man is to glorify and enjoy God. But on the other hand, if they disobeyed, there would be curses, penalties, ones which they would be bringing on themselves. The expectations, blessings, and curses are clearly outlined by Moses in the book of Deuteronomy.

As we read through the Old Testament, the people continually disobeyed, they continually transgressed the covenant, and God continually called them to return to him. And the purpose of Joel was to call Israel back to God by pointing out to them that the devastation to their land and their people, and to their worship, was specifically written about in the terms of God’s covenant with them. And if one generation had told the next, and warned the next, they would know it. The older generation should be telling the younger.

Look now at Joel 1. He addresses the people in verse [2]: “Hear this, you elders;”
But really, the prophet is telling everyone. He says, “give ear, all inhabitants of the land!”
Their land has been devastated by locusts.  He says, “Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers? [3] Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children to another generation.”

Back in Deuteronomy 4, as Moses outlined the terms of the covenant, he had given this same instruction. He said,
[9] “…take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children.” Each generation must tell the next of the realities of the one true God: mercy and judgment.

At this point, a great question is “How does this apply in the present day?” The old covenant has given way to the new covenant in Christ. There is continuation, but the new covenant is still new. Paul says in Romans that non-Jews join the true-believing Jews in what he calls the “true Israel” or true people of God. The true offspring of Abraham, which his those who have saving faith. This is clear in Romans 9 and in the book of Galatians. Those who are of faith are the true descendants of Abraham. And because of the new covenant in Jesus Christ, we view these penalties laid out specifically for the nation of Israel of the old covenant differently.

They applied for that particular period of time.  Christians are not one earthly nation. We are from every nation, each with different laws. So when we see tragedies or things like this event in Joel 1, we wonder, “Is this punishment from God? Is it judgment?” But we can’t make a one-to-one connection between suffering and guilt in the present day. Suffering does not always result from guilt. The Old Testament book of Job makes that clear. Also, Jesus, in John 9, who passed by a blind man as he and his disciples travelled. The Scripture says: [2] his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” [3] Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. Jesus then healed the man.

The late R.C. Sproul wrote about this. He says, “When God used a catastrophe as an arm of judgment in the OT, we know that his judgment was behind the catastrophic event because we have the benefit of written revelation telling us that this was God’s hand in history.” 

Sproul is referring to the book of Deuteronomy, among others.
He states, “As we live out our lives and see nations suffer catastrophe and calamity strike people, we don’t know exactly what the relationship is between those catastrophes and the judgment of God.” Sproul says that the blind man in John 9 and the story of Job should restrain us from assuming to know the reason for the suffering.  But he points out that God is still God, still Lord of history, and he can issue judgment for sin in the present if he so chooses.  It’s just not for us to point and say, “That’s God’s judgment on you.”

But his judgment is still a reality, as Hebrews 9 states, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” In Matthew 16, Jesus says that he, “is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”

Is the judgment of God real to you?  Or do you think it does not apply to you? In Romans 1-2, Paul begins to make his case that all people are naturally guilty before God and in need of the forgiveness that comes only through Jesus. He gives a long list of things that “sinners” do:  “all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, [30] slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, [31] foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. But then he says, “you have no excuse…every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. [2] We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 

Do you think, “Well I’ve done bad things, but the judgment of God has never come on me, and I’m not worried about it.” Listen to what Paul says next:
[3] Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? [4] Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? [5] But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.”

The reality of God’s judgment must be understood by every generation.

Also, the totality of God’s judgment must be understood by every generation.

In verse 4-12, Joel writes of the all-consuming nature of the judgment that has come on them. Notice in verse 4, the cutting     locust, the swarming locust, the hopping locust, and the destroying locust. In the Hebrew language, they had 9 different words for “locust” and Joel uses four of them here. Their descent upon Judah was devastating.

A 1987 Los Angeles Times article described a locust epidemic in Ethiopia at that time. The author writes, “Desert locusts can eat their own weight every day. That's only about two grams. But swarms in East Africa can get big. In 1958, aircraft in Somalia measured one swarm at 400 miles square. It contained an estimated 40 billion insects capable of eating 80,000 tons of food a day--enough to feed 400,000 people for a year.”

Throughout Deut, there were warnings of this locust invasion if the people rejected God. However, and even worse indictment of the people comes from the account
of another nation that were plagued by locusts. In Exodus 10, Moses told Pharaoh that God would send locusts upon Egypt if they did not set the Israelites free, and that took place. Now here we see those set free being treated the same way as the Egyptians. This is the chosen people of God, his treasured possession in the world, his kingdom of priests, his holy nation. But they’ve become callous, unaware of their idolatry.  

Look at verse 5. [5] Awake, you drunkards, and weep, and wail, all you drinkers of wine, because of the sweet wine, for it is cut off from your mouth.”

It’s not just those who drink alcohol who are being judged. Joel compares the people to those who are so inebriated that they don’t see what is happening. They are like drunk people who can’t make the connection between their sin and the judgment of God.  He calls them “sober up,” to wake up and mourn this.

And look at the totality of the destruction: Joel describes these bugs like an army.
Verse [6]: For a nation has come up against my land, powerful and beyond number; its teeth are lions' teeth, and it has the fangs of a lioness.  [7] It has laid waste my vine and splintered my fig tree; it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down; their branches are made white.”

The vines were symbols of prosperity in their farming culture.  God’s blessing was gone. It’s a total loss, like a young bride whose fiancé passes away before their marriage. Verse [8] Lament like a virgin wearing sackcloth for the bridegroom of her youth.” Sadly, we sometimes hear of a person’s future spouse passing during the engagement. It’s especially tragic. These ancient betrothals would sometimes last years.

Judah’s worship, which was the hallmark of their covenant, was interrupted. Exodus 29 instructed that twice a day offerings of grain, drink, and oil were to be made. But now they have no grain or drink to offer God. Verse [9] The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of the LORD. The priests mourn, the ministers of the LORD. [10] The fields are destroyed, the ground mourns, because the grain is destroyed, the wine dries up, the oil languishes.” All we have to offer God is given to us by him.

Then more lamenting the land and produce, but then you see the human connection:
Verse [11]: Be ashamed, O tillers of the soil; wail, O vinedressers, for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field has perished. [12] The vine dries up; the fig tree languishes. Pomegranate, palm, and apple, all the trees of the field are dried up, and gladness dries up from the children of man.

It’s not just the physical blessings that are gone.  Along with that, their joy is gone.
That is what sin does. King David wrote this in Psalm 32 about what sin did to him: “day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” Sin is ruinous. God demonstrates this in the old covenant with his people.

Let me ask you: do you need to sober up? What is God saying to you in your difficult circumstances? Is he calling you to admit and turn from some sin? Is he calling you to grant forgiveness to someone else? Is there something you need to just “let go of” and “Move on?” And each day, let it go again. I know that can be so difficult. But we must do it if we are to follow Jesus, and we must teach the next generations to do the same. We must model it for them. Parents, are you willing to ask your children to forgive you when you sin against them? I’ve heard of parents saying they could never do that. Why? When Christians sin against anyone, we humble ourselves and ask to be forgiven. Needing grace is our thing, ya know? Don’t worry that your kids won’t respect you. If you sin against them and never ask forgiveness, then when they grow up, they won’t respect you.  You are not Jesus. You need forgiveness. Sin without forgiveness is sin undealt with, and here in Joel 1, God shows us that the result of sin undealt with is destruction.

The destruction in this life is only a foretaste of judgment to come for those who do not repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.  And so Jesus is our hope, and what a hope! We see the reality of God’s judgment in his brutal death on the cross. We see the totality of God’s judgment in the brutal death of Jesus.
1 Peter 2 says this of Jesus: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. [23] When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. [24] He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. [25] For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

Every generation must hear and understand of God’s judgment, otherwise, they will never understand their need for the saving work of Jesus Christ. As we go to this table, we remember that the reality and totality of God’s judgment was absorbed in the body of our Lord.  Bow in prayer with me.