Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jonah 2

Jonah’s prayer (vs. 1-10)—From the belly of the fish, Jonah offered a prayer of praise to the Lord. The Lord had saved him from drowning, but Jonah also seemed aware (convinced) that God was going to extend his life. The prophet prayed, and “You heard my voice” (v. 2). Jonah knew that it was God who had thrown him into the sea. There was no loss of faith on Jonah’s part (v. 4). He describes again his encounter with the sea (v. 5). Things didn’t look good at first, but “You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God” (v. 6). Jonah was about to give up hope, but “I remembered the Lord, and my prayer went up to you” (v. 7). “Worthless idols” couldn’t help him (v. 8), only Jehovah could, and Jonah thanked Him for it. “Salvation is of the Lord” (v. 9). The prayer is in poetic form, so there is a lot of repetition and figurative, pious language. Verse 10 tells us that “the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.”

Jonah: Introduction and Chapter 1

Jonah was the son of a man named Amittai. We have a pretty good indication of when he prophesied because he is mentioned in II Kings 14:25, in the time of Jeroboam II, who reigned in the late 9th-early 8th century B.C. This would make Jonah at least a contemporary with Amos and Hosea, and perhaps even earlier. The book of Jonah is what he is most famous for, but we learn from the passage in II Kings that the Lord used him to deliver other messages as well.

Jonah was to preach to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria; so there is no preaching to the Jews in this book at all. That country was a rising power, not totally in its heyday yet, but close. The Assyrians will sack Samaria in 722/21, but be overthrown by the Babylonians in the 630s. The prophet Nahum, who also preaches to Nineveh, will tell that story.

Chapter One

Jonah flees from God (vs. 1-3)—God told Jonah to go and “cry out” against Nineveh. Jonah didn’t want to do it, so he decided to flee to Tarshish. We don’t know exactly where Tarshish was, but it wasn’t where God wanted Jonah to go. Notice that when Jonah boarded the ship at Joppa to go to Tarshish, “he paid the fare thereof” (v. 3). If he had gone where the Lord told him, Jehovah would have taken care of him.

Jonah cast into the sea (vs. 4-17)—The Lord was displeased, of course, and “sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up” (v. 4). The mariners did everything they could to save the ship, including tossing all the cargo into the sea and praying to their own gods (v. 5). Jonah was sleeping through all of this (v. 5). His shipmates wake him up and bid him to call upon his God; maybe He’s the one who can save them, their gods hadn’t helped yet. To find out who was to blame for this catastrophe (a bit of superstition here, but it worked, no doubt through the direction of God), the men cast lots. The lot fell on Jonah, who explained why the Lord was sending this tempest. When asked what could be done to calm the sea, Jonah said, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me" (v. 12). Even though this was the prophet of God speaking, and it was fairly obvious that his message came from Jehovah, the other men on the ship, to their credit, didn’t want to do what Jonah told them to—they were trying to save his life. But the storm worsened (v. 13), and they simply had to do what Jonah bid them in order to save their own lives. They asked the Lord to forgive them for what they were about to do. Well, since it was God’s will that Jonah be cast into the sea, it wasn’t a sin, but again these men appear honorable. They toss the prophet overboard, “and the sea ceased from its raging” (v. 15). Jonah’s companions might have been converted completely to Jehovah, because “the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows” (v. 16). So Jonah has already done some good, even though he had been disobeying God.

Jonah didn’t die, of course. “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (v. 17). This “great fish” was almost certainly not a whale, as the old King James Version suggests in the New Testament. A whale can’t swallow a human, its throat isn’t big enough. We don’t know what the fish was, but it doesn’t matter. It acted at God’s command. And the prophet learned his lesson. To spend three days and nights in the depths of a fish’s stomach must have been a hair-raising experience.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Introduction—We know nothing of this prophet except his name. We aren’t even sure exactly when he prophesied, though from the internal evidence the best surmise is around 585 or so, just after Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and carried the last of the captives away into slavery. Obadiah—the shortest and only one chapter book in the Old Testament—prophesies against Edom. Several of the prophets have much to say to the nations around Israel, and a few of them, like Obadiah, prophesy exclusively to Gentiles. God’s coming wrath against the Edomites is sure and warranted.

God’s judgment upon Edom (vs. 1-9)—The Edomites were the descendents of Jacob’s brother Esau, so they were “relatives” of the Israelites. Edom was a country just south of Israel; it was very mountainous, and strongholds were built in dreadfully inaccessible places in these mountains. It led the Edomites to think that their country was unconquerable. They reckoned without considering Jehovah. He tells them “I will make you small among the nations; you shall be greatly despised” (v. 2). Their pride “has deceived” them, “you who dwell in the clefts of the rock” (v. 3). “Who will bring me down to the ground?” they asked (v. 3). They may live among the eagles, but “’from there I will bring you down,’ says the Lord” (v. 4). And when He finishes, there won’t be anything left: “If thieves had come to you…would they not have stolen till they had enough? If grape-gatherers had come to you, would they not have left some gleanings?” (v. 5). But the Lord will search out Edom (v. 6), and all its wealth will be confiscated. Those who had made alliances with her, those who were now at peace with her “shall deceive you and prevail against you” (v. 7). Jehovah will destroy “wise men” (v. 8) as well as “mighty men” (v. 9)—neither cunning nor strength will save the country—“to the end that everyone from the mountains of Esau may be cut off by slaughter” (v. 9). The Lord’s language here is clear: Edom is about to endure the wrath of God.

Why? (vs. 10-16)—“For violence against your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever” (v. 10). God’s main condemnation centers around Edom’s refusal to help “your brother Jacob.” As noted, the prophecy was probably written right after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586; if not at that time, then at some point in Israel’s history when her enemies attacked and did significant damage. Edom didn’t help. She “stood on the other side, in the day that strangers carried captive his [Israel’s} forces…even you were as one of them” (v. 11). A very interesting and significant point is made here. When God’s people were under attack, the Edomites did nothing! They “stood on the other side;” they didn’t help. They didn’t join the attackers, they simply…did nothing. And as a result, God said that, in effect, they were as guilty as those who wreaked havoc on Judah. Point: when God’s people or cause is under attack, and we remain silent or inactive, then we are as guilty as those who have done the attacking! A sober point, indeed. Edom just watched Judah be destroyed, yea, rejoiced over it (v. 12). They boasted of it, eventually entered Judah themselves, and “gazed on their affliction” (v. 13. The Edomites even went so far as to stand “at the crossroads to cut off those among them who escaped”—they captured fleeing Israelites—and “delivered up those among them who remained”—gave them to the attackers (v. 14). When the Lord comes in judgment “upon all the nations…[then] as you have done, it shall be done to you” (v. 15). “Your reprisal shall return upon your own head.” Just as individuals reap what they sow, even so the same will happen to nations. Israel had suffered punishment because of sin, and such is the lot of other countries, too—“and they shall be as though they had never been” (v. 16). Some peoples—like the Assyrians and Babylonians—were completely obliterated from this earth. The same happened to Edom. How many Edomites do you know today?

God will deliver His people (vs. 17-21)—Even though this prophecy was aimed especially at Edom, the context was the destruction of Judah—a well-deserved destruction. But God had made a promise to Abraham—and ultimately to all of mankind—that the Savior of the world would come from the Jews, so “on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance” (v. 17). Some of His people will return and burn as a flaming fire again (v. 18). But for Edom: “no survivor shall remain of the house of Edom” (v. 18). That’s pretty clear. Their country would eventually be overrun by the Jews—“The South shall possess the mountains of Esau” (v. 19). In other words, Edom’s territory would ultimately be absorbed into southern Judea. The land was called “Idumea,” and the people “Idumeans.” The Herod family in the New Testament were Idumeans; they weren’t called Edomites, because that country no longer existed. Verse 19 speaks of other territory the Jews would possess upon returning from captivity, indeed, “the captives of this host of the children of Israel shall possess the land of the Canaanites” (v. 20). This happened after the arrival of the Jews from Babylonian captivity in 536 B.C. They would be part of God’s judgment upon “the mountains of Esau” (v. 21). “And the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.” He would once again rule in the land He promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Defend the Lord’s cause! Not doing so cost Edom its existence.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Amos 9

No escape from God (vs. 1-6)—The last chapter of this marvelous book begins with the somber warning that there can be no escape from Jehovah. God stands by the altar (probably of Dan or Bethel) and commands Amos to “strike the doorposts that the thresholds may shake and break them on the heads of all” (v. 1). The whole shall be thrown down and demolished, and none who worship there will elude punishment: “I will slay the last of them with the sword. He who flees from them shall not get away, And he who escapes from them shall not be delivered” (v. 1). They will not find refuge in hell or heaven (v. 2). They can try to hide on the mountain tops, or the depths of the sea, but God will find them (v. 3). And even in the captivity that awaited them, “from there I will command the sword, and it shall slay them" (v. 4). And for the third time in his book, Amos announces in eloquent language the majesty of this sovereign God Who held Israel’s destiny in His hands: “The Lord GOD of hosts, He who touches the earth and it melts, And all who dwell there mourn; All of it shall swell like the River, And subside like the River of Egypt. He who builds His layers in the sky, And has founded His strata in the earth; Who calls for the waters of the sea, And pours them out on the face of the earth-- The LORD is His name” (vs. 5-6). Did Israel really think they could evade His commandments and prosper? Do we think we can?

A despised people (vs. 7-10)—The northern kingdom had become abhorrent to God. “Are you not like the people of Ethiopia to Me?” (v. 7)—a universally despised people. God had brought them up from Egypt, indeed, had also placed the Philistines and Syrians in their present locations (v. 7). He is sovereign, and “the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth” (v. 8). Yet…there is always, always running through the Old Testament the Messianic thought: “’Yet I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,’" says the Lord” (v. 8). He cannot, because He there is something greater at stake—the salvation of all of mankind through Jesus Christ, a promise which He had made to us immediately after man first sinned (Genesis 3:15). And He also swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that it would be through their people that the Savior would come. So, in spite of their merited punishment, God would not completely obliterate Israel. They would lose their homeland eventually, though: “For surely I will command, and will sift the house of Israel among all nations” (v. 9). Because of the following verses, there is a possibility that this thought has reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and the resultant scattering of the Jews throughout the world.

Salvation for all of mankind (vs. 11-15)—This definitely refers to the church age; we know this because, in Acts 15, James quotes it at the Jerusalem conference and applies it to that period. The quote in Acts 15 starts out “After this I will return…”; Amos 9:11 reads “On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins.” David didn’t have a tabernacle, folks, and it was Solomon who built the temple. So we must look at this figuratively, and again, James clearly tells us that the church age is in view. In Acts 15:17, James has Amos 9:12 saying “So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name.” The verse in Amos reads a little differently, but the meaning is the same: “That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name." All the world will be allowed entrance into God’s eternal kingdom. There would be great blessings (v. 13), “captives” would be returned to “Israel,” and “’I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them,’" says the LORD your God” (v. 15). The Messianic Age will be the final one and those who find salvation in the church will be eternally safe, never to be “pulled up” from the “land” God gives us. Always keep in mind that, when the New Testament tells us what a passage means, then that’s what it means, and all the language of the prophecy must be understood figuratively, in the light of the inspired interpretation of the New Testament preachers.

So even the fiery Amos ends his book with a message of hope. There is always hope for those who truly seek the Lord.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Amos 8

The basket of summer fruit (vs. 1-3)—The Lord shows the prophet another vision—a basket of summer fruit. The idea is that Israel is ripe for punishment. “The end has come upon My people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore” (v. 2). The joy of godly worship will turn into “wailing,” and there will be “many dead bodies everywhere” (v. 3). Sin robs people of spiritual, and often physical, life.

But keep in mind this "end" would not be for at least another generation.  There was still time for Israel to "seek the Lord and live" (Amos 5:6), but the Lord knew they wouldn't do it.  And, more than likely, the message of chapter 8 was delivered several years after chapter 5.

Oppression is reproved (vs. 4-11)—Given the prosperity of the time in which Amos prophesied, there was no excuse for neglecting the poor. Ancient Israel did not have a government run welfare system; the wealthy were to take care of their less fortunate neighbors by a variety of means. One example is found in Leviticus 19:10: “And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the LORD your God.” Debtors were to be released every 50 years (the “year of Jubilee”), slaves freed after six years—things such as this. It was all intended to be voluntary, not forced; there is no righteousness in compelling people to do good, which is why America’s current welfare system really has no true virtue in it. Benevolence has been greatly usurped by the government.

But it wasn’t that way in ancient Israel, and when the rich oppressed the poor, the Lord became very angry. It was, besides idolatry, one of the major reasons for Israel’s punishment. The Lord thundered against “you who swallow up the needy and make the poor of the land fail” (v. 4). The wealthy couldn’t wait for the religious festivals to be over so they could return to their tyrannical ways, cheating at every opportunity (v. 5). If the poor couldn’t pay, they would be sold into slavery (v. 6). The Lord would never forget this (v. 7), the land would tremble, and everyone would mourn (v. 8). Verse 8 also mentions the overflowing of the Nile, so earthquakes (the land trembling) and flooding might presage the coming Assyrian captivity. More than likely, however, those descriptions were figurative. Verse 9 certainly is: “And it shall come to pass in that day," says the Lord GOD, "That I will make the sun go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in broad daylight.” A dark and dreary day will soon arrive, and the Lord “will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist, and baldness on every head; I will make it like mourning for an only son, And its end like a bitter day” (v. 10).

The famine in the land (vs. 11-14)—But “not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord” (v. 11). When devastation comes, people who have ignored God will often turn back to Him; but for Israel, it will be too late. “They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, but shall not find it” (v. 12). We must look to Jehovah while we have time; there will come a day when the door will be shut (Luke 13:25). Even the purest and strongest of Israel “shall faint from thirst” (v. 13), and those who look to Samaria, or the gods of Dan and Bethel “shall fall and never rise again” (v. 14). But, tragically, the preaching of the great prophet fell on deaf ears.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Amos 7

Amos’s three visions (vs. 1-9)—To indicate the coming destruction upon Samaria and the northern kingdom of Israel, the Lord shows Amos three visions. The first, in verses 1 and 2, is of locusts swarms “at the beginning of the late crop,” i.e., just as things were getting ripe. Of course, the locusts leave nothing, a picture of what God will do with Israel. However, the prophet intercedes: “O Lord God, forgive, I pray! Oh, that Jacob may stand, for he is small” (v. 2). And the intercessory prayer succeeds. “So the Lord relented concerning this. ‘It shall not be,’ said the Lord” (v. 3). In the second vision, “the Lord God called for conflict by fire, and it consumed the great deep and devoured the territory” (v. 4). But once again Amos interceded with the same prayer as before (v. 5), and the Lord yielded to his request: “’This also shall not be,’” said the Lord God” (v. 6). The third vision was of a man standing on a wall with a plumb line (v. 7). “And the Lord said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A plumb line.’ Then the Lord said, ‘Behold I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel. I will not pass by them any more’” (v. 8). This time, Amos didn’t intercede, and accepted the Lord’s proclamation of doom (v. 9).

A personal interlude (vs. 10-17)—Those who proclaim the word of the Lord will always run into opposition, especially in a period of prosperity and pleasure. And it’s not too surprising, in Amos’s case, that the hostility came from the religious leaders. One of the priests of Bethel, named Amaziah, complained to King Jeroboam II: “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive from their own land’” (vs. 10-11). There was no real “conspiracy” on the prophet’s part; he was simply speaking what God told him. Jeroboam’s reaction is not noted, but Amaziah tried to run Amos off: “Go, you seer! Flee to the land of Judah. There eat bread and prophesy” (v. 12). Quit prophesying against the king and his people (v. 13). Amaziah didn’t want to hear any more of what Amos had to say. Amos told him his simple story. He wasn’t a prophet or the son of a prophet, but just a simple pruner of sycamore trees (v.14). But the Lord came to him and said, “Go, prophesy to My people Israel,” (v. 15), and of course, Amos obeyed. And now, Amaziah, because you’ve tried to stop the Lord’s prophet from speaking His word, He has a special message just for you: “Your wife shall be a harlot in the city; your sons and daughters shall fall by the sword; your land shall be divided by survey line; you shall die in a defiled land; and Israel shall surely be led away captive from his own land” (v. 17). Trying to shut God’s preacher up accomplishes only two things: one, it makes God mad, and two, it doesn’t change His word. Smashing the barometer is not going to hold back the storm. The Lord’s word is true, regardless of whether people want to hear it or not. But, since the wicked can’t get at God, they often vent their rage on the one who delivers His message. That is as true today as it was in ancient times.

There is a traditional story that Amaziah beat Amos over the head with a club and the prophet staggered back to Judah and died. There is no Biblical or historical evidence for it, but it would certainly be in keeping with the way most of the Old Testament prophets were treated.

Two more quick thoughts in summary. Except for Amos’s prophecy, we don’t know what happened to Jeroboam II or Amaziah. He predicted a violent death for both, so even though we have no other information on the subject, we can be sure that’s what happened.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Amos 6

At ease in Zion (vs. 1-14)—If there is a “theme” to the preaching of Amos, verse one would be it: “Woe to you who are at ease in Zion.” The wealth of Israel is pictured in vivid terms throughout this chapter: “Who lie on beds of ivory, stretch out on your couches” (v. 4); “Who sing idly to the sound of stringed instruments, and invent for yourselves musical instruments like David” (v. 5); “Who drink wine from bowls, and anoint yourselves with the best ointments” (v. 6). As noted in earlier chapters, it was a time of great luxury and prosperity in the northern kingdom of Israel. And this led them to “trust in Mount Samaria, [and] notable persons in the chief nation, to whom the house of Israel comes!” (v. 1). It would do them no good, of course.

“Go over to Calneh and see; And from there go to Hamath the great; Then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are you better than these kingdoms?” (v. 2). These once great cities thought they were indestructible, too, and Amos is attempting to get the people of Israel to learn a little bit from history. Unfortunately, wealth has a way of anesthetizing spiritual desire; we have what we want now, so the future is of little concern to us. The wealthy, however, would be the first to be punished: “Therefore they shall now go captive as the first of the captives, and those who recline at banquets shall be removed” (v. 7).

Riches have a way of leading to pride, i.e., the belief that we have accomplished prosperity by ourselves. And that pride was something else the Lord condemned: “I abhor the pride of Jacob, and hate his palaces” (v. 8). And so, “Therefore I will deliver up the city [Samaria] and all that is in it” (v. 8). Verses 9 and 10 are very obscure and hard to interpret; the best guess is that they describe some sort of desolation that will come upon Israel as a result of God’s wrath. But regardless, “the Lord gives a command, He will break the great houses into pieces” (v. 11). The vanity of pursuing worldly wealth in pictured in verse 12: “Do horses run on rocks? Does one plow there with oxen?” Try to run a horse over a rock pile or plow it up with oxen and you’ll understand the prophet’s allusion. Israel’s wealth led them to pervert justice and righteousness (v. 12), They rejoiced “in a thing of nought”—an idol—and believed it had saved them: “Have we not taken to us horns by our own strength?” (v. 13). “But, behold, I will raise up a nation against you, O house of Israel," says the LORD God of hosts,” and the destruction will range from one end of the country to the other (v. 14). The “nation” was Assyria, and the fulfillment took place in 722/721 B.C.

There is nothing wrong, of course, with wealth. There were some very godly men in the Bible who were quite prosperous (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Job). But Biblical warnings are especially needful where goods and riches are abundant: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (I Timothy 6:7). “For in one hour so great riches is come to nought” (Revelation 18:17). “Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the LORD'S wrath” (Zephaniah 1:18). We simply aren’t going to be able to buy our way into heaven or use our wealth to escape the wrath of God.

As a final thought, I want to leave the reader with Adam Clarke’s comments on Amos 6:5, “Who sing idly to the sound of stringed instruments, and invent for yourselves musical instruments like David.” Clarke was a Methodist who lived about 200 years ago. His thoughts on David’s instruments is interesting: “I believe that David was not authorized by the Lord to introduce that multitude of musical instruments into the Divine worship of which we read, and I am satisfied that his conduct in this respect is most solemnly reprehended by this prophet; and I farther believe that the use of such instruments of music, in the Christian Church, is without the sanction and against the will of God; that they are subversive of the spirit of true devotion, and that they are sinful. If there was a woe to them who invented instruments of music, as did David under the law, is there no woe, no curse to them who invent them, and introduce them into the worship of God in the Christian Church? I am an old man, and an old minister; and I here declare that I never knew them productive of any good in the worship of God; and have had reason to believe that they were productive of much evil. Music, as a science, I esteem and admire: but instruments of music in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music; and here I register my protest against all such corruptions in the worship of the Author of Christianity. The late venerable and most eminent divine, the Reve[rend] John Wesley, who was a lover of music, and an elegant poet, when asked his opinion of instruments of music being introduced into the chapels of the Methodists said, in his terse and powerful manner, ‘I have no objection to instruments of music in our chapels, provided they are neither HEARD nor SEEN.’ I say the same, though I think the expense of purchase had better be spared.” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary, Amos 6:5). It is certain the church in the first century did not use mechanical instruments of music, and the early Medieval church opposed them as well. There is no authority in the New Testament for their use in Christian worship; “singing” is the only kind of music ever found in the early church, and it is every bit as presumptuous to add instruments to the song service as it would be to add steak and potatoes to the Lord’s Supper. The instruments, however, have become so common and widespread in denominational churches that hardly any consideration is ever given as to whether they please the Lord or not. And that should be our ONLY concern when worshiping Him.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Amos 5

A lamentation against Israel (vs. 1-3)—Chapter 5 begins with a “lamentation” (v. 1); the cause? “The virgin of Israel has fallen; she will rise no more. she lies forsaken on her land; there is no one to raise her up” (v. 2). Israel’s strength is slowly being sapped: “The city that goes out by a thousand shall have a hundred left” (v. 3). Keep in mind that Amos is prophesying during a very prosperous period of Israel’s history; destruction and captivity appeared to be the last thing that would happen. But within a generation or so, his words proved to be true.

An exhortation to repentance (vs. 4-20)—The Lord always provides a way of escape: “Seek Me and live” (v. 4); “seek the Lord and live” (v. 6); “hate evil, love good, establish justice in the gate” (v. 15). If they would do that, then “it may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” (v. 15). But only a remnant. They would have to turn away from their idols, of course, idols that “shall come to nothing” (v. 5). Once again, Amos reminds the people of whom they are dealing with and the surety of His pronouncements: “He made the Pleiades and Orion; He turns the shadow of death into morning And makes the day dark as night; He calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the face of the earth; The LORD is His name” (v. 8)—and the vanity of relying on earthly strength: “He rains ruin upon the strong, so that fury comes upon the fortress.” But they didn’t want to hear the word of God (v. 10), nor help the poor (v. 11). “For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins” (v. 12)—note their “mighty” sins. These people were good at it; they weren’t “mighty” in spiritual things, they were “mighty” in doing evil. What a tragedy. But there would be wailing in the streets and highways (v. 16) and in the vineyards (v. 17); they would even need “skillful lamenters” to wail. Why? “For I will pass through you, says the Lord” (v. 17). The day of the Lord was coming (v. 18), a day of “darkness, and not light.” And there would be no escape: “It will be as though a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him! Or as though he went into the house, leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him!” (v. 19). What a picture of futility that presents. A man is chased by a lion; he gets away from that ferocious beast only to run into a bear. He survives that catastrophe by running into his house. Catching his breath from his narrow deliverance, he leans against a wall and a snake bites him. There is no escape from the Lord.

Their rituals would not save them (vs. 21-27)—Men are often convinced of their own righteousness based upon the slightest of evidence. Israel apparently thought God could be appeased through the sacrificial system. But that kind of attitude angers Jehovah and makes Him sick: “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments” (vs. 21-23). Without purity of heart and life, God “hates” our worship, our songs are just “noise” to Him. They certainly were offering their sacrifices to Him, their “fattened peace offerings.” But the Lord would not accept them. It’s a bit amazing that Israel thought that they could serve more than one God—that Jehovah would be pleased with their sacrifices, but that they could also worship their idols (v. 26). But false gods lead to false standards of living; very few pagan gods demand that “justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (v. 25). Our worship must be holy, and our lifestyle must match. It did not happen in Israel, thus “I will send you into captivity beyond Damascus," says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts” (v. 27). Again, to prophesy such in the midst of economic wealth and military might must have looked very foolish; as we shall see, it also aggravated the religious leaders of the day (chapter 7). But, as always, the word of the Lord proved to be right.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Amos 4

The fat cows of Bashan (vs. 1-3)—“Bashan” was on the east side of the Jordan River and belonged to the half-tribe of Manasseh, who dwelt in that region. The word means “fruitful,” and that describes the area. So verse 1 has a pronouncement against “you cows of Bashan,” though that might be figurative since it is followed by “who are on the mountain of Samaria.” The riches of Bashan might represent the worldliness of Samaria. I can’t help but chuckle at Amos—calling people a bunch of fat cows, which is the idea behind the statement “cows of Bashan.” I wonder what would happen if I got into a pulpit and said that to the people I was preaching to. Probably the same thing that happened to Amos (see chapter 7). The condemnation was that they “oppress the poor…crush the needy…say to your husbands, ‘Bring wine, let us drink!’" (v. 1). And the Lord will take care of that kind of ungodliness: “He will take you away with fishhooks” (v. 2). Not a very pleasant thought.

The sarcastic prophet (vs. 4-5)—Well, of course, his message comes from God, and he is careful to point that out: “’Come to Bethel and transgress, at Gilgal multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days. Offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, proclaim and announce the freewill offerings; for this you love, you children of Israel!’" says the Lord GOD” (vs. 4-5). Bethel and Gilgal represent the idolatrous worship of Israel, so these verses are intended sarcastically.

God did everything He could (vs. 6-13)—I’ve made the point before—I made it in the previous chapter—that God uses all means possible to bring us to repentance, and this section is one of the great passages anywhere in the Bible illustrating that fact. He withheld sufficient food from them—“Yet you have not returned to Me," says the Lord" (v. 6). He kept back the rain, sent it to one city, but not another, so that nobody really had enough water to drink—“Yet you have not returned to Me," says the Lord” (vs. 7-8). He destroyed their crops, “your vineyards, your fig trees, and your olive trees, the locust devoured them”—“Yet you have not returned to Me," says the Lord” (v. 9). He sent plagues like in Egypt, “your young men I killed with a sword”--“Yet you have not returned to Me," says the Lord” (v. 10). “I overthrew some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah”—“Yet you have not returned to Me," says the Lord” (v. 11). What else could He do? Of course, He had blessed them for hundreds of years in “the land flowing with milk and honey.” They didn’t appreciate that or give Him glory for it, so now, He tries all manners of chastisement to induce them. “Yet you have not returned to Me, says the Lord.” Therefore, “prepare to meet thy God, O Israel” (v. 12). And that doesn’t mean that they are going to have time to do it. This is simply an assurance that punishment is coming. That word is even more to be believed because of from Whom it comes: “For behold, He who forms mountains, and creates the wind, who declares to man what his thought is, and makes the morning darkness, who treads the high places of the earth-- The LORD God of hosts is His name” (v. 13). This powerful, Almighty Being, Who fashioned the entire creation…the Lord God of hosts…when He speaks, His word is sure.

Israel’s doom is certain.

Amos, get lost.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Amos 3

Cause and effect (vs. 1-8)—While Amos aims his prophecy mostly at the northern kingdom of Israel, the first half of this chapter applies to “the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt” (v. 1). Great opportunity brings greater responsibility brings greater punishment: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities" (v. 2). Sin will always be punished, but Israel’s sin was more substantial because of the knowledge they had. In verses 3-6, Amos asks a series of cause and effect questions: “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (v. 3). “Will a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey?” (v. 4); and so forth. These questions emphasize the point made in verse two—sin, the cause, will bring punishment, the effect. But Israel has no one to blame but herself: “Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets” (v. 7). The Lord has given, and will give His people, plenty of notice. That theme comes up so often in the Bible. God allows us every possible chance to repent and be saved. If we’re lost, it will be in spite of everything He has done for us. And the man of God really has no option—morally or personally—but to proclaim His message: “A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy?” (v. 8). Just like people reactively fear when they hear a lion roar, Amos says, what can I do but prophesy when Jehovah speaks? "Don't blame me!" Would that all “preachers” had that attitude.

Punishment on Samaria and Israel (vs. 9-15)—This section starts again by God wanting His message announced as publicly as possible: “Proclaim in the palaces at Ashdod, And in the palaces in the land of Egypt” (v. 9), in other words, everywhere. Oppression, violence, robbery (vs. 9-10); these are some more of the sins of Samaria. “For they do not know to do right, says the LORD” (v. 10). It is a sad thing when people lose the knowledge of what is right. Just as Israel was filled with the Law of Moses, yet it was a “strange thing” to them (Hosea 8:12), even so America today has an abundance of Bibles—and yet an overabundance of ignorance of what God’s Word says. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6), and Amos would agree.

Even though Amos is prophesying rather early in the 8th century B.C., verse 11 might have reference to the upcoming Assyrian captivity (which began in 722/21): “An adversary shall be all around the land; he shall sap your strength from you, and your palaces shall be plundered." Whatever the meaning, when God finishes there won’t be much left: “Thus says the LORD: ‘As a shepherd takes from the mouth of a lion two legs or a piece of an ear, so shall the children of Israel be taken out who dwell in Samaria’” (v. 12). What a vision! Amos tells Israel that, when God gets through with you, all that will be left is maybe a couple of legs and the piece of an ear. That kind of preaching probably didn’t make him very popular. God will “visit destruction on the altars of Bethel” (v. 14). Remember, it was at Dan and Bethel that Jeroboam I set up the golden calves as idols for the northern kingdom to worship: “Therefore the king [Jeroboam] asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!’ And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan” (I Kings 12:28-29). This idol worship was the main cause of punishment, for both the northern and southern kingdoms. But it wasn’t the only reason. Wealth and worldliness had infiltrated Israel and turned the people away from their Lord. “’I will destroy the winter house along with the summer house; the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end,’ says the Lord” (v. 15). Recall that the reign of Jeroboam II, during which Amos prophesied, was a period of great wealth and affluence in Israel. And they had failed to heed God’s warning through Moses in Deuteronomy 31:20: “When I have brought them to the land flowing with milk and honey, of which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and filled themselves and grown fat, then they will turn to other gods and serve them; and they will provoke Me and break My covenant.” Worldliness is a subtle sin against which we must be ever vigilant. It might be the number one sin that afflicts the Lord’s people today—church parking lots filled with fancy automobiles, million dollar church buildings, padded pews and Power Point presentations—while 6+ billion people in the world are lost, dying, and hell bound because we can’t find the money to send gospel preachers to preach to them. Something just isn’t right with that picture.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Amos 2

Judgment against Moab (vs. 1-3)—The formula of chapter one is again used here, “For three transgression of Moab, and for four…” (v. 1). They did something to the king of Edom which we have no record of: “he [Moab] burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime” (v. 1). But the Lord knew and that’s all that mattered. Fire would come again and devour the palaces of Kerioth—a major city of Moab, “and I will cut off the judge from its midst, and slay all its princes with him, says the LORD” (v. 3). What all that entails we don’t know, nor whom the Lord used to accomplish it, but it happened, we can be sure of that.

Judgment upon Judah (vs. 4-5)—The main target of Amos’s prophecy, as noted, is the northern kingdom of Israel, but he does take a few swipes at Judah, such as these two verses. The same formula is used, “For three transgressions…and for four…,” and the crime is a rather generic one, but bad enough: “They have despised the law of the LORD, and have not kept His commandments. their lies lead them astray, lies which their fathers followed” (v. 4). Later prophets would get more specific. The punishment was also the usual—fire upon the palaces of the major city, in this case, Jerusalem (v. 5). Amos won’t ignore the south, but Ephraim is in more desperate shape, spiritually, at the moment.

Judgment upon Israel, the northern kingdom (vs. 6-8)—The sins here are more specific. “They sell the righteous for silver;” in other words, bribery was very common (v. 6). “They pant after the dust of the earth which is on the head of the poor” (v. 7). This phrase is obscure, but obviously the poor were being abused in some manner. They “pervert the way of the humble,” oppressing and obstructing the efforts of the godly (v. 7). “A man and his father go in to the same girl” (v. 7). That’s pretty clear and very disgusting. “They lie down by every altar on clothes taken in pledge” (v. 8). This refers to a passage in Exodus 22:26: “If you ever take your neighbor's garment as a pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down.” Especially if the “neighbor” was poor, the garment should be returned—not used as a pillow next to a heathen idol. And they “drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god” (v. 8). Again, the thought is a little vague, but Clarke suggests, “They punished the people by unjust and oppressive fines, and served their tables with wine bought by such fines.” That’s as good an explanation as any. So Israel was guilty of many offenses before the Lord. And He’s just starting…

Ingratitude (vs. 9-12)—The Lord had led them into the land of Canaan and “it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them” (v. 9). And before that, “it was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt, And led you forty years through the wilderness, To possess the land of the Amorite” (v. 10). He gave them prophets to teach them and Nazirites to show them holiness in religion (v. 11). This is just a small sampling of what Jehovah had done for them. Was Israel grateful? No. “You gave the Nazirites wine to drink, And commanded the prophets saying, 'Do not prophesy!'” (v. 12). And the Lord had had enough.

No escape (vs. 13-15)—Verse 13 sounds almost like the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” analogy: “Behold, I am weighed down by you, as a cart full of sheaves is weighed down”—and about to collapse. You can flee, the Lord tells them in verse, 14, but you won’t get away. And even the most courageous will be shamed (v. 15). As Amos will tell them more than once in this prophecy, when the Lord comes in judgment, there’s no escape.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Amos 1

The lion roars (vs. 1-2)—Folks, get out of this guy’s way. Amos, I mean. He was nothing but a sheepherder (v. 1) and a “tender of sycamore trees” (7:14), so there is nothing professional or polished about him. God needed somebody to go and prophesy to Israel, and He didn’t need a silver-tongued orator, He needed somebody to shuck down the corn. And that’s Amos. His first words give an indication of the tone of his preaching: “And he said: ‘The LORD roars from Zion, and utters His voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the top of Carmel withers’" (v. 2). He prophesied mainly to the northern kingdom during the reign of Jeroboam II, a very prosperous, worldly time for Israel. Jeroboam II ruled for 41 years, from 825-784 B.C., or perhaps a little later, the date is unsure. If we knew exactly when that earthquake was (v. 1), we could date Amos a little more definitively, but this is the only reference to that cataclysm in Scripture. Uzziah was the king of Judah during most, if not all, of Amos’ prophecy; he ruled 52 years, and was by and large a good king, though his pride got to him later in life (II Chronicles 26). You can read about Jeroboam II in II Kings 14:23-29—not a long account for a king who reigned 41 years, but there isn’t much good to say about him. He apparently was an effective military man, however, and as noted, Israel flourished under his reign—something Amos will be very clear about in his preaching.

Prophecies against nearby Gentile peoples (vs. 3-15)—Interestingly, Amos starts his work by denouncing several Gentile nations—God’s judgment upon them. For those who think Jehovah did not care how the non-Jewish people acted before the cross, they simply need to spend some time with the Old Testament prophets, several of whom prophesy against Gentiles, and few of them exclusively to Gentiles (at least their books are written wholly to foreign people, e.g., Obadiah, Nahum). In this section, Amos censures Damascus (the capital of Syria, vs. 3-5), Gaza (a principality of the Philistines, vs. 6-8), Tyre (a Phoenician stronghold, but generally acting with supreme independence, vs. 9-10), Edom (vs. 11-12), and Ammon (vs. 13-15). Various sins are recounted from cruelty (v. 3), to apparent selling people into slavery (vs, 6, 9), covenant-breaking (v. 9), brotherly betrayal (v. 11), and sheer barbaric brutality for personal gain: “they ripped open the women with child in Gilead, that they might enlarge their territory” (v. 13). Five times Amos records the Lord saying “I will send a fire…which shall devour…” the palaces of the offending people as part of their punishment (vs. 4, 7, 10, 12, 14). Captivity is promised for Syria (v. 5), and the king and princes of Ammon (v. 15). Other than the fire, there is no special punishment for Tyre and Edom, but for Gaza, “the remnant of the Philistines shall perish” (v. 8). How many Philistines do you know today?

Amos starts out each denunciation with the formula “For three transgressions…and for four, I will not turn away its punishment” (vs. 3, 6, 9, 11, 13). There is nothing significant about this expression, in fact, it was used by Homer and Virgil as well. So it simply indicates the severity and extensiveness of the crime involved.

Amos isn’t quite through condemning foreign powers, but he’ll arrive in Judah and Israel in chapter 2. It’s almost as if he’s circling like a vulture—around and around and around, and then he finally hones in on his real target, Samaria and the northern kingdom.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Joel 3

Redemption for the people of God (vs. 1-8)—Keep in mind there were no chapter breaks when Joel wrote his book. So verse 1 follows directly after 2:28-32 without the psychological break that is in our mind due to the chapter divisions. “For behold, in those days and at that time”—notice the dual emphasis: “In those days and at that time.” What days and times is he talking about? The ones he had just been discussing in 2:28-32, which, as we saw, refer to the Christian dispensation. Thus, the material in chapter 3 must be understood in a figurative way. Great spiritual truths must be conveyed in ways that humans can understand them; heaven is described with “pearly gates” and a “street of gold.” Hell is eternal fire. These things are not literal, but they communicate, to us, the beauty, or horror, of the location mentioned. Joel 3:1-8 describes a captive people being released: “I [will] bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem” (v. 1). Ancient enemies, Tyre and Sidon, are mentioned (v. 4), condemned for selling the “people of Judah and the people of Jerusalem…to the Greeks” (v. 6). We have absolutely no indication, anywhere in history, that Philistines sold Jews to Greeks. It’s a figurative description of God’s enemies harassing and enslaving His people—just as sin does, from which the Lord delivers us from captivity. “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive” (Eph. 4:7). In Joel 3:2, we read, “I will also gather all nations, and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.” There is no “Valley of Jehoshaphat”; the latter word means “Jehovah judges,” which, of course, is what He does best with sinners and those who oppress His people. The viciousness and cruelty of sin is illustrated in verse 5: “They have cast lots for My people, have given a boy as payment for a harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they may drink.” The bitterness, callousness, and hatred that the wicked have for the righteous is manifestly seen. But, the Lord “will raise them out of the place to which you have sold them, and will return your retaliation upon your own head” (v. 7). “’Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’" says the Lord” (Rom. 12:9). All of the material in this chapter can be understood in a figurative way to describe the attitude of the wicked towards the godly in the world today, and the deliverance that God will give to His people. But this material does need to be understood spiritually. Keep the first statement of verse 1 always in mind.

God wars against His enemies (vs. 9-17)—“Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare for war! Wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near” (v. 9). The figure of a spiritual battle between the forces of God and the forces of evil is found all through the New Testament, and Jehovah in this section is calling out His enemies for battle in “the Valley of Jehoshaphat” (v. 12)—again, the Valley of God’s judgment. “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision” (v. 14). People must make their choice. “The LORD will be a shelter for His people, and the strength of the children of Israel,” (v. 16), which is a comforting thought in this miserable, sin-sick world. And His habitation will be pure: “Jerusalem shall be holy, and no aliens shall ever pass through her again” (v. 17). The church is the home of the holy, not “aliens.” The Lord will be ever victorious.

Great blessings plus the destruction of the enemies of God’s people (vs. 18-21)—Notice how verse 18 begins: “And it will come to pass in that day…” For the third time in this chapter the Lord has emphasized that the events described here will take place in the days Joel discussed in 2:28-32—the Christian era. There will be great blessings: “The mountains shall drip with new wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the brooks of Judah shall be flooded with water” (v. 18). Obviously, mountains don’t literally drip with wine any more than hills flow with milk. But the idea—spiritually—is there: the Lord provides for us the richest of blessings. And the destruction of our enemies: “Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom a desolate wilderness” (v. 19). “But Judah shall abide forever and Jerusalem from generation to generation” (v. 20). The people of God have an everlasting abode with Him. And for one reason only: the forgiveness of sins—“For I will acquit them of the guilt of bloodshed, whom I had not acquitted; for the LORD dwells in Zion" (v. 21).

Not understanding the spiritual nature of much of the language of the prophets is what has caused frequent misunderstanding of their message. But in Joel, we have a clear statement, confirmed by the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, that Joel 2:28-3:21 refers not to physical Israel, but to spiritual Israel, the church. We must let the Bible interpret itself, and in this case it does so without ambiguity.

Next: Amos, the unprofessional prophet.

Joel 2

The locust plague described in vivid imagery (vs. 1-11)—Announce it to all that the day of the Lord is coming (v. 1). The “day of the Lord,” in Scripture, is always a day of judgment, in this case, not a pleasant one: “A day of darkness and gloominess, A day of clouds and thick darkness” (v. 2). The locusts were God’s “judgment” on Israel in Joel’s day, and is described in this section as an army: “They run like mighty men, they climb the wall like men of war; every one marches in formation, and they do not break ranks. They do not push one another; every one marches in his own column. Though they lunge between the weapons, they are not cut down” (vs. 7-8). Verse 3 presents a pretty good description of what happens during one of these locust attacks: “The land is like the Garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; surely nothing shall escape them.” They are as swift as horses (v. 4), and sound like chariots (v. 5). Nothing stops them (v. 9); “The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble; the sun and moon grow dark, and the stars diminish their brightness” (v. 10). The locusts are the Lord’s army, and again, represent a day of reckoning for the people of Israel: “For the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; Who can endure it?” (v. 11).

Full judgment can be avoided with repentance (vs. 12-27)—The Lord “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (v. 13), but first, the people must “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning" (v. 12). And if they do, “Who knows if He will turn and relent, And leave a blessing behind Him” (v. 14). But the people must be sincere, and it must be more than just a verbal acknowledgment of wrong doing: “Consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly,” (v. 15), “let the priests who minister to the Lord weep between the porch and the altar; let them say, ‘Spare Your people, O Lord, and do not give Your heritage to reproach” (v. 17). And if they will do this, “Then the Lord will be zealous for His land, and pity His people” (v. 18). He will bless them (v. 19), and “remove far from you the northern army”—the locusts (v. 20). The rest of this section is a picture of the good things Jehovah will do for them. The “fig tree and the vine [shall] yield their strength” (v. 22); “He will cause the rain to come down for you” (v. 23); “the threshing floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with new wine and oil.” He would restore what the locusts had eaten, (v. 25), “My great army which I sent among you.” They would eat and be satisfied and “praise the name of the Lord your God” (v. 26). “My people shall never be put to shame” (v. 27). If we would only believe and trust the Lord, how “wondrously” He would deal with us (v. 26).

The ultimate blessing—the Messianic age (vs. 28-32)—Verse 28 starts out “And it shall come to pass afterward.” Joel nowhere says how long “afterward,” but we know the answer to that because in Acts 2, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter quotes these five verses and applies them to the events of that day: ”But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 'And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God…” (Acts 2:16-17). So we have an inspired commentary on what Joel 2:28-32 means; there can be no doubt about it, and no arguing with it. The point in the book of Joel, however, is very important. In the previous section (vs. 12-27), the Lord told them that, upon repentance, He would provide material blessings for Israel—He would restore what the locusts had taken. Now, beginning in 2:28-32, He informs them that spiritual blessings are on the way. Those spiritual blessings are found in Christ and the Christian age, but that’s the only place forgiveness can ever be found; even the sins of ancient Israel were ultimately forgiven at the cross. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins…we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:4, 10). Ultimately, everything in the Old Testament pointed to Jesus—“Christ is coming” is the theme of the Old Testament, and forgiveness of sins is the greatest blessing we could ever have. For there is one, final “day of the Lord,” and nothing of material value will mean anything, or be of any use, on that day.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Joel 1

The locust plague (vs. 1-7)—As noted in the introduction, the setting for this prophecy was a devastating locust plague. And they were devastating. They came literally by the millions, ate everything in sight, and always left a famine behind. A locust swarm was one of the greatest fears of the ancient Near East. And it happened in Israel during Joel’s day. One of the things that the Lord wanted the people to do was “tell your children about it, let your children tell their children, and their children another generation” (v. 3). If each generation will be reminded, then perhaps the reason behind the plauge can be avoided—more on that in chapter 2. These locusts left nothing (v. 4), and that would cause weeping among the drunks who could no longer get any wine (v. 5). “He [the locusts] has laid waste My vine, and ruined My fig tree” (v. 7). It was a time of great mourning and Joel suggests that the people do just that…

Lament, for there’s nothing left (vs. 8-13)—“Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth For the husband of her youth” (v. 8). “Gird yourselves and lament, you priests; wail, you who minister before the altar” (v. 13). They certainly had reason to. “The field is wasted, the land mourns; for the grain is ruined, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails” (v. 10). “The vine has dried up, snd the fig tree has withered; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree--all the trees of the field are withered” (v. 12). This is serious stuff, because, for the most part, people in the ancient world lived from year to year. If they had a bountiful harvest one year, they could store up for the next. But that didn’t happen all that often. And if the harvest was poor, a famine nearly always followed. We in our abundance today have no idea what it was like; we’re concerned about our kids being too fat, not starving to death, though if a politician thinks he can make some political hay over the latter, he’ll certainly try. We are truly blessed people, but unfortunately, that often causes people to become complacent and forget God (Deut. 31:20).

The day of the Lord (vs. 14-20)—In verse 15, Joel introduces a major theme of his short prophecy: “Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is at hand; It shall come as destruction from the Almighty.” The “day of the Lord” is always a day of judgment. For many people—the righteous—it can be a glorious day. But for most—the wicked—it’s a horrible time. The “day of the Lord” will pop up more than once in these minor prophet books. The thing to do, Joel says, is repent: “Consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the Lord” (v. 14). This locust plague affects every living thing, of course: “How the animals groan! The herds of cattle are restless, because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep suffer punishment” (v. 18). The locusts just don’t leave much of anything. It looks like a fire has ravaged the land: “For fire has devoured the open pastures, and a flame has burned all the trees of the field” (v. 19). That might be literal; the land was so dry after the plague that a fire might have broken out and further desecrated the earth. But it’s probably a figurative allusion to the way the locusts left the land—as if a fire had come through. The chapter ends on a note of pathos: “The beasts of the field also cry out to You, for the water brooks are dried up and fire has devoured the open pastures” (v. 20). So in chapter one, Joel explains the devastation that the locusts caused. In chapter 2, he will explain why the plague came in the first place. Nothing in this world happens arbitrarily, not with God in control. And there was a definite rationale for this locust attack. Knowing Israel, the reason probably won’t surprise us.