“The Gift of Magi” by O.Henry. Remember it? A young poor couple want to give each other the best gift ever for Christmas. So she sacrifices her most treasured possession, her hair, cuts it and sells it to get a chain for his most prized possession--his grandfather’s pocket watch. The ending is a twist that makes everything so wrong and yet so perfectly right. You’ve got to read it for yourself.
Anyways, O.Henry was known for his surprise twist endings like that. Someone reportedly asked him how he wrote. He said he’d write the endings first, and then wrote the story up to it.
I hope as you started to look at Joel this week, and your Old Testament survey, you saw a glimpse into the heart of God and was reassured of his plans. He wrote the ending first, and now is letting the story unfold up to it. Make no mistake--He didn’t start wringing his hands when he found out Eve bit into that old apple. He didn’t wonder what He was going to do.
So with this plan from the very beginning, He breathed life into Adam. And the story of man began. Repeatedly, when things were going good--oh friends, hear me--when things were going good, our hearts would wander from our God. He would allow hard times. He would send punishment. But always with a way out. Always, He would plead, ‘But if you will only repent, I will save.’
We live in a broken world. We’re the ones who broke it. And that broken world is hell-bent on destroying itself with Satan driving it there. At this time, God allows those natural outcomes of sin to bring hard times. Yes, sometimes, the Bible says He even sends those hard times.
Sometimes He allows the trouble. Sometimes He sends it. Always. Always, He uses it for our good.
So we see humanity vacillating for generations, deciding who they will serve, and seeing the consequences of that choice. It’s frustrating to watch, isn’t it? Over and over, God sends his Holy Spirit to people to be witnesses to the people. And so we come to the prophets.
You know those kids’ books “You wouldn’t want to be a roman gladiator?” It’s a whole series of funny, cartoon books that show the hard times of history. You wouldn’t want to be a pilgrim. You wouldn’t want to be a settler. You wouldn’t want to be a mother of toddlers. They should write that one. Well, there also should be one called ‘You wouldn’t want to be a prophet of God.’
The prophets of God gave their entire life to His disposal. Gave up every ‘right’ they had to their lives. Get swallowed by a whale. Preach naked. Lay on one side in the town square for a year. Marry a prostitute and call your children unloved and rejected.
That’s just the things God told them to do. Then there was the reaction of the people. Prophets were probably the ones who started the saying ‘don’t kill the messenger.’ Over and over again, they were killed. Beaten. Exiled. Thrown into a well while a war went on overhead.
We seem to think our reward should be in this lifetime. Yes, the American Christian culture--like no other culture--thinks it can achieve it’s mansion and peace and rest that heaven promises, now. Here on this earth. It makes us the poorest in spirit in the world.And they said He is worth it.
Joel was one of God’s prophets. We call him a minor prophet, only because of the length. At the end of the Old Testament we have 12 minor prophets’ books, not in chronological order.
In Joel, we see such mystery. God has not given us a time for when the prophet lived. Through this book we get a glimpse into how the God of time sees the world--the past, the present, the future at once. We know some of the things have already happened, and some are yet to come.
Because there’s no mention of any king or armies, many scholars think Joel could have lived around the time of King Joash, the child king. Let’s back up his story a little bit. From the glory of King David and the untold riches of his son King Solomon--in one generation we fall to the kingdom divided, the wealth vanishing. In just over a hundred years from those great men, we end up with Queen Jezebel ruling the Northern kingdom. To this day, the woman’s name is equated with evil.
Well, in the southern kingdom, on David’s throne was her counterpart, Athaliah. Both of them had their husbands die. Both of them had their idiot sons ruling. God said enough of Jezebel. He raised up a commander of the army to deal with her.
Army wives: pay attention. God understands the heart of a warrior. He remembers their names and their deeds repeatedly, preserved for eternity in the Book.
So Jehu kills Jezebel, her son, all their relatives, and since Queen Athaliah’s son was hanging around, he got it too.
You know when the men are gone...
Athaliah had a choice. We all do. When faced with hard times, we can shake our fist at God, or we can continue to trust Him. Let’s remember Habakkuk’s response in 3:17-19.
Athaliah has seen the outcome of the wicked. God gives her the opportunity to repent. Every day is an opportunity to repent for all of us. Instead of falling to her knees, bowing her back and her will to the Lord God Almighty, she stiffened her back. She set her jaw. She raised her fist.
Her first order of business was to kill off all potential kings. What’s a few blobs of potential flesh when you’re establishing your career of controlling the world? These were her grandchildren. She put them to the sword.
But even as she set about to control her world, another royal woman risked her own life to obey God. She took off with a yearling, and hid him in God’s house. Her husband, the high priest Jehoiada sheltered the boy and his nurse for 6 years.
When Joash turned 7, High priest Jehoiada armed the guards. (Again, notice the details God tells us of the warriors.) He brought the boy out and crowned him. When Queen Athaliah heard the noise of the crowds, she rushed out and was killed.
Hooray! Victory! Happy ever after, right? Jehoiada and Joash restore the temple. The country is at peace. Sadly, there’s a clause in there “Joash served the Lord as long as Jehoiada lived.”
The old saying is true, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. We can raise moral pagans. We can drag them to church every time the doors open. We can make them stand at attention during worship. We can pound a hundred Bible verses into their brains. But the day will come when they will have to decide, ‘will I repent’?
Phil Vischer--Veggie Tales Creator--said this:
"I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, "Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so," or "Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!" But that isn't Christianity, it's morality. . .
And that was such a huge shift for me from the American Christian ideal. We're drinking a cocktail that's a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we've intertwined them so completely that we can't tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It's the Oprah god.”
I am convicted by that. Do I teach obey the rules because that makes life easy for me, or do I teach love the Lord your God. We absolutely have to lead the horse to water. That is our job. But we can only show them how to drink from that well. The Holy Spirit convicts. And they must decide to love the Lord their God.
Andy Stanley said, “Our greatest contribution is not what we do, but who we raise.” Another old saying I know you know--the hand that rocks the cradle is also true. Yes, it means a sacrifice of your very life. Your time. Your energy. I know the days are long. So long. But the years are very, very short. Your children are not an interruption to your life, your ministry. They are your ministry.
When King Joash was left without his beloved priest, he had to decide for himself. He chose poorly. And when God sent prophets, pleading with him to turn back to his heavenly Father, Joash stiffened his back. He set his jaw. He raised his fist and said ‘You can’t control me.”
Perhaps Joel was one of those prophets sent. When Priest Jehoiada’s own son came before King Joash, the king had him killed. Because that’s what you have to do. You have to kill the messenger of God. Skip that Bible time. Turn off the praise music. Stop going to church. Don’t hang out with those people.
Again, we don’t know for sure when Joel gave his message. But we see in it God’s plan from the beginning. Love. Repent. A life with God, freely chosen, is worth the pain.
As man’s wickedness continues, more punishment will come. How will we get through these?
In Holland, in a little clock shop, a girl asked her father this very question. As an older woman, she was reminded of his answer again and again. Corrie and her sister were in their fifties, living with their elderly father and working in his watch repair shop. At a time when they should have been enjoying their golden years, retiring, kicking back, what seemed like the end of the world was breaking all around them. It was driven by an anti-Christ, Hitler. In the face of an army with the power to conquer the world, they chose to enlist in the Heavenly Army. They hid Jews. And they were punished for it.
How will I have the faith to stay strong through the trials? Corrie had asked her father. Remember when you were a little girl, and we would go on the train? Her father explained. When did I give you your ticket? Right when you needed it. So will God give you the faith you need, my child.
Much of God’s plan for the future, which we see only a little bit of in Joel, is shrouded in mystery. We don’t know the times. But a soldier who doesn’t know his orders stays close to his commander, right? And a girl who needs a ticket holds her father’s hand. And we must teach our children to do so, as the days are evil.
As we dive deeper into Joel these next couple of weeks:
Be open to the mystery. No easy answers. No pat verses. Nothing we can control.
Be in awe of the God of all ages. Learn to trust Him more.
And pray for a deeper love for the One who said you are worth it.
Overview of the book of Joel
by Tonia Gütting