Friday, June 13, 2014

A Time of Crisis and Famine: Joel 1


1 The word of the Lord that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.
2 Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?
3 Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.
4 That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten.
5 Awake, ye drunkards, and weep; and howl, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the new wine; for it is cut off from your mouth.
6 For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek teeth of a great lion.
7 He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white.
8 ¶Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth.
9 The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the Lord; the priests, the Lord’s ministers, mourn.
10 The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted: the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth.
11 Be ye ashamed, O ye husbandmen; howl, O ye vinedressers, for the wheat and for the barley; because the harvest of the field is perished.
12 The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men.
13 Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests: howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meat offering and the drink offering is withholden from the house of your God.
14 ¶Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord,
15 Alas for the day! for the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.
16 Is not the meat cut off before our eyes, yea, joy and gladness from the house of our God?
17 The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered.
18 How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate.
19 O Lord, to thee will I cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field.
20 The beasts of the field cry also unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness.

Joel 1 is a peculiar chapter because there is so much emotional language of distress about famine.  This is famine is so bad that:
--four waves of different insects have gone over eating up what’s left (v4)
--the drunkards with have no new wine (v5)
--the vine is laid waste (v7)
--an enemy has barked the fig tree, or damaged it to kill it (v7)
--the field is wasted (laid waste or completely destroyed) (v10)
--the harvest of the field is perished (v11)
--all the trees of the field are withered (vines, figs, pomegranates, palms, apples (v12)
--the seed is rotten in the fields (v17)
--the garners (where harvest is stored) are desolate and the barns are broken down (v17)
--there is no pasture for the cattle or sheep, so the beasts grown, the cattle are perplexed, and the sheep die (v18)
--wild pastures and trees have been burned (v18)
--the rivers are dry (v20)

And then there is a thought that is repeated three different times that shows us how bad it really is:

The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the Lord; the priests, the Lord’s ministers, mourn. (v9)

Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests: howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meat offering and the drink offering is withholden from the house of your God. (v13)

Is not the meat cut off before our eyes, yea, joy and gladness from the house of our God? (v16)

The Israelites were supposed to bring to the temple their first fruits of harvest as a meat and drink offering and a portion of that given to the priests so they could subsist while serving in the temple.  These verses tell us of a famine that is so bad that no one has any first fruits to bring in, assuming the people are faithful and would bring an offering if they had any harvest).  Thus, the priests possibly are in danger of starving, as are any others who do not have food stored.

This is a very sad and scary situation, and Joel’s assessment of it is, “The day of the Lord is at hand.” (v15) and the people are supposed to respond in a certain way –“Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord” (v14)  The famine is “as a destruction from the Almighty,” (v15) which will require faith and prayer and fasting and lots of charity and miracles to get through.

Verses 2-3 also say something that should make us think very hard:

2 Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?
3 Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation. (Joel 1:2-3)

Joel wants us to think about whether we’ve seen something like this happen.  Do any old men remember a famine like this or did their parents or grandparents remember something like this happening?  Odds are we haven’t.  And if we haven’t, then we must consider this a prophecy to be fulfilled some time in the future, and we should pass it down through the generations so each generation can prepare themselves for it if it should happen during their lives.

This is especially important for us today, especially since many of us in first world countries are insulated from effects of famine.  There is a global supply chain for food that brings us a huge variety from all over the world.  That global supply chain is a very helpful thing for when one area of the world has a bad harvest because the other harvests elsewhere can compensate and the price goes up.  But if we had a global famine, we would be in big trouble.  A global famine would certainly be termed “as a destruction from the Almighty” (v15).  It would be the very thing to take the world by complete surprise and it is also the thing a year’s supply of food is designed to get families through.

Joel doesn’t use the highly charged language of distress to reach people already in famine.  People in that kind of situation know when it is bad.  They don’t need anyone to tell them that.)  He’s trying to reach people who enjoy great abundance; he’s trying to wake them up to consider and prepare for what is coming even though it is not known exactly when.  It takes faith to gather food and prepare for famine in the midst of abundance, just like it took faith for Noah to build an ark before it rained.

It is interesting Joel doesn’t seem to be doing much to call to repentance in this chapter, aside from telling the drunkards (who have presumably been self-medicating) that they aren’t going to have their fix for a long time because the supply is all gone.  Rather, he tutors on appropriate response to the disaster—gathering together, fasting, and prayer.  (Repentance is more implied.)

We might wonder what the modern equivalent would be of meat and drink offerings cut off from the house of the Lord.  But imagine a famine so bad that farmers can’t pay tithing or fast offerings.  Or imagine if it moves up the chain such that no one has money to pay tithing because their job has disappeared and they’ve spent all their savings on food.

This chapter backs up the prophetic counsel give over multiple generations to the church to build a year’s supply.  A year’s supply is useful for an economic backup, but it is really designed for widespread famine of the type Joel writes of.

Soo.. how’s your food storage and your three-month supply?