The prophecies of Joel revolve around a devastating locust plague. What do these locusts have to do with the gospel? Turns out, they provide a picture of what God will do through Jesus and they provide hope for those who turn to Jesus with repentant hearts. What happens on a relatively small scale in Joel, is going to happen on a world-wide scale sometime in the future.
The great locust swarm of Joel’s day had eaten everything in sight. They were relentless. They are compared to lions who have stripped the land bare with their teeth, or to a massive army who overwhelm the land and its people. The promised land of milk and honey had become a dry and bitter land where the cattle moan and the people mourn.
Joel takes time to describe in vivid detail this dire condition of God’s people and God’s land. In Scripture, the presence of grain, wine, and oil are associated with blessing and prosperity. But in Joel, they are gone (1:10) Trees and plants have withered away, the streams have dried up, and the animals wander and wail. Joel’s vocabulary reminds us of the Garden of Eden, expect in reverse.
Joel not only makes the subtle connection to a past paradise, but also to a future “day of the Lord.” Judgement is coming and evil will be put in its place. Just as the locust swarm invaded the land and left it barren, so also God himself will send a terrifying judgement on the nations, Israel included. The result will be ever worse than the locust raid. Gloomy darkness, blazing fire, shaking skies, and ruined cities. In fact, God’s judgement will have the effect of turning Israel’s promised paradise in to a desert wasteland (2:3)
And how are God’s people to respond? With blissful ignorance? With empty optimism? Or with hopeless fatalism? Certainly not. Listen to the words of the Yahweh:
Even now…return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.Joel 2:12-13
The covenant-keeping, forever-faithful God will not turn away the humble and repentant. Those who take serious the words of God and respond in faith will have God’s judgement pass over. This is part A of the good news, but there is more. There is a great reversal coming.
We could sum up the effect of this great reversal with the words of chapter 2, verse 25: “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…” Solely because of sheer mercy and good pleasure will God turn our crumbling, groaning earth into a thriving, rejoicing paradise. The language of the Garden of Eden is once again employed to describe this great reversal. The land will drip with wine and flow with milk, the rains will come at just the right time and produce an abundant harvest, and all creation will rejoice and be filled to satisfaction.
Not only will there be a great reversal or undoing of the curse, but things will be even better than they once were. It will be beyond our imagination. God will dwell with his people and a fountain of life-giving water will flow from his dwelling place. Sin will be forgiven and shame will be a forgotten memory. Evil will be judged and sentenced to an everlasting death. There will be deliverance for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord. God’s Spirit will be poured out just like the wine and the water.
The evidence that this great reversal will in fact happen is found in the person of Jesus. Through his life and death he reversed the curse. From a dark grave sprang forth resurrected life. Jesus lives and reigns as the righteous king who has supplanted the prince of darkness. The new paradise-kingdom is taking the place of the old, sin-infested kingdom. The abundant life of the new and improved Garden of Eden is overtaking the weeds and wickedness of our present world.
All who place their trust in Jesus become full participants of this great reversal. The curse-reversing work of Jesus is experienced already in this life, but only as a foretaste (a very real foretaste mind you) of the paradise yet to come which will be far beyond both the prophet Joel’s description and our own imaginations.