We are living in serious times. We are living in unprecedented times. Today we stand at a crucial juncture of human history!
The September 11th terrorist attacks came and went in 2001. The Asian tsunami came and went in December 2004. Hurricane Katrina followed suit in August 2005. A global financial crisis still exists. Then there was the outbreak of H1N1 flu pandemic in April 2009. In just a week (i.e. September 28 to October 4, 2009), there were unprecedented outbreaks of natural disasters and calamities – a typhoon that swept through Philippines, Vietnam and soon Taiwan; a tsunami near Samoa Island; two earthquakes in Indonesia.
The question today is twofold. Have we understood the times and do we know what to do (1 Chr 12:32)? Have we heard the sound of the trumpet and have we responded with a commensurate burden like in Joel 2:1 and Joel 2:15?
The Church is past the hour of having conferences on how to make our walk with God better and becoming more effective in ministry. Developing a history in God in this season is not simply a matter of making our walk with God more enjoyable or having a cutting-edge ministry. Developing a history with God is a matter of life and death!
Individual and corporate history in God must be cultivated such that we can bear the weight of the coming global crises – rogue nations with nuclear capabilities, outbreaks of flu pandemics, water shortages, biological threats, terrorist attacks, virtual perversion, the dullness of humanistic society, the coming judgment of the LORD, etc. In fact, Jesus emphasized in Matthew 24:6, Mark 13:7 and Luke 21:9 that ALL THESE THINGS MUST COME TO PASS!
Joel 1:2 – 4 says,
“Hear this, you elders, and give ear, all you inhabitants of the land! Has anything like this happened in your days, or even in the days of your fathers? Tell your children about it, let your children tell their children, and their children another generation. What the chewing locust left, the swarming locust has eaten; what the swarming locust left, the crawling locust has eaten; and what the crawling locust left, the consuming locust has eaten.”
In the aftermath of a national disaster, Joel draws the nation into the urgency of the hour through an opening question, “Has anything like this happened in your day, or even in the days of your fathers?” Something monumental and shocking has taken place to all the living adults in the land. Before the rebuilding and replanting strategies kick into gear, the prophet seizes the moment to ask the deeper question.
A locust plague has swept through the land, and Israel finds herself in the peril of the aftermath. The chewing locust, swarming locust, crawling locust, and consuming locust have devastated the nation. Locust plagues do not always destroy an economy; however, Joel’s description of the plagues painted a bleak picture. The crops are destroyed, the trees are stripped, and next year’s seed is in danger. Drought compounds the problem as fire spreads throughout the barren land, and the herds are dying of hunger and thirst.
The land has experienced a financial catastrophe. The agricultural engine to their financial system is destroyed. In a short time the locust plague has brought the nation to financial collapse and the people to a crisis of survival. The prophet begs the question in Joel 1:16, “Is not the food cut off before our eyes?”
The prophet exhorts in Joel 1:5 – 13 that every class of society is to awaken and wail over the loss of the crops. The land must awaken and sober up. The crisis is just beginning. The front edge of the storm has passed over, but the back side of the hurricane will follow with greater severity. A religious crisis is upon the nation. The grain and drink offerings are cut off from the land. The Temple system is shaken. The priests are called upon to mourn and wail as the very core of their religious expression is stripped from them.
The only appropriate response is to “lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth.” Their response must equate the crisis. They must mourn as a virgin who has lost her husband suddenly before the consummation of the marriage can occur. This is an unthinkable tragedy. The crisis is URGENT!
In Joel 1:14, Joel gives the only answer to the crisis. The priests must move beyond their individual travail. They are instructed to consecrate a corporate gathering of prayer, fasting, and repentance. At the forefront of the relief and recovery effort must be a call to corporate repentance through gatherings of prayer and fasting. A corporate disaster calls for a corporate response. Shut everything down and bring the nation together for prayer and fasting.
Why Such an Extreme Measure?
The prophet gives the explanation in Joel 1:15. It is the Lord who has done this!
“Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as destruction from the Almighty.”
The Deuteronomic curses are operating in the land. The drought and locust plague have been sent from the hand of the Lord. Joel announces to the people that it is the Lord, who directs the wind and the plague, who has brought the destruction upon the people.
When God’s judgments are evident among the people of God, what is the proper response? When the Day of the Lord is at hand, how do the people of God respond?
At the formation of the nation of Israel, God set forth a clear path for returning to the Lord, which would turn His judgments into blessings. Moses instituted this path, Solomon solidified it, and the prophets, including Joel, called the people to it in seasons of compromise and judgment.
The nation must respond in the way God has prescribed in Deuteronomy 28 – 29 and 2 Chronicles 7:14. Joel simply calls the people to return to the biblical prescription for crisis as set forth by the Lord to both Moses and Solomon. Their response is a matter of life or death, for the prophet will soon tell us in chapter two that another day of the Lord is coming. The locust plague is but the precursor. If the people do not respond to the locust plague, God will send a military invasion. The people of Joel’s day are at a crucial juncture between two crises. They must discern the season rightly and respond biblically.
The Call to Hear and Understand
In many ways, the world is finding herself much like the nation of Israel in the days of Joel. The economic shaking is very similar to what the prophet Joel experienced in his day. Standing at a crucial juncture in between two crises, the word comes to him and he pleads with the children of Israel to hear and give ear to the word of the Lord. The people must hear the correct interpretation of the first crisis in order to respond correctly and avert the second crisis.
Joel’s prophecy begins with a charge for the leaders to hear. The mandate to hear always begins with spiritual leadership. The leaders must hear the words of Joel. (Joel 1:2a)
Joel then calls the inhabitants of the land to give ear. This is a corporate summon – elders, working class, adults and children – are all included in Joel’s charge to listen. (Joel 1:2b – 3)
More than a call to physically hear his announcement, the prophet Joel is calling the people to actively engage in God’s interpretation of the prophetic moment. He is calling the people to discern the season and respond accordingly.
Joel reveals to us that there are narrow windows in history when the correct interpretation must be given in order to set the prayer culture to preserve the next generation from the oncoming judgment and destruction. The prophetic voice calling Judah to hear exploded from 640 – 620B.C. with Joel, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah.
Many Bible students wonder at the lack of Joel’s mentioning of the king. However, the king is not at the forefront of Joel’s mind because the king’s devotion is not enough to avert the judgment of God. Even though King Josiah would show himself unusually devoted to Yahweh worship and work to reform the nation from their idolatrous worship, his efforts can only delay God’s judgment.
Joel is focused on establishing a corporate culture among the spiritual leadership and the people of the nation that will reveal a sincere repentance and true devotion.
If anyone has Ears to Hear, let him Hear
The elders in Josiah’s day missed the prophetic window to change the culture of corporate prayer. Thus, Josiah’s individual efforts did not enable the reform to transform the larger body and avert the oncoming judgment. The window was missed, so that by the time Jeremiah came, it was too late. The revival fizzled out days after Josiah’s death, and within three months the people under king Jehoiakim returned to idolatry. Within four years, the Babylonians had begun their twenty-year invasion process.
The invitation to hear is critical! It is not a vague summon. Responding correctly at a key juncture of history can make a difference in setting a culture of corporate prayer to turn a crisis into a blessing. We see this in Jesus’ warning some 40 years before Titus’ invasion. We also see (the preparation of) the churches in Asia Minor receiving the same invitation some decades before a season of coming trials.
Seven times in the gospels (Matt. 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9, 23; 7:16; Luke 8:8; 14:35) and once in Rev. 13:9 Jesus exhorts, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” Eight times in the Book of Revelation Jesus exhorts, “If anyone has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches.”
Joel gives an unusual glimmer of hope in Joel 2:12 – 14. If we hear the correct prophetic interpretation of the hour, announce it, and turn to the Lord with all of our heart through establishing a culture of corporate prayer and fasting, the Lord in His great love and kindness, may relent from sending the calamity and leave a blessing. What we must realize is that the “perhaps” of God is directly related to our hearing at the crucial juncture of history. If we miss the urgent cry from God for us to hear and discern correctly, our culture of revival prayer will be missed and the perhaps of God will not be realized. Revival may come, but it will not avert the crisis.
The sad reality is that Israel did not listen to the interpretation of her prophets. In His great compassion, God sent them prophets morning by morning, but they would not hear. Jerusalem would also refuse Jesus’ warnings and kill Him as well. However, God’s word will not return to Him void. It will accomplish all of God’s purposes. The locust plague came. Titus did as well. The prophet Joel tells us that another enemy of Israel will come in the End-Times, just as the Lord had spoken.
Creating a Culture of Discernment – Blowing Joel’s Trumpet
If the elders do not hear and discern the season correctly, they fail to set a corporate culture of prayer as the main communal activity. However, the hardest thing for any generation to discern is their corporate standing before God. Everyone knows the famous saying, “The only thing that we’ve learned from history is that we’ve learned nothing from history.”
Jesus stated in Matthew 11:19, “Wisdom is justified by her children.” The wisdom of the lives of John the Baptist and Jesus could not be recognized in the present-tense moment. Also, the foolishness of the masses in their rejection of Jesus could not be discerned either. The successive generations would clearly see the fruit of Jesus life as well as the destruction of the religious establishment brought upon Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
Many things that look foolish to the masses today will be deemed as wise tomorrow, and many of the fads within the Church right now will be deemed foolish tomorrow. Jesus addresses this at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. He emphatically declares that storms are coming. There is a great shaking coming that will reveal the quality of our labors. The man who built his house on the sand will be revealed as foolish, and the man who built his house on the rock will be revealed as wise on that day. (Matt. 7:24 – 27)
The Book of Joel contains three crises. The prophet prophesizes in the day of the locust plague. The day of the Lord is upon the nation. In chapter two the prophet introduces Israel to a future day of the Lord. A military crisis is just around the corner. Chapter three introduces Israel to the eschatological crisis which will lead to Israel’s final deliverance and restoration.
In the heart of the prophecy, chapter two introduces the audience to two very distinct trumpets. These trumpets give the blueprint for turning the judgment of the Lord into deliverance and blessing. Trumpets served two purposes in the Old Testament – to warn and to gather. One is a trumpet to warn. The other is a trumpet to gather.
Joel 2:1 first announces, “Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the Day of the Lord is at hand.” The nation must hear the proper prophetic interpretation of the moment. The first trumpet is one of warning.
The prophet proclaims, “Blow a trumpet! Sound an alarm!” When a watchman saw an enemy on the horizon, he was to blow the trumpet in order to warn the city to prepare for war. If the watchman failed to stay alert and did not sound the alarm, the city would surely be destroyed because of the watchman’s lack of alertness.
The prophet commands the watchman to sound an alarm. Danger is on the horizon. The locust plague is only the precursor. The nation is set for a military invasion, and it is the Lord who is directing the army.
Presently, God wants to sound the alarm. He desires to bring forth Day of the Lord preachers who will cause the Church to tremble and who will give the people understanding of God’s heart in the midst of judgment. Jeremiah stated that in the last days we would understand God’s judgments perfectly. This will come because persons will stand in the counsel of the Lord, hearing, perceiving, and marking His word. (Jeremiah 23:18 – 20)
These persons will discern the season and give biblical understanding to God’s people for the purpose of turning them to the Lord in sincerity and truth. Daniel also describes these preachers. (Daniel 11:32 – 33; 12:3)
Joel declares that the first trumpet must be sounded. The Day of the Lord must be preached unto trembling. Without the preaching of the current prophetic season and the Day of the Lord, trembling will not be produced in the people. The declaration of the urgency of the hour is necessary and vital for the Church to lay down Church as business as usual and gather for prayer and fasting corporately. Preaching is to create alarm in God’s people and cause them to tremble before His Word.
Without urgency, we may pray for a day, but the heart is not rent and a culture of prayer is not formed. Without urgency, the elders do not lay down their agenda for “bigger” and “better” in order to support continual solemn assemblies. Without urgency, the elders and people do not reallocate their resources to prayer.
Urgency also changes the prayer focus. Joel 2:17 reveals the content of the intercession that should be offered in these gatherings. Without the revelation of the Day of the Lord, the intercession will not be, “Spare your people, O Lord.”
How Then Shall We live
In Joel 2:12 – 17, God tells us exactly what we are to do to receive His mercy and deliverance in times of crisis. In Joel’s generation He warned them of a coming Babylonian invasion. But He gave a way out: Solemn Assemblies. The response that God requires is not limited to Israel but is for all of us, too. God is asking His people for a specific response. He makes it clear what He desires from us.
Joel 2:12 – 17 is probably the clearest passage in the Word of God that describes what God wants us to do in times of crisis – both on a local and global scale. He wants us to come together in Sacred Assemblies. It is a clear “requirement” for the Body of Christ as the global drama unfolds at the End of the Age. This is because God wants us to have holy confidence in Him so that we will act with certainty in times of crisis. God wants to remove all false confidence so that we put our hope only in Him. God will shake all that can be shaken so as to “force” the whole world into a corner of desperation where they cannot find any solution apart from Him.
In Joel 1:13 – 14, Joel called the people to “Come, lie all night in sackcloth” as they fast and gather in solemn assembly. They were to gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord to cry out in prayer. This was in the light of the continuation of the devastating effects of a locust plague and drought.
In Joel 2, He calls them to the same response of fasting and prayer in the light of a coming military invasion by the Babylonians. This is also a passage to call Israel to victory and deliverance as they live in the time of the Antichrist’s reign of terror (Joel 3).
Turn to God with Wholeheartedness (Joel 2:12 – 13)
God requires that we turn to Him with wholeheartedness and to love Him with all of our heart (Matt. 22:37). He requires that we respond to His love for us by loving Him. God wants our heart more than anything else. This is powerful just in itself. The fact that He desires our love more than anything reveals His heart. It is in giving our hearts to Him as an offering of love that He delivers us. When His people turn from sin and darkness, we flee from all that is adversarial against God.
God gives us insight into what “turning to Him with all our heart” looks like. It involves turning to God in repenting, fasting, and prayer. This is God’s definition of wholeheartedness. This is resisted by many in the Body of Christ today. A fasted lifestyle is an unfamiliar discipline for the Church of Jesus Christ today.
Rend Your Heart (Joel 2:13)
Rending our hearts before God is a non-optional part of wholeheartedness. To rend means to tear something violently or forcibly. When we violently tear our heart away from areas of sin, we align ourselves with what God requires. Traditionally, the people would tear their garment to show their grief and desperation. What God desires is the tearing of the heart which speaks of spiritual violence and dealing radically with the matters of the heart (Matt. 11:12).
Joel cried out, “Tear your heart! If there is an issue that is quenching the Holy Spirit, get rid of it!” This speaks symbolically of “radical tearing” like what Jesus said in Matt. 5:29, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out… and if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” He was talking about a radical pursuit of righteousness that painfully tears the heart in the process. In other words, God wants us to radically forsake all compromise! Some people pursue wholeheartedness in such a casual way that it allows for compromise. Some want a wholeheartedness that is gentle, easy, and tame.
There is often pain when we cooperate with the Lord to pull out the whole root system of bondage in our lives. Sometimes it hurts to press through until we get a breakthrough, yet it is the only way to freedom. Some would rather not change their lifestyle in their quest for freedom. We want the Lord to cause our problems to evaporate without any cost or struggle or without the pain of tearing our hearts. The pain of tearing the heart is often overlooked. We do not mind fasting a few meals or giving a few hours to cry out in the prayer room. Yet the tearing of the heart is so intensely personal. The Lord will empower us in our efforts, as we cooperate by rending our hearts.
God the Father tore His heart in sending Jesus. His heart is also torn in His patient long suffering with His people. He sees His people refuse to repent; this causes Him to suffer as He waits for them to respond. Jesus tore His heart when He went to the cross. God wants us to tear our heart in love for Him. God does not love us in a detached, distant way, but He tears His heart in His pursuit of us.
Confidence in God’s Kindness and Mercy (Joel 2:13 – 14)
Joel summons the people to return to the Lord, giving five reasons why this is doable and wise – God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, of great kindness and relents from doing harm. He desires to make a way of deliverance. The knowledge of God’s heart for us gives us courage to tear our hearts in repentance. If we take one step towards Him, He will take ten steps toward us.
The Lord is gracious. He evaluates us differently from anyone else. He remembers our frailty and that we are but dust (Ps. 103:14). He is not like a harsh military leader or the angry coach that rejects any form of weakness. God is “human-friendly” in His style of relating to us. His requirements are within the reach of the weak with the grace of God (1 John 5:4; Mat. 11:30).
The Lord delights in mercy. One of God’s favorite dimensions of leading the universe is watching the expressions and the heart responses of His people as they encounter His relentless mercy. He enjoys what happens in us when we understand that we get a new start after many failures. (Mic. 7:18)
The Lord is slow to anger and takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11). He looks for ways to forgive them without violating their free will and His justice. God is not easily provoked by our weakness. Jesus spoke of His patience to the Church in Thyatira. (Rev. 2:20 – 22)
The Lord has great kindness. When we believe in God’s kindness, then we have confidence to press through the hindrances to our full repentance. We can also ask Him to help us repent. (Rom. 2:4)
The Lord Relents from Doing Harm (Joel 2:13)
God desires to relent so as to not release the deserved judgment that He prepared for a nation. When a city rises up and repents before the Lord, the Lord is able to send blessing to them without violating His justice or their free will. This does not mean that God randomly changes His mind, surprising even Himself in the process. Rather, it means that He honors the free will of man without violating His justice.
There are two stages in God’s decrees. First, the decree is established in the heavenly court. Second, it is issued as God releases angels to execute the judgment. Under certain conditions, the decree can be cancelled even after it was established. (Zeph. 2:1 – 3)
God is willing to relent or to cancel the decree instead of issuing it. Through prayer, God changes the decree He initially establishes in the heavenly courts. The course of events or the end result can be changed.
One of the great examples of God’s willingness to relent is found in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Upon learning of God’s intentions to judge the city, Abraham asked the Lord if He would relent and save it if there were only fifty righteous people in it. The Lord said that He would, so Abraham pressed the question – “If there were only ten righteous in the city, would You spare them?” The Lord told Abraham that He would (Gen. 18:22 – 33).
The place of immunity from the judgment of God is to live in His favor. Jesus’ work on the cross provides us with the gift of righteousness (2 Cor. 5:17 – 21). This is necessary to receive God’s favor.
Gather the People and Sanctify the Congregation (Joel 2:15 – 16)
God will release His favor to geographic areas as a result of the people in that area coming to Him over the years in love through corporate intercessory worship. Joel calls the people to corporate wholeheartedness. This is in context to the national crisis they were facing. The greatest place of safety in the earth is in the midst of a company of people living in long-term, corporate wholeheartedness to God. I am committed to be in the midst of a people who are developing a corporate, long-term history in wholeheartedness before God.
The Mysterious “Perhaps of God” Releasing “Pockets of Mercy” (Joel 2:13 – 14)
God wants to turn from judgment and leave a blessing. In other words, God wants to transform a would-be “disaster zone” into a “revival center”. This is the mystery of the grace of God. The Lord is not trying to keep us guessing, as if it were a game. Rather, He knows the full implication of all that is involved in releasing His judgment in a specific geographic area.
He has many reasons behind His actions and His silence. He relents from judgment in specific geographic areas according to the response of His people. He invites us to trust His heart, press into seeking Him in prayer and trust that He is merciful.
There are three steps in our partnership with God. First, God initiates what He wants by declaring it in His Word and stirring our hearts. Second, we respond in obedience and prayer to God’s initiative. Third, God answers our responses by releasing more blessings that He would have withheld until He heard our cries.
In Joel’s day, in light of the Babylonian invasion that Israel faced, God invited them to cry out to Him on the premise that perhaps He would provide pockets of mercy in the midst of the invasion. Perhaps He would give cities of refuge. Perhaps He will leave a blessing behind Him (Joel 2:14). In other words, maybe He will take the place that would be a “disaster zone” and transform it into a “revival center”, making it a place of sovereign blessing.
Blow the trumpet in Zion – boldly proclaim the coming judgment and call a solemn assembly.
Gather the people (including the children) and assemble the elders. God’s exhortation is that no one be exempt from crying out to Him, since none of these will be exempt from the coming crisis and judgment.
Consecrate a fast – fasting positions our hearts to experience the grace of God in a greater way.
Call a sacred or solemn assembly – gatherings that are sacred in their priority on our schedules. It is not a time for business as usual in the way that the leaders conduct their ministries.
Sanctify the congregation – when we sanctify people under our leadership, we lay aside ministry programs to make seeking God the top priority in terms of time, money and work force.
Give Yourself to Earnest Prayer (Joel 2:17)
Joel calls the priests or the leadership to lead the people in earnest prayer. God does not want prayers out of duty or by routine. We cry out for His visitation and mercy with earnest hearts. This particular prayer was to stop a coming military invasion, so that the nations would not rule over Israel. In Joel’s day, it was in light of the military invasion from Babylon.
Joel gives us two specific prayers that the priests were to pray in light of the coming crisis.
First, “Spare Your people, O God!” This is the cry for God to release supernatural protection, provision and direction to His people.
Second, “Do not give Your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is your God?’” We ask the Lord not to let the nations of the earth mock the people of God as though God were not real to us. We remind the Lord that His own reputation is at stake; we beseech Him to come to the vindication of His people for the sake of His name! For He wants to bring glory to His Son’s name by vindicating His prayerful saints, showing Himself to be the One who is present with those who fear Him.
The way that the harvest will come in from all nations is when the unbelievers recognize that believers have been given a dynamic love relationship with a God who acts on behalf of His people. They will recognize that those who obey Him experience His power.
When the people of God come together to seek Him in wholehearted corporate prayer and fasting, God will hear and answer. Before the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, Jesus told the disciples to tarry in the upper room in prayers (Acts 1:8). His disciples pressed in together for ten days of night and day prayer before the Holy Spirit came upon them suddenly in power! Of course their ten days of prayers came in the kairos prophetic timing of God.
We are going to see this same divine pattern play out again in our days! People with wholehearted love for God who gather in long term corporate prayer and fasting will lead to His unprecedented power breaking forth in our days.
A “suddenly” of God comes in response to the people of God. What we see in Acts 1 and 2 is the pattern described by the prophet Joel. First, God’s people gather in consecration, fasting and prayer, believing and claiming the promise of God (Joel 2:12 – 17). Then suddenly the power of God breaks in!
The promise of unprecedented outpouring of God’s Spirit in Joel 2:28 – 32 is the result of the response of God’s people in Joel 2:12 – 17!
May God grant us the spirit of the sons of Issachar, so that we will have understanding of the times, to know what to do (1Chron. 12:32). Let us rise up in such a time as this, responding to His call to gather in solemn assemblies in corporate intercession and worship!
If you are looking for corporate assemblies to gather in prayer, check out our meeting schedule here! We welcome you to join us in engaging of hearts in intercessory prayer. Our sessions are free and open to the public.