Joel 2:1-3, 12-17

There are times in life when we were at the end of our rope, when we are hanging on to life by our fingernails. Joel is speaking to the children of Israel at such a time. They had just endured a terrible pestilence of a locust plague and now they are living in fear of another coming cataclysmic event that could bring doom and destruction to all of Israel. What is one to do in such dire circumstances? Joel’s message is simple and straightforward: when you do not know where to turn for help, return to the Lord!

How does one do that? For Joel the answer begins with prayer and fasting and he provides very specific instructions as to what to say and even what to wear. But for Joel what is of utmost importance for a true returning to the Lord is a redirection of the heart. The outward practices of piety are not condemned by Joel, but what is most essential has to do with one’s inner spirit. The outer show of faith is inauthentic unless the disposition of one’s true self is focused upon God’s love.

Why should one return to the Lord? Joel’s answer in verses 12-13 is that we should return to the Lord because of what God is like. “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” One is reminded of the return of the prodigal son who went home because he remembered what his father was like; then in coming home he found his father running down the road to welcome him with a fond embrace. In our desperate hours Joel provides for us a helpful roadmap home.

Prayer: Lord, help us in our times of desperation to return to you and your merciful love.

Tom Graves