2020 has continued to be a difficult year of hard times.
The rise of COVID-19 and the restrictions in place to slow the spread of it have added a new layer of complexity to this year’s hard times.
My personal hard times this year involve the loss of a grandmother, a coworker, and now a beloved pet.
I could not travel to be with family when my grandmother passed because of COVID restrictions.
My coworker’s passing from cancer came shockingly swift after the point of diagnosis.
And my husband and I, along with a veterinarian’s guidance, had to make the tough call to say goodbye to our sweet Molly, an Australian Shepherd mix.
I have also been dealing with an injured bicep that makes it challenging to do not only my day job, but also my writing pursuits and basic household chores.
My body and soul ache.
COVID-19 restrictions add to the stress of it all.
There are days when, much like the cat in the picture above, I desire to find an escape hatch.
It is not unusual to go through hard times. Everyone does.
How can our study of Joel help us put our current hard times into perspective?
Joel 2:3 describes something significantly worse than any of the above hard times I have experienced thus far this year:
ESV Joel 2:3 Fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden before them, but behind them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them.
Chapter one of Joel had also mentioned the power of fire:
ESV Joel 1:19-20 To you, O LORD, I call. For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and flame has burned all the trees of the field. 20 Even the beasts of the field pant for you because the water brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness.
What details does Joel 2:3 add to this fire imagery?
- Fire came in front of the advancing army.
- Fire continues to burn after the army.
- The land was previously lush and bountiful like the Lord’s garden of Eden.
ESV Genesis 2:8-9 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
- The land is now barren and wild.
- There is no escape from the army’s consuming fire.
Did you catch that last one?
The hard times the Judean community are experiencing are inescapable!
What is the point of this imagery the Lord sent to them and now us?
A technical word for what is being described here is theophany. Theophany is a visible manifestation of deity.
The first Biblical reference of fire representing the presence of the Lord is found in Genesis:
ESV Genesis 15:17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.
The setting in Genesis 15 is God’s initiating a covenant with Abram. The smoking fire pot and flaming torch mentioned above is the Lord walking between butchered animals as a symbolic means of saying this is what will happen if the covenant between Him and Abram is broken.
Examples of other covenantal treaties usually have both parties agreeing to the covenant to walk amongst the butchered animals. Signifying that if either party failed to meet the terms of the covenant that the party that had remained faithful had the right to do to the one who broke it what had been done to the animals.
But in this case, it is only the Lord who walks between the butchery.
What does that communicate?
This means that the Lord is saying that even if Abram, or descendants of Abram, break the covenantal agreement the Lord initiated, it will be the Lord who is to experience the consequences.
Wait…if that is the case, then why is the Lord coming in attack on the Judean community in the book of Joel?
As we continue to study Joel, we will learn about a future hope that was promised to the Judean community and later accomplished through Christ in the gospel narratives.
Meanwhile, how can we put all this disturbing imagery from both Genesis and Joel together in a way that helps us better understand the Lord, our relationship to the Lord, and a proper perspective in our current hard times?
- Could it be the Lord is reminding the Judeans and now us that He is not to be taken lightly?
- Could it be the Lord is reminding the Judeans and now us that He has a plan?
- Could it be the Lord is reminding the Judeans and now us that He not only has a plan but the power to see it through?
So far in 2020, none of the hard times I have experienced come even remotely close to the challenges the Judeans face in the book of Joel.
Am I hurting? Of course. Do I want to escape at times? Of course.
Perhaps you too have had hard times this year or even in the past that still stir either physical or soul anguish. And possibly a desire to escape?
The Lord knows your struggles and has a plan for working all things out for ultimate good.
When facing current hard times or past ones, keep these words of Christ close:
ESV John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
- Names and Their Meaning: Joel 1:1
- Breaking News : Joel 1:2
- Sharing Stories : Joel 1:3
- Current Crisis : Joel 1:4
- Shortages Today : Joel 1:5
- Gone Viral : Joel 1:6
- Vulnerable: Joel 1:7
- Heartbreak: Joel 1:8
- Cut Off: Joel 1:9
- What is Essential? Joel 1:10
- Shame, Distress, or Despair Joel 1:11
- What is Joy? Joel 1:12
- Dressing for Spiritual Leadership Joel 1:13
- Crying Out Joel 1:14
- Perspectives and Opinions Joel 1:15
- Emotions Joel 1:16
- Neglect Joel 1:17
- Even the Sheep Suffer Joel 1:18
- Fire Joel 1:19
- Soul Thirst Joel 1:20
- It’s Coming! Joel 2:1
- Thunderstorms Joel 2:2