There is this value in the study of Joel—that he touches nearly the whole round of the Christian year, or which is the same thing, of Christian experience. Joel is the prophet of the great repentance, of the Pentecostal gift, and of the final conflict of great principles.
He brings a message for Lent, for Whitsuntide, and for Advent. We hear the words—‘Turn ye to the Lord.’ We read of the outpouring of the Spirit, and we shall not be less earnest for missions when we recall that promise given us by Joel—‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.’ We may mark the multitudes gathered in the valley of decision.
I. Of the man himself and his ago we know practically nothing.—The man is little more than a name to us. His father was Pethuel—that is all. What manner of man?—in what rank of life?—what forces or gifts of frame he possessed?—we cannot tell. The date assigned to him has been as early as Joash, and as late as after the Exile. The tendency of recent opinion is towards the later date; but for our purpose he is Joel, the son of Pethuel; and he is nothing more to us.
This is, perhaps, the more strange because he was a successful prophet. He accomplished a remarkable moral revolution; he announced the great illumination of the Holy Spirit; he spoke of the great conflict of history. His words, so far as this goes, did not fall on dull ears. He spoke; the people heard. All classes, ages, and degrees joined in the solemn service; they adopted his words, and prayed as he bade them. His ascendancy was complete—I had almost said unique, compared with the broken and doubtful supremacy of other prophets. And yet of this successful prophet we know, as I have said, just nothing.
II. One reflection here is simple enough. What are we compared with the work?—The temple of God has to be built: stones—living stones—converted and regenerated men and women—are to form the material of that sanctuary. When the temple is built, who asks the names of the workmen who laid the separate stones? Will it not be enough for us, when we see the noble proportions and dazzling beauty of the divinely-royal building, that we have been privileged to place a single stone there? The joy of the true prophet is like that of the Baptist. He (the Lord and Master) must increase. What matter if I decrease, or I be forgotten, so long as their growth in joy is fulfilled?
Where this spirit of self-suppression is, there is power. No dim or uncertain thought mars the concentration of purpose. Feebler or more selfish natures dread to lose self,—shrink from sitting in King Arthur’s chair—but Sir Galahad saw its meaning and understood its transforming power, and how it gave in seeming to take away, and he sat within the chair where all self died away, saying, ‘If I lose myself—I find myself.’
III. Another reflection may arise from our ignorance here.—We scarcely know the date in which he lived, but this is not necessary for understanding the direction and drift of his ministry. The spiritual value of many things is independent of chronology. Doubtless if we could settle his era with accuracy we should more clearly understand some of his allusions, and enter with a more minute appreciation into the significance of some of his phrases; but the broad features of his teaching, the force, value, and method of his ministry, are singularly independent of these details.
III. What then is his message?—He teaches spiritual principles, not for an age but for all time.
(1) He is a prophet of rebuke and repentance. In this indeed he does not stand alone. Few prophets were otherwise; but Joel calls to the people, and so influences them that they gather to a great day of humiliation.
(2) The prophet gave guidance to people’s thoughts and pointed the significance of the calamity.
Mere trouble does not melt the heart or subdue the will, but startling troubles which come to disturb the monotony of indolently-expected prosperity are nevertheless messengers of the Lord. The day of calamity, if rightly understood, is the day of the Lord. Another prophet speaks the same truth. There were those who imagined that the day of the Lord could only mean prosperous times. The day of the Lord, said Amos, is darkness and not light.
The day of the Lord is described by Joel as a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness.
The calamity broke up two of the accustomed orders of life. The gifts of nature’s order—the harvest of corn and wine—are snatched away. The usages of religious order are suspended.
It is on this which the prophet fastens. True, the chains which bind the people to their God are broken; the order of natural bounties is disturbed. Heaven no longer gives food, and man deems that he can no longer win the favour of Heaven by gifts since the daily offering is cut off.
May not the suspension of the accustomed order of things be the witness to the existence of the highest order—the righteous order in which the righteous God rules?
Thus this calamity is indeed the day of the Lord! It calls man to repair the bond which is more precious than the bond of benefits or material gifts and sacrifices.
(3) Here we may pause and consider how hard it is boldly to rebuke vice in such a sort as to lead men to repentance. It is hard to maintain this power of rebuke. It is hard also to maintain the purity of this power. Rebuke of men’s sins so easily enlists the assistance of our personal feelings. When once this unholy alliance is permitted we assail men rather than men’s vices.
Bishop Boyd Carpenter.
‘Pictorial, dramatic, awe-inspiring is the utterance of this prophet’s soul. The effect is that of soul-disturbing music—mysterious, tragic, solemnising, yet uplifting. In Joel we have a new and thrilling chapter in the age-long story of man’s sense of God. Here is a soul aflame with the vision of God’s nearness to the life of the world. The historic setting of this inspired truth-teller and his word of God may be obscure, but Joel’s vivid sense of God abides to inspire all who have ears to hear God’s varied messages to man. Be the vision twenty-three hundred or six and twenty hundred years old, the spirit of man can still be touched by its vision of God to reverence, humility, and hope.’