Has not the food been cut off before our very eyes— joy and gladness from the house of our God? The seeds are shriveled beneath the clods. The storehouses are in ruins, the granaries have been broken down, for the grain has dried up. How the cattle moan! The herds mill about because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep are suffering. To you, Lord , I call, for fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness and flames have burned up all the trees of the field. Even the wild animals pant for you; the streams of water have dried up and fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness. – Joel 1:16-20
Welcome to the book of Joel! I have not really spent much time reading this book so I am looking forward to the bends and backwaters that God reveals here. Apparently Joel’s name means “one to whom YHWH is God,” that is, a worshiper of YHWH, the Hebrew name for God. Joel’s “claim to fame” if you will is in Peter’s reference to the book (Joel 2:28-32) at Pentecost when he invoked God’s promise to “pour out my spirit upon all flesh”. Joel is considered one of the “minor prophets”, but based on the meaning of his name alone I have major hopes for his message.
The book of Joel begins with the admonition to “all who live in the land” to “tell it to your children”, referring to the prophecies and messages in the book. Today’s passage follows a rather graphic description of some sort of invasion and sacking of the land, presumably the region of Israel and/or Judah. The end result is a “drying up” of the land and a loss of the “new wine”. It seems there is a general loss of joy and a hopelessness that is to descend on the land and its people.
Joel’s response to all of this is to call on God for help, “To you, Lord , I call.” There is a sense that the proper order of things is out of whack, “Even the wild animals pant for you”. I am not sure what this means, or even looks like, but it does not sound good. I am reminded of the Psalm about the deer panting for water “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1-5). In the Psalms the thirsty deer was a metaphor for our thirsty souls. I think the same is true here, all of us “wild animals” are to be thirsty for God.
Amidst all the outward signs of calamity, like “fire devouring pastures” and “streams drying up” I think God’s message through Joel is that the true calamity here is a spiritual one. God wants to use this adversity to channel the hearts of His people (their souls) toward Himself. God wants to have souls that seek Him out in the midst of physical discomfort and distress. The paradox is that God is both seeking us out and desiring us to seek and pursue Him – a celestial game of spiritual hide and seek.
Prayer: God please reveal hidden truths in the words that you shared though Joel and help me to understand them.