Gird yourselves with sackcloth And lament, O priests; Wail, O ministers of the altar! Come, spend the night in sackcloth O ministers of my God, For the grain offering and the drink offering Are withheld from the house of your God.Joel 1:13(NASB)
The book of Joel begins with his deep lament over the formerly fruitful land of Israel. The prophet visualises progressive swarms of locusts invading the beautiful land and devastating the vineyard and fig-groves. He understood this to be a warning to God's people that their gross apostasy and rebellion against the Lord would not go unpunished.
Joel foresaw a time of unprecedented severity approaching, and even announced that the Temple sacrifices and drink offerings in the House of God would cease. The coming devastation would touch the lives of everyone, and the prophet grieved deeply that the sound of rejoicing and the praises of God's people would no longer resound throughout the city.
Joel's prolonged lament over the coming judgement developed into a call for the priests, ministers of the Temple, and all the people to lament over the sorry state of a nation. He exhorted them to turn its back on the Lord. "Gird yourselves with sackcloth," he cried, "and lament, O priests. Wail, O you ministers of the altar! Come and spend the night in sackcloth O ministers of my God, for the grain offering and the drink offering are withheld from the house of your God."
Even at this last stage of Israel's advancing apostacy, the people received a divine call through Joel, to confess their sin, repent of their evil ways, and return to the Lord. It is never too late for a sinner to turn from sin. It is never too late for a Christian to return into fellowship with the Lord. But it must be a turning-away from sin that is birthed in a mind that mourns over sin with genuine grief. It must flow from a heart that is determined to return to trusting God in thought, word, and deed, "for blessed are they that mourn over their sin, for they shall be comforted."
The people of Israel, who were being chastened by the Lord fell into a number of categories. There were those who believed the Word of the Lord and were credited with righteousness, but they had left their first love. They had become carnal in their walk. This group were urged to call on the name of the Lord... to cry out to Him in faith confessing their sin, while turning back to Him - for if a believer confesses his sin, God is faithful and just to forgive his many sins and cleanse him from all unrighteousness.
For those who had not yet believed on the name of the Lord, the prophet's call was to confess their sinfulness and need of salvation - to believe God's WORD. They were to trust in the Lord and obey His command. Both pre-Cross and post-Resurrection sinners have to reach the point where they confess their need of God - confess that they are a sinner in need of salvation - for only those who believe on His name for forgiveness through Christ, are credited with His righteousness.
When the people of God forget their position and privileges, they are ripe for judgement. Israel may have been promised abundant blessings from the Lord, but they were also guaranteed severe discipline if they broke their covenant with Him. Unlike Israel, believers today are not bound by the restrictions of the Law, but we are required to recognise our sin and confess it to the Lord. We are charged to eschew all forms of evil, to walk in the light of His love, and to present our bodies as living sacrifices that are holy and acceptable to the Lord.
However, like Israel, we are God's people and can expect Him to chasten us when we leave our first love, participate in carnal pursuits, go astray in our Christian walk, or engage in fleshly activities and worldly ways. We are commanded to live in a manner that honours His name, but unlike Israel, we already have the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth and to carry out the good work that God has prepared for us to walk in.
This warning lament from Joel was partially fulfilled when the nation went into Babylonian captivity, but there are elements of his prophecy that still lie in the future, and will be fully realised during 'the great and terrible Day of the Lord' - the coming 'time of Jacob's Trouble'.
We pray that the blinded people of Israel will turn from their ungodly ways and come to faith in the true Messiah, and we pray that God would work in the hearts and lives of His people, the Church, so that each one of us will be found unblemished and spotless in His eyes and be diligent to be found in Him - in peace, without spot and wrinkle, for His name's sake.
Heavenly Father, how blessed I am to have found my rest in You and to live under Your sufficient grace. Lord, there are times when I have failed to live righteously and I confess that I have not trusted You as I ought. Keep me from falling back into the sin of worry and unbelief, like the people of Israel. Prevent me from trying to sort out my life in my own strength, instead of trusting in Your Word. Thank You that You are MY God and that in You I have all that I need for life and righteousness. Help me to walk in Your ways and honour Your holy name. In Christ's name I pray, AMEN.