When our schedules line up and we're all home at the same time, which doesn't happen as much as I would like it to, our family will often sit down to watch something on TV together before calling it a night. Recently, we had the opportunity to do this, so we selected a police drama to watch.
Part of the premise of the episode had to do with one of the main characters getting a new job that came with a high amount of authority. As the episode progressed, we were shown how he chose to use that authority. Thankfully, he used it for good, and the other characters made a point to express their appreciation and relief for the thoughtful way he was exercising the responsibilities that come with leadership. One of the characters even made a point to say that he was treating them with more respect than his demeaning predecessors did.
I realize that this was all acting, but the actors were portraying a scenario that we can all identify with. Most of us have experienced what it feels like to be treated poorly, taken advantage of, and demeaned. It's miserable, and in those moments we're often grateful when those who have the power to intervene on our behalf do so. But while we wait for that intervention, we often languish and grieve.
The people of Judah and Israel knew what it was like to be treated poorly. They were familiar with the experience of being oppressed by others, but in Joel 3:1-8, the Lord demonstrates His desire to take care of His children when they've been treated poorly. How does He do this? What does He do?
I. He restores their fortunes
The events described in this portion of Joel's book speak of future events. In this prophetic account, we're being told of days that are yet to come. Throughout the book, Joel makes repeated references to "the day of the Lord." This is a general way to describe the coming time when God will judge sin, establish the earthly reign of Christ, and restore creation. That season will begin with tribulation and conflict, but will end with glory and peace. This is the time Joel refers to in these verses.
Historically, the Lord has promised to bless the people of Judah and Israel. And through them, He has likewise promised to bless the world. From humble beginnings, the Lord raised up the Jewish people, made them numerous, gave them land, protected their heritage, sent them prophets, sent His Son to be born through the tribe of Judah, and promised them great blessings in Him. But historically, look at how the nations have treated the Jews.
In just about every major segment of history, you can find examples of the Jewish people being oppressed. You can read through historical accounts from thousands of years ago, hundreds of years ago, and dozens of years ago, and the same thing keeps happening. People set themself against the Jewish people with irrational hatred and selfish disdain. When I consider the reasons why this happens, I'm convinced that the primary reason is spiritual. I think people are being used as pawns by the spiritual forces of Satan that resent the favor of God being shown to His people.
Thankfully, the Lord sees the oppression of His people and does something about it. We're told in this passage that the day will come when the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem will be restored. I think there's a physical and a spiritual component to this promise. I'm convinced that the Lord is going to fulfill this promise in the material sense, but I also believe He is going to bless the people of Judah with the riches of His grace. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ through them at the time of His first coming, and when Christ returns, there is going to be a great harvest of faith among the people of Judah as they realize that Jesus truly is their long-promised Messiah.
II. He calls their oppressors to account
When I was growing up, I was mischievous. I'd like to say I've grown out of that, but I don't think I have done so fully. But in my mischief, I would frequently try to outsmart my parents. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I didn't. And when I was caught in my mischief, I dreaded hearing my father call out my name, "Johnny, come here!" I knew I was going to pay for my rebellion. Now, as a father myself, I get to be the one calling out the mischief makers in my own home.
There is going to come a day when the Lord is going to call those who have oppressed His people to give an account. Joel speaks of the nations being brought down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat to be judged by God. The Apostle John speaks of the Lord holding the nations of this world to account as well.
I have to say that while I tremble to a degree when I read prophesies like these, I'm also grateful to know that the Lord isn't going to let injustice prevail. Joel speaks of the people of God, both adults and children, being sold for material pleasures. The dehumanizing injustice of that account is disturbing when we consider that people have actually experienced being treated like this.
I find it comforting to know that we have a God who sees this all, and at the perfect time will righteously respond. And while I might be tempted to ask Him to speed up His agenda, I can trust Him to respond at the perfect moment, in the perfect manner. We will all give an account of our lives to the Lord, and He will hold those who have oppressed His people accountable.
III. He takes note of those who worked against Him
Do you have an enemies list? Do you keep a mental, or even a written tally of those who have hurt you, lied to you, or worked against you? It's more common to have an enemies list than not. History famously tells us that President Richard Nixon maintained a list of political enemies, and he stoked the fires of his disdain for them.
If you have a mental or written list of enemies, I would encourage you to throw it away, or even better, transform it. Turn your enemies list into a prayer list. Pray for them, because when it comes down to it, we don't really have enemies. Everyone you have ever met, even those who have hurt you, are in the same boat as you. We are all people who make mistakes. We are all sinners in desperate need of the Savior, Jesus Christ. We all come from the same two people, and we all struggle with unrighteousness.
God, on the other hand, does have those who have set themselves against Him as real enemies, and only He is justified to ultimately judge unrighteousness because only He is perfectly righteous. So when He speaks here of the people and nations that have worked against Him, He is shown to be correct when He also mentions that He remembers their unrighteousness and continues to hold it against them.
Aren't you glad that we don't need to enter into eternity with our sin held against us like the people of Tyre and Sidon who are spoken of in this passage?
Have you been reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ? Have you accepted the pardon for your sin that Christ generously makes available to you? Or will you proudly and stubbornly enter into eternity as an unpardoned enemy of God like the people of Tyre and Sidon?
IV. He stirs up those who were downcast
I love the promises of God that we see in this passage of Scripture. Even though the people of Judah and Jerusalem were removed from their own borders and treated with contempt, the Lord promises to one day stir them up and grant them His favor. The Lord stirs up the downcast. He promised to do that for Judah, and I'm grateful that He can do that for us as well.
My wife and I are friends with someone who has experienced some of the greatest trials of her life over the past year, and it's been interesting to see how she responded. At first she was upset, but she chose not to remain in a state of perpetual defeat. She gave her disappointment and grief over to the Lord, and it's clear that He has been working in her heart and life. She is welcoming the Lord's intervention in her life, and He has been stirring her up to approach this new season of life with genuine joy and visible hope.
This portion of God's word reminds us that the Lord takes care of those who were treated poorly. It's clear that He has plans to do this for the people of Judah, but are we also willing to trust that He would care enough for us to treat us with the same level of fatherly compassion?
© John Stange, 2019