Joel is tantalizingly sparse on specifics. Israel’s sin and key figures during his ministry? Nothing. Yet, Joel is able to plumb the depths of the biblical story. Following his call, we are confronted with reference to a plague of locusts. Is this reference to the plague brought by God in Exodus as part of the liberation of God’s people from slavery in Egypt? Maybe. Is this reference to some swarm of locusts that’s plagued God’s people since? Maybe. Without catching our breath comes another biblical illusion; the image of God’s people being afflicted by a conquering foe. Are these times past; present; or future? Are these the Philistines of old? The Babylonians of present? Or the Romans to come? Maybe.
Joel remains sparse in his details yet rich in his connection to the biblical story. The biblical narrative is scintillating in its ability to spiral through time and space speaking to the trials and tribulations of generations in fresh and invigorating ways. No matter where or when you find yourself, this story Joel bears witness to is your story. It invites you to see yourself as a character in the narrative. The plagues of Egypt, the conquering adversaries, the tempting of injustice are here with you now.
Chapter 1 in the book of Joel invites us to the same thing, repentance. Literally a stopping, a turning around, and a return to the source. This was Luther’s call in the Reformation, to return to the source. Likewise, it is the call of Joel and the other preachy prophets; to return to the source, God’s mercy for God’s people. The source of the biblical story that weaves its way from the brickyards of Egypt, along the wilderness roads of the exodus, into the land flowing with milk and honey, and on into the ordinary and the extraordinary of your life. Return to the source; to the God who calls you into existence, who names and claims you in the waters of baptism, who is more willing to forgive than we are to ask, who wishes that we have life abundantly.
Jonathan Schnibben is the pastor at Good Shepherd, Mount Holly. In addition to writing devotions for the synod and afflicting his congregation with jokes that aren’t really that funny, he also can be found hosting a Podcast, Ground Up Faith, where he has authentic conversations with the peculiar people, places, and practices of Christianity.
1. Review your own story in light of the biblical story. Where are places where your story connects with the story of God and God’s people?
2. How has the mercy that has come to God’s people in the biblical story been made fresh for you today?
God, your story comes to me afresh each morning. As you have poured out mercy on your people at all times, give me the eyes of faith to see that mercy coming to me today. Amen.