Is there “justice for all” in America? In the aftermath of the Grand Jury investigation in Ferguson, Missouri clearing Officer Darren Wilson of all charges in the shooting death of Michael Brown, that is the unresolved question for many. Unfortunately, the larger issue of inequality in America has clouded this case so that opinions were formed apart from facts.
Ironically, the emphasis on judgment in the Old Testament prophets is what gives hope in this world of injustice and inequality. This is Good News, part of the Gospel, that one day, there will be justice for all. God is the judge of all nations and all people. No injustice in any society will be left unresolved on the day of God’s final judgment.
The time and setting for the prophecy of Joel cannot be stated with certainty. Some suggest it was as far back as the 9th century BC so that he would have been a contemporary of Elisha. Was it in the 8th century BC when Assyria threatened the northern kingdom of Israel? Or the late 7th, early 6th century BC when Babylon threatened Jerusalem? In both cases, mighty armies destroyed the two kingdoms of Israel. But whatever the setting, the devastation is total, likened to an invasion of locusts that destroys every plant, an economic devastation leading to extreme famine.
But this is more than “natural” causes as Joel introduces the “day of the LORD”
Alas for that day!
For the day of the Lord is near;
it will come like destruction from the Almighty. 1:15
Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy hill.
Let all who live in the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand—
2 a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains
a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times
nor ever will be in ages to come. 2:1, 2
Joel, whose name means “the LORD is God,” makes it clear that ultimately, God is sovereign over the nations, using other nations to judge his own rebellious people, yet not as the final judgment, but as a loving call to repentance.
12 “Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
13 Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent
and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
for the Lord your God. 2:12-14
Reading further, we discover that God promises restoration and blessing, the return of rains and fruitfulness to the land, producing an abundance of food and wine.
But as you read Joel, you can’t avoid the fact that this prophecy is looking beyond that day to the last days, ultimately looking to the coming of Christ, the Gospel era, followed by the the restoration of the earth, probably the millennium of Revelation 20 when Christ reigns on earth as the second David, ruling with justice and righteousness. But look at the progression.
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
30 I will show wonders in the heavens
and on the earth,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
31 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
32 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
there will be deliverance,
as the Lord has said,
even among the survivors
whom the Lord calls. 2:22-32
The only other specific reference to the prophet Joel by name is in Peter’s inaugural sermon on the day of Pentecost after the Holy Spirit came on the original 120 believers, who had “tongues of fire” appear on them, who were “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Acts 2:1-4. Peter began his message with a defense against the rather silly charge of drunkenness as the explanation for these phenomena, offering instead the explanation that this fulfilled Joe’s prophecy of what will happen in “the last days.” Acts 2:17
“last days” in the Bible commonly refers to the last era, which began with the first advent of Jesus and continues until the second advent when Christ comes as king, followed by final judgment, the separation of all people into eternal heaven or hell, then the new heavens and the new earth.
The Good News Gospel of Joel certainly includes the promise of ultimate justice, but even more it appeal to all people to repent with the glorious promise,
“And whoever calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” 2:32
Joel does not explain the foundation for this salvation as Isaiah does,
“a man of sorrows… pierced for our transgressions…crushed for our iniquities… the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all… For he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:3, 5, 6, 12
Peter explains the phenomena of the Holy Spirit by appealing to Joel, then declare the crucified and risen Jesus as the great saving act of God for His people, then goes back to Joel for the invitation.
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Paul picks up Joel’s language in Romans 10:13 – Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.”