Joel 1 – Welcome Back to the Sad Zone

Joel 1 Bible with Theo 70 percent Dark Chocolate

Today’s Chocolate: Theo 70% Dark Chocolate

Today’s PassageJoel 1

The last time we saw the Sad Zone–also known as the Cry Hole–it was on an individual level, yet it was the subject of a song to be performed in a communal religious context. Today though, the prophet Joel begins his message to Israel by calling for a nationwide Sad Zone.

This prerogative is usually reserved for kings. At times in Israel’s history, we see its rulers institute periods of national mourning. Joel, however, is merely a prophet with a message from the Lord. He doesn’t have the audacity to order the king himself to join the sad festivities of the Sad Zone, but he enjoins alcohol enthusiasts (5), priests (9, 13), farmers (11), and in fact everyone living in Israel (14) to turn the nation into one giant Cry Hole. Even the elders (14) are to be invited to the mass lamentation. The sorrow is to be all-encompassing.

But what’s the reason for sorrow? Locusts. Joel prophesies: “What the gnawing locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten; and what the swarming locust has left, the creeping locust has eaten; and what the creeping locust has left, the stripping locust has eaten” (4). The farmers will see their crops devastated; the drunkards will have their wine cut off as the locusts devour the vineyards; the priests will have nothing to sacrifice for their grain and drink offerings. “Has not food been cut off before our eyes, gladness and joy from the house of our God?” (16) Joel asks. When basic sustenance dies, joy dies with it, and when scarcity and famine come marching through the door, they turn the house into a Sad Zone.

It’s not readily apparent from the first chapter whether the locusts come as punishment. Should we read them as God’s judgment on his disobedient people? Or is the introduction simply a call to mourn the nation’s bad fortune? It’s easy to miss on a quick read, but one verse provides a hint at the answer: “Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and it will come as destruction from the Almighty” (15). God is identified as the originator of the calamity, and in prophetic literature, the day of the Lord is characteristically a day of judgment.

I earlier said that if a punishment is going to seem fair, it should be preceded by a statement of the alleged charges. In that case, Joel makes a bold move in opening his message with judgment. It would seem he’s banking on God’s reputation for fairness and justice. He commands the nation to come together in desperate prayer and appeal to the Lord: “Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God and cry out to the Lord” (14). He then takes his own medicine, entreating his God, “To You, O Lord, I cry” (19). In Joel’s view, there’s only one thing to do when God releases the locusts. There’s only one course of action for national self-preservation.

And that’s to get down in the Cry Hole and pray.

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