learning from the book of Joel

Lately I’ve spent my personal Bible study time in the book of Joel – a tiny, 3-chapter book of prophecy in the Old Testament.

I have a fascination with books like this one. The minor prophets just always get right to the heart of Israel’s trouble. They don’t mess around. It gets real, and it even gets dark in places. Not light, happy reading, but a book like Joel profoundly speaks to me.

It starts off in a depressing tone, as line after line describes the intense brokenness Israel is experiencing. But interspersed in the three chapters of Joel’s prophecy are glimpses of Jesus, with many declarations of God’s loving goodness.

I relate to both. The brokenness and the gospel hope.

So while I’m not trying to explain the whole book or reduce its meaning into bite-sized bullet points, I am sharing the parts of it that most got my attention, the truths that my needy heart has been drawn to the last month or so.

1. The Bible is very comfortable with the topic of brokenness.

Grief and lament are all over Scripture. If God can devote lengthy passages as well as entire books of the Bible to describing human “have nots” and not just life’s happy parts, then I should get more comfortable with honestly laying out ugly feelings about disappointment and sorrow before the Lord. Lamenting well leads us nearer to Him, and acknowledging the pain of life is a holy first step.

The imagery used in Joel to portray Israel’s brokenness resonates with me. He uses words like stripped, laid waste, gloom, dried up, destroyed, ashamed, anguish, darkened, and so many more. It’s good to think about places in my heart that read like these phrases Joel uses. Addressing the brokenness of my soul is required for living out the power of the gospel. To fully appreciate my Savior’s love, I must be in touch with the broken parts needing healing. Studying this book offered me language to put with some of my darker feelings and invited me to press in deeper to those emotions instead of running from them. Already, healing has begun.

2. God’s children can’t outrun his forgiveness.

The offer of restoration always stands. Repentance is an open invitation, and the mess inside my heart can’t stand against his grace. Verse 12 of chapter 2 begins with three of the most encouraging words to hear from God when overwhelmed by our own indequacy, “Yet even now...”

Even in our sin and brokenness, repentance calls to us, and its process is outlined in six clear action verbs, demanding a thorough examination of the heart:

Return with your whole heart. (verse 12) – Where is my heart divided? What part am I holding back?

Fast. (Verse 12) – What do I need to stop for now? What commitment of pause do I need to make?

Weep. (Verse 12) – Am I resistant to face my feelings, or am I letting out my emotions in a healthy way?

Mourn. (Verse 12) – What losses deserve my mourning?

Rend your heart. (Verse 13) – What offering can I bring to the Lord from the inside instead of the outside?

Return. (Verse 13) – What’s the most direct path back to Him?

3. God really wants us to understand how gracious he is.

Repentance brings up a lot to work through, but it’s doable when we remember who God is. Verse thirteen repeats a declaration of his character that we find seven other times in Scripture. Almost word for word. I’d say he’s trying to make a point, and it’s pretty important for us to get this right about him.

We return to the Lord because “he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,” (Joel 2:13).

These are good words to hold onto. This is the kind of God we want in our brokenness, One who restores because he can’t be anything other than merciful. 

4. Knowing God is the end result that makes it all worth it.

Yes, we’ve known him. We’ve for sure been known by him. But there’s a different kind of knowing that happens as we move through repentance, when we journey through our brokenness to a place of restoration.

In Joel, the language changes from despair to hope. God promises,

“I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust have eaten…You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else,” (Joel 2:25-27).

Then, as God reminds his people that he is their refuge and stronghold, he reiterates this assurance:

“So you shall know that I am the Lord your God,” (Joel 3:17).

Knowing God in painful times, sharing in Christ’s sufferings is precious, yet it’s also sweet to know him as the God who restores. This is when you’ve seen his grace at work in your life up close. Your relationship with him has grown, and his character has become very personal in its ministry to your soul.

I want to know him more in that way!

What I Learned