Wrath is not necessarily a bad thing. Think about it. In any epic, the good guys win precisely because they have poured out wrath on the bad guys. That’s part of telling a good story. The hero is victorious and the enemy is defeated. Good wins. Evil loses.
Throughout the story of the Bible and of history, God, the ultimate “good guy”, wages war upon evil and anyone who wages war necessarily has wrath. And when it comes to pouring out wrath on evil, there is no question that it is a good thing because His wrath is rooted in justice. Were God to not pour out His wrath on evil, it would run rampant as in the days of Noah, or in Sodom and Gomorrah. Were God to not chastise His people when they are wayward, then He would be merely watching His own people careen toward their destruction.
The glory of the “Day of the Lord”
This is one unique thing about the book of Joel. It speaks thematically about the “Day of the Lord” which, in other books of the Bible, deals with God bringing destruction on pagan nations. In Joel, however, the Day of the Lord describes God using a pagan nation to discipline His own people!
Think about that for a second, and let it seep into your understanding of God. He has the right to use the weak to lead the strong; to work all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. He can even take what the enemy meant for evil and use it for good. With such a view, the world is exactly what we might expect it to be: broken sin-stained shards of Eden being used of God to do beautiful things by the power of His Spirit.
There is something else about the book of Joel, though. Under the immense weight of God’s stern proclamation of coming wrath in the first half of this little three chapter book is a beautiful promise:
And it will be in the last days, says God,
that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity;
then your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
I will even pour out My Spirit
on My male and female slaves in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will display wonders in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below:
blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the great and remarkable Day of the Lord comes.
Then everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Joel 2:17-21)
Even as God tells Israel through Joel that He is going to discipline them for some unnamed sin, He promises to pour out His Spirit upon all humanity (v.17). When God flooded the earth, He saved Noah’s family. When He poured out His wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah, He spared Lot and his family. When He scourged the pagans of Canaan for their centuries of depravity cataloged in Leviticus 18, He was sculpting the nation of Israel. When God pours out His wrath, it is always preceded by warning, always accompanied by beautiful promises of grace, and always completed. We see this in concentrated form through Joel’s Spirit-inspired writings.
The promise of grace revealed
When Joel prophesied, he was pointing forward in redemptive history to something he could not see clearly—to a Savior whose name he did not yet know. But the Apostles Peter and Paul knew, and where Joel pointed forward, they pointed back to declare the prophecy fulfilled. Between the prophecies of Joel and the writings of Peter and Paul—the One to whom they all pointed—stands the name of Jesus!
Peter stood up before the amazed crowd at Pentecost and quoted these words of Joel (Acts 2), and God used to save thousands! Paul invoked them in Romans 10:13, as he explained that salvation was available to all not because of their ethnicity, but by calling on the name of Jesus, the One who satisfied the wrath of God by being judged in our place. Jesus, the Lamb without spot or blemish, who takes away the sins of the world.
He is the Lord and all who call upon His name will be saved!
That is the good news I believe Joel has for us. His message helps us understand why the cycle of wrath and restoration takes place—and to long for its ultimate end. And make no mistake: unlike evil’s particular brand of wrath, God’s wrath ends when justice is served. For all who call on the name of the Lord, that justice has been served on the cross. And on the ultimate Day of the Lord, the day when God inaugurates the new creation, and God’s wrath abates, the results will be literally glorious—the glory of God fully revealed!
Take heart while we wait for this day, my friends. Though the locusts swarm (Joel 1:1-5), evil runs rampant (vv. 6-10), and joy is dried up (vv. 11, 12), God is at work. He provides grace in the meantime (2:18-24), restoration of everything that has been lost (vv. 25, 26), and has already secured His victory over evil both immediately and ultimately (3:1-21). Amidst the mingled onslaught and revival, God has a purpose: that we would know He alone is God and there is no other (2:27, 3:17)—and all who call upon His name will be saved.
Today’s post is by Jesse Campbell, a teaching pastor, speaker, and the Brand Manager of Explore the Bible. He is the author of I’m a Christian – Now What?, What it Means to Be A Christian, and 365 Devotions for Guys (Nashville: B&H). He and his wife Jessi live in Mt. Juliet with their rambunctious boys with another baby on the way! Find more at jessethecampbell.com.