Monday, December 15, 2008

Joel 2:28-32 in the NT, part 2

(continued from part 1)

The result of this gracious bestowment of the Spirit would be dramatic flurry of prophetic activity – prophesying, dreaming and seeing of visions. Hubbard contends, "The emphasis here must be on a deeper knowledge of God, a richer form of the relationship for which 2:27 promises. [20]" Even if one grants Hubbard this conclusion, one must not fail to connect this blessing to Israel's call to be a blessing. A 'richer form of relationship' would have missiological implications even if there were not prophetic (speaking) manifestations of this 'richer relationship'. A richer knowledge of God would not/should not be hoarded by those blessed with it, but shared widely with those who possess a deficient knowledge of God (i.e. the nations). In other words, this blessings of intimacy associated with the outpouring of the Spirit must be viewed within the context of Israel's overarching mission to make YHWH known as he has made himself known to them.

However, downplaying the revelatory function of prophecy as Hubbard does goes against the long history of what it meant to be a prophet in Israel. Grudem explains, "The main function of Old Testament prophets was to be messengers from God, sent to speak to men and women with words from God (emphasis in original) [21]." Throughout the Old Testament, prophecy was regarded as speech on God's behalf, not merely a devotional closeness to God or intimate knowledge of God. The prophets brought God's message to the people, speaking on YHWH's behalf (if not, they were false prophets). The category of 'silent prophet' seems to be entirely absent. Thus, Prior rightly comments,

"The gift of the Spirit was not to be for personal satisfaction, or even for national recovery and stability. It was to strengthen the people of God to take up a position of prophetic leadership among the nations in a world heading for an apocalyptic day of final reckoning. If individual prophets had the task of taking God's word to a nation at risk of God's judgment, a prophetically inspired people would have the task of taking God's word to a world on the brink of ultimate judgment.[22]"

It may be objected that the nations in this context are not spoken of as coming to join the people of God or of being blessed by the people of Israel. Indeed, the surrounding context points to the final and climactic judgment of the nations by God. This would be problematic if all the references to 'in those days' and 'at that time' are conflated to one single event or Day. However, rather than narrow our understanding of prophecy so as to exclude its typical emphasis on proclamation and its missiological impact, the interpreter ought to see the increase in prophetic activity as good reason not to flatten the passage and force it to refer to a single Day or a short period of time but to understand the time references as pointing vaguely (and non-sequentially) to the 'collective event' of the Day of the Lord [23]. As Garrett points out, "It would do little good for God to give the gift of the Spirit and the power of prophesy if on the very same day he brought the world to an end.[24]"

The promise of the widening and intensifying work of the Spirit is immediately followed by descriptions of cosmic signs associated with the ultimate Day of the Lord. While Sweeney connects the imagery to the temple complex and the process of slaughtering and burning sacrifices, most commentators draw the parallel to the Exodus event. On this interpretation the blood corresponds to the first plague (Ex. 7:14-25; alternatively to the blood on the doorposts and lintel, Ex. 12:7-13), the fire and smoke to the manifestations of God's presence that guided them in their flight from Egypt (Ex. 13:17-21). This gives the reader the true sense of the double sidedness of the Day of the Lord – it would be deliverance for God's people and violence and destruction for his enemies. The darkness of the heavenly luminaries, while echoing language of the earlier part of this chapter (2:2) also has connections to the exodus event , specifically to the locust plague that was so severe the 'whole land was darkened' (Ex. 10:15) and also to the ninth plague, the plague of darkness (Ex 10:21-29). These signs envision the mighty arm of God coming to the defense and salvation of his people while at the same time coming to mete out judgment to the nations. Stuart concludes, "All of this dramatic and cataclysmic action heralds Yahweh's coming to deliver the righteous and dispense with the wicked, the intended activity of the sovereign's day of conquest.[25]" Prior ties these portents and their symbolism to the mission of Israel as they signify a holy God present with his people "…protecting, preserving, providing, proclaiming, and thereby calling them to attention and the watching world to account"[26] (emphasis added).

All is certainly not doom and gloom, for the prophet holds out salvation for all those who will call upon the name of YHWH. Just had God had saved his people expression of his wrath in the form of locusts, so he will save them from the eschatological outpouring of his wrath on His Day. Again, there is disagreement on how Joel would have understood the words he uttered. Some commentators limit the meaning of 'everyone' to Jews and see an example of remnant theology in Joel's prophecy. Writing from this perspective Bewer states, "Israel's purgation is implied [for it] is not every Jew simply because he is a Jew, but every God fearing Jew who trusts in Yahweh and calls on Him for help…The passage speaks only of Jews, not men in general.[27]" Alternatively, Garrett writes,

"This is as close as Joel came to opening the doors of salvation explicitly to Gentiles: Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Even here one could restrict the meaning to Jews in light of the fact that he was addressing a Jewish audience, but such a constriction of the meaning of the text would not be in character with the rest of the message of the Old Testament. The eschatology of the Old Testament frequently asserts Gentile inclusion in the eschatological kingdom. Psalm 87, as noted earlier, says that someday Gentiles from all over the world, even from among Israel's worst enemies, will claim Zion as their place of birth. They will claim Israel and Israel's God as their own. Indeed, the very purpose behind the creation of Israel was to be a blessing to many nations (Gen 12:1–3; cf. also Isa 19:23–25). [28]"

While the immediate context may incline the interpreter to side with those who limit the promise of v. 31 to a remnant within Israel, the whole thrust of prophetic eschatology and the fine details of the context, point toward a more inclusive reading – 'everyone' refers to Jews and Gentiles who call on the name of the Lord. Calvin, after acknowledging that Joel had his fellow Jews in mind here, clarifies,

"the Prophets after having spoken of the kingdom of Christ, had no doubt this truth in view, that the blessing in the seed of Abraham had been promised to all nations; and when he afterwards described the miserable state in which the whole world would be, he certainly meant to rouse even the Gentiles, who had been aliens from the Church, to seek God in common with his elect people: the promise, then, which immediately follows, is also addressed to the Gentiles, otherwise there would be no consistency in the discourse of the Prophet. We therefore see that Paul most fitly accommodates this place to his subject: for the main thing to be held is this, that the blessing in Christ was promised not only to the children of Abraham but also to all the Gentiles. When, therefore, the Prophet describes the kingdom of Christ, it is no wonder that he addresses the Jews and Gentiles in common: and then, what he said of the state of the world, that it would be full of horrible darkness, undoubtedly refers, not to the Jews only, but also to the Gentiles. Why was this done, except to show that nothing else remains for them but to flee to God? [29]"

There is, therefore, somewhat of a tension in the text, for Joel seemingly offers the promises of the Spirit and salvation to the faithful Jewish remnant who align themselves with God, yet the prophetic ministry of Israel and the description of eschatological doom seem to be for the purpose of calling Gentile as well as Jew to repentance and faith.

The answer may be that Joel envisions, as Calvin posits, an eschatological enlarging of Israel to include the Gentiles as well. Gentile inclusion in the covenant was not at all foreign concept to the people of Israel [30]. Thus, there is exegetical warrant both for limiting the promises to Israel and of widening their implications to include Gentiles who would be incorporated into the covenant community as God's purposes ripened. Ultimately, it must be remembered that those who call on the Lord are also those whom the Lord has called. It is those whom YWHW has called who will identify with him, calling on his name, and be included among his people, seeking refuge on Mt. Zion and in Jerusalem.

Summary: This text is a complex fabric of particular and universal promises with near and distant fulfillment. The great and awful Day of the Lord has had/will have many particular manifestations through history, as the locust plague attests. On the other hand, all of these particular and limited expressions of God's judgment must be viewed as part of the whole universal and climactic Day of the Lord. The outpouring of the Spirit here is offered as a promise for the particular people of God but the resulting prophetic ministry would have universal implications as Israel, true to her mandate, would take the blessing and become a blessing.

With relation to time, the restoration of the loss that had resulted from locust plague seems to have been either past or near future to Joel's prophesying. However, the promise of 2:28-32 would find their fulfillment in the eschatological future.

Up Next: Joel 2 in Peter Pentecost Sermon.

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20. Hubbard, Joel and Amos, 70.

21. Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy (Wheaton: Crosssway, 2000),

22. Prior, The Message of Joel, Micah & Habakkuk, 76

23. "…the whole set of events makes up one collective totality and constitutes only one idea even though the events may be spread over a large segment of history by the deliberate plan of God…One prominent example of this common phenomenon in the OT is they 'day of Yahweh'. Consistently in all the prophets this day is viewed as one day, yet it is obviously a collective event…in which are gathered all the antecedent historical episodes of judgment and salvation along with the future grand finale and climactic event in the whole series". Kaiser, "The Promise of God", 110-111.

24. Duane A. Garrett, Hosea, Joel, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Bradman & Holman, 1997), 373.

25. Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 261.

26. Prior, The Message of Joel, Micah & Habakkuk, 76.

27. John M. Powis, William H. Ward and Julius A. Bewer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Micah, Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Obadiah and Joel, International Critical Commentary (New York: Schribner's, 1911), 124-125.

28. Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 375.

29. John Calvin, Commentary on the Prophet Joel, The Ages Digital Library Commentary, version 1.0. Ages Software, 1998.

30. Even at the Exodus we are told that 'mixed multitude' went out of Egypt with them (Ex. 12:38). Other examples include Hobab the son of Reuel the Midianite, Rahab and Ruth. Hedlund writes, "The uniqueness of Israel was not in blood but in covenant. The incorporation of aliens into the commonwealth of Israel was an early stage in the progressive development of mission in the Bible. That foreigners were in fact inducted demonstrates the seriousness of God's mission." Roger E. Hedlund. The Mission of the Church in the World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 82. In Isaiah 56 we read of God's intention to include others in the house of Israel:

"The Lord GOD,

who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,

"I will gather yet others to him

besides those already gathered."

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