After all the prophecies of judgement through invading armies, it feels very different to see God’s judgement recognised in a plague of locusts – but to those living in Joel’s day that was the immediate reality.
And as with the more familiar warnings of judgement, the LORD offers a promise of mercy to come. It’s mercy in kind – 2:26 promises ‘you shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you.’
Then come words which stand out as much for their familiarity as for their change of apparent subject.
Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit. (2:28-29)
We know these words, of course, from Peter’s claiming of their promise at the Day of Pentecost, as the Spirit is indeed poured out on people of every nation and background. I must admit, if I’d ever thought about their original setting, I’d have assumed that it was dealing with a time of spiritual famine, not of material hunger and natural disaster.
Perhaps it’s a useful reminder that to the LORD, the material, practical realities of life don’t exist in some world apart from the spiritual needs of humanity. A bit like Jesus offering the paralysed man forgiveness of his sins, with the ability to walk almost like an afterthought, the LORD has more ahead of his people than full stomachs – he promises full hearts.
And that promise is sweepingly inclusive – the Spirit will fall on all flesh (all nations?), male and female, old and young, slave and free. The new life of the Spirit is for all, without limit and without measure.
We’ve perhaps seen too many times through history where the promise of future spiritual blessing has been used to keep people compliant with present material injustice. But that doesn’t take away the strength that we can find from the promise of renewal in the face of our own need and suffering. It doesn’t mean we should then just accept injustice, suffering or want. Rather, the knowledge of God’s promises gives us the security and confidence to do something about the present wrongness of life.
God will restore the years eaten by the locust; he will lead us beyond that restoration to a deeper renewal – better than ever.