Cast Out of Eden

1 Blow a trumpet in Zion;
    sound an alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
    for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near,
a day of darkness and gloom,
    a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains
    a great and powerful people;
their like has never been before,
    nor will be again after them
    through the years of all generations.

3 Fire devours before them,
    and behind them a flame burns.
The land is like the garden of Eden before them,
    but behind them a desolate wilderness,
    and nothing escapes them.
Joel 2:1-3 ESV

The nation of Judah was still reeling from the devastating impact of a locust plague. Their crops and vineyards had been destroyed, leaving them on the verge of starvation. Even the herds and flocks in the fields had been left wandering in search of food. And the priests found themselves with no grain or wine to use as offerings to God in the temple. As a result, Joel had called the people to assemble for a national day of mourning and fasting, and had warned them, “cry out to the Lord. Alas for the day!
For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes” (Joel 1:14-15 ESV).

Joel was demanding that the people repent of their sins and warning them failure to do so would result in further judgment from God. If they thought the locusts were bad, they were in for a very unpleasant surprise. In these verses Joel describes a second of judgment that was headed their way, and he refers to it as “the day of the Lord.” This phrase is found throughout the prophetic books of the Old Testament and is typically used to refer to the final phase of God’s redemptive plan for the world. The day of the Lord will entail the final judgments of God against all mankind, but also the fulfillment of His promises to Israel. It will include the period known as the Great Tribulation, when God will pour out a series of devastating judgments on the world and its inhabitants, but also the second coming of Christ, when He will defeat the enemies of God and set up His millennial kingdom on earth.

For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    has a day of reckoning.
He will punish the proud and mighty
    and bring down everything that is exalted. – Isaiah 2:12 NLT

For see, the day of the Lord is coming—
    the terrible day of his fury and fierce anger.
The land will be made desolate,
    and all the sinners destroyed with it. – Isaiah 13:9 NLT

The day is near when I, the Lord,
    will judge all godless nations!
As you have done to Israel,
    so it will be done to you.
All your evil deeds
    will fall back on your own heads. – Obadiah 15

As was often the case with these proclamations of pending doom, the prophets were communicating a two-phase judgment. The first phase would take place in the not-so-distant future. It would come in the form of the Assyrian or Babylonian armies, and end in the defeat and subjugation of the people of God. But these prophecies had a second and much more distant aspect to their meaning. They were speaking of events that still wait to be fulfilled. And this is true of Joel’s words as well.

Joel warns the people of Judah to sound an alarm. They were to blow the shofar or ram’s horm as a warning signal to the nation, declaring the arrival of an enemy army. Joel wants the people to feel a sense of urgency. This was not to be viewed as a remote possibility, but as a divine reality. He warns them that “the day of the Lord is coming; it is near” (Joel 2:1 ESV). He is trying to convey as sense of imminence and immediacy. They can’t afford to ignore his warning or to assume the sound of the shofar is a false alarm.

Joel breaks the news that “a great and powerful people” were headed their way. And their numbers would be so great that they would shroud the land like a blackness. In fact, he states that “their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations” (Joel 2:2 ESV). This was not a case of prophetic hyperbole. Joel isn’t crying wolf or trying to elicit a response by exaggerating the circumstances. He is a prophet of God proclaiming the word of God. 

What makes the writings of men like Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah so fascinating is that they provide us with proof of God’s Word. He speaks and things happen. He provides His prophets with insights into future events and those things take place, just as He predicted. God never issues idle threats concerning coming judgment. He doesn’t bluff about His hatred for sin and His determination to punish His people for their rebellion. The day of the Lord is coming. God will repay all men for the evil deeds and will fulfill every promise He has made concerning His blessings and curses.

In the following verses, Joel will describe the arrival of a mighty army, using words and phrases meant to remind the people of Judah of the most recent insect invasion they had experienced. But this time, it would be armies made up of men, not arthropods. Rather than facing crop-consuming locusts, the people of Judah would become the victims of human enemies who destroy all who stand in their way. Where the insect hordes had devastated the land of God, the human army will destroy the people of God.

It is interesting to note that Joel describes the land as being like the garden of Eden prior to the coming judgment. But when it is all over, the land will be a desolate wilderness. This description is intended to reflect a spiritual reality, not a physical one. The garden of Eden was a beautiful, God-created place of perfect peace, where Adam and Eve enjoy unbroken fellowship with their Maker. But when sin entered into the scene, the guilty pair were cast out of the garden and denied access to God’s presence. They lost their right to enjoy God’s provision and presence. And instead of being blessed by God, they found themselves under His curse.

That is point Joel seems to be making. The land had already been devastated by the locusts. The fields were empty of produce and the trees and vines had been stripped bare of fruit. But it was still Edenic, because God was there. They still enjoyed the presence of God. Yet, Joel warns, the day was coming when the garden-like nature of Judah would be turned into a wilderness, devoid of the fruit of God’s power and presence. God would even resort to their removal from His land of promise, sending them into captivity in Babylon.

God is serious about sin, and He holds His people responsible for their actions. Adam and Eve had known the rules, but they had chosen to disobey them. And they suffered the consequences. The people of Judah knew what God expected of them, but they had chosen to reject His will for their own. And now, they too would suffer the consequences. The day of the Lord was coming. Judgment was inevitable and inescapable. But as we will see, God’s warning of pending judgment is always accompanied by a call to repentance.  He longs to see His people turn away from their sin and rebellion and return to Him in humility and contrition.

All the way back at the dedication of the temple constructed by Solomon, God had promised the people of Israel:

“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV

That is always the heart of God. He longs to hear from His people and it is His heart’s desire to provide healing for them. But the peace of Eden will not abide the presence of sin. God requires holiness from His creation. And yet, He is going to offer the people of Judah an opportunity to return to Him in humble contrition, acknowledging their sin and their need for forgiveness and restoration.

“…return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
    and rend your hearts and not your garments.” – Joel 2:12-13 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


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