Today has been a rainy, cold, dreary day. My husband and I are both indoors with sniffles and sneezing and coughing. Today is also the day I “scheduled” for posting my bi-weekly blog. But I feel so yukky, how can I write a blog? It was time to dig in the barrel of old writings and find one that could be tweaked a bit. So, with no knowledge of the midrash on this particular portion of the book of Joel, I share with you some thoughts from long ago that I think are still relevant today. It is based on Joel 1:2,3; 2:23-32.
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….Joel writes as if telling a bedtime story: “Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.” The book of Joel begins by referring to a story that is worthy of being told and retold. The community to which Joel is writing has experienced a crisis of such monumental proportions that no one can remember anything like it. In addition to this crisis, the people have experienced a deliverance so memorable that Joel wants his audience to tell their children. Joel wants this story passed from generation to generation so that hope is not lost. so that dreams are dreamed, so that visions of what can be are borne throughout eternity. What is Joel’s story? What could possibly have happened that is worthy of such telling and re-telling?
What happened was that a plague of locusts invaded the land. All vegetation was destroyed. The locusts even stripped trees of their bark. Reading Joel’s account of this occurrence I remembered sitting in my sixth grade class listening to Mrs. Robington, my teacher, describe a locust plague as if she herself had lived through one. The locust swarm together in thick, black clouds large enough to obliterate the light of the sun. The sound they create is deafening. As they stealthily move across the land, locusts can in a matter of minutes denude trees of every vestige of foliage. But within fifteen minutes they are gone. Behind, they leave a barren, deathly quiet landscape where once there had been lush, green, fertile fields and forests. In Joel’s words, “Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, but after them a desolate wilderness and nothing escapes them.” (2.3)
We’ve heard of plagues of locusts before. History records them as devastating events not soon forgotten. But what makes this one so different? Unlike other plagues, this particular plague was an annual occurrence. After years of living with the destruction caused by these locusts, I imagine the Hebrew people doubted if G!d was in their midst. My assumption is that there were those who strayed from the faith of their ancestors. Some may have even became embittered over time. This is when Joel calls the people to “return to the L!rd, for G!d is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love.” I had to smile, however, at Joel’s own humanness. He continues, “Who knows whether G!d will return and relent and leave a blessing? Who knows? But fast and weep and pray anyway! . . .”
Evidently that is just what the people did. The people had suffered for years. They had been mocked by other nations. Their crops were gone. There was no food. The situation was critical. Yet, in the midst of their doubt, in the depth of their fears, at the height of their desolation, in the pain of their lamentations, they turned to G!d, fasting and weeping and praying. And G!d was among them. G!d loved them. G!d renewed a distraught people. Listen to Joel’s words telling of G!d’s response to the situation: “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the L!rd your G!d, who has dealt wondrously with you. . .You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the L!rd, am your G!d . . .And my people shall never again be put to shame.”
Further, we see that G!d did not reserve blessings only for the select few. G!d’s blessings are intended for everyone. Joel even speaks to the soil of the earth: “Do not fear, o soil; be glad and rejoice for the L!rd has done great things!” The people heed the prophet’s call and experience the righteousness of G!d! They had been hungry. Now they were fed. Their crops had been devastated. Now every plant bore fruit. The earth and the people in it had suffered. Now they were vindicated. G!d’s mercy was poured out on all–sons and daughters, old and young, male and female, slave and free. The righteousness of G!d knows no boundary. “Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.”
What will we tell our children of the righteousness of G!d? From where does our hope spring? Where is our vision? Without a vision the people perish. These words of the prophet Joel are more than comforting maxims about pie in the sky by and by. These words are more than placating wishes for an imaginary Shangri-La. These words are mighty words spoken by a prophet who knew despair, a prophet who knew hunger, a prophet who knew hopelessness, a prophet who knew ridicule, a prophet who knew oppression, a prophet who knew depression, a prophet who knew doubt, a prophet who questioned G!d. And this prophet spoke to a people who knew all those same things! No. These are not empty words. They are powerful words powerfully spoken by one who himself had been broken. These words are powerful because these words speak of renewal, and redemption. These words speak to us of life coming forth from death, of spring following winter, of the new born from the old. These words speak to us of dreaming dreams, and seeing visions. These words are spoken to all G!d’s beings, those who have sinned and those who have not.
We have all experienced the storms of life. We know too well about famine of body, mind and spirit. We have endured the plagues of divorce, violence, hatred, jealousy, greed, and all the rest. Joel knew the generations would forget of G!d’s presence if the stories weren’t told, if the dreams weren’t dreamt, if the visions were lost. So, listen to the stories of our ancestors. Listen to them tell of the plagues their parents suffered. Listen to them tell of where renewal and redemption was found. Listen to our parents tell of depression, and world wars, and civil rights, and wars abroad and at home. Listen to them tell of hardships endured and faith lost. AND listen to them tell of renewed hope brought about by prayers and weeping and fasting. Listen to them tell of G!d’s presence with them through endless plagues, even when they lost sight of G!d. Remember your stories. Remember your suffering, and lostness, and foundness. Remember your G!d. When tempted to abandon our G!d-inspired dreams, listen to the prophets. When all vision is lost, seek the comforting words of hope our forbearers pass to us. Then, “Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation,” so that G!d’s spirit will be poured out on all flesh, so that our sons and daughters will dare to prophesy, so that our old women and old men will continue to dream dreams, so that our young women and young men shall not lose sight of their visions, so that all will walk through the plagues of life knowing it is but a season. Afterward comes renewed hope, renewed commitment, renewed life.
No matter how bleak the present moment, no matter how real the injustice, no matter how painful the present loss, G!d’s final and gracious word is of renewal, redemption, and abundant life. “Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.”