My friend from back in the day (let’s call her Kara) recently confided in me about a besetting issue in her life. I told her I would pray for her and that if she had any Bible-related questions to ask, I would welcome them.
She took me up on my offer. (I’m sharing this conversation with her permission.)
“There’s a scripture in Joel that talks about God restoring what was lost [2:19-24]. I looked it up and it talks about God restoring the time the Israelites had plagues of locusts. Further down, it says that God restores time lost to shame and guilt and darkness, he gives us back the time [2:25-27]. I was wondering if you could explain that further to me. How does he do that? Do you think he’d restore time lost to [my issue]?”
After assuring her that I understood how personal her question was, this is how I answered.
“I think it’s helpful to start by addressing the issue of blessings and curses. When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law, He established what is called the Sinai Covenant. In this covenant, there were attendant blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience for the Israelites. The blessings were tangible: long life, political security, large families, abundant crops, and the like. The curses, as it just so happened, were the opposite: short life, political instability, barren wombs, infertile soil, and the like. God sending this plague of locusts on Israel was just retribution for their covenant infidelity. But by means of their repentance, they may rightly anticipate divine restoration (2:12-17).
“And yet, there also seems to be something deeper at play. In the later verses, God promises many things: a pouring out of His Spirit (2:28-32), a judgment of Israel’s rival nations (3:1-16), and Israel elevated as the supreme nation for all time (3:17-21). Why? On what basis does God promise such extravagant blessings? It can’t be on the basis of their keeping the Sinai covenant for two reasons: 1) the Sinai covenant never offered such blessings, and 2) God doesn’t offer such a stipulation here in Joel’s prophecy. That means that God is making these promises on the basis of a New Covenant. Joel in essence is saying, for God’s people, beyond the scope of physical blessings and curses based on obedience or disobedience to the Law, there is a grace from God that ultimately supersedes anything we could reasonably anticipate. It will happen in His timing and in the manner He decrees, but it will happen nonetheless.
“For Christians, we are not–indeed, we have never been–under the Sinai Covenant; we are not subject to its particular curses, nor are we ensured its particular blessings. What we tend to experience are the natural consequences of our actions, whether good or bad [or, God may be discipling us as His children (Hebrews 12:4-11)]. What we are promised through Jesus, by means of the New Covenant He instituted with His people, is a glorious future beyond what we could reasonably anticipate (Revelation 21-22) as well as the indwelling Holy Spirit as the means to confront and conquer our own sin in the meantime. His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9), and grace will lead us home.”
Kara thanked me and told me this is what she needed to hear.
It’s what I needed to hear as well.