This PowerPoint, and the 36 images below it, provide a visual commentary on the book of Joel. They specifically focus on Joel 2:12-13, 28-29 from the Narrative Lectionary for Advent 1. Feel free to download the PowerPoint and Image Pack for free to use in your preaching, teaching, or personal Bible Study.

A Visual Commentary on Joel

Joel begins by describing a horrible invasion of locusts. The swarm completely devastates the countryside, consuming everything like a wildfire. Joel then switches the metaphor to describe an invading army that destroys the land in the same way.

This is a familiar story for the readers of Joel. The people of Israel have lived this story time and again. It goes like this…

God had promised Abraham’s children that they would inhabit this land called Canaan. It is sandwiched between the vast chaos of the Sea to the west and the desolate wasteland of desert to the East. 

God made a covenant with these people in Exodus that God would be with them and that they would be a holy nation, a royal priesthood. God gave them instructions to build a tabernacle that would represent the Garden of Eden and God’s relationship with humanity.

King Solomon built a beautiful Temple to replace the Tabernacle and established it in the city of Jerusalem.

This Temple was supposed to remind the people that the Spirit of God fills their covenant. They are planted like a vineyard so that the world can taste the Love of God. This relationship with God is the source of the rivers of life for ALL nations.

Things went fairly well, briefly, when King David unified the twelve tribes into one Kingdom.

But then King Solomon built the temple by over taxing the people and using slave labor.

The Kingdom was torn apart. A Civil War led to two separate nations: Israel and Judah. 

Israel immediately repeated the story of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32 and established two golden calves to replace the Temple.

Judah was not much better. The majority of her kings led like tyrants: oppressing the people, driven by greed, gluttony, and violence. They introduced the Canaanite gods into the Temple itself.

Eventually a series of invading armies destroyed the nation. The people of Israel were completely wiped out by Assyria. The people of Judah were carried into captivity by the Babylonians. Solomon’s beautiful temple lay in ruins. The people lived in exile.

The readers of Joel knew the story of the invading locusts all too well.

Things were bad.

Yet, even now…

Even in the midst of all the betrayal and corruption, God stands ready to receive them.

Return to the LORD with all your heart.

The traditional symbol of mourning was to tear one’s robe open in the front. It is much like wearing black to a funeral in our culture, or having ashes smeared on your forehead on Ash Wednesday.

These outward symbols are good, but they can be done as meaningless acts. What matters is not the outward ritual, but the intent of the heart.

The people of Israel needed open heart surgery. They needed to see how far they had drifted from God’s dream for them.

They needed to come home.

Why should the people return?

Because things were bad, but God is good.

The LORD  is the center and the source of their well-being.

Joel quotes Exodus 34:6-7.

This is the most repeated verse in the Bible. It is the way God describes Godself to the people who had just betrayed the covenant.

God is not a cruel tyrant who wants oppressed servants to obey his every whim.

God is a loving parent (father and mother) who longs to be in relationship with the children, and longs to see the children thrive in God’s beautiful garden.

When we turn to the grace, mercy, and loyal love of God, and our hearts resonate with God’s heart, then the love starts to flow…

Check out The Bible Project’s commentary on these verses in the Character of God Series.

When we align our hearts with God’s heart, then the Spirit of the LORD flows freely through our lives. 

It flows through EVERYBODY, not just the elite or chosen. Anyone who is resonating with the heart of God, the heart of LOVE, can flow in the Spirit of God.

This is what Peter proclaimed in Acts 2:13-36. Jesus was God in the flesh. Jesus was the picture of what it looks like when humanity is fully resonating with the heart of God. Jesus spoke truth to power, called out the corruption and abuse of the weak, touched the poor, sick, and exiled, and reconciled all things with his own self-sacrifice and forgiveness.

The readers of Joel longed for the day when the Messiah would come to restore the Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in the Heavens. 

We, on this side of the Advent, know that Jesus is that Messiah.

We, too, are called to return to the LORD. When our hearts resonate with the life and teachings of Jesus–the one who showed us the heart of God–then the Spirit will flow through us. Then we will participate in being the vineyard so that the whole world will taste and see the love and justice and peace of God.

Let us Return to the LORD with a whole heart.

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