2 Oct 2022

Radical Texts #1: “I Will Repay You”!? Joel 2.25

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Exegesis, Forgiveness, Grace, Joel, Worship
A central question throughout the Hebrew Bible

In the Book of Joel we read of a devastating plague of locusts. These locusts are described vividly (1.4; 2.4-9; etc). This plague is a foreshadowing of an even greater “day of the Lord” that will face God’s people. We are not told, in the book, exactly what the plague was in response to but the people are called to assemble, to join the earth and animals in mourning and prayer, to “turn” back to Yahweh.

The description of this locust “army” is frightful indeed. We can almost hear, and feel, the terror this force instilled as they scorch the earth leaving near starvation in its wake. Joel also leaves not a shadow of a doubt of whose army this is.

“The LORD utters his voice
at the head of his army;
how vast is his host!
Numberless are those who
obey his command” (2.11).

Just as the army is about to completely overwhelm the city, the action stops, miraculously. And graciously.

Instead of further attack, a voice thunders and invites God’s people to share the point of view of the earth and the animals and turn to God (1.10, 18, 20; 2.12f). Genuine repentance is called for by the voice. But the plea is based on God’s HESED and Joel quotes the “God Creed” in 2.13,

“for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in HESED,
and relents from punishing.”

So the priests gather the people together in the temple. They cry to the Lord on behalf of the people (2.17f).

Suddenly there is a whirlwind of divine speech. A torrent of grace and mercy blowing in the wind of God’s HESED falls down upon the scorched land. Yahweh addresses all that have suffered in the punishment. Suffered because of human sin. It was human sin that unleashed, after a long period of time, the punishment of the locusts. But it was not only humans who suffered because of the locusts, it was the earth and the animals. So Yahweh addresses the earth (2.21), the animals (2.22) and finally the people (2.23).

Then something astounding, almost shocking, takes place. It is as if God almost apologizes for sending the punishment that Israel justly deserved. Yahweh does in fact promise to “repay” even more than was lost. It is a stunning text, that I never once heard in church.

“I [Yahweh] will repay you for the years
that the swarming locusts has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,

The word “I repay you,” or “I will restore” (וְשִׁלַּמְתִּ֤י), is a technical word for legal compensation. The New English Bible renders it as “So I will make good the years that the swarm has eaten.” The punishment was Israel’s fault.

But God promises to pay back for the damage/losses caused – as if it was God’s fault, as if Yahweh is taking the blame, as if God is the one who was in the wrong, as if Yahweh owed them. My friends this is nearly shocking.

This is pure, unadulterated, even shocking, grace. This is not the only place Yahweh promises to pour out magnitudes more grace than punishment. Yahweh declares in Zechariah 9.12,

Today I declare that I will restore to you DOUBLE.”

Yahweh declares in Isaiah 61.7,

“Because their shame was double …
therefore they shall possess a DOUBLE portion of;
everlasting joy shall be theirs.”

Truly God “does not deal with us according to our sins” (Ps 103.10).

I had read Joel before but did not “hear” it. A few years ago I was working on a book project that included Joel. It was then that 2.25 hit me powerfully.

Israel sinned (God’s People).
Sin has consequences.

The earth, the animals, even the people are in dire straights because of our sin. But if there was any remnant of my early understanding of God left, Joel tossed it into the sea. The God of Israel will do almost anything to get out of having to dish out punishment. And when punishment is the last resort … Yahweh pours out even more on the penitent than what was there before.

The apostle Paul did not invent the truth, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5.20). Moses, the Psalmists, and Joel knew this long before. Texts like the radical text of Joel help us to understand why there is a Cross.

Joel 2.25. What an amazing text!

Praise the Lord.

See also Related to Joel

Leviticus 10.22: A Weird Law and its Mercy

Do Not Fear, O Earth, Animals, People: Hope of Cosmic Redemption in Joel’s Liturgy

3 Responses to “Radical Texts #1: “I Will Repay You”!? Joel 2.25”

  1. James Nesmith Says:

    Powerful thoughts, Bobby. Thank God for His mercy and grace. Keep speaking, brother. Keep speaking….

  2. Sharon Leighton Says:

    Bobby, on my 18th birthday, after one hell of a year, during which I had actually attempted suicide, given up my scholarships, left university, and more or less given up on life, I came across Joel 2:25. It shook me to my knees. It gave me courage to go on.

    And, do you know, if you look at one of the things that I most grieved for at that moment, the loss of a university education, He gave me more than double? I have four degrees now. What an adventure it’s been!

    Our God is good. Keep telling us all.

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