Handfuls on Purpose
by James Smith, 1943
THE SEVERITY AND THE GOODNESS OF GOD. Joel 2 and 3
It has been said that Joel is the prophet of the Holy Spirit, as Isaiah is of the Messiah. Yet he gives us one of the darkest pictures ever drawn by a prophetic pen, and also one of the brightest (chapter 2:28). Here we note their utter bankruptcy. Their failure and desolation was—
I. Complete. "What the palmerworm left the locust has eaten; what the locust left has the cankerworm eaten; what the cankerworm left has the caterpillar eaten. A nation is come up upon My land whose teeth are the teeth of a lion. My vine is waste; my fig-tree is barked; my people like a virgin girded with sackcloth. Offerings cut off from the house of the Lord. The Lord's ministers mourn. The fields wasted, land mourns, harvest perished, all the trees of the field are withered, and joy is withered away from the sons of men" (vv. 4-12). Yet we know that "He does not afflict willingly, but for our profit." As with this nation, so is it with our souls; we need to be stripped naked and our earthly pleasures withered before we feel our need of God.
II. This bankruptcy was Humanly Incurable. What could this nation do to arrest all those adverse forces that were warring against them? In themselves they had no power to resist such a mighty host. Lord, teach us to know our own helplessness, while we war "not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). God has declared the bankruptcy of our sinful nature with regard to spiritual power. It is also humanly incurable. "In my flesh dwells no good thing."
III. This desolation reveals the Many Instruments at God's disposal. The "worm," the "locust," the "waste," the "blight," the "drought," and the "ungodly." All these He can turn into irresistible weapons of judgment. Surely we have need to "Behold the goodness and the severity of God" (Romans 11:22). He can use for our help or hindrance the most insignificant things on the earth. Great is our God, who can "make all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).
IV. The Divine Purpose. The reason of God's severity with them was to awaken in them a deep sense of their need of dependence upon Him. "Now, says the Lord, turn you to Me with all your heart. Rend your hearts and not your garments" (vv. 11, 12, 13). The called of God are called for God. It was easier for them to rend their garments as a sign of sorrow in the sight of men, than to rend their hearts as a proof of their humility before God. "A broken and contrite heart He will not despise." It may be easier for some of us to offer a gift for God's cause than to offer ourselves to Him for His service. His purpose for us is that we should present our bodies a living sacrifice, and this is but "your reasonable service," and the evidence of a "renewed mind" (Romans 12:1, 2).
V. The Divine Encouragement. "Fear not, be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things. I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten, and you shall praise the Name of the Lord your God. My people shall never be ashamed" (chapter 2:21-27). What an inspiring message for trembling hearts. Though His hand is strong to smite, 'tis also strong to save. Why should we doubt in the cloudy and dark day, when we are assured that God is light and that God is love? "I am the Lord, I change not" (Malachi 3:6). Our trials and troubles are no proof that the character of our God has in any way changed. God, in Christ, is "the same yesterday, today, and forever." Approach with joy "the Mercy Seat," for He is waiting there to show "the kindness of God" to every penitent soul that comes, and to restore unto them the joy of His salvation.
THE PROPHETIC OUTLOOK. Joel 2:28-32
"And it shall come to pass afterward." This "afterward" is interpreted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost, as "the last days" (Acts 2:17). This "afterward" seems to embrace this whole dispensation and the one that is to follow. We must not overlook the fact that all these words were spoken by Jehovah Himself, as the "I wills" prove. We have here then—
I. A Wonderful Promise. "I will pour out My Spirit" (v. 28). The Holy Spirit is the mysterious personal energy of God. In the past age He came again and again, and filled or clothed His chosen servants for their God-appointed work. But at Pentecost He was "poured out." As Jesus Christ poured out Himself for our redemption, so God has poured out His Spirit for our guidance and enduement for service.
1. The Extent of this Gift. "Upon all flesh." All types of humanity—white, black, brown, red, and yellow. There is no respect of persons with God; but everywhere all who believe in Christ, and desire to honor His Holy Name, may, if they will, receive their share of this holy unction. "The promise is to you and to your children, and to as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:39). To your "sons and your daughters, old men and young men, servants and handmaids." "Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?" (Acts 19:2); or in believing, did you receive?
2. The Results Predicted. These results must be such as cannot be gained without the operation of the Holy Spirit of Promise.
(a) "Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy." This may not mean the foretelling of events, but it does mean uttering words and thought by Divine inspiration, whether they are in a pulpit or a coal-pit; whether they are in the "ministry" or the factory, in the home or in the street. The true Christian life is a forthtelling of the Holy Spirit's presence.
(b) "Your old men shall dream dreams." We sometimes speak of a man as a dreamer, who is given to reverie, to deep, serious thought. But the Spirit of God, who taught Joseph and Jacob by dreams, can even while we sleep speak to the heart. The old men may not be so able now to take their part as formerly in the front of public spiritual warfare, but God has other ways that the world knows nothing of in bringing refreshing to their weary hearts. In this ministry of the Holy Spirit the "old man" is not cast off because of his age. Blessed be His Name.
(c) "Your young men shall see visions." Youth is the time of new visions, but with many these visions are as illusive as the mirage. "Your young men," or let us say, young men who have embraced the Christian faith, yielded to the call of Christ, and received the Holy Spirit. What marvelous visions of possibilities you will see in the world-wide field of labor and in the potentiality of your own redeemed character.
(d) "And upon the servants and the handmaids will I pour out My Spirit." The slaves and the kitchen maids are not to be exempt from this spiritual endowment, which means increased efficiency in every sphere of life. The Holy Spirit comes to put a new and higher value into all our activities.
II. A Solemn Warning. "I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth... before the great and terrible day of the Lord come." The "Day of the Lord" will be very different from this present day of grace. Then shall the lawless one be revealed, whom the Lord shall destroy with the "brightness of His Coming" (2 Thessalonians 2:8). For "the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 1:7, 8). This is the merciful Day of the Lord. Then will come "the terrible Day of the Lord" (v. 31). "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation." Sound aloud the trumpet of His Gospel call.
III. A Precious Opportunity. "And it shall come to pass, that whoever shall call in the Name of the Lord shall be delivered" (v. 32). In the midst of such terrible judgments God has not forgotten to be gracious, for yet "in Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance." Meanwhile this door of opportunity stands wide open, for "whoever will" (John 3:16). Christ, by the sacrifice of Himself, has "put away sins" as a barrier in the way of our approach. The responsibility of the sinner is now great, because he is thus without excuse. It is ours to "call on the Name." It is His to deliver. "Salvation is of the Lord." "The grace of God that brings salvation to all men has appeared" (Titus 2:11-14).