“Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your forefathers?” Joel 1:2
Does the Bible have anything to say about pandemics? I think Joel chapter 1 has a lot to say to us in our current coronavirus situation. May I suggest you have that passage to hand as you read this?
Something had happened to Judah in Joel’s time that was quite unprecedented (when have we heard that word recently?): “Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your forefathers?” (v2). It was something not to be forgotten for several generations (v3). About four waves of locusts had devoured everything in sight (v4).
Everybody and everything was affected; the devastation and suffering was all-pervasive, like the effects of Covid-19 on health, life, livelihoods, education, the economy and worship.
The locust invasion was likened to an invading army (vv6,7), or was it, in fact, an army likened to a swarm of locusts? We can’t be quite sure but, either way, the result was the same: utter devastation with most serious consequences. But what of the details?
Wine drinkers had a problem: the wine ‘has been snatched from your lips’ (v5). We, too, have been deprived of things we depend on – human contact, social gathering etc.
Plans and hopes had been dashed like a bride bereft of her husband (v8). We, too, have seen weddings postponed, funeral numbers limited, holidays cancelled. Temple worship had become impossible because there were no resources for the offerings and the priests were in mourning (v9). We know all about closed church buildings and Zoom services being a noble but poor substitute for a ‘real’ service. Food production (vv10-12) was severely struck and we, though by God’s grace still have adequate food supplies, are facing a huge economic crisis from which it will take a very long time to recover. The result of all this was that “the joy of people is withered away”. Is that not true also of our society now?
The religious leaders of the day were the first to be called upon to give a lead in bringing the people back to a dependence upon God (v13). As then, so today, the root problem and the root solution is spiritual. So there was a call to prayer (v14) with ‘the elders’ to take the lead, for judgment is at hand (v15). Maybe, if nothing else, this pandemic is a wake-up call to those of us who may have forgotten, or put to the back of our minds, the fact that we are all accountable to God.
A lack of joy and gladness in worship, together with a crisis in the environment (vv16-20) sound so familiar. Is not a call to prayer of paramount importance and should it not start with us, and our church?
Now for the good news! One day our sovereign God of grace and power will bring all sin and suffering to an end. “…our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8: 18).
Your brother in Christ