The Years the Locusts Have Eaten
Haunted by the Past
The older I get the more it becomes clear that a person can look back on his or her life with regret for things he or she has done or failed to do. This examination of past actions and failures can serve to make us better if we learn from them. However, many simply look back and allow those sins and mistakes to haunt them and prevent them from looking to the future in hope. Even though they are forgiven by God, some may think that they don't deserve a good life because of actions done years earlier. Or others may look at a failure and make that a reason for a low view of self and lack of confidence to try again in the present.
This is further complicated by the fact that you cannot change the past or its effects upon you and those you love. The drunken man, for instance, who decides to drive and in the process kills someone. Or he ends up paralyzed and is in a wheelchair for life. He can never totally change the effects of these things.
And what about the parents who have so much going on that they don't have time for the family. The children grow up not knowing who their father or mother are. And when they are adults, those children now have no time for the ones who gave them birth. Or maybe they grow up and do things that bring embarrassment to the family in some way because they were never taught properly in their formative years.
All of us, though maybe not as dramatic, have things in our life that we wish we hadn't done, or that we desire not to have happened. And they cannot be altered no matter how many sleepless nights we spend on our knees in prayer. Past actions can never be undone. Some are haunted by these sins and failures the rest of their lives.
It is during these low periods of life that we can look to the Lord and see His hand in everything. Even the stupid things that we do and the wasted hours that we've allowed to pass by that we can never get back can be redeemed by God. He can make them work together for good to produce in us a more Christlike character. And we can choose to remember the fact that, for the Christian, this life is but a stepping stone to the life that Christ has offered us in eternity. The years, though lost, can be redeemed by a gracious God as we serve Him beyond the 75 to 100 year life span we have on this present earth.
As we come to those periods when we give ourselves a rigid self-examination of past actions, we can find solace in the small Old Testament book of Joel.
I. The Background of the Book of Joel
This three chapter book of the Bible was written by the prophet Joel, whose name means "Yahweh is God" in Hebrew. Several dates have been proposed for the book of Joel and we can't know for sure. Some scholars have placed its writing as early as the ninth century B.C. Others have placed it at the end of the prophetic period. However, it would seem that there is much evidence to conclude that the setting is the late seventh or early sixth centuries B.C. (609-586). This is around the time when Babylon is about to destroy the temple of Jerusalem and take over the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Many of its inhabitants go into exile from the land after the fall of Jerusalem, so the time that Joel is writing has come to be known as the late pre-exilic period. But for those who would argue for an earlier or later date, fortunately these details don't affect the message of the book.
The prophet is warning the people of Judah to repent of their sins because of the coming Day of the Lord when judgement will take place upon God's people and upon the nations of the world.
In speaking of the Day of the Lord, the prophet uses an illustration which was more than likely a literal locust plague that had earlier taken place. He mentions four types of locusts that would destroy the crops and other vegetation of Israel. In Joel 1:4 he says:
“What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten” (ESV).
Today, a locust plague is bad. In those days it was devastating and often meant famine and starvation for many in the nation. This disaster was a small taste of what it will be like in the Day of the Lord for the unrepentant nation and world.
Of course, we know from history that the people of Judah didn't repent and with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, a portion of Joel's prophecy took place. Peter, in the book of Acts, said that the Day of Pentecost was a further fulfillment of part of the prophesy. However, the rest of the prophecies have yet to happen in the future Day of the Lord when God's wrath and judgement will come upon the whole world ( Acts 2:16; Joel 2:28ff).
II. God's Mercy After Judgement
Though I don't want to underplay the message of future judgement that is clearly seen in this Old Testament book, there is also another message which we can see that affects our immediate lives. Our God is not only a God of judgement but He is also a God of infinite mercy and grace. The Lord promises His people that after the judgement upon Judah He would do a wonderful thing. He tells them:
"Then I will repay you for the years that the locusts have eaten- the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm. My great army which I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied. And praise the name of the Lord your God who has dealt wondrously with you. Then My people will never be put to shame. Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel and that I am the Lord your God, and there is no other. And my people will never be put to shame" (Joel 2:25-27).
No matter what they have done, or how far they have strayed, the Lord never ceases to love nor desire a restored relationship with His people. And when they repent, He will bring back abundant blessings to them and fulfill His promises.
One of the wonderful things about our God is that He never changes. The same Lord who could reinstate the blessings to His repentant people Israel, and give them a new life, can restore His repentant people today as well. And not only that but He more than compensates for what we have lost due to His judgment.
For those of us who are Christians, Jesus' blood has paid for all of our sins- the past, present, and future. Jesus became sin for us that we might have our sins taken away and that we might receive His righteousness (II Corinthians 5:21).
As far as condemnation and guilt are concerned, in God's eyes, they are dead issues for those whom He has redeemed. Romans 8:1 tells us that there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. If God doesn't condemn us, we should stop condemning ourselves.
Paul says, "Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14).
The Lord can and will cause all of the things in our lives to work together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). And we must realize that all of our past, ( the good, the bad and the ugly), is part of the story that we can one day praise God for due to His many favors to us who deserve none of them. God has redeemed our past. He has removed our transgressions as far as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12). Let's stop fretting over what God has forgotten (Hebrews 8:12) and start living for Him in the present.
Our awesome God can indeed repay us for the years that the locusts have eaten. Let us worship and praise Him for His wonderful love, mercy and grace!