Joel is filled with distressing and vivid metaphors. A book that begins with a swarm of locusts, then a bitter lamentation of the “day of the Lord”, followed by the priests weeping and abruptly hearing of promised joy, today’s passage comes at a time of judgment (although we will have a happy ending).
There is much military imagery, and a gathering of troops. Then in an ironic reversal of images, the plowshares are beat into swords, and the pruning hooks into spears (opposite of Micah 4:3 and Isaiah 2:4). Judgment is coming on Israel’s neighbors, as the legions of troops gather in Israel to do battle with God’s warriors. “But the Lord is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.”
With the “day of the Lord” being near, it becomes apparent that God is the only true defense – the only stronghold of worth. In colorful language, the scene is drawn up. “The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shake. But the Lord is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.”
All this begs the question: Where are our allegiances? In whom do we put our trust? In these days of much need, the scripture compels us to care for the poor, the widows, the orphans. We are called to reflect on our true Lord and Master. Is it the State? Or is it God? Whose plans are we more willing to follow?
I am no prophet when I tell you all: It is not easy trusting in God. Many spend years renewing their trust in God, never quite satisfied with the results. In that sense, the words of the prophet Joel come as a great comfort. Our human failings and longings are inconsequential to our actions. God overcomes it all – not just the military might of the armies of foes, but of all human shortcoming. It is immaterial how much we trust in God ultimately, because God assures us that He is “a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people….”