by Pastor Tanner Stockton
I remember perking up out of a slight daze when I heard the pastor read Joel 2:25. It was the first time I really heard it and one of those instances when you wonder to yourself, “How in the world have I never heard that verse before?” It was so powerful and offered so much hope. Did he make it up or something? Of course not, it was in one those books of the Bible that we often treat like fly-over states—much to our own chagrin. However, I think that was why it packed such a punch to me. All the words of the Bible are breathed out by God, profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16), so this verse was meant to communicate truth and mold me into the image of Christ as the Father intended. Finding it in a book I had previously treated with little regard encouraged me to search to the depths of the most obscure places in Scripture. From then on, the “locust-eaten years passage” held immense encouragement and became a go-to for me when I was struggling or sitting with someone who I knew would benefit from hearing that truth. A few years later, it became especially vital to me.
In the spring of 2014, a family member came to us with the happy news that they were expecting a child. This being the first grandchild of our immediate family, we were all overjoyed at the prospect of welcoming new life. After a few doctors’ appointments, however, we received news that delivery would likely not happen due to an extremely rare disease that was 99.9% fatal. We were devastated. Many days and nights I questioned God, and begged him to heal the baby and give us comfort. It was one of the darkest seasons for all of us, yet God was using this suffering to mold us. As the due date was drawing near, we pursued every possible option for finding a specialist who could operate to save the life of our newest family member. However on December 7, 2014, Georgia Brooke Stockton was born into this world, but her spirit was in Heaven, experiencing the bliss that all of God’s children will one day meet in Glory.
If you are a Christian, you well know the effects of sin on us. It manifests in different ways such as death, bodily decay, ongoing sin, and tragedy that can only be explained with a worldview that affirms the fallenness of this present world. My family came face to face with this reality in a way one hopes never to endure, but as the years passed, I saw the grace of God reveal just how much he will restore to us the locust-eaten years. It led me to my upstairs room with a guitar in hand to put that promise to song and a more in-depth study of what the book of Joel is all about. As I studied this book, several of its notes proved great encouragement to me, and they have helped me see God’s providential care for our family from a more distant perspective.
The Locust-Eaten Years Were Due to the People’s Sin and Sin in General
There is not a great deal of background on Joel the man, but what we see in this book is a representation of God and what we can expect from His “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” character (Joel 2:13). At the root of the plight that the people faced was their turning away from God and His commandments. We see this from the plea to return to God’s commands not just in practice but at the heart level (Joel 2:12-13). Oftentimes it is all too easy for us to turn our backs on God’s commands simply because we are a sinful people and beset with the ancient disease at our very core. We lament with Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).
Paul labors in the middle chapters of Romans to show us our weakness and how much we need Christ, not for a quick fix to unburden ourselves of momentary affliction, but to see a heart-level change that replaces desires that are sinful with those that are God-honoring. As the people look out at the enemy coming their way due to their sin, they shudder and hide their face, and rightfully so. But God reveals his redemptive work in the book of Joel, showing he is not just a vindictive ruler punishing his people for their heinous crimes, even though he would have the right to do so, but a loving father who desires to restore his people back to a place of peace.
God Beckons Them to Come Back
All throughout Joel there is a call to “return to the Lord” and we know this is the act of repentance. In verse 13 there is a plea to rend their hearts and mournfully come back to God who is seeking to restore them. As the ESV Study Bible puts it, “This command, coupled with the wholehearted devotion prescribed in v. 12, echoes Deuteronomy 30:6, where a circumcised heart is one that loves God completely.” To love God completely is not something natural for us, but we have an example that goes before us in Hebrews 4—a great high priest who is able to sympathize with our weakness, and beckons us to draw near to the throne of grace with confidence that, by the blood of the Lamb, we will be cleansed. It is His work and we must believe it. “Do not harden your hearts,” the writer pleads (Hebrews 4:8), for the rest you so long for is found in relationship with Christ and him alone!
God Restores His People When They Return to Him
In verse 18, we see a shift in the passage from focusing on God’s righteous judgment that is coming to his errant people to the pity of his heart upon his repentant people. It comes only after the people call a fast and seek God with their whole hearts (v. 15-16). This is a beautiful example to us that despite where we have been or the shame we feel because of our choices, when we throw ourselves on the mercies of God, deciding to forsake our sin and run to him, he will always show compassion and bring about restoration. It is that sweet truth that we read in John’s gospel, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out,” (John 6:37). This will bring so much comfort when you decide to allow it to sink into your soul and believe it with all your heart.
God Blesses Them After They Are Restored
One of the sweetest things to me when I consider my walk with God and the struggles that I have wrestled with over the last decade, is the peace and joy that comes from returning to him. There is sweet relief and a sense of safety when we follow God’s command to come, repent, and receive his blessing. Beginning in Joel 2:23 we see the next turn in this chapter and the blessing that the Lord rains down on his people. The threshing floors are full (v. 24), the locust-eaten years will be restored (v.25), there will be satisfaction and praise to God (v. 26), and more. God promises us life and he promises it abundantly when we return to him and seek His restoration. It should be said however that this restoration is not according to our wills but the Lord’s. Job never received back the children that were taken away, but he did come to a fuller knowledge that God is in control, and his plans cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2). What more can we ask for, but that more light and insight be given us into the character of our God?
For our family, we experienced restoration in the form of Sutton Brooke, who was born just five years after Georgia. Though I am thankful beyond measure and treasure the life of Sutton, I know that restoration already came for Georgia, and her very existence with our Lord is enough. We ourselves can look forward to that very restoration as each of us comes closer to being with our Lord.
As I have experienced that restoration for our family and remember the many evidences of grace God has shown us, I am reminded of the great love that God has for me. I am comforted by 1 Thessalonians 4, that one day I will be “caught up in the clouds” with Georgia as the consummation of all things takes place. I remember that His blessings are the reality of what sin and Satan have tried to ruin in my life. There is actual healing from the pain, and peace in believing the good news of Jesus Christ. So, I encourage you, Christian, as you are reading this and cannot see the end or even the purpose for the current pain in your life, that you would know that though complete restoration may not come in this life, there is a day when all things will be made new. We get to be a part of that—just consider that truth! In Christ, we are a part of the redemption of this present world and are the very miracles and proof that God is keeping his promises to us. He is making all things new, and is indeed restoring to us the locust-eaten years.