THE DAY OF THE LORD: Intercessory Prayer Part Three
Judah was on the verge of expiring! Her spiritual chart read: head sick, heart faint, body full of wounds, bruises, and putrefying sores. From head to toe there was no soundness in her, cried isaiah (Isa. 1:6).
Not even by offering the proper sacrifice would God remove Judah’s sin and provide spiritual healing, for He said: I cannot bear your sacrifice; I am weary of your appointed feasts; I will hide my eyes and close my ears to your prayers (Isa. 1:11-15)! All was a postured pretense in worship, a shameful sham, and a sick stench in the nostrils of God.
Could there be any hope for Judah? Yes, if Judah would come and reason her spiritual condition before the Lord, there was hope. God set forth the choice: repent and obey me, and ye shall eat the good of the land; refuse and rebel, and ye shall be devoured by the sword. The choice hinges on, “If ye be willing” (Isa. 1;18″20).
PLEA FOR REPENTANCE
Joel put the same choice before Judah years earlier. The plea was urgent, “Therefore . . . now . . . turn even to me . . .” (v. 12). ‘”Therefore” reflects back to everything prophesied up to that point concerning the locust plague which was about to descend upon Judah. Joel was saying, You see the imminent danger, “now.. . turn,”’ in hope that God will stay His hand of judgment Turn in repentance with a contrite heart, not with an external show of sacrificial worship.
Repentance comes from a Hebrew word which means to draw a deep breath, as one does in expressing relief or sorrow. With reference to man’s sin, repentance is that inner contrition and conviction which leads the individual to confess and forsake his sin. True repentance involves contrition of heart, confession with the mouth, and a change in the person’s conduct.
The repenter must show sincere contrition over his sin which will affect him in three ways. First, contrition affects the intellect. To repent means to have a change of mind about one’s sin. A changed mind is clearly illustrated during Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, when he said, “. . . Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” (Acts 2:38).The Jewish people had viewed Jesus as a false Messiah, but now their eyes were opened; 3,000 repented (had a changed mind) of their sin and became believers. Upon hearing Peter’s message, their intellect was changed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:14-36).
Second, contrition affects the will. It is not enough to be intellectually convicted or convinced of sin, there must be the will to confess and forsake it This is beautifully portrayed by the willful action of the prodigal son (Lk. 15:11-32). Seeing the degraded state into which he had gotten himself, the prodigal son made the willful choice to abandon the pigpen of sin, return to his father, and confess his sin (Lk. 15:17-21).
Third, contrition affects the emotions. David caught the true spirit of contrition when he said, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17).
Those in Judah were to manifest this type of contrition. God said, “turn . . . with fasting . . .weeping . . . mourning; And tear your heart, and not your garments” (vv. 12-13). By fasting, the Judean humbled himself before God, which heightened his sensitivity and sorrow over sin, producing a deeper reliance on the Lord. By weeping and mourning (lit., beating one’s breast) [v. 12], he showed to God and others his grief felt over sin. Jesus’ parable of the praying Pharisee and publican presents a beautiful contrast of true weeping over sin. When the Pharisee prayed, he extolled his virtues before God; but the poor publican, never looking up from his position in a corner of the Temple, beat his breast as he confessed his sin with great contrition of heart (Lk. 18:13). By tearing his garment, the Judean presented an outward sign of the inner grief he felt over sin. But it was possible to rend the garment without having true contrition for one’s sin. God is saying, Do not just give Me the outward motion of grief, but show your emotional brokenness over sin with a rent heart.
Contrition is more than feeling sorrow or remorse over sin. When Judas saw that he was condemned after betraying Jesus, he “repented” (Mt. 27:3). In this context, the word repent (K.J.V.) is better translated remorse. Judas did not really repent (change his mind about the sin), but only sorrowed over his action. His mental anguish drove him to commit suicide. On the other hand, Peter went out and “wept bitterly” after his denial of Jesus (Mt. 26:75), which was an expression of true contrition and repentance over his sin.
Jesus said, “Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted” (Mt. 5:4). The truly contrite, who mourns over his sin, will be a blessed (happy) man and receive comfort from the Lord.
True contrition leads the individual to confession of his sin. Confession is to admit one’s guilt and agree with God that, in fact, he has transgressed God’s Law. The Levitical Law required, along with confession, that restitution be made to the offended party, whenever possible, before remission was granted (Lev. 5:5-6; Num. 5:7; Lev. 16:21).
Unconfessed sin has a destructive effect on the individual: spiritually, psychologically, and physically. David attested to this fact in the year he carried his unconfessed sin with Bathsheba. Spiritually, he lost the joy of his salvation, feeling the presence of the Lord had left him (Ps. 51:11-12). Psychologically, his sin was continually before him (Ps. 51:3). Physically, David felt his strength ebbing away during the time he hid his sin (Ps. 32:3-4; 51:8). Not until he acknowledged his sin through outward confession was the burden lifted; then he sensed forgiveness and the joy of his salvation returned (Ps. 32:1; 51:3; 2 Sam. 12:13).
Before God can forgive the Christian, he must confess and forsake his sin (1 Jn. 1:9), and make reconciliation with an offended brother whenever possible (Mt. 6:14-15; 18:15-17).
True confession leads to a changed conduct. This is beautifully illustrated at the Thessalonians’ conversion — when they “turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God” (1 Th. 1:9). Their change in conduct was manifested in three ways. First, they “turned to God,” meaning a conversion took place. They were headed in one direction, made an about-face, and went in the opposite direction. Second, they “turned . . . from idols.” Literally, they turned away from the sinful practices of their past idolatry, never to worship that way again. Third, they “turned … to serve the living and true God.”’ They became slaves, or bondservants to Christ. Notice, they did not just make adjustments in their conduct, but a radical change took place which was expressed in total commitment to the Lord. True repentance produces this type of change — the change God desired of Judah, if their repentance was to be valid.
God expects the same commitment of the believer today! There must be true confession of sin from a contrite heart, followed by a change in conduct, if the believer’s repentance is to be acceptable before God. “For the grace of God . . . hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godiy, in this present age” (Ti. 2:11-12), said Paul.
But what assurance did the Judeans have that God would hear the sinner’s prayer? Like a father to a wayward son, God desired to bring reconciliation between Himself and Judah. Joel aimed to awaken judah to this fact by reminding them that God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger,and of great kindness” (v. 13). The words “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” are used in other portions of Scripture as a creedal statement for God’s grace unto Israel (Num. 14:18; Ps. 86:15; Jon. 4:2; Nah. 1:3).
God’s graciousness is the foundation of His mercy, and because of His mercy, He is slow to anger (longsuffering), which manifests itself in great kindness (abundant goodness) toward His people. Israel’s history is punctuated with God’s mercy towards them: David (2 Sam. 24:14), Solomon (1 Ki. 3:6; 8:23), Nehemiah (Neh. 9:19), and Jeremiah, after the Babylonian destruction (Lam. 3:22), all experienced the loving-kindness of the Lord.
If only Judah would repent of her evil, God would repent of the evil (judgment) of her (v. 13). But how can a perfect God repent? Does God change His mind?
In answering these questions, a distinction must be made between God’s nature, character, and action toward man. The nature and character of God are immutable, meaning there is no variableness nor change within Him. God’s attributes work together in perfect harmony, they cannot contradict each other, “he abideth faithful; he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:1 3). It cannot be said that God changes His purpose or mind when it comes to bringing judgment on sin. But God will change His action (withhold judgment) when a person or nation truly repents. Therefore, repentance on God’s part involves a proper divine reaction to man’s sin — that is, God will either extend mercy or judgment.
If Judah repents, will God stay His hand of judgment? Joel, not wanting to give a definite answer says, ‘Who knoweth” (v. 14), meaning perhaps God will remove the judgment. Although God promises to take away eternal damnation from all who repent of their sin, He still reserves the right to bring or remove temporal judgment on an individual or nation. This is illustrated in two instances of repentance. First, when David sinned with Bathsheba, God forgave his sin (2 Sam. 12:13), but the temporal consequences of David’s sin would follow him the rest of his life (2 Sam. 12:10). Second, Nineveh had sinned greatly, but God took away their sin and restrained His hand of temporal judgment (Jon. 3:9-10). The same principle holds true for the Christian: his sin is taken away, but many times he reaps the results of his sin (Gai. 6:7-8).
Would there be an indication from God that Israel’s repentance had been accepted? Yes, He would again restore the grain and vineyard, which had been cut off (1:9,13,16) in order for Judah to offer a meal and drink offering (v. 14).
How can the Christian know that his repentance is acceptable to God? Simply by believing the authority of God’s Word, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). A right relationship with God will be manifested through a cleansed life which produces fruit and radiates the joy of the Lord (Jn. 15:1-11)
THE PLACE OF REPENTANCE (vv. 15-17).
Joel has already called the people to the Temple for repentance (1:14; 2:1), but in greater detail he spells out what is involved in their coming to petition God. The nation is instructed to fast, not only individually (v. 12), but in a “solemn assembly” (v. 15). The fact indicates a corporate self-humiliation as a nation before God in hope that the coming judgment might be averted.
All the people are required to come without exception:-“‘… elders . .. children .. . those that nurse… bridegroom… and the bride” (v. 16). The crisis is so serious that those who would normally be exempt from worship, because of age or a recent marriage, must gather to fast and pray. It must be remembered that all are sinners no matter what their age or standing in society.
The priests are to plead in prayer “between the porch and the altar” (v. 17). They stood facing the door of the holy place entreating the Lord with weeping and pleading, hoping He would show mercy and avert the judgment.
Joel instructs.the priests on how to intercede on behalf of the nation. They are to pray, “Spare thy people, O Lord” (v. 17). Judah is God’s people and possession by His direct sovereign choice (Dt. 7:6). This is not the first time in which a plea of intercession for Israel had been made; Moses (Ex. 32:12; Dt. 9:282,9) and Joshua (Josh. 7:6-9) offered the same plea.
They are to pray, “and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them” (v. 17). A better translation of this prayer would be, “And do not make Thine inheritance a reproach, a byword among the nations” (NAS.B.).
There are two reasons why it is clear that the verse is not speaking of Judah’s fear that nations will rule over them. First, the context of Israel’s fear concerns the locust plague which is ready to descend in destruction, not heathen nations. Second, if Judah is destroyed by the locusts, they will become a “reproach, and a byword among the nations,”’ thus bringing reproach to God and His glory. Why will this be so? Because the nations will surmise that Israel’s God is either unconcerned so will not deliver her, or, worse, lacks the power to do so. Therefore, the heathen will say, “Where is their God?” (v. 17), scoffing, mocking, and trampling the true and living God under foot.
Today, like then, God is “longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). God shows loving forbearance in manifesting judgment, hoping that it will lead men to repentance.
One day God’s longsuffering will run out, and the Day of the Lord will come in devastating judgment. A holocaust like this world has never experienced is fast approaching. Is there any hope for sinful men? Yes, a genuine repentance and turning to Christ. Is there any hope for America? Yes, the same hope which God put before Judah and every other nation that went off in sin. The choice is clearly one of repentance or ruin. The country is on a collision course and has a date with destruction unless repentance is forthcoming. In Judah, repentance began at the house of the Lord. God will not accept anything less from His people today.