By Joseph Ametepe
The theme for this year is"Prayer...America's Hope." It is based on Psalm 33:22 which states: "Let Your lovingkindness, O LORD, be upon us, according as we have hoped in You." (NASB).
Earlier, the psalmist declared in the Spirit: "Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness" (Psalm 33:18). These two passages reveal that true hope that does not disappointment is built on the Person of Yahweh Himself and His lovingkindness. God's lovingkindness (Hebrew: chesed) is His loyal or unfailing or steadfast love for His covenant and chosen people. Our hope is therefore rooted in a God who loves us with unconditional and unfailing love. In other words, our hope is not so much in our prayers as it is in the Person of God who loves us with undying and unending love. He is greater than our prayers and is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think. Because of His undying love for His people, God keeps calling them to return to Him with genuine heartfelt repentance in order to receive His promised blessings and His best for their lives, no matter how low they have sunk in their rebellion against Him. This, indeed, is a message of hope to the people of God of all generations.
Nowhere is this hope expressed than in the prophetic Old Testament book of Joel. The nameJoel is actually a combination of two divine names in the Hebrew language: Yahweh andElohim, meaning, "The LORD is God." The prophet who bears this name believed that definition without reservation. He was called by God to deliver a message of repentance and hope to the nation of Judah at a crucial time in Judah's history. God's covenant people had sunk low in their wickedness against Him. The spiritual condition of Judah was at an all time low. They had been disobeying God. They had forsaken Yahweh, the true and living God, for other gods who were false and lifeless. Because of their stubborn rebellion against their covenant God, He sent an army of locusts to invade the land of Judah and devastate their crops (Joel 1:4-12). This resulted in a great famine in the land. This was their economic downturn or great depression. Things went from bad to worse for God's stubborn and rebellious people. Taking disciplinary measures against His wayward people, God sent a great drought and fire upon the land (Joel 1:15-20). It was a time of great suffering for man and beast. Furthermore, God pronounced a more devastating judgment on His rebellious people (Joel 2:1-11). Yet before God would carry out His judgment, in His compassion, He gave His people a message of hope. Because of His character of graciousness, He would relent of His judgment and even bless His people, if they sincerely repented of their waywardness and returned to Him. In other words, Joel announced with great conviction that the plague Judah experienced was sent by God because of the sin of His people. But Joel also proclaimed with great certainty a message of hope beyond their present circumstances. God's message through Joel to the people of Judah in 835 B.C. is sorely needed today as well.
As a nation, America has been sinking deeper and deeper in rebellion against God. We are not sincerely turning to the true and living God, who is revealed fully in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, but are turning away from Him. God's judgment is bound to fall upon us, for the millions of babies that are aborted every year, for the increased perversion in the land, for the alarming rate of moral decay and corruption, for the hatred of His Word and hostility against it in the public square, for promoting and approving lifestyles that are worthy of condemnation, for exchanging the truth of God for a lie, for the rampant and uncontrolled greed in corporate America. Yet, despite sinking so low as a nation in our rebellion against God, there is a message of hope for America. God wants us to return to Him with sincerity of heart. Because He is gracious and compassionate, not only will He hold back His hand of judgment from us, but He will also bless us as a nation. In other words, He can do for the repentant nation of America in the twenty-first century A.D. what He did for repentant Judah in the late ninth-century B.C.
Throughout history, God has acted in response to these two things, namely, the praises of His people and the prayers of His people. In Psalm 22:3, the Bible says, "O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel." In other words, God inhabits the praises of His people. When Judah was invaded by three nations, namely, the Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites, (2 Chronicles 20:1), we are told, God acted in response to the praises of His people, routing the Ammonites, Moabites and inhabitants of Mount Seir (2 Chronicles 20:22-23). All the people of Judah had to do was to collect and carry the plunder of their enemies (2 Chronicles 20:24-25). Also, God responded to the believing prayers of Moses (Exodus 15:25), of Joshua (Joshua 10:12-14), of the sons of Israel (Judges 3:9-30), of Gideon (Judges 7:36-40), of Samuel (1 Samuel 12:16-18), of Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:10), of Isaiah (2 Kings 19:1-7), of Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:14-35), of Daniel (Daniel 9), of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4-11), of Ezra (Ezra 8:21-23), of a leper (Mark 1:40-42), of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar (Mark 10:46-52), of Peter (Acts 9:36-42), of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:3-17). In fact, the Bible summarizes God's response to the believing prayers of His people in these words: "God was moved by prayer for the land" (2 Samuel 21:14; 24:25).
I believe with all my heart that the time has come for God's believing people living in this generation to experience a powerful move of God in response to our prayers for our land. Why am I saying that with confidence? The Bible says this of our Lord Jesus Christ through whose merit our prayers are received and responded to: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). Yes, God can still be moved by prayer for the land by His repentant people. Do you believe that in your heart? Are you expecting God to bless our generation with His mighty and miraculous acts in response to our prayers and praises? I believe and I expect to see Him act mightily in response to our believing and effectual prayers. God's own promise to us is this: "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much" James 5:16b (NASB).
For this year's National Day of Prayer, I would like us turn our attention to Joel 2:12-20. It is a rich and remarkable passage which describes God's zealous and compassionate response to the believing prayers of His repentant people. Not only does it give God's people sure and steadfast hope to return to God, but it is also a powerful illustration of 2 Chronicles 7:14, which says, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (NIV).
If we are going to pray to move the heart and the hand of God to bring repentance, renewal, and revival to this nation, then we must approach Him applying the principles preserved in Joel 2:12-20. First of all, in this article, God's passionate plea to the nation to return to Him will be our focus. Secondly, the purpose for the return of God's people to Him will be carefully considered. Thirdly, the proclamation for a solemn gathering of God's people for the purpose of giving themselves to heartfelt prayer and repentance will be examined. Fourthly, the petitions to spare the nation and not make His inheritance a reproach will be discussed. Fifthly, the personal promises given by Yahweh to His repentant people will be our concluding deliberation. Let's now begin to look at each of these major points in detail!
I. Passionate plea to the nation to return to God (vv. 12-13a).
The situation in Joel's day was dire. The land of Judah had been devastated. It was suffering from massive devastation caused by a locust plague and drought. Joy and delight had departed from all segments of society. Even the joy that normally accompanied the time of harvest in the land had been replaced by great despair (Joel 1:11-12). As if these were not enough to crush the rebellious spirit of the Judeans, Almighty God predicted that further destruction would come upon the land of Judah (Joel 1:15; 2:1-11). However, before God would carry out His plans of further destruction, as a loving Father who does not delight in the death of the wicked, He made a passionate plea to the nation of Judah to return to Him. He didn't need to make this passionate plea. He could have judged Judah in their rebellion and still remained true to His loving character. But with a heart that longs for His people, God invited them to return to Him. His passionate plea for Judah to return to Him is vividly captured in these words of hope spoken through the prophet Joel:
"'Yet even now,' declares the LORD, 'Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heartand not your garments'" Joel 2:12-13a (NASB).
The beauty of the prophetic book of Joel is that it does not simply point a finger in the face of the guilty; it also holds out hope to God's people. The wayward nation of Judah needed a message of hope even on the morning after doomsday. Hope is exactly what God gave them in this passage. Please notice the expression "yet even now." It is also rendered by the NIV as "but even now." The expression in Hebrew is "vegam-'attah." The "but" or "yet," in this expression is very important. One writer says, "If God had not said "but" in human history, the human race would have been lost." Another called these nick-of-time "buts" God's roadblocks on man's way to hell. Indeed, how thankful we can be for expressions such as "but God," and "yet even now." Had it not been for such expressions, God's curse on our sin and God's sentence of death because of our rebellion, would have remained upon our lives. But because of these simple, yet significant expressions, God's curse is turned into a blessing for us and His sentence of death is turned into eternal life. I feel like shouting, "Hallelujah."
What God is teaching us here through the expression "yet even now" is that even in the midst of His determination to unleash His righteous judgment, opportunity to return to Him was given. If God's people would demonstrate sincere repentance of the heart, Yahweh stood ready to forgive and bless them beyond their wildest imagination. In other words, God is signaling to His people the possibility of a reversal of all their sinful fortunes. Judah had sinned. But if they repented and returned to Elohim, He would forgive and embrace them. He would work transformation in their lives and land. Similarly, if the nation of America genuinely turns to God, God will forgive us. God will embrace us. God's favor will be upon us. God will bless us. God will work transformation in our lives and land. If we come back to God wholeheartedly, if we truly choose God to be our God, if we hungrily chase after the true God, God will restrain His hand of judgment from unleashing His righteous upon the nation.
The expression "declares the LORD" [Hebrew: ne'um Yahweh] should not be overlooked. It is a prophetic formula which indicates God is speaking through the prophet Joel. It emphasizes that the above passage is the personal invitation of the Lord to His people. God Himself is passionately and personally inviting His people to turn to Him even at this late hour.
Please notice very carefully that in pleading passionately to His people to return to Him, God laid an important condition upon the nation of Judah. The condition is that they return to Him with all their hearts and rend their hearts and not their garments. Tearing garments in ancient Israel was a sign of mourning, expressing exceptional emotion in times of grief or terror or misfortune (cf. Gen. 37:29, 34; Num. 14:6; 2 Sam. 3:31; 1 Kings 21:27; Ezra 9:3).The return and repentance God is looking for is more than an outward ritual. It is an internal transformation, not a superficial external change. In other words, God's people should not content themselves with mere outward signs of repentance. Our turning is to be with all our heart. To stress the significance of this condition, the word "heart" is used twice in Joel 2:12-13a (see above). We are to return with all our heart and rend our heart. The expression "rend your heart" (Joel 2:13a) signifies contrition of heart ( cf. Ps. 51:19; Ezek. 36:26). God doesn't want our returning to Him be an empty show, but one that is sincere and genuine. Yahweh is not pleased with people who honor Him with their lips but their hearts are far from Him (Isaiah 29:13; Mark 7:6). He is not looking for a repentance that is all show but no substance.
All throughout the Scriptures God appeals to our hearts, the seat of our faith, will, intellect and emotion. He commanded us to love Him with all our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37). His words shall be on our heart (Deuteronomy 6:6; 11:18). From the life of King David, He taught us to pour our heart before Him, (Psalm 62:8) and that if riches increase, we should not set our hearts upon them (Psalm 62:10). Through King Solomon, God exhorted us to guard over our heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23). Again, through Solomon's inspired prayer at the dedication of the first temple, God's desire is made known to us. He desires that our hearts may be inclined to Himself (1 Kings 8:58) and that our hearts be wholly devoted to Him (1 Kings 8:61). He proclaimed through the prophet Jeremiah, "wash your heart from evil" (Jeremiah 4:14). Furthermore, through Jeremiah He promised a new covenant saying, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it" (Jeremiah 31:33). Through Ezekiel He promised, "I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 11:19). He also commanded through Ezekiel, "make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit" (Ezekiel 18:31). God desires that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith (Ephesians 3:17). Furthermore, we are exhorted to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts (Colossians 3:15). We are to sing with thankfulness in our hearts to God (Colossians 3:16). We are admonished to be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let our requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7). If the heart is centered on the Person of God, faith and obedience will follow. For as the Lord Jesus taught in the New Testament, it is what comes out of the heart that determines the whole manner of life (Matthew 15:18; Mark 7:18-23).
With a rich history of appealing to our hearts, God calls for a turning that is to be done in the heart. The Hebrew verb translated "return" is shub. It also means "turn back," "come back," or "repent." The turning back to God or repenting means to seek God penitently. Throughout the Bible, repentance or returning to God, has the literal meaning of "making an about turn" or "turning around," of walking in the opposite direction from how we have previously walked. It's a full one hundred and eighty degree turn from our sinful lives to our Savior. If the turn is less than one hundred and eighty degrees, it is not complete therefore unacceptable to God. A complete "an about turn" is what God desires. This is the kind of turning God is strongly urging His people to demonstrate to Him. He wants true repentance, not a superficial external change. The time has come for America to turn sincerely and wholeheartedly to God. Government officials tell us that the time has come for bailing out banks, the Detroit Big Three Automakers and buying toxic assets in order to rescue us from our economic mess. But God says, the time has come for His people in America to return to Him with all their hearts in order for Him to withdraw His hand of judgment from us and bless us. The buzz in our present economic downturn is that America needs a come-back. But may I solemnly say to us that the come-back America needs is a come-back to God Almighty, the Creator, Ruler, King, and Lord of the nations who is fully revealed in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our come-back should not just be a come-back to the good old days of economic boom. We must stage a come-back to the true and living God who is greater than our economic boom of the past and who has power to make our economy a boom or a bust. "America: Let's Stage a Come-Back to God" should be the battle cry of pastors and preachers in this land.
Actually God's passionate plea to His people to return to Him is a common theme in the Scriptures. Again and again, the Bible shows God reaching out to His wayward people to return Him. In the days of the prophet Samuel, God exhorted the children of Israel to return to Him. "Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, 'If you return to the LORD with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your hearts to the LORD and serve Him alone; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.' So the sons of Israel removed the Baals and Ashtaroth and served the LORD alone" (1 Samuel 7:3-4). God's people returning to Him was at the heart of Solomon's magnificent prayer at the dedication of the first temple. "If they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies who have taken them captive, and pray to You toward their land which You have given to their fathers, the city which You have chosen, and the house which you have built for Your name; then hear their prayer and their supplication in heaven Your dwelling place, and maintain their their cause" (1 Kings 8:48-49). Hezekiah was one of the good kings of Judah. Early in his reign, God used him to turn His wayward people back to Himself. Hezekiah called Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, Manasseh, Zebulun to return to the Lord. God's call to His people to return to Him through Hezekiah is recorded in 2 Chronicles 30:6-12: "The couriers went through all Israel and Judah with the letters from the hand of the king and his princes, even according to the command of the king, saying, 'O sons of Israel, return to the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, that He may return to those of you who escaped and are left from the hand of the kings of Assyria. Do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were unfaithful to the LORD God of their fathers, so that He made them a horror, as you see. Now do not stiffen your neck like your fathers, but yield to the LORD and enter His sanctuary which He has consecrated forever, and serve the LORD your God, that His burning anger may turn away from you. For if you return to the LORD, your brothers and your sons will find compassion before those who led them captive and will return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and compassionate, and will not turn His face away from you if you return to Him.' So the couriers passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them. Nevertheless some men of Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the LORD." Through the prophet Isaiah, God gives an open invitation for the wayward and wicked to return to Him. "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7). The burden of Jeremiah's ministry was repeatedly calling God's faithless people to return to Him. "'Return, faithless Israel,' declares the LORD; I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious, declares the LORD; I will not be angry forever... Return, O faithless sons, declares the LORD; for I am a master to you,... Return, O faithless sons, I will heal your faithlessness" (Jeremiah 3:12, 14, 22). Before the repeated calls to His people to turn back to Him, God expressed His disappointment at Judah's failure to return to Him after they had seen His discipline of the northern kingdom, Israel. "I thought, 'After she has done all these things she will return to Me'; but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it... 'Yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception,' declares the LORD" (Jeremiah 3:7, 10). Perhaps, the most passionate plea made by God to people to turn to Him is found in Ezekiel 33. Baring His heart to Israel through the prophet Ezekiel, God gives us this promise and exhortation. "As I live! declares the Lord GOD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 33:11; cf. 18:30, 32). Also through the prophet Hosea God called His people to return to Him. "Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity" (Hosea 14:1; cf. 12:6). Nehemiah's confidence in storming the throne of God on behalf of the nation of Judah was based on the promise God made to His repentant or returning people. "Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell'" (Nehemiah 1:8-9). These scriptures show that making a passionate plea to His people to return to Him with all their hearts is a common practice of God. As long as His people have turned away from Him, God will not remain silent. He will call us to return to Him. He is God. He has the right to call us to turn back to Him from our waywardness. We have a choice. We can choose through God's Spirit to Return to Him and find compassion or refuse to return to Him and face His burning anger.
Perhaps, you are asking in your heart: How can I personally return to God with all my heart? Is it possible for me to experience such a sincere turning to God? God says, "Yes, you can." How? Well, it is because God Himself is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13). As you determine to get out of bed every morning and decide to be faithful to the God of your life, He will Himself go to work within your heart to create the desire to sincerely return to Him. Returning to God with all our heart is a call that begins with each one of us. Tell God to start with you first. Don't wait for others to turn to God before you think of it. To do so is to miss out on God's blessing and visitation, and be left behind.
Again, someone says in his heart: "Is it not too late for America to return to God? Have we not crossed the line of no return? God says, "As long as you have life today, as long as you are walking on your two feet, or three, or even four, as long as the sun still rises and sets, as long as fall is followed by winter, spring and summer, you can still return to Me. Therefore, you have no excuse. What are you waiting for? Return to Me with all your heart beginning today." We live in a generation of excuses. We might as well call ourselves "Gen. Ex." Some people resist coming back to God because they think it's too late to do so. "God, it's just too late to stop and turn back to You now," they say. Others give the excuse that it's futile to return to God because they've tried it before and they've failed. Still, some hide behind the excuse that it's no use to come back to God because God is through with them. He's written them off as beyond hope. But may I say to us that God is not going to accept these excuses. He says, "It's never too late to come back to Me. It's never too late to turn around. I'm ready to welcome you back. I'm waiting to take you back if you come back to Me with a sincere heart."
Now an important question to ask at this juncture is: Why is God passionately pleading for His people to return to Him? Is it because He is lonely? Is it because He is desperately in need of their company? Is it because He is feeling sorry for Himself up there in heaven? What is His motivation for pleading with His wayward people to come back to Him. His motivation, His desire, or His reason for His passionate plea is not because He is feeling lonely and sorry for Himself. It's not because He is so needy of our company. The second principle from our passage, the purpose for the return of God's people to Him, clearly answers our question.
II. Purpose for the return of God's people to Him (vv. 13b-14).
God's purpose for pleading with His people to return to Him is to reveal more of Himself to them so they will hunger and thirst for more of Him in their lives. Speaking by the Holy Spirit, the prophet Joel makes it clear to God's people that, it is only because of the character of our God that we have the privilege of returning to Him and experiencing renewal and revival. God's people can return to Him from their waywardness only because of who their God is. This is the reason the inspired prophet Joel gave to Judah to motivate and encourage them to return to Yahweh. The reason America can return to God today is not because of what America is, but because of who God Almighty is. This is very important. God doesn't want His people to lose sight of the fact that the blessings they receive from His hands are because of who He is, not because of their so-called righteous deeds. God's motive for His demand for His people to return to Him directs our focus to His character. In other words, restoration, renewal, or revival is only possible for the repentant because of who God is. The Bible vividly captures this in Joel 2:13b-14.
"Now return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil. Who knows whether He will not turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him, even a grain offering and drink offering for the LORD your God?" Joel 2:13b-14 (NASB).
In these wonderful words of hope, God is saying loud and clear to His people, returning to Him and experiencing renewal is only possible because of His character. Actually, the character description of God given in Joel 2:13b is found eight other times in the Old Testament, namely, Exodus 34:6-7 (this gives the full form); Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3.
Five specific character qualities of God are mentioned in Joel 2:13b as God reveals more of Himself to His people. First, is God's graciousness. This is His unmerited favor that is bestowed on His people. Being gracious means that God willingly chooses to give us His good and glorious blessings which we do not deserve from Him. We do not deserve God's acceptance of our turning, but God receives it anyway. This is a graphic description of His graciousness to us. This is the sweet sound of God's amazing grace-His undeserved, unearned, and unmerited favor. Inspired Apostle Paul reminded the proud and boastful first century church of Corinth of this very issue in his first letter to them. He asked: "What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7b). If there should be any boasting about God's response to our returning to Him, it should be in Him, not in us. We are to brag about, glory, or take pride in God's graciousness. Because of His gracious nature, God chooses to give us His very best which we do not deserve. We have a God who is always gracious.
The second character quality to which Joel points us is God's compassionate nature. He is a God full of compassion. This description can also be rendered as "merciful." The God who wants His people to return to Him is full of mercy. That is, our God is a God who chooses to withhold the judgment we deserve to receive from His hand for our rebellion and sin against Him. Who will not return to such a God? God's compassion or mercy can be compared to the love of a mother for the child of her womb. Mothers are full of compassion. They put their hearts out for their children, longing for them to return home and ready to receive them when their hearts turn toward home. God does this far better than our mothers. God is always compassionate or merciful.
The third character quality which is mentioned in our passage of study is that God is slow to anger. God wants His wayward people to return to Him because He is slow to anger.
"Slow to anger includes in its meaning God's patience-an incredible long-suffering patience with sinful folk, a constant refusal to give up on us and to consign us to death, a yearning love to include us in his kingdom." -Elizabeth Achtemeier: NIBC Vol. 17, p. 139.
We give up so easily on people. We quickly write them off as hopeless and done. But how wonderful it is to know that we have a God who refuses to give up on us and longs to include us in His kingdom purposes! Our God is always slow to anger. My brother and sister in Christ, you can always depend on a God who is always gracious, merciful and slow to anger!
The fourth character quality mentioned of God is His "abounding in lovingkindness." This expression is variously translated as "great kindness" (KJV), "abounding in steadfast love" (RSV), "abounding in love" (NIV), and "full of kindness" (LB). The Hebrew expression is rab chesed.
Commentator Elizabeth Achtemeier explains chesed.
"Chesed signifies that loving faithfulness to his covenant with Israel that God steadfastly maintains. Even though Israel promised, when the covenant was made at Mt. Sinai, "We will do everything that the LORD has said" (Exod. 19:8; 24:3, 7; cf. Deut. 5:27), the people constantly break their promise. But in the covenant relation God has promised to be Israel's God and he does not go back on his word. Instead, when Israel deserts God and its relation with him lies in shambles, God promises a new covenant, in which he will write his words on the people's heart so that they will remain faithful to him (Jer. 31:31-34)... God's willingness to uphold his covenant relation with us is his chesed, and it is that loving and willing faithfulness to which Joel 2:13 is pointing." -NIBC Vol. 17, pp. 139-140.
The Bible speaks of this loyal and loving faithfulness of God in 2 Timothy 2:13: "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself." Because our God abounds in this loving and willing faithfulness to His covenant with us, it makes returning to Him a delight for Him and a joy for us His repentant people. Our God is always abounding in loyal love to us. You can always count on Him and never be disappointed.
The fifth and final character quality to which the inspired prophet points God's people is that He relents of evil. The Hebrew word for "relent" is "nicham," from the root verb "nacham." It also means "be sorry," "moved to pity," "have compassion," "rue," "repent." The subject of God repenting or relenting of evil is best handled by Harris and company in the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. They explain:
"Unlike man, who under conviction of sin feels genuine remorse and sorrow, God is free from sin. Yet the Scriptures inform us that God repents (Gen. 6:6-7; Ex. 32:14; Jud. 2:18; I Sam. 15:11 et al.), i.e. he relents or changes His dealings with men according to his sovereign purposes. On the surface, such language seems inconsistent, if not contradictory, with certain passages which affirm God's immutability: "God is not a man... that He should repent" (I Samuel 15:29); "The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind" (Psalm 110:4). When nacham is used of God, however, the expression is anthropopathic and there is not ultimate tension. From man's limited, earthly, finite perspective it only appears that God's purposes have changed. Thus the OT states that God "repented" of the judgments or "evil" which he had planned to carry out ( I Chr 21:15; Jer. 18:8; 26:3, 19; Amos 7:3, 6; Jon 3:10). Certainly Jer 18:7-10 is a striking reminder that from God's perspective, most prophecy (excluding messianic predictions) is conditional upon the response of men. In this regard, A.J. Heschel (The Prophets, p. 194) has said, 'No word is God's final word. Judgment, far from being absolute, is conditional. A change in man's conduct brings about a change in God's judgment.' " -Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament Vol. II p. 571.
When a sinner or a backslider genuinely repents and turns to God, He says in effect, "Sinner or Backslider, you were under My judgment, and I had purposed to judge you for your sins against Me. But now that you have sincerely and humbly turned to Me, I will not judge you. Why? I am gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and relents of evil and always ready to forgive. That's why I will not judge you, repentant one."
Actually, the most graphic demonstration of God's relenting of evil is found in the book of Jonah. God gave a direct command to Jonah to go to Nineveh the great city to proclaim His message of judgment to the Gentile people living there. Instead of taking an overland trip east to Nineveh, Jonah decided to take a distasteful sea voyage going west in the opposite direction. But God was not going to allow Jonah to run away from His call to preach His message to the people of Nineveh. Jonah's disobedient flight came to a halt in a great storm. He ended up being thrown overboard into the stormy sea. A big fish appointed by God swallowed him. After three days and three nights in the belly of the big fish, God commanded the great fish to spit out Jonah onto dry land. After cleaning up himself of the slimy, gooey, and gross gastric juices in which he had been smeared for three days and three nights, God commanded Jonah a second time to go to Nineveh. This time Jonah went east to Nineveh and proclaimed God's message of impending judgment. The Ninevites, led by their king, genuinely repented of their wickedness and God relented of the evil He had planned against them. The Bible says, "When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it" (Jonah 3:10). Unfortunately, Jonah was greatly displeased with God's relenting of evil. He wanted the Ninevites to be destroyed in their sins. He wanted them punished for their wickedness. God's relenting of calamity would reveal the reason for Jonah's disobedient flight. "He prayed to the LORD and said, 'Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity'" (Jonah 4:2). The lesson here is that: When sinners repent, God relents. But we must not forget that our repentance does not coerce God to relent. His relenting or turning back from judgment to show favor to repentant people is because of His amazing grace. What a wonderful God we have!
Please note that when the Bible says, "Who knows whether He will not turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him," (Joel 2:14a), it is not expressing doubt. The expression, "who knows" (Hebrew: mi yodea') is a Hebrew phrase, which does not indicate doubt, but rather affirmation coupled with desire. It is to say, "God will surely turn again and bless His people."
Commentator Elizabeth Achtemeier writes:
"God not only is gracious, compassionate, patient and faithful to His covenant, however. He is also free. God's love for us is never earned, but given only as free and undeserved gift. Joel therefore frames 2:14 in a conditional: It "may" be that God will restore the grain and wine for the sacrifices and thus make it possible for Judah to commune with him once more. Judah is entirely dependent on God's free grace, as are all of us. "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," God tells us, "and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion" (Exod. 33:19). No act of our repentance and turning coerces God; nothing forces God to accept us back into his fellowship. Always we are totally dependent on the Lord of our lives; we can only wait for God's action." -NIBC, Vol. 17, p. 140.
Having discovered that the purpose of God's acceptance of their repentance and return is solely because of who God is, what are God's people to do? God's specifically directs His people to proclaim a solemn assembly.
III. Proclamation for a solemn gathering of God's people (vv. 15-17a).
Having assured His people in Judah and Jerusalem that it is possible to return to fellowship with Him, God now wants His people to act on that word of assurance. God always wants His people to act on His promises and instructions. God's people are blessed the most when they take God at His word. They benefit spiritually when they respond to God's word to them. He instructed us to prove ourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude ourselves (see James 1:22). The priests, God's ministers, are to take leadership in calling the people of God to a fast of repentance. God's priests have been set apart by a special call and office to lead God's people in His way (cf. Exodus 5:22; 33:12). Israel's priests were "to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean, and so as to teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them through Moses" (Lev. 10:10-11). The priests were called upon to this in a society very much like ours that did not know the difference between the things of God and the things of a secular world. So too in our time the ministers and especially the pulpit, entrusted with the word of God, must make that distinction and point the way. One writer says: "Where the preacher leads, the church will follow, toward either the holy or the common." God's spiritual leaders are to lead them toward the sacred. This what Joel now brings to our attention.
"Blow a trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom come out of his room and the bride out of her bridal chamber. Let the priests, the LORD'S ministers, weep between the porch and the altar,"Joel 2:15-17a (NASB).
While there is nothing wrong for God's people to gather together for a time of celebration to have healthy and wholesome fun, there comes a time for them to gather together for the solemn, sacred, and serious business of storming the throne of God with earnest, fervent, heartfelt believing prayers of repentance. In the Mosaic system, God gave His people certain feast days. They were to come before Him with rejoicing. But now that they are in sin and rebellion against Him and have turned from Him, they are to fast and come before Him in a solemn assembly. In the days of Joel, the priests, were commanded to blow the trumpet, this time not to warn of war, but to consecrate a fast and call a solemn or sacred assembly. The Bible is saying it is time for serious business with God. It's not the time to do business as usual. The priests were commanded to sanctify the congregation, that is, to be set apart for the purposes of God.
Actually, the verb "sanctify" in the Hebrew is qadash, which has the basic meaning of "to cut" or "separate" or "set apart." It can also have the meaning "to be holy"; that is, to be separated out of the profane realm and reserved in God's holy realm for divine purposes alone. Therefore the priests, God's ministers were to direct God's people to His purposes. They were to assemble God's people for fasting and repentance that serve not the people's purposes, but God's. Often times, God's people gather to serve their own purposes. This was not to be the case in Judah at this crucial time. The spiritual leaders of Judah were to make sure that their gathering of God's people led to the fulfillment of God's purposes for them.
Please notice carefully that no one is exempt from the call to gather for the purpose of fervent and penitent prayer to God in such a critical moment in Judah's history. In order that none may think themselves exempt, the people are more precisely defined as priests, old men, the children and sucklings at the breast. The elders or the aged were not exempt. Neither were nursing infants or children at breast exempted, nor were the newly married, that is, the bridegroom and his bride. All classes of people were called to a sacred gathering. From the oldest to the youngest they were to assemble for the purpose of seeking God's favor. No age, no rank, is to stay away, because no one, not even the suckling, is exempt from the coming judgment. On that great day of repentance and prayer, even new-born infants were to be carried to the solemn gathering. None is exempt. In fact, the situation in Judah was so serious, solemn, and somber that even the bridegroom and bride were exhorted to gather with the rest of the people. They were strongly urged to give up the delight of their hearts, and take part in the repentant and penitential worship. Consummation of their marriage could wait for a later time. According to the Bible's teaching in Deuteronomy 24:5, newly married men in Israel were even excused from military service for a full year following their marriage. I guess that was an advantage of getting married! During this first year of marriage, it is expected of the husbands to give their wives happiness. I don't think God's plan has changed in this matter. Husbands today must do everything to give their wives happiness, not only in their first year of marriage, but all throughout their married lives. And all the wives said, "Amen" to that!
But the situation in Judah was grave. A far greater war, that is, the impending judgment of God was about to descend upon the nation of Judah, a war from whose threat of death no one is exempt. Earlier in Judah's history, the prophet Jeremiah predicted that when God's judgment was unleashed on His rebellious people, marriage celebrations would cease. "Then I will make to cease from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, for the land will become a ruin" (Jeremiah 7:34; cf. 16:9; 25:10; Ezekiel 26:13; Hosea 2:11). And to escape such destruction at this present time, the newly married should put off their honeymoon celebrations and join with the rest of God's people in sincere repentance and seeking God's favor. That's how serious the situation was in Judah that it demanded that newly-weds forego their honeymoon plans to attend a repentance service for the nation.
Earlier, in the days of King Jehoshaphat of Judah, Judah faced a national crisis. Three different neighboring national armies described as "a great multitude," joined forces together to invade Judah. Since the situation was so dire, Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah to seek God's help against the invading armies (see 2 Chronicles 20:1-4). The Bible tells us that "all Judah was standing before the LORD, with their infants, their wives and their children" (2 Chronicles 20:13). In other words, from the oldest to the youngest, they gathered to seek God and His favor. All classes of people were present to seek God's help. So also in the present threatening situation in Judah, in the days of Joel, God expects all, from the oldest to the youngest to gather for a solemn assembly of seeking Him in true repentance. Similarly, as the spiritual condition in America deteriorates, God expects, pastors and preachers and elders in His church to rally His people everywhere in this nation for the purpose of humble repentance and seeking His mercy upon the land. National Day of Prayer is one avenue for gathering God's people, from the oldest to the youngest, for the purpose of genuine repentance and crying out for His mercy upon the nation. However, pastors, preachers, and elders, ministers appointed by God to shepherd His flock and serve in His church, do not have to wait for the National Day of Prayer to gather God's people for a solemn assembly of seeking Him. They can do so on any day of the year as the Spirit leads them. Pastors, preachers, elders, and spiritual leaders of the church must discern the times and direct God's people to His Word, and point the way for them to return to God. Failure to discern the times and direct God's people to God's Word in such a time as this, will spell a far greater disaster for this nation than the present economic crisis.
All in Judah were called upon to gather for a sacred assembly of humble repentance and prayer. But the question is: Did God give them instructions regarding how to go about their repentance? Did He spell out to them what to say in His presence? Or did He leave them to come up with their own creative ideas of doing a repentance service? Certainly, God did not leave the nation of Judah to their creative ingenuity. He clearly spelled out for them how to go about their repentance. He composed for His priests, His ministers, petitions to spare His people and not make them a reproach.
IV. Petitions to spare the nation and not make her a reproach among the nations (v. 17b-d).
God is literally going to put words in the mouths of His people to bring to Him. Earlier, He told His people what to do. They were to gather for a solemn assembly to pray. Now He tells them what to say to Him in their solemn gathering. Often times God makes things so simple for us, but we turn around and make them so complicated.
The priests, the Lord's ministers, who had been commissioned to lead God's people in returning to Him were specifically given three specific petitions to bring before God in the solemn assembly. These petitions are simple but profound in their total dependence on the mercy of God. The Bible's record of the three petitions are stated below.
"And let them say, 'Spare Your people, O LORD, and do not make Your inheritance a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they among the peoples say, 'Where is their God?'" Joel 2:17b-d (NASB).
The first petition to be lifted up to God in the solemn assembly is "Spare Your people, O LORD." What a simple, yet significant petition! God specifically instructed Judah to pray to Him to spare them. But the question is: To spare them from what? To spare them from His righteous and divine judgment. The Bible declares that the wages of sin is death (see Romans 6:23a). Since Judah had sinned against God, He had every right to bring His judgment on them. Similarly, because America has sinned and continue to sin against Almighty God, He has every right to unleash His righteous judgment upon the nation. But God instructed the spiritual leaders of His Church to lead them to pray a simple prayer: "Spare Your people, O LORD" (Joel 2:17b). Indeed, those are the words of God's humble and repentant people who know that their own goodness or righteousness is nothing but filthy rags before a holy and righteous God. Those are the words of God's surrendered people, who realize that they are but dust in the hands of a God who commands their life or death. In other words, to pray to God to spare the nation of His judgment, can only be done in a spirit of humility and true heartfelt repentance. As a nation, we have sinned, and continue to sin against God and are deserving of His judgment. We have messed up big time and continue to mess up. We have failed and continue to fail morally, socially and spiritually. We deserve God's swift and sudden judgment. But God says, His people can approach Him in a spirit of humility and heartfelt repentance to pray to Him: "Spare Your people, O Lord!" We will have ourselves to blame if we fail to cry out to God in a spirit of humility to spare this nation.
The petition to spare God's people is an amazing one. As I reflect on it, the Holy Spirit made it clear to me that God could only spare us because He did not spare His own Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32).
The second petition God wants His repentant and humble people to bring to Him in the sacred assembly has to do with not making them an object of scorn. The Bible says, "And do not make Your inheritance a reproach" (Joel 2:17c). This petition is framed on the basis of Judah's covenant relation with Yahweh. Yahweh had repeatedly declared that Israel is His chosen people, His inheritance, His treasured possession (Exodus 3:7; 6:7; 32:11; Deuteronomy 4:20; 7:6-7; 9:26, 29; 10:15; 14:2, 21; 32:9; 1 Kings 8:51, 53; Nehemiah 1:10; Ps. 28:9, 33; 106:40). He referred to them as "My people and My inheritance... My land" (Joel 3:2-3). Judah is God's covenant people. So the petition is that God remember the covenant with His people, though they have failed, forgotten Him and turned to other gods. We need to ask ourselves this question: Can believers in America pray to God not to make this nation an object of scorn or shame? I believe we can. On what basis? On the basis of the new covenant that Jesus offers to His disciples-and also to us- at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26-29; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25). Because God has brought us also into a covenant relationship with Him, we can also pray to Him to remember His covenant with us and not make us a reproach, though we too, like Judah, have failed and forgotten Him.
The third petition concerns God's honor among the nations. The prayer closes with the strongest reason why God should turn away His judgment. Reproach would fall back upon God Himself should His people fail. Notice the Bible says; "a byword among the nations. Why should they among the peoples say, 'Where is their God?'" (Joel 2:17d). The saying among the nations, "Where is their God?" is no doubt a sneer at the covenant relation of Yahweh to Judah. And to this God could offer no inducement, since the reproach would fall back upon Himself.
Commentator Elizabeth Achtemeier gives a helpful insight about the third petition. She writes:
"There is a reminder that God's honor is at stake among the nations of the world, for if Israel dies, other nations will believe that the Lord is powerless to save the chosen people. Is such a prayer simply appealing to a self-interested God, jealously protecting a shaky reputation? That is not the meaning. Rather, the third plea in the prayer is a profound recognition of the sole purpose of Israel's life and ours, namely to glorify God (cf. Ps. 6:5; 30:9; 88:10-12; 115:17; Isa. 38:18). When our lives are preserved and transformed, God's power and mercy are magnified before the world. When we are saved by the undeserved love of God, that salvation resounds to God's glory (cf. Ps. 98; Isa. 52:13-53:12). God's light shed upon the people draws all nations to its shining (cf. Isa. 60:1-3). God's working in this chosen folk causes all people to seek and honor God (cf. Zech. 8:20-23; Matt. 5:14-16). So this third petition in the priest's prayer is not an appeal to God's selfish concern but an acknowledgment that God is to be honored and praised for his work in his people Israel. The priests here confess that, yes, they are concerned that God be glorified throughout the world, much as Christians also pray, 'Hallowed be thy name.'" -NIBC Vol. 17, p.143.
Actually, this is not the only time God gave specific words to His people to present to Him in their prayers. In Hosea 14:2-3, God specifically instructed Israel to take certain words with them in their repentance and return to Him. There, we read:
"Take words with you and return to the LORD. Say to Him, 'Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously, that we may present the fruit of our lips. Assyria will not save us, we will not ride on horses; nor will we say again, 'Our god,' to the work of our hands; for in You the orphan finds mercy.'" Hosea 14:2-3 (NASB).
Also according to Luke's Gospel, the Lord Jesus specifically instructed His followers to pray saying the words recorded in Luke 11:2-4. His instruction to His disciples begins with these words: "When you pray, say" Luke 11:2a (NASB).
God didn't ask the priests in Joel's day to come up with creative ideas to do a repentant service. Rather, He carefully spelled out specific petitions to bring to Him in their sacred assembly. They were to pray to Yahweh to spare His people. They were to plead with Him not to make their nation an object of scorn. They were to be concerned for the honor of God's name among the nations. The question to us is: Are we also concerned that God be glorified throughout the world? Do we also desire for God to preserve and transform us so as to display His power and mercy before the world? Do we long for His name to honored and praised for His work in us? If so, then we must also gather together in His presence in all humility and sincerity of heart, and take these words with us: "O God, spare Your church and people in America, and please do not make us an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'"
An important question arises at this juncture. Having gone through the process of repentance and returning to God, is there anything God's people can look forward to from Him? Are they seeking God in vain? Will God answer them? If He does, on what basis? To remind His people that their returning to Him is not a futile exercise, God gave them personal promises.
V. Personal promises given by Yahweh to His repentant people (vv. 18-20).
Our God is a God of promises. He delights in giving promises and assurances to His believing people who are earnestly seeking after Him. He loves to share His precious promises with His children who are longing to see His intervention in their lives. Nothing excites God's heart than to behold His believing people, holding Him to His promises. Nothing brings a big smile on the face of God than to see His true children taking Him at His Word. Nothing delights the heart of God than to observe His faithful followers trusting in His precious promises to them. Nothing moves the heart of God than to hear His covenant people remind Him of His own promises to them-promises which cannot fail.
Please understand that God's promises don't need a bailout package to be fulfilled. Governments and politicians make mouth-watering promises to us. But they can't always make good on them, so they need a bailout or stimulus package to make things happen. But that's not the case with God. His promises are sure, secure, steadfast and settled. Once God has given His promise, He will do everything in His power to bring about its fulfillment. He will move heaven and earth, if necessary, to accomplish His promise to His people. He does not need a stimulus package to make His promises more believable. His promises can always be counted on. It's like money in a bank that never goes under.
We have now come to the turning point of this rich and remarkable passage-the point at which Yahweh Himself in His compassion for His chosen people makes a personal promise of deliverance to them. It is easy for us to believe what our doctors tell us about our health. However, trusting God's Word is not easy for us. God is reliable and so are His promises. He is trustworthy. He is dependable. Yet we find it difficult to take God at His Word. This is appalling. We doubt the most trustworthy Person in the entire universe instead of faithfully trusting His Word to us. How sad! How tragic!
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Joel pointed Judah the personal promise of Yahweh to deliver, bless, and remove their enemies from them.
"Then the LORD will be zealous for His land and will have pity on His people. The LORD will answer and say to His people, 'Behold, I am going to send you grain, new wine and oil, and you will be satisfied in full with them; and I will never again make you a reproach among the nations. But I will remove the northern army far from you, and I will drive it into a parched and desolate land, and its vanguard into the eastern sea, and its rear guard into the western sea. And its stench will arise and its foul smell will come up, for it has done great things'" Joel 2:18-20 (NASB).
As a result of the repentance of God's people, led by the priests, the Lord's ministers, God demonstrated His compassion to His people, and gave them a personal promise. In fact, the rest of the book of Joel, that is, Joel 2:21-3:21 is filled with promises to God's people, namely, material restoration (Joel 2:21-27), spiritual restoration (Joel 2:28-32), and national restoration (Joel 3:1-21). In Joel 2:18-20 God's promises to Judah include material prosperity, a promise to never again make them an object of scorn to the nations, and the destruction and driving out of their enemies.
Please notice carefully that the expressions of certainty used in this passage full of God's promises. Namely, "the LORD will." This is used twice. Then also, "I will" is repeated three times. These phrases are crucially important. Why? They teach us that the promises God is giving here to His covenant people are sure, steadfast and secure. In other words, God's people can fully count on God to perform them.
Joel wants Judah and us to know that the God who makes promises to His people is a God of great zeal. The God of the Bible is not only a jealous God (see Exodus 20:5), but also a zealous God. Our God is a God who is consumed with zeal for His chosen people. He is full of zeal. He is zealous about fulfilling His plans, purposes and promises. In His zeal, God carries out His divine purposes and promises with great passion and determination. In fact, no one can thwart Him or turn Him aside from fulfilling His purposes and promises. That is why the promises given here are made in the light of God's zealousness. He will not fail to do what He's promised (Joshua 23:14; 1 Kings 8:56).
Please notice that in giving promises to His people, God not only pointed them to His zeal, but also His pity. God's pity or compassion on His people is the basis of His response to them. Such pity is totally unearned favor, occasioned not by Judah's repentance but solely by God's zeal for His purpose and mercy toward Judah in using her in that purpose. Without the pity of God on Judah, there would have been no promises to Judah. Thank God for His compassions that never fail. In expressing compassion on His people, God first promised them material prosperity. He would send them grain, new wine and oil. Judah's turning away will not change the fact that they are God's people, living in God's land. In spite of Judah's faithlessness, God remains faithful to His covenant with them. And as a result of God's covenant faithfulness, He promises them material prosperity as their land is restored to fertility and productiveness. As a consequence of this, God's people will be satisfied. The economic hardship and hunger which they experienced would be a thing of the past. Similarly, I believe that if God's people in this nation who are called by His name, turn from their wicked ways, and seek God in humility, and pray earnestly to Him, He will in His mercy; make our present economic downturn a thing of the past. This is not the first time America has faced depression. The God who brought this nation through the terrible great depression (which started on Black Tuesday October 29, 1929, signs of recovery began in spring of 1933) and made it the world's only superpower, can and is able to make our present economic mess a thing of the past. Our God is that merciful.
The second promise given to Judah in Joel 2:18-20 is the promise of removing their reproach from among the nations. God's people will be restored and will never again be put to shame. All the years that the swarming locust had eaten would be restored as well. Obviously, the ultimate fulfillment of this promise regarding Israel is in the future. God's people had specifically prayed to Him according to His will, not to make them an object of scorn. And God responded, "I will never again make you a reproach among the nations" (Joel 2:19b). God is a prayer answering God. "This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him" (1 John 5:14-15). Before these words were penned, the people of Judah experienced them in a special way. God heard their prayer which was according to His will and answered them. Similarly, as we pray according to God's will for this nation, we can also have the confidence that He will hear and answer us, thus giving us the opportunity to celebrate His goodness and grace in our lives.
The third promise concerns the removal of the northern army from Judah. Again, the final fulfillment of this promise lies in the future for Israel. The "northern army," (Hebrew: tsephoni) literally means the northern one, or the northerner. Although some have taken this as a reference to the locusts (Joel 1:4), it is more likely referring to a military invasion by a country coming down from the north of Israel. God promises Judah that He will destroy the invading army and drive them from the eastern sea (Dead Sea) to the western sea (Mediterranean Sea). Similarly, God is willing and more than able to deal with the terrorists that are seeking to do harm to this nation, either by causing His dread to fall upon them or causing them to destroy each other (2 Chron. 20:22-23) or by sending the angel of the Lord to take care of them. The angel of the Lord once destroyed 185,000 soldiers of the Assyrian army that came to attack Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:35-37; cf. 2 Chronicles 32:20-22). He can certainly do that again when God's people sincerely repent and seek Him to be their protection.
Dr. McGee writes:
"God is glorified when He judges sin just as much as He is when He saves a sinner. That is hard for us to believe; it is a bitter pill for man to swallow. God is holy, and a holy, righteous God is going to judge. Everyone of the prophet says that. The Word of God has a lot to say about the judgment of God. But He doesn't like to judge. We have already seen that He is gracious and merciful and slow to anger. Judgment is a strange work for God. That is why He holds out His hands all day long and asks us to come to Him. When people refuse to turn to Him, He must judge them in His righteousness and in His holiness. This is true even for the children of God. When we do wrong, if we do not judge ourselves, God must judge us. He chastens us to bring us back to Himself. To be honest with you, I have had some chastening from the Lord. I want to stick very close to my Heavenly Father because, I can tell you, I don't enjoy the chastening of the Lord." -Thru the Bible, Vol. III., p. 671.
We are living in desperate, difficult, and distressful times. The only One who can turn the tide of moral decay and decline, spiritual deadness and darkness in this country is God Almighty, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the only Sovereign, the only wise God, the Blessed and only Ruler. He says His people should return to Him. In other words, He declares that the come-back America needs is a come-back to He Himself. He says we can return to Him and find full acceptance because He is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness, and relents of evil. He says His people should declare a holy fast and call a sacred assembly, with all in attendance, from the oldest to the youngest, and even the newly-weds, for the purpose of repentance. He says we should pray to Him to spare this nation. He promises in His zeal and pity to answer us. Since He acts in response to believing prayer, if we fail to pray, we will have ourselves to blame. Moses, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Hezekiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Hannah, Esther, and other godly men and women of prayer had put God to the test and found Him faithful. It is now our turn. Let us rise in the power of the same Holy Spirit who inspired in them faith to pray to move the heart and the hand of God. Remember God's word: "God was moved by prayer for the land" (2 Samuel 21:14b; 24:25). Would it be said that on our watch "God was moved by prayer for this land and acted on behalf of the land?" History will reveal the answer to this question.
America, the time has come for all genuine believers in Jesus Christ, living in this great land, to rally together and stage a come-back to God. For the Bible says: "Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD" (Psalm 33:12a).
You can also follow this link to read the 2006 Prayer for the Nation. Also, use this link for the 2007 National Day of Prayer article: Prayer that Moves the Heart and Hand of God. Follow this link for the 2008 National Day of Prayer article:Becoming God's Agent of Revival.
"Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to only God our savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." Jude 1:24-25 (NASB).