In 1717, a devastating storm raged for days, leading to widespread flooding in northern Europe. Thousands of people lost their lives in the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. History reveals an interesting and customary—for that time—response by at least one local government. The provincial authorities of the Dutch city of Groningen called for a “prayer day” in response to the disaster. A historian reports that the citizens gathered in churches and “listened to sermons, sang psalms, and prayed for hours.”
The prophet Joel describes an overwhelming disaster faced by the people of Judah that also led to prayer. A massive swarm of locusts had covered the land and “laid waste [its] vines and ruined [its] fig trees” (Joel 1:7). As he and his people reeled from the devastation, Joel prayed, “Lord, help us!” (1:19 kjv). Directly and indirectly, both the people of northern Europe and Judah experienced disasters that originated with the effects of sin and this fallen world (Genesis 3:17–19; Romans 8:20–22). But they also found that these times led them to call out to God and seek Him in prayer (Joel 1:19). And God said, “Even now . . . return to me with all your heart” (2:12).
When we face difficulties and disaster, may we turn to God—perhaps in anguish, perhaps in repentance. “Compassionate” and “abounding in love” (v. 13), He draws us to Himself—providing the comfort and help we need.
God was to be the focal point of every aspect of life in Israel. Yet, despite enjoying God’s material blessings, the people forgot Him. They demonstrated their godlessness by taking His blessings for granted, repeatedly turning their bountiful grape harvest into an excessive lifestyle of drunkenness. So the prophet told them, “Wail, all you drinkers of wine; . . . for it has been snatched from your lips” (Joel 1:5). A horde of locusts would destroy all the grapes (vv. 6–7). In keeping with His character, God used this punishment to correct His people. From the context of the locust plague, Joel called the people to repentance: “Rend your heart and not your garments,” he said. “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate” (2:13).
1 The word of the Lord that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.
2 Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?
3 Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.
4 That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten.
5 Awake, ye drunkards, and weep; and howl, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the new wine; for it is cut off from your mouth.
6 For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek teeth of a great lion.
7 He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white.
17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,
21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
19 O Lord, to thee will I cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field.