By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman
“OYEZ, OYEZ, OYEZ” is a cry originating long ago when a small village or larger city would appoint and pay men to act as town criers. Often, they would sound a bell with their cry, which means “Hear ye, Hear ye.” It would alert all hearers to be still, quiet, and listen because an important message was about to be proclaimed. Sometimes it would be the decisions of the local courts, at other times, local news and events. Sometimes these criers were even used for advertising purposes.
Ancient Israel also had criers. They did not dress in the fine, multi-colored
costumes of the typical town crier or the fine robes of their priesthood. They were simple folk who simply spoke. As you might have guessed, these were the prophets, most often obscure and hidden, except when they were proclaiming the word of the Lord unto His people.
Their messages were often harsh: judgments to come for rejecting the laws of a Holy God. Yet, always with the judgment, an announcement of repentance and renewed relationship with the Creator was offered. The prophet’s ministry was looked upon as suspect; loved, if the news was good, and reviled if the news was bad. A correction was seldom welcomed and often resisted.
A prophet’s life, then and now, is unique in many ways, for they see far more than the Lord will allow them to speak. He more often moves them to a level of intercessory prayer that seems extreme and strange to those in the camp. And even more so to those who share a tent with them. Their hours and sometimes days or weeks of quiet contemplation and separation mixed with long hours of crying before the Lord for the lives of those who fail to understand them are seldom appreciated. Yes, these criers cry much more in private than they ever cry in public. They are the Town Criers among the people of God
Let us look at one such crier in Israel’s history that spoke a harsh message of judgment on a nation, instructions for its leadership, and a promise of redemption. I
will not be able to hit everything, but there are specific points I would like to apply as lessons we can learn regarding the current state of our nation. Please, join me in Joel, chapter 1.
The word of the LORD that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel: Hear this, you
elders, And listen, all inhabitants of the land. Has anything like this happened in
your days, Or in your fathers’ days? Tell your sons about it, And have your sons
tell their sons, And their sons the next generation.
(Joe 1:1-3 NASB)
What we see first is the crier Joel saying to the elders and then generally to all the
inhabitants, “Have you ever seen or heard of anything like this? Can you ever remember your father’s talking about anything like this?” Oral tradition played a significant role in the history and culture of the people. Joel was encouraging some thought on their part to recollect anything happening like this before.
Joel also admonishes the people to tell their children to tell their children, and into another generation. In other words, this is not something that should be forgotten. This is more than a curious thing. It is a warning to future generations not to invoke
the wrath of God. An obvious question arises. What is this? To what is Joel referring?
What the gnawing locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten; And what the
swarming locust has left, the creeping locust has eaten; And what the creeping
locust has left, the stripping locust has eaten.
(Joe 1:4 NASB)
Joel describes here a systematic eroding of livelihood and provision by a progressive plague of locusts. He describes the destruction by the different stages of locust development and how what one stage leaves, the next stage devours. The Hebrew words give a much more vivid scene than the NASB brings out. The gnawing locust in Hebrew is gawzan, which means the cutter off. They cut down stems and leaves, eating everything they can. In this stage, the female drills millions of holes in the ground to lay their eggs, which hatch 7-60 days later.
The next stage is what the NASB calls swarming locusts. In Hebrew, the word is arbeh, meaning multipliers. These swarmers ravenously consume everything the adults have left behind.
The swarms then develop into creeping locusts, or as the Hebrew calls them, yehlek, or lickers, which gnaw and lick anything green that tries to reemerge.
The final stage is the caterpillar, or khaw-seel, stripping locusts that strip the bark off of trees as they grow their wings.
So we can see that when they finally lift off and swarm away, they leave complete ruin in their wake. Imagine what hopelessness would fall on this agrarian society that lived season to season and harvest to harvest. Even those given to much drink were called to wake up and mourn the loss of their libation.
Awake, you heavy drinkers, and weep; And wail, all you wine drinkers, Because
of the sweet wine, For it has been eliminated from your mouth.
(Joe 1:5 NASB)
Rather than be roused by the horror of what was happening around them, they slept in lethargy, not even realizing what they were losing until it was cut off from them. And Joel continues to liken this plague to an invasion of a mighty nation upon Israel.
For a nation has invaded my land, Mighty and without number; Its teeth are the
teeth of a lion, And it has the jaws of a lioness. It has made my vine a waste And
my fig tree a stump. It has stripped them bare and hurled them away; Their
branches have become white. Wail like a virgin clothed with sackcloth For the
groom of her youth. The grain offering and the drink offering have been cut off
From the house of the LORD. The priests mourn, The ministers of the LORD.
(Joe 1:6-9 NASB)
Even the means to sacrifice in the Temple is cut off from the ministers. There is no tithe being brought to the Lord’s house because there is nothing to bring. There are no services at the altar, no oil, no wine, no grain, no meat for sacrifice and the sustainment of the priests and Levites.
The field is ruined, The land mourns; For the grain is ruined, The new wine has
dried up, Fresh oil has failed. Be ashamed, you farm workers, Wail, you
vinedressers, For the wheat and the barley; Because the harvest of the field is
destroyed. (Joe 1:10-11 NASB)
The wheat loaf for the rich and the barley loaf for the poor is cut off. It mattered not which social strata you were in. It was hard times for everyone.
The vine has dried up And the fig tree has withered; The pomegranate, the palm
also, and the apple tree, All the trees of the field have dried up. Indeed, joy has
dried up From the sons of mankind. (Joe 1:12 NASB)
Joy had left the camp. It withered away. Psalm 1 gives us an idea why:
Blessed is the person who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in
the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the Law of
the LORD, And on His Law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree
planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season, And its leaf does
not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, But they
are like chaff which the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in
the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD knows
the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish.
(Psa 1:1-6 NASB)
Where were they walking, where were they standing, where were they sitting? Why was this calamity happening in the land of Israel, and are there parallels here for our own country? We have no idea from the text of Joel what specifics of offense would cause God to send this kind of judgment on His people. Idolatry was always Israel’s first and foremost sin, so it is pretty safe to assume that idolatry played a role here in God’s displeasure. Perhaps along with idolatry, there had arisen a coldness and callousness among the priests and ministers. Maybe it had become business as usual. Perhaps abundance before the plague allowed the people to grow too fond of their good life and created a lack in the devotional fervor that once sustained them as a nation. The prophet’s voice is usually the last voice heard before judgment. Moreover, it is usually God’s tool only when the people have not heard God’s still, small voice within their
hearts and repented. Where are we walking, where are we standing, where are we sitting?
In verses 13 and 14, we hear a cry to lament the Lost Sacrifices. Israel’s unique identity and purpose for existence was its covenant relationship to God. In Joel’s eyes, this was the paramount reason for mourning. Moreover, he singled out those in ministry to lead the way:
Put on sackcloth And mourn, you priests; Wail, you ministers of the altar! Come,
spend the night in sackcloth, You ministers of my God, For the grain offering and
the drink offering Have been withheld from the house of your God. Consecrate a
fast, Proclaim a solemn assembly; Gather the elders And all the inhabitants of the
land To the house of the LORD your God, And cry out to the LORD. (Joe 1:13-14 NASB)
Joel urged the religious leaders to mourn and repent themselves and call the people to mourn and repentance, also. This is something they should have seen the need to do long before this without the bidding of the prophet. The nature of the offense called for a public humiliation of the people to confess and repent of their sins and to honor a Holy God as the one they had offended and the only one who could restore them.
I think a question we need to ask ourselves is, “Have we, in our seeker-friendly, program-driven ministries, become those asking God to bless what we are
doing rather than seeking God’s face to see what He would have us do?” A harsh question, perhaps, but one that we cannot afford not to ask. It is evident from our text that this was not a question the religious leaders of Israel had asked recently and certainly were not asking when the crier Joel appeared in the city square.