Joel chapter 2 means something different for rural folk. People who live out in the sticks are mindful of the weather. They bend their plans around the possibility that the creek might rise or snow might close a road or that the Fall Apple Butter Festival might happen this weekend. In Joel, God takes ownership for a series of disasters, drought, locust, caterpillar, and grub, that ruined crops and brought famine. God says, “I ruined your harvest in the past, now I’m going to make up for it” (Joel 2:23-25). The passage reminds us of our physical dependency upon God, in order to prepare us to be spiritually dependent upon God. For rural folk, this is the central theme of the fall season.
Urban folk need a different interpretation. For them, failing social services and crumbling infrastructure are the drought, locust, and grub, that God has to answer for. Today, Joel might hear God say, “In the past I gave you corrupt politicians, inadequate housing, and racial segregation, but now, I’m going to make up for it.” Like their country cousins, they need to know that their struggles against oppression and inequity, were part of God’s greater plan to bring them shalom and the witness of his Holy Spirit.
For both rural and urban people the experience of the Holy Spirit, is to be viewed within the context of a physical process. It was during a harvest festival that the first Pentecost came. That harvest was at the end of a farming process, in which:
1st the unyielding ground was broken, think John the Baptist
2nd the seed was planted, think Jesus teaching on the hillsides
3rd the seed died to being a seed and was raised as a green plant, think Holy Week
4th the seed was given time to grow and produce fruit, think the early church
Joel’s joyful words, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (v.28), falls within this fourth and current step.
For both urban and rural folk, the prophet’s message should lead us to renewed social action. Unfortunately, rural people today suffer from many of the ills that were previously associated with the city, such as, pollution, drug addiction, inadequate housing and transportation, and nutrition and health issues, etc. God is already committed to resolving these issues. The church needs to dream the dreams and see the visions that come with a fresh spiritual outpouring.