I remember as a child I once heard the mother of a close friend describe a difficult situation they were enduring as, “discipline from the Lord.” This struck me as odd. Up to that point, I hadn’t considered how the Lord may actually use difficult circumstances in our life to “discipline us.” For me, the Lord either wasn’t that involved in our daily life or, if he was, it was always for our good. Yet, as we study the Bible, we realize how God uses difficult circumstances for disciplinary purposes (Heb. 12:7-11). This discipline isn’t for everyone, but for legitimate children of God (v. 8). The ultimate end of these struggles isn’t despair but blessing (v. 11). This is why Paul can look at life’s struggles and conclude “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). The difficulty comes in remembering this great truth as we endure trials. We witness all of these themes coming together within the book of Joel.
In Joel, the people of God and the land of God are suffering due to sin (Joel 1:6-8, 10, 17-18, 20). Because of this, the worship of the people of God—which was so central to their social and political life—suffered as well (1:9, 13). The source of this suffering came from a terrible locust hoard which caused devastation and famine in the land (1:4-5). Joel makes it clear that, although this was the Lord’s land, all of this suffering came as an act His judgment: “The day of the LORD is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes” (Joel 1:15). Some believe the locusts of chapter one are a metaphor for the foreign armies of chapter two (Joel 2:1-3). Either way, the point is made: God was acting in judgment against his people for their sin, and the land was suffering for it. The Garden of Eden was made a desolate wasteland (2:3).
What a terrifying thought that the Lord would act in such severe judgment against the people of His heritage (Hos. 3:2). As we read further, we recognize that these actions aren’t meant for Israel’s extermination but for her redemption:
“’Yet even now,’ declares the Lord,
‘return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.’
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster.”
These trials are disciplinary in nature. They are meant to wake Israel to her sin, so that she will “call a solemn assembly” in which the nation repents (2:15-16). On the other side of this repentance is a wonderful promise:
“Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
for the Lord your God?”—Joel 2:14
There is this imagery of God walking through the land of Israel in unrelenting judgment, pouring out his wrath on the people and the land. Yet, once the people repent he leaves a “blessing behind him.” This blessing results in the restoration of relationship and worship of the Lord (“a grain and drink offering for the Lord your God”), as well as the redemption of the land (2:21-22), and the happiness and satisfaction of the people (2:19, 26). God’s disciplinary judgment is an avenue of unimaginable blessing and restoration. Similar to a father who must at times discipline his children and direct them in the correct path for their happiness and satisfaction, so the Lord sometimes allows/uses struggles in our life to bring us back to Him.
This doesn’t mean that every difficulty you go through is the direct cause of God’s disciplinary purpose. It does mean that we can trust in the inevitable goodness of God’s grace to see us through our darkest hours. It means that, when everything else seems questionable and unstable, we can place our trust in the steadfast love of the Lord (2:13). What joy and hope there is in knowing that we serve a God who, although at times must discipline His children for their good, ultimately desires to leave “a blessing behind Him.”