Environmental Stewardship Commission (MEESC)

Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

Lectionary Reflection Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) Lesson Year C, Pentecost (Whitsunday)

Joel 2:28-32

The Lord said to his people, "It shall come to pass afterward that 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. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls."

NRSV Copyright Statement
Reflection on Joel 2:28-32 by John Gibbs, PhD Two characteristics of this text stand large before us: first, its appearance in the early Church; and second, its use in religious education at this prophet’s time (likely 400-350 BCE). First, here is the text for the first Christian sermon, which Peter preached at Pentecost (Acts 2). Joel 2:28-32 is a fitting source for expounding the theme of the power of the Holy Spirit, the theme that the book of Acts emphasizes (1:8 and throughout). Second, Joel wrote for the sake of future generations. He has a story to tell, and he urges “all inhabitants of the land” as follows: “Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation” (1:3). So what is the story? In its first part the story tells about a devastating “rural crisis” [Limburg, see below] that was occasioned by a catastrophic plague of grasshoppers that destroyed crops, and devastated the people who depended on them. “Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God?” (1:16). “Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes,” namely this terrible army of insects (2:2). Nobody ever saw anything like it before or since. “Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, but after them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them” (2:3). It looks like Judgment Day, the fearful “Day of the Lord.” The second part of the story begins with the people gathering to pray and fast, for they have no idea what to expect from God in this awful situation. To their anxiety the prophet gives the assurance that all generations need to hear. This must be “told:” “Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing” (2:13). What God does for the people, moreover, God does also for the land and all its flora and fauna: “Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things! Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield” (2:21-22). Accordingly, the plague is stopped, and creation is restored to her original fecundity or prolific fruitfulness (2:18-27). With that remembered, why fear for the future? As far out into the future as our imagination may reach [“Then afterward,” 2:28], there and then God will remain the God that this story proclaims, the God of deliverance, steadfast love, grace, and mercy. To be sure, God’s judgments are decisive, so that “the heavens and the earth shake. But the Lord is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel” (3:16). “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh…” (2:28). In consequence of God’s Spirit living among us, what kind of dreams will future generations dream? What sort of visions will they see? No doubt they will be the dreams and visions that this great story tells. The story pictures reversal of fortunes both “out there” and “within us,” not only coming down from God, but also going upward from within us who “return to the Lord.” It is a picture of harmony within nature, within humanity, and between humanity and nature. It is a picture for the here and now of this world as it should be and will be “some day,” “deo volente” (God willing). It is a picture of the Creator Spirit returning, undoing utter chaos, thrusting up great hills and mountains from the leveling valley of God’s judgments (3:2): “In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all he stream beds of Judah shall flow with water; a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord, and water the Wadi Shittim” (3:18). For the early Church the Day of Pentecost was the Day of the Lord in its most creative, constructive sense. God’s people now have in their midst Power enough, and Power of the right kind, to reach “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Not for the early Church, not for Joel, and not for us does the coming of the Spirit leave us passive, inactive, uncommitted. To the contrary, if the Creator Spirit works through God’s People, then they will rise up as One empowered Body to tend the needs of the land and all her creatures, to renew the earth, and to extend the creative spirit out into all humanity’s social and political and economic life. There is no cut-off date for the working of that kind of spirit among us, and no fenced off place that excludes God’s work from the public square. The vision of this Spirit poured out on all flesh is inclusive. The Church’s response can be no less inclusive. [An excellent commentary on Joel is provided by James Limburg, Hosea-Micah (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching; Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988}, pp. 55-77.] Scripture quotes above from NRSV.
Copyright Statement

To Reflections on other Readings for Pentecost Sundays:
Old Testament Year A Ezekiel 11:17-20
no reflection available
Old Testament Year B Isaiah 44: 1-8
Old Testament Year C Joel 2: 28-32
this page
Psalm 104:25-37 or 33:12-15, 18-22
no reflection available
New Testament Acts 2:1-11 or 1 Corinthians 12:4-13
no reflection available
Gospel John 20:19-23 or John 14:8-17
this page

John Gibbs, PhD, is a retired theologian, who attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN. He originally wrote this reflection in 2004. He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
MEESC Holy Trinity Church Box 65 Elk River, MN 55330-0065 USA

The MEESC assumes that all correspondence received is for publication on this web site. If your comments are not for publication, please so note on your correspondence. The MEESC reserves the right to decide which items are included on the web site.

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