Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota
Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) Lesson
Year C, Pentecost (Whitsunday)
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."
Reflection on Joel 2:28-32
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
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,
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.
To Reflections on other Readings for Pentecost
no reflection available
Joel 2: 28-32
no reflection available
no reflection available
1 Corinthians 12:4-13
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:
Holy Trinity Church
Elk River, MN 55330-0065 USA
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