Jurong Outreach

"whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ."

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Reflections on the Book of Joel

Danny Leong

The Minor Prophets in the OT are portions of Scriptures that are seldom read, but it does contain several important biblical principles that are still relevant to our lives as God’s children today. I will share with you some of my reflections on the book of Joel. As we study this book, we will begin to see the overall theme of God’s judgment, repentance and restoration being unfolded by the prophet before our eyes.

The judgment of God is one of the important biblical principles preached by the prophets. In this regard, an understanding of the historical setting would enable us to better appreciate God’s judgment on Judah. Joel lived and prophesied in Judah during a period of peace and great prosperity. There was great expansion in the nation’s military, administration, commercial and economy during the reign of king Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:8, 15).

However, the material prosperity of the nation has brought about spiritual poverty and religious formalism in the lives of the people of Judah. In particular, the people spent much of their time in merry-making and drunkenness, and they have forgotten about God (Joel 1:5). Moreover, the people were insincere when they brought their grain and drink offerings to the house of the Lord (Joel 1:9). They did so because that was a requirement of the law of God, but they were just going through the motion without sincerity towards worshipping God.

As a result, a terrible plague of locusts destroyed the grain, vineyards, gardens and trees. The devastation was so great it led to a severe famine throughout the land. Joel uses this national tragedy to preach the Lord’s message of divine judgment against the nation for her sins. The Day of the Lord is near (Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11). As we reflect on the history of Judah, we can understand that the people were punished for their sins.

The Psalmist tells us that God will judge the world according to His Word (Psalms 96:13). The apostle Paul warns us that the Day of the Lord will come unexpectedly (2 Peter 3:10) and it will be a terrifying day of God’s wrath and judgment for those who do not know God and render their obedience to Him (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).

The book of Ecclesiastes also tells us that all mankind will have to give an account to God for how they live on the Day of Judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). Therefore, bearing in mind the above-mentioned passages of Scriptures, let us set aside time to take stock of our spiritual walk with God that we may be found acceptable and pleasing to Him on the Day of Judgment.

Besides the judgment of God, Joel also preached repentance to Judah after the land was devastated by locusts. “Gird yourselves and lament, you priests; wail, you who minister before the altar; come, lie all night in sackcloth, you who minister to my God; for the grain offering and the drink offering are withheld from the house of your God. Consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD.” (Joel 1:13-14).

Joel also emphasised that repentance ought not to be an outward show, but rather it should flow out from a genuine heart of recognising one’s wrongdoings and purposefully making the decision to live a faithful and righteous life in the sight of God: “So rend your heart, and not your garments.” (Joel 2:13). Our God desires His children to come before Him with a contrite heart of repentance.

As members of the family of God at Jurong, we understand and appreciate how God has sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ to be a sacrificial Lamb for the sins of all mankind so that we can have our sins cleansed and be reconciled with Him (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 6:23). Peter also reminds us of the love of God in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Despite how much God desires His people to be saved, we need to recognise that without repentance, judgment will be harsh, thorough and certain (Luke 13:3, 5). Thus, we must be willing to humble ourselves and repent of our sins before God would forgive us of our transgressions.

The restoration of God’s people is another important biblical principle that we can learn from the book of Joel. Restoration and blessing will come only after judgment and repentance. The people of the nation of Judah repented of their wrongdoings and sought forgiveness from God, and the prophet Joel gave assurance to the people that God will heal their land with material abundance and renewed spiritual blessings (Joel 2:18-27).

As we consider the restoration of God’s people during the time of Joel, it is important for us to understand that the ultimate purpose of God blessing His people is so that they would desire to know Him and develop a deeper spiritual relationship with Him. Consider Joel 2:27 when God said He will bless the nation of Judah: “Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the LORD your God and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame.”

Hence, we need to constantly remind ourselves not to forget the Giver of all blessings while we enjoy the gifts that He has given us. To this end, let us learn to appreciate and hold on to the spiritual blessings that can be found in Christ (Ephesians 1:3) as we continue our spiritual walk with God each day.

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Who is at Your Centre?

If there is one disposition or attitude we can name as a major cause of conflicts and disputes between men, selfishness or self-centredness will come easily to most minds.

When we go right back to the first sin committed by mankind in Genesis 3, we see that self-centredness was the core reason why Adam and his Eve gave in.

“And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil (Gen 3:4-5).”

The serpent suggested to them that God was petty and selfish. What they should really do was to put themselves at the centre—“ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”

Since that day when our first parents listened to the lie of the devil, mankind has been steeped in self-centredness. Bible history is replete with human selfishness. Secular history simply affirms what the Bible.

Humanism is the dominant philosophy of the world. According to dictionary.com, humanism “is a variety of ethical theory or practice that emphasises reason, scientific enquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world and often rejects the importance of belief in God (emphasis mine).”

Humanists and atheists can be altruistic people, no doubt. Despite their arguments, they really do not reject objective moral values. They understand that without objective moral values, there can be no proper standard to determine right and wrong, good and evil.

Yet without God, whose nature is the reference point for objective moral values, it is left to each individual to subjectively determine what is good or bad behaviour—and no society can survive on that subjective standard.

Self-centredness is often frowned upon; it is universally considered ungracious social behaviour. We arrive at that conclusion using right reason or common sense.

We ought to use reason in our search for truth. Without the proper use of reason, it is impossible to think carefully and examine objectively any available evidence. God wants us to use our reason.

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith Jehovah: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool (Isa 1:18).”

Science is “a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws.” (dictionary.com)

Science observes and collates facts; science explores and discovers the wonders of this natural world we live in. Science, however, is limited to the natural. The supernatural is beyond its scope.

Science can observe both self-centred and altruistic behaviours as well as their effects on societies but science cannot determine its morality—whether it is right or wrong according to an objective moral standard.

The Bible explains that man is created for the glory and pleasure of God (Isa 43:7; Psa 86:12; 1Co 10:31). “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created (Rev 4:11).”

When we reject God and place self at the centre, as Adam and Eve did, we invite into our lives a host of unnecessary pains, conflicts, quarrels, and disputes.

This “me, myself and I-first” mentality places heavy strain on any relationship, ultimately leading to heartaches. Many a marriage breakdowns can be traced to either one or both spouses placing self as more important than the other.

In our interaction with one another, Paul gives us a set of instructions on how we can keep self-centredness at bay. It is to do the very opposite.

“If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others (Php 2:1-4).”

Self-centredness is at heart a form of idolatry. It places self where God should be—at the centre. It makes self the reason for living.

It takes courage and humility to let go of self and trust God and His will for us. We hold on desperately to self, afraid of what we will lose if we did let go. Our Father wants us to trust Him and let Him work in our lives.

“Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God (Eph 5:20-21).”

When we obey God and seek first His kingdom and righteousness (Mat 6:33) in obeying His word, we find the true reason for our existence. True peace follows as a result.

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man (Ecc 12:13).”

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Do We Dare?

Let’s say you are relaxing on a beach. The weather is nice—sunny but not too hot. Suddenly you hear a piercing cry for help. A young child is struggling in the water; the waves are pulling him farther out to sea. What would you do?

Most of us might think that we would risk our own wellbeing to help a person in distress. We believe—hopefully—that if the situation calls for it, we will summon the necessary courage to face dangers.

But here is the thing: while we may summon physical courage to save a person’s life, we may be stumped when it comes to moral courage in saving a person’s soul. Or to stay true and loyal to the faith.

Which is harder? To risk your health or to risk embarrassment? To risk your life or to risk having your feelings hurt?

In Revelation 12:11 we read of our early brethren who overcame the devil “because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death.”

The apostle Paul was determined to make a trip to Jerusalem, even though he was fully aware that danger awaited him there.

“And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Spirit testifieth unto me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But I hold not my life of any account as dear unto myself, so that I may accomplish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God (Act 20:22-24).”

What if we find ourselves in a situation where we are required to exercise courage in doing the Lord’s will? Does it sound strange that danger can potentially happen to us, or are we so used to the safety and peace we enjoy?

The Bible doesn’t whitewash anything. The heroes we read about are humans with weaknesses just like we do. Peter certainly did not seem to lack courage. He said to the Lord, “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended (Mat 26:33).”

But not long after, he denied Jesus three times out of fear of being recognised as a disciple (John 18:15-18, 25-27).

What are the dangers today that commonly test our courage? Embarrassment, being called names, unfriendliness or outright hostility, being ignored by friends, loss of social esteem or respect, rejection, etc.

When the tests come, will we realise that our faith is not anything as strong as we’d like to think it is? Remember the words of the Lord:

“Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God (Luke 12:8-9)”

The consequence of denying Christ and refusing to serve Him because of a lack of moral courage is serious.

“Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels (Mark 8:38).”

We can find our moral courage to serve when we keep in mind what the Lord has accomplished by the cross. He has overcome sin and death.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us (Rom 8:35, 37).”

Moral cowardice has no place in a Christian’s heart. Paul writes: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2Ti 1:7).”

The courage to stand up for the faith is an indispensable quality every one of us must cultivate. Lack of moral courage will result in loss of our souls. So, do we dare for the Lord?

“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death (Rev 21:8).”


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Israel and the Church

For about 430 years the descendants of Abraham were living in Egypt. Israel’s number grew and this alarmed the Egyptians, and so the Egyptians subjugated Israel and made them labour as slaves.

“Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh storecities, Pithom and Raamses…And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigor: and they made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field, all their service, wherein they made them serve with rigor (Exo 1:11, 13-14).”

Israel cried out to the Lord and He heard their cry. In response He sent them a deliverer—Moses.

Through the mighty display of God’s power, Moses led Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness. The Lord brought them not by shortcut through the land of the Philistines “but by the way of the wilderness by the Red Sea (Exo 13:18).”

With the Egyptian army hot in pursuit, the Lord performed one of the greatest miracles ever known to man. He parted the Red Sea and guided His people through on dry land while blocking the path of the Egyptians.

“And the angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud removed from before them, and stood behind them: and it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud and the darkness, yet gave it light by night: and the one came not near the other all the night (Exo 14:19-20).”

The Lord allowed the Egyptians to continue their pursuit through the parted Red Sea after Israel had safely made it across to the other side before closing the sea, drowning the Egyptian army.

“And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, even all the host of Pharaoh that went in after them into the sea; there remained not so much as one of them…Thus Jehovah saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the seashore (Exo 14:28, 30).”

This epic historical event serves as a metaphor for the people of God of the new covenant today.

Israel was delivered out of bondage by a deliverer through the mighty workings of God’s power. The church likewise was delivered out of bondage to sin by a deliverer—Jesus Christ—by the mighty power of God.

“…our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father (Gal 1:3-4).”

Israel “were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1Co 10:1-2).”

We were baptised into Christ, “that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Rom 6:3-4).”

At Sinai the Lord made a covenant with Israel, giving them a system of law by which they were to live and worship God (Exo 20). This system of Law is known as the Law of Moses.

Under the new covenant of Christ, the church is given a new system of law by which we are to live and worship God. This system of Law is known as the Law of Christ (Gal 6:2).

The new covenant, the Law of Christ, also known as the faith (1Co16:13; 2Co 13:5; Gal 2:20; Jude 3) and the gospel (Gal 2:14; Php 1:27), is now our sole authority in religion.

Paul famously wrote: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20).”

We can easily replace “the faith of the Son of God” with “the Law of Christ” in this verse and the meaning remains. Living by faith (Rom 1:17) is not to live according to our subjective feelings, as unfortunately many in the religious world misunderstand, but to live according to the Law of Christ.

Now back to ancient Israel. God did not deliver them out of bondage in Egypt to wander aimlessly in the wilderness for the remainder of their lives. He brought them out of Egypt that He might bring them into the Promised Land.

Likewise the Lord has not delivered us from the bondage of sin and death to leave us to our own devices. He intends to complete the work He has begun and bring us into everlasting glory with Him in heaven.

As the Lord instructed Joshua, who is a shadow of Jesus (they even share the same name), to lead Israel and press on into Canaan (Jos 1:1-2), so we must press on toward heaven by living holy and godly lives to the glory of God.

“Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2Pe 1:10-11).”