Yesterday we saw that the grain offering under the old covenant was to be a mark of the gratitude of the people for the Lord’s goodness to them (Lev. 2). There were times, however, when it was hard or even impossible for Israel to present the grain offering to God. When the crops did not yield a good harvest or pests devoured them, it was difficult to give the fruits of the harvest back to the Lord.
The lack of fruitfulness, of course, was not due to a lack of goodness on God’s part. Since abundant crops were part of the blessing that came to covenant-keeping Israel, the lack of a good harvest, when it occurred, was due to the sin of the people (Deut. 28). As He had done to the Egyptians (Ex. 7:1–12:32), the Lord could exercise His sovereign right to afflict His covenant people when they flagrantly broke His covenant.
During the lifetime of the prophet Joel, Yahweh punished Israel for unrepentant covenant violation, sending a plague of locusts to devour the nation’s crops (Joel 1:1–12). The destruction was so terrible that no food was left for the people (vv. 13–20), and it would have been easy for the people to believe God had abandoned them.
Yet as we see in today’s passage, there is always hope with the gracious Lord of the universe. Joel calls the people to repent (2:12–14), repeating the description of God’s mercy and steadfast love found elsewhere in sacred Scripture (Ex. 34:6–7; Ps. 86:15). In accordance with His covenant love, or chesed as the term appears in the original Hebrew, the Lord is delighted to pardon His wayward people when they return to Him. True contrition that does not demand forgiveness can move God not only to forgive but to add blessing to that forgiveness, which, in the case of Israel, meant the restoration of crops so that the grain offering could be sacrificed unto the Lord once more (Joel 2:14). John Calvin comments, “God, who is by nature placable, will not remain fixed in his purpose, when he sees people returning to him in sincerity; but . . . he suffers himself to be turned to show favor, so as to remit the punishment which he had previously denounced.”
The book of Job warns us against drawing a one-to-one correlation between all of our sin and our trouble. Still, the difficulties we face can indicate our need to repent. If we return to Him, God will pardon us and may do even more good on our behalf.