Locusts vs. prophets (a sermon on Joel 2)

locust swarmLast weekend, I preached on the passage from Joel that Peter quoted in his famous Pentecost sermon that we read from Acts 2 every year. But the context for Joel 2:23-32 is very different than Acts 2. The Israelites have just returned from their Babylonian exile and their land has been devoured by a swarm of locusts. In preparing for the sermon, I did a lot of research on locusts and learned that they have a very interesting trait that humans tend to emulate when we have not put our trust in God. More commentary below with sermon audio here:

What I learned in researching locusts is that they are basically indistinguishable from grasshoppers most of the time. But a very specific climate pattern causes them to become a giant swarm that can wipe out all the vegetation in a region. It usually happens following an unusual rain in a desert area which causes the locust population to swell from the hundreds to the billions very rapidly in an area bereft of the resources to sustain the hungry new bugs who then fly hundreds of miles to find food. When locusts are in their swarming mode, they actually turn a different color and their bodies become a different shape.

It seems to me that people act a lot like locusts even though our bodies don’t turn different colors and shapes. We are doing to our planet what locusts very dramatically do to the vegetation in particular regions. Our catalyst for becoming human locusts is a basic anxiety that we will not get our share unless we compete with all the people around us. This creates a swarm that causes all of us to buy into ways of living that we don’t really desire because we’ve all decided that we’re under pressure.

The means of dealing with an infestation of locusts is to fumigate them from airplanes in a cloud of pesticide that leaves a ground coated in billions of insect corpses. God’s means of dealing with human locust swarms is thankfully not to kill us. The way that Joel puts it is that God pours out His Spirit on all flesh so that unlikely people become prophets.

To be a prophet is not necessarily to have insight into deep mysteries or predictions about what God will do in the future. It means simply speaking God’s truth in a context where that truth is being ignored. People are disinfected from being locusts when they embrace the promises that God has shared with His people. Two promises that Joel shares are that God will never let His people be put to shame and whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

If we walk through our lives with the basic trust that whatever happens, we can call upon God to save us, then we will be able to avoid the frenzy of the locust swarm. We become a non-anxious presence, a prophetic voice that clears the land of locusts. So the question is simple: what do you want to be, prophets or locusts?

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