Vol. 1 - No. 7
"No Obscurity With God
by Vaughn D. Shofner
In unexpected and obscure places we sometimes find the most beautiful things displayed. Unexpectedly, and for this reason often unnoticed, the fernlike figures athwart a storm-swept sky at midnight present indescribable beauty. The timid glimmer of a star peeking through the same ominous clouds offers a ray of beauty and hope from God's eternal diadem. And in similar consideration unexpected gems of beauty are found in literature. The noblest thoughts of the human mind are not necessarily found in the publications which have the loudest public approval, nor are they characteristic of the books read by the greatest number of people and everywhere talked about. Often the gems of rarest literature beauty are found in humbly written expression, where thoughts are penned for the sake of the thoughts and for the sake of the truth the thoughts reveal.
To a certain extent this is true of the sacred writings. The Bible has its byways which are seldom explored. The portions of the Bible that are not widely acclaimed and are relatively unknown are still the Eternal Truths of God, and are rich in beauty and full of information for the more inquisitive pilgrims of time. To peruse the utterances of the little three‑chaptered book of Joel is to travel an uncommon byway.
Little is known of the personal history of the author of this book. He was the son of Pethuel. His name and his father's name are significant. Pethuel means "persuaded of God," and Joel means "Jehovah is God." Thus the prophet's name was none other than the anthem of praise lifted by God's people at Mt. Carmel when fire descended in answer to Elijah's prayer in order to destroy the influence of the false prophets of Baal‑‑ "Joel! Joel! Jehovah is God!"
With the exception of Isaiah, and possibly Habakkuk, this book is thought to surpass all the prophets in attaining to the sublime. Joel's torrent of words pours forth with terrifying force as he pictures the destruction which follows sin, and also forcefully presents the praise that is obtained in penitent obedience. He prophetically goes forward with knowledge of the day when the outpouring of the Spirit should come; that divine wonder which Peter recognizes centuries afterwards, when he preached to the people of Jerusalem on the Pentecost after the ascension of the risen Lord.
The first part of this book, chapter 1 through verse 17 of chapter 2, boldly describes the divine judgment of the wicked, and the remainder tells of the blessings of divine favor for the people who are penitent and faithful. Thus as is common with human experiences, the information passes from darkness to light, from grief to joy, from separation to reconciliation.
Making historical analogies, it is a remarkable fact that revivals, reformations, restorations in religion have not often originated with the rich, powerful and popular segment of humanity. Instead, simple herdsmen from the plains of Midian and beyond, or a Bethlehemite shepherd were called to rouse the slumbering zeal, and change the sinful lives of the priests and people of God. The apostles were men who lived by the sweat of their faces, and were maligned by the civil and religious powers of the day. The Lord himself found no friends among the chief priests, the pharisees and scribes, and was given friendly gestures from just two of the seventy members of the Sanhedrin. The New Testament church was sustained and its borders extended by humble, persecuted human beings, who gave their all in possessions and service in order to go everywhere preaching the word. And today we must believe with Paul, "not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty in this world, not many noble by material standards" accept the call to stay the tides of digression and enlarge the borders of the church.
Joel's preparation for his work is strikingly described in one short expression of inspired language: "The word of the Lord that came to Joel the son of Pethuel." (1:1) This was the one fact necessary to authenticate the message, and demand respect for its warnings and admonitions. Those who surrendered to the conditions of the message were saved from the woes of destruction which Joel described. Today, the word of God given to us by supernatural power and preserved by the kind providence of God is all we need; believe it and obey it, and escape the eternal woes beyond time.
Obscure as Joel's words are, generally, they reached far beyond the time he spoke them. They were preserved for all future generations as part of God's help for man. We have only to turn to the New Testament and read Peter's address to the people of Jerusalem, and there we find him quoting the words of this prophet. It was regarding the momentous occasion when the outpouring of the Spirit inspired and confirmed the revelation of God's eternal purpose for man in granting the forgiveness of sins through the perfected plan of God. On that day 3,000 souls surrendered to the conditions of the plan and the church of Christ came into existence.
Some 60 years later in John's vision of the apocalypse we meet with Joel's image of the locust plague, symbolizing the devil's work through wicked men, robbing mankind of righteousness and holiness, destroying the wisdom and understanding that is necessary to be saved. This gives us a hint of God's method of presenting his plan for man from its beginning to the perfection of it; that is, to the gospel of Christ, the power of God unto salvation.
We can behold it with the apostle Paul, and admire "its breadth, and its length, and depth, and height, and stability; and know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that we might be filled with all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:18, 19) However, we are prone to overlook the obscure beauty of it. We are prone to fail to travel the byways of the lowly quarries from which the stones of this saving structure were obtained. We forget the obscure laborers who with great travail brought these stones to their places. We may overlook the rough work that shaped the stones for use by the great Architect; that is, the inspired workmen who through suffering and persecution revealed the words by which man may be made a new creature.
In further analogy, the labors, sufferings, and deprivations of our lives may depress us because of the seeming obscurity of them, but they have issues which will prove themselves at the gate of heaven. The symbols of our lives are not to be found in the broken marble pillars of the cemeteries, which speak only of ruin and desolation, but they are found in the hope that rises from our planted lifeless bodies and shouts of eternal glory on the resurrection morn.
Gentle reader, we cannot depend on the things of great renown, for they will fail us in the end. Let us forget worldly measurements and depend on heavenly things. Obscure as the words of Joel are, they ring loud and clear down through the long aisles of past ages, and forward to the end of time. Each time the gospel message is heard, believed and obeyed, it echoes the mercy of a loving God whose purpose for his highest creatures was foretold in symbol and shadow ten thousand times, and emphasized by the pens of inspired prophets millenniums before the forgiveness was perfected, and such eternal announcements as were heralded by Joel presented it to our time: "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved!"