Is the Church “Joel’s Army?”

 

Locust swarm in Madagascar, as in the days of the Book of Joel. A sign of judgment against God’s people, or a symbol for the church?

A popular worship song, “Blow A Trumpet in Zion,” is taken from Joel 2, describing a terrifying army, raised up by God. Though I have sung it countless times, I never really thought about what it really meant, in the Bible.

It goes like this:

They rush on the city
They run on the wall
Great is the army
That carries out His Word
The Lord utters His voice
Before His army
Blow the trumpet in Zion, Zion
Sound the alarm on My holy mountain
Blow the trumpet in Zion, Zion
Sound the alarm!

For years, I had been taught that this “army,” otherwise known as “Joel’s army,” represents the church, faithful believers in the “last days,” living in “victory,” who are to be raised up by God, to restore genuine worship, among God’s people. It is a very stirring image. But the problem with this interpretation is that it ignores the context of the passage.

As Craig Keener, New Testament theologian at Asbury Seminary, demonstrates, the lyric lifted from Joel 2:9, “They rush on the city, They run on the wall,”  is not about a “victorious” church, but rather, the instrument of judgment against God’s people. The theme of the Book of Joel is about God’s warning of judgment, against a disobedient people, expressed in terms of “the day of the Lord” (Joel 2:1), followed by a word of hope for God’s people, assuming they indeed repent (Joel 2:18-3:21).

Furthermore, the army, as explicitly described in Joel 2:25, are not believers. Rather, it is actually a great horde of locusts, following a series of previous locust attacks, as described in Joel 1.  God’s people had been disobedient, so they felt the hand of God’s judgment, through these locust attacks. Joel, in chapter 2, then warns of an even greater locust plague. To “Blow the trumpet in Zion, Zion,” is therefore the call to God’ people, to repent, and turn their hearts towards God, in order to avoid God’s great plague of locusts against them.

You could draw an analogy, that this locust plague also represents the Babylonians, a “great and powerful people” (Joel 2:2), as sent by God, to judge the Hebrew people, thus leading to the exile of the Jews, to Babylon. Some even find a parallel with the plague of locusts in Revelation 9:7-8, possibly representing a future human army. But taking the further step of equating the locust plague with a victorious church, is really a distortion of the text. For Joel, God’s people are under judgment, so it makes no sense to make God’s people as being instruments of judgment against themselves.

A popular movement of some Christians, particularly in a few Pentecostal and charismatic circles, is to take this idea of “Joel’s army” as being a group of believers, who exercise the hand of God, to restore God’s “true” church, in the “last days” before Jesus’ Second Coming. This teaching is often associated with the “Latter Rain” movement, or the “New Apostolic Reformation (NAR).”  This elite, or so-called “victorious,” group of Christians will then act to rebuke what they consider to be “apostate” Christians.

The problem with thinking like this, is that it is very easy to identify your own group as being among the elite in “Joel’s army,” looking down upon other believers as being less “spiritual” than you are.  Instead, the antidote to this type of thinking is to learn to read Scripture more faithfully, and read it within its original, literary context.

The Book of Joel has much to teach us today about heeding God’s warning of judgment against a shallow Christianity. God will call all people to give an account for their lives, so we must all be mindful that even though God is indeed Loving, He is also a holy and righteous Judge. So, for now on, when I sing along with “Blow a Trumpet in Zion,” I hope it will cultivate a sense of sobriety in me, a re-examination of myself, and not a presumptuous, false sense of so-called “victory.”

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

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