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When the Lord became zealous for his land

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon was given at The Salvation Army Moonee Valley on Sunday 9 September, 2012.

January 2010 started off what was going to be a great year. I was getting married, I was working doing what I loved – teaching violin – and I started off the year with a holiday down to Mandurah – about an hour south of Perth. It was great to get away from everything, and just escape. However, my whole year was about to take a dramatic shift. I received an e-mail from one of the schools that I taught at, saying that they didn’t have any students for me, and I wouldn’t be required at the school any longer. This was one week before the school term commenced. By that time, all of the school teaching positions would have been filled, and it meant that I was now living off effectively one days income. With a wedding to pay for, a house to find (as I was still living at my parent’s house), I really needed to find a job, and preferably quickly.

I started applying for jobs doing whatever I could find that was somewhat related to the experience that I had. I was sending through at least 10 applications a week, each with a customised cover letter and resume. But I got nothing back. No responses. Weeks turned into months, and as time went on, I continued to pray, knowing that there was something out there for me. That knowledge however didn’t help my stress levels, especially as we got closer and closer to our wedding date.

Eventually, I got an interview – a position at DHQ in WA. Finally! I thought, things were starting to turn around. I went in, and did what I thought was a very strong interview. A couple of days later, I got a phone call – the job went to someone already within DHQ, and I had missed out. I was so disappointed. I felt like I had been completely deserted by everyone. Since joining the Salvation Army, I had never felt the need to drink, but at that moment, the temptation was oh so strong. I don’t know how, but through that darkest moment, through that deepest trial, I held onto my covenant, and stayed faithful to God.

You may well have gone through times like that. You may have had a similar experience, of looking for work. Maybe you went through financial troubles, or had relationship issues, or just a period of time where nothing seemed to go right. Sometimes in the church, we refer to these as times of testing or times of trials. Some might say that it’s the devil attacking you. No matter what you call it, it’s a time where things are hard, and it can often be really difficult to see a way out.

Of course, it’s not a new thing that we’re going through. You could pick out numerous examples throughout history, particularly through the Old Testament. Even in the New Testament, where many of the letters were written to Churches to encourage them through trials. Today, we heard from the prophet Joel. There’s some conjecture about when Joel was written, but most seem to think it was sometime between 500 and 350 BCE, when Judah was occupied by the Persian Empire.

The northern kingdom of Israel had been conquered a couple of centuries earlier by the Assyrians. The southern kingdom of Judah managed to survive until 586 BCE, when the Babylonians attacked. The Babylonians had sacked the city, destroyed the Temple, and Judah was carried off in exile to Babylon. They did not return home until 539 BCE, when the Persians conquered the Babylonians. The Babylonians were later conquered by Alexander the Great, so as you can see, it was a period of extreme upheaval, yet during this time, Judah is going about a period of redevelopment. They have gone back to Jerusalem, and they are setting themselves up as a nation once again.

What Joel is saying here to Judah – and to us as well – is that although we will go through tough times, and go through trials, and seem to be attacked at times from all sides, God will actually always remain faithful to us. In verse 18, it says “Then the LORD became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people.” That word, jealous, could also be translated as zealous. Now, you might be like me and have to look up what zealous actually means. Google’s definition didn’t do much for me: “having or showing zeal.” But Zeal is having fervour for us – that is, great warmth or earnestness of feeling. But zealousness also has an idea of being ardently active, devoted, or diligent. So when Joel writes that the Lord became zealous for his land, he is saying that the Lord’s devoted feelings for us sparked his pity for us. Through that, he then restored the land of Judah, and the nation of Judah.

That restoration is complete as well. God provides a complete renewal, a complete reversal, a complete restoration through all our trials. God actually goes through, and reverses all of the actions that took place in the first part of Joel. What the locusts have eaten,[1] God will repay.[2] The new wine that was snatched away,[3] God sent enough to satisfy fully.[4] The nation that invaded[5] will be driven away.[6] Everything that was said that would happen, is completely restored by God. God is faithful to us, so long as we are faithful to him.

When I was struggling to find work, I remained faithful to God. I continued the development of my spiritual life, I continued to pray, and knew that God would provide for me. Liesl and I started to look for our first rental. We found one that we liked, and after doing our sums, put together our application. We handed it in on a Wednesday, by that afternoon, we got the call saying that we were offered the house. Then Thursday, I got a call offering me a job that I had previously interviewed for, and had missed out on. Friday, we picked up the keys to the house, I moved in Saturday, and started at this new job on Monday. In less than a week, God had restored me from a time of trial and struggling, to a place of full restoration – I had more work than I had ever had, I had a house to live in, and now everything was back on track for our wedding, and our marriage.

You may have had similar experiences. As you reflect on your life, you can see that while there are times of trials throughout our lives, when we remain faithful to God, he will restore us after our trials. Though we have to face struggles and trials, God always brings with them growth, and restores the good times back to us.

Today, reflect on your life. Where have you come from, where are you at today? Are you in a place of trials at the moment? Or has God restored you from your last trial?

We’re going to sing “When peace like a river” and as we do, the Mercy Seat is open for all. If you want to come and give thanks to God for the blessings you have received after your time of trials, come. If you want to ask God for strength and restoration from your trials, then come. If you need to maybe repent of your sins, then come. 1 John 1:8-10 says “8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” But as we sing, let’s praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you, and who will work wonders for you, and know that he is Lord, and there is none beside him.

[1] Joel 1:4 “What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left

the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten.”

[2] Joel 2:25 “’I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten– the great locust and the young locust,

the other locusts and the locust swarm — my great army that I sent among you.”

[3] Joel 1:5 “’I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten– the great locust and the young locust,

the other locusts and the locust swarm — my great army that I sent among you.”

[4] Joel 2:18 “’I am sending you grain, new wine and oil, enough to satisfy you fully; never again will I make you

an object of scorn to the nations.”

[5] Joel 1:6 “A nation has invaded my land, powerful and without number; it has the teeth of a lion, the fangs of a lioness.”

[6] Joel 2:20 “’I will drive the northern army far from you, pushing it into a parched and barren land, with its front columns going into the eastern sea and those in the rear into the western sea. And its stench will go up;

its smell will rise.’”

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