4 That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten.  

5 Awake, ye drunkards, and weep… 

Joel 1:4-5.

  1. Able to Read the Signs 

A pattern of successive calamities is often indicative of a manipulating mystic finger.  When one disaster strangely follows another like a mischievous Olympic relay, we might be watching much more than mere coincidences.  Jesus was sorry not only for those with an ear adamantly deaf to the prophetic voice but also for those with hearts and eyes naïvely blind to prophetic signs (Matthew 16:2-3).  In other words, signs speak no less than voices – for those who can ‘hear,’ and the element of the prophetic could be as much in the voluminous voice of the fiery Elijah as in the mellowed tunes of Solomon the sage.  Sometimes, as redemptive pointers (for those that can discern), nature signs a signature in the landscape and in the patterns of life.

In the Temptation of Job, for example, the calamities came in a cruel series.  One reporter had hardly finished narrating his eye-witness woes before the other came with a worse news.  Three times in that account, we read, “While he was yet speaking, there came also another…” (Job 1:16-18).  There had been a supernatural finger ordering the calamities; the crooked finger of Satan the Accuser.  Promptly, rather than blame the reporters for bringing bad news, or the victims for walking ‘carelessly’ into those dangers (as if it had been their fault), he turned to God, indicating that he had an appreciable understanding of the moment (Job 1:20-22).

  1. Private and National Signs 

Whereas the instance of Job was of consecutive private calamities, Prophet Joel, referenced above, reports a national instance of the same phenomenon: devastating palmerworms, followed by locusts, followed by cankerworms, followed by caterpillars; each new class of wasters continuing the calamities from where the previous gang had stopped.  From his prophetic perspective, Joel could see that the pestilent invasions were not ordinary, so he called out at once to the apparently passive and naïve victims dulled by wine: “Awake, ye drunkards, and weep….”  An intellectualistic blind population might have dismissed the events with an ‘environmental’ tag and rather sought the Pest Control Department of the United Nations for ‘practical’ help.  That would have been like spraying a sitting room TV with a water hose to douse the wild fires on the evening news.

Like Joel, Prophet Ezekiel paints the similar picture of a people fleeing one fire only to be devoured by a worse inferno.  The consecutive fires, the prophet showed in his case, were merely the visible expressions of a mystic Face turned “against them”; the physical indications of a spiritual conflict of which the pleasures-sedated sufferers were pitifully oblivious.  Those fires carried a signature that the prophet could read; the mystic signature of an offended God.

And I will set my face against them; they shall go out FROM ONE FIRE, and ANOTHER FIRE shall devour them; and ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I set my face against them (Ezekiel 15:7). 

  1. An Encounter with a Day 

Amos was another prophet who painted pictures with the metaphor of consecutive calamities.  A man escapes a lion only to be met by a bear – one threat of a wild beast after another; different guises of the same insistent death.  In case he faced those dangers because he had been careless, being in the open field, he flees into the safety of a house and rests his hands on the wall.  “Safe at last,” he thinks, panting in self-congratulations from the second daring escape, only then to be bitten by a snake, right in the house.  One danger threatens to tear him up, the other threatens the same calamitous end by the less gory infusion of deadly poison into his system (Amos 5:19).  Coincidences?  No.  The prophet had a name for it: The Day of the Lord; a Day unlike any other day on the calendar; a day with a supervising divine finger – the Finger of an angered God (Amos 5:18-20).

  1. Responses to the Signs 

Prophet Joel, Prophet Ezekiel, Prophet Amos: three voices (and more) on the same theme.  They could not all be wrong.  In the scriptures it is said, “in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (Matthew 18:16).

When fires become consecutive; when freedom from one fire doesn’t last before another fire flares up, God might have set His face against a person, or a people, or a place.  Then, rather than blame the ‘careless’ fire flingers and the ‘useless’ fire fighters, it might be time to seek to the Lord.  When a string of bad news becomes the lot of an undeserving man; when tragedies appear to have picked a date with anyone or a place, it might not be time to attack the indiscretion of the pitiless reporters or bemoan the badness of the consecutive mischievous actors.  The informed diagnosis of the moment could be saying that it is time to leave the table of wines and seek the Lord – for those that can hear, for themselves or for their land.  Amen.

From The Preacher’s diary,
April 2, 2023. 

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