Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Thoughts on the Book of Joel (in many parts); Part 4

Complete Material Overthrow and Attrition 
“Awake, drunkards, and weep; and wail, all you wine drinkers, on account of the sweet wine that is cut off from your mouth.  For a nation has invaded my land, mighty and without number; its teeth are the teeth of a lion, and it has the fangs of a lioness.  It has made my vine a waste and my fig tree splinters. It has stripped them bare and cast them away; their branches have become white” (Joel 1: 5-7).

An awaking drunkard is a graphic image of someone awaking to the reality of impending punishment for their behavior and the consequences of overindulgence.  It is the image of our day; the rafters are sagging and our homes are imploding around us.  The Assyrians that were to come and strip away all material prosperity is likened now to something even more ravenous and ominous, the carnivorous lion and his lioness.  The whitening branches are sheered so clean as to be without their natural bark or covering of protection.

Our armies are splintered throughout the world chasing phantoms on rabbit trails.  Our splintering fig tree is our fractured economy; our wasted vine is our wanton disregard for our national sovereignty.  The reality that a lion has, indeed, been spotted in the street or the open square is a terrible indictment; the irrational fear of the sluggard has come upon him with a vengeance.  When the slothful man said “There is a lion in the way; a lion is in the streets” (Proverbs 26:13) he, no doubt, was not so much afraid of lions as his duty.  It is this slackness of duty, this slovenly diligence, which lulls us all into a stupor not unlike a literal drunken one.

As Matthew Henry once said, “He [a slothful man] dreads the way, the streets, the place where work is to be done and a journey to be gone; he hates business, hates everything that requires care and labor.  When he is pressed to be diligent, either in his worldly affairs or in the business of religion, this is his excuse (and a sorry excuse it is, as bad as none), There is a lion in the way, some insuperable difficulty or danger which he cannot pretend to grapple with.”

The irony is that the indolent behavior of the elders during Joel’s day was the cause for the Assyrian lion to arise and traverse their way and streets; what they feigned to fear became the very fear that overtook them.  The mighty and without number, symbolized earlier by the locust swarm, is like multiplied small foxes that have overrun the vineyard and spoiled the entire vine.  The utter internal attrition being reflected externally reminds me of a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, entitled “Carrion Comfort;” here it is:

“Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist—slack they may be—these last strands of man
In me or, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruised bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?

Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, cheer.
Cheer whom though? The hero whose heaven-handling flung me, foot trod
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.”