Promise in the Plague

By Ed Little

A Reading from Joel 2:21-27

21 Do not fear, O soil;
   be glad and rejoice,
   for the Lord has done great things!
22 Do not fear, you animals of the field,
   for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit,
   the fig tree and vine give their full yield.

23 O children of Zion, be glad
   and rejoice in the Lord your God;
for he has given the early rain for your vindication,
   he has poured down for you abundant rain,
   the early and the later rain, as before.
24 The threshing-floors shall be full of grain,
   the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.

25 I will repay you for the years
   that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
   my great army, which I sent against you.

26 You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
   and praise the name of the Lord your God,
   who has dealt wondrously with you. 
 And my people shall never again be put to shame.
27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
   and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.
And my people shall never again
   be put to shame.


After painting such a vivid picture of natural disaster, Joel turns his attention in a more hopeful direction. Disaster will not continue forever, he says. God is in charge. Locusts do not get the last word. Joel expresses this in three ways.

First, he urges his readers — and us — not to be afraid. “Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things!” He goes on to tell us that even the animals of the field need not fear. Disasters are real indeed. Joel’s disturbing portrait of the devastating plague of locusts makes that clear. But fear, the sense that nature has run amok and even God does not care, has no place in the believer’s heart. Joel’s message, as locusts decimate the countryside, points us to a God who is present in the midst of disaster and has matters well in hand.

Second, Joel encourages us to rejoice. “O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God.” Think of the times, countless and beyond numbering, when through the centuries the Eucharist has been celebrated while plague, famine, and war have raged outside. “Life up your hearts!” is no mere liturgical convention. It, like Joel’s prophecy, is counter-intuitive. We say yes to God, even when the circumstances might lead us to despair. This is not simply “positive thinking,” but a reminder to ground ourselves in God’s promises.

Third, Joel looks to the future and sees a future filled with God’s presence. “I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten…. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God.” While we cannot know the future, we can be certain that God will meet us there, and will never fail us.

The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II was bishop of Northern Indiana for 16 years after serving parishes in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Joaquin. He is the author of three books; most recently: The Heart of a Leader: St. Paul as Mentor, Model, and Encourager (2020).

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

Diocese of Rutana (Burundi), the Rt. Rev. Pontien Ribakare
Diocese of Doko (Nigeria), the Rt. Rev. Uriah Kolo
Diocese of the Dominican Republic (The Episcopal Church), the Rt. Rev. Moisés Quezada Mota
Consortium for Christian Unity, Louisville, Kentucky


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