A Most Frightening Book

 Which is the most frightening book in the Bible?  Many find Revelation and Daniel  rather frightening.  But what about the little book of Joel?

      Joel prophesied a devastating attack by countless millions of locusts devouring all vegetation in its path.  “What the gnawing locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten; what the swarming locust left, the creeping locust has eaten; and what the creeping locust has left, the stripping locust has eaten.” [Joel 1:4; NASB].  “Before them the land is like the Garden of Eden, behind them, a desert waste” [Joel 2:3].  What graphic language!  Wasn’t Joel a masterful writer?

From his words we are able to imagine a vast army of hungry locusts marching into a lush green land, and leaving behind a desert without grass and with all the trees bare of leaves, of fruit, and even bark.  Imagine all of Singapore brown and bare, without a single leaf or blade of grass.  Then terrible famine spelling death to humans and animals alike.  Isn’t this frightening? 

When we remember Joel, we remember locusts.  You could call the opening passage, Joel 1:2-7, “Devastation by locusts”.  But isn’t there much more than locusts in Joel? What does Joel talk about from 1:8-12?  “The field are ruined, the ground is dried up [or mourns], the grain is destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails….the vine is dried up, and the fig tree is withered; the pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree – all the trees of the field – are dried up.”  Does all this not speak of “Devastation by drought”?  Like the locusts, the drought will be brought upon sinning and unrepentant Israel.

And that was the problem, wasn’t it?  That Israel was continuing to sin, without repentance?  Immediately after the frightening description of “Devastation by locusts” and “Devastation by drought”, Joel offered Israel a way to escape the terrible double scourges: “Put on sackcloth, O priests, and mourn….Declare a holy fast.  Summon the elders and all who live in the land….cry out to the Lord” [Joel 1:13 & 14].  In fact, Joel is so moved that he himself calls out to God: “To you, O Lord, I call” [Joel 1:19]. 

Joel cries out because “Fire has devoured the open pastures, and flames have burned up all the trees of the field.  Even the wild animals pant for you; and streams of water have dried up”. Then he repeats what he has just said:  “fire has devoured the open pastures” [Joel 1:19 & 20].  Say, is this a third scourge: “Devastation by fire”?  Hmm, aren’t grass and bush fires common during drought?

However, given Joel’s wonderfully graphic language, could he have meant that drought had devoured the open pastures and the trees of the field, like fire?  To answer this, shouldn’t we study Joel’s style of writing, to see if he had ever written in a way similar to using the imagery of fire to represent drought? 

A study will show that Joel used the metaphor of fire to describe locusts, not drought!  He said that, “they leap over the mountaintops, like a crackling fire consuming stubble” [2:5].  But wait a minute, isn’t the operative word “like”?  In 2:5 the locusts are like a fire, but in 1:19 & 20, Joel did not use the word “like” but said directly that “fire has devoured the open pastures, and flames have burned up all the trees of the field”.  So isn’t it more likely that Joel was referring to actual fire?

Three devastating waves of destruction, by a vast army of locusts, by drought and by fire, coming to hit your country and cause perhaps hundreds of thousands to die of starvation; wouldn’t you be frightened?  But remember, Joel called Israel to repentance, to escape all these scourges [1:13 & 14].  And in 2:12, we see God’s direct call to Israel to repent.  “Even now, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning”, God called.  This is immediately echoed and amplified by Joel in a long passage, 2:13 – 32, detailing how God will respond to Israel’s repentance with generous blessings. 

God threatened three terrible scourges, but He also called Israel, repeatedly, to repentance to avoid the scourges.  Do we see a wrathful and merciless God in Joel, or a merciful God ready to forgive?


Editorial Note: We want to thank Mickey Chiang for his ongoing contribution to BTW. May God bless his ministry of writing!


      Chapel on Wednesday, July 23rd, was taken by student Zhang Haidi. She spoke of her spiritual journey and expressed thanks to God for the blessings received from the university fellowship group that she joined. 

      Chapel next Wednesday, July 30th, will be taken by Dr Quek Swee Hwa. He will show video clips from his recent Mission Trip to the Philippines , especially the musical, “My Utmost For His Highest,” presented by the Afterglow Singers from Bacolod , Visayas.


CONGRATULATIONS to Mr & Mrs Timothy & Sharlene Lim on the arrival of their first child, Matthew Lim on 14 July.


DEEPEST CONDOLENCES to Dr Violet James, her mother,  and the rest of her family, on the Homegoing of her father, the late Dr G. D. James, a well-respected Brethren leader. He was a faithful servant and evangelist of God, a writer of devotional books, and founder of the Asia Evangelistic Fellowship. He passed away on 24.7.03 in Sydney.


GOOD BOOKS. Our apologies for the non-appearance of this feature due to lack of space. Once a month, when “Thinking Points” is featured, we shall take a break from Good Books. If we may whet your book appetite a little, for the next two weeks, Next week’s Good Books” is a triplet that is having  long gestation period (two weeks): we hope you will enjoy a review of thee volumes on the controversy surrounding the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. We shall be reviewing books by Colin Gunton, William Rusch, and Catherine Mowry LaCugna. For the week following that we shall look at several books on the Inter-Faith Debate in view of the current interest in maintaining religious harmony.


A Reader’s Response - "I am on the mailing list of BGST and read with delight your latest book review on Peanuts. I have been, for many years, "learning" about the Lord through Peanuts through the writings of Robert Short and also Abraham Twerski (Twelve Steps and When Do The Good Things Start). I just wanted to tell you how happy I was to read your Book Review to know that you (and I could not find anyone else) enjoy Peanuts as a humorous mirror reflection of ourselves in the Lord's eyes" (Seah Min Wai).


NEW ADMISSIONS. We continue our introduction of new students who have signed up for one of our three study programmes. We want you to thank God with us for the students whom God has sent to us. Do uphold them in your prayers and pray for the Faculty team also that we may be able to look after both their theological and spiritual formation.

§         Angeline Ong Kim Lian (for the Dip CS) worships at the Victory Family Centre.  She graduated from the National University of Singapore (BA) and holds an executive position at  the Pioneer Electronics(s) Pte Ltd.

§         Tessie Setiabudi (for the Dip CS and M.Div) is from Indonesia and is a permanent resident in Singapore.  She is a Training Specialist and Psychologist and holds degrees from the Sonoma State University (BA) and the United. States International University in San Diego, California (MA). Currently she is studying also at Hull University, UK (MBA). She worships at the Wesley Methodist Church.

§         Pastor Song Yong Hak (for the MCS) is from Korea and a graduate from the Chonnam National University, Gwangju (BA in Philosophy) and the Reformed Theological Seminary, Seoul (M Div). He worships at the Zion Bible-Presbyterian Church and was recommended to BGST by our alumnus serving in Johannesberg, South Africa, Rev Samuel Kim. 

§         Ralph Amirtharaj (for the Dip CS) is a permanent resident in Singapore.  He is a Database Administrator with Citibank and is a graduate of the Coimbatore Institute of Technology (B Engineering) and the Bharathidasan University (M. Engineering). He was baptised at a Prayer House of the Assembly of God in India.

AWAY ON LEAVE. Anthony Tay will be on leave from 25 Jul to 6 Aug. If you need any assistance, please refer to Serene or Kok Wee.


ERRATUM. Tan Siew Goh would like us to know that she is currently pursuing her BA in English: she has not yet completed it. Do pray for the successful completion of both that degree and her work at BGST.


Mr Collin See  21/7

Mr Pierre Fong  22/7

Mdm Dawn Yap Tien Ming 23/7

Rev Dr Yap Kim Sin  24/7

Rev Philip Soh Tian Lye  24/7

flower pot

Ms Eunice Tham  25/7

Mr Leonard Kok  26/7

Ms Ng Li Shien  27/7

Mrs Wong Siew Ee  27/7

Mdm Chew Lee Khim  27/7

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