In my garden, I have been fighting against several common pests. The first to show up was the cabbage worms—making lace of my Brussels sprouts plants and consuming whole leaves. Of course, grasshoppers showed up to munch their way through some tender plants. Then it was the horned tomato worm, capable of stripping a healthy plant in 24 hours, if left uncaught. I even found a cute, fuzzy caterpillar among the pole beans. These keep me busy.
I thought of Joel 1:4, where the prophet spoke of the condition in Israel when the people had neglected God and turned to idolatry. "That which the palmerworm has left has the locust eaten; and that which the locust has left has the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm has left has the caterpillar eaten." Joel speaks particularly of various stages of the locust which plague the mid east. Thus, his pronouncement is that there would really be nothing left at all once the full cycle was complete.
In weeks to come, I will discuss those pests, both the literal meaning in Joel and the symbolic meaning in our lives today. But for now, let's jump ahead to verse 12 of Joel 1: "The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languishes; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men."
When people lose their joy, it is like a tree that withers from lack of water and nourishment. One of my tomato plants has a virus. (Fortunately, it is planted in a barrel by itself, not in the main garden.) This virus makes the stem hard and unresponsive, so that water cannot travel from the roots to the branches, leaves, and tomatoes. So the leaves are withering and wilting. Watering the leaves helps a little, but within 24 hours, they are dry and curling.
That's what happens to us when we lose our joy. Joy is different from the emotion we get when we are happy that we get our way; it is different from the reaction of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol; it is different from the feeling of self-satisfaction. Joy is that inner sense of peace and hopefulness that leads to gladness and rejoicing.
Now, I know that the departure of joy has nothing to do with my garden; these pests come naturally. They are part of the consequences of sin in the earth. In certain times, the Lord will use a plague of those to get the attention of his people (as in the case described by Joel).
But in our lives, without joy, we are defenseless before the enemy that comes to discourage, depress, and defeat us. Just like my sick tomato is defenseless against the heat and wind. (And surprisingly enough, that is the one plant that had the most tomato hornworms on it.) What we need is joy which brings strength, as we read in Nehemiah 8: 10, "For the joy of the Lord is your strength."
And when we have that joy, we can declare with the prophet Habakkuk: "Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; although the olives shall fail to grow, and the fields shall yield no grain; although the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet will I rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation"—Habakkuk 3: 17-18.
Put into today's work world, we could say, "Although I lose my job and run out of groceries; although my car breaks down and I can't afford to fix it; although the stock market crashes and I lose all my savings: Yet will I rejoice in the LORD, I will have joy in the God of my salvation."
That is ultimately the place God wants to bring us to—that complete dependence upon Him and joy in Him, regardless of circumstances. And sometimes we have to put up with "garden pests" to get to that place, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
Next week: "Part 2 - Palmerworms."
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