There have been times when God was so displeased with his people he restricted their ability to worship, and Joel 1:9 is one example. The people of God had grown so cold and indifferent toward God their worship was worthless. They had a form of Godliness but denied its power. Knowing this, God began to discipline his children to draw them back. To do this, he sent a plague of locusts to destroy their crops. It is in this context that we read the following.
The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of the LORD (Joel 1:9).
A few verses later, we read this:
Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests; wail, O ministers of the altar. Go in, pass the night in sackcloth, O ministers of my God! Because grain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God (Joel 1:13).
Not only did God take their grain and wine, but he also took away their ability to properly worship because grain and wine were part of the ceremonial law. God was saying, “If you are going to be cold and not want anything to do with me, but you still want to pretend to worship, I want nothing to do with it. I will no longer allow you to worship.”
I do not think it is improper to think about this in light of the pandemic. God is sovereign, and nothing happens apart from his will. Many people may not like that thought and would rather say that God only allows it, but let us remember, in allowing it, it is still his plan. In the end, everything is in the hands of our sovereign God.
I do not claim to know what God is doing with Covid, but we should not lose sight of the fact, whether you thought the lockdowns were justified or not, God shut the doors of many churches for a time. And some governments are still prohibiting their people from attending church. That should cause us to think. It is estimated that 1 in 5 churches will never reopen their doors after the pandemic. That means, in God allowing covid to do what covid is doing, he has shut down 20% of churches. Some of the closed churches were godly, while others were lampstands without light, but if there was ever a time for the church to examine itself, this seems to be it.
Why would God do that? In paraphrasing what Joel was saying to the people of God, John Calvin says: “Maybe none of these calamities have touched you personally, but do at least now look on the temple of God, which is now destitute of its ordinary services.”
These people were so cold toward God that when he was disciplining them by restricting their ability to worship, they did not recognize it because they had no spiritual hunger. Sure, they felt an emptiness in their stomachs because the food was gone, but they did not feel the emptiness in their souls.
The question is, is this us? Our culture is moving further and further away from God, our entertainment is becoming more and more perverse, and many churches have abandoned the word of God for concerts and self-help lectures. At the same time, many other churches have contented themselves with dead orthodoxy.
One of the things the Lord can do is look at us and say, “If you do not want my word, if you would rather have something else, I can send a famine of my word (Amos 8:11). However, know this, whatever you replace it with will destroy you.
If this is us, and the Lord’s hand is heavy upon us because we honor him with our lips, but our hearts are far from him, may this realization awaken a hunger for worship in our souls. Then, in our conviction, may we also hear him say:
Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster (Joel 2:12-13).