Let me paint a picture first. Imagine a low-tech agrarian society-- it could be one you're imagining from years long past, or the one that still exists in many parts of the world today. A people who solely depend on the land and their crops and animals for survival. A society that will be literally decimated- by hunger, disease, and eventual civil war- if the rains don't come, or the plants don't grow, or anything happens to the crops that provide nourishment, stability, and the hope of a future. Imagine the fear that must come with being so utterly dependent on something you literally have so little control over: I mean, you can plant your seeds and pull the weeds, but if the rain doesn't come, or the birds eat the seed...what're you going to do? This isn't a society that has advanced irrigation or airplanes that can spread fertilizers and pesticides-- this is a people that are utterly at the mercy of the weather and God.
And imagine, if you will, that right when your crops are budding...right as the green sprouts start poking through the black soil, right as hope starts to build that maybe this year there will be plenty. Maybe this year we will have enough to sell, to trade, to build a new barn, to save for the future. And right as the hope starts taking root, the locusts come. They come from the sky, zillions and zillions of them, and they swarm and cover and eat and destroy everything. I don't even understand these plagues of locusts that are not just legend, but a real thing that happened 'back in the day,' and even yesterday, in Madagascar, as this newspaper reported. Can you even imagine the utter despair you would feel as you watch stupid ugly bugs eat your food that you planted, that you worked for...the food that will now not be available for you, your children, and your community?
And I read this yesterday and I can't stop thinking about it:
"I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten..." (Joel 2:25 NIV)
You will what?
"Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten..." (Joel 2:25 NASB)
Come again, now?
"And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten..." (Joel 2:25 KJB)
He will repay. He will make up. He will restore.
The years of devastation. The years of hunger. The years of hopelessness. The years that the locusts stole...they will be redeemed.
And sometimes I feel hesitant to just pick a random promise or covenant out of the Bible and stake a personal claim on it, you know? Like...okay, so God made that deal with Abraham or whoever. It doesn't necessarily mean he's making the exact same personal pledge to ME, okay?...and so I sometimes don't know where I fall as far as claiming another person's promise from God for myself. And I don't mean that in a hopeless or faithless way, it's just...it just is what it is, for me.
But what I do feel confident in is this: the character of God. That His character and his heart and his intentions never change. That since the beginning of the world, He has been a God passionately in love with his people, a Creator that is for us. And while we live in the world that He created, we live in a world that is fallen and full of our own free will that doesn't always make the best choices, and it's definitely not always a pretty place. And terrible things happen-- illness, hurts, broken dreams, abandonment, infertility, betrayal. And we wander through years of wondering what happened, why our perfectly-laid plans have been been eaten by the swarms of locusts, and we're scared to plant new hopes lest they fall victim to the locusts again.
But I will restore to you the years the locust has eaten.
That's the heart of our God. He longs to restore to us. To redeem. To repay. He doesn't always stop the plague of locusts. He could. I don't know why He doesn't. But sometimes the locusts still come, and their destruction is vast. And God says I will redeem that. The locusts will not have the final word. Those years will not be forgotten. Our God is so, so good-- and he longs to restore whatever has been stolen from you.
And I can't get it out of my head. He wants to restore the years that I count as wasted. The years that I've been so anxious to see end, to rip off the last page of the calendar and wad it up and say good riddance to, the ones that have been full of anxiety and tears and broken hopes and struggling faith and absolutely swarming with metaphorical locusts. Those years?
"The LORD says, 'I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts...'" (Joel 2:25 NLT)
How can I not cling to hope when those words are stuck in my head? I don't know what this redemption, this restoration will look like. It might not look the way I imagined. But He will restore the years the locusts have eaten. And my heart rejoices.