Many years ago, I was the pastor of a military chapel. Our piano player was extremely talented. In fact, he was a member of the Army band. I know very little about music, but I know enough to know he was incredible. He played the piano by ear. He did not need sheets of music to play a song. Even if he did not know a song, he could play it if somebody sang it.
On the military post, occasionally we would have events where he would take requests. People in the audience could pick any song. It could be country, rock-n-roll, Christian, classical, or jazz. He could play any of them. He would simply ask the people there: “What song would you like to hear?”
It was amazing to watch. The same person, the same instrument, was playing all kinds of different music. Some picked contemporary songs. Some picked Christian hymns. Some picked old time rock. One minute the piano would be playing a sad song, even about death. The next, an upbeat one, perhaps about new found love.
A similar thing happens in the Old Testament Book of Joel. It is found in chapter 2. In the first part of the chapter, Joel tells a man to get up on the wall and play a musical instrument. Specifically, he was to play a trumpet. With this trumpet he was to sound a warning. The song was to tell the people in the city that trouble was coming (Joel 2:1).
The trouble was in the form of an army. There are differences of opinion as to what kind of army this was going to be, but I think the best option is that it was a foreign, invading army that was going to defeat the nation. This army was going to cause great destruction in the nation. It would be a terrible enemy that could not be stopped.
The song of the trumpet was a warning to the people that this army was coming. It was as though the man playing the instrument could see the enemy approach and was letting his fellow citizens know. Death and destruction were on the horizon.
That would be a very sad song indeed!
It is clear in the Book of Joel that the destruction the nation of Israel was in danger of experiencing was the result of their sin. Joel does not state their specific sins, but based upon the history of Israel in the OT, we can make a very educated guess. The Jews were prone to idolatry, social injustice in that they did not take care of the poor, sexual immorality, and corruption in the worship of God at the temple. These were the things they were probably guilty of.
Because of these things, the discipline of God was coming upon the nation. The blast of the trumpet was like a song to proclaim what was going to happen.
But the trumpet could play a different kind of song altogether. A few verses later, Joel tells the man to blow the same instrument for a completely different reason (Joel 2:15). This song would be a song of hope.
Joel says the man can get on the wall of the city and call the people to repentance. The sound of the horn could be used to summon the people to an assembly. At that assembly, the old and young, the newly married, and the religious leaders would begin a fast and call out to the Lord for forgiveness. If they would do that, God could bless the nation. In fact, they could have such a bountiful harvest that they would have enough to give some of it back to the Lord (2:14).
To put it simply, Joel was asking the people what tune the people wanted the man on the wall to play on the trumpet. Would it be one that signaled death and destruction or one in which the people would be called to cry out to God in order to experience His blessings?
It is always a little tricky to apply OT passages to Christians today. We are not Israel. We belong to the church. Joel is talking to the nation as a whole, so we must be careful when we ask what this means for individuals in the church.
But there are some parallels. Sin brings the discipline of God into the lives of His people. That is true for Christian believers today. Free Grace theology rightly maintains that works have nothing to do with receiving eternal life. Our sin does not prevent us from believing in Jesus for that wonderful gift. However, sin in our lives has serious consequences.
The sin in Israel was placing the nation in danger of severe discipline from God. A foreign army would come upon them. While the individual Christian will probably not have an army attack him for his sin, sin does bring the wrath of God into our lives. Sin brings an experience of death. It causes us to be out of fellowship with the Lord. If we fall into a lifestyle of sin, we are in danger of devastating consequences.
The Word of God is like a trumpet warning us of these things. It is very much like the man on the wall playing that instrument. Is that what we want to experience?
But the Word of God also plays another tune. It tells us that if we repent of our sins—if we have made them a lifestyle—we can experience the blessings of God. We can enjoy fellowship with the Lord. We can be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
The Word of God is like a piano that can play different kinds of songs. When we see sin in our lives, even though they do not impact the gift of eternal life, it does warn us. It plays a sad song of warning. It is a song of great loss, even the loss of eternal rewards.
But the Word plays another kind of song. Our Lord is gracious. He wants to bless us with intimacy with Him now and rewards in the world to come. Which sound are we going to respond to? Which song do we want to hear?