“I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.” Joel 2:25
Money can be restored. Property can be restored—cars, painting, old houses. Relationships can be restored. But one thing that can never be restored is time. Time flies and it does not return. Years pass and we never get them back. Yet here we find God promising the impossible: “I will restore the years that the locus has eaten.” The immediate meaning of this promise is clear.
God’s people had suffered the complete destruction of their entire harvest through swarms of locusts that marched like an insect army through the fields, destroying the crops, multiplying their number as they went. It seems that for four consecutive years, the harvest was completely wiped out. God’s people were brought to their knees in more ways than one. But, “The Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people.” God said, “Behold I am sending to you grain, wine and oil, and you will be satisfied (Joel 2:18-19).
The promise of all the good that God will do for his people continues line after line in these wonderful promises: The enemy who has taken advantage of the weakness of God’s people would be removed (Joel 2:20). The animals that were groaning do not need to fear because the pastures of the wilderness are green (Joel 2:22). The children of Zion can be glad and rejoice because rain has returned to nourish the ground (Joel 2:23).
All this leads up to its climax in verse 25: “I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten.” What this meant for these people was that God would give back the harvests that had been destroyed. In the coming years, God said, their fields would yield an abundance that would make up for what had been lost: “The threshing floor shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil… You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied” (Joel 2:24, 26).
This was a wonderful promise for these people. It meant that years of abundant harvests would follow the years of desolation brought about by the locusts. But God has put it in the Bible for us. What do “lost years” look like for us? How can God restore the years that the locusts have eaten in our lives? Lost years (or locust years) are years that you can’t get back, and they come in many varieties.
The Years That the Locust Has Eaten
A lot of hard work was done in the years the locusts had eaten. Seed was sown, crops were planted, fields were cultivated. Day after day of hard labor, and out of it came green shoots, healthy plants, and the promise of a great harvest. Then the locusts came and everything was gone.
All this work and what do I have to show for it? Look at what I put in: Hours of labor. What did I get back? Absolutely nothing!
Some of you know what that is like in the world of business—a failed venture, a bad investment, a misguided policy, and all the effort that you put in day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year led only to massive disappointment. What has come of all my time and all my effort? How did I end up with only this?
I’m thinking of those who have lost a loved one. You had plans for the future, you had it all mapped out in your mind, but then a loved one was taken from you. You hoped these years would be full, but now you fear they may be empty.
I’m thinking also of those who live with illness in the body or the mind. You assumed that you would always be able to do what you used to do, but then you became sick, and your condition has made your years different from what you had expected.
It can happen early in life. You move into high school or you move into college and the thing that you’re really excited about is getting on a sports team. You make the cut, but then you get an injury and it keeps you out for the entire season. You say, “I will never have my junior year back again. It’s gone. I lost it.” It’s a year that the locust has eaten. You have to find a way of living with that.
Here’s a story that’s been repeated thousands of times. Here’s a person, let’s call him Jim, who made a commitment to Christ but it didn’t run deep. Faith in Jesus was a slice of the big pie of his busy life, filled with all the things that Jim wanted to pursue.
Then one day, God gets hold of Jim. He is spiritually awakened. He looks at his life and he says, “This whole thing has been about me.” Now that he is awakened, he sees what other people are doing to love and to serve and to sacrifice for the sake of Christ.
He says to himself, “What in the world have I been doing? There’s no substance in my life. I really want to count for Christ. I want to live in the power of the Spirit. I want to make a difference in the world, but the locusts have eaten half my life! I’ve wasted my years on myself.”
A division comes to a family and there is alienation from a loved one. Years are lost. Children grow up. And what might have been cannot be recovered.
Some know what it is to quietly endure a marriage in which love has been burning low for many years. You see a couple who are really in love and you say, “I wish I could be loved like that.” Years have passed and you can’t get these years back. It feels like the locusts have eaten them.
Or you have not yet met the person that you would like to meet. And it feels like the years are moving on. You can never get them back. The locusts have eaten them.
Perhaps you have been like the prodigal son. You grew up with many blessings, but in your heart there was an instinct to rebel. You didn’t fully understand it, but you gave yourself to it. You threw yourself into a life that was the opposite of what you knew was right. But instead of bringing you pleasure, it brought you pain. Now you look back on those years with regret, the years that the locust have eaten.
You followed a path, but it didn’t work out the way you hoped it would. The path you chose in your career or at college took was a dead end. You found yourself in a place where you just didn’t fit. Now you look back at your life and feel you should have made a different choice.
Often in your mind, and sometimes in your conversation, you say, “How did I end up here?” And you find yourself saying more and more, “If only… If only I had made that move… If only I had taken that opportunity… If only I had chosen a different path…” But the moment has passed. It’s gone. You can’t go back to it. You’re left with locust years.
All Christ-less years are locust years. This is worth thinking about if you have not yet made a commitment to Christ. Ask anyone who came to faith in Christ later in life and they will tell you that they wish they’d come to Christ sooner than they did: “How much foolishness I would have avoided. How much more good might have been done.”
There are many, many ways in which we come to a place of feeling that years have been lost and we can’t get them back, and God says “I will restore the years that the locust has eaten.”
Now, here’s an important question: To whom is this promise given? Who’s it for? It is given to particular people. So, whoever they are, I want to be among them.
The “who” question is answered in verse 19: “The Lord answered and said to his people…” This promise is given in response to the prayer of verse 17. So what did these people ask for that led to this marvelous answer?
The Promise of Restored Years
The promise of restored years is given to people who:
Feel their need for mercy
“Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach.” Joel 2:17
Lord, look upon us in mercy. Have pity on us. Spare your people. These people had been placed under the discipline of God, and they felt their need for mercy.
You cannot pray this prayer, “spare your people” as a Christian, without thinking of the words of Paul: “[God] did not spare his own Son” (Romans 8:32). The mercy of God comes to us for this reason. We are spared because Christ was not spared.
Here’s our confidence in asking for the help and the mercy of God: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32)?
Want God’s name to be honored
Why should they say among the peoples ‘where is their God?’ Joel 2:17
They are bringing an argument to God. They’re making a case before God. It’s a powerful way to pray, by the way.
The people to whom this promise is given are concerned for God’s name, his honor, his reputation. Unbelievers are watching, and when they see trouble come to a child of God, they use it to speak against the Lord. You see the point of the prayer… Lord, your name is at stake here!
When I first began to pray as a child, I always ended my prayers by saying “For Jesus sake. Amen.” Perhaps you do the same. Think of what that is saying: “For Jesus sake…”
That kind of praying is like an attorney who makes his case before a judge: “Lord, I am asking these things, for the sake of your son! He gave his blood to redeem a people. I am one of them. Now hear my prayer, not because of me, but because of him.”
If you feel your need for God’s help, God’s mercy, and in your heart you want to honor his name, then this promise is for you. These people had been on their knees. They’d been asking God for his mercy, and in verse 19 God “answered them,” and said: “I will restore the years that the locust has eaten.”
How God Restores Lost Years
God can restore lost years by:
Deepening your communion with Christ.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God.” Joel 2:27
These people, who have endured so much, enjoy a communion with the Lord that is far greater than anything they had ever known before in their religious life.
The Gospels tell us about a woman who had lived a sinful life, coming to Jesus, and pouring ointment over his feet. Christ had delivered her from dark powers that had bound her. Her love for Christ was greater than any other love she had ever known in her life.
This woman came into a home where Jesus was eating with a bunch of career professionals who were doing very well for themselves. She knelt at his feet at worshipped. Christ had forgiven the sins of her locust years. Because she knew that Christ had forgiven much, she loved much.
But the folks in the house were embarrassed by the extravagance of this woman’s devotion. They were enjoying fellowship with Christ at the table. But the woman had a deeper communion with the Savior than any of these Pharisees had ever begun to imagine. Christ can restore lost years by deepening your fellowship with him.
Why should you not ask him for this! Tell him, “Lord, I have spent too many years without you, too many years at a distance from you. Fill my heart with love and gratitude for Christ. Let the loss of these years make my love for Christ greater than it would ever have been. Restore to me the years the locusts have eaten.
Multiplying your fruitfulness.
The harvests for these people had been wiped out for four years, and God restored the years that the locusts had eaten by giving bumper harvests. That made me think about the parable where Jesus spoke about a harvest that could be 30, 60, or 100-fold. There’s a huge difference between these three. Three years at a hundred fold is as much fruit as a decade at 30 fold.
Why should we not ask him for this? Lord, the locusts have eaten too many years of our lives. You have called us as your disciples to bear fruit that will last. Too many fruitless years have passed. Now Lord, we ask of you, give us some years now in which more lasting fruit will be born than in all of our years of small harvests.
God can do more in a day or in a year than all of us can do in a lifetime. C. H. Spurgeon says in his sermon Truth Stranger than Fiction:
One sermon preached in the power of the Holy Ghost will be worth ten thousand preached without… If you… go to your Sunday school class [he’s talking to those who teach little children] with a divine anointing resting upon you, there will be more children brought to Christ by a little of your living, loving teaching than ever would have been by whole years of your unspiritual talk. Thus God can, by endowing us with greater power, and firing us with fuller zeal, restore to us the years that the locust hath eaten.
That’s wonderfully encouraging! Why should we not ask God for this today? I hope that in your heart you are saying, “That’s what I want!”
Bringing long term gain from short term loss.
The effect of these great trials in your life will be that “the tested genuineness of your faith… may result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7). The praise, glory, and honor go to Christ because his power guarded you and kept you through the hardest years of your life.
Thinking about “years that the locust has eaten,” years that have been taken, my mind has gone to something Isaiah said about our Lord Jesus:
He was cut off out of the land of the living. Isaiah 53:8
Here was the Lord Jesus in the prime of life. He was three years into his ministry at 33 years of age. You would think that a man launching a new enterprise at the age of 33 has everything in front of him. But Isaiah says, “He was cut off.” The reason he was cut off, was that he came under the judgment of God, not for his own sins, because he had none, but for ours.
Our sins, our griefs, our sorrows were laid on him. Our judgment fell on him, our locusts swarmed over him. The life of God’s tender shoot was “cut off.” Then, on the third day, the Son of God rose in the power of an eternal life. He offers himself to you, and he says what no one else can ever say: “I will restore the years that the locusts have eaten.”