Joel 1 -|- Awake. Please wake up! Abandon the PHONE, Lament, Gird Yourself Against Spiritual Locusts!

Question: The Holy BIBLE speaks of locusts devouring, what do you believe could be the modern equivalent to a SPIRITUAL LOCUSTS INVASION, or PLEGUE?

God’s Word is never for our selfish enjoyment; it brings with it a responsibility for others.

Perhaps that is why, in the N.T., so much stress is laid on oral confession of Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9)

I have been blessed with:

A Harding University roommate, a Christian best friend named Joel. (His wife Laura too)

Meeting a new neighbor called Joel.

A best friend named Nathan from my youth in Vermont.

My son Nathan Eric, a spectacularly Intelligent, kind, and beautiful boy, it’s also my responsibility and buddy.

Eric Lee Gardner


Verse 1

This whole chapter (Joel 1:1-20) relates to a terrible and destructive locust plague that came upon Israel, particularly Judah, a disaster so overwhelming that no escape was possible.

The fact of it is dramatically stated (Joel 1:1-4); the prophet’s admonition to the people is given in three terse commandments:

(1) “Awake …” (Joel 1:5-7),

(2) “Lament” (Joel 1:8-12), and

(3) “Gird yourselves with sackcloth …” (Joel 1:13-14).

Despite the fact of these appeals being directed to three different classes, namely, the drunkards, the agricultural community, and the priests, they should be understood as applicable generally to all the people, and not merely to specific groups.

As in many another human disaster resulting from natural causes, the prophets of God, and all persons with spiritual discernment, have invariable associated such things with the wrath of God, due to divine disapproval of human sin and wickedness.

Joel at once concluded that the locust disaster was a harbinger of “the day of the Lord,” a truth that is not nullified by the fact that the Final Judgment was not to occur for at least 2,700 years! That disaster which so long ago brought fear and despair to a portion of the earth’s population was a type of the final and eternal judgment that shall overwhelm all men; and significantly, many other such natural disasters since that time (as well as before that time) should be understood in exactly the same way!

We must therefore reject the superficial interpretation of the final paragraph of this chapter (Joel 1:15-20) which views it merely as Joel’s foolish fear that the end of time was at hand.

Open your Bibles to:

Joel 1

Disaster: a deterrent to sin

The word of Jehovah that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.

Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land.

Hath this been in your days, or in the days of your fathers?

Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.

That which the palmer-worm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the canker-worm eaten; and that which the canker-worm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten.

Awake, ye drunkards, and weep; and wail, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the sweet wine; for it is cut off from your mouth.

For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number; his teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the jaw-teeth of a lioness.

He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig-tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white.

Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth.

The meal-offering and the drink-offering are cut off from the house of Jehovah; the priests, Jehovah’s ministers, mourn.

The field is laid waste, the land mourneth; for the grain is destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth.

Be confounded, O ye husbandmen, wail, O ye vinedressers, for the wheat and for the barley; for the harvest of the field is perished.

The vine is withered, and the fig-tree languisheth; the pomegranate-tree, the palm-tree also, and the apple-tree, even all the trees of the field are withered: for joy is withered away from the sons of men.

Joel 1 ASV

“The word of Jehovah …”

This phrase identifies the content of this prophecy as the inviolate and eternal word of Almighty God, and so we receive and interpret it. It had an immediate and compelling relevance to the first generation that received it and is no less pertinent and relevant to our own times.

Great natural disasters are still taking place on earth, in the face of which men are just as powerless and helpless as were the ancient Jews who struggled against an overwhelming invasion of devastating locusts.

God wanted his people to see in that natural catastrophe something far more than merely an awesome natural phenomenon; and therefore God moved to reveal through his holy prophet what the genuine significance of such an event really is.

This significance still should be recognized in all physical disasters that torment and destroy men upon earth, as was beautifully discerned by Boren:

“It is my conviction that the eruption of Mount St. Helens is an awesome display of the omnipotent power of God, and one of the countless warnings of God to humankind of impending judgment!

Certainly, God warns through his word; but he also warns through the observable cataclysmic happenings of the natural world.”

One of the reasons, therefore, why God gave his word to Joel upon the occasion of a great natural disaster is that men of all subsequent centuries should know how to interpret such things.

It is wrong to refer the judgments and conclusions that are set forth in Joel as merely the judgments and conclusions of the prophet himself.

On the day of Pentecost, an inspired apostle of Christ said:

“This is that which hath been spoken through the prophet Joel: And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth of my Spirit …. etc.” (Acts 2:16-17).

Note particularly the words “spoken through the prophet Joel … saith God …”

We may be certain therefore that no merely naturalistic origin of the great conclusions in Joel is possible.

The words spoken and the conclusions given are of God Himself, and not merely based upon the prophet’s fears, interpretations and discernments. For this reason, such interpretations as the following should be rejected:

“So terrible was the devastation that the prophet feared that Yahweh’s Day, the judgment of Yahweh’s people, was near at hand.

Joel regards the locust plague as comparable to any other mighty act of Israel’s history.”

It was not merely Joel’s fears that connected the locust plague with the Day of the Lord; it was not merely Joel’s private conclusion that the locust plague was comparable to any other mighty act of God in the history of Israel. These conclusions were part of the “word of Jehovah” which came to Joel.

“Joel the son of Pethuel …” Despite the fact of there being a dozen persons named “Joel” in the O.T., the name “Pethuel” is found nowhere else. It has the utility, thus, of dissociating Joel from others of the same name in Hebrew history. The use of expressions like, “son of … etc.” “was analogous to our use of second names.”

Verse 3

“Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.”

Locust plagues were ordinary experiences in that part of the world during the times of Joel, and for centuries prior to and subsequently to his times, as indeed they still are; but this was not an ordinary locust plague.

The special significance of this one related not only to its severity, but also to the fact that it is seen as a prelude to the divine devastation the prophet envisions for the disobedient people of God, and those nations which have oppressed her.

“Tell ye your children … etc.”

There is unmistakable allusion to Exodus 10:2, where the Lord charges Moses to tell Pharaoh that he will do signs,” with similar instructions for Pharaoh to tell his sons, etc. This indicates that this mighty plague was comparable in gravity and origin to the plagues of Egypt and the deliverance of God’s people through the Red Sea.

It must not be understood as merely an extraordinary natural phenomenon, but as a direct judgment of God upon wickedness. The reason why the details of this disaster were to be remembered and passed on to succeeding generations was rightly stated by Myers, “as a deterrent to sin.”

The proper understanding and interpretation of such natural disasters as that recounted in Joel must always include the discernment of God’s hand in them.

“God would ever have his children recognize his hand in all such visitations. For the believer, there are no second causes. The Lord has said, “I Jehovah create peace, and create evil.” And he asks the question, “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” (Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6).

Verse 15

“Alas for the day! for the day of Jehovah is at hand, and as destruction from the Almighty shall it come.”

In this verse, Joel went a step beyond the terrible visitation of the locusts threatening starvation and death to the whole nation; and he prophesied that “the day of Jehovah is at hand!” The Biblical use of this expression is enlightening; and we shall devote some space to a discussion of it.

“The day of the Lord” has two meanings in the prophetic use of the expression:

(1) It means any time of severe visitation inflicted upon either nations or upon all mankind by the judgment of God upon human sin and unrighteousness. In his famed Olivet discourse, the Lord Jesus clearly referred to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Jewish temple as his “coming” in judgment upon Israel, a summary judgment which followed as the direct result of their terminal rebellion against God in the rejection and crucifixion of the Messiah.

From this, it is clearly seen that other great historical judgments upon such wicked cities as Tyre, Sidon, Nineveh, Babylon, Sodom, and Gomorrah were exactly the same type of visitation that fell upon Jerusalem.

(2) The ultimate meaning of “day of the Lord” identifies it with the final and terminal destruction of the entire posterity of Adam and Eve upon the great occasion of the eternal Judgment Day, when the dead shall be raised, the righteous redeemed, and the wicked turned aside forever.

These distinctively different meanings were not always clear to the prophets who used the phrase (which actually came from God); indeed, it is safe to assume that they might never have known the full meaning of what they prophesied, as detailed by the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:10-12.

The holy prophets were not concerned with fully understanding what the message from God might have been, but with delivering it accurately to their fellow men.

The nature of the “day of the Lord,” whatever the specific situation foretold, is clearly given in this verse. “As destruction from the Almighty shall it come.”

From this it is plain that the “day of the Lord” never referred to a benign and peaceful event, but to “destruction.”

This is what it meant for the antediluvian world which was destroyed from the face of the earth because of their wickedness; and that is what it invariably meant in all the other instances of it which have been cited.

Furthermore, this is what it will ultimately mean at the Final Judgment at the Second Coming of Christ.

That will be the occasion when the primeval sentence imposed upon the progenitors of the human race for their rebellion in the Garden of Eden will be finally and irrevocably executed upon them in the person of their total posterity, the unique exceptions to the universal destruction of that Day being only those who have been redeemed through the blood of Christ.

Thus, when one of the ancient prophets referred to “the day of Jehovah,” it always referred, not merely to the Final Arraignment and Punishment of mankind, but to any lesser judgment that might be imposed upon specific sectors of humanity (or even upon all of it) in the period intervening before that Final Day.

“For Joel, as for the other prophets, ‘the day of the Lord’ is always at hand.”

“Joel did not mean that the day of the Lord, in its full prophetic sense, of the revelation of Christ … was really to occur in their times.”

However, Joel did see in that terrible locust plague “a warning of ‘the day of Jehovah’ which was to come.”

Furthermore, it was a warning that other occasions of ‘the day of Jehovah’ were in store for Israel.

Historically, it was only a little while before the Assyrians and the Babylonians would come and execute “the day of Jehovah,” not merely upon the northern kingdom, but upon the southern kingdom of Israel as well.

Thus Joel very accurately foretold future judgments upon Israel, taking the locust disaster as an omen, or an earnest, of an even greater judgment (or judgments) yet to come. Deane correctly discerned this:

“The day of the Lord,” first mentioned, it is said, by Joel, is the day when God inflicts punishment upon sinners, as in the present instances; it may be a presage of that judgment that brought ruin to their city, temple, and nation. It may be an emblem of that judgment that wound up their nation by the destruction of their capital, or even of the final judgment when God shall destroy the impenitent sinners and deliver his saints.

It is totally wrong to allege that Joel himself understood all that was indicated by his prophecy here of “the day of the Lord”; nor is it possible to suppose that even today students of the Holy Scriptures have any complete knowledge of all that is meant.

In view of the unmistakable overtones associated with “the day of Jehovah,” full agreement is felt with Jamieson who noted that, “Here the transition begins from the plague of locusts to the worse calamities (Joel 2) from invading armies about to come on Judea, of which the locusts were the prelude.”

As Barnes put it, “All judgment in time is an image of the judgment for eternity.”

Verse 19

“O Jehovah, to thee do I cry; for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field. Yea, the beasts of the field pant unto thee; for the water brooks are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness.”

We do not see any need whatever to understand “fire” and “flame” in these verses as a metaphorical reference to the locusts and the drought; the danger of fire increases in direct proportion to the dryness of the vegetation and the atmosphere, as any forest ranger knows; and with the extended devastation and drought already described, the breakout of terribly destructive fires would have been certain.

If nothing else was available to set them off, a stroke of lightning would have been sufficient. For that reason, we feel it necessary to disagree with Keil, who wrote:

“Fire and flame are the terms used by the prophet to denote the burning heat of the drought, which consumes the meadows and even scorches the trees. This is very obvious from the drying up of the water brooks.

Summarizing what the chapter reveals about the cataclysmic disaster: it resulted from wave after wave of devouring locusts who ate up every green thing, and was made more complete by the ravages of a drought so severe that the very watercourses became dry, and then was climaxed by forest and dry-grass fires which raged out of control in the super-dry “trees of the field” and the “pastures of the wilderness.”

No greater calamity could be imagined in a society predominantly agricultural and pastoral.

“O Jehovah, to thee do I cry …”

In the last analysis, there is none other, except God, to whom the helpless and the hopeless may appeal. Even the rabbit cries out in the clutches of the hawk! Man instinctively cries to his Creator in the face of death and destruction.

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