The Day of the Lord is at hand,
And they have the grasshoppers to prove it.
The Book of Joel is very short but is an important prophecy book. It is filled with apocalyptic imagery and phrases, recording historical events over two thousand years ago and pointing to the future Day of The Lord, just before the return of Jesus Christ at the time of the Second Coming.
A prophet named Joel. His father was Pethuel. Not much is known about the prophet, other than what we learn in the first verse of the book. His name means, “Jehovah is God.”
Many scholars date the book of Joel to 835 B.C. This would make Joel a prophet of the “pre-exile” period. This means he preached before the Jewish people were taken captive to Assyria and later Babylon.
The prophet recognized the need to call the Nation of Judah to repentance. He reminds the people to remember the many blessings they had enjoyed when they were once in God’s favor. The book describes how a nation or an individual can return to the Lord in genuine repentance.
There was a very severe plague of locusts and a terrible drought affecting the crops of the tiny nation. The prophet saw them as punishments from the Lord because of the sins of the people. The invading locusts were like the armies that would ravage the land in the future.
The phrase, “the Day of The Lord,” is found five times in the book. It refers to the time of judgment God would bring upon his people. There was the present danger of the locust storm upon, but the prophet also directed their attention to two specific future events. Judah would endure a time of captivity in Babylon and face near extinction as a people in the last days before the return of Christ. This, of course, is before the first advent of Christ so it is looking over two thousand years into the future.
An unbearable plague of locusts
The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel. Hear this, you elders, and give ear, all you inhabitants of the land! Has anything like this happened in your days, or even in the days of your fathers? Tell your children about it, let your children tell their children, and their children another generation. What the chewing locust left, the swarming locust has eaten; what the swarming locust left, the crawling locust has eaten; and what the crawling locust left, the consuming locust has eaten.
The word of the LORD that came to Joel:
The Lord sent his message to the prophet, who immediately got to the task of alerting the people. Joel wasn’t shy in his opening line of questioning.
“Elders!” have you seen anything like this before? Can you remember back in prior years when things were this bad? He taunted them some more. How about in your father’s days, were the conditions ever this bad? The people didn’t need the reminder of the conditions, but there was an important point the prophet was going to make. There was a reason for the severe plague, and there was something the people could do about it.
Tell your children!
Parents often do their best to guard their children against bad news. It’s best to shield them when they are young. At an early age, they need to learn to trust their parents and extended family, that things will be okay. But the prophet tells the parents and elders to let the kids know how bad things are. They may not have food to eat very much longer.
These are stories your children will tell their children. This plague that was upon the land was historic. You’ve heard the term, “a plague of biblical proportions,” well these children were living that reality. The would tell the plague stories a hundred years later and beyond.
Nothing left to Chew!
The plague of locust was a bad dream that kept getting worse. Israel was an agricultural society. They raised sheep, goats, cattle, and other livestock but their crops were their true livelihood. They were well-known for their grapes, olives, and figs among other crops. The nasty swarms were eating everything the farmers had worked so hard to produce.
What the chewing locust left, the swarming locust has eaten:
As we read this tale it’s typical for us to assume this was a future prediction, but that was not the so in this chapter. Joel was describing their present state, which everyone knew all too well. The plague went through familiar phases. Locusts are known to inflict terrible damage on crops. The devastation came from successive swarms of locusts. First the chewing locusts, then came the swarming ones, followed by the type that crawled, and last came the mop-up crew of locusts that consumed whatever remained. This devastation would send Judah into a time of famine and financial ruin.
It’s a common thing in agricultural communities. Bugs eat what the farmers grow. The people of God, Israel, had held God’s favor for a time, but that was passing. As the Lord does with all of us, He was getting the attention of his wayward people. His prophet was sending the word that times would start to get worse. We need to pay attention because the Lord warns us too. Are we listening?
Awake, you drunkards, and weep; and wail, all you drinkers of wine, because of the new wine, for it has been cut off from your mouth. For a nation has come up against My land, strong, and without number; his teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he has the fangs of a fierce lion. He has laid waste My vine, and ruined My fig tree; he has stripped it bare and thrown it away; its branches are made white.
Awake, you drunkards:
The wine of Judah was a cherished commodity. The Mediterranean climate produced excellent weather for growing a variety of grapes. Those vineyards also produced marvelous wines. Luxurious and leisurely lifestyles followed and the prophet had to chide the people for their drunken ways. Wake up, the prophet probably screamed. It’s time to weep and wail instead of laughing with other drunkards. The wine will disappear. An army has charged into your midst. Joel likened the swarming locusts to an army that would later come and devastate the tiny country in the same way. The locusts were easier to recover from than the army. Wake up and see how far you have fallen–was the message the prophet was screaming.
My vine … My fig tree:
The vines and the figs were the Lord’s. The Lord calls Israel His choice vine. He is the vinedresser and the farmer who cared for Israel, but his people barely noticed his efforts on their behalf. It’s the same for all of us today. We enjoy the warmth of God’s sunshine, enjoy the fruits of the bountiful earth and yet we praise ourselves for our good fortune. Wake up, God would say to us. It is God who has blessed us with life and the ability to enjoy it.
Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth. The grain offering and the drink offering have been cut off from the house of the LORD; the priests mourn, who minister to the LORD. The field is wasted, the land mourns; for the grain is ruined, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails. Be ashamed, you farmers, wail, you vinedressers, for the wheat and the barley; because the harvest of the field has perished. The vine has dried up, and the fig tree has withered; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree; all the trees of the field are withered; Surely joy has withered away from the sons of men.
Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth:
Joel compares their tragedy to that of a young married woman who suffered a great loss. In that culture, it was a story many had witnessed before. Young lovers marry, set out to build a life together, and are confronted with terrible pain when the husband dies suddenly. The woman had not yet birthed a son. She had nothing, no future, and no way to fend for herself. Women had very little means of surviving in such conditions. Judah was now facing a similar fate with no apparent means of support. Her future was bleak at best.
The mourning begins
Led by the priests who hopefully understood the situation better, the nation began to mourn. The land mourned along with the people with every step of the farmers. The sickening sound of crunching locust bodies was everywhere. As the crops disappeared the need to irrigate faded and the land dried and cracked in silent sorrow from the damage of the locust armies. The final line in this passage is ominous…” surely joy has withered away.”
The time for repentance is now.
Gird yourselves and lament, you priests; wail, you who minister before the altar; come, lie all night in sackcloth, you who minister to my God; for the grain offering and the drink offering are withheld from the house of your God. Consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD.
Gird yourselves and lament, you priests:
Joel refers to an odd practice in biblical times. In times of mourning, they would cast off their regular garments and dress in sackcloth. It’s a material that today we might call a ‘gunny sack,’ It was a symbol of humble poverty. In this case, they didn’t need to create a symbol. The reality of the devastation was all around. In this passage, the prophet instructs the religious leaders to call all the people to join them in repentance and fasting. The call to repent went out to everyone. The nation needs to join as one and call upon God for renewal, hope, and help.
Joel instructs them how to prepare for the work of repentance.
Consecrate a fast: The food is nearly gone. Prepare to go without eating in preparation for hearing God.
Call a sacred assembly: Bring the people together.
Gather the elders: The elders, the respected leaders of the community must take part as well.
Into the house of the LORD your God: Meet together in the House of God.
And cry out unto the LORD: Don’t cry out for pity; call out to God. Only He can help now.
The day of the LORD against Judah in drought.
Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as destruction from the Almighty. Is not the food cut off from our eyes, joy, and gladness from the house of our God? The seed shrivels under the clods, storehouses are in shambles; barns are broken down, for the grain has withered. How the animals groan! The herds of cattle are restless because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep suffer punishment. O LORD, to You I cry out; for a fire has devoured the open pastures, and a flame has burned all the trees of the field. The beasts of the field also cry out to You, for the water brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the open pastures.
For the day of the LORD is at hand:
Here’s that phrase which is a key component of this little book. Today we often equate it with the end of days, but that’s not always true. For the people of Judah at this time in their history, they were facing their own “day of the Lord.” This book does point to the final “Day of The Lord,” but this initial phrase doesn’t point to that yet.
The time of the locusts,
was their devastating time of punishment. It led them to a national repentance as they modeled their future “Day of The Lord.” To a lesser extent, it was similar to their eventual destiny. In the future, not too many years from now, they will face a more severe national tragedy.
It also will lead the Jewish people to another national repentance. In that day, they will turn in humility to Jesus their Messiah. The Messiah, they didn’t recognize two thousand years ago, will rescue them from the surrounding armies that devastate their land in the soon-coming last days.
I hope they have plenty of sackcloths cause they are going to need them.