A. Locusts devastate the land of Judah.
1. (1-4) The remarkable plague of locusts upon Judah.
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.
a. The word of the LORD that came to Joel: The prophet Joel spoke to the southern kingdom of Judah, and makes no reference to the northern kingdom of Israel. It's hard to pin down his exact time, because he doesn't mention any other kings or prophets. Many scholars date the book of Joel to 835 B.C.
i. This makes Joel a pre-exilic prophet, who ministered before the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel (721 B.C.) or the southern kingdom of Judah (586 B.C.). Other pre-exilic prophets include Obadiah, Jonah, Hosea, Amos, Isaiah, and Micah. Joel is one of the earliest prophets - only Obadiah prophesied before his time (845 B.C.).
ii. 835 B.C. was a time of turmoil and transition in Judah, at the end of the reign of the Queen Mother Athaliah and the beginning of the reign of King Joash. Athaliah seized power at the sudden death in battle of her son Ahaziah, who only reigned one year (2 Kings 8:26, 2 Kings 11:1). Athaliah killed all her son's heirs, except for one who was hidden in the temple and escaped - one-year-old Josiah (2 Kings 11:3). Her six-year reign of terror ended in 835 B.C. when the High Priest Jehoiada overthrew Athaliah and set the seven-year-old Josiah on the throne (2 Kings 11:4-21).
iii. During her six years as queen over Judah, Athaliah reigned wickedly. She was the granddaughter of the wicked King Omri of Israel - making her daughter or niece to Ahab, one of Israel's worst kings (2 Kings 8:26). Athaliah raised her son Ahaziah to reign in the wicked pattern of Ahab, and even brought in Ahab's counselors to advise him (2 Chronicles 22:2-4). When Ahaziah was killed in battle and she seized power, she set her other sons to evil, even desecrating the temple and its sacred things (2 Chronicles 24:7).
iv. If we are accurate in thinking that Joel prophesied in 835 B.C. then the judgment he described came toward the end of the six-year reign of ungodliness under Queen Athaliah. No wonder God brought a heavy hand on Judah!
v. "The name Joel means 'Jehovah is God' and therefore constitutes a short confession of faith, somewhat like the primary New Testament confession, 'Jesus is Lord.'" (Boice)
b. What the chewing locust left, the swarming locust has eaten: Joel isn't announcing a coming judgment of the Lord. He describes their present state - devastated by successive swarms of locusts, first chewing, then swarming, then crawling, and finally consuming. Judah will experience a time of famine and financial ruin because of these locusts.
i. This plague was so unusual that Joel says, "tell your children about it." The times were so remarkably difficult that parents would tell their children, "I lived through the plagues of locusts."
ii. In 1915 a devastating plague of locusts covered what is modern-day Israel and Syria. The first swarms came in March, in clouds so thick they blocked out the sun. The female locusts immediately began to lay eggs, 100 at a time. Witnesses say that in one square yard, there were as many as 65,000 to 75,000 eggs. In a few weeks they hatched, and the young locusts resembled large ants. They couldn't fly yet, and got along by hopping. They marched along 400 to 600 feet a day, devouring every speck of vegetation along the way. After two more stages of molting they became adults who could fly - and the devastation continued.
2. (5-7) An army of locusts against Judah.
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.
a. Awake, you drunkards: Joel tells the drunkards to wake up and see the devastation the locusts caused. They came like a mighty nation, a fierce army against Judah.
b. My vine . . . My fig tree: God looks at the vines and fig trees of Judah and says they belong to Him, even in judgment.
3. (8-12) Judah mourns because of the locusts' destruction.
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.
a. Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth: Joel tells Judah that they should look at their condition and mourn, with all the emotion and passion of a young widow. They should not receive this plague of locusts stoically, with false bravado.
i. In this, Joel doesn't minimize the suffering at all. He isn't like the dentist who says, "This may cause a bit of discomfort" when he really means "This is going to hurt and I am going to make you suffer." He deals with the suffering in a real way and says, "Let's turn back to the LORD."
b. The priests mourn . . . the land mourns . . . be ashamed, you farmers, wail, you vinedressers . . . surely joy has withered away: In vivid and poetic images, Joel shows how the whole nation mourns this great destruction brought by locusts.
i. The grain and the drink offering have been cut off: It's remarkable to see that these sacrifices to the LORD at the temple only stopped when there was no more grain or wine to give to God. Queen Athaliah's reign was wicked, but she allowed the temple ceremonies to continue. This shows us that the devil doesn't mind ceremonies in themselves, and that the devil is more interested in corrupting true religion than eliminating it.
B. Drought devastates the land of Judah.
1. (13-14) A call to repentance.
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.
a. Gird yourselves and lament, you priests: Joel calls the religious leaders to lead the nation in repentance. He tells the priests to gird yourselves for repentance, the idea being "prepare to do the work of repentance."
i. Joel also tells them how to do the work of repentance.
· Consecrate a fast: Make getting right with God so important that even eating isn't important
· Call a sacred assembly: Call for God's people to come together and repent
· Gather the elders: The leaders of the people should make a special point to be part of the work of repentance
· Into the house of the LORD your God: Come to the place where you should meet together with God
· And cry out unto the LORD: Finally, simply cry out to God and trust that He will respond in mercy
b. For the grain offering and the drink offering are withheld from the house of your God: When there was grain and wine to bring the people of Judah still brought offerings to the temple, either out of tradition or godly obedience. Now that there is no produce, there is no offering for the house of your God.
2. (15-20) 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 before 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 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.
a. For the day of the LORD is at hand: The idea behind the phrase the day of the LORD is that this is Gods' time. Man has his "day," and the LORD has His day. In the ultimate sense, the day of the LORD is fulfilled with Jesus judges the earth and returns in glory. In a lesser sense, a time of judgment as Judah experienced with the locusts and drought is also an example of the day of the LORD.
b. The seed shrivels . . . they have no pasture . . . the flocks of sheep suffer punishment . . . fire has devoured the open pastures . . . the water brooks are dried up: Joel vividly describes a devastating drought. It affects everything in Judah, and wildfires ravage the dry land.
c. O LORD, to You I cry out: In this time of drought, all Judah could do was cry out to God. They were powerless to "fix" the drought problem. God sent them to a place where only heaven could help them, so they would look no other place.
i. In Luke 13:1-5 Jesus was confronted with the problem of a disaster that killed 18 people. Instead of acting as if it were just an accident of blind fate, Jesus used it as a wake-up call for repentance. Jesus showed that "Why did this disaster happen to them?" is the wrong question. The right question is "Am I ready to face such a disaster in this fallen world?"