Jerusalem and Judah are called to take to heart the locust plague that has struck the land (verses 2-4).
1. The prophet first calls upon the drunkards to lament this calamity (verses 5-7).
2. Then he calls on all those directly affected by the plague, the farmers and vine dressers, to mourn (verses 8-12).
3. Finally, he makes the same call to the priests, to whom he also commands to summon the people to humble themselves before the LORD (verses 13-18).
In verses 19-20 the prophet himself sets the example and calls to the LORD.
1 The Word of the LORD to Joel
1 The word of the LORD that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel:
The book of Joel contains no word of men, but “the word of the LORD”. This is how also the books of Hosea, Jonah, Micah and Zephaniah begin. The book should be read as a Divine revelation. It is the word that comes from God, He has spoken it and it must be passed on by His command.
The word that comes from God is more than just that God merely speaks. God speaking is more than just saying words. God speaking is an act, an act that works something. In the speaking of God lies strength, it does what pleases Him and never returns empty (Isa 55:10-11). Joel is one of the men whom Peter refers to when he writes: “For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2Pet 1:21).
As with Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk and Malachi, there is no mention of the time or place of origin of the prophet. See also the introduction under ‘Who was Joel?’ and ‘When did Joel live?’
2 Back in the Past
2 Hear this, O elders,
And listen, all inhabitants of the land.
Has [anything like] this happened in your days
Or in your fathers’ days?
With the calls “hear this” and “and listen” Joel draws attention to his message. The “elders” are the most responsible ones. They are the leaders of the people, men who have become wise through a long life experience. Their memory also goes furthest back. They must understand that the disaster that has struck them is not an accidental concurrence of merely circumstances. Nor may they give any scientific explanations for it, as if a combination of physical factors has caused the large number of locusts to settle in Judah at precisely this moment in time. It is precisely these old, wise men who must realize that this disaster is a warning from God.
But also the ‘ordinary’ people are told that in what has happened they have to acknowledge the actions of God. If they go back in memory and even further in history, they will have to admit that never before has anything like this happened in their country. The plague that now afflicts them is greater than any previous plague that has afflicted them. Why? Because they are even greater sinners than their fathers.
Every natural disaster or other kind of disaster, for example sickness or war, is a happening through which God wants to speak to people’s conscience. If men do not obey His Word, He will speak by more powerful means. The well-known writer C.S. Lewis remarked somewhere: ‘God whispers through His Word, He roars through disaster.’ After an address entitled ‘God is there and He speaks’, a woman came to me and said: ‘I am thankful that God has roared against me because I did not listen to His Word.’
Even today God still speaks to a people and to the individual through events. The goal is to listen to Him. The same was true for the man who told his little son who believed in God that God should just tap him on his shoulder if He existed. Some time later he toppled over with his car. He was miraculously preserved. Only his shoulder was damaged. His son then said: ‘Daddy, wasn’t that the tapping of God on your shoulder?’ The man saw that God had spoken to him. He converted to God and came to faith in the Lord Jesus.
3 The Lesson for the Future
3 Tell your sons about it,
And [let] your sons [tell] their sons,
And their sons the next generation.
Not only do we have to dig in the past, we also have to think about the future. Future generations must not forget what God has done to them. The fathers must tell their children what judgment struck them, how God had to punish them. They must not conceal this, they must be honest with it. Their children have to pass it on again. In the same way, the wonders that God did in liberating His people from Egypt were passed on to the next generations (Jdg 6:13a).
This transmission of God’s chastisement should serve as a warning and not as a fun story to entertain the audience. We are capable of telling stories from the past without going into what we should learn from them. But God does not want us to deal with ‘teaching’ in this way, that we see His actions with a deviating people as only a story without learning from it. He wants His performance to be passed on, so that the children will not fall into the same evil and they will learn to fear the LORD.
Telling ‘about’ it is more than just telling ‘it’. Tell ‘it’ can mean that only the mere fact, the event itself, is passed on. But God wants more to be passed on. He also wants the cause of the plague and its consequences to be mentioned and the next generation to learn the right lessons from it. It is not just a question of telling what happened, but of pointing out how God acted.
The passing on of the history lessons continues until the fourth generation. With this, Joel wants to emphasize that what happened must be passed on into distant generations (cf. Pro 4:1-4). In this context, it is worth looking at Psalm 78. That psalm is a teaching poem by Asaph, in which he, like Joel, teaches the lesson of history to the people. Asaph also starts with the call to hear and then he urges to pass on the heard to the next generation:
“A Maskil of Asaph.
Listen, O my people, to my instruction;
Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings of old,
3 Which we have heard and known,
And our fathers have told us.
4 We will not conceal them from their children,
But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD,
And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done” (Psa 78:1-4).
In his teaching, Asaph also recalls the locusts in Egypt, which they used there: “He gave also their crops to the grasshopper And the product of their labor to the locust” (Psa 78:46). It is of great significance to tell our children and grandchildren happenings of a shorter or longer past, which shows the actions of God in our lives or those of others. With this we give our children a good tool in their hands so that they get to know the will of God better.
It is to be feared that quite a few parents can hardly tell their children anything about what the Lord has done in their lives because they hardly ever live with Him. Busy, busy, busy with all kinds of things, but no time to talk to the children about God’s guidance in their lives.
There is also little knowledge of what God has done in the lives of other committed Christians. It is difficult for us to encourage our children to read a good book about experiences men and women have had with the Lord if we are not interested in it ourselves. Moses calls upon Israel, just before the people enter the promised land, to speak with their children about the deeds and words of the LORD (Deu 4:9; 6:6-7,20-25).
4 The Locusts
4 What the gnawing locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten;
And what the swarming locust has left, the creeping locust has eaten;
And what the creeping locust has left, the stripping locust has eaten.
The starting point for Joel’s prophecy is a plague of locusts that has recently plagued the country. That this plague is a punishment from God will be clear to those who have an ear to hear. This was also so when the LORD sent this plague in Egypt over the oppressors of his people (Exo 10:12-15; Psa 78:46; 105:34). Just like the plague in Egypt, the plague in the days of Joel is one without precedent.
If both Egypt and Israel are hit by an unparalleled plague of locusts, it can only mean that Israel has become spiritually equal to Egypt (cf. Rev 11:8). God also warns His people several times that they will be punished with the plagues and diseases of Egypt when they are disobedient (Deu 28:38,42,60). For both Egypt and Israel, this plague is a chastening of God to incite penance and prayer (cf. Amos 4:9; 1Kgs 8:37-40).
A single locust is insignificant, does not mean anything, makes no impression at all, can be stepped on just like that. The Israelites in their unbelief feel so opposed to the giants in Canaan (Num 13:33). But in large numbers they are overwhelming and devastating (Jdg 6:5; 7:12). The weaker the instrument is, the clearer it becomes by using such an instrument and what it does, that God stands behind it and that He uses it.
The four names with which Joel mentions the locusts seem to indicate that they are different types of locusts, each with its own name that have successively plagued the country.
1. The name of the first, “gnawing locust” (or ‘gnawer’) is in Hebrew gazam, this is a young, wingless locust;
2. the second, “swarming locust” (or ‘multiplier’) is called arbèh, this is the fully developed, winged locust (this is also the name of the locust that God once used as a plague over Egypt);
3. the third, called “creeping locust” (or ‘jumper’), is called yélek and is a different type of locust;
4. the fourth, “stripping locust” (or ‘exterminator’) is called chasil and is yet another species.
The Bible mentions nine kinds of locusts, of which the four that Joel mentions are the most dangerous and harmful.
Because a swarm of locusts eats everything and leaves nothing, “left” will mean “what has sprouted again” after all had been eaten. This is also in line with the idea that the country was successively visited by four species of locusts.
The number four is found in two other Scriptures which speak of punishments from God over the people (Jer 15:3; Eze 14:21). Four is the number of the earth. The earth has four wind directions (cf. Dan 7:2; Rev 7:1; 20:8). There are also four seasons that determine life on earth. The number four stands for something all-encompassing. Mentioning the names of four locusts indicates that it is a judgment that has spread across Judah, in all directions.
For a harvest-dependent people, a plague like that of locusts is a life-threatening disaster. The harvest feasts that are held each time indicate the importance of the harvest. Suddenly there is no more harvest to collect. Everything disappears in one go. There is no insurance covering the damage. All livelihoods have disappeared. The country is on the edge of the abyss. Therefore the message of Joel must be heard. Or are the people so far from God that they cannot be reached?
With the people of God in our time, ‘locusts’ have systematically been busy robbing God’s people of their food. In God’s Word, locusts are associated with demonic powers (Rev 9:3). These powers are infiltrating Christianity more and more. They manipulate Christians who do not place themselves under the authority of the Word of God, but believe that they can serve God in their own way.
People who pretend to be leaders of God’s people tell the people that you should not take the Bible seriously. Or they tell you that the Bible is only true if you experience what it says. As if God’s truth depends on a person’s feelings about it, and not merely on the fact that God has spoken and that it is therefore only true, no matter how contrary that may sometimes be to certain human feelings. In that situation, prophets are needed to remind us of what we have lost and to point out the rich content and nutritional value of the Word of God.
5 Awake, drunkards, and weep;
And wail, all you wine drinkers,
Because of the sweet wine
That is cut off from your mouth.
After having called upon the elders and all other inhabitants of the country to listen to him, Joel now speaks especially to the drunkards. Drunkards are people who abuse God’s blessings. That he must urge them to wake up, despite the fact that they have nothing left to drink, shows how blind and insensitive they are to the expressions of God’s discontent. They still sleep it off, while God speaks so seriously. Drunkards are apparently present in large numbers because they can be addressed as a group. Many Judeans still live on in a carefree buzz.
Here, the carefree joy is especially denounced. Those who are not awakened by God’s voice in His Word shall be awakened by His discipline. Those who do not come to a standstill by distant judgments, will experience them in the flesh. It is righteous that God should take away from them the luxury and excess. The more man makes his happiness dependent on what satisfies him and what satisfies his feelings, the harder he experiences the judgment when it hits him in these things. Suddenly they will discover that all these blessings have not given real satisfaction, because they have been enjoyed apart from God to satisfy their own desires. They will cry and wail. Five times it is spoken about lamentations in this chapter (verses 5,8,9,10,11).
The only people for whom this judgment is not a punishment are the Nazarenes. For they drink no wine; they have voluntarily renounced it (Num 6:1-4). The Nazarene is a beautiful picture of someone who, completely voluntarily, offers himself to the Lord to live alone for Him. In so doing, he renounces things that are not wrong in themselves – it was not wrong for an Israelite to drink wine – but that do carry the danger, that full devotion to Christ is hindered.
To renounce earthly blessings means that these things are given a subordinate place. It means: renouncing the right to spend your money and goods, your time and capacities according to your own idea. You deliver everything to Christ, that He has the authority over it. Christians who voluntarily renounce the enjoyment of earthly blessings will not grieve if they miss those blessings suddenly.
Drunkenness is the only sin mentioned in this book in connection with Israel. Therefore, it seems that this sin in particular characterizes the state of the people. Drunkenness means that we take abundantly and separately from God the things He has given man in His creation to enjoy. Every person who professes to be in connection with God, but in reality lives apart from Him, is not able to form a sober and thoughtful judgment about the things of life. He is mistaken in his thinking.
Living apart from God means that we do not involve God in the things of life. We plan without asking Him what He thinks of it. Planning is not wrong, but it is wrong to make plans without presenting them to Him and then accept His decision. Once the people of God have come to live in such a way, God must use far-reaching methods to awaken them out of ‘their intoxication’. He wants to be involved in everything His people do. He cannot allow His people to pass Him by, not to consult Him.
6 Locusts Invasion
6 For a nation has invaded my land,
Mighty and without number;
Its teeth are the teeth of a lion,
And it has the fangs of a lioness.
Among the four smallest animals on earth, but are exceedingly wise (Pro 30:24), there is also the locust: “The locusts have no king, Yet all of them go out in ranks” (Pro 30:27). Locusts are ‘a nation’ that, although they have no king, nevertheless go with wisdom. This wisdom comes from God; He governs this people. Locusts are powerful because they are countless. Moreover, they form a unity; there is no breach to be made in their ranks. They continue to form a closed front.
This is a nice application for the church now. If we leave aside the devastating effect, as does the above quoted Proverbs 30:27, we see in these animals a wonderful characteristic of how God wants the church to function. It has no visible guidance either, but depends in everything on the invisible, but no less real guidance of the Holy Spirit. If every member of the church places himself under the guidance of the Spirit, both in daily life and in the meetings, this will be expressed in the unified action of the believers. The enemy will not succeed to cause division.
It testifies of wisdom if children of God submit to that invisible guidance. The Spirit of God makes clear through the Word of God how He wants to lead each member individually and all members together. If every member reads God’s Word, it will also become clear what his or her function is in the whole and how that function can be exercised to serve the whole.
The locusts of which Joel speaks are called “a nation”. This makes it clear that in these locusts an example can be seen of a nation on a warpath. The mighty weapons at their disposal are their teeth, which are compared with the teeth of lion and the fangs of lioness (cf. Rev 9:8). The king of the animals seizes his prey and tears it with his teeth without letting go. The same destructive work do locusts with their teeth. They eat everything without leaving something. If these creatures do such an evil, how much more will it be done by the hostile people, whose actions are described in detail in the next chapter (Joel 2:1-11).
This destructive power is released on what God calls “my land”. That is why the chastening that God must bring over His land also affects Him personally. We will see this in verse 9, where it is said that no more sacrifices are brought to Him. This makes it clear that God does not send judgment from His high and exalted position without being involved in it Himself (Lam 3:33).
The land is entrusted to Israel to manage it for Him and to give Him the fruit of it. They also are allowed to enjoy all the good things themselves. But if they consider the land to be their own, and plunder it, God must remind them by discipline of what He said: “For the land is Mine; for you are [but] aliens and sojourners with Me” (Lev 25:23b).
7 My Vine, My Fig Tree
7 It has made my vine a waste
And my fig tree splinters.
It has stripped them bare and cast [them] away;
Their branches have become white.
After God spoke of the land as “my land” in the previous verse, He calls Israel here “my vine” and “my fig tree”. Vine and fig tree are symbols of prosperity, peace and rest (1Kgs 4:25; Mic 4:4). Vine and fig tree are often mentioned together (Psa 105:33; Isa 36:16; Jer 5:17; Hos 2:11). The wood of these trees is worthless (Eze 15:1-5). The farmer with the vine and fig tree is not interested in the wood of them, but in their fruit. This fruit was not given to Him by His people, but used by themselves.
Therefore what is a gift from God to His people is now taken away from them. And how radical. The locusts not only eat all the green, but the trees are even stripped of their bark. That is why vines and fig trees no longer bear fruit. In a figurative sense, this applies to Israel. For a long time now, it does not deliver fruit for God. Everything is ‘stripped bare’ and dead. Only when the church has been raptured and God picks up the threads with Israel again, new life will come, as Paul says: “What will [their] acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Rom 11:15).
8 Sorrow for Loss of a Loved One
8 Wail like a virgin girded with sackcloth
For the bridegroom of her youth.
The people are called upon to wail. Their sorrow must be shown by the wearing of a sackcloth. The misery that has come upon Judah and that must lead to sadness is compared to the misery that is caused by the breaking of a love relationship. The cause of the sorrow the prophet represents is embodied within the picture of a wailing bride whose beloved was torn out of life shortly before marriage. Both the unexpected and the intensely painful are drawn here.
The fate of Judah and Jerusalem is compared to the fate of a bride who has to do without the fellowship with her husband. Judah and Jerusalem also have no more fellowship with the LORD because of the emergency situation, as was experienced before in the sacrificial service. The means of sacrifice are given to the people as a proof of their allegiance to the LORD. Because all their hopes are connected with earthly blessings, the loss of them can only have great sorrow as a consequence.
In a general sense we can attach to this the lesson that whoever works only for the food that perishes (Jn 6:27) will come out cheated in his work. All earthly prosperity can suddenly disappear. In that case, it is to be hoped, as here with Israel, that this grievous matter will bring about a sorrow that is in accordance with God and not just a sorrow for the blessings that have been lost (2Cor 7:10).
9 No Grain Offering nor Drink Offering
9 The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off
From the house of the LORD.
The priests mourn,
The ministers of the LORD.
The first consequence of the destruction of the harvest is that no more grain offering and drink offering can be brought into the temple. It seems that the Judeans did bring offerings until the disaster came, because their removal is attributed to the locusts. This may mean that until then the people have fulfilled their religious obligations to bring the prescribed offerings. But as they fulfill their duties to God, they also fill up the measure of their iniquity and God’s judgment comes over it. A person can perform the external actions that are part of his religion with great care without his heart being involved.
The loss of offerings is a major disaster. Grain offering and drink offering are mentioned because they are vegetal and are therefore directly affected by the locust plague. A description of the grain offering can be read in Leviticus 2. Like all offerings, the grain offering is a picture of the Lord Jesus. Animal sacrifices are a picture of the work the Lord Jesus did on the cross. The grain offering is not a bloody offering. It therefore speaks of Him as Man on earth, Who in His life preceding His work on the cross has devoted Himself completely to God. The drink offering is a sacrifice of wine which is poured out over another offering, the main offering (Num 28:7,14; cf. Phil 2:17). It speaks of joy – of which wine is a picture – with which the Lord Jesus offered Himself to God.
The spiritual meaning is important to us. The disappearance of the offerings mentioned means that a situation may arise with God’s people, that they no longer realize Who the Lord Jesus is for God. There is no longer any awareness of the Lord Jesus’ complete devotion to God, as presented in the grain offering. It is also no longer thought that it was His joy to do the will of His Father, as the drink offering represents.
It means that we no longer tell God, ‘bring an offering’, how wonderful the Lord Jesus served Him and that He always did so with joy. There is no longer any fellowship with God. God, with Whom all things revolve around His Son – Who He is, what He did and how He did it – is wronged. What a great loss for God. He who wrongs God also wrongs himself. Anyone who does not know the Lord Jesus as the true grain offering and drink offering, no longer knows either that his own life may be an offering. Someone who lives only for himself and his own pleasures knows nothing of the dedication to God and the joy it gives.
Priests who perceive such an attitude in God’s people can only weep for it. Priests are people who are used to being in the presence of God. They know what is fitting, they know God’s holiness, His love, and desires. They also share in His grief and the pain that causes the unfaithfulness of His people.
In Israel, only the descendants of Aaron are priests. In the church all believers are priests (1Pet 2:5). Yet there is a difference between being a priest and behaving as a priest or serving as a priest. Only believers who really live in fellowship with God will serve as priests and will sympathize with God. They know the nature of how He is wronged when His people live only for themselves. In meetings where spiritual sacrifices are brought, that is, where God is honored, they will notice the nature and content of those sacrifices. They will notice whether sacrifices are brought that honor God, or that they are sacrifices that show only their own advantage.
10 Everything Is Great Misery
10 The field is ruined,
The land mourns;
For the grain is ruined,
The new wine dries up,
Fresh oil fails.
“The field” is the area on which the crop stands. It shows the harvest, the result of all the effort that preceded it. But there is no harvest, because there is no crop in the field. “The land” represents more the terrain where you can expect that, after plowing and sowing, will also be harvested. But all the cultivation of the soil has been in vain. The earth gives the appearance of a mourning one. The words “dries up” and “fails” indicate that there is not only a plague of locusts but also a drought (verse 17).
“Grain”, “new wine” and “oil” are the three main blessings of the land, that are often mentioned together in the Old Testament (Num 18:12; Deu 7:13; Hos 2:7). When these are taken away, it is as a result of a Divine punishment (Deu 28:51; Hag 1:11). They will be present again when the people have repented (Joel 2:19; Psa 65:10). The three products – grain, new wine and oil – successively represent reinforcement, joy and radiance (Psa 104:14-15).
11 Poor and Rich Meet Each Other
11 Be ashamed, O farmers,
Wail, O vinedressers,
For the wheat and the barley;
Because the harvest of the field is destroyed.
The groups addressed here are those most directly affected in their livelihood security. Wheat and barley are the main grains from which bread is baked. We can think of two types of people: rich and poor. Barley bread is the bread for the poor, while people who are better off can buy wheat bread. Barley is used as food for horses (1Kgs 4:28) and as food for people if wheat is not available or affordable.
From 2 Kings 7 it appears that barley costs half of wheat (2Kgs 7:1,16). The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, in his book The Fall of Jerusalem, mentions the same in his description of one of the sieges of Jerusalem: ‘Many rich gave all their wealth for a measure of wheat, the more poor for a measure of barley, after which they locked themselves in a hidden corner of their house and kneaded the grain or ate it ungrounded.’
In Revelation 6, the price of barley is one third of the price to be paid for wheat (Rev 6:6). But if both are no longer available, it does not matter if you are rich or poor. Rich and poor meet in the misery of hunger (Pro 22:2). When both come to the acknowledgment that they are to blame for the chastisement God had to bring because they did not recognize Him as their Maker, He has achieved His goal with that chastisement.
12 All Trees Are Gone
12 The vine dries up
And the fig tree fails;
The pomegranate, the palm also, and the apple tree,
All the trees of the field dry up.
Indeed, rejoicing dries up
From the sons of men.
It is not only the farmers and vineyards who suffer. The whole people, all “sons of men”, share in the disaster. The five tree species, together with the wheat and barley of verse 11, form seven. This indicates the total extent of the devastation. The palm tree is the date palm. The statement that “all the trees” have been withered, after a number of trees have already been named, completes the picture of desolation.
Trees are given by God at creation as a blessing for man. He was allowed to eat free of all trees, except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:16-17). For the Jew, for whom these crops belong to the blessings of the land (Deu 8:6-10), taking them away is a disaster and also a judgment.
In addition to their economic value, the trees mentioned are also symbols of spiritual food and refreshment and of joy and fruit in the life of the faithful believer (Psa 92:13; Song 2:3). The full joy that could have characterized their lives as people of God has fled. Nothing is left of it.
13 Call to the Priests
13 Gird yourselves [with sackcloth]
And lament, O priests;
Wail, O ministers of the altar!
Come, spend the night in sackcloth
O ministers of my God,
For the grain offering and the drink offering
Are withheld from the house of your God.
In verse 9 it is said of the priests that they mourn. There they are in connection with the LORD and with the house of the LORD. LORD or Yahweh is the Name of God that indicates that He has a special relationship with His chosen people Israel. Yahweh is the Name of the God of the covenant with Israel. But the people have broken the covenant with Him. If God now calls the priests to lament and wail, to spend the night in sackcloth, He does so as the One for Whom man must account for his unfaithfulness.
God is the three times holy God, Who is not to be mocked. That is why we speak here of “ministers of my God” and “the house of your God”. The priests must be the first to realize how great the dishonor is that has been done to God. After all, they may be expected to know what is due to God and that it is a great shame that God does not receive what is due to Him. As “ministers of the altar” they are now unemployed. There is nothing to bring to the altar. Grain offering and drink offering come from the harvest of wheat and grapes and those harvests are destroyed.
Joel called the priests “ministers of my God”. He presents himself as the prophet of his God, on behalf of whom he may say that God will hear when they come to Him. It seems that this means that it is no longer the priests who stand for God as mediators on behalf of the people, but that the prophet is now as a lone mediator through whom God speaks to the people.
He speaks to them of “your God” when he speaks of the house of God. That is the confession they hold in respect of the temple. He joins this when he speaks in verse 16 of “the house of our God”. He now calls them, of whom one of the duties is to sing in the temple, to lament. Spending the night in sackcloth is done as a sign of great sorrow, but also as an intense and long lasting act of humiliation before the LORD (1Kgs 21:27; 2Sam 12:13-23).
14 Consecration of a Fast
14 Consecrate a fast,
Proclaim a solemn assembly;
Gather the elders
[And] all the inhabitants of the land
To the house of the LORD your God,
And cry out to the LORD.
After the call to lament and wail as a result of the locust plague, it is said along which channel this should happen. This channel is called ‘humbling and conversion to God’. The call is further elaborated in the following chapter (Joel 2:15-17). Fating is needed (cf. Jona 3:7). It seems easy to fast in a time of famine, but this is very difficult. Hunger is gnawing. There is hardly any food and what there is may not be touched to turn to God. But with this fasting one joins God, Who in this time does not receive any ‘food’ either.
Fasting is usually accompanied by confession of guilt, but this is not mentioned here. It is often used as an expression of humiliation to obtain from God reconciliation of guilt or avoidance of doom. It serves to underline the power of prayer or intercession.
If we encounter special trials and events in our lives that bewilder us, we should withdraw from the ordinary course of life. Then we can expose our hearts completely before the Lord, to see what He has to say to us with those events. In such situations, you do not even think of eating. You focus all your attention on the Lord and learning to know His will in the circumstances He has sent.
As in verse 2, the elders and all inhabitants are also mentioned here. Everyone is called and involved. Everyone must come to the temple to call to the LORD. They must call for deliverance from distress. The call to God must be a national call because it is a national disaster. In Nehemiah 9 we also find such a national fast (Neh 9:1-3). Here, too, it is a matter for the whole people. If this call is answered, will the LORD not hear and give restoration? He hears and answers every sincere call. Only we must leave it to Him how and when He answers.
15 The Day of the LORD
15 Alas for the day!
For the day of the LORD is near,
And it will come as destruction from the Almighty.
The day of the LORD is a theme interwoven through the whole prophecy of Joel. It is therefore good to pay some extra attention to this day. It is a special day. The day of the LORD is not a day of twenty-four hours, but covers the period of time from the moment the LORD arises and intervenes in the world events up to and including His realm of peace. The dawn of that day is the turning point in world history, where man no longer rules openly, but He takes over the government. Now it still seems that man has everything to say on earth, but when the day of the LORD comes, He will take over the world reign.
He will do so in a way that is visible to everyone. The LORD appearance, becomes public. The book of Revelation describes all that is connected with it. First He will let His judgments come upon the earth and cleanse the earth of iniquity in that way (Revelation 6-19). He will perform the last judgments Himself, when He comes from heaven (Rev 19:11-21). Then he shall establish his kingdom of peace, and reign for a thousand years in a manner that shall be a blessing to man, even to all creation (Rev 20:1-6).
The day of the LORD begins with His judgments and ends with the kingdom of peace. After that, eternity begins (Revelation 20:7-21:8), which is also called “the day of God” (2Pet 3:12), for then “God will be all in all” (1Cor 15:28). With the day of the LORD the main thought is that the Lord Jesus will no longer remain hidden, but that He will act clearly, perceptible to everyone. “Day” refers to light, which means that it is no longer a matter of judging in secrecy or acting in providence, as it happens in the time in which we live.
The expression “the day of the LORD” is common in the Old Testament (Isa 2:12; 13:6,9; Jer 46:10; Eze 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1,11,31; 3:14; Amos 5:18,20; Oba 1:15; Zep 1:7,14; Mal 4:5). In the Old Testament the day of the LORD is always connected with the special place Israel has on earth because of the special connection with God, Who has revealed Himself only to this people as the LORD. The first mention and description of this day (Isa 2:12-22) gives a clear picture of what this day means.
It is the day when only the LORD will be exalted (Isa 2:17). Then the situation will come to an end, as it has been since Eve listened to the tempter, resulting in the fall into sin. Since that time man has started to do his own will and has always wanted to exalt himself above God and his neighbor. All that pride will be judged.
The day of the LORD indicates the direction with which He will intervene decisively in history. God will do so through Christ on a day He has appointed (Acts 17:31). This is the day on which man will no longer be allowed to hinder, thwart, or frustrate God’s purpose, and on which God will no longer work in secret. Then He will bring down evil and then spread and maintain what is good.
That ‘day’ refers to the Divine judgments that will be carried out by Christ as Yahweh God of Israel, when He appears in glory, but also to the whole millennial period. The day of the LORD means the judgment for Babylon (Isa 13:9), for Egypt (Jer 46:10), for Israel and Assyria (Joel 1:15; 2:1,11,31; 3:14), for Israel (Amos 5:18,20; Zep 1:7) and for Edom (Oba 1:15). Where sin and iniquity are, there will be judgment, whether it be heathen nations or God’s own people.
From Amos 5 we might get the impression that the Israelites expect the day of the LORD as salvation (light) for them and judgment for the enemies (Amos 5:18-20). But Amos and other prophets have contradicted this expectation. Israel, unfaithful to the LORD, will also undergo the day of judgment itself as ‘darkness’, as a day of wrath of the LORD (Lam 1:12).
In the New Testament the day of the Lord – the same as the day of the LORD in the Old Testament – is also mentioned (Acts 2:20; 1Cor 1:8; 5:6; 2Cor 1:14; 1Thes 5:2; 2Thes 2:2; 2Pet 3:10). A clear distinction must be made between the day of the Lord and the rapture of the church. Both events do not take place at the same time. The coming of the Lord consists of various stages.
The Lord Jesus comes first to rapture the church (1Cor 15:51-52; 1Thes 4:15-18). When He comes for His church, He will not come to the earth, nor will He be visible to people on the earth. The church meets Him in the air (1Thes 4:17). Also, all Old Testament believers who have died will then be raised up and meet Him. This truth is found only in the New Testament and is a comfort for the believers.
The day of the Lord is different. Then He appears on earth, visible to all (Rev 1:7), to deliver His people, that is the faithful remnant of Israel, from their distress. And He will judge the unbelievers and establish His kingdom of peace. The book of Revelation provides us with detailed information about all the events associated with the Lord’s coming to earth. All texts about the Lord’s day show that people who then live on earth will be in great fear because of the judgments.
When we see the distinction between the rapture of the church, the meeting the Lord in the air, and the Lord’s coming to earth, we hold the key to understanding the first part of 2 Thessalonians 2 (2Thes 2:1-12).
There are other ‘days’. Thus we read about the “day of God” (2Pet 3:12). This day describes the eternal state. This day should not be confused with “the great day of God the Almighty” (Rev 16:14), which corresponds to “the day of the LORD”. Related expressions are: the day of the LORD’s wrath (Zep 1:18), a day of vengeance (Isa 34:8), the day of the LORD’s sacrifice (Zep 1:8), a day of wrath, of clouds and thick darkness (Zep 1:15). ‘Day’ here is not a time indication, but stands for the character of powerful events and their effect. All emphasis falls on what is happening, the punitive intervention of the LORD, in which the aspect of ‘publicness’ is especially important. All events take place under His control and in His light.
The day of the Lord is in opposition to the day, or the judgment, of man (1Cor 4:3). Now man still has the say; however, when the day of the Lord comes, the period in which the will of God is done “on earth as it is in heaven” begins (Mt 6:9-10).
From a spiritual point of view, the day of the Lord begins in the life of every human being when he acknowledges the full authority of the Lord over his life. This happens when he sees his life in God’s light and starts thinking about it like God. That is the moment of conversion. When conversion has taken place, from that moment on it can be said of the believers that they are “sons of light and sons of day” (1Thes 5:5; 1Thes 5:8-9; cf. Rom 13:13).
16 No Gladness and Joy
16 Has not food been cut off before our eyes,
Gladness and joy from the house of our God?
It was God’s intention that His people should rejoice in His presence. So He said it, for example, when offering the first fruits (Deu 26:10-11). But instead of gladness and joy there is now the threat of the calamity that will erupt with the coming of the day of the LORD. After all, they have seen the harbinger and experienced the consequences.
Here the prophet explains why he fears that the day of the LORD is coming. The disasters that accompany this day are present: the harvest and all the greenery have been destroyed. They are witnesses to it, they see it before their eyes, they look at it with horror and powerlessness. When there is no harvest and therefore no food anymore, also the gladness and joy are gone from the house of the LORD. After all, there can be no first fruits of the harvest, no peace offerings, and soon, because the cattle die of thirst, there will be no more burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin.
17 - 18 Desolation Everywhere
17 The seeds shrivel under their clods;
The storehouses are desolate,
The barns are torn down,
For the grain is dried up.
18 How the beasts groan!
The herds of cattle wander aimlessly
Because there is no pasture for them;
Even the flocks of sheep suffer.
The prophet sees how creation sighs (Rom 8:22). The consequences of unfaithful and wicked actions by a human race that has turned away from God are visible in creation. A man never goes a way that leads away from God only by himself. Even what has been entrusted to him, he always carries with him in suffering and judgment. The ‘sighing of creation’ can be heard in the ‘groaning of the beasts’, as we have seen in verse 10 the mourning of the land.
What is said in these verses is the result of drought and not of the plague of locusts. The harvest has been destroyed by the locusts, but the drought means that there also is no new harvest to be expected. The situation is hopeless. It is as if the prophet seeks for words to show this hopelessness in full measure: ‘shriveled’, ‘desolate’, ‘torn down’, ‘dried up’, ‘groan’, ‘wander’, ‘no pasture’, ‘suffer’. For Joel, the drought of the land mainly reflects the barrenness and decline that is present in the hearts of the people (cf. Jer 14:1-6).
19 The Call to God
19 To You, O LORD, I cry;
For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness
And the flame has burned up all the trees of the field.
Joel uses the words “fire” and “flame” to name the scorching heat and drought. They are caused by the sun and the east wind and have a devastating effect. The “pastures of the wilderness” are the important finding places of food for the beasts. The Hebrew word midbar means that it is a wilderness suitable for small livestock farming, like for example the wilderness of Judea. “All the trees of the field” provide fruits for the people to use.
After describing the all-encompassing destruction and his call to go to God, Joel himself resorted to the only One Who can help. In the few words “to You, O LORD, I cry” lies a sea of misery which the prophet pours out before Him. It does not seem that the call he made in verses 13-14 has found much response. We only hear his voice here. The prophet Amos occupies the same position (cf. Amos 7:1-6). For God it is sufficient if there is only one righteous one.
Here Joel is a picture of the Lord Jesus Who goes to God as Advocate and Mediator for the people. Joel not only represents the whole people, but is also the example that calls for imitation. He does not call for something he does not do himself. Whether or not God’s servants manage to convince others of God’s judgment and bring them to an action and attitude that are appropriate, it is clear that a call to others must at least have that effect in their own lives. If they cannot persuade others to call to God, they must do so themselves in the awareness that it is really necessary.
It is remarkable that the only time the prophet tells something of himself, it is about his calling to God. It shows us something of his inner life and of his trust in God. He is for us a great example in this, worth to be followed by anyone who suffers from the aridity that reigns among the people of God. It is to be hoped that more such intercessors will be found for God’s people!
20 The Animals Pant for the LORD
20 Even the beasts of the field pant for You;
For the water brooks are dried up
And fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness.
After the prophet has called, here follows the calling of the animals. The prophet sees how the animals pant for God. The animals also suffer because of man’s unfaithfulness. God hears their calls (Job 39:3; Psa 104:21,27). With their panting for Him, the animals are an example to people.
The care of God also goes out to the animals. When the curse of creation in the kingdom of peace is removed, the animals also share in its blessing: “O LORD, You preserve man and beast” (Psa 36:6c). After Jonah’s preaching, the animals must share in the humiliation proclaimed by the king of Nineveh; they too must not eat or drink anything (Jona 3:7). God also involves the animals when He spares Nineveh after humiliation: “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know [the difference] between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” (Jona 4:11).