Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. (Joel 2:1)
Joel could be called the unknown prophet because outside of his three chapter book and one reference in Acts 2:16 there’s not much said about him anywhere. Not in the Bible and not in the history books. His father Pethuel (the name means vision of God) was unknown as well. In the absence of fact scholars rush in with opinion but there’s no consensus among them as to when Joel wrote his book. Some say it was in the 9th Century BC and others claim it was 300 years later, after the return from Babylon. Interpreting Joel’s book of prophecy doesn’t depend upon knowing the correct date of its publication so we won’t get into that debate except to say that what little evidence there is favors the early date, around 850 BC. The Book of Joel must have carried a lot of weight right from the beginning, because it appears from their writings that Amos, Micah, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel all borrowed phrases from it.
There is agreement that Joel was speaking to what would become the Southern Kingdom, seeing the massive locust plague and severe drought that were devastating Judah at the time as a model of the Great Tribulation. Therefore his message is one of repentance, comparing the locusts to armies sent by the Lord to judge the nation for its sins. Unlike some contemporary scholars who see the Day of the Lord as being a time of judgment upon the Gentiles while bringing deliverance for Israel, Joel knew that the unfaithful of Israel would be taken to task as well. Only following their judgment would Israel be restored. This is consistent with Jeremiah’s later admonition that although the nations will be completely destroyed during the Great Tribulation, Israel will not go entirely unpunished but will be disciplined (Jere. 30:11). And Zechariah compared the Day of the Lord to a refiners fire, by which Israel’s impurities will be removed before the Kingdom age begins. (Zech. 13:9).
With that brief introduction, let’ see what Joel has to say to Israel at the End of the Age.
Joel 1, An Invasion Of Locusts
The word of the LORD that came to Joel son of Pethuel. Hear this, you elders; listen, all who live in the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your forefathers? Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation. (Joel 1:1-3)
Joel’s name means “The Lord is God” and he opened by claiming that what we’re about to read are the Lord’s own words, flowing through Joel’s pen. The Lord commanded the first generation of readers to pass this along through those who would follow.
What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten. (Joel 1:4)
There are 24,000 varieties of locusts, some up to 10” long, and they live for 6-7 years. Some unexplained hormone change causes them to swarm unexpectedly. When that happens they don’t really fly but are carried on the wind, completely divesting the place they land on of every trace of vegetation before being carried off again. People who’ve experienced a locust plague claim the swarms are so large and so dense they darken the sun, and at night as you lie in bed you can actually hear them chewing outside your window.
While the exact meaning of the Hebrew here is unclear, it appears to be describing four different kinds of locusts, coming one after the other until there’s nothing left.
We’re going to resist the temptation to allegorize this plague as some commentators do, seeing the four kinds of locusts as being representative of the four Gentile Kingdoms that eventually brought about the disappearance of Israel. It’s pretty clear that in the beginning Joel was describing the devastation of an actual plague of locusts. But rest assured, he’ll be talking about the End of the Age soon enough.
Wake up, you drunkards, and weep! Wail, all you drinkers of wine; wail because of the new wine, for it has been snatched from your lips. A nation has invaded my land, powerful and without number; it has the teeth of a lion, the fangs of a lioness. It has laid waste my vines and ruined my fig trees. It has stripped off their bark and thrown it away, leaving their branches white. Mourn like a virgin in sackcloth grieving for the husband of her youth. (Joel 1:5-8)
The crops will be completely destroyed, and those who habitually consume them will mourn like a bride-to-be grieving over the loss of her betrothed, all the hopes and dreams of marriage snatched away before even one of them comes true. This was considered to be one of the most severe kinds of emotional loss, and the drinkers of wine would experience that same feeling when they saw the crops destroyed without warning before they got a single taste.
Grain offerings and drink offerings are cut off from the house of the LORD. The priests are in mourning, those who minister before the LORD. The fields are ruined, the ground is dried up; the grain is destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails. (Joel 1:9-10)
The grain offering was a voluntary act of worship in recognition of God’s goodness and provision. The drink offering accompanied the twice daily burnt offering given for the general protection of the people. The locust plague made these daily offerings impossible, preventing the people from expressing their worship of the Lord. At opposite ends of the social spectrum, the priests would mourn their inability to worship, just as the drunks mourned their inability to imbibe.
Despair, you farmers, wail, you vine growers; grieve for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field is destroyed. The vine is dried up and the fig tree is withered; the pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree— all the trees of the field—are dried up. Surely the joy of mankind is withered away.(Joel 1:11-12)
Farmers were the most directly affected, the fruit of their labor destroyed before it could replenish their depleted stores or be exchanged for compensation. A whole year’s work for naught. Some would not even have sufficient grain for seed, making the next harvest unlikely as well.
These three groups are meant to be representative of the entire community, from the lowest to the highest and everyone in between. No one would emerge from this unscathed.
A Call to Repentance
Put on sackcloth, O priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God.
Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD. Alas for that day! For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. (Joel 1:13-15)
The transition has been made. Having begun by describing a plague of locusts Joel now sees the coming Day of the Lord, and calls everyone to fast and pray.
Has not the food been cut off before our very eyes— joy and gladness from the house of our God? The seeds are shriveled beneath the clods. The storehouses are in ruins, the granaries have been broken down, for the grain has dried up. How the cattle moan! The herds mill about because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep are suffering. To you, O LORD, I call, for fire has devoured the open pastures and flames have burned up all the trees of the field. Even the wild animals pant for you; the streams of water have dried up and fire has devoured the open pastures. (Joel 1:16-20)
At the outset of Daniel’s 70th week the anti-Christ will make his initial appearance as the rider on a white horse (Rev. 6:2). He’ll come to power in the guise of a peacemaker (Daniel 8:28) following the Battle of Ezekiel 38-39, and will fool everyone. But it’s a big lie and while people are saying “Peace and safety” destruction will come upon them suddenly and they will not escape. (1 Thes. 5:3) With the arrival of the rider on the red horse peace will be taken from the Earth and war will suddenly break out again. (Rev. 6:4)
This will bring a time of famine in the midst of plenty. There’ll be shortages almost everywhere. As if that isn’t bad enough, runaway inflation will price even those foods that can be found out of the reach of many. It’ll take an average day’s wages just to feed one person. (Rev. 6:6) Those who can’t support themselves will be left to starve with no one able to help them. Then, as the Trumpet Judgments begin, one third of of the trees and all the green grass will go up in smoke (Rev. 7:7) destroying the animals’ pastureland.
War also renders public health services ineffective. Sanitation facilities stop working. Power and water longer flow. Hospitals can’t handle the burden so disease runs rampant, causing even more death. The Great Tribulation is still ahead and yet in 1/4th of the world, millions of people will have already died from the wars, famine, and plagues. Even the wild animals will be going crazy from lack of food and water, brazenly attacking humans for sustenance. (Rev. 6:8). This is no longer a mere plague of locusts that happened 29 centuries ago. This is the run up to the Day of the Lord, and we’re the generation for whom Joel’s warning is intended. Stay tuned, there’s plenty more ahead.