Joel 1:1-4, “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.”
Verse 1a: The author is Joel, his name means “Jehovah is God.” We know nothing about Joel or his father's personal backgrounds, or even when they lived. He records nothing of himself except his divine commission.
Joel was a prophet of Judah, the Southern Kingdom, possibly a contemporary of Elisha. The date of his writing is believed by commentators to be the 8th century B.C. He desired to live his life in the presence of God, and to be known among men only as the voice which gave utterance to the Word of the Lord that came to him. He would have us to receive his word as not his own, but the word of Yahweh.
The book of Joel falls naturally into two parts. In 1:1–2:27 where we read about a terrible locust plague that came over Israel as a judgment from God and how the people repented and God restored their fortunes. This prophecy includes a dual fulfillment, current and future.
Then in 2:28 to the end of the book we read about how God at some future time is going to pour out His Spirit far and wide to bless His people and how He is going to gather for judgment the nations which have rejected Him and His people. Or to put it another way, the first half of the book describes how God fought against His own people to make them honor Him alone. And the second half of the book describes how He will fight against the nations who refuse to honor Him alone.
Verse 1b: “The word of the Lord that came to Joel.”
The Word of the Lord does not come just to communicate information, it is a word of power.
Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
Since the Word is God-breathed, it is the only source to equip God’s servants for life and ministry.
2 Timothy 3:16,17 AMP, “All Scripture is God-breathed…so that the man of God may be complete and proficient, outfitted and thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
God’s Word is the agent of God to accomplish His purpose in difficult times.
Isaiah 55:11, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
Verse 2: “Hear this, O elders, listen closely, all inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing as this occurred in your days, or even in the days of your fathers? Tell your children about it, and let your children tell their children, and their children the next generation.”
Seven words every one of us will utter many times in our lifetime. “I just don’t know where to turn.” Here in Joel we find God’s people saying just that, “We just don’t know where to turn!”
So God speaks to Joel, to speak to God’s people in the midst of their dire circumstances. God always has a person to meet the crisis of the hour. And God always comes through. Not always as we expect Him to, but He always comes through.
Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
Verse 2a: “Hear this, O elders, listen closely, all inhabitants of the land.”
“Hear this, you old men.” By reason of their age they had known and heard much; stories they had heard from their fathers, and their grandfather’s, most of which they had not known themselves. Among the people of the east, memories of past times were handed down from generation to generation, for extremely long periods of time, which to us would seem incredible.
Verse 2b: “Inhabitants of the land.” This is an appeal to all others who may have better memories, and possibly know more than others.
Verse 2c: “Has such a thing as this occurred in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?”
God is telling them that there is going to be an event of such immensity, that people will be talking about it for years and years to come. And what is Joel talking about? Well, he’s talking about a great locust invasion, and ultimately, the great day of the Lord.
After World War II, for years we talked about V-E Day (Victory in Europe) and V-J Day (Victory in Japan). I was a paper boy at that time, and delivered and extra for V-E Day. We have never forgotten those days! Well, God has a day, that He calls “The Day of the Lord,” and it was given to Joel to describe this great day.
Some of us can remember exactly where we were on December 7th, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, or what we were doing on Nine-Eleven when the planes hit the Twin Towers in New York City. Many can still vividly remember when JFK was assassinated. We tend to etch on our minds fantastic events so that we will never forget, and when our children are old enough to understand we tell them all the details.
Joel 1:3: “Tell your children about it, let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.”
Joel’s message will be relevant for generations to come. It has come all the way down to us. His message is still relevant, continuing to accomplish God’s purpose long after Joel left the scene. (Isaiah 55:11).
Joel 1:4: The Locusts! Now Joel reveals an event of such gigantic proportion, that people will never forget it.
“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 immediate crisis was a terrible plague of locusts. I have seen a Middle East locust. It was very large, about six inches long, and about three inches in diameter. This locust plague, coupled with a drought, completely destroyed all of their crops, and effected their food supplies for over a year, so that the very survival of God’s people was threatened.
There are twenty-three-thousand different species of locusts, and they cause great damage to crops wherever the swarm. When they swarm, their numbers are estimated to be in the hundreds of millions. There are reports of locust swarms covering two-thousand square miles and comprising of more than twenty-four-billion insects.
In California, forty-plus years ago a locust invasion was described by one newspaper, “In one county two-hundred-thousand acres were covered with insects over every square inch and in some areas they were stacked on top of each other.”
The late Pastor Ray Stedman reported seeing an invasion of grasshoppers, (insects similar to locusts) in Minnesota years ago. “I can still remember how the sky was literally darkened by the great cloud of these insects. You could hear them descending into the standing grain of the fields like hail upon the ground, and there was a continuing rustling of the noise of their wings as you walked through the fields. Within moments after they lit on the field, every blade of grass, every bit of vegetation was gone, and the fields were left as though they had never been planted.”
The December 15, 1915, National Geographic described a locust attack in Jerusalem, Palestine and Syria. “At the end of February great clouds of locusts began flying into the land from a northeasterly direction, so that attention was drawn to them by the sudden darkening of the bright sunshine. They came in enormous numbers, settling on the fields and hillsides. There they laid their eggs in vast numbers (it was calculated that sixty-thousand could hatch from eggs planted on thirty-nine square inches of soil, and that figure included a thirty percent loss rate). Once hatched, the new broods started crawling across the ground at the rate of four-hundred to six-hundred feet per day, devouring every scrap of vegetation in their path.”
One sixteenth century observer has mirrored Joel’s description. “They began to arrive one day at about nine a.m., and until night they did not cease. The next day at six a.m. they began to depart, and at midday there was not one left, and not one leaf left on the trees. At that moment others began to arrive, and they remained until the next day at the same hour, these did not leave any corn with a husk or a green blade. In this they did for five days, one day after the other.
And that’s what happened in Joel’s day! They came in four waves of destruction. Here is verse four in the King James Version:
“That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten” (King James version).
The “palmerworm” (Hebrew gazam, “to gnaw”) is the stage at which the locust is first hatched and is characterized by its gnawing activity.
The “locust” (Hebrew arben, “to be many”) is the most common name
for the locust, and is the second stage, in which the locust gets its wings and flies.
The ”cankerworm” (Hebrew yeleg, “to lick off”) is the stage in which it does its destructive work.
The “caterpillar” (Hebrew chasil, “to devour or to consume”) is the final stage, in which the locust reaches its full growth and devours everything in its path.
Several translations concur with the Hebrew analysis:
“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” (New King James Version).
“After the cutter-locusts finish eating your crops, the swarmer-locusts will take what’s left! After them will come the hopper-locusts! And then the stripper-locusts too!” (The Living Bible).
“After the cutting locusts finished eating the crops, the swarming locusts took what was left! After them came the hopping locusts, and then the stripping locusts, too!” (New Living Translation).
Verse 5: The drunks: “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. Those who are addicted to wine will go to any length to find a drink, and now even they are disappointed. The grape vines took the first hit. If the drunks hadn’t noticed the locusts, the lack of wine got their attention.
“Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation…” (Ephesians 5:18). Drunkards represent the complacent attitude of many who are oblivious to the spiritual things around them. Drunkards are self-indulgent, unconcerned about the things of God. Apparently this is a picture of the people Joel is addressing! He saw the locusts as a literal wake-up call. Weeping and wailing is generally associated with a funeral; the pleasures of the self-absorbed life have ended, and the people need to reckon with what God has done." Only those who are awake are able to respond to God's judgment. Of course, to be awake one must first have life–real life.
Verse 6,7: “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.”
Joel compares this to an invading army that leaves nothing but scorched earth in their wake. And they are like an army, “The locusts have no king, yet they all advance in ranks” (Proverbs 30:27). “Every one marches in formation, nd they do not break ranks” (Joel 2:7).
This devastation doesn’t end with just destroying the grapes vines, they also splintered the bark on the fig tree so that it branches were white. One California agricultural official said, “What they don’t eat, they cut off for entertainment.” He also reported that “The fields were left as bare as a floor. Apple trees were stripped of every green leaf and rose bushes were consumed through to the green bark.”
Verse 8: “ “Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth.”
This mourning is of the deepest, bitterest kind, like the grieving of a young woman betrothed, to one whom she sincerely loves, but he dies before they are married, and thus, instead of the wedding dress, she puts on the garment of mourning.
Verse 9: “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.”
All the outward and visible signs of communion with God are cut off. The elements are lost through this tragedy. The immediate significance of this fact is naturally appreciated first by “the priests, the Lord’s ministers.”
Verses 10-12: “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.”
Verse 13: “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.”
The cessation of the daily sacrifices is troubling to Joel, so and he turns to the priests, challenging them not mourn only, (Joel 1:9, “the priests mourn”), but clothe themselves in sackcloth, (cloth made of black goats' hair, coarse, rough, and thick, used for sacks, and also worn by mourners, and as a sign of repentance) and proclaim a day of public fast and humiliation. The occasion, namely, is not one for grief only: it is one which calls also for repentance and prayer.
This garment of affliction and repentance, they were to wear day and night. Joel's second call to the priests underlines the tragedy of curtailed worship in Judah. Since there were no offerings to bring to the Lord, the nation could not approach Him as He had directed at the very time she needed Him most.
Verse 14: “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.”
“Consecrate a fast” Joel called on the priests not only to mourn (1:9), but also to assemble all the people at the temple for a “sacred, (Hebrew, qadosh, holy) fast.” Such fasts indicated national repentance in Israel's history. Here, as usual, fasting is combined with prayer. The people would pray to Him for mercy and for renewed blessing and would demonstrate their sincerity and urgency by going without food while they prayed.
The condition of our world today should lead every body of believers to call a “Sacred Assembly.” Can you imagine if all believers were to lay aside our doctrinal, denominational, ethnic and political identification and gather together for prayer and fasting, for a public “Sacred Assembly,” asking God to forgive the sins of the church, and to change the direction of our nation?
Verse 15: “Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as destruction from the Almighty.”
In this locust invasion God is showing Joel an even greater invasion, the “Day of the Lord,” That term is a used in Scripture to describe the day when Jesus comes back to bring the flaming fury and anger of God on all the sinners of the world. It is a day of devastation. It is a day of destruction. It is a day of doom. It is a day of damnation.”
1 Thessalonians 5:1-3, “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.”
Isaiah 2:12, “For the day of the Lord of hosts shall come upon everything proud and lofty, upon everything lifted up—and it shall be brought low…”
Verses 16-18 is a reiteration of the devastation of the locust invasion.
“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.”
Joel describes the effects of the locust plague to encourage his hearers to gather for prayer and fasting. This shows us again the severity of the plague of locusts. The people are facing an utterly hopeless situation. Nothing escaped this devastation! Indeed, they felt they had nowhere to turn. Without food or pasture, the herds of sheep and cattle would soon die, a disaster of the greatest magnitude was upon them.
The locusts had devoured everything on the earth, including the seeds under the ground. The devastation is complete, every possibility of sustenance was taken away. This destruction of crops, and forests was complete, famine and distress afflicted both man and beast.
Verses 19,20, ”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.”
Joel vividly describes a devastating drought. It affects everything in Judah, drunks, priests, and farmers, and fire ravages the dry land. “Fire” is probably not to be understood in a literal sense. The locust plague, accompanied by conditions of extreme drought, has left the countryside looking as though everything has been burned up.
“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.
The fact that dumb animals are crying out to God, impresses upon Joel to pray. In the last analysis, there is no one but God to Whom the helpless, hapless and hopeless can appeal. Man instinctively cries out to his Creator in the face of death and destruction. I have heard stories of how even atheists prayed in times of peril. Romans 8:22, tells us that “the whole creation is groaning,” waiting for deliverance.
When all else fails, pray! This is the only hope left, and contains all hopes. God is the only One who can help. He is faithful “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14,15).
**Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB).**