From the desolations about to come upon the land of Judah, by the ravages of locusts and other insects, the prophet Joel exhorts the Jews to repentance, fasting, and prayer. He notices the blessings of the gospel, with the final glorious state of the church.
A plague of locusts. (1-7) All sorts of people are called to lament it. (8-13) They are to look to God. (14-20)
Verses 1-7 The most aged could not remember such calamities as were about to take place. Armies of insects were coming upon the land to eat the fruits of it. It is expressed so as to apply also to the destruction of the country by a foreign enemy, and seems to refer to the devastations of the Chaldeans. God is Lord of hosts, has every creature at his command, and, when he pleases, can humble and mortify a proud, rebellious people, by the weakest and most contemptible creatures. It is just with God to take away the comforts which are abused to luxury and excess; and the more men place their happiness in the gratifications of sense, the more severe temporal afflictions are upon them. The more earthly delights we make needful to satisfy us, the more we expose ourselves to trouble.
Verses 8-13 All who labour only for the meat that perishes, will, sooner or later, be ashamed of their labour. Those that place their happiness in the delights of sense, when deprived of them, or disturbed in the enjoyment, lose their joy; whereas spiritual joy then flourishes more than ever. See what perishing, uncertain things our creature-comforts are. See how we need to live in continual dependence upon God and his providence. See what ruinous work sin makes. As far as poverty occasions the decay of piety, and starves the cause of religion among a people, it is a very sore judgment. But how blessed are the awakening judgments of God, in rousing his people and calling home the heart to Christ, and his salvation!
Verses 14-20 The sorrow of the people is turned into repentance and humiliation before God. With all the marks of sorrow and shame, sin must be confessed and bewailed. A day is to be appointed for this purpose; a day in which people must be kept from their common employments, that they may more closely attend God's services; and there is to be abstaining from meat and drink. Every one had added to the national guilt, all shared in the national calamity, therefore every one must join in repentance. When joy and gladness are cut off from God's house, when serious godliness decays, and love waxes cold, then it is time to cry unto the Lord. The prophet describes how grievous the calamity. See even the inferior creatures suffering for our transgression. And what better are they than beasts, who never cry to God but for corn and wine, and complain of the want of the delights of sense? Yet their crying to God in those cases, shames the stupidity of those who cry not to God in any case. Whatever may become of the nations and churches that persist in ungodliness, believers will find the comfort of acceptance with God, when the wicked shall be burned up with his indignation.
Joel 1:1-20 . THE DESOLATE ASPECT OF THE COUNTRY THROUGH THE PLAGUE OF LOCUSTS; THE PEOPLE ADMONISHED TO OFFER SOLEMN PRAYERS IN THE TEMPLE; FOR THIS CALAMITY IS THE EARNEST OF A STILL HEAVIER ONE.
1. Joel--meaning, "Jehovah is God."
son of Pethuel--to distinguish Joel the prophet from others of the name. Persons of eminence also were noted by adding the father's name.
2, 3. A spirited introduction calling attention.
old men--the best judges in question concerning the past ( Deuteronomy 32:7 , Job 32:7 ).
Hath this been, &c.--that is, Hath any so grievous a calamity as this ever been before? No such plague of locusts had been since the ones in Egypt. Exodus 10:14 is not at variance with this verse, which refers to Judea, in which Joel says there had been no such devastation before.
3. Tell ye your children--in order that they may be admonished by the severity of the punishment to fear God ( Psalms 78:6-8 ; compare Exodus 13:8 , Joshua 4:7 ).
4. This verse states the subject on which he afterwards expands. Four species or stages of locusts, rather than four different insects, are meant (compare Leviticus 11:22 ). Literally, (1) the gnawing locust; (2) the swarming locust; (3) the licking locust; (4) the consuming locust; forming a climax to the most destructive kind. The last is often three inches long, and the two antennæ, each an inch long. The two hinder of its six feet are larger than the rest, adapting it for leaping. The first "kind" is that of the locust, having just emerged from the egg in spring, and without wings. The second is when at the end of spring, still in their first skin, the locusts put forth little ones without legs or wings. The third, when after their third casting of the old skin, they get small wings, which enable them to leap the better, but not to fly. Being unable to go away till their wings are matured, they devour all before them, grass, shrubs, and bark of trees: translated "rough caterpillars" ( Jeremiah 51:27 ). The fourth kind, the matured winged locusts Joel 2:25 they are enumerated in the reverse order, where the restoration of the devastations caused by them is promised. The Hebrews make the first species refer to Assyria and Babylon; the second species, to Medo-Persia; the third, to Greco-Macedonia and Antiochus Epiphanes; the fourth, to the Romans. Though the primary reference be to literal locusts, the Holy Spirit doubtless had in view the successive empires which assailed Judea, each worse than its predecessor, Rome being the climax.
5. Awake--out of your ordinary state of drunken stupor, to realize the cutting off from you of your favorite drink. Even the drunkards (from a Hebrew root, "any strong drink") shall be forced to "howl," though usually laughing in the midst of the greatest national calamities, so palpably and universally shall the calamity affect all.
wine . . . new wine--"New" or "fresh wine," in Hebrew, is the unfermented, and therefore unintoxicating, sweet juice extracted by pressure from grapes or other fruit, as pomegranates ( Solomon 8:2 ). "Wine" is the produce of the grape alone, and is intoxicating
6. nation--applied to the locusts, rather than "people" ( Proverbs 30:25 Proverbs 30:26 ), to mark not only their numbers, but also their savage hostility; and also to prepare the mind of the hearer for the transition to the figurative locusts in the second chapter, namely, the "nation" or Gentile foe coming against Judea (compare Joel 2:2 ).
my land--that is, Jehovah's; which never would have been so devastated were I not pleased to inflict punishment ( Joel 2:18 , Isaiah 14:25 , Jeremiah 16:18 , Ezekiel 36:5 , 38:16 ).
strong--as irresistibly sweeping away before its compact body the fruits of man's industry.
without number--so Judges 6:5 , 7:12 , "like grasshoppers (or "locusts") for multitude" ( Jeremiah 46:23 , Nahum 3:15 ).
teeth . . . lion--that is, the locusts are as destructive as a lion; there is no vegetation that can resist their bite (compare Revelation 9:8 ). PLINY says "they gnaw even the doors of houses."
7. barked--BOCHART, with the Septuagint and Syriac, translates, from an Arabic root, "hath broken," namely, the topmost shoots, which locusts most feed on. CALVIN supports English Version.
my vine . . . my fig tree--being. in "My land," that is, Jehovah's ( Joel 1:6 ). As to the vine-abounding nature of ancient Palestine, see Numbers 13:23 Numbers 13:24 .
cast it away--down to the ground.
branches . . . white--both from the bark being stripped off ( Genesis 30:37 ), and from the branches drying up through the trunk, both bark and wood being eaten up below by the locusts.
8. Lament--O "my land" ( Joel 1:6 , Isaiah 24:4 ).
virgin . . . for the husband--A virgin betrothed was regarded as married ( Deuteronomy 22:23 , Matthew 1:19 ). The Hebrew for "husband" is "lord" or "possessor," the husband being considered the master of the wife in the East.
of her youth--when the affections are strongest and when sorrow at bereavement is consequently keenest. Suggesting the thought of what Zion's grief ought to be for her separation from Jehovah, the betrothed husband of her early days ( Jeremiah 2:2 , Ezekiel 16:8 , Hosea 2:7 ; compare Proverbs 2:17 , Jeremiah 3:4 ).
9. The greatest sorrow to the mind of a religious Jew, and what ought to impress the whole nation with a sense of God's displeasure, is the cessation of the usual temple-worship.
meat offering--Hebrew, mincha; "meat" not in the English sense "flesh," but the unbloody offering made of flour, oil, and frankincense. As it and the drink offering or libation poured out accompanied every sacrificial flesh offering, the latter is included, though not specified, as being also "cut off," owing to there being no food left for man or beast.
priests . . . mourn--not for their own loss of sacrificial perquisites ( Numbers 18:8-15 ), but because they can no longer offer the appointed offerings to Jehovah, to whom they minister.
10. field . . . land--differing in that "field" means the open, unenclosed country; "land," the rich red soil (from a root "to be red") fit for cultivation. Thus, "a man of the field," in Hebrew, is a "hunter"; a "man of the ground" or "land," an "agriculturist" ( Genesis 25:27 ). "Field" and "land" are here personified.
new wine--from a Hebrew root implying that it takes possession of the brain, so that a man is not master of himself. So the Arabic term is from a root "to hold captive." It is already fermented, and so intoxicating, unlike the sweet fresh wine, in Joel 1:5 , called also "new wine," though a different Hebrew word. It and "the oil" stand for the vine and the olive tree, from which the "wine" and "oil" are obtained ( Joel 1:12 ).
dried up--not "ashamed," as Margin, as is proved by the parallelism to "languisheth," that is, droopeth.
11. Be . . . ashamed--that is, Ye shall have the shame of disappointment on account of the failure of "the wheat" and "barley . . . harvest."
howl . . . vine dressers--The semicolon should follow, as it is the "husbandmen" who are to be "ashamed . . . for the wheat." The reason for the "vine dressers" being called to "howl" does not come till Joel 1:12 , "The vine is dried up."
12. pomegranate--a tree straight in the stem growing twenty feet high; the fruit is of the size of an orange, with blood-red colored pulp.
palm tree--The dates of Palestine were famous. The palm is the symbol of Judea on coins under the Roman emperor Vespasian. It often grows a hundred feet high.
apple tree--The Hebrew is generic, including the orange, lemon, and pear tree.
joy is withered away--such as is felt in the harvest and the vintage seasons ( Psalms 4:7 , Isaiah 9:3 ).
13. Gird yourselves--namely, with sackcloth; as in Isaiah 32:11 , the ellipsis is supplied (compare Jeremiah 4:8 ).
lament, ye priests--as it is your duty to set the example to others; also as the guilt was greater, and a greater scandal was occasioned, by your sin to the cause of God.
come--the Septuagint, "enter" the house of God (compare Joel 1:14 ).
lie all night in sackcloth--so Ahab ( 1 Kings 21:27 ).
ministers of my God--( 1 Corinthians 9:13 ). Joel claims authority for his doctrine; it is in God's name and by His mission I speak to you.
14. Sanctify . . . a fast--Appoint a solemn fast.
solemn assembly--literally, a "day of restraint" or cessation from work, so that all might give themselves to supplication ( Joel 2:15 Joel 2:16 , 1 Samuel 7:5 1 Samuel 7:6 , 2 Chronicles 20:3-13 ).
elders--The contrast to "children" ( Joel 2:16 ) requires age to be intended, though probably elders in office are included. Being the people's leaders in guilt, they ought to be their leaders also in repentance.
15. day of the Lord--( Joel 2:1 Joel 2:11 ); that is, the day of His anger ( Isaiah 13:9 , Obadiah 1:15 , Zephaniah 1:7 Zephaniah 1:15 ). It will be a foretaste of the coming day of the Lord as Judge of all men, whence it receives the same name. Here the transition begins from the plague of locusts to the worse calamities ( Joel 2:1-11 ) from invading armies about to come on Judea, of which the locusts were the prelude.
16. Compare Joel 1:9 , and latter part of Joel 1:12 .
joy--which prevailed at the annual feasts, as also in the ordinary sacrificial offerings, of which the offerers ate before the Lord with gladness and thanksgivings ( Deuteronomy 12:6 Deuteronomy 12:7 Deuteronomy 12:12 , Deuteronomy 16:11 Deuteronomy 16:14 Deuteronomy 16:15 ).
17. is rotten--"is dried up," "vanishes away," from an Arabic root [MAURER]. "Seed," literally, "grains." The drought causes the seeds to lose all their vitality and moisture.
garners--granaries; generally underground, and divided into separate receptacles for the different kinds of grain.
18. cattle . . . perplexed--implying the restless gestures of the dumb beasts in their inability to find food. There is a tacit contrast between the sense of the brute creation and the insensibility of the people.
yea, the . . . sheep--Even the sheep, which are content with less rich pasturage, cannot find food.
are made desolate--literally, "suffer punishment." The innocent brute shares the "punishment" of guilty man ( Exodus 12:29 , Jonah 3:7 , 4:11 ).
19. to thee will I cry--Joel here interposes, As this people is insensible to shame or fear and will not hear, I will leave them and address myself directly to Thee (compare Isaiah 15:5 , Jeremiah 23:9 ).
fire--that is, the parching heat.
pastures--"grassy places"; from a Hebrew root "to be pleasant." Such places would be selected for "habitations" (Margin). But the English Version rendering is better than Margin.
20. beasts . . . cry . . . unto thee--that is, look up to heaven with heads lifted up, as if their only expectation was from God ( Job 38:41 , Psalms 104:21 , 145:15 , 147:9 ; compare Psalms 42:1 ). They tacitly reprove the deadness of the Jews for not even now invoking God.