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The word of the Lord that came to Joel - Joel, like Hosea, mentions the name of his father only, and then is silent about his extraction, his tribe, his family. He leaves even the time when he lived, to be guessed at. He would be known only, as the instrument of God. “The word of the Lord came to” him (see the note at Hosea 1:1), and he willed simply to be the voice which uttered it. He was “content to live under the eyes of God, and, as to people, to be known only in what concerned their salvation.” But this he declares absolutely, that the Word of God came to him; in order that we may give faith to his prophecy, being well assured that what he predicted, would come to pass. So the Saviour Himself says, ““My words shall not pass away” Matthew 24:35. For truth admits of nothing false, and what God saith, will certainly be. For “He confirmeth the word of His servant, and performeth the counsel of His messengers” Isaiah 44:26. The prophet claimeth belief then, as speaking not out of his own heart, but out of the mouth of the Lord speaking in the Spirit.” Joel signifies, “The Lord is God.” It owns that God who had revealed Himself, is alone the God. The prophet’s name itself, embodied the truth, which, after the miraculous answer to Elijah’s prayer, all the people confessed, “The Lord He is the God, The Lord He is the God.” Pethuel signifies, “persuaded of God.” The addition of his father’s name distinguished the prophet from others of that name, as the son of Samuel, of king Uzziah, and others.
Hear this, ye old men - By reason of their age they had known and heard much; they had heard from their fathers, and their father’s fathers, much which they had not known themselves. Among the people of the east, memories of past times were handed down from generation to generation, for periods, which to us would seem incredible. Israel was commanded, so to transmit the vivid memories of the miracles of God. The prophet appeals “to the old men, to hear,” and, (lest, anything should seem to have escaped them) to the whole people of the land, to give their whole attention to this thing, which he was about to tell them, and then, reviewing all the evils which each had ever heard to have been inflicted by God upon their forefathers, to say whether this thing had happened in their days or in the days of their fathers.
Tell ye your children of it - In the order of God’s goodness, generation was to declare to generation the wonders of His love. “He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers that they should make them known to their children, that the generation to come might know them, the children which should be born, who should arise and declare them to their children that they might ... not forget the works of God” Psalms 78:5-19.78.7. This tradition of thankful memories God, as the Psalmist says, enforced in the law; “Take heed to thyself, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, but teach them thy sons and thy sons’ sons” (Deuteronomy 4:9; add Deuteronomy 6:6-5.6.7; Deuteronomy 11:19). This was the end of the memorial acts of the ritual, that their sons might inquire the meaning of them, the fathers tell them God’s wonders Deuteronomy 6:20-5.6.24. Now contrariwise, they are, generation to generation, to tell concerning it, this message of unheard-of woe and judgment. The memory of God’s deeds of love should have stirred them to gratitude; now He transmits to them memories of woe, that they might entreat God against them, and break off the sins which entail them.
That which the palmerworm hath left, hath the locust eaten - The creatures here spoken of are different kinds of locusts, so named from their number or voracity. We, who are free from this scourge of God, know them only by the generic name of locusts. But the law mentions several sorts of locusts, each after its kind, which might be eaten . In fact, above eighty different kinds of locusts have been observed , some of which are twice as large as that which is the ordinary scourge of God . Slight as they are in themselves, they are mighty in God’s Hand; beautiful and gorgeous as they are, floating in the sun’s rays , they are a scourge, including other plagues, famine, and often, pestilence.
Of the four kinds, here named by the prophet, that rendered “locust” is so called from its multitude, (from where Jeremiah says “they are more numerous than the locust” See Judges 6:5; Judges 7:12; Psalms 105:34; Nahum 3:15. It is a proverb in Arabic also)), and is, probably, the creature which desolates whole regions of Asia and Africa. The rest are named from their voracity, the “gnawer,” “licker,” “consumer,” but they are, beyond doubt, distinct kinds of that destroyer. And this is the characteristic of the prophet’s threatening, that he foretells a succession of destroyers, each more fatal than the preceding; and that, not according to the order of nature. For in all the observations which have been made of the locusts, even when successive flights have desolated the same land, they have always been successive clouds of the same creature.
Over and above the fact, then, that locusts are a heavy chastisement from God, these words of Joel form a sort of sacred proverb. They are the epitome of his whole prophecy. It is “this” which he had called the old men to hear, and to say whether they had known anything like “this;” that scourge came after scourge, judgment after judgment, until man yielded or perished. The visitation of locusts was one of the punishments threatened in the law, “Thou shall carry much seed out into the field, and shalt gather but little in, for the locust shall consume it” Deuteronomy 28:38. It was one of God’s ordinary punishments for sin, in that country, like famine, or pestilence, or blight, or mildew, or murrain, or (in this) potato disease. Solomon, accordingly, at the dedication of the temple mentions the locust among the other plagues, which he then solemnly entreated God to remove, when individuals or the whole people should spread forth their hands in penitence toward that house 1 Kings 8:37-11.8.38.
But the characteristic of “this” prophecy is the successiveness of the judgments, each in itself, desolating, and the later following quick upon the earlier, and completing their destructiveness. The judgments of God are linked together by an invisible chain, each drawing on the other; yet, at each link of the lengthening chain, allowing space and time for repentance to break it through. So in the plagues of Egypt, God, “executing His judgments upon them by little and little, gave them time for repentance” (Wisd. 12:10); yet, when Pharaoh hardened his heart, each followed on the other, until he perished in the Red Sea. In like way God said, “him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay; and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay” 1 Kings 19:17. So, in the Revelation, the “trumpets” are sounded Revelation 8:1-66.8.13; Revelation 9:0; Revelation 11:15, and “the vials of the wrath of God are poured out upon the earth, one after the other” Revelation 16:0. Actual locusts were very likely one of the scourges intended by the prophet. They certainly were not the whole; but pictured others fiercer, more desolating, more overwhelming. The proverbial dress gained and fixed people’s attention on the truth, which, if it had been presented to the people nakedly, they might have turned from. Yet as, in God’s wisdom, what is said generally, is often fulfilled specially, so here there were four great invaders which in succession wasted Judah; the Assyrian, Chaldaean, Macedonian and Roman.
Morally, also, four chief passions desolate successively the human heart. : “For what is designated by the “palmerworm,” which creeps with all its body on the ground, except it be lust, which so pollutes the heart which it possesses, that it cannot rise up to the love of heavenly purity? What is expressed by the “locust,” which flies by leaps, except vain glory which exalts itself with empty presumptions? What is typified by the “cankerworm,” almost the whole of whose body is gathered into its belly, except gluttony in eating? What but anger is indicated by mildew, which burns as it touches? What the “palmerworm” then “hath left the locust heath eaten,” because, when the sin of lust has retired from the mind, vain glory often succeeds. For since it is not now subdued by the love of the flesh, it boasts of itself, as if it were holy through its chastity. “And that which the locust hath left, the cankerworm hath eaten,” because when vain glory, which came, as it were, from holiness, is resisted, either the appetite, or some ambitious desires are indulged in too immoderately. For the mind which knows not God, is led the more fiercely to any object of ambition, in proportion as it is not restrained by any love of human praise. “That which the cankerworm hath left,” the mildew consumes, because when the gluttony of the belly is restrained by abstinence, the impatience of anger holds fiercer sway, which, like mildew, eats up the harvest by burning it, because the flame of impatience withers the fruit of virtue. When then some vices succeed to others, one plague devours the field of the mind, while another leaves it.”
Awake, ye drunkards, and weep - All sin stupefies the sinner. All intoxicate the mind, bribe and pervert the judgment, dull the conscience, blind the soul and make it insensible to its own ills. All the passions, anger, vain glory, ambition, avarice and the rest are a spiritual drunkenness, inebriating the soul, as strong drink doth the body. : “They are called drunkards, who, confused with the love of this world, feel not the ills which they suffer. What then is meant by, “Awake, ye drunkards and weep,” but, ‘shake off the sleep of your insensibility, and oppose by watchful lamentations the many plagues of sins, which succeed one to the other in the devastation of your hearts?’” God arouse those who will be aroused, by withdrawing from them the pleasures wherein they offended Him. Awake, the prophet cries, from the sottish slumber of your drunkenness; awake to weep and howl, at least when your feverish enjoyments are dashed from your lips. Weeping for things temporal may awaken to the fear of losing things eternal.
For a nation is come up upon my land - He calls this scourge of God a “nation,” giving them the title most used in Holy Scripture, of pagan nations. The like term, “people, folk,” is used of the “ants” and the “conies” Proverbs 30:25-20.30.26, for the wisdom with which God teaches them to act. Here it is used, in order to include at once, the irrational invader, guided by a Reason above its own, and the pagan conqueror. This enemy, he says, is “come up” (for the land as being God’s land, was exalted in dignity, above other lands,) “upon My land,” i. e. “the Lord’s land” Hosea 9:3, hitherto owned protected as God’s land, a land which, Moses said to them, “the Lord thy God careth for; the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year” Deuteronomy 11:12. Now it was to be bared of God’s protection, and to be trampled upon by a pagan foe.
Strong and without number - The figure is still from the locust, whose numbers are wholly countless by man. Travelers sometimes use likenesses to express their number, as clouds darkening the sun (see the note at Joel 2:10) or discharging flakes of snow ; some grave writers give it up, as hopeless. : “Their multitude is incredible, whereby they cover the earth and fill the air; they take away the brightness of the sun. I say again, the thing is incredible to one who has not seen them.” “It would not be a thing to be believed, if one had not seen it.” “On another day, it was beyond belief: they occupied a space of eight leagues (about 24 English miles). I do not mention the multitude of those without wings, because it is incredible.” : “When we were in the Seignory of Abrigima, in a place called Aquate, there came such a multitude of locusts, as cannot be said. They began to arrive one day about terce (nine) and until night they cease not to arrive; and when they arrived, they bestowed themselves. On the next day at the hour of prime they began to depart, and at mid-day there was not one, and there remained not a leaf on the trees. At this instant others began to come, and staved like the others to the next day at the same hour; and these left not a stick with its bark, nor a green herb, and thus did they five days one after another; and the people said that they were the sons, who went to seek their fathers, and they took the road toward the others which had no wings. After they were gone, we knew the breadth which they had occupied, and saw the destruction which they had made, it exceeded three leagues (nine miles) wherein there remained no bark on the trees.”
Another writes of South Africa ; “Of the innumerable multitudes of the incomplete insect or larva of the locusts, which at this time infested this part of Africa, no adequate idea could be conceived without having witnessed them. For the space of ten miles on each side of the Sea-Cow river, and eighty or ninety miles in length, an area of 16, or 1800 square miles, the whole surface might literally be said to be covered with them. The water of the river was scarcely visible on account of the dead carcasses which floated on the surface, drowned in the attempt to come at the weeds which grew in it.” : “The present year is the third of their continuance, and their increase has far exceeded that of a geometrical progression whose whole ratio is a million.” A writer of reputation says of a “column of locusts” in India ; “It extended, we were informed, 500 miles, and so compact was it when on the wing, that, like an eclipse, it completely hid the sun; so that no shadow was cast by any object, and some lofty tombs, not more than 200 yards distant, were rendered quite invisible.”
In one single neighborhood, even in Germany, it was once calculated that near 17,000,000 of their eggs were collected and destroyed . Even Volney writes of those in Syria , “the quantity of these insects is a thing incredible to anyone who has not seen it himself; the ground is covered with them for several leagues.” “The steppes,” says Clarke , an incredulous traveler, “were entirely covered by their bodies, and their numbers falling resembled flakes of snow, carried obliquely by the wind, and spreading thick mists over the sun. Myriads fell over the carriage, the horses, the drivers. The Tartars told us, that persons had been suffocated by a fall of locusts on the “steppes.” It was now the season, they added, in which they began to diminish.” : “It was incredible, that their breadth was eight leagues.”
Strong - The locust is remarkable for its long flights. “Its strength of limbs is amazing; when pressed down by the hand on the table, it has almost power to move the fingers” .
Whose teeth are the teeth of a lion - The teeth of the locust are said to be “harder than stone.” : “They appear to be created for a scourge; since to strength incredible for so small a creature, they add saw-like teeth admirably calculated to “eat up all the herbs in the land.”” Some near the Senegal, are described as “quite brown, of the thickness and length of a finger, and armed with two jaws, toothed like a saw, and very powerful.” The prophet ascribes to them the sharp or prominent eye-teeth of the lion and lioness, combining strength with number. The ideal of this scourge of God is completed by blending numbers, in which creatures so small only could exist together, with the strength of the fiercest. : “Weak and short-lived is man, yet when God is angered against a sinful people, what mighty power does He allow to man against it!” “And what more cruel than those who endeavor to slay souls, turning them from the Infinite and Eternal Good, and so dragging them to the everlasting torments of Hell?”
He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree - This describes an extremity of desolation. The locusts at first attack all which is green and succulent; when this has been consumed, then they attack the bark of trees. : “When they have devoured all other vegetables, they attack the trees, consuming first the leaves, then the bark.” : “A day or two after one of these bodies were in motion, others were already hatched to glean after them, gnawing off the young branches and the very bark of such trees as had escaped before with the loss only of their fruit and foliage.” : “They carried desolation wherever they passed. After having consumed herbage, fruit, leaves of trees, they attacked even their young shoots and their bark. Even the reeds, wherewith the huts were thatched, though quite dry, were not spared.” : “Everything in the country was devoured; the bark of figs, pomegranates, and oranges, bitter hard and corrosive, escaped not their voracity.” The effects of this wasting last on for many years .
He hath made it clean bare - o: “It is sufficient, if these terrible columns stop half an hour on a spot, for everything growing on it, vines, olive trees, and grain, to be entirely destroyed. After they have passed, nothing remains but the large branches, and the roots which, being under ground, have escaped their voracity.” : “After eating up the corn, they fell upon the vines, the pulse, the willows and even the hemp, notwithstanding its great bitterness.” : “They are particularly injurious to the palm trees; these they strip of every leaf and green particle, the trees remaining like skeletons with bare branches.” : “The bushes were eaten quite bare, though the animals could not have been long on the spot. They sat by hundreds on a bush gnawing the rind and the woody fibres.”
The branches thereof are made white - o: “The country did not seem to be burnt, but to be much covered with snow, through the whiteness of the trees and the dryness of the herbs. It pleased God that the fresh crops were already gathered in.”
The “vine” is the well-known symbol of God’s people Psalms 80:8, Psalms 80:14; Song of Solomon 2:13, Song of Solomon 2:15; Hosea 10:1; Isaiah 5:1-23.5.7; Isaiah 27:2; the fig too, by reason of its sweetness, is an emblem of His Church and of each soul in her, bringing forth the fruit of grace Hosea 9:10; Matthew 21:19; Luke 13:6-42.13.7. When then God says, “he hath laid My vine waste,” He suggests to us, that He is not speaking chiefly of the visible tree, but of that which it represents. The locusts, accordingly, are not chiefly the insects, which bark the actual trees, but every enemy which wastes the heritage of God, which He calls by those names. His vineyard, the Jewish people, was outwardly and repeatedly desolated by the Chaldaens, Antiochus Epiphanes, and afterward by the Romans. The vineyard, which the Jews had, was, (as Jesus foretold,) let out to other farmers when they had killed Him; and, thenceforth, is the Christian Church, and, subordinately each soul in her. : “Pagan and heretical Emperors and heresiarchs wasted often the Church of Christ. antichrist shall waste it. They who have wasted her are countless. For the Psalmist says, “They who hate me without a cause are more than the hair’s of my head” Psalms 69:4.
: “The nation which cometh up against the soul, are the princes of this world and of darkness and spiritual wickedness in high places, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, of whom the Apostle Peter saith, “Our adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour” 1 Peter 5:8. If we give way to this nation, so that they should come up in us, immediately they will make our vineyard where we were accustomed to make “wine to gladden the heart of man” Psalms 104:15, a desert, and bark or break our fig tree, that we should no more have in us those most sweet gifts of the Holy Spirit. Nor is it enough for that nation to destroy the vineyard and break the fig tree, unless it also destroy whatever there is of life in it, so that, its whole freshness being consumed. the switches remain white and dead, and that be fulfilled in us, “If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” Luke 23:31. : “The Church, at least apart of it, is turned into a desert, deprived of spiritual goods, when the faithful are led, by consent to sin, to forsake God. “The fig tree is barked,” when the soul which once abounded with sweetest goods and fruits of the Holy Spirit, hath those goods lessened or cut off. Such are they who, having “begun in the Spirit” Galatians 3:3, are perfected by the flesh.”
“ By spirits lying in wait, the vineyard of God is made a desert, when the soul, replenished with fruits, is wasted with longing for the praise of people. That “people barks” the “fig tree” of God, in that, carrying away the misguided soul to a thirst for applause, in proportion as it draws her on to ostentation, it strips her of the covering of humility. “Making it clean bare, it despoils it,” in that, so long as it lies hidden in its goodness, it is, as it were, clothed with a covering of its own, which protects it. But when the mind longs that which it has done should be seen by others, it is as though “the fig tree despoiled” had lost the bark that covered it. And so, as it follows, “The branches thereof are made white;” in that his works, displayed to the eyes of people, have a bright show; a name for sanctity is gotten, when good actions are published. But as, upon the bark being removed, the branches of the fig tree wither, so observe that the deeds of the arrogant, paraded before human eyes, wither through the very act of socking to please. Therefore the mind which is betrayed through boastfulness is rightly called a fig tree barked, in that it is at once fair to the eye, as being seen, and within a little of withering, as being bared of the covering of the bark. Within, then, must our deeds be laid up, if we look to a reward of our deeds from Him who seeth within.”
Lament like a virgin - The prophet addresses the congregation of Israel, as one espoused to God ; “‘Lament thou,’ daughter of Zion,” or the like. He bids her lament, with the bitterest of sorrows, as one who, in her virgin years, was just knit into one with the husband of her youth, and then at once was, by God’s judgment, on the very day of her espousal, ere yet she ceased to be a virgin, parted by death. The mourning which God commands is not one of conventional or becoming mourning, but that of one who has put away all joy from her, and takes the rough garment of penitence, girding the haircloth upon her, enveloping and embracing, and therewith, wearing the whole frame. The haircloth was a coarse, rough, formless, garment, girt close round the waist, afflictive to the flesh, while it expressed the sorrow of the soul. God regarded as a virgin, the people which He had made holy to Himself Jeremiah 2:2.
He so regards the soul which He has regenerated and sanctified. The people, by their idolatry, lost Him who was a Husband to them; the soul, by inordinate affections, is parted from its God. : “God Almighty was the Husband of the synagogue, having espoused it to Himself in the patriarchs and at the giving of the law. So long as she did not, through idolatry and other heavy sins, depart from God, she was a spouse in the integrity of mind, in knowledge, in love and worship of the true God.” : “The Church is a Virgin; Christ her Husband. By prevailing sins, the order, condition, splendor, worship of the Church, are, through negligence, concupiscence, avarice, irreverence, worsened, deformed, obscured.” “The soul is a virgin by its creation in nature; a virgin by privilege of grace; a virgin also by hope of glory. Inordinate desire maketh the soul a harlot; manly penitence restoreth to her chastity; wise innocence, virginity. For the soul recovereth a sort of chastity, when through thirst for righteousness, she undertakes the pain and fear of penitence; still she is not as yet raised to the eminence of innocence. - In the first state she is exposed to concupiscence; in the second, she doth works of repentance; in the third, bewailing her Husband, she is filled with the longing for righteousness; in the fourth, she is gladdened by virgin embraces and the kiss of Wisdom. For Christ is the Husband of her youth, the Betrother of her virginity. But since she parted from Him to evil concupiscence, she is monished to return to Him by sorrow and the works and garb of repentance.” : “So should every Christian weep who has lost Baptismal grace, or has fallen back after repentance, and, deprived of the pure embrace of the heavenly Bridegroom, embraced instead these earthly things which are as dunghills Lamentations 4:5, having been brought up in scarlet, and being in honor, had no understanding Psalms 49:12, Psalms 49:20. Whence it is written, “let tears run down like a river day and night; give thyself no rest” Lamentations 2:18. Such was he who said; rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not Thy law” Psalms 119:136.
The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off - The meat offering and drink offering were part of every sacrifice. If the materials for these, the grain and wine, ceased, through locusts or drought or the wastings of war, the sacrifice must become mangled and imperfect. The priests were to mourn for the defects of the sacrifice; they lost also their own subsistence, since the altar was, to them, in place of all other inheritance. The meat and drink offerings were emblems of the materials of the holy eucharist, by which Malachi foretold that, when God had rejected the offering of the Jews, there should be a “pure offering” among the pagan Joel 1:11. When then holy communions become rare, the meat and drink offering are literally cut off from the house of the Lord, and those who are indeed priests, the ministers of the Lord, should mourn. Joel foretells that, however love should wax cold, there should ever be such. He forsees and foretells at once, the failure, and the grief of the priests. Nor is it an idle regret which he foretells, but a mourning unto their God. : “Both meat offering and drink offering hath perished from the house of God, not in actual substance but as to reverence, because, amid the prevailing iniquity there is scarcely found in the Church, who should duly celebrate, or receive the sacraments.”
The field is wasted, the land mourneth - As, when God pours out His blessings of nature, all nature seems to smile and be glad, and as the Psalmist says, “to shout for joy and sing” Psalms 65:13, so when He withholds them, it seems to mourn, and, by its mourning, to reproach the insensibility of man. Oil is the emblem of the abundant graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit, and of the light and devotion of soul given by Him, and spiritual gladness, and overflowing, all-mantling charity.
Be ye ashamed, O ye farmers - The prophet dwells on and expands the description of the troubles which he had foretold, setting before their eyes the picture of one universal dessolation. For the details of sorrow most touch the heart, and he wished to move them to repentance. He pictures them to themselves; some standing aghast and ashamed of the fruitlessness of their toil others giving way to bursts of sorrow, and all things around waste and dried. Nothing was exempt. Wheat and barley, widespread as they were (and the barley in those countries, “more fertile” than the wheat,) perished utterly. The rich juice of the vine, the luscious sweetness of the fig the succulence of the ever-green pomegranate, the majesty of the palm tree, the fragrance of the eastern apple, exempted them not. All, fruitbearing or barren, were dried up, for joy itself, and every source of joy was dried up from the sons of men.
All these suggest a spiritual meaning. For we know of a spiritual harvest, souls born to God, and a spiritual vineyard, the Church of God; and spiritual farmers and vinedressers, those whom God sends. The trees, with their various fruits were emblems of the faithful, adorned with the various gifts and graces of the Spirit. All well-nigh were dried up. Wasted without, in act and deed, the sap of the Spirit ceased within; the true laborers, those who were jealous for the vineyard of the Lord of hosts were ashamed and grieved. : “Husbandmen” and “vinedressers,” are priests and preachers; “farmers” as instructors in morals, “vinedressers” for that joy in things eternal, which they infuse into the minds of the bearers. “Husbandmen,” as instructing the soul to deeds of righteousness; vinedressers, as exciting the minds of hearers to the love of wisdom. Or, “farmers,” in that by their doctrine they uproot earthly deeds and desires; “vinedressers,” as holding forth spiritual gifts.” “The vine is the richness of divine knowledge; the fig the sweetness of contemplation and the joyousness in things eternal.” The pomegranate, with its manifold grains contained under its one bark, may designate the variety and harmony of graces, disposed in their beautiful order. “The palm, rising above the world.” : “Well is the life of the righteous likened to a palm, in that the palm below is rough to the touch, and in a manner enveloped in dry bark, but above it is adorned with fruit, fair even to the eye; below it is compressed by the enfoldings of its bark; above, it is spread nut in amplitude of beautiful greenness. For so is the life of the elect, despised below, beautiful above. Down below, it is, as it were, enfolded in many barks, in that it is straitened by innumerable afflictions. But on high it is expanded into a foliage, as it were, of beautiful greenness by the amplitude of the rewarding.”
Because joy is withered away - o: “There are four sorts of joy, a joy in iniquity, a joy in vanity, a joy of charity, a joy of felicity. Of the first we read, “Who rejoice to do evil, and delight in the forwardness of the wicked Proverbs 2:14. Of the second, “They take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ” Job 21:12. Of the third, “Let the saints be joyful in glory” Psalms 149:5. Of the fourth, “Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house; they will be still praising Thee” Psalms 84:4. The joy of charity and the joy of felicity “wither from the sons of men,” when the virtues aforesaid failing, there being neither knowledge of the truth nor love of virtue, no reward succeedeth, either in this life or that to come.”
Having thus pictured the coming woe, he calls all to repentance and mourning, and those first, who were to call others. God Himself appointed these afflictive means, and here He “gives to the priest a model for penitence and a way of entreating mercy.” : “He invites the priests first to repentance through whose negligence chiefly the practice of holiness, the strictness of discipline, the form of doctrine, the whole aspect of the Church was sunk in irreverence. Whence the people also perished, hurrying along the various haunts of sin. Whence Jeremiah says, “The kings of the earth and all the inhabitants of the world would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem. For the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests that have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her, they have wandered as blind men in the streets, they have polluted themselves with blood Lamentations 4:13-25.4.14.
Gird yourselves - that is, with haircloth, as is elsewhere expressed Isaiah 22:12; Jeremiah 4:8; Jeremiah 6:26. The outward affliction is an expression of the inward grief, and itself excites to further grief. This their garment of affliction and penitence, they were not to put off day and night. Their wonted duty was to “offer up sacrifice for their own sins and the sins of the people” Hebrews 7:27, and to entreat God for them. This their office the prophet calls them to discharge day and night; to “come” into the court of the temple, and there, where God showed Himself in majesty and mercy, “lie all night” prostrate before God, not at ease, but in sackcloth. He calls to them in the Name of his God, “Ye ministers of my God;” of Him, to whom, whosoever forsook Him, he himself was faithful. : “The prophets called the God of all, their own God, being united to Him by singular love and reverential obedience, so that they could say, “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” Psalms 73:26. He calls Him, further, “their” God, (your God) in order to remind them of His special favor to them, and their duty to Him who allowed them to call Him “their” God.
Sanctify ye a fast - He does not say only, “proclaim,” or “appoint a fast,” but “sanctify it.” Hallow the act of abstinence, seasoning it with devotion and with acts meet for repentance. For fasting is not accepted by God, unless done in charity and obedience to His commands. : “Sanctify” it, i. e., make it an offering to God, and as it were a sacrifice, a holy and blameless fast.” : “To sanctify a fast is to exhibit abstinence of the flesh, meet toward God, with other good. Let anger cease, strife be lulled. For in vain is the flesh worn, if the mind is not held in from evil passions, inasmuch as the Lord saith by the prophet, “Lo! in the day of your fast you find your pleasures” Isaiah 58:3. The fast which the Lord approveth, is that which lifteth up to Him hands full of almsdeeds, which is passed with brotherly love, which is seasoned by piety. What thou substractest from thyself, bestow on another, that thy needy neighbor’s flesh may be recruited by means of that which thou deniest to thine own.”
Call a solemn assembly - Fasting without devotion is an image of famine. At other times “the solemn assembly” was for festival-joy. Such was the last day of the feast of the Passover Deuteronomy 16:8 and of tabernacles Leviticus 23:36; Num 29:35; 2 Chronicles 7:9; Nehemiah 8:18. No servile work was to be done thereon. It was then to be consecrated to thanksgving, but now to sorrow and supplication. : “The prophet commands that all should be called and gathered into the Temple, that so the prayer might be the rather heard, the more they were who offered it. Wherefore the Apostle besought his disciples to pray for him, that so what was asked might be obtained the more readily through the intercession of many.”
Gather the elders - Age was, by God’s appointment Leviticus 19:32, held in great reverence among the Hebrews. When first God sent Moses and Aaron to His people in Egypt, He bade them collect the elders of the people (Exodus 3:16; Exodus 4:29, compare Deuteronomy 31:28) to declare to them their own mission from God; through them He conveyed the ordinance of the Passover to the whole congregation Exodus 12:3, Exodus 12:21; in their presence was the first miracle of bringing water from the rock performed (Exodus 17:5, add Exodus 18:12); then He commanded Moses to choose seventy of them, to appear before Him before He gave the law Exodus 24:1, Exodus 24:9; then to bear Moses’ own burden in hearing the causes of the people, bestowing His spirit upon them (Numbers 11:16 ff). The elders of each city were clothed with judicial authority Deuteronomy 19:12; Deuteronomy 22:15; Deuteronomy 25:7. In the expiation of an uncertain murder, the elders of the city represented the whole city Deuteronomy 21:3-5.21.6; in the offerings for the congregation, the elders of the congregation represented the whole Leviticus 4:15; Leviticus 9:1.
So then, here also, they are summoned, chief of all, that “the authority and example of their grey hairs might move the young to repentance.” : “Their age, near to death and ripened in grace, makes them more apt for the fear and worship of God.” All however, “priests, elders,” and the “inhabitants,” or “people of the land” Jeremiah 1:18, were to form one band, and were, with one heart and voice, to cry unto God; and that “in the house of God.” For so Solomon had prayed, that God would “in heaven His dwelling place, hear whatever prayer and supplication” might there be “made by any man or by all His people Israel” 1 Kings 8:39; and God had promised in turn, “I have hallowed this house which thou hast built, to put My name there for ever, and Mine eyes and Mine heart shall be there perpetually” 1 Kings 9:3. God has given to united prayer a power over Himself, and “prayer overcometh God” . The prophet calls God “your” God, showing how ready He was to hear; but he adds, “cry unto the Lord;” for it is not a listless prayer, but a loud earnest cry, which reacheth to the throne of God.
Alas for the day! for the Day of the Lord is at hand - The judgment of God, then, which they were to deprecate, was still to come. : “All times and all days are God’s. Yet they are said to be our days, in which God leaves us to our own freedom, to do as we will,” and which we may use to repent and turn to Him. “Whence Christ saith, ‘O Jerusalem - if thou hadst known in this thy day the things which belong unto thy peace’ Luke 19:42. That time, on the contrary, is said to be God’s Day, in which He doth any new, rare, or special thing, such as is the Day of Judgment or vengeance.” All judgment in time is an image of the Judgment for eternity. “The Day of the Lord” is, then, each “day of vengeance in which God doth to man according to His will and just judgment, inflicting the punishment which he deserves, as man did to Him in his day, manifoldly dishonoring Him, according to his own perverse will.” That Day “is at hand;” suddenly to come. Speed then must be used to prevent it. Prevented it may be by speedy repentance before it comes; but when it does come, there will be no avoiding it, for
As a destruction from the Almighty shall it come - The name “the Almighty” or “God Almighty” is but seldom used in Holy Scripture. God revealed Himself by this Name to Abraham, when renewing to him the promise which was beyond nature, that he should be a father of many nations, when he and Sarah were old and well stricken in age. He said, I am God Almighty; walk before Me and be thou perfect Genesis 17:1-1.17.6, Genesis 17:16-1.17.21; Genesis 18:10-1.18.14; Romans 4:17-45.4.21. God Almighty uses it again of Himself in renewing the blessing to Jacob Genesis 35:11; and Isaac and Jacob use it in blessing in His Name Genesis 28:3; Genesis 43:14; Genesis 48:3; Genesis 49:25. It is not used as a mere name of God, but always in reference to His might, as in the book of Job which treats chiefly of His power . In His days of judgment God manifests Himself as the All-mighty and All-just. Hence, in the New Testament, it occurs almost exclusively in the Revelations, which reveal His judgments to come . Here the words form a sort of terrible proverb, from where they are adopted from Joel by the prophet Isaiah Isaiah 13:6. The word “destruction, שׁד shôd,” is formed from the same root as “Almighty, שׁדי shadday. It shall come as might from the Mighty.” Only, the word “might” is always used of “might” put forth to destroy, a “mighty destruction.” He says then, in fact, that that Day shall come, like might put forth by the Almighty Himself; to destroy His enemies, irresistible, inevitable, unendurable, overwhelming the sinner.
Is not the meat cut off before our eyes? - The prophet exhibits the immediate judgment, as if it were already fullilled in act. He sets it in detail before their eyes. “When the fruits of the earth were now ripe, the grain now calling for the reaper, and the grapes fully ripe and desiring to be pressed out, they were taken away, when set before their eyes for them to enjoy.” Yea, “joy and gladness from the house of our God.” The joy in the abundance of the harvest was expressed in one universal thanksgiving to God, by fathers of families, sons, daughters, menservants, maidservants, with the priest and Levite. All this was to be cut off together. The courts of God’s house were to be desolate and silent, or joy and gladness were to be turned into sorrow and wailing.
: “So it befell those who rejected and insulted Christ. “The Bread of life Which came down from heaven and gave life to the world John 6:48, John 6:51, the grain of wheat, which fell into the ground and died, and brought forth much fruit” John 12:24, that spiritual “wine” which knoweth how to “gladden the heart of man,” was already in a manner before their eyes. But when they ceased not to insult Him in unbelief, He, as it were, disappeared from their eyes, and they lost all spiritual sustenance. All share in all good is gone from them. “Joy and gladness” have also gone “from the House” which they had. For they are given up to desolation, and “abide without king or prince or sacrifice” Hosea 3:4. Again, the Lord said, “Man, shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which cometh forth out of the Mouth of God” Matthew 4:4. The word of God then is food. This hath been taken away from the Jews, for they understood not the writings of Moses, but “to this day the veil is upon their heart” 2 Corinthians 3:15. For they hate the oracles of Christ. All spiritual food is perished, not in itself but to “them.” To them, it is as though it were not. But the Lord Himself imparts to these who believe in Him a right to all exuberance of joy in the good tilings from above. For it is written, “The Lord will not suffer the soul of the righteous to famish; but He thrusts away the desire of the wicked” Proverbs 10:3.
The seed is rotten under the clods - Not only was all to be cut off for the present, but, with it, all hope for the future. The scattered seed, as it lay, each under its clod known to God, was dried up, and so decayed. The garners lay desolate, nay, were allowed to go to ruin, in hopelessness of any future harvest.
How do the beasts groan! - There is something very pitiable in the cry of the brute creation, even because they are innocent, yet bear man’s guilt. Their groaning seems to the prophet to be beyond expression. How vehemently do they “groan! The herds of cattle are perplexed,” as though, like man, they were endued with reason, to debate where to find their food. Yea, not these only, but the flocks of sheep, which might find pasture where the herds could not, these too shall bear the punishment of guilt. They suffered by the guilt of man; and yet so stupid was man, that he was not so sensible of his own win for which they suffered, as they of its effect. The beasts cried to God, but even their cries did not awaken His own people. The prophet cries for them;
O Lord, to Thee will I cry - This is the only hope left, and contains all hopes. From the Lord was the infliction; in Him is the healing. The prophet appeals to God by His own Name, the faithful Fulfiller of His promises, Him who Is, and who had promised to hear all who call upon Him. Let others call to their idols, if they would, or remain stupid and forgetful, the prophet would cry unto God, and that earnestly.
For the fire hath devoured the pastures - The gnawing of locusts leaves things, as though scorched by fire (see the note at Joel 2:3); the sun and the east wind scorch up all green things, as though it had been the actual contact of fire. Spontaneous combustion frequently follows. The Chaldees wasted all before them with fire and sword. All these and the like calamities are included under “the fire,” whose desolating is without remedy. What has been scorched by fire never recovers . “The famine,” it is said of Mosul, “was generally caused by fire spreading in dry weather over pastures, grass lands, and grain lands, many miles in extent. It burnt night and day often for a week and sometimes embraced the whole horizon.”
The beasts of the field cry also unto Thee - o: “There is an order in these distresses. First he points out the insensate things wasted; then those afflicted, which have sense only; then those endowed with reason; so that to the order of calamity there may be consorted an order of pity, sparing first the creature, then the things sentient, then things rational. The Creator spares the creature; the Ordainer, things sentient; the Saviour, the rational.” Irrational creatures joined with the prophet in his cry. The beasts of the field cry to God, though they know it not; it is a cry to God, who compassionates all which suffers. God makes them, in act, a picture of dependence upon His Providence, “seeking to It for a removal of their sufferings, and supply of their needs.” So He saith, “the young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God” Psalms 104:21, and, “He giveth to the beast his food and to the young ravens that cry” Psalms 147:9, and, “Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God” Job 38:41. If the people would not take instruction from him, he “bids them learn from the beasts of the field how to behave amid these calamities, that they should cry aloud to God to remove them.”
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Joel 1". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany