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Notes on the Prophecy of Joel
Of Joel the son of Pethuel we know nothing, save what little we can glean from the three chapters forming his message to Israel. Jewish tradition places him in the days of Uzziah; but authoritative proof there is none. His name means, Jehovah is God; and his father’s name, Vision, or, Wisdom of God, according to some; or, Be ye enlarged (or persuaded), according to another.
The immediate circumstances of his testimony seem to be these. The land of Israel had been visited by a terrible plague of locusts, which had devoured every green thing, leaving barrenness and famine in their wake. Joel is inspired of God to press home upon the consciences of the nation of Judah (for it is in and to the southern kingdom he prophesies) the fact that this visitation was from the Lord, because of the sin of His people.
Then, by the Spirit, he is carried on to the last days, and he beholds in the dire calamity by which they were afflicted a picture of the time of Jacob’s trouble, to take place ere Messiah receives the kingdom. Thus the then present desolation becomes the text of a solemn prophetic discourse that is far-reaching in character. This emphasizes what has already been noticed in our study of Hosea, that while prophecy is in many parts, and may have many applications, it is never limited to local matters, but all has its end and complete fulfilment in “the day of the Lord” yet to come.
Another principle of grave moment is likewise brought to our attention by the manner in which the prophet seeks to use the calamity the people were suffering under at the time, to exercise them as to their own state of soul. God would ever have His children recognize His hand in all such visitations. For the believer, there are no second causes. The Lord has said, “I Jehovah create peace, and create evil.” And He asks the question, “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” (Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6). Evil, in both these passages, is, of course, calamity-the opposite of a peaceful, quiet condition. If I am called to pass through such experiences, it is because God has seen a need in my soul for just such disciplinary dealings. He has my best interests at heart. Be it mine then to recognize His actings and to be exercised thereby. This is the lesson of Hebrews 12:0, and is emphasized in the use Joel makes of Judah’s afflictions in this brief but pungent prophecy.
Further remarks will be necessitated on this line as we pursue our study; so we turn at once to consider the teachings of the three stirring chapters of the book itself. May He who alone gives the eye-salve of the Spirit anoint our eyes that we may see wondrous things in His Word now before us!
The Locust Plague
The ancients of Judah are first addressed, and called upon to declare if, in all their recollection, or in all the days of which their fathers had told them, there had ever been so grievous a visitation as that which the land and the people were groaning under at the time when Joel was sent to press home upon their consciences the serious lessons God would have them to learn (vers. 1-3).
“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” (ver. 4). Thus the destruction of every green thing had been complete, so that famine and utter ruin stared them in the face. The various forms of insect-life here spoken of are not generally supposed to be diverse, unrelated creatures, but are probably the various stages assumed by the locust as it advances from the larvae form to that of maturity.17 This much-dreaded plague had therefore cut off all the sources of food-supply, and left an appalling scene of desolation behind. And what was so intensely solemn was the fact that it was God’s voice, and there was grave likelihood that the people might be occupied only with the rod, and fail to hear Him who had appointed it.
Nothing is more natural for us than this. In place of godly exercise, we may give way to self-pity, or hard, stony indifference; thus either fainting under the discipline of the Lord on the one hand, or despising it on the other. Blessing results from being “exercised thereby.” This was what Judah was in danger of missing, as with many others before and since.
The pleasure-loving drunkards, who delighted in their wine, were called upon to awake to the realization of their true condition-God’s stroke upon them; and to learn the lesson He intended for them. His great army, like a nation of foe-men, “strong and without number,” had blasted the vine and barked the fig tree, so that the source of their carnal enjoyment was gone (vers. 5-7).
Like a virgin girded with sackcloth, lamenting the untimely death of her betrothed husband, they were called upon to mourn over the sins that had drawn down the judgment of God upon them. His house too was affected; for there that judgment must begin. The meat, or meal-offering, and the drink-offering were cut off, and the priests were left to mourn. When God’s people are in a famished condition, there is no real appreciation of Christ; hence the oblations cease to be offered. The meal-offering sets forth the manhood of the Lord Jesus. The drink-offering portrays His pouring out His soul unto death. But a spiritual famine dulls the perception and sensibilities of those indebted to His one offering for all their blessing; so the gifts of a worshiping people cease (vers. 8, 9).
The desolate condition of the land is vividly described in verses 10 to 12. All the fruits of the field were gone, and the trees had withered away; even as joy had departed from the sons of men. Therefore the solemn admonition to those whose place it was to minister for them in things pertaining to God: “Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests: howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meat-offering and the drink-offering is withholden from the house of your God” (ver. 13). Insensibility at such a time!-how obnoxious to God, who wished to see a true appreciation of His dealings with His people.
So he calls upon the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to sanctify a fast, and call a solemn assembly, that they may unitedly cry unto the Lord, owning before His face their common failure, and judging their evil ways (ver. 14). The approaching day of the Lord is mentioned as an incentive to this. Not that the day of the Lord (which, in its full, prophetic sense, refers to the revelation of Jesus Christ to usher in the kingdom) was really to occur in their time; but as that day will be for the manifestation of all that has been in accordance with the mind of God, they were called upon to act then in the light of the day that was coming (ver. 15). In like manner are Christians exhorted to walk now in view of the day of Christ, when all our works shall be examined at His judgment-seat. The all-displaying light of that hour of manifestation should ever be shining upon our pathway, that all our steps may be ordered in accord therewith.
Throughout the book of Joel this is the standpoint of the prophet. The day of the Lord is coming. It will be the day of reality; when all shams and all hypocrisy will be manifested as what they are. Then, only what is of God will stand. Therefore the prime importance of ordering all their behavior so that it will bear the searching test of Him whose eyes are as a flame of fire.
In verses 16 to 18 the desolate condition of the land is again reverted to. All their hopes have been blasted. The blight is upon all for which they have labored. But serious as their temporal condition had become, it was as nothing compared to the spiritual dearth prevailing, of which their utter insensibility was the saddest feature.
Joel speaks as an exercised soul in the closing words of the chapter. He takes his place as one who feels the wretched conditions existing to the full: “O Lord, to Thee will I cry!” This alone can be his resource when “the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness.”
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Joel 1". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany