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The Grounds For Seeing Chapter 1 As Referring To Real Locusts And Chapter 2 As Referring To An Invading Army.
Clearly the arguments above support the first part of this position, and the second part is based on the kind of language used in chapter 2. This would be a fairly strong case if all that was in mind was a visit by flying locusts, but descriptions such as Dr Thomson’s (see above) of the creeping army of young wingless locusts helps to vividly explain that language. Indeed as we shall see, it brings chapter 2 alive. On the other hand, once the metaphorical idea of an army is removed, the remainder of the language clearly refers to the activities of insects as witnessed by Joel himself and vividly portrayed.
The Grounds For Seeing Both Chapters As Referring To Human Armies.
This view demands a leap of the imagination from what is presented in chapter 1 to the idea of human armies, and is usually held by those who interpret Joel in accordance with their own pre-conceived notions. Apart from the use of the word ‘nation’, which can be explained otherwise (compare its use in Zephaniah 2:14 where it means different species of animals in their groupings, and the reference to different species of creatures as a ‘people’ in Proverbs 30:25-27), there are really no grounds in chapter 1 for considering that it speaks of a human army, and it is noteworthy that the devastations described all adequately apply to insects like locusts, while nothing of what we would see as characteristic of humans (killing, rape, use of the sword, taking captives, etc.), is found anywhere in the narrative (of either chapter 1 or chapter 2). Note how all through it is only natural things that are affected, together with the provision of meal and wine for Temple offerings, with not a word said of any other effects. If Joel wanted us to think that he had locusts in mind he has certainly made a good job of it.
‘The word of YHWH which came to Joel the son of Pethuel.’
The whole prophecy is summed up in these words. It is to be seen as ‘the word of YHWH’, that is, as God speaking directly to Judah. And He did it through Joel (‘YHWH is God’), the son of Pethuel (who is otherwise unknown).
The Call To Hear What God Has To Say (Joel 1:2-5 ).
The prophecy opens with a call to all in Judah to hear what God has to say. The opening call has in mind Exodus 10:1-2 which, in the context of a plague of locusts, says, ‘Then YHWH said to Moses, --- “And that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am YHWH.” Here Joel similarly calls on the old men, and all the inhabitants of the land, to recognise the uniqueness of the occasion, and pass on what they learn to those who will follow them, for he wants them to see that it is a judgment from YHWH, a warning shot concerning what is to come in even greater measure in the final Day of YHWH.
The judgment that they have experienced is then portrayed in terms of huge plagues of locusts, both of flying locusts and of hopping locusts, possibly following one after another in vast numbers, which have eaten up all that is in the land and left it desolated.
Analysis of Joel 1:2-5 .
a Hear this, you old men, and give ear, all you inhabitants of the land. Has this been in your days, or in the days of your fathers? Tell you your children of it, and your children their children, and their children another generation (Joel 1:2-3).
b What the adult locust (or ‘shearing locust’) has left the maturing locust (or ‘swarming locust’) has eaten, and what the maturing locust has left the young locust (or ‘hopping locust’) has eaten, and what the young locust has left the infant locust (or ‘destroying locust’) has eaten (Joel 1:4).
a Awake, you drunkards, and weep, and wail, all you drinkers of wine, because of the sweet wine, for it is cut off from your mouth (Joel 1:5).
Note how the emphasis is on the huge plagues of locusts, with the call to consider it going out in ‘a’ to the old men and all the people, and in the parallel to the drunkards and drinkers of wine.
‘Hear this, you old men,
And give ear, all you inhabitants of the land.
Has this been in your days,
Or in the days of your fathers?’
‘Tell you your children of it, and your children their children,
And their children another generation.
The fact that the message has to be passed on for a number of generations indicates that this is something that is seen as a part of history and not as something occurring at the end of it. What he is describing is not descriptive of the final day of YHWH, but is rather something that is to be remembered in the light of it being an example of what could happen in the Day of YHWH, that day when YHWH brings about His purposes through judgment. The call to hear his words are first spoken to the ‘old men’, because they are the wisest and most knowledgeable in the land. Let them consider the significance of what has happened. YHWH has spoken. And the call is then extended to all the people, because what has happened has a message for everyone. And that message is with regard to something the like of which has never been seen in living memory. Indeed it is so important that its occurrence and its implications must be passed on to succeeding generations. As mentioned in the introduction we have here a parallel to Exodus 10:1-2, ‘Then YHWH said to Moses, --- “And that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am YHWH.” Similarly Joel wanted the people of his and succeeding days to recognise in what had just happened a sign from YHWH of what He has done and of what He will yet do.
And what is it that Joel sees as so climactic that he wants it to be noted and remembered? It is that Judah have been visited by plagues of locusts unlike any in living memory, plagues that have devastated the whole land, and which are a sign of YHWH’s displeasure with Judah. Plagues of locusts were one of the recognised curses which could come on God’s people when they broke the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:38), and Solomon recognised in his prophetic prayer that God would punish His people with locust swarms, and prayed that when this happened they might seek and find forgiveness ((1 Kings 8:37; 2 Chronicles 6:28). So Joel had every reason to see in what had happened a signal judgment of YHWH.
‘What the adult locust (or ‘gnawing locust’) has left the maturing locust (or ‘swarming locust’) has eaten,
And what the maturing locust has left the young locust (or ‘hopping locust’) has eaten,
And what the young locust has left the infant locust (or ‘destroying locust’) has eaten.’
The size and scale of the locust invasion is emphasised either by reference to all levels of locust from maturity to infancy, as in the text, or equally likely by reference to a number of swarms of locusts each of which is described in terms of one well known aspect of locusts, as in brackets. The words used are all descriptions of locusts, but as seeing them from differing viewpoints. Taking into account the roots behind the nouns the first word for locust has in mind its ability to ‘shear or gnaw’ the grain and fruit from its source (the same noun is used in Amos 4:9), the second has in mind its tendency to swarm at particular times (this is the most common word for locust), the third has in mind its ability to hop around on everything and everywhere (the locust is a form of grasshopper, compare Psalms 105:34-35; Jeremiah 51:14; Jeremiah 51:27: Nahum 3:15-16), and the fourth has in mind its tendency to destroy all living vegetation (compare 1 Kings 8:37; 2 Chronicles 6:28; Psalms 78:46; Isaiah 33:4). In some of the cited verses the second type is used in parallel with either the third or fourth which may suggest that two types of locust were being distinguished, the second type possibly referring to the flying locusts, and the others to the young locusts on the march (see introduction above). We may thus see the gnawing locusts as having arrived by air in swarms, and denuded the land, followed by swarming locusts who also had their fill and laid billions of eggs, followed by the hatching out of the young hopping locusts who marched over the land devouring everything in their paths, followed by the destroying locusts who acted similarly. But however it was, the overall emphasis is firstly on the vast scale of the invasions, so that as one appeared to be ending another one appeared, and secondly on the fact that once they had all finished their work nothing was left.
The all-embracing nature of the description calls to mind the similar all-embracing descriptions in Exodus 10:5; Exodus 10:15, and no one who had experienced such an invasion would ever forget it.
The ability of a swarm of locusts to swoop down and destroy all vegetation and trees would have been well known, as would the ground based march of young locusts from the millions of eggs that would have been laid (described in the introduction). What was not expected was the intensity and widespread nature of what had happened this time. It was on a vast scale unknown before (compare Joel 2:2), denuding the whole land of grain, vegetation and trees.
‘Awake, you drunkards, and weep,
And wail, all you drinkers of wine,
Because of the sweet wine,
For it is cut off from your mouth.’
Even the drunkards are called on to take notice of what has happened and weep, for they are to recognise that it is affecting what they love best, the very source of their supplies of their beloved drink. But the call also goes out to all drinkers of wine, they too are to wail, for all will be affected. There is an indication here of what Joel sees as the reason for the judgment that has come on them. It is because they are so taken up with pleasure rather than with obedience to the covenant and the worship of YHWH.
A Description of the Plague And Its Consequences (Joel 1:6-18 ).
The effects of the huge plagues of locusts which had arrived to devastate the land are graphically described, and the consequences in the devastation of all vegetation in the land, with the result that both the people and the priests and servants of the Temple mourn and weep over what has happened, especially because it means that the meal and drink offerings are no longer available in the house of YHWH, and there are great shortages of food among the people. Joel sees what has happened as a reminder of the imminence of the coming Day of YHWH when God’s final purposes will be accomplished in both judgment and blessing.
Analysis of Joel 1:6-18 ).
a For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, his teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he has the jaw-teeth of a lioness (Joel 1:6).
b He has laid my vine waste, and de-barked my fig-tree, he has made it clean bare, and cast it away, its branches are made white (Joel 1:7).
c Lament like a virgin (young woman) girded with sackcloth, for the husband of her youth (Joel 1:8).
d The meal-offering and the drink-offering are cut off from the house of YHWH (Joel 1:9 a).
e The priests, the ministers of YHWH, mourn (Joel 1:9 b).
f The field is laid waste, the land mourns, because the grain is destroyed. The new wine is dried up, the oil languishes (Joel 1:10).
g Be confounded, O you husbandmen, wail, O you vinedressers, for the wheat and for the barley, because the harvest of the field is perished (Joel 1:11).
f The vine is withered, and the fig-tree languishes, the pomegranate-tree, the palm-tree also, and the apple-tree, even all the trees in the countryside are withered, for joy is withered away from the sons of men (Joel 1:12).
e Gird yourselves with sackcloth, and lament, you priests, wail, you ministers of the altar, come, lie all night in sackcloth, you ministers of my God (Joel 1:13 a).
d For the meal-offering and the drink-offering are withheld from the house of your God (Joel 1:13 b).
c Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the old men and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of YHWH your God, and cry to YHWH, “Alas for the day!” for the day of YHWH is at hand, and as destruction from the Almighty will it come (Joel 1:14-15).
b Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God? The seeds rot under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down, for the grain is withered (Joel 1:16-17).
a How do the beasts groan, the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture, yes, the flocks of sheep are made desolate (Joel 1:18).
Note how in ‘a’ reference is made to the arrival of the locusts as being like lions, although ‘without number’, and in the parallel the cattle and sheep are desolated. In ‘b’ vines and fig trees are devastated, and in the parallel joy and gladness is cut off from the house of God, and the grain is useless. In ‘c’ they are to lament like a young newly married woman mourning for a dead husband, and in the parallel they are to lament because of the imminence of the day of YHWH. In ‘d’ the meal-offering and the drink-offering are cut off from the house of YHWH, and in the parallel the meal-offering and the drink-offering are withheld from the house of your God. In ‘e’ the priests, the ministers of YHWH, mourn, and in the parallel the priests and ministers are to cover themselves with sackcloth. In ‘f’ the grain, wine and oil are greatly affected, and in the parallel the fruit-bearing trees are withered. Centrally in ‘g’ the husbandmen and vinedressers are confounded because the harvest of the countryside is perished
‘For a nation is come up upon my land,
Strong, and without number,
His teeth are the teeth of a lion,
And he has the jaw-teeth of a lioness.’
The initial arrival of the swarms of locusts is described in terms of a ‘nation’ (compare Proverbs 30:25-27 where a similar idea is expressed; and the use of goyim in Zephaniah 2:14 of animals in their differing species) which was strong and without number (compare Psalms 105:34 which speaks of ‘locusts -- without number’), and had teeth like a lion or lioness. In other words teeth that could gnaw and eat through anything.
‘He has laid my vine waste,
And de-barked (or ‘broken’) my fig-tree,
He has made it clean bare, and cast it away,
Its branches are made white.’
And with those teeth they had laid the vine waste, removed the bark from fig trees, and stripped the trunks and branches bare, leaving the white branches bare and visible, a very vivid picture of the activities of locusts well recognised by those who have experienced such a visitation. This would be a very good description of the activities of the ‘cutting or gnawing’ locusts (Joel 1:4).
‘Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth,
For the husband of her youth.’
Judah were therefore to lament like a newly married woman (bethulah) who had been recently bereaved while still young, a most dreadful situation in those days, not only because her provider was dead, but also because it would affect her position in Judah. (Compare Isaiah 54:6 where in context such a woman had not borne children). The thought is that the lamentation should go very deep and be almost despairing.
The word translated ‘virgin’ (bethulah) clearly cannot mean literally a woman who has never known a man, for here she was a married woman and would therefore have had relations with her husband on the night of the marriage. But in fact in early Hebrew ‘bethulah’ did not refer to a pure virgin. This is evident from its use at Ugarit of the fertility goddess who was anything other than a genuine virgin, and its use of ‘the virgin daughter of Babylon’, who in Isaiah 47:9 was seen as a widow with children. Compare how the word had to be qualified by ‘and had not known a man’ in Genesis 24:16. It clearly meant a young woman whether married or unmarried, in contrast with ‘alma which indicated a young unmarried woman, and therefore truly a virgin.
‘The meal-offering and the drink-offering are cut off from the house of YHWH,
The priests, the ministers of YHWH, mourn.’
Because of the ravages of the locusts no grain and wine would be produced, and this apparently in the whole of Judah, and therefore there would be no firstfruits, and no grain or wine offerings. No wonder then that the priests and Temple servants mourned. There are no good grounds for denying that these types of offerings were offered in pre-exilic times, and they are in fact called for in the Law of Moses.
The lack of grain would affect the daily offerings which were seen as an essential part of the maintenance of the covenant, and the blow thus went very deep, although presumably there was grain in storage that could be used until it ran out or unless the locusts had got to it.
‘The field is laid waste, the land mourns,
For the grain is destroyed,
The new wine is dried up,
The oil languishes.’
We now have the explanation for the lack of meal and wine offerings. It was because the fields had been laid waste, the grain was destroyed, the wine was dried up and the olive oil was no longer being produced. The locusts had apparently devastated the total harvest. The result was that even the land was seen as in mourning because it could produce no fruit. Or alternatively the idea of ‘the land’ is the people of the land, for the people were also left bereft.
‘Be confounded, O you husbandmen,
Wail, O you vinedressers,
For the wheat and for the barley,
For the harvest of the field is perished.’
The farmers and vinedressers could only look on helplessly at the devastation of their crops, and wail at what was happening. Nothing could be done about locusts which arrived in such vast numbers and would soon chew their way through the vegetation. Under their very eyes they saw their grain being consumed, and their harvest disappearing. Dr Thomson states from his own experience, ‘I saw under my own eyes not only a large vineyard loaded with young grapes, but whole fields of corn disappear as if by magic, and the hope of the husbandman vanish like smoke’.
‘The vine is withered, and the fig-tree languishes,
The pomegranate-tree, the palm-tree also, and the apple-tree,
Even all the trees of the field are withered,
For joy is withered away from the sons of men.’
And the locusts ate everything. The trees withered because their leaves had been consumed and they had even had their bark removed. And the consequence of all this withering was that men’s joy also withered. They no longer had anything to be joyful about. All their labours had been spent in vain.
‘Gird yourselves with sackcloth, and lament, you priests,
Wail, you ministers of the altar,
Come, lie all night in sackcloth, you ministers of my God,
For the meal-offering and the drink-offering are withheld from the house of your God.’
And so the call goes up from Joel for the priests and Temple servants who served at the altar to clothe themselves with sackcloth and mourn in repentance for their failures. Indeed they were to lie in sackcloth all night, because the meal and drink offerings were being withheld from the house of their God because of Judah’s sins.
‘Sanctify a fast,
Call a solemn assembly,
Gather the old men and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of YHWH your God,
And cry to YHWH, “Alas for the day!”
For the day of YHWH is at hand,
And as destruction from the Almighty will it come.’
And they were to go further. They were to summon together all the men of Judah to a solemn assembly in the house of YHWH, including all the old men and all those who lived in the land, and they were to cry to YHWH, ‘Alas for the day’. And this was because the sad devastation that they had gone through was to be seen as a portent of the coming of YHWH’s final day, the Day of YHWH, the Day which would come imminently (at any time) as destruction from the Almighty, and for which they had to prepare themselves. That Day is described in some detail in Isaiah 24:0. It was a day to be dreaded by all who were not faithfully waiting on God.
Is not the food cut off before our eyes,
Joy and gladness from the house of our God?’
The seeds rot under their clods,
The garners are laid desolate,
The barns are broken down,
For the grain is withered.’
And this expectancy of coming judgment had been brought on by their food disappearing before their very eyes (typical of what would happen when locusts were on the march), the consequence being that there was no rejoicing and gladness in the house of God (either the Temple or the people as a whole). For what was left of the seeds was rotting, the garners had been desolated, and the makeshift barns had been broken down because the grain was withered.
‘How do the beasts groan!
The herds of cattle are perplexed,
Because they have no pasture,
Yes, the flocks of sheep are made desolate.’
And not only the vegetation was affected. The animal world too suffered. The herds of cattle could not understand why they had no pasture, the flocks of sheep were bewildered and desolated. All that remained was the bare denuded earth, and all that they could do was ‘groan’.
The Young Locusts Appear As A Judgment From God Despite All Efforts To Prevent Them (Joel 1:19 to Joel 2:3 ).
It may well be that after describing the initial locust invasions in chapter 1 Joel now goes on to deal with the next stage of the invasions when the locust eggs hatch out and become voracious grubs and then small grasshoppers.
Locusts tend to swarm when the weather is very hot, so that the opening words of this passage may refer to fires caused by a hot, dry summer. This would explain why the water brooks had dried up. But equally well it may apply to fires started by farmers desperate to save some of their crops and fruit trees from the advancing locusts. Or indeed both may be in mind. Fires were, in fact, the only way in which the desperate farmers could set up a barrier against the advancing young locust hordes, even if it often failed in its purpose. It was felt to be better than doing nothing, and as the farmers got more desperate the fires would become larger.
Joel appears speaking in Jerusalem where news has come in of the locust invasion and its effects, which he interprets as a Day of YHWH, a day when YHWH is exercising His judgment. And he calls on the priests to blow the ram’s horns to sound the alarm before the hopping locusts arrive in Jerusalem. He also calls all the people to tremble at the fearsome nature of what is happening, and then describes the sight of the approach of the yellow-winged swarming locusts out of the morning sun in terms of the dawn spreading on the mountains. And so great are the different swarms of locusts that he describes them as being unlike anything seen before, in terms similar to those used of the swarm of locusts in Exodus 10:14, compare also Exodus 10:6.
He then reiterates his description of the burning fields, possibly set on fire to battle against the locusts, and also with it describes the effects of the passing of the young locusts on the vegetation of the land, turning the land from fruitful land into a barren wilderness.
Analysis of Joel 1:19 to Joel 2:3 .
a O YHWH, to you do I cry, because the fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame has burned all the trees of the countryside. Yes, the beasts of the field pant to you, because the water brooks are dried up, and the fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness (Joel 1:19).
b Blow you the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain, let all the inhabitants of the land tremble (Joel 2:1 a)
c For the day of YHWH has come, because a day of darkness and gloominess is near, a day of clouds and thick darkness (Joel 2:2 a).
b As the dawn spreads on the mountains, a great people and a strong, there has not ever been the like, nor will be any more after them, even to the years of many generations (Joel 2:2 b).
a A fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns, the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness, yes, and none has escaped them (Joel 2:3).
Note that in ‘a’ the fire burn throughout the land, and in the parallel the same occurs. In ‘b’ the alarm is sounded and the people tremble, and in parallel is what they tremble at, the huge invasion of young locusts streaming over the land. Centrally in ‘c’ it is the day of YHWH, a day of gloom and darkness.
O YHWH, to you do I cry,
Because the fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness,
And the flame has burned all the trees of the countryside,
Yes, the beasts of the field pant to you,
Because the water brooks are dried up,
And the fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness.’
The passage commences with a heartfelt cry to YHWH as he learns of the way that the fields are burning as a result of the farmers’ efforts to hold back the army of young locusts. What the locusts had not eaten the fires were destroying. And the consequence was that the wild animals could only call on YHWH because water had become short, and the fires had devoured their pastures in the wilderness.
The land may well also have been suffering under semi-drought conditions, the type of hot summers that often brought out swarms of locusts in large numbers, thus causing the water brooks to dry up, a process hastened by the fires now partly out of control.
‘Blow you the ram’s horn in Zion,
And sound an alarm in my holy mountain,
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
For the day of YHWH has come.
Observing what he did, and recognising that it came from the hand of YHWH, Joel called on the priests to blow the ram’s horn, sounding the alarm from the holy mountain (probably the Temple mount) to all who were round about. And he wanted it to shake up the inhabitants and make them tremble as they recognised that the day of YHWH had come, the time of His judgment of Judah.
This was not, of course the final day of YHWH as he recognised, for he describes that in chapter 3. Rather it was a localised ‘day of YHWH’ aimed at the present generation.
For a day of darkness and gloominess is near,
A day of clouds and thick darkness,
As the dawn spreads on the mountains,
A great people and a strong,
There has not ever been the like,
Nor will be any more after them,
Even to the years of many generations.’
He expands on what this day which has come near is like. It is a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness (compare Amos 5:18-20; Zephaniah 1:15), both to their spirits psychologically and to their eyes literally, as the huge mass of flying locusts blotted out the sun. And as he does so he lifts his eyes and sees the sun glinting on the yellow wings of the locusts, seeing them as being like the dawn spreading on the mountains.
His description of them as ‘a great people and strong’ is reminiscent in its use of people of Proverbs 30:25, ‘the ants are a people not strong’ where locusts are also mentioned ‘having no king’ over them. The Jews therefore saw insects which came together in large numbers as ‘peoples’. Compare also Joel 1:6. The statement that ‘there has not ever been the like, nor will be any more after them, even to the years of many generations’ is reminiscent of Exodus 10:14 where in describing the plague of locusts in Egypt Moses says, ‘before them there were no such locusts as they, nor after them will be such’. This demonstrates that both statements were hyperbole, and that neither has in mind a final plague larger than any other. Indeed ‘even to the years of many generations’ limits the statement to a time in the not too distant future eschatologically speaking. It is simply saying that it was not of the norm and was something that only happened once, say, in a hundred years.
It is interesting, however, that God is often spoken of as being in darkness (Psalms 18:11), and in clouds (Exodus 16:10 and often; Psalms 18:11-12) and thick darkness (Exodus 20:21; Psalms 18:9), in order to shield His glory from His creation, which is a reminder to us that even in the darkest hour God is with us. In the midst of the Day of YHWH He would still be watching over His own.
‘ A fire devours before them,
And behind them a flame burns,
The land is as the garden of Eden before them,
And behind them a desolate wilderness,
Yes, and none has escaped them.
Joel then draws attention to two aspects of the locust invasions, referring again to the fires lit both to prevent them moving forward, and in order to prevent them turning back, and to the effect of the voracious hordes on the land as they turned what was virtually a Garden of Eden (land in full growth) into a desolate wilderness denuded of all vegetation. The land was being doubly destroyed.
For the use of fire in driving back the locusts consider Dr Thomson’s words cited in the introduction, and how he also described how he vainly attempted to save his own garden from their depredations. ‘By the next morning the head of the column had reached my garden, and hiring eight or ten people I resolved to rescue at least my vegetables and flowers. During this day we succeeded by fire, and by beating them off the walls with brushes and branches, in keeping our little garden tolerably clear of them, but it was perfectly appalling to watch this animated river as it flowed up the road and ascended the hill above my house. At length, worn out with incessant skirmishing, I gave up the battle --- and surrendered the remainder to the conquerors.’ We can therefore imagine the position of farmers and vineyard owners who saw their whole livelihood being destroyed.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Joel 1". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25