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CRITICAL NOTES.] The prophecy opens with lamentation over the land, made desolate by successive swarms of locusts. Joel 1:2-4 contain the spirited introduction. Old men] are called upon to note the unusual course of nature. Inhabitants] of Judah, whatever part they occupy, and whatever calamities they have witnessed, are asked to say if in their own, or in the days of their fathers, there had ever been a calamity so sweeping and so terrible. Children] must be impressed with a sense of national disaster, and admonished by the providence of God (Exodus 13:8; Joshua 4:6-7; Psalms 78:6; Psalms 78:8; Joel 1:4). The four names of the locusts have been thought to be four different species indicated by the etymology of the words, the gnawer (gâzâm); the multiplier (‘arbeh); the licker (yeleq); the devourer (châzîl). Some critics say that four is the symbol of universality.
Joel 1:5. Drunkards] An appeal to different classes. Wine-bibbers indulging in their favourite liquor must be roused from stupor to “weep and howl,” though usually jolly in national calamity.
Joel 1:6. A nation] Lit. some; four successive empires; symbolically others. The epithets describe their number and savage hostility.
Joel 1:7. Vine] and fig-trees, common and greatly valued in the days of Solomon (1 Kings 4:25), now destroyed.
GOD’S MESSAGE DEMANDS EARNEST ATTENTION.—Joel 1:1-4
Since the establishment of the kingdom Judah had seen partial and temporary judgments, but none that threatened such destruction as this fearful plague of locusts. Hence the prophet calls attention to it, and urges them to consider its design and transmit its record to posterity. Generations to come must know the judgments of God.
I. The message. “Hear this,” recorded in Joel 1:4. The visitation is unparalleled and never to be forgotten in history.
1. It was terrible. Not a mere visit of flying insects, but a succession, plague was to succeed plague, each more destructive than its predecessor. In ordinary providences God testifies against sin. But some ages and churches are made warnings to all generations by the justice of God. God’s penal resources are unlimited, and great as afflictions may have been in the past, the future may bring upon guilty sinners greater still. “Why should ye be stricken any more?”
2. It was unprecedented. “Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?” Old men who could remember events years ago, accustomed to extraordinary things in nature, had never seen anything like this Even in the days of their fathers, in the records of the nation, was there any judgment so terrible in its consequences. Neither the present nor the past generations had known such a calamity. The plague of Egypt lasted only a few days and consisted of few insects; but for multitude and mischief, this was unprecedented. “Very grievous were they; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such.”
3. It was ever to be remembered. “Tell ye your children of it,” &c. Four generations were to note it. “This shall be written for the generation to come.” National disasters live in the records of the past, and present calamities are to be fixed in the memories of the future. Greece and Rome, France and England, have each their record written in bitter experience. Woe is pronounced upon those who “regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands” (Isaiah 5:12).
II. The hearers. This calamity was so striking that the attention of the present and all future generations is directed to it.
1. Old men. “Hear this, ye old man.” “Days should speak and multitude of years should teach wisdom,” and none are too old to learn. Men of the greatest age and ripest experience have more to learn in life, especially if their lot has fallen in grievous times. If our stock of knowledge be not increasing it is wasting. All should hear the voice of judgments. “A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels.”
2. All the inhabitants of the land. Lest any should escape, all the people are urged to give earnest attention. What concerns one concerns all. None like to hear evil tidings, but they must be pressed upon men sometimes. When God speaks, when vital interests are at stake, all should hear. “Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world.”
3. Children of another generation. God’s dealings with the present age have a relation to the future. The events of one nation are lessons to all nations. Whatever concerns humanity concerns all men. Generation must declare to generation the wonders of God’s love and the might of his judgments. Our woes must be warnings to posterity, and our corrections their instructions (1 Corinthians 10:6). If the memory of God’s love does not stir up to gratitude, the memory of woe must entreat them to repentance. “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; Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Deuteronomy 11:19).
III. The purpose. The present generation must hear and the future be taught for a wise purpose. People are negligent, persist in sin, and bring punishment upon themselves. Hence they must be taught,—
1. That God watches over men’s conduct. This fact is constantly impressed upon our minds by God’s ways in providence and in creation. Men cannot sin and defy the visitations of God with impunity. Our children may learn this lesson, future generations may read it in our history without our experience.
2. That God directs the events of history. All events are under his control and are overruled for the fulfilment of his will. Yet men “regard not the works of the Lord, nor the operation of his hands” (Psalms 28:5). Israel forgot God in his dealings with them. Even at the Red Sea, amid the greatest displays of mercy and judgment, they could not discern him (Psalms 88:11; Psalms 106:13).
3. That God warns men of their danger. Those who forget God’s works are in great danger, and have need of Divine teaching. Israel was a favoured nation, a standing testimony of God’s truth and existence to idolatrous peoples. Israel’s sufferings were a warning to all nations to avoid Israel’s guilt. God designs to educate the world in the knowledge of his love and power. The lessons are given to one man to relate to another, written in the experience of one age that another may be impressed; “that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
Joel 1:1. It is a mercy that God reveals his word to the Church, when he is about to inflict punishment upon it. This word is not to be sought in wild fanatic spirits, but in chosen servants of God. The word of the Lord that came to Joel.
Individuality merged in Divine commission. Little known of the birth, life, and deeds of Joel. Some known by personal service rather than personal history—David’s mighty men. Others content to live and act in obscurity, and wish to be known only by efforts to save the souls of men.
Joel 1:2. Hear God’s word addressed to all classes.
1. The common dangers of men.
2. The common needs of men.
3. The common privileges of men. Take heed how ye hear.
Joel 1:3. Tell your children. Parental duty.
1. A necessary duty.
2. A personal duty.
3. A solemn duty.
4. A duty commanded by God (Deuteronomy 6:7). As far as life and means permit we must prepare for the instruction of the future youth, and transmit the doings of God by succeeding families. The word of God is for this and every age. The doctrines of that word are not effete, but adapted to our wants, and will exert an influence as long as the race shall last.
1. God’s word explains God’s providence, that we may know the author, cause, and design of our affliction.
2. What we learn in the school of providence we should transmit to posterity. “That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children” (Psalms 68:6).
I. What is to be told? This, i.e. the judgments of God upon Israel. II. To whom are they to be made known? (a) Your children. (b) Their children, and (c) Another generation. Four generations are to keep up the remembrance. III. How are they to be known? “Tell, Heb. Cipher them up diligently, after the manner of arithmeticians; reckon up the several years with the several calamities thereof to your children and nephews, that they may hear and fear, and do no more so” (Deuteronomy 19:20).
Family Religion. I. The fathers’ knowledge the children’s heritage. II. The fathers’ fall the children’s preservation [Treasury of David].
NATIONAL CALAMITIES.—Joel 1:4; Joel 1:6-7
These verses set forth that terrible calamity which was coming upon a land which God once protected and blessed, but which was devastated by a nation of savage and innumerable hosts.
I. Calamities by diminutive creatures. In one sense nothing is insignificant in the hands of God. “A fly with God’s message could choke a king,” says Jeremy Taylor. Armed with his vengeance, the meanest creatures become the mightiest. In the East so proverbial is the power of the locusts, that the insects are made to say to Mahomet, “We are the army of the great God; we produce ninety-nine eggs; if the hundred were completed we should consume the whole earth and all that is in it.” “In every stage of their existence,” says Dr Thompson, “these locusts give a most impressive view of the power of God to punish a wicked world.” All creatures are under God’s control. The lion from the forest and the wind from heaven do his bidding. Hosts of angels and swarms of insects can punish a guilty people.
II. Calamities in dreadful succession. Whatever time intervened, calamity followed calamity, each destructive, but all together most terrible in their consequences. Travellers tell us that swarm succeeds swarm, darken the sun, extend hundreds of miles, and devour every green thing. Volney says that “the quantity of these insects is a thing incredible to any one who has not seen it himself.” The judgments of God are often linked together like a chain, each one drawing on the other. Yet, says one, “at each link of the lengthening chain, allowing space and time for repentance to break it through.” If men like Pharaoh harden their hearts they will be destroyed. “By executing thy judgments upon them by little and little thou gavest them place of repentance, not being ignorant that they were a naughty generation” (Wis. 12:10).
III. Calamities most destructive.
1. Fierce as a lion. “Whose teeth are the teeth of a lion,” &c. Nothing can resist their bite. “They gnaw even the doors of houses,” says Pliny. The sharp and prominent eye-teeth of the lion and lioness are ascribed to them. “They appear to be created for a scourge,” says a traveller, “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.”
2. Destructive to all vegetation. One feature is presented after another in a way to rouse attention. (a) All tender herbs were destroyed. What was left by the palmer-worm was eaten by the locust; “and that which the locust hath left hath the canker-worm eaten; and that which the canker-worm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten.” (b) Choice fruit trees, such as vines and fig-trees, were destroyed. The vine is most prominent as the more noble and valuable tree. It flourished from time immemorial, was most fruitful, and a source of wealth to the people. These were the trees of Judea, and to have them destroyed was a calamity not common to a people whose common drink was wine. (c) Desolation was extreme. Young shoots and even the bark of trees were not spared. Drooping vines and injured fig-trees, with their leafless branches and peeled bark, were effects of wasting plagues for many years. This picture is not exaggerated in the least. It is fearfully accurate, and an awful symbol of the desolation of churches and nations caused by sin. The Christian Church is God’s vineyard. If it yields not fruit, it may be laid waste. Prevailing sins will be visited by corresponding judgments. How great must be that guilt which leads God to punish his own land! “I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briars and thorns.”
A SOLEMN WARNING TO DRUNKARDS.—Joel 1:5
All classes are called upon to repent. The wine-bibbers are to wake up to a recognition of the hand of God, to “weep and wail,” for the judgment has touched what they most love. Drunkenness is the greatest curse of this land, and the greatest hindrance to the gospel. In a community educated, wise, and pious, it is a source of powerful mischief; but among the masses of mankind, governed by appetite and not intelligence, it has been terribly destructive.
I. Drunkards frustrate the design of nature. Whatever produce of the earth is fit for food is placed at man’s disposal. He should co-operate with God in the laws of providence, for the growth and increase of this food. All waste in nature is condemnable. Yet the sole end for which some cultivate the fig-tree and the vine, the garden and the farm, is selfish indulgence. Nature’s gifts are abused, and the benevolent design of God is nullified and reversed. Drunkards virtually say concerning fruit and grain, “To me they shall not be for meat.”
II. Drunkards render themselves insensible to danger. “Awake, ye drunkards.” All sin stupefies; but drunkenness intoxicates the mind, lulls the conscience, hardens the heart, and turns into society a sordid, selfish animal. This delirium is the most solemn feature of the case. The victim having lost all sensibility and will, has no power to awake, and sleeps quietly like one “lying down in the midst of the sea, or upon the top of the mast.” The senses even seem stupefied. He may be “stricken and beaten,” but he feels it not (Proverbs 23:35), more senseless than the brute who satisfies nature, not lust; he is lost to shame, enslaved by appetite, and seeks relief from temporary awakening, by yielding himself again to his ruinous sin. “When shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.”—
With ceaseless, ravenous, and remorseless rage,
By day and night—on Sabbath and on work day,
The monster feeds and feasts and fattens on its prey.
III. Drunkards will be roused from sottish slumber. “For it is cut off from your mouth.” Locusts were to destroy the vines, the grapes would cease to grow, and the sweetness and strength “of the new wine” would be taken from them. “Take away my wine, you take away my life,” said one. God will deprive men of idolized indulgence, and force them to “weep and howl” by his judgments. The more inordinately they lust, the more pinching will be their distress. “A wilful waste will bring a woeful want.” If temporal sufferings do not rouse the drunkard, the epicure, and the sensualist to a sense of their sin and danger, what must be their feelings when weeping and howling will be without hope and intermission? Let weeping for things temporal beget care not to lose things eternal. “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red: it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Joel 1:1-4. The Jewish theocracy is passed away, but God is still the moral governor of the world; and in perfect harmony with the principles of the New Testament, which teach us not to pronounce a man to be a sinner above other men, because on him the tower of Siloam falls, we may interpret the prevalence of natural evils in any country as meant by God to call the attention of the people to those moral evils which abound amongst them. So that if untimely weather come, or malignant diseases come, or any form of calamity come;—if people ask one another, “Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers? Did you ever know such a season, such weather, such sickness, or such death?”—it is only the province of religious duty to look on such things as the working out of great laws, of moral righteousness;—to recognize man’s sin as the awful fact lying under what man calls his misfortunes, and by timely repentance to secure forgiveness; and thus turn the visitation into a blessed chastisement [Stoughton].
Joel 1:4; Joel 1:6-7. Locusts. The insect that destroyed all the peach-trees in St. Helena was imported from the Cape, says Kirby and Spence. “We know,” says Burke, “that a swarm of locusts, however individually despicable, can render a country more desolate than Gengis Khan or Tamerlane. When God Almighty chose to humble the pride and presumption of Pharaoh and bring him to shame, he did not effect his purpose with tigers and lions. He sent lice, mice, frogs, and everything loathsome and contemptible, to pollute and destroy the country.”
Joel 1:5. Drunkards. Be sober in diet. Nature is content with a little; but where sobriety wanteth, nothing is enough. The body must have sufficient lest it faint in necessary duties; but beware of gluttony and drunkenness. Christ saith, “Take heed, overload not your hearts with these burdens of excess.” “Be not drunken with wine.” These lessons are fit for England, where ancient sobriety hath given place to superfluity, where many such men are as fare daintily day by day. God grant their end be not like his, who riotously wasting here the creatures of God, wanted afterwards a drop of water when he would gladly have had it [Sandys].
Joel 1:8. A virgin] The impersonated nation to lament with the sorrow and despair of a young girl, whose hopes have been blighted, and her beloved taken away by a stroke (Ezekiel 16:8).
Joel 1:9.] The cessation of temple service would be the greatest sorrow, and would impress the nation with a sense of Divine displeasure. Cut off] by locusts, who have eaten up the vine, the olive, and the wheat, for sacrificial use. Priests] lost not merely subsistence, but appointed offerings to Jehovah.
Joel 1:10. The field] Nature sympathizing in the woes of men; the open uninclosed country and the land, Heb. rich red soil, fenced and cultivated, feel the loss.
NATIONAL LAMENTATION.—Joel 1:8-10
The second appeal is to the impersonated nation, clothed in sackcloth, and weeping for her lord, which death has taken away. The land is desolated, public worship is interrupted, and the temple forsaken by God and man. The nation’s hope is cut off, and she is left as “a virgin” to lament in passionate grief and utter despair.
I. The character of this lamentation. “Like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth.” Between young persons that are married or about to be married there is great love, and therefore great grief when separated by death. Virgin love is purest and most sincere. “She must weep or she will die.” The affections in youth are strongest and most capable of resentment. “I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals” (Jeremiah 2:2; Isaiah 62:5). The Church unfaithful to her Lord and Master, the professor who gives his heart to the world, will lose the protection and blessings of Christ, our Divine Head and Redeemer. The more wedded to the creatures the more bitter their loss. It is not mere conventional grief that God commands, but that of one who has lost all joy and who clothes herself with penitence—
Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak
Whispers the o’er-fraught heart, and bids it break [Shakespere].
II. The reason of this lamentation.
1. The land is devastated. “The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted.” The cultivated and the open lands were unproductive. The luxuries and the necessities, the corn and the wine: bread that strengthens man’s heart, wine that maketh glad the heart, and oil to make his face to shine, were all taken away (Psalms 104:15). Nature shouts and sings for joy under the benediction of God (Psalms 65:13); the valleys are covered with corn and all is vocal with praise. But under man’s sin creation mourns in sorrow and casts off its beauty and fruitfulness; “groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22). “How long shall the land mourn and the herbs of every field wither, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein” (Jeremiah 12:4)?
2. The temple was forsaken. The locusts devoured the vine, the olive, and everything that constituted the meat and drink offerings in the house of God. (a) Forsaken by God; for God was supposed to have forsaken the temple when the altar was not duly furnished. He was offended at the nation, and could not dwell with a sinful people. (b) Forsaken by men. The priests could no longer present the accustomed offerings. Public worship was suspended. The temple is the residence of God. Divine worship must be kept up in due order and regular time. On the continuance of our morning and evening service depends the continuance of God’s presence with us. Suspend the one, we suspend the other. Terrible must be that scourge which robs us of the benefits of Divine ordinances, and drives God from his own temple; when “joy and gladness are cut off from the house of the Lord.”
III. The extent of this lamentation.
1. The priests mourned. “The priests, the Lord’s ministers, mourn.” Some would spiritually lament the suspension of God’s offerings. True ministers feel deeply the ungodliness of men; set the first example of penitence and confession; and mourn greatly interrupted fellowship with God. Others mourn naturally for the loss of their perquisites and the means of self-indulgence. When the house of God is forsaken and holy communions become rare, the ministers of the sanctuary should mourn.
2. The nation mourned. Priest and people, rich and poor, were to lament the judgments that had fallen upon them. Vegetation had languished, the land was ravaged, and the temple forsaken. Judea was to lament like a virgin, and all were to bow to the dust in sackcloth and ashes. “In that day did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
Joel 1:9. Poverty and Religion.
1. Poverty the result of sin.
2. Poverty bringing Divine judgments.
3. Poverty prejudicial to public worship. “Want of means of livelihood must exert a very prejudicial influence on the public service of God. Under the old economy there would be of necessity a failure of tithes and offerings. So now, when people have a hard and constant struggle for the bare means of subsistence, they will be far behind others in knowledge of the truth, in the proper training of children, and in mutual love [Lange].
Joel 1:10. What reason we have to praise God for bountiful seasons, and for his goodness in filling our hearts with food and gladness! But cleave not too closely to temporal blessings, which may be cut off by judgment, and taken suddenly away. God takes from an ungodly people the means of gratifying their lusts, and will bring them to repentance by deep afflictions. The prosperity of the Church depends not on a grand ceremonial, or crowds of admiring devotees, or the countenance of the State, however desirable these things may be, but only on the favour of God, whose blessing and whose Spirit will be withdrawn, if we defile his sanctuary with superstitious rites [Robinson.]
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Joel 1:8-10. When we bear in mind that in spite of the help given them from this country one fourth part of the people of Ireland died in one year (1847) through the failure of a single article of food, we may have some idea of the distress of successive years. Not all the vast wealth of England would restore the withered joy that would result from the failure of the harvest and the destruction of herbs for a single year. The blight of a fly might consume cereal crops and prove more terrible than destructive war.
Joel 1:11.] The third appeal to husbandmen and vinedressers. Wheat and barley destroyed before their eyes; vines languish and choice fruit-trees perish.
Joel 1:12. Joy] The joy of harvest withered away (Psalms 4:7; Isaiah 9:3).
DISAPPOINTED HUSBANDMEN.—Joel 1:11-12
The next picture is a group of husbandmen and vine-dressers, pale and sick in disappointed toils. Wheat and barley the most important field crops; the vine, fig, and pomegranate, the choice fruit-trees of the land, were destroyed. The datepalm, “which has neither a fresh green rind, nor tender juicy leaves, and therefore not easily injured by the locusts,” and all other trees wither away. Joy is turned into shame, labour is lost, and mourning results.
I. Wasted labour. “The harvest of the field is perished.” The husbandman ploughs, sows, and labours in hope. He waits “for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.” Between seed-time and harvest there is a time of trial, an opportunity for faith. In all true labour we must expect fruit, and receive it as the precious gift of God. But unsuccessful labour will shame our skill and faith, and confound our hopes. Sin will prevent results, and God will blight our harvests.
1. Husbandmen will be disappointed in anticipation.
2. Vine-dressers will be robbed of choice fruits. “The ground was chapt, for there was no rain in the earth, the plowmen were ashamed, they covered their heads” (Jeremiah 14:3-4).
II. Withered joy. “Because joy is withered away.” The loss of harvest is the withering of joy and enjoyments.
1. The joy of men is withered. “Withered away from the sons of men.” The joy that depends upon the creature is uncertain and unsatisfactory. Those that place happiness in the delights of sense may be deprived of them. Wine and oil may delight, but not satisfy; they have their vacuity and indigence. All outward comforts sooner cloy than cheer, and weary than fill. Christ in the heart is better than harvests in the barn and wine in the vat. “It is better,” says one, “to feel God’s favour one hour in our repenting souls, than to sit whole ages under the warmest sunshine that this world affordeth.” “Nature’s common joys are common cheats.”
2. The joy of nature is withered. Joel again declares the sympathy of nature with man. “The trees of the field are withered, because (for) joy,” &c., as if it were impossible for the natural world to rejoice when the hearts of men were sad and sinful. Poets in all ages have taught “that one life beats throughout the universe, revealing itself in subtle and manifold interchanges of sympathy; that therefore Nature feels with her foster-child man, rejoicing when he rejoices, weeping when he weeps.” Scripture shows that sin may turn a paradise into a wilderness, and “a fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein” (Psalms 107:34). What a picture of demoralization, sensuality, and judgment in the language of Isaiah! “All the merry-hearted do sigh. There is a crying for wine in the streets, all joy is darkened, the mirth of the land is gone.”
Joel 1:13.] A summons to repentance. Priests] first; they have been negligent, and must set the example of penitence. Sackcloth] Outward garments must indicate inward grief (Isaiah 32:11; Jeremiah 4:8).
Joel 1:14. Sanctify] Set apart, hallow days of fasting. Solemn assem.] Lit. proclaim a restraint, i.e. let young and old cease manual labour to fast and pray (2 Chronicles 20:3-13). Elders] in office and age. Cry] Not a mere formal fast, but intense and earnest prayer for mercy and help.
MINISTERS OF THE SANCTUARY AN EXAMPLE OF PENITENCE AND PIETY IN THE DAY OF CALAMITY.—Joel 1:13-14
The fourth call is to priests of the temple, who are first to humble themselves in private as a preparation for public confession. A fast must be appointed, and they must lead the princes and people in solemn prayer before Almighty God. When judgment begins at the house of God, penitence should begin also, for priests are often the first and greatest cause of sorrow.
I. They must mourn for sin. “Lament” and howl. In all true penitence there will be a due sense of guilt. Physical evil may cause sorrow, the destruction of vegetation and vineyards may create lamentation; but moral evil compels us to feel guilty; and justice cries for punishment.
1. Mourn in sackcloth. “Gird yourselves.” Outward garments are of no avail without inward contrition. We must rend our hearts, not our garments. Yet by outward acts we must incite others, testify our abject condition before God, and renounce all carnal customs and delights. “For this gird you with sackcloth, lament and howl; for the fierce anger of the Lord is not turned back from us.”
2. Mourn continually. “Come, lie all night in sackcloth.” Day and night was the temple service. So there must not be occasional grief, but lamentation without intermission. Guilt often disturbs the sleep of night, and men lie not at ease, but in sorrow. Instead of going to rest and employing the night in Psalmody, many have more reason to confess their sins and deprecate the wrath of God. “All the night make I my bed to swim: I water my couch with tears.”
3. Mourn with others. All classes, the princes, and elders, and all the people, were to mourn universally. Chiefs in authority, and elders in sanctity and grey hairs, were to form one band and lament with one heart and voice. The example of old men must stimulate the young to repentance; and the authority of priests must urge others to the fear and worship of God. All had contributed to national guilt, all were equally exposed, and all must join together in national humiliation. The more public and prevalent, the more pleasing and acceptable to God is national sorrow. “Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto the house of God and wept, and sat there before the Lord” (Judges 20:26; 2 Chronicles 30:3; Jonah 3:5; Jonah 3:7-8).
II. They must sanctify a fast. “Sanctify ye a fast.”
1. Universal cessation from labour. The day must be fixed, set apart and solemnly observed. “Proclaim a restraint,” let manual labour cease, and hallow the fast with acts of devotion and fruits meet for repentance. No servile work must be done, the time must be consecrated, like the Sabbath, not to eating, and drinking, and seeking pleasure, but to supplication and obedience.
2. Universal worship. The elders and all the inhabitants were to assemble in the house of God. England did well to observe a day of thanksgiving for the restoration of the Prince of Wales. What a spectacle to continental nations! Fasting without devotion was only a form of sorrow. Festive joys must give place to religious worship. Fasting must be connected with the mortification of the flesh, the contrition of the spirit, and humiliation in the house of God. Here all were commanded to repair to confess their guilt and obey their laws. The house of God is the house of prayer; the place in which he has put his name, and the centre of Divine influence and Christian friendship. Here the world loses its charms, trials are forgotten, the mind is elevated, and sympathies “meet and mingle into bliss.” “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). “What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, in this house. Then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling-place” (1 Kings 8:38; 2 Chronicles 6:33).
3. Universal supplication. “And cry unto the Lord.” (a) Supplication must be united. All must not merely be present, but all must join together in prayer. Attendance must be devout, the time must be spent before God, not in gazing at men. United prayer has power with God and influence upon men. It is thus that heaven is taken by violence and national calamities averted. (b) Supplication must be earnest. “Cry unto the Lord.” It is not a listless, irreverent prayer, but a loud earnest cry. No formal customary supplication will suffice; the distress is great, the routine of life and worship must be disregarded, and the “cry” must be with impassioned earnestness and repetition. Cold prayers are a mockery and never climb to heaven. “So long as the light shines bright and the fires of devotion and desires flame out,” says Jeremy Taylor, “so long the mind of a man stands close to the altar and waits upon the sacrifice; but as the fires die and desires decay, so the mind steals away and walks abroad.” We are taken from the fields to the sanctuary in this picture. A train of priests, clothed in sackcloth and worn with vigils, stand between the porch and the altar, weeping and making supplication to God; a large assembly, led by the elders, gather round them, bend their heads in passionate grief, and unite in earnest cry for mercy and deliverance. Priest and peasant, kings and princes, old and young, bow in confession, petition, and humiliation before their Maker, and thus own their dependence and set an example to others. “Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Joel 1:13-14. Ministers. A country parson fighting against the devil in his parish has nobler ideas than Alexander had [Adam]. Example works more than precept; for words without practice are but counsels without effect. But when we do as we say, we illustrate and confirm the rule which we prescribe. “Men believe more by the eyes than by the ears,” says Seneca.
Joel 1:15. The day] of anger (Isaiah 13:9) and ill omen; evil in itself, and foreshadowing greater evils; a transition from invading locusts to the day of judgment upon all ungodly men. Present calamities are clothed in greater terror when regarded as a type of the last judgment. Joel would have the people thus to regard them. Hence present suffering should quicken to penitence and faith. Destruction] An aspect of the last day seen now.
THE TERRIBLE DAY.—Joel 1:15
The prophet urges them to repentance by fresh motives and more calamities. Judgments had fallen upon the city and the field, in the temple and the vineyard. Hints are now given at the truths typified by the plagues. Trouble is not only at a distance but near. So great is this trouble that men will cry, “Alas for the day!”
I. This day is a day of terror.
1. On account of the evils which attend it. (a) The chastisement of God’s people for their sins. What can people expect but desolating strokes when they continue to sin? “In the day of adversity consider.” (b) The destruction of sinners for their guilt. All the enemies of God’s kingdom will be destroyed. “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate, and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it” (Isaiah 13:6; Isaiah 13:9). (c) The desolation of the land (Joel 1:10-12).
2. On account of the evils which it predicts. “As a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.” In every judgment almighty power is seen. This aspect of the day was seen in present events. Vegetation was consumed, and the face of nature blackened by fire; flocks and herds roamed disconsolate over wasted fields; food was cut off before the eyes of the people, and joy and gladness departed from the house of God. But present calamities predicted greater evils to come—evils beyond description, displays of power never seen before. “Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it; it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7).
II. This day is near. “The day of the Lord is at hand.” Sinners put evil days far away, and think they will not come. “Evil tidings to-morrow,” said one in festive joy. The word of God declares that they are present and pressing—that it is folly to delay repentance, and that judgments may fall suddenly upon men to overwhelm them (Ecclesiastes 9:12; Isaiah 28:15). The antediluvians disregarded the warnings of Noah, and were swept away by the flood. Men now cry, “Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” Some put off the day in a sort of philosophic argument. “The course of nature has remained the same for ages, and therefore not likely to change.” Others live in stolid indifference, quench their forebodings of evil, and deceive themselves by lies. Alas, some change the threatened vengeance into mirthful jest, and ridicule the devout anticipations of the godly. “The Lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of.”
III. This day should be regarded by men. Destruction from the Almighty shall come. There is no uncertainty, no delay. In this light the prophet regarded and desired the people to regard the day. Present adversity should quicken us to a profound sense of the moral government of God, to continual recognition of his purpose in life, and to live so that we may escape the dangers of that eventful day. Heed not the sneering infidelity of the times. Go to your beds to-night, enter upon your duties to-morrow, as in sight of the judgment-seat. Live daily under the powers of the world to come. Grow in love for the appearing of Christ. The promise will not fail. “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.’
THE DAY OF JUDGMENT.
I. The day of judgment written in the convictions of men. Natural theology teaches a retributive providence. The writings of the heathen are full of ideas of God as a God of justice. Retributive justice was made a separate deity, whose awards would only be full and perfect in a future life. There is a sense of future judgment in the heart. Every sin committed carries with it a monition, a prediction of this judgment. The idea is inwrought in the consciousness of mankind, and clearly taught in the writings of ancient philosophy. Seneca says, “The good man God accustoms to hardships, and prepares him for himself. But the luxurious, whom he seems to indulge and to spare, he reserves for evils to come. For you are mistaken if you think any one excepted. The man who has been long spared will at last have his portion of misery; and though he seems to have escaped it, it is only delayed for a time.” “Thus ought we always to believe,” says Plato, “those ancient and sacred words, which declare to us that the soul is immortal, that judges are appointed, and that they pass the highest sentences of condemnation when the spirit is separate from the body.” Thus it is a dictate of natural religion, that the future state will be one of misery to the wicked. The day of the Lord is foreshadowed in our moral constitution. All men fear it and all men believe it. It is a mark of the Divine origin and moral nature of man, which nothing can destroy. “That which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them.”
II. The day of judgment prefigured in the events of history. The judgments of God, extreme and awful, have even been regarded by the darkest minds as evidences of God’s anger against sin, and his determination to punish it. Heathen seers and Jewish prophets bid us regard the inner meaning of calamity and look at it, in some sense as a part and prediction of another. The vicissitudes of life, the unequal conditions of men, and the providences of God, point to a day when all things will be rectified and each one receive his due. Each particular judgment is a warning of its approach and a pledge of its certainty. Present chastisements must be viewed as steps in a progressive plan, realized in the final day; the beginning and the anticipation of “the day of the Lord.” The history of the world, through the government of God, is turned “into a continuous judgment, which will conclude at the end of this course of the world with a great and universal act of judgment, through which everything that has been brought to eternity by the stream of time unjudged and unadjusted will be judged and adjusted once for all, to bring to an end the whole development of the world in accordance with its Divine appointment, and perfect the kingdom of God by the annihilation of its foes.” “All these are the beginning of sorrows.”
III. The day of judgment predicted in Scripture. What is rendered possible by the creed of the atheist, and probable from the teachings of nature, is morally certain from Divine revelation. Scripture confirms natural theology in this respect, and teaches distinctly that God designs to impress upon our minds that he will by no means clear the guilty, but reserve them to the day of punishment. The judgments of God are said to have happened as examples, warnings to us to repent of the sins and avoid the dangers which brought them on. Earnest and emphatic declarations are given in Old and New Testaments. “He hath prepared his throne for judgment. And he shall judge the world in righteousness, he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness.” “He hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained.” “For we must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Joel 1:15. Judgment will assign to every one a place according to character; ranks will be adjusted and precedency set right; virtue will be rewarded and vice punished. Thoughts of this day should restrain from vice and urge to virtue, preserve human society and defend religion, vindicate the character of God, and justify his providence to men.
Joel 1:16.] Food cut off, the joy of festivals and sacrifices banished.
Joel 1:17. Seed] decayed under the clods. Garners] Storehouses went to ruin and prospects of future harvest were blighted.
Joel 1:18.] From the homestead attention is directed to the fields. Cattle] bewildered because the plains often cropped yield no pasture. Sheep] seem to mourn the guilt of man.
GREAT NATIONAL CALAMITIES.—Joel 1:16-18
As a proof that the day of the Lord is approaching the prophet sets in detail the judgments that were upon the land. Present prospects were cut off, all future hope frustrated, rotten seed, withered fruits, and desolate land, cause man and beast to mourn.
I. Human sustenance taken away. “Is not the meat cut off before your eyes?” When the fruits were ripe, the corn ready for the reaper, and the grapes longing to be pressed; when everything was set before their eyes for their enjoyment, they were taken away. God can easily disappoint our expectations. Meat is often cut off from our eyes by sin. True sustenance is in God and in his word. Man’s life, even his physical life, is not dependent for its continuance upon bread alone. God has but to will to the subject elements, material and spiritual, and any other means will suffice, as well as bread, to sustain life. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
II. Festive joy cut off. “Joy and gladness from the house of our God.” Pinched by famine, the offerings for the priest and the temple had perished. Annual feasts and national thanksgivings had departed. The joy, all the deeper because it was “the joy of the Lord,” the gladness, all the more pure and sweet because it was “gladness in the house of their God,” had ceased perforce. How sad to be deprived of necessary food and the ordinances of God’s house! When the body is not fed the mind will starve, the morals will suffer. As the brain depends upon the blood for its nourishment, so the soul depends upon God for its health. He imparts to those who love him a joy of exuberance in all the good things of life. None are poor but those who sin and despise the warnings of God’s providence. “The Lord will not suffer the soul of the righteous to famish; but he casteth away the substance of the wicked.”
III. National drought prevailed. The land greatly suffered, cattle and herds were distressed, and groaned out their life through want of pasture.
1. The cattle suffered. “How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed.” Touch after touch is given. Not only do men suffer, but innocent cattle groan who depend upon their care. The herds of oxen find the oft-cropped plains destitute of pasture. The sheep, which can feed where herds cannot, wander in their pitiful distress and bleat in vain. “Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.”
2. The homesteads were destroyed. “The barns are broken down.” It is not enough to lose joy and mirth. The very “seed is rotten under the clods.” The prospects of the harvest are destroyed. Vegetation and grass, smitten by the burning sun, have withered. The husbandmen despair, and suffer their “barns” to break down, and their “garners” to become heaps of ruins. Thus one mischief is heaped upon another. All nature is touched in sympathy and robed in mourning for man’s guilt. “Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field and with the fowls of heaven” (Hosea 4:3).
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
The husbandman was called to mourning for a threefold calamity that lay upon his tillage (Amos 5:16). First, immoderate rain in or about seeding; secondly, locusts and other vermin at spring; thirdly, extreme drought after all (Joel 1:19-20). Thus God followeth sinners with one plague in the neck of another (as he did Pharaoh, that sturdy rebel), till he has made his foes his footstools. To multiply sin is to multiply sorrow (Psalms 16:4); to heap up wickedness is to heap up wrath (Romans 2:5) [Trapp].
Let us here recall the fact, that it is the Spirit of God who speaks by the mouth of his prophet; for it is to be feared that we do not make enough of the humanity of God, of his intense delight in trees and flowers, in herds and flocks; of his humane care for them, of his tender sympathy with them. The Psalms and Prophecies are full of this Divine humanity, no Prophecy fuller, perhaps, than that of Joel; and in no passage of Joel’s is that tender, intense humanity more beautifully and pathetically expressed than in the verses (18–20) we have just considered [Cox].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Joel 1:16-18. Nature presents two aspects towards us. If we sin and oppose her, she is stern, implacable, and destructive, charged with storms and thunder, famine and pestilence; if we yield and obey, we secure her blessings, co-operate with her laws, and command her forces. Love and serve God, and nature shall be at peace with thee.
Joel 1:19.] Beasts cry to God, but man hears not; the prophet is touched and cries for the impenitent. To thee] beasts even lift their heads in dumb appeal, and to thee I cry, for thou art the only hope (Isaiah 15:5; Jeremiah 23:9), amid the insensibility of man, the distress of nations, and the judgments of providence.
STUPIDITY IN NATIONAL CALAMITIES REPROVED BY BRUTES AND GOOD MEN.—Joel 1:19-20
The fact that irrational creatures suffer with man should make him cautious in his conduct. If the people neglect the warnings of the prophet, they should heed the cries of the brute creation. Both the animal and vegetable world are included in man’s destiny for good or for evil. Should we be silent when beasts implore help?
I. Some men are insensible to sin in great national calamities. The drought had consumed the pastures of the field, burned the trees of the forest, and dried up the waterbrooks, but Israel did not see the hand of God in this. Man is a creature of emotion, and is bound to acquaint himself with all the phenomena calculated to move him; to estimate them according to their design, and to carry out the emotions which they produce into final acts. Every object is adapted to produce a certain state of mind. The hand of God in history, the judgments of God in nations, should be read and observed by us. If we discern not the presence of God, if through selfishness and hardness of heart we despise the chastisements of God, we aggravate our sin and unbelief. God has placed us in certain relations to himself and his works as sentient and intelligent beings. We have capacities higher than brutes, can see and hear God in his dispensations, and live habitually under a sense of duty. But the complaint is often made, “Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.” “For God speaketh once, yea, twice, yet man perceiveth it not.”
II. This insensibility to sin in great national calamities is censurable. Men ought to feel in distress. If they do not they violate their own nature and disregard the voice of God.
1. Brutes reprove insensible men. “The beasts of the field cry also unto thee.” They depend upon God, and he gives them their meat in due season (Psalms 145:15). When young lions lack and suffer hunger, they “seek their meat from God” (Psalms 104:21). They enjoy the gifts of nature with sensitive pleasure and apparent gratitude. But men are heedless of their groans, stupid in their folly, and turn not to God in their trouble. “The stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle, and the crane, and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of God.”
2. God’s people reprove insensible men. The prophet stirs them up by his own example. If no one else will call upon God, “O Lord, to thee will I cry.” When others are unmoved God’s people are touched with national calamities. They set others an example, and seek to provoke them to repentance and return to God.
1. An example of penitence. The heart of the prophet was deeply moved for innocent creatures and for ungodly men. We hear his sighs, see his tears, and dwell upon his words. He comes before us, an embodiment of the spiritual and personal duty he teaches. He is the prophet of repentance, and sees in the judgments of God motives to repentance. National sins brought national affliction, and should cause national humiliation.
2. An example of patriotism. God’s people are as keenly alive to the interests and dangers of the nations as others. The Hebrew prophets were patriots and statesmen, to whom nothing that affected the national welfare was alien or indifferent. “May Heaven save my country,” cried a British legislator. So good men see God in everything; point out the real causes of suffering; the operation of moral under physical law; and lament the state of the country and the condition of the people. “For the mountains will I take up a weeping and wailing, and for the habitations of the wilderness a lamentation, because they are burned up, so that none can pass through them; neither can men hear the voice of the cattle.”
3. An example of prayer. The prophet turned to God, our only hope in distress. In public calamity men write pamphlets, make speeches, and enact laws to meet and overcome it. But the man of God goes to the root of evil, and points out its only cure. He holds the principles of Divine life in his soul, believes that individual circumstances and national events are controlled by God’s will, and sees in present visitations the future results to the wicked and the righteous. God was working out his mysterious purposes, and he prays that the visitations of anger may be turned into corrective discipline. As Abraham prayed for the cities of the plain and Moses for the tribes of Israel, so Joel betakes himself to Jehovah. “O Lord, to thee I will cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness.”
Lord, what a change within us one short hour
Spent in thy presence will prevail to make,
What heavy burdens from our bosoms take;
What parched grounds refresht as with a shower?
We kneel, and all around us seems to lower;
We rise, and all—the distant and the near—
Stands forth in sunny outline, brave and clear—[Trench].
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
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 [Pusey].
Beasts cry. I. The dependence of all creatures upon God. II. The compassion of God to all creatures—
1. In removing their sufferings.
2. In supplying their wants. An argument against cruelty to animals and a motive to prayer. If God hears the cries of dumb animals will he not hear our prayers?
The double purpose of Divine judgments upon a nation—
1. Restoration of land.
2. Improvement of men.
1. A suffering world in sympathy with suffering man. What a mystery man’s sin, desolating the land, blighting the trees, and adding to the groans of the brute creation! The whole creation, animate and inanimate, touched by the fall of man! What evidences of sin! What motives to repentance!
2. A beneficent world in sympathy with restored man. A cheering thought that true penitence and restoration to God will give pasture to flocks, beauty to flowers, and freshness to the landscape. “New heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Joel 1:19-20. Animal sensibility forms a perpetual appeal to human sensibility, and is an important means of its improvement. The progressiveness of creation is made subservient to the moral education and advancement of the human race. A single alteration throws the whole into disorder. What a picture, then, for man to be ungrateful, insensible, and rebellious in the sufferings of nature for his conduct!
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Joel 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany