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Joel, declaring sundry judgments of God, exhorteth to observe them, and to mourn: he prescribeth a fast for complaint.
Before Christ 800.
Joel 1:2. Hear this, ye old men— This prophesy begins with threatening the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the land of Judah, with such desolation of their country, by swarms of locusts, as had never happened to them before in the memory of the oldest inhabitants of the land, and as should occasion the utmost distress to all sorts of persons among them. The havock that should be made by these creatures is described in a lively manner. Their corn of all sorts should be devoured, and all their choicest fruit-trees entirely destroyed; so that there should be the greatest scarcity of provision in the land, and not enough to supply the meat and drink-offerings for the altar of God. And what should increase this calamity was, the excessive heat and drought which should happen at the same time, whereby their herds and flocks should be almost ready to perish for want of water. Chandler.
Joel 1:4. That which the palmer-worm hath left, &c.— Bochart has given many probable reasons to believe, that the four Hebrew words here used, חסיל chasil, ילק ielek, ארבה arbeh, גזם gazam, signify four species of locust; which the learned reader will find in his Hieroz. tom. ii. lib. v. c. 1. See also Scheuchzer on the place.
Joel 1:5. Awake, ye drunkards— This character is given to Ephraim, Isaiah 28:1; Isaiah 28:3.; and excessive drinking is assigned as a reason of the captivity of Israel, Amos 6:6-7. Kimchi's commentary on the place, is, "You who accustom yourselves to get drunk with wine; awake ye out of your sleep, and weep night and day; for the wine shall fail you, because the locust shall devour the grape." See Chandler, and Sharpe. The author of the Observations thinks that new wine is a faulty translation; and that it should be rendered sweet wine; sweet as the new-trodden juice of grapes, but old. Wines (says he) of this sort were chiefly esteemed in former times, as appears from the Septuagint; for that which our version of Est 1:7 renders, Royal wine in abundance, according to the state of the king, they read, Much and sweet wine, such as the king himself drank. Dr. Russel observes of the white wines of Aleppo, that they are palatable, but thin and poor, and seldom keep sound above a year. Now the prophet, in chap. Joe 3:18 describes a state of great prosperity, by the mountains dropping down sweet wine; as much as to say, the mountains of Judaea should not produce wine like that of Aleppo, but that which was rich, and capable of being long kept, and by that means of acquiring the greatest agreeableness. The same word עסיס asiis, is very properly translated sweet wine in Amo 9:13 and the same rendering in this place is confirmed and illustrated by an observation of Dr. Shaw's, concerning the wine of Algiers; which, says he, before the locusts destroyed the vineyards, in 1723 and 1724, was not inferior to the best Hermitage, either in briskness of taste or flavour. But since that time it is much degenerated; having not hitherto (that is, in 1732) recovered its usual qualities, Travels, p. 146. It is a desolation of their vineyards by locusts that Joel threatens, which thus injures their produce for many years as to briskness and flavour; and consequently nothing was more natural than to call the drunkards of Israel to mourn on that account. See Isa 49:26 and the Observations, p. 195.
Joel 1:6. For a nation is come up— A word of consideration concerning the locusts may not be altogether improper, says Dr. Sharpe in his Second Argument, &c. And as the commentators are divided in their opinions, it will be but fair to give a brief view of what has been said on both sides. To begin then with Grotius, Houbigant, Rabbi Tanchum, Abarbanel, &c. they are of opinion, that the prophet has used this image to set forth the multitude of the Chaldean army; but then Bochart and others, on the contrary, assert, that it is an army of real locusts, and not of men. Some, as Cyril and Theodoret, have interpreted it of both. Jerome informs us, that some of the Jews before his time understood this description of the locusts to be figurative, and to mean the most powerful enemies of the Jews: and he himself is forced to confess, that while you read of locusts, you think of the Babylonians. The force of the Chaldeans (says he) is described under the metaphor of locusts. This interpretation is favoured also by the Chaldee. Pocock has, with great learning and diligence, endeavoured to prove, that locusts, not men, are here described by the prophet; and then, after such his literal interpretation, he allows it will be lawful for any to apply them to such things as he pleases. Throughout the prophesies of Daniel, kings, kingdoms, and forces, are represented under the names and parts of animals; the lion, bear, ram, goat, horns, wings. The king of Egypt is represented, Isa 27:1 by leviathan, the crooked serpent; the literal meaning is, "The crocodile of the Nile:" the real import is Psammeticus, king of Egypt, taken prisoner by Cambyses. The army of Nebuchadnezzar is compared to locusts (grasshoppers in our version), Jer 46:23 which is a common metaphor for numerous and destructive armies, as the reader may see by comparing Isaiah 33:4.Judges 6:5; Judges 6:5; Judges 7:12. It may therefore be presumed, that, under the metaphor of locusts, Joel describes the army of the Chaldeans; and this presumption is moreover favoured by several circumstances in the description. The locusts were of four kinds; and the enemies appointed over the Jews were of four kinds, Jeremiah 15:2-3. Jerome, with other interpreters, suppose the succession of these insects to mean the four several attacks of the Chaldeans: that is to say, first, in the last year of Nabopolassar, and third of Jehoiachim; secondly, when that king was taken prisoner, in the eleventh year of his reign; thirdly, in the ninth of Zedekiah; fourthly, about three years after, when Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. To conclude, we may with Bishop Warburton regard this as a double prophesy, and consider that Joel in his prediction of an approaching ravage by locusts, foretels likewise, in the same word, a succeeding desolation by the Assyrian army; for we are to observe, that this was God's method both in warning and punishing a sinful people. Thus when the seven nations, for their exceeding wickedness, were to be exterminated, God promises his chosen nation to send hornets before them,&c. See Exo 23:28 and Wis 12:8, &c. Now Joel, under one and the same prediction, contained in this and the following chapter, foretels both these plagues; the locusts in the primary sense, and the Assyrian army in the secondary. See Div. Leg. book 6: sect. 6 and the note on chap. Joel 2:20.
Joel 1:7. My vine— This is the name of Judah, Psalms 80:8. Instead of, Cast it away, Houbigant reads, Deprived it of all fruit.
Joel 1:8. Lament like a virgin— A young woman. Houbigant. These words are an apostrophe to the land of Judah; the prophet puts her in mind, that she ought to be deeply affected with the heavy strokes of divine vengeance, and express her inward sense of these calamities, with the same external marks of mourning as a wife who had lost the husband of her youth. See AEneid 4: ver. 1:28 and Calmet.
Joel 1:12. The vine is dried up— In Barbary, in the month of June, the locusts collect themselves into compact bodies, a furlong or more square; and afterwards, marching directly on toward the sea, let nothing escape them; eating up every thing that is green or juicy, not only of the lesser kind of vegetables, but also the trees mentioned in this verse. The author of the
Observations is of opinion, that apple-tree cannot be a proper translation in this place; for the apples which the Arabs of Judea eat at this day, are of foreign growth, and at the same time very indifferent. He is therefore of opinion that the citron-tree is meant. See Observations, p. 199 and Dr. Shaw's Travels.
Joel 1:17. The seed is rotten, &c.— Rotted. Whoever considers the authentic accounts given of the depredations of locusts in the year 1748 in our own country, wherein they were found burrowing under ground, and consequently destroyed the seeds under the clods, thereby rendering the gardens desolate, must own that this part of the description is applicable to the locusts: though Dr. Sharpe observes, "that these calamities are the natural consequence of war, and not the work of locusts; and that the whole is a picture of a country, not only pillaged and laid waste, but also deprived of its inhabitants; which was the truth of the case, they having been carried into captivity." See his Second Argument, p. 333.
Joel 1:18. How do the beasts groan!— That is, "How grievous will be the distress of the beasts of the field! How sadly will they complain, through the vehemency of thirst! How will the herds of cattle be troubled and perplexed! for their verdant pastures shall be all scorched up, and they will have none wherein to feed. The flocks also shall be desolate, and ready to perish." See Jeremiah 14:1-6; Jeremiah 15:2. Instead of, The herds of cattle are perplexed, Houbigant reads, How mournful are the lowings of the herds!
Joel 1:19. For the fire hath devoured, &c.— By the fire, is meant the fiery heat and drought which burned up all the pastures or pleasant places, both in the wilderness and in the valleys.
Joel 1:20. The beasts, &c.—the pastures— Every one of the beasts cries, &c.—the pleasant places.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The prophet opens his discourse,
1. With an address to all the inhabitants of Judea, old and young, whose attention he demands to the message that he was about to deliver: a message of judgment, such as the oldest could not remember, nor the tradition of former ages produce; and which ought to be handed down to the latest posterity, that, warned by the sufferings of their forefathers, they may avoid their sins.
2. The judgment itself is an invasion from a terrible enemy; and is by many applied to the Assyrians, who ravaged and desolated the country; but may literally be better referred to the armies of locusts and other insects, which, in swarms succeeding each other, devoured all the fruits of the earth, and left the whole land barren as the scorched desert. Despicable as they might seem apart, their multitudes made them formidable: not the ravages of the lions from the forest could be more fatal: not only the vine-leaves are eaten up, but the very fig-trees are barked and destroyed by them. Note; God never wants instruments of vengeance: the most insignificant insect can in his hand be made the severest scourge; and a locust terrible as a lion.
3. The drunkards are admonished to lament the judgment which their sins had provoked, and by which they would be particularly affected, because the new wine is cut off from their mouths. And justly does God punish those who abuse his favours, by depriving them of their good things, and leaving them in want and wretchedness to lament their baseness.
2nd, The whole nation, deeply affected with the calamity, is called upon to mourn in sackcloth, as a virgin who is robbed of her betrothed spouse, on whom her warmest affections were fixed, and whose loss fills her heart with bitterest anguish. Note; They who are wedded to worldly comforts find it death to part from them.
The corn, wine, and oil, are perished; the trees stripped of leaves and fruit, and withered away; the very earth looks dark, and mourneth over the desolations; because joy is withered away from the sons of men; the songs of harvest and the shouting of the vintage are silent, and nothing is heard but howling and groans. Particularly,
1. The husbandmen and vine-dressers are called to bewail the dreadful devastations: their labours are ruined, their hopes disappointed, themselves and families left to pine in want, and perish by famine.
2. The priests of the sanctuary are commanded to join the general cry, and mourn over the deserted altars, where no sacrifice smoked, no oblation was presented. They are called ministers of the altar, as bound to a constant attendance there; and ministers of my God, this being their distinguished honour; and the motive to their indefatigable labour. They would now be peculiar sufferers, and be destitute of that maintenance with which the altar used to supply them; but a nobler concern must fill their minds, and grief to see God's worship neglected must swallow up every other concern which is merely their own. Note; A true minister of the Gospel has God's glory more at heart than every other consideration: compared with this, he counts not even his own life dear unto himself.
3rdly, To avert the heavy wrath upon them, the prophet points out to them the properest means to be pursued. As their sufferings came from God's displeasure, to remove this must be their first concern.
1. Let a solemn fast be proclaimed, a day of deep humiliation sanctified and set apart; that with united supplications they might surround the throne of grace; and while by a strict abstinence from meat and drink they acknowledged themselves unworthy of every mercy, and, prostrate in the courts of the Lord's house, confessed the justice of the judgments that he had inflicted, they might with prayers and tears cry unto a pardoning God, that sin, the cause of their calamity, being forgiven, their sufferings, the dire effects thereof, might be removed, Note; (1.) National judgments call for national humiliation. (2.) When we are found in God's appointed ways, we may humbly hope that he will meet us in mercy. (3.) Affliction then answers the end for which it was sent, when it brings us to our knees, and raises the cry of fervent importunate prayer.
2. Abundant reason there is for this humiliation.
[1.] What they suffered already was grievous. If they looked into their garners, they were empty; if to God's house, no sacrifice or oblation was seen; if to the country, desolate it mourned, the seed under the clod is rotten, and the very beasts groan, perplexed for want of food, and pining away. Note; (1.) How terrible is famine: how thankful ought we to be for the great plenty that we in general enjoy; and how should we fear to provoke God, by our abuse of his mercies to withhold them! (2.) The very earth mourns, the very beasts groan under men's sins; and shall we ourselves be the only insensible beings in the whole creation?
[2.] What they feared was yet more terrible: for the day of the Lord is at hand. What they felt was but the beginning of sorrows, and a foretaste of the greater evil approaching; as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come; which may refer to the ruin of the nation at first by the Chaldeans, or afterwards by the Romans, sent to punish them for their iniquities by Jehovah, whose arm of omnipotence is irresistible. And, more generally, this may be applied to every sinner, whose judgment advances, whose damnation slumbereth not, whose everlasting destruction is at the door; unless he repent without delay, he perishes eternally. Well, therefore, may we cry, Alas for the day!
3. The prophet urges them hereunto by the examples before them.
[1.] His own. O Lord, to thee will I cry: as deeply affected with their sins and their sufferings, he earnestly addresses his prayer to God; to him who wounds, and alone is able to heal; the fire of whose wrath, whatever instruments were employed, had almost consumed them; and He only, who had kindled, could quench it. Note; They who call others to fasting and prayer, must themselves lead the way.
[2.] Of the beasts. The beasts of the field cry also unto thee; with sounds inarticulate indeed, but which the Lord can hear and pity. They are parched with thirst and famished with hunger; for the rivers of water are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, scorched up with the excessive drought. Note; The very lowing of the oxen, yea, the ravens' cries, shall rise up in judgment to reproach the stupidity of the sinner who restrains prayer before God.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Joel 1". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany