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The word of the Lord that came to Joel the son of Pethuel. The name Joel signifies "Jehovah is God," or "whose God is Jehovah." We read in Scripture of several of the same name, but the prophet is distinguished as "the son of Pethuel," a name signifying "the sincerity of God," or "godly simplicity." We are not certain of the exact period at which Joel prophesied, but he is generally believed to have been the earliest prophetic writer of the southern kingdom, and one of the earliest of the twelve minor prophets, while Jonah is generally thought to have been the earliest prophetic writer whose book has found a place in the sacred canon. It is at least certain that Joel preceded Amos, who begins his prophecy with a passage from Joel (comp. Joel 3:16 with Amos 1:2). and borrows from Joel another towards the close (comp. Joel 3:18 with Amos 9:13). Besides, Joel speaks, in the second chapter, of the plague of locusts as yet future; while Amos, in the fourth chapter of his prophecy, refers to it as past. He likewise prophesied before Isaiah, who also borrows, in Isaiah 13:6, a sentence which occurs in Joel 1:15.
These verses describe the invasion of the locusts, with an exhortation to reflect on and lament for the calamity.
Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?
Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation. The prophet thus draws attention to the event which be is about to relate, or rather predict, a8 a calamity unknown in the memory of living men, unheard of in the days of their fathers, unparalleled in the past experience of their nation, and one affecting all the inhabitants of the land. He challenges the old men whose memory went furthest back, and whose experience had been longest and largest, to confirm his statements; he calls on the inhabitants of the land to consider an event in which they were all concerned, and to recognize the hand of God in a disaster in which all would be involved. But, though the visitation with which they are threatened had had no precedent or parallel among the generation then present, or that which preceded it, or for many long years before, it was not to remain without memorial or record in the time to come. To this end the prophet commands his countrymen of Judah to relate it to their children, to their grandchildren, and even to their great-grand-children. The expression reminds us of Virgil's—
"Yea, sons of sons, and those who shall from them be born."
It reads like a reminiscence of what is recorded of one of the plagues—the plague of locusts—in Egypt, of which we read in Exodus 10:6, "Which neither thy fathers, nor thy fathers' fathers have seen, since the day they were upon the earth unto this day;" while the direction to have it transmitted by tradition seems an echo of what we read in the second verse of the same chapter: "That thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son, what things I have wrought in Egypt." Similarly, it is written in Psalms 78:5, Psalms 78:6, "He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children." The solemn manner in which the prophet draws attention to this by "Hear," "Give ear," and the earnestness with which he insists on the record of it being handed on from generation to generation, are intended to impress on the people the work of God in this visitation, its severity, the sin that caused it, and the call to repentance conveyed by it.
That which the palmer-worm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the canker-worm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten. Some interpreters consider, and rightly, we think, that the prophet enumerates in this verse four different species of locusts. The common or general name is arbeh, from rabhah, to be many; the gazam, or palmer-worm, is the gnawer, or biter, from a root (guzam) which signifies "to gnaw, bite, or cut off;" the yeleq, or canker-worm, is the licker, from yalaqlaqaq, to lick, or lick off; the chasil, or caterpillar, is the devourer, from chasal, to cut off. Thus we have the locust, or multitudinous one, the gnawer, the licker, and the devourer, either as
(1) four different species of locust; or
(2) the gnawer, licker, and devourer are poetical epithets of the locust, or multitudinous one.
These names do not denote the locust
(1) at different stages, according to Credner. Nor
(2) can we with propriety understand them allegorically, with Jerome, Cyril, and Theodoret, of the enemies of the Jews, whether
(a) the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Chaldeans,
(b) Medes and Persians,
(c) Macedonians and successors of Alexander, especially Antiochus, and
(d) the Romans;
or the hostile kings,
(c) Antiochus, and
(d) the Romans;
or those other kings,
(c) Sennacherib, and
The most celebrated Hebrew commentators understand the passage of locusts in the proper and literal sense. Thus Rashi says, "The palmer-worm locust, cankerworm, and caterpillar are species of locusts; and the prophet prophesies about them that they will come; and they came in those days, and they devoured all the fruit of the trees and every herb of the field." Abon Ezra says, "This the prophet prophesied in reference to the locust which should come to destroy the land. In the days of Moses there was one kind of locust alone, but now, with the arbeh, there are the gazam and yeleq and chasil, and these three kinds are joined." He also quotes Japhet as saying "that gazam is equivalent to gozez, cutting, and the mere is like mere in chinmam reykam; and yeleq, that which licks (yiloq) with its tongue … and chasil of some signification (yachsele-nenu) as shall consume it." In like manner Kimohi gives the derivation of the words as follows: "Some say that gazam is so called because it cuts (gozez) the increase; and arbeh, because it is numerous in species; and yeleq, because it licks and depastures by licking the herb; and chasil, became it cuts the whole, from 'And the locust shall consume it' (Deuteronomy 28:38)." When, however, Kimchi distributes the comings of the locusts into four separate and successive years, we must reject his interpretation in that respect. He says, "What the gazam left in the first year, the locust ate in the second year; for the four kinds did not come in one year, but one after another in four years; and he says, ' I will restore to you the years the locust hath eaten.'"
Three classes are called on to lament—the winebibbers, the husbandmen, and the priests. The verses before us (Joel 1:5-7) contain the prophet's appeal to the drunkards. Their sin had not alarmed them; the danger with which their soul was imperilled bad not aroused them; now, however, the heavy visitation that awaited them would affect them more vehemently, touching them more nearly. Deprived of the means of their favourite indulgence, they are urged to awake from their stupid slumber and perilous day-dream. They are summoned to weep, shedding silent but bitter tears, and howl, venting their so,row and disappointment in loud and long lamentation: Awake, ye drunkards, and weep; and howl, all ye drinkers of wine! He backs this exhortation by a most cogent and unanswerable reason—because of the new wine; for it is cut off from your mouth. The word asis is explained by Kimchi thus: "Wine is called עסיס, and so every kind of drink that goes out (is pressed out) by bruising and treading is called עסיס, according to the meaning of the root עסס in Mal 3:1-18 :21.
For a nation is come up upon my land, strong and without number. The loss of the wine and of the sweet juice of the grape would be a source of genuine sorrow to the drinkers of wine; that loss would be occasioned by the destruction of the vines. In this and the following verse the prophet explains the instrumentality by which that destruction would be brought about. The prophet, fully identifying himself with his countrymen, speaking in their name and as their representative, says "my land." Kimchi understands the suffix to "land," like "my vine" and "my fig tree" in the next verse, as referring either to the prophet himself or to the people of the land; while some refer it to Jehovah, the great Proprietor, who had given the land to his people for their inheritance while they observed his covenant and obeyed his commandments. The locusts ore called a nation, just as the "ants are a people not strong," and the "conies are" said to be "but a feeble folk." Kimchi lays that "every collection of living things is called a nation (qoy); accordingly the prophet applies ' nation' to the locust." Nor deem the weed "nation" thus applied support the allegorical sense any more than the Homeric—
"Even as go the swarms [literally nations] of closely thronging bees."
This army of locusts is characterized by the two qualities of strength and number. The preterite עָלָה, though past, really refers to the future, to express the certain occurrence of what is predicted; so with שָׂם in the following verse, of which Kimchi says, "The past is in place of the future;" and Aben Ezra more fully, "A thing that is decreed to take place is spoken of in the past." This army has peculiar weapons, yet nothing the less powerful. Whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek-teeth of a great lion; or, lioness. Different descriptive terms are applied to lions—the lion's whelp is גּוּר; the young lion, which, though young, is no longer a whelp, is כְּפִיר; also the lion, from its hoarseness at a certain age, is called שַׁחַלֹ; the lion, from its cry, is called by onomatopoeia, לָבִיּא; the lion, from its strength, is called לַיִשׁ; while the common name of a lion, derived probably from אָרָה, to pluck or tear, is אַרְיֵה. Having compared the invading locusts to an army powerful and countless, the prophet proceeds to speak of the weapons wielded by these warlike and hostile invaders. They are their teeth. While the common name for locust respects their multitude, the other names are of the nature of epithets, and all, as we have seen, derived from the vigour and voracity with which they use their teeth. Those teeth, so destructive, are compared to those of a lion and the molars or grinders of a great, stout, old lion or lioness, for the word has been translated in each of these ways.
He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree (margin, laid my fig tree for a barking): he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white. We have here a detailed description of the destruction and devastation caused by this locust-army in its invasion of the land of Judah. The most valuable and most valued production of that land, the vine and fig tree, are ruined. The vine is laid waste, so that the vineyard becomes a wilderness:
(1) "he has barked the fig tree"; or rather,
(2) "he has broken the branches." The word קְצָפָח denotes a fragment or something broken, branches broken off, and so the LXX; "hath utterly broken (εἰς συγκλασμόν);" while
(3) Aben Ezra explains it, "Like foam on the face of the water, in which there is nothing;" i.e. a thing of nought. The locusts, by gnawing, had stripped off the bark, or by their excessive weight had broken off the branches. The next clause, which speaks of making it clean bare, is explained by the Chaldee of peeling off the bark, but that, according to the first rendering, has been already expressed. It is rather more than this—it is stripping off the leaves and fruits or flowers; the barked or broken branches and twigs of vine and fig tree are then cast away or down to the ground. And all that is left are the whitened branches from which the bark has been stripped off. The casting away or down to the earth may refer to the bark; thus Kimchi: "He removes the bark; and so Jonathan explains, 'He quite removes the bark and casts it away;' and the explanation is that he casts the bark to the earth when he eats the juicy parts between the bark and the wood; or the explanation may be that he eats the rind and casts the vine blossom to the earth, and, lo, it is bared." Some, again, understand it of what is uneatable, and others of the vine itself.
The consequence of such ruin and havoc is great and general lamentation. The drunkards were first called on in the preceding verses to mourn, for the distress came first and nearest to them. But now the priests, the Lord's ministers, mourn; things inanimate, by a touching personification, join in the lamentation—the land mourneth; the husbandmen that till the ground mourn.
Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth.
1. The verb here, which is an ἅπαξ λεγόμενον, is
(1) imperative feminine; the subject must, of course, correspond. That subject has been variously supplied:
(a) the ground, according to Aben Ezra;
(b) naphshi, my soul, i.e. the prophet's address to himself;
(c) the daughter of Zion, or virgin daughter of Zion; but
(d) the congregation or people of Judah, as suggested in the Chaldee, is the real subject.
(2) The LXX. has θωρήνησον πρός με, evidently combining two readings, or rather two punctuations, of the same word, viz. hsilgnE:egaugnaLאֵלִי}, to me, and אֱלִי, lament.
2. The mourning is of the deepest, bitterest kind, like that of a virgin for the husband of her youth. It is either the case of a maiden betrothed to a youthful bridegroom, whom she sincerely loves, but he dies before they are married, and thus, instead of the wedding dress, she puts on the garment of mourning, the sackcloth of rough hair; or she has been married, and her husband, still in youth, is snatched away from her by death, and she is clothed in widow's weeds—in her case real weeds of woe, and outward tokens of sincere, not simulated, sorrow. The expression reminds us of Isaiah's "wife of youth," and of the Homeric expression frequently translated "virgin or youthful spouse," though more correctly "wedded wife." Such is the lamentation to which the people of Judah are called.
The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the Lord; the priests, the Lord's ministers, mourn. While all the inhabitants of the land are called to lament, and have abundant cause for lamentation, different classes of society are specified, and the grounds of their sorrow particularized.
1. The meat offering and drink offering accompanied the morning and evening sacrifice, and that sacrifice, with its accompaniments, being an expression of gratitude to God by a daily presentation to him of the firstfruits of his own mercies, was a visible memorial of Jehovah's covenant with his people; while the fact of its being cut off implied the cessation or suspension of that covenant and the people's exclusion from the covenanted mercies of God.
2. But the ministering priests in particular had cause of mourning, indeed a twofold cause:
(1) their occupation was gone when there were no materials at hand wherewith to minister; their office could no longer last, as they wanted the appointed means for the discharge of its prescribed functions;
(2) their livelihood depended largely on those offerings in which they were allowed to have a share, but, when these ceased through failure of the means of supply, the support of the priests of necessity ceased also, or was so curtailed as to threaten the entire want of the means of subsistence.
The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted: the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth. This verse is closely connected with the preceding, for the failure of the meat offerings and drink offerings was owing to the devastation of the country and the destruction of its crops by the locust-plague. The field was laid waste by them, nor was it a field here and there, or a solitary district; it was the whole land without exception or exemption that had cause to grieve, "if aught inanimate e'er grieves." This is expressed by one of those paronomasias of which the Hebrews were so fond, thus, shuddad sadheh, abhelah adhamah, equivalent to "field falls, ground grieves;" or "field fruitless, land laments." The oblation, or meat offering, consisted of flour mingled with oil; the libation, or drink offering, consisted of wine. There were also firstfruits of corn and wine and oil; while all the produce of the land was tithabla. Now, however, the corn was wasted and the oil languished; and therefore the meat offering had partially failed or entirely ceased; the new wine was dried up, and therefore the drink offering must needs have been given up. The mention of corn and wine and oil in particular is owing to their connection with the temple service, for the firstfruits, tithes, oblations, and libations depended largely upon them.
Joel 1:11, Joel 1:12
Be ye ashamed, O ye husbandmen. The verb from בּושׁ (formed from יַבֵשׁ), to be or feel ashamed, or turn pale with shame; חָפֵר is "to blush or turn red with shame." It is written defectively, to distinguish it from הוֹבִישׁ, which occurs in the tenth verse and again in the twelfth, and which is the Hiph. of יָבֵשׁ, to be parched or dried up. Their hope was disappointed through the destruction of their wheat and barley—their most serviceable and valuable cereals; while disappointment of hope causes shame; hence we read of a "hope that maketh not ashamed, because it never disappoints as empty hopes do. Howl, O ye vinedressers, for the wheat and for the harley; because the harvest of the field is perished. The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth. There is a transposition here which is a species of the figure chiasmus, so called from the form of the Greek letter chi (χ). The husbandmen are put to shame on account of the destruction of the wheat and barley—the entire failure of their field crops and ruin of their harvest; while the vinedressers have reason to howl because of the loss of their vines and the languishing of their fig trees. The prophet, after particularizing the vine and fig tree, proceeds with the enumeration of other important fruit trees that had perished by the teeth of the locusts. The pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered. The pomegranate, though abundant in that region, had shared the fate of the fig and vine; even the palm tree, the date palm, though a vigorous tree and little subject to injury, having no juice in the leaves or fresh greenness in the rind, ceased to flourish; and the apple tree—the medicinal apple, as Virgil terms it—suffered in like manner. Nor was it the fruit trees only that were injured; the hardier forest or timber trees—all the trees of the field—shared in the calamity. Thus Jerome represents the prophet as asking, "Why should I speak of the corn, wine, oil, and barley? when even the fruits of the trees have been dried up, the fig trees have languished, with the pomegranate and palm and apple; and all trees, whether fruit-bearing or not, are consumed by the devastating locusts." Because joy is withered away from the sons of men. This clause is connected by" because" with "howl," the intermediate words being treated parenthetically or passed over. Joy here is either
(1) literal; while "withered" is figurative, and signifies "has ceased or been taken away;" or
(2) "joy" is figurative, denoting the means of joy, and" withered" may then be understood literally. The min, from, is a pregnant construction, that is, "is withered from" being equivalent to "is withered and taken away from" the sons of men. Thus Kimchi: "Because joy is withered—is withered, as if he said, 'it has ceased because the products and the fruits are the joy of the sons of men,' and so Jonathan explains it, 'because joy has ceased;' or the meaning of 'withered' may be by way of figure."
Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests: howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God. The invitation, or rather exhortation, here is to something more than lamentation and mourning; for, however natural in the circumstances, affliction itself could not avert or remove the calamity. They are urged, therefore, to repentance as well as lamentation. They were to assume the outward signs of the inward grace: they were to gird themselves with sackcloth, the outward symbol of their inward sorrow; next they were to enter the temple or house of God; they were to spend the night there in the attitude and garb of mourners; night and day they were to bewail their sins with humble, penitent, and contrite hearts. The priests are the persons first addressed, and that not only because, in discharge of their priestly functions as ministers of Jehovah and ministering at the altar, they had been specially touched by the present distress; but also because of their official position they were to present an example to the people whose leaders they were and on whose behalf they ministered. Kimchi gives a correct exposition of this verse: "Gird, that is to say, gird on sackcloth, and he explains afterwards, pass the night in sackcloth, because even by night ye shall not remove the sackcloth from off you; perhaps Jehovah will have mercy upon you. And he says, 'ministers of the altar,' and adds, 'ministers of my God,' because the ministry was as the altar to God; and he connects the ministry to God—to the altar, as wherein they minister to Jehovah." For the meat offering and the drink offering is withholden from the house of your God. This is the reason assigned for the urgent call to repentance; and it is much the same with that in the beginning of the ninth verse.
After urging the priests to lead the way in the matter, he proceeds to summon all classes of the people, and particularly the elders, to engage in penitence, fasting, and solemn supplications, in order to avert the calamities that were impending, or to escape from them if they had already begun.
Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord. The command is addressed to the priests as the representatives and rulers of the people in all matters of religion; they communicated to the people the commands of Jehovah. This verse directs attention to three things—the duty commanded; the persons called upon to discharge it; and the place of its performance.
1. The duty required was a fast and a solemn assembly; and the priests are strictly enjoined to see to it that both these shall be duly announced and rightly observed. The fast was abstention from food in token of sorrow for sin; it was intended to be the external evidence of penitential sorrow for sin. The solemn assembly, or "day of restraint," as it stands in the margin, was a public meeting of the people for the purpose of solemn supplication that the Almighty might be entreated to deliver them from the sore calamity with which he had seen fit to visit them. It was a season during which they were restrained from all servile work, and attention given exclusively to humiliation and prayer.
2. The persons summoned for this purpose were the elders, those who were so both by age and office—the magistrates as examples to others, and as having been implicated in the sins from which they now suffered. With the word "elders" are joined all the inhabitants of the land—the whole of the people, poor ann rich alike; all had had their share in the national sin, all were sharers in the national suffering, and it therefore behoved all to repent of their sins and seek the Lord.
3. The place of assembly was the house of the Lord; that is, the temple, or that portion of it called "the court of the Israelites." Nor were they to assemble there without an errand; the purpose of their assembling in that sacred place was to supplicate the Lord to alleviate their distress, or rather remove it altogether. They were directed to cry mightily to the Lord; to cry unto him with vehement earnestness and importunate perseverance till he would be pleased to send relief. The proclamation of a fast was a common expedient, to which people, Jewish and Gentile, according to their respective light, resorted in the day of their difficulty and distress. We read of it on many occasions; for example, by King Jehoshaphat in prospect of a hostile attack by the allied armies of Moab, Ammon, and Edom; again in the reign of Jehoiakim; also by Ezra in the day of danger; and by the people of Nineveh in consequence of the preaching of Jonah.
Alas for the day! for the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come. Some understand these words as suggested by the prophet to the people, that they might use them in their solemn and sorrowful appeal to the Almighty. This is favoured by the Syriac, which adds, "and say," as if the prophet prescribed to them the substance of their address. We prefer taking them as the prophet's own words, which he era-ploys to justify the urgency of the appeal contained in the two preceding verses to the ministers of religion, the priests, to the magistrates, the elders, and to all the mere-bets of the community, even all the inhabitants of the land. The day referred to is the time of the judgment that was coming on the land through the locusts. The day of the Lord, first mentioned, it is said, by Joel, is the day when he inflicts judgments on sinners, as in the present instance; it may be a presage of that judgment that brought ruin on their city, temple, and nation. It may be an emblem of that judgment that wound up their nation by the destruction of their capital, or even of the final judgment when God shall destroy impenitent sinners and deliver his saints. This day of the Lord comes suddenly, secretly, and irresistibly; and, when it comes, it is a destruction from the Almighty, or, according to the Hebrew paronomasia, keshod misshaddai, equivalent to "ruin from the Resistless." The day of God's anger against Judah is a presage of that day when, as Judge of all, Jew and Gentile, he will take vengeance on his enemies. Joel's prophetic glance reached onward and forward, not only to the close of the Jewish, but to the conclusion of the Christian, dispensation.
These verses contain manifest proofs that the day of the Lord was coming, and coming as a destruction from the Almighty. Is not the meat cut off before our eyes? The food for daily sustenance, and the food for Divine service—the corn and wine and oil, as mentioned in Joel 1:10—had vanished while they beheld the process of destruction, but could not binder it. "These locusts," says Thomson, in 'The Land and the Book,' "at once strip the vines of every leaf and cluster of grapes, and of every green twig. I also saw many large fig orchards 'clean bare,' not a leaf remaining; and, as the bark of the fig tree is of a silvery whiteness, the whole orchards, thus rifled of their green veils, spread abroad their branches 'made white' in melancholy nakedness to the burning sun." He then refers to the exclamation in Joel 1:15, and to that in the words before us, "Is not the meat cut off before our eyes?" and then proceeds," This is most emphatically true. I saw under my own eye 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." Yea, joy and gladness from the house of our God. Not only had the food necessary for the support of daily life perished—"The food of the sinners," says Jerome, "perishes before their eyes, since the crops they looked for are snatched away from their hands, and the locust anticipates the reaper,"—but the offerings used in Divine worship had ceased. Owing to the destruction of the crops, the firstfruits, as a matter of course, failed; the thank offerings could not be procured. Consequently, the joy that usually accompanied the presentation of these and other offerings was also cut off. When the Hebrews of old brought their burnt offerings, sacrifices, tithes, heave offerings, vows, free-will offerings, and firstlings of herds and flocks, it was a joyful season, a time of rejoicing before the Lord, as we learn from Deuteronomy 12:7, "There ye shall eat before the Lord your God, and ye shall rejoice in all that ye put your hand unto, ye and your households." All this joy and gladness, so graciously associated with the worship of Jehovah, were now things of the past. The seed (margin, grains)is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered. This was a fearful aggravation of their calamity. Their present distress thus prolonged itself into the future, as there was no prospect of a crop in the following year to cheer them. The rotting of the seed that had been sown and carefully covered in the earth was occasioned by the drought. The visitation of locusts, as Stanley says, "came, like all such visitations, in the season of' unusual drought—a drought which passed over the country like flames of fire." The rotting of the seed, and the withering of the corn, if the mouldering seed germinated and put forth a blade at all, rendered barns useless, and granaries, or the larger storehouses, unnecessary. The barns were left to decay and tumble down; and the granaries were desolate, and so there was no further use for them. Several difficult expressions occur in this verse, Perudoth is from parad, to scatter about, or to sow broadcast, and hence signifies "scattered things,"—seed or grain sown. עַבַשׁ is to dry up, moulder, wither; and is said of seeds that lose their germinating power Megraphoth are clods of earth, the root being garaph, to wash away (Judges 5:21); the noun, therefore, denotes a clod of earth rolled together by water and swept away. Otsaroth were the storehouses, but these were allowed to moulder away, as there was no reasonable prospect of a harvest or of grain to store in them. The mam-megurah or megurah, viz. the barns, had now become a useless appendage of the farmstead. How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate. The drought that preceded and accompanied the plague of locusts destroyed the pasture-grounds, and thus the herds of cattle were bewildered, being deprived of pasture and water; they were perplexed to know where to find food to satisfy the cravings of hunger, and water to quench their thirst; in their perplexity they sought both, but found neither. The flocks of sheep, too, that are more easily satisfied and accustomed to browse on grass shorter and sparser, were desolate for want of nourishment, or, as the word ashem may be translated, "expiate the sin of man," inasmuch as they suffered from its consequences. This also was true to the life, as Thomson assures us. After quoting this verse (Deuteronomy 12:18) he adds, "This is poetic, but true. A field over which this flood of desolation [the locusts] has rolled shows not a blade for even a goat to nip." What with the locusts devouring what appeared above ground, and the drought destroying the seeds sown under the surface, the havoc was complete; famine and distress afflicted both man and beast. In tile progress of this visitation the cereals—corn, and wheat, and barley, and other grains—were ruined; the fruit trees—vine, and olive, and fig, and pomegranate. and apple, and palm—were destroyed. But not only were the herbs for the service of man eaten up, but the grass for the cattle perished. Stanley refers to it in the following eloquent words: "The purple vine, the green fig tree, the grey olive, the scarlet pomegranate, the golden corn, the waving palm, the fragrant citron, vanished before them; end the trunks and branches were left bare and white by their devouring teeth. What had been but a few moments before like the garden of Eden was turned into a desolate wilderness. The herds of cattle and flocks of sheep so dear to the shepherds of Judah, the husbandmen so dear to King Uzziah, were reduced to starvation. The flour and oil for the 'meat offerings' failed; even the temple lost its accustomed sacrifices." The remarks of Kimchi on some of the difficult or unusual words of this verse deserve attention. On עבשו he observes, "It is equivalent in meaning to עפשו, for the beth and the pe belong to the same organ." In his note on perudoth he says, "They are the grains of seed that are under the earth; and he says another curse will be that the seed will be destroyed and rotten under the earth, and shall not bud; and what shall bud, the locusts shall eat it. Or the grains of seed shall rot because of the rains which do not descend upon them, for there shall also be in like manner a great drought [literally, ' restraint of rain'] in those years." On the garners (otsaroth) being laid desolate, and the barns (mammeguroth) broken down, he observes on the former, "The garners for the produce are laid desolate, for there was nothing to bring into them, and, lo! they are laid desolate. In reference to the latter he says, "He (the prophets) repeats the matter in different words; for mammeguroth is the same as otsaroth, and so 'is the seed yet in the barn, megurah' (Hosea 2:20), gives proof of this." And he accounts for their being broken down either
(1) because they brought nothing into them, or
(2) they were broken down because they had no caretaker to repair them after the custom from year to year, and so they fell and were destroyed." Of the perplexity of the herds he gives the following explanation: "He speaks collectively (i.e. the verb is singular, agreeing with the noun), and afterwards individually (the verb being plural); perplexed has the meaning of confusion, as a man who is confused in his knowledge, and does not know what to do, and so they (the herds) are confused in the land," in other words, they wandered up and down, and knew not where to go for drink or pasture. He (Kimchi) adds, in his further explanation. "that the flecks of sheep sometimes find pasture where the oxen do not find it, because that they (sheep) go up upon the mountains and upon the hills—a thing which the oxen do not in general do."
Joel 1:19, Joel 1:20
O Lord, to thee will I cry. In consideration of man and beast—creatures rational and irrational being subject to so much hardship and suffering—the prophet appeals in intense earnestness of spirit to God, and all the more so because of the encouragement of his own Word, as it is written, "Lord, thou preservest man and beast." For the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field. The fire and flame here referred to denote the fiery heat of the drought which burnt up the meadows and scorched the trees. Some seem to understand the terms literally, as applied to setting on fire the heath, or even the trees, in order to check the progress of the locusts or turn them aside by smoke and flame. This, however, is refuted by the following verse, which mentions the rivers of water being dried up: The beasts of the field cry also unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness. In like manner we read in Jeremiah 14:4-6, "Because the ground is chapt, for there was no rain in the earth, the ploughmen were ashamed, they covered their heads. Yea, the hind also calved in the field, and forsook it, because there was no grass. And the wild asses did stand in the high places, they snuffed up the wind like dragons; their eyes did fail, because there was no grass." The various animals suffering from hunger and thirst express their distress in loud and lamentable, though inarticulate, cries. The Hebrew words which respectively denote the cries of the different animals are, according to Rashi, the following: ערג expresses the cry of deer; נהם (also שׁאג), to roar like lions; נעה, to low as oxen; צחל, to neigh like horses; ציפצוף (rather צִפְצִף, fulfil), to twitter or chirp as birds. Further, the subject is plural, but the verb is singular, for the purpose of individualizing.
The value of the Divine Word.
The prophet gives us no intimation of the time when he wrote, nor of the tribe to which he belonged, nor of the family of which he was a member; he merely mentions the name of his father, probably for sake of distinguishing himself from others of the same name.
1. He is mainly occupied with the solemnity of the message which he had received, and the source whence it came; nor yet does he inform us of the mode in which the message reached him—whether by an audible voice, or vision by day or dream by night. Information of this kind might gratify curiosity, but would not tend to edification. Certain he was that the word came from God, and he hastens to assure those whom he addressed of the same.
2. God speaks to us in many ways.
A retrospect and a prospect.
The former was sufficiently gloomy, the latter might prove salutary in its tendency. The oldest are challenged to look back on the past and recall all the years that had been, and then say if they could find any parallel for the disasters of the calamitous time through which they had just passed or were passing. The prophet did not need to name or specify the calamity; somewhat indefinitely or abruptly he asks, "Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?" He knew well that the thought then uppermost in every heart was the calamity that had pressed so sorely, or was probably still pressing upon them.
I. THE DUTY OF COMMEMORATION IS TAUGHT US HERE. Why should a tale so doleful be put upon record and transmitted to children and children's children, that is, grand-children (for which there is no corresponding word in Hebrew), and onward still to great-grandchildren, and from them yet forward to another generation? We car easily understand why the memory of God's mercies should be kept up; but why keep a record of miseries so crushing and cruel? Obviously not for the purpose of distressing posterity. The object, there can be no reason to doubt, was to perpetuate a standing memorial of those great and grievous calamities, in order by such memorial to set up a solemn warning against the great and heinous sins that had entailed those calamities.
II. THE DESPICABLE THINGS THAT PROVIDENCE MAY MAKE THE MEANS OF DESTRUCTION. These locusts—"gnawer," "licker," "devourer"—whether different species of locusts, or different stages of their development, or merely poetical epithets rhetorically to characterize the destructive processes or modes of operation, were weak and mean instrumentalities by themselves and in their individual capacity.
The lessons taught by this calamity.
The lessons which God intended to teach his people by the calamitous events here recorded are solemn as salutary. Among them may be reckoned the ends for which they were sent, the alarming extent of them, and the effects produced.
I. THE ENDS OF THE CRUSHING CALAMITY THEN PRESSING ON THE PEOPLE OF JUDAH.
1. It was designed to rouse them out of their sinful slumber. Previous intimations of Divine displeasure had failed. Now God speaks to them in a way which they could no longer mistake or withstand.
2. He had spoken to them by the word of his prophets, now he speaks to them by the rod of his wrath.
3. The nature of their sufferings remind them of the nature of their sins, filling them with remorse, not so much, if at all, because of their sins, but because they are debarred the indulgence of those sins. Their regretfulness arises from their besetting sins becoming impossible to them.
II. THE EXTENT OF THE CALAMITY.
III. THE EFFECTS ARE PARTICULARIZED. The effects as here detailed prove the extremity of the distress. Every green thing perished before this terrible locust army of invasion; every succulent herb was devoured by them; then the trees were attacked—their fruitage, their sheltering leafage, their branches, their bark. No wonder they are again called on, both in their individual and national capacity, to mourn, and lamentation behoved to be of the most sincere and sorrowful kind. When God's judgments are abroad in the earth men learn righteousness.
The calamity has fallen upon all, and therefore the wail of woe proceeds from all.
All classes are summoned to this sorrowful work; no office in the state is exempt; things animate and inanimate; priests and people—the Lord's priests who ministered at the altar, and the people to whom they ministered; the whole land and the fields into which it was partitioned; the tillers of the soil and the dressers of the vine.
I. POVERTY TENDS TO THE DECAY OF PIETY. As a rule neither the depth of penury nor the height of prosperity is favourable to religion; in the one case corroding cares, in the other worldly pleasures, interpose between the soul and God.
II. THE BLIGHT IS BROUGHT BY SIN. The blessing of God makes rich, the smile of God makes all things joyful.
III. THE UNCERTAINTY OF WORLDLY PLEASURES SHOULD LEAD MEN TO SEEK SPIRITUAL ENJOYMENT. On the kindly fruits of the earth rich and poor were, as they still are, alike dependent. While the rich could afford the finest of the wheat, and the poor had to content themselves with such bread as barley yielded, both alike derived their support from the bounteous earth. They had looked forward for their supply from the harvest of the earth as usual without any dread or apprehension.
1. The pleasantest period of the year became the most painful.
2. The joy of harvest may be withheld, and all joy of an earthly kind or from an earthly source may be withered from the sons of men; but there are spiritual joys which no accidents, as men call them, can touch.
3. The children of God are independent of worldly pleasures.
IV. DUTIES ENJOINED. In times of emergency the duties of humiliation, fasting, and prayer are properly enjoined, and should be rightly observed.
1. The persons that are called on to lead the way in discharging such duties are the ministers of religion; as sharers in the common calamity, as having had a share in the sins that occasioned it, above all because of their prominent position as teachers and guides of the people in sacred things, they are bound to take a principal and prominent part in public humiliation, penitence, and prayer.
2. The first duty at such times is confession of sin; to this duty they are to address themselves at once, girding themselves for it.
3. With this full confession of sin with the lips, there must be real contrition of heart; of this the outward sign and symbol, as usual, in the East was clothing the body in sackcloth. While contrition without confession is defective, confession without contrition is hypocritical.
4. Nor is this grief for sin confined to the daytime; it extends into the night-watches.
I. THE DISCHARGE OF THE DUTIES ENJOINED IN A RIGHT WAY. After the prophet had summoned the ministers of religion to realize their responsibility and humble themselves under a due sense of sin—its sinfulness in God's sight—he further intimates its calamitous consequences to a country, to a community both in a temporal and spiritual sense; he then proceeds to point out the proper method of going about repentance and reform, urging the work with suitable motives.
1. There was to be a fast in all the homesteads of Judah, and by all the people of the land, with due preparation for its observance. "Sanctify ye a fast."
2. Then a proclamation of a solemn assembly was to follow.
3. The persons to be convened are specified. They were the public office-bearers and persons of influence, and along with them the whole people—high and low, rich and poor, young and old, alike. Thus a very promiscuous multitude, consisting of the whole body of the people with their rulers, was summoned to this great convocation.
4. The place of meeting was the house of God; for if we would worship God acceptably, we must follow the method he has prescribed.
5. And when all this preparation had been duly made—the proclamation made, the persons assembled, the place of convocation thronged—there was prayer, solemn, public, earnest, energizing prayer, to be engaged in—a simultaneous uplifting of heart and voice to the Lord, a crying unto the Lord their God.
II. CERTAIN WEIGHTY MOTIVES ARE ADDED.
1. We see in all this the sad effects and ruinous consequences of sin. Under its blighting influence the fairest spot on earth becomes a wilderness, the most fruitful land becomes a desert, and the richest region is turned into a barren waste by the iniquity of them that dwell therein.
2. The only way of relief is by returning to God. "Whither should we go with our cries but to him from whom the judgment we dread comes? There is no flying from him but by flying to him; no escaping from the Almighty but by making our submission and supplication to the Almighty; this is taking hold on his strength that we may make peace."
3. The prophet stimulates those that are backward to engage in this duty by his own example. "O Lord," he says, "to thee will I cry;' as though he said, "As for others, let them do what they please; as for myself, I will do that which conscience and God's own Word tell me to be the right thing to do, and the right as well as only safe course to take."
4. Our dependence on God both for daily bread and spiritual nourishment.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Joel 1:2, Joel 1:3
The generations of mankind succeed one another upon the face of the earth; but they are not disconnected, isolated, independent. Each receives from those who have gone before, and communicates to those who shall come after. Hence the continuity of human history; hence the life of humanity.
I. TRADITION ALONE IS AN INSUFFICIENT BASIS FOE RELIGION. It is well known that oral tradition is liable to corruption. Inaccuracy creeps in, and the truth is distorted, by the weakness of memory, the liveliness of imagination, the power of prejudice. Hence the importance of a "book-revelation," which has been often but unjustly reviled. The Scriptures are a standard by which correctness of belief may be tested, by which ignorance may be instructed, and errors avoided. There were traditions in the apostolic age which originated in misunderstanding, and which were corrected by the evangelists.
II. TRADITION HAS, HOWEVER, A VALUABLE PLACE IN RELIGION.
1. Memories of Divine goodness and interposition are thus preserved. The Passover may be adduced as an example. The children of a Hebrew family asked, when partaking of the Paschal meal, "What mean ye by this feast?" and an opportunity was thus given for the father to relate the story of Israel's emancipation from the bondage of Egypt.
2. Instances of Divine displeasure and wrath following upon human sin were thus handed down. Joel alluded especially in this passage to such purposes as these: Calamities came upon the land; the people were sorely chastened; and the prophet enjoins upon the old to communicate, to their posterity—to their children's children—the awful events by which Jehovah signalized his indignation with national unfaithfulness and disobedience.
3. Piety was thus promoted. One generation would learn from another what are the Divine laws, what the principles and methods of the Divine government. In this manner the fear of the Lord, and confidence in his faithfulness, would evidently be promoted and perpetuated.—T.
This solemn appeal to those who are designated and denounced as drunkards is fraught with implicit lessons of wisdom and faithfulness for all devout readers of God's Word.
I. IT IMPLIES THE PREVALENCE OF SPIRITUAL SLUMBER. Such is the state of those who are immersed in the cares and the enjoyments of this earthly life, who are deaf to the thunder of the Law and to the promises of the gospel, who are blind to the visions of judgment or of grace that are passing before their closed eyes.
II. IT DENOUNCES SPIRITUAL SLUMBER AS SIN AND FOLLY. The body needs sleep and repose; but the soul should never be insensible and indifferent to Divine and eternal realities. Such a state is one of indifference to the presence and to the revelation of him who has the first claim upon the hearts he has framed. Slumber such as this is fast deepening into death.
III. IT CALLS FOR REPENTANCE AND NEWNESS OF LIFE. There is implied a power to respond to the Divine summons. And certainly the first thing for the sinner to do is to shake off sloth and indifference, to look about him, to listen to the voice that speaks from heaven, to catch the welcome accents of the gospel, which is the message of God to the souls of men. Blessed be God, this is the appeal: "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light!"—T.
The old covenant was one especially characterized by human ministrations and external observances and solemnities. Apart from priests and sacrifices its purposes could not have been accomplished, and its witness to the world would have been unintelligible and vain. No wonder that to the Hebrew mind no prospect was more terrible than the cessation of public worship, of public offerings, of sacerdotal services. In the spiritual economy under which we live, the case is somewhat different. Yet no enlightened mind can contemplate without concern, without dismay, a state of society in which religious offices should be suppressed and religious ministrations silenced.
I. THE SUSPENSION OF THE OFFICES OF RELIGION WOULD INVOLVE THE SUSPENSION OF THE PUBLIC COMMUNICATION OF GOD'S WILL TO MAN.
II. IT WOULD INVOLVE THE DISCONTINUANCE OF HUMAN FELLOWSHIP IN THE LOFTIEST RELATIONS AND THE MOST BENEFICIAL EXERCISES.
III. IT WOULD INVOLVE THE CESSATION OF A UNITED AND PUBLIC PRESENTATION OF THE SACRIFICES DUE FROM MAN TO GOD.—T.
The withering of joy.
The description given by the prophet of the devastation and misery caused by the horrible plague of locusts is so graphic and so frightful, that the very strong language in which the effect produced upon the inhabitants of the land is portrayed cannot be deemed exaggerated. The husbandmen are covered with shame, and joy is withered in all hearts.
I. JOY IS NATURAL TO MAN, AND IS THE APPOINTMENT OF A BENEVOLENT CREATOR. It is occasioned by the plentiful produce of the earth, by the possession of health and by circumstances of comfort, by the solace of human affection. Joy is a motive to activity, and diffuses itself from heart to heart, and raises the tone of society. A joyless life man was not designed to leach
II. THE VISITATION OF CALAMITY MAY WITHER JOY. It is a plant of great beauty, but also of great delicacy. Exposed to the fierce winds of adversity, this fair plant withers and decays. Such is the constitution of the world, and such the changeable. ness of life, that this event does sometimes occur, as in the circumstances described in this passage by the Prophet Joel.
III. EVEN THE WITHERING OF JOY MAY BE SANCTIFIED AND OVERRULED FOR GOOD BY TRUE RELIGION. It may lead the afflicted to seek consolation and happiness in a higher than any earthly source. Especially does the gospel of Christ, by revealing unto us as our Saviour "a Man of sorrows," teach us that there are joys of benevolence and self-sacrifice which are preferable to all delights of sense, to all enrichments of worldly prosperity.—T.
The afflictions which befell Judah are represented as producing a deep impression upon the whole nation, and as justifying the calling of a general fast.
I. THOSE WHO FAST. This is an exercise which cannot be performed vicariously.
1. All the inhabitants of the land take part in it.
2. The elders of the people, as representatives and leaders, are especially summoned to attend.
II. THE TOKENS OF FASTING. Mere abstinence from food or from delicacies is not religious fasting. Humiliation and contrition are the essentials. Yet these may express themselves in renunciation of ordinary pursuits, refusal of ordinary pleasures, the assumption of mourning garments, the refusal of wonted repose and comfort.
III. THE RELIGIOUS ASPECTS OF FASTING. There must be acknowledgment of sin before God, with confession and contrition. The Lord's house must be sought. The confession must be general and public. The cry of prayer must be heard in the sanctuary. Such a fast will not be observed in vain. It will prepare the way for the day of reconciliation, and for the feast of gladness.—T.
The day of the Lord.
This phrase is peculiarly Joel's, and it is apparently used by him in different senses. Of these we notice three.
I. THE DAY OF THE LORD IS A DAY OF CALAMITY AND RETRIBUTION. This is plain from its further designation as a day of destruction, and from the prefatory exclamation "Alas]" with which it is introduced. Superstition, no doubt, has often misinterpreted the calamities of human life; yet it would be insensibility and spiritual blindness not to recognize the presence of God in the day of adversity. Such a day is the Lord's, as reminding us of the Lord's Kingship over creation, and as summoning us to sincere repentance towards God.
II. THE DAY OF THE LORD IS A DAY OF JUDGMENT. The retribution of the present is an earnest of the day of recompense to all mankind, when the Judge of all shall summon all nations to his bar.
III. THE DAY OF THE LORD IS TO HIS PEOPLE THE DAY OF SPIRITUAL AND IMPERISHABLE BLESSING. SO the Apostle Peter interprets the language of the Prophet Joel. The outpouring of spiritual blessing, the effecting of spiritual deliverance, the fulfilling of the purposes of infinite mercy, shall all come about in that promised and expected day.—T.
Joel 1:17,Joel 1:18
The desolation of the land.
Whether actually and literally by a plague of locusts, or by a hostile incursion such as a plague of this kind might well typify, Judah was overrun, afflicted, and cursed. The picture is one of unrelieved gloom and misery.
I. THE PUNITIVE JUDGMENTS OF GOD REACH MEN THROUGH THE CROPS OF THE FIELD, AND THE HERDS AND FLOCKS OF THE PASTURE. The necessaries of life, the constituents of wealth, are in the hand of God. He rules not only in heaven but upon earth. It may be doubted whether we are at liberty confidently to attribute to Divine displeasure the sufferings which befall nations in the way of disaster and famine; but in this passage this interpretation is given upon prophetic authority.
II. SUCH JUDGMENTS ARE INTENDED TO SUMMON THOSE AFFLICTED WITH THEM TO CONTRITION AND REPENTANCE. It may be that only by some such means can the hard heart be broken, and brought to true humiliation and penitence.
III. SUCH JUDGMENTS SHOULD LEAD MEN TO SEEK THEIR HIGHEST GOOD, NOT IN PERISHABLE POSSESSIONS, BUT IN SPIRITUAL ENRICHMENT. To many men poverty, losses, worldly ruin, have been the means of the highest happiness. Well is it if, losing the gifts, we find the Giver; losing the streams, we find the Fountain. The soul may learn to cry, "Thou art my Portion, O my God!"—T.
Joel 1:19, Joel 1:20
Trouble leads to prayer.
When Scripture depicts human misery and destitution, it does not leave the matter, as though there were nothing further to say. Always a way of escape is pointed out; always a gleam of light is let in upon the darkness; always a remedy is offered for the disease whose symptoms are described.
I. THE CRY TO WHICH TROUBLE LEADS IS A CRY OF CONFESSION. God has not afflicted the greatest sufferer beyond his deserts. The distressed soul gives utterance to the acknowledgment, Against thee, thee only, have I sinned.
II. THE CRY WHICH TROUBLE PROMPTS IS A CRY OF HELPLESSNESS. The soul may have called upon others, and in vain. There is no answer, no deliverance, when help is sought from man. Perhaps the soul addresses itself last to the Helper who should have been sought first, before all
III. THE CRY WHICH TROUBLE PROMPTS IS A CRY OF FAITH. God has said, "Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee." The promise is remembered, acted upon, and pleaded. Believing the Divine assurance, the afflicted lifts up his eyes unto the hills whence cometh help.
IV. THE CRY WHICH TROUBLE PROMPTS IS A CRY WHICH IS HEARD AND ANSWERED. God delights to hear the suppliant's entreaty, the sinner's confession, the earnest petition of interceding friends. Such cries come up into the ear of God. The sacrifice is accepted; the sin is forgiven; the grace is accorded; the chastisement is removed; the blessing is bestowed.—T.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
The life-work of an obscure prophet.
The literary style of this book deserves the consideration of every student of Scripture. With the exception of Isaiah and (as some think) of Habakkuk, Joel surpasses all his brethren in sublimity. His pictures of the disasters following upon sin are marvellously vivid, and his promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit was still living in the memory of the Jews when Peter, on the day of Pentecost, declared that its fulfilment had come. The first half of the book describes the Divine judgments which were at hand, and the second half (beginning with the eighteenth verse of Joel 2:1-32.) unfolds the promise of Divine favour. Its readers pass from darkness to light, from grief to joy, from estrangement to reconciliation; and in this book, as in experience, the transition hinges on the penitential prayer to which it was the prophet's mission to summon the people. We know scarcely more of Joel than the fact that he was the son of Pethuel. But the meaning of his name—"Jehovah is God"—was suggestive; for it was none other than the cry of the people on Carmel, when fire came down from heaven in answer to Elijah's prayer, and would therefore serve as a reminder to his auditors of their solemn acknowledgment of Jehovah's supremacy and claims.
I. THE PREPARATION WHICH JOEL RECEIVED FOR WORK is described in the single phrase, "The word of the Lord came to Joel." This was the one fact necessary to authenticate his message. If God was speaking through him, then—whoever he might be—the world was bound to listen to him; his word was a declaration from the Unseen. There is now a general forgetfulness of the possibility of such revelation. It is accepted by some as an axiom that the God who created the world and set it going cannot interfere further with his own handiwork; that if he exists at all, he lives at an infinite remove from mundane affairs, as did the god of Epicurus. If we speak of works done which cannot at present be accounted for by the laws we have deduced from observed ordinary phenomena, and urge that men have had glimpses of an outlying sphere of energy which surrounds what is visible, we are regarded as credulous enthusiasts. But in an earlier age there were men whom scientists would be the first to condemn, who, having never seen a comet blazing in the sky, nor heard of such a phenomenon, would have laughed to scorn its possibility. Yet the world now not only believes in the existence of comets, but has found out the law of their return, and has assigned them their own places in the planetary system with which once they appeared to have nothing in common. Is it not possible that the same process will take place in regard to what we now call supernatural? There are psychical phenomena still awaiting explanation which have convinced us that we have influence over each other, apart from physical contact; and if one human spirit can affect another, surely it is not incredible that the Father of spirits was able to touch the springs of thought and feeling in those ancient prophets. Indeed, this was not peculiar to them; it is an experience of to-day among the devout and prayerful, who obey the command of their Lord, "What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light."
II. THE OBSCURITY OF WORK with which Joel was content. His was the spirit of John the Baptist, who was willing to remain only the "voice" of God. The world little thinks how much it owes to its silent workers in literature, in politics, and in religion. Many are living in quiet homes, or in poor lodgings, whose names are never heard, whose duties are not suspected, who by their pens are leading the nation in ways of righteousness. God's most faithful servants are sometimes personally obscure. Some are patiently plodding away at monotonous work, and bear in the spirit of their Master many an injustice and cruel slight. Others in business stretch out the helping hand to weaker brethren who, but for such timely aid, would sink in a vortex of ruin. And ministering angels still venture into haunts of vice to seek and to save those who are lost. The Father who seeth in secret will hereafter bestow some of the highest places in his kingdom on those who all their life long have been without honour or applause.
III. THE INFLUENCE OF JOEL'S WORK it would not be easy to over-estimate. Several of the later prophets were indebted to him for suggestive thoughts and phrases. Peter quotes his prophecy about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; and John, in his Book of the Revelation, makes use of his image of the locusts. It is thus that God builds the temple of truth. We see its stately proportions and exclaim, "Behold what manner of stones and what buildings are here!" but how often we forget the quarries from which the stones were dug. and the workmen who did the first rough work of shaping them for the Master's use! It is not so with God. We often admire the hero who, in advocacy of the truth, compels the world to listen; but the germs of his character may be traced to the nurture of a gentle mother, whose character and teaching, with God's blessing, made her son what he is. He is the living witness of the issues flowing from her obscure work.
IV. THE COURAGE AND HOPEFULNESS which Joel showed in his work. All was dark around him, and he knew things would be darker still before the sunshine came. He was living in a kingdom which, after the revolt of the ten tribes, was about equal in area to the county of Suffolk, and even with the addition of the district belonging to Benjamin was not so large as Yorkshire. Yet he boldly looks forward to a time when that kingdom would be the centre of light to the world. We talk of the "materialism of the old dispensation;" but here is faith in spiritual force which may put us all to shame. We ought not to be unduly discouraged by statistics which compare the numbers of Christians with the numbers of heathens. We should reflect that on the side of Christ are the leading nations of the world—not those falling into decay, but those which are planting the future empires which will rule the future. Yet, with all our thankfulness for this, our confidence must be not in it, but in him who can and will work through these peoples till all the kingdoms of the world become the kingdoms of our God.—A.R.
In this chapter the prophet gives a graphic description of the devastation of the land of Judah by swarms of locusts. After eating all the green leaves and succulent parts of the trees, they destroyed even the bark (Joel 1:7), so that the effects of this awful visitation would last, not for a single season, but for years. God sent this pest, as he sends other troubles, in order to arouse the sensuous and careless people to thought and to contrition. The withdrawal of earthly blessings often tends to turn men's thoughts to those that are heavenly. Losses and griefs of every kind may bring a man or a nation to penitence, and this is one of their designs, But while this chapter primarily refers to a physical plague, any one who reads between the lines can see here suggestions of spiritual desolation, symbolized by the visitation of locusts. The vine was a well-known emblem of God's people, and as such was used by our Lord (John 15:1-27.); and the desolation of it, caused by locusts, fitly sets forth that condition of the Church which is brought about by its numberless enemies. When fruit-bearing has ceased, and life is enfeebled, and God's paradise becomes a wilderness, there is need for the penitential prayer called for in our text, Ecclesiastical history reveals to us periods when the Church seemed thus to lie under a curse; and in our own day there is enough of spiritual barrenness to call for heart-searching and earnest supplication. It only needs that God should send showers of blessing, and then even the wilderness shall rejoice and blossom like the rose. The subject suggested by our text is religious reformation, and some of its characteristics which are here hinted at demand consideration.
I. THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF GOD'S CLAIMS. The priests were to take the lead in this act of national repentance. Insensibility to the presence and the power of the Most High was being removed by signs and wonders which even the most carnally minded would understand. Now they were summoned to a true turning to him in prayer. They were not called upon merely to "appoint" a fast, but to "sanctify" a fast. In other words, they were to hallow their abstinence by an acknowledgment of God; they were to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. Fasting is never acceptable in itself, but only when it is employed as a sacrifice unto God. Depriving one's self of food or of pleasures may be practised for the good of one's health or for the sake of winning notoriety, and when it is so there is no moral or religious worth about it.
II. THE PRACTICE OF SELF-RESTRAINT. "Fasting" is a word which ought to have given to it the widest signification. Generally used to denote abstinence from food, it may be as fairly applied to any refusal of indulgence to animal appetite, however innocent such indulgence, under other circumstances, may be. The keeping of a fast in mere deference to a social custom or to ecclesiastical ordinance is of no great value. But true fasting is inculcated by our Lord himself, though he personally refused to keep the ecclesiastical fasts of his own day. The restraint of appetite, the curbing of the animal nature, is essential to the doing of great works for him. Of the lunatic boy Jesus said to his disciples, "This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting." This has its application to indulgence in strong drink. Total abstinence has a part to play as well as prayer in driving out the demon of drunkenness. Such fasting would do much to remove a curse which is as terrible as was the devastation of the land of Judah by locusts.
III. THE CULTIVATION OF RELIGIOUS FELLOWSHIP. The "solemn assembly" which was to be summoned was a religious gathering of the people. Their national unity was greatly fostered by the annual feasts, which brought the nation together in one place. The sin of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, was this—that he erected calves at Bethel and Dan, not only leading the people to idolatry, but breaking up their national unity. It was largely a political manaeuvre on his part, fur he could not have established a separate kingdom of Israel if all continued to go up to the same temple at Jerusalem. Under the Christian dispensation we are exhorted not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. When we meet for worship, the faith and prayer of one raise the faith and prayer of another. Separate embers die out, but gathered together they blaze. Public worship will be wonderfully revived in a real religious reformation.
IV. THE RECOGNITION OF SPECIAL RESPONSIBILITY. "The elders" were to be summoned. Through them Moses first made his appeal to the enslaved Israelites. They were the witnesses of the first flowing of water from the rock. Their offerings represented the dedication of the whole congregation of the people. Longer experience and official status gave them privileges, with accompanying responsibilities. Leaders of men now in society, in literature, in political life, have peculiar responsibilities, and are summoned by true prophets to lead the people to repentance and to righteousness. The Elector Frederick understood this in Luther's day, but he needed a lowly born Luther to inspire him first. Here we may fairly appeal to the eldest in a family, to the captain of the school, to the leading merchants, to influential writers, etc; to be the first to return to the Lord, and henceforth to lead others in his service.
V. THE GENERAL ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF SIN. "All the inhabitants of the land" were called upon to repent. They could not serve God by proxy. The service of the elders and of the priests would not relieve them of responsibility. Each had to repent of his own sin and, for himself, return to the Lord. No better meeting-place can be found for all classes and conditions of men than the Church. There the rich and the poor meet together, remembering that the Lord is the Maker of them all. The recognition of the Divine Fatherhood must precede the realization of the human brotherhood.
VI. THE PRESENTATION OF EARNEST PRAYER. Those who "cry unto the Lord" are not satisfied with listless and formal petitions. Sobs and sighs are sometimes the sweetest music to the Hearer of prayer. These precede the blessedness of pardon in the history of each believer. The Church, too, must know what it is to present strong supplications, with crying and tears, and then she shall be endued with power from on high. The prayer of Pentecost must precede the benediction of Pentecost.—A.R.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
"The word of the Lord that came to Joel the son of Pethuel. Hear this," etc. These verses lead us to look upon some aspects of that terrible national calamity which was the great burden of the prophet's ministry. We learn from the passage—
I. THAT THIS CALAMITY WAS DIVINELY REVEALED AT FIRST TO THE HIND OF ONE MAN. "The word of the Lord that came to Joel the son of Pethueh" No one knew at first what a sad calamity was coming on the country but Jehovah himself. No sage, seer, or priest knew anything of it. The Eternal selects one man to whom to impart the intelligence, and that one man seems to have been so undistinguished and obscure, that history takes scarcely any notice of him. Such a fact as this suggests:
1. The distinguishing faculty of man. Of all the creatures on earth, man alone can receive communications kern heaven. Man alone can take in a "word" from the Lord. We know not how the word came unto him. The great Father of spirits has many ways of striking his thoughts into the souls of his children. Sometimes by awakening a train of suggestions, sometimes by articulate utterances, sometimes by dreams at night and visions in the day. He has divers ways. Souls are ever accessible to him.
2. The manifest sovereignty of God. Why did he select Joel more than any other man? There is no proof that he was greater or holier than many others in his country. No reason can be assigned for the selection but the grand reason that explains the creation of the universe. It was after the counsel of his own will—according to his good pleasure.
II. THAT THIS CALAMITY WAS UNPRECEDENTED IN HISTORY. "Hear ye this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the clays of your fathers? ' He means to say that such a disastrous event the oldest man amongst them had never seen, nor had they learnt from the histories of the past of anything equal to its terrific character. Terrible judgments had fallen on Judah before; but this, according to Joel, was the greatest of all. Observe:
1. That no Divine judgments have been so great as to preclude the possibility of greater. The penal resources of the righteous Judge are unbounded. The most tremendous thunderbolts that he has thrown upon the world are only as atoms compared with the massive mountains he might hurl. Great as your afflictions have been, they can be greater.
2. That the greater the sins of a people, the greater the judgments to be expected. It is probable that Judah's sins were greater at this time than they had ever been before, and that, consequently, severer penalties were to come. Eternal justice requires that the sufferings of individuals and communities should be in proportion to the number and aggravation of their sins. Take care, sinner; in every sin you commit you are treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath.
III. THAT THIS CALAMITY WAS SO TREMENDOUS AS TO COMMAND THE ATTENTION OF ALL GENERATIONS. "Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation." The terrible events of God's judicial providence have a bearing beyond the men in whose history they occur. These that occur in one age and land demand the study of men in all ages and lands. They are not confined to individuals, they have a bearing on the race; not confined to men, they embrace humanity even to remotest times. Hence the importance of history. Truthful history is the Bible written by Providence to the world. But why should such an event as this be transmitted to posterity?
1. Because it shows that God rules the world. It is not controlled by chance or necessity; it is under the control of One who is not only All-mighty and All-wise, but All-just, who will not at all clear the guilty.
2. Because it shows that God takes cognizance of the world's sin, and abhors it. These facts will be of interest and importance to the generations that are unborn, even to the end of time.
IV. THAT THIS CALAMITY WAS INFLICTED BY THE MOST INSIGNIFICANT OF GOD'S CREATURES. "That which the palmer-worm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the canker-worm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten." There is no authority for the opinion that the creatures here mentioned were symbols of hostile armies who were about to invade Judah. £ The locust belongs to the genus of insects known amongst entomologists as gryllii, which include the different species, from the common grasshopper to the devouring locusts of the East. The creatures, therefore, mentioned in the verse seem to be from different species of locusts rather than from different kinds of insects. And the words may be paraphrased, "That which one swarm of locusts hath left, a second swarm hath eaten; and that which the second swarm hath left, a third swarm hath eaten; and that which the third left, a fourth swarm hath eaten." To punish sinners, God does not require to hurl thunderbolts from his throne, or flash lightnings, or despatch Gabriels from his heavens. No; he can make insects do it. He can kill men by a moth. He can smite a nation by a gust of wind. He can perform his purposes by an army of locusts as easily as by a hierarchy of angels.—D.T.
A call to drunkards.
"Awake, ye drunkards, and weep I and howl, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the new wine! for it is cut off from your mouth." The words imply that the wine used in Judah was of an intoxicating character, that men in that country used it to an inebriating extent, and that such men should humble themselves in deep penitence on account of the great calamity that was coming upon the land. A more contemptible character, a more injurious member of the human family, exists not upon earth than a drunkard. Drunkenness is the chief curse of England to-day. Despite the earnest and praiseworthy efforts of temperance reformers, establishments for creating and supplying the intoxicating beverage are increasing in size and multiplying in number on all hands. The beer-house has become one of the most influential estates of the realm. A few years ago there were only three estates—the throne, Parliament, and the Church. Not long since journalism was added to the number, and now we must add the beer-house. This beer-house bids fair to control the House of Commons, sport with Cabinets, and even to govern the nation. The prophet here thunders in the ears of the drunkards of his country. Why should these drunkards now weep?
I. BECAUSE THEY WERE TO BE DEPRIVED OF THE BLESSING THEY PRIZED THE MOST. What does the drunkard value most? The intoxicating cup. For this he will sell his country, his self-respect, his health, his wife, his children, his all. By the intoxicating cup you can buy him over to any cause. But these drunkards in Judah were to lose that. Joel says, "For it is cut off from your mouth." The locusts were to destroy the vine, and there would be no grapes, and therefore no wine. God will sooner or later take from every sinner that which he values most, that which he esteems his greatest pleasure or enjoyment. He will take power from the ambitious, wealth from the miser, pleasure from the voluptuary, the intoxicating cup from the drunkard.
II. BECAUSE THEY WERE TO LOSE THE BLESSING THEY HAD ABUSED, God will not have his gifts abused. He who abuses his blessings shall inevitably lose them. He dried up the vine now in Judah because men had abused it. And! am disposed to think it would be a blessed thing for England, ay, and a blessed thing for drunkards, were all the spirit-distilleries, all the breweries, all the beer-houses, dried up as this vine now was. I scarcely know which is the worse, the drunkard or the drunkard-makers.
CONCLUSION. "Awake, ye drunkards!" Awake from your sottish stupidity! Reflect upon what you are, and what a self-ruinous course you are pursuing. Awake! You are sleeping on the bosom of a volcanic hill about to burst and engulf you. "And weep." Because of the blessings you have abused, because of the injuries you have inflicted upon your own natures as well as others; weep because of the sins you have committed against yourself, society, and God. "Howl, all ye drinkers of wine!" Ah! if you were aware of your true situation, you would howl indeed—howl out your soul in confession and prayer.
"O thou invisible spirit of wine,
If thou hast no name to be known by, let
Us call thee devil."
Joel 1:19, Joel 1:20
The influence of national calamities on the minds of the good.
"O Lord, to thee will I cry," etc. In the verses extending from the sixth to the eighteenth, the prophet described with great vividness and force the attributes of these "locusts" and the terrible devastations they would effect, and he called upon various members of the community to attend to the calamity. The old men and the young people, the drunkards and the farmers, the priests and the laity, all are summoned to reflection, penitence, and reform. Here he cries out to the Lord himself on account of the calamity, which he describes with remarkable force. "The fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field." It is a question whether the fire and flame are to be taken literally as burning the grass, which often happens in extreme heat, or whether they are used figuratively. The reference, I think, is to the burning heat in drought which consumes the meadows, scorches the trees, and dries up the water-brooks. Our subject is the influence of national calamities on the minds of the good. The effect on Joel was to excite him to prayer, to compel him to lay the case before the Lord. Having called the attention of all classes of the community to the terrible judgements, he turns his soul in a devout supplication to Almighty God.
I. THIS WAS RIGHT. "In everything by prayer and supplication we should make known our wants to God." Prayer is right:
1. God requires it. "For all these things will I be inquired of;" "Ask, and ye shall receive," etc.
2. Christ engaged in it. He prayed, prayed often, prayed earnestly, prayed "without ceasing." He is our Example.
II. THIS WAS WISE. Who else could remove the calamity and restore the ruin? None. All men were utterly helpless. When all earthly resources fail, where else can we go but to him who originates all that is good, and controls all that is evil? True prayer is always wise, because
(1) it seeks the highest good;
(2) by the best means.
III. THIS WAS NATURAL. "The beasts of the field cry also unto thee." "The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God." "What better," says an old author, "are they than beasts, who never cry to God but for corn and wine, and complain of nothing but the wants of sense?"
CONCLUSION. It is well when our trials lead us in prayer to God. The greatest calamities are termed the greatest blessings when they act thus. Hail the tempests, if they drive our bark into the quiet haven of prayer. "There's a power which man can wield, When mortal aid is vain, That eye, that arm, that love, to reach, That listening ear to gain: That power is prayer, which sears on high, And feeds on bliss beyond the sky." ― D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Joel 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany