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These verses contain a further description of the calamity occasioned by the locusts and the appearance presented by them; the calling of a congregational meeting for penitence and prayer; the reason assigned in the coming of the day of the Lord.
Blow ye the trumpet (margin, cornet) in Zion, and sound an alarm (or, cause it to sound) in my holy mountain. The shophar, or far-sounding horn, and probably the chatsoterah, the hazar or silver trumpet, were called into requisition. The priests are urged with great vehemence, as tiqu shophar and hariu imply, to apprise the people that the day of Jehovah's terrible judgment was near at hand, and to prepare for it. This alarm was to be sounded from Zion, the dry or sunny hill, the holy moun-rain. The noun qadosh like tsadiq, is applied to persons, therefore the noun qodshe is used. It rose to an elevation of 2539 feet above the level of the Mediterranean Sea. It was the place of the ark in David's day, and so of the visible symbol of the Divine presence, and therefore the holy mountain, though subsequently Moriah was chosen as the temple-hill. Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand. The effect here precedes the cause, as if what is upper. most in the heart comes first to the lips; while the abruptness may, perhaps, express the excitement and intensity of feeling. But how could the Lord's day be said to have come (ba is perfect), and yet to be near at hand? Hengstenberg replies that, in the intuition of the prophet, it had already come, though in reality it was only drawing near. Keil's solution of the difficulty is more satisfactory: every particular judgment that takes place in the history of God's kingdom is the day of the Lord, and yet only approaching as far as the complete fulfilment was concerned.
A day of darkness and of glooming, a day of clouds and of thick darkness. It was, indeed, a day of Divine judgment, a day of sore distress. Besides the common terms for "darkness" and "cloud," there are two other terms, אֲפֵלָה, thick and dense darkness, such as ensues after sunset; the root אָפַל, though not used in the Hebrew, is cognate with the Arabic afala, properly, to "set as the sun:" compare naphal, nabhal, abhal; while עְרָפֶל is blended from the triliterals עָרִיף, a cloud, and אָפַל, to be dark (compare ὀρφνός and ὀρφνή), darkness of donas, thick clouds.
(1) Some understand this darkness literally, as in the description of the plague of locusts in Egypt it is written, "They covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened."
(2) Others understand it figuratively, as light denotes prosperity, and darkness adversity. Thus Kimchi says, "Affliction is likened to darkness, as joy is likened to light." At the same time, he mentions the literal exposition: "Or," he says, "through the multitude of the locusts the land is darkened;" and refers to Exodus 10:15, "For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened."
As the morning spread upon the mountains.
(1) Some explain this of the locust-army stretching far like the morning light, as it breaks over the hills. Thus Pococke, "If shachar be rendered, as most generally, the morning, and the light thereof meant, then the meaning thereof seems to express the sudden coming and the widespreading of the thing spoken of, so as not to be hindered, in that resembling the morning light, which in a moment discovers itself on the tops of the mountains (on which it first appeareth), though at never so great a distance one from another." The wide and quick diffusion of this plague, like that of the morning light, is the thing meant. But
(2) Keil understands shachar of the yellow light which proceeds from swarms of locusts as they approach, and translates, "Like morning dawn spread over the mountains is it" (i.e. the glimmer on their wings). "The prophet's meaning," he adds, "is evident enough from what follows. He clearly refers to the bright glimmer, or splendour, which is seen in the sky as a swarm of locusts approaches, from the reflection of the sun's rays from their wings." Thus the subject is neither yom nor ‛am, which the Vulgate, contrary to the accents, joins to it.
(3) Others. again, connect the expression closely with the "darkness" preceding, and translate, "Like the morning twilight spread upon the mountains," that is, before it descends into the valleys. Rather, as Wunsche, "Like the gray of the morning," etc. (comp. Exodus 10:15 and שחוד and שיחור). Exposition
(1) is confirmed by Rashi, who says, "The locusts and the palmer-worms are spread over the mountains, as the morning dawn is spread through (in) an the world." Similarly Aben Ezra, "Like the dawn which is diffused in an instant." Kimchi's comment is fuller, but to the same effect: "As the morning dawn which is spread over the mountains as in an instant, for there is called the beginning of the sun in his going forth, because of their height; so then the locusts are spread and extended over the land in an instant." With this exposition of the clause we may compare Virgil's—
"Postera vix summos spargebat lumine montes Orta dies."
"The following daybreak had scarce begun to sow the mountain-tops with light."
There hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations. This is a hyperbolic mode of speech, to denote the extraordinary and unusual severity of the disaster. The Hebrew commentators are at pains to reconcile what appears to them a discrepancy. They say, "It was never known before or since that four kinds of locusts came to-together;" as for the plague of Egypt;there was but one sort of them, they say. The correct explanation is that the like had not been in the same country, that is, the land of Judaea, though elsewhere there might have been the like, as in Egypt before, or in other countries since.
A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth.
(1) The fire was the extreme drought preceding them; and the flame refers to the devastation of the locusts, for the places laid waste by them presented the appearance of being burnt with fire, the locusts consuming not only the grain and grass, but the very roots.
(2) Or it may refer to the locusts themselves; their destructive power being as though fire spread along before them. and flame swept the ground behind them.
(3) Or the fire may have been literally such, the people, in self-de fence, kindling it to stop, or turn aside, or drive away the advance of the locust-army.
(4) Keil explains this burning heat, heightened into devouring flames of fire, as accompaniments of the Divine Being "as he comes to judgment at the head of his army," like the balls of fire which attended his manifestation in Egypt, and the thunder and lightning amid which he descended at Sinai. The land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness. This reference by the first of the prophets to the first book of the Bible is noteworthy. The country before them, with its fertile fields and valuable vineyards, its fruit trees, and pleasant plants, and various cereals resembled a paradise. As they proceeded the corn was consumed, fruit trees and forest trees alike stripped of leaves and left barked and bare, the grass and verdure withered; so that after them nothing was to be seen but a desolate wilderness. Yea, and nothing shall escape them.
(1) That is, either nothing shall escape the locusts; or
(2) Keil contends that the meaning is that "even that which escaped did not remain to it," and refers lo to the land.
These verses describe the appearance of the locusts and the alarm which their presence causes.
The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses. They arc said to resemble horses in the shape of the head; hence the Germans call them Heupferde, or hay-horses, and the Italians cavalette. This resemblance had been noticed long ago by Theodoret, who says, "If any one should examine accurately the head of the locust, he will find it exceedingly like that of a horse." And as horsemen, so shall they run. In rapidity of motion they resembled running horses (parashim). Like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains shall they leap. This is the next circumstance noticed about them, viz. the noise of their motion. Their motion was peculiar; it was springing or leaping, and, when they sprang or leaped, the noise they made resembled the rattling of a jerky two-wheeled war-chariot over a rough mountain-road.
The first clause may be understood
(1) according to the Authorized Version, whereby the leaping is attributed to the locusts, or
(2) asper may be understood after chariots, and then the leaping is predicated of the chariots. The last clause of the same verse is capable of three constructions, namely
(1) "They shall leap (yeraqqedim being supplied) as a strong people set in battle array;" or
(2) "The noise (qol understood) shall be as the noise of a strong people set in battle array;" or
(3) "They are as a strong people set in battle array." Kimchi interprets according to (2), "As a strong people that is set in array to fight with the people who is opposed to them, who make a great noise and shouting in order to strike terror into their enemies."
Like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble. This was the noise made by them, not when they were properly in motion, but when alighting on a district they devoured every green thing in plant, or shrub, or tree—the noise, in fact, which they made when feeding. It resembled the crackling of flame ever a field of grain or stubble set on fire. Such was the noise they made when marching, and such the noise they made when foraging—the one was like the rattling of a chariot, the other the crackling of fire. Cyril notices this peculiarity as follows: "They say that their alighting in the fields is effected not without noise; but that a certain shrill noise is produced by their teeth, while they chew into pieces the prostrate grain, as of wind scattering flame." Thus Thomson also says, "The noise made in marching and foraging was like that of a heavy shower on a distant forest." As a strong people set in battle array. Their progress is thus described: "Their steady though swift advance and regular order resembled an army well equipped and in battle array on its line of march." Cyril says of them, "By reason of their innumerable multitude, not easy to be encountered, but rather very dangerous to be met with." Again he says, "They are an irresistible thing, and altogether invincible by men." Here again the prophet's description is confirmed by the observation of intelligent eye-witnesses. Referring to Solomon's statement, "The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands," Dr. Thomson says, "Nothing in their habits is more striking than the pertinacity with which they all pursue the same line of march, like a disciplined army. As they have no king, they must be influenced by some common instinct."
Before their face the people shall be much pained: all faces shall gather blackness. Peoples or nations writhe in pain or tremble at the sight of them, lest they should settle on their fields and gardens, destroying the "golden glories" of the one, and the "leafy honours" of the other. In the second member the word פָארוּר is
(1) generally connected with פָרוּר, a pot, rad. פדר, to break in pieces, and translated accordingly. Thus the Septuagint: "Every face is as the blackness of a pot;" the Syriac also: "Every face shall be black as the blackness of a pot;" in like manner the Chaldee: "All faces are covered with soot, so that they are black as a pot."
(2) But Aben Ezra connects the word with פֵאֵר, to beautify, glorify, adorn, and translates, "They withdraw (gather to themselves)their redness (ruddiness);" that is, they become pale. The 'Speaker's Commentary ' adopts this view of the expression, and illustrates it by Shakespeare's fancy of the blood being summoned from the face to help the heart in its death-struggle—
"Being all descended to the labouring heart;
Who, in the conflict that it holds with death,
Attracts the same for aidance 'gainst the enemy:
Which with the heart there cools and ne'er returneth
To blush and beautify the cheek again."
The parallel usually cited in favour of asaph being employed in the sense of withdrawing is, "And the stars shall withdraw their shining" (Joel 2:10; Joel 3:15). This proceeds on the supposition that asaph and qabhats have the same meaning of "gathering "—gathering up, gathering in, withdrawing. But D. Kimchi quotes his father (Joseph Kimchi) as objecting to this rendering, on the ground of the distinction which he asserts to prevail between them. Asaph, he says, "is used of gathering together, or in, that which is dispersed, or net present; but qabhats is not so used."
The prophet, having mentioned the consternation and terror occasioned by the approach of locusts, proceeds to compare them to an army well equipped and overcoming all impediments.
They shall run like mighty men. This either refers to their extreme nimbleness or rapidity of motion (compare the Homeric πόδας ὠκὺσ ̓Αχιλλεύς ποδάρκης, and the like), or describes their running to an assault with intrepid valour and unwearied vigour. They shall climb the wall like men of war. This marks the success of their assault; they scale the walls and make good their attack. And they shall march every one on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks. Their march is as irresistible as it is orderly. In their onward march each pursues his way, allowing no obstacle to arrest or retard his course; while in a collective body they proceed and maintain their serried ranks unbroken. The verb עבט is probably cognate with עבת, to twist, and thus to turn aside. Thus the LXX.: "They shall not turn aside their tracks;" so also the Syriac and Jerome translate it; but the Chaldee compares it with עבוט, a pledge, and, as the deposit is detained till the pledge is redeemed, takes in the meaning of delay. Rosenmuller explains it in the sense of change or exchange, from the Qal, signifying "to receive on loan," and the Hiph; "to give on loan." Otherwise it is to "interweave" (equivalent to עבת), "change." The sense of the whole is their not diverging to either side, nor straggling out of rank.
Neither shall one thrust another; they shall walk every one in his path. "And not one shall stand aloof from his brother." This is either the sequence of their not breaking rank, or perhaps it is a co-ordinate particular in the detail. They neither straggle away from each other, and so fall out of rank, nor do they crowd and crush and press each other while keeping rank. The order of their march is perfect, every one keeping his proper place and in the proper path. And when they fall upon the sword (margin, dart), they shall not be wounded. The meaning is either
(1) that the weapons shall not wound them, or intransitively, as in the text, they shall not be wounded, כּצע, to cut, or break in pieces, being here synonymous with פצע, to wound; or
(2) that they do not cut off, break off, or interrupt their course. No force of arms can stay their progress or step their advance. On this clause Kimchi remarks, "This army is not like other enemies, which you may hinder by the sword from coming upon you; but these light upon the swords, and are not wounded by reason of their lightness? He also remarks on גֶּבֶר, "Because he compares them with men and heroes, he uses גּבר, although this word does not apply except to the sons of men."
They shall run to and fro in the city (or rush to the assault of the city. Wunsche, and so LXX; "They shall seize upon the city"); they shall run upon the wall, they shall climb up upon the houses; they shall enter in at the windows like a thief. In the first clause the comparison with an army still continues. The attack has succeeded, the city has been taken by assault, the victorious troops are running to and fro in the city; so far the locusts are fitly represented by an army vigorous in its advance, steady in its march, resistless in its assault, victorious in its attack, and masters of the captured city. The remainder of the ninth verse is not equally applicable to the figure and the fact in common, but belongs exclusively to the locusts themselves; they creep up the wall, climb up upon the houses, and find ingress even at the windows. "There is no road," says Jerome, "impassable to locusts. They penetrate into fields, and crops, and trees, and cities, and even the recesses of the bedchambers;" while Theodoret remarks of locusts that" not only when flying, but by creeping along the walls, they pass through the windows into the houses themselves." Thus there was no spot to which they could not find access, and no place secure from their assault. Yashoqqu. Aben Ezra and Kimchi both connect this word with shoq, a leg. The latter says, "It has the signification of shoq, a leg, and he mentions this word in respect to the locust, because its legs are long; and further, because it is continually going and seldom resting; and thus he (Isaiah) says, 'As the running to and fro of locusts shall he run upon them,' as if he said, 'a continual going up and down.'"
Joel 2:10, Joel 2:11
These verses picture the dreadful consequences of the then present and temporary visitation of the locusts, and of the future and final judgment of which it was a type. The earth shall quake before them;
(1) the locusts. The heavens tremble. The alighting of the locusts on the earth would make it quake, and their flight through the heavens would make it tremulous. As applied to the visitation o! locusts, the language would be hyperbolical, unless we accept Jerome's explanation as follows: "It is not that the strength of the locusts is so great that they can move the heavens and shake the earth, but that to those who suffer from such calamities, from the amount of their own terror the heavens appear to shake and the earth to reel."
(2) Before him; i.e. Jehovah himself amid the storm; and all in accordance with fact. But a greater judgment than that of the locusts is typified by the language of the prophet. Kimchi observes on this (tenth)verse that "all the expressions are parabolical, or figurative, to set forth the greatness of a calamity; for this is the usage of Scripture, as, 'The sun shall be darkened in his going forth,' and the like." So also Abarbauel on this verse: "Which all is a parabolical expression of the calamities of the Jews." Aben Ezra understands it differently: "Men of the earthquake." Rashi: "The heavens quake and tremble because of the punishment that comes upon Israel." The second part of the verse, as also the verse following, appear to us to indicate this. The sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining: and the Lord shall utter his voice before his army. That a storm succeeded and put an end to the plague of locusts, and that the darkening of the sun and moon and stars signified the obscuration of the heavenly luminaries by the storm-clouds that overspread the heavens and darkened the face of day, would fall short of expressions of such solemn grandeur as are here employed by the prophet, Besides, our Lord applies language of the same import to the last judgment in the Gospels: "The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven." Thunder, no doubt, is the voice of the Lord, which he utters while marching at the head of his army to execute judgment and manifest his wrath against his enemies. For his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; and who can abide it? Three reasons are here assigned for the preceding sublime description of Jehovah coming to judgment at the head of his hosts. These are the following: the greatness of his army in number and might; the power with which his army executes his word of command; and the terrible character of the day of judgment when the vials of Divine wrath shall be poured forth.
The judgment of the locusts was typical of the great day of judgment. The tartars of that day were designed to bring the people to repentance. Thus judgment was mingled with mercy.
Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with great fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning. At this period of sore judgment God, by the prophet, calls upon the people to return and repent, to fast and to weep, to grieve inwardly and mourn outwardly for sin. He also instructs them how to engage in the duty of humiliation aright and acceptably. The humiliation was to be that of the heart—sorrow of heart for the sins by which they had offended God, inward shame on account of those iniquities by which they had wronged their own souls and marred their own best interests. But while there behoved to be this inward contrition, outward expressions of it were also required. Genuine sorrow and shame for sin were to be accompanied by fasting, tears of penitence, and other indications of mourning. With all your heart. Kimchi comments thus: "That your repentance be not with a heart and a heart."
And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God. Where there is real contrition of spirit because of sin, outward manifestations are both suitable and proper, though not by way of display or for sake of ostentation. But they were reminded, on the other hand, that mere outward manifestations avail nothing unless there also exist the deep inward feelings which are in harmony with and naturally underlie those manifestations. Out of such inward feelings those outward expressions properly originate; hence, after the exhortation to fasting and weeping and mourning, it is added, "Rend your heart, and not your garments." To rend the garments, among the Jews, was a token of great grief, and imported that the individual who did so was overwhelmed with excessive sorrow, or had encountered some terrible calamity. Thus we read of Jacob, on receiving his son Joseph's coat of many colours, rending his clothes, putting sackcloth on his loins, and mourning for his son many days (comp. also 2 Chronicles 34:27). In these instances the sorrow was deep and genuine and bitter. It was possible, however, to exhibit the external signs of grief without any such corresponding inward feeling of sorrow; just as it is still possible for men to draw near to God with their lips while the heart is far from him. To prevent such hypocritical pretence they are commanded to rend their hearts, and not their garments only. There was no impropriety in rending their garments in token of great grief for sin and of great indignation against themselves for their folly, but the command imports that they were not to rest in the outward sign without the reality of the thing signified. For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. To the exhortation he subjoins the encouraging manifestation of the Divine character with which God, ages before, had favoured Moses, substituting for "truth" the trait of character best suited to the present emergency. tie is not an absolute God or an inexorable God, but their covenant God and Father who invites them even to himself, against whom they had so heinously sinned and whom they had so grievously offended.
Who knoweth if he will return and repent; that is, return from and repent of his purpose of executing judgment. And leave a blessing behind him; that is, leave behind him when returning from the exercise of judgment to resume his seat on the heavenly throne, the blessing being a replacement of the harvest fruits which the locusts had consumed, even a meat offering and a drink offering, for the service of the sanctuary as well as sustenance to supply the people's own bodily wants. Jerome explains the question of Joel 2:14 with much judgment as follows: "Lest perchance they might either despair on account of the magnitude of their crimes, or the greatness of the Divine clemency might make them careless." Besides
(1) the interrogative rendering, there is
(2) that of the Chaldee, followed by Rashi and Kimchi.
The latter says, "He that knows the way of repentance, let him repent, and God will repent of this evil." Also in addition to
(1) that is, Authorized Version, he (i.e. God) "shall leave a blessing," there is
(2) that of Rashi and Aben Ezra, who explain as follows: "Perhaps God will repent, and that army shall leave a blessing, out of which they may make a meat offering and a drink offering."
"The harsh blast of the consecrated ram's horn called an assembly for an extraordinary fast. Not a soul was to be absent. Like the fiery cross, it convened old and young, men and women, mothers with infants at their breasts, the bridegroom and the bride on their bridal day. All were there stretched in front of the altar. The altar itself presented the dreariest of all sights—a hearth without its sacred fire, a table spread without its sacred feast. The priestly caste, instead of gathering as usual upon its steps and its platform, were driven, as it were, to the further space; they turned their backs to the dead altar, and lay prostrate, gazing towards the Invisible Presence within the sanctuary. Instead of the hymns and music which, since the time of David, had entered into their prayers, there was nothing heard but the passionate sobs and the loud dissonant howls such as only an Eastern hierarchy could utter. Instead of the mass of white mantles which they usually presented, they were wrapt in black goat's-hair sackcloth, twisted round them, not with the brilliant sashes of the priestly attire, but with a rough girdle of the same texture, which they never unbound night or day. What they wore of their common dress was rent asunder or cast off. With bare breasts they waved their black drapery towards the temple, and shrieked aloud, 'Spare thy people, O Lord!'" Such is Dean Stanley's vivid picture of the circumstances and scene described by the prophet in the above verses. A scene exceedingly similar occurs in the commencement of the 'OEdipus Tyrannus' of Sophocles—
"Why sit ye here, my children, younger brood
Of Cadmus famed of old, in solemn state,
Your bands thus wreathed with the suppliants' boughs?
And all the city reeks with incense,
And all re-echoes with your hymns and groans;
And I, my children, counting it unmeet
To hear report from others, I have come
Myself, whom all name OEdipus the Great."
form the sequel of this chapter in the Hebrew, but five additional verses make up the chapter in the Authorized Version. These are divisible into two parts. In the first division the prophet assures his countrymen of the bestowal of temporal mercies, and in the second of the promise of spiritual blessings.
The futures of this verse with vav consec, are properly taken as perfects; nor is there any inconsistency, provided we understand, as following Joel 2:17 and preceding Joel 2:18, the fact that the priests had engaged in the penitence enjoined, and offered the supplication to which they had been summoned; neither is the omission of any express mention of the circumstance thus supposed to intervene between these verses any valid objection, especially as the grammar favours the view in question. Then follows a manifestation of God's mercy in answer to the assumed penitence and prayer of his servants. God's jealousy and pity are both engaged—his jealousy for his land, and his compassion for his people. His jealousy is figurative, and the allusion is probably to that of a husband who is jealous on account of any dishonour done to his wife, and who resents it more keenly than a dishonour offered to himself. The pity is such as God ever manifests to his people when penitent; for "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him."
Yea, the Lord will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith. The Lord's answer comes in the shape of a promise of relief of which man and beast were so sorely in need. The promise, with deliverance from distress, couples ample abundance. The corn and the wine and the oil—the three great temporal blessings, equivalent to food, refreshment, and ornament—which the locusts had destroyed, as we read in Joel 2:10, God hero promises to restore, and to restore not merely to the extent that was barely necessary, but in full and abundant measure, so that they would be satisfied therewith.
(1) The verbs of fulness or want, clothing and unclothing, going or coming and dwelling, govern an accusative; hence שׂבע has the accusative here; sometimes it is constructed with בor .מ
(2) There are two constructions of a participle with a pronoun as subject—that in which the pronoun is written in its separate form in immediate connection with the participle, and that in which it is appended as a suffix.
(3) The words dagan from dagah, to multiply; yitshar from tsahar, to shine; and tirosh from yarash, to take possession of the brain, have each the article prefixed, to emphasize the products restored by the Divine mercy. The article, no doubt, is prefixed to the names of classes of objects generally known. And I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen. No more would they be a reproach or byword among the heathen, sneered at, as though God had abandoned them in his sore displeasure, or through sheer impotence had been unable to help them. All this God promised to do in answer to the prayers of his people. Such was the result of penitence, and such the power of prayer. Cherpath is a second accusative, or, more correctly, an appositional accusative to ethkem. The construction with le frequently takes the place of the second accusative, as in the seventeenth verse of the same chapter.
But I will remove far off from you the northern army, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the east sea, and his hinder part toward the utmost sea. This verse promises the destruction of the devastator. The prophet here specifies the means by which the Eternal was going to restore the blessings of harvest. The order of sequence is inverted—the effect preceding the cause; thus, re. storation of prosperity and plenty goes before, and the cause thereof, being relief from invasion and loss, follows after. Nor is there anything singular in this, as men are more alive to recovery from a distressful state of any kind than to the remedy which effects it. The "army" of this verse we still hold to be the tribes of locusts, which, like an invading army, with its numerous regimental divisions, had overrun the land, scattering dismay and distress wherever it advanced; yet from this very verse, and the expression "northern" in particular, it has been argued that it cannot refer to locusts, but to human invaders symbolized by locusts and the havoc wrought by them.
(1) The north is not the native land of locusts; it is rather the south—the Arabian, Lybian, or Egyptian desert. But
(2) "northern" may denote the quarter from which the locusts appeared to the prophet in vision to enter the land; or, driven upward by a south wind which regularly blows, as we are informed, in those regions during spring, and then to the north of Palestine by an east wind which blows with similar regularity in summer, and again into and ultimately out of Palestine by the north wind blowing in the autumn. "In this case," says a writer in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' "the northern plague would have been a natural expression for an inhabitant of Jerusalem to use in speaking of the locusts; as natural as it would be for a Londoner to speak of a pestilence that had commenced its ravages in Great Britain at Edinburgh, as coming to him from the north, though it were originally imported from France or Spain." The word
(3) may symbolically denote "calamitous," according to the explanation of some, since calamity is so frequently represented as coming from the north, so that the north is more or less identified with diasaster; thus we read in Jeremiah 4:6, "I will bring evil from the north, and a great destruction." It may, however, be safely admitted that, by the locust, the northern or Assyrian enemies of Judah, who advanced from the north as the most accessible quarter for attack, are in a subsidiary sense represented. The expulsion of these enemies brings relief; they are driven into a parched, and so desert and desolate, land; "and there," as Kimchi observes, "they shall die because they shall find nothing to eat." That land may be either the Idumaean desert south of Judah or Arabia Deserta. Thus the main body of the great locust-army perishes in the southern desert; while the van of the army is driven into the Dead Sea, and the rear of it into the Mediterranean Sea. Or, more literally, the face of this locust-host was towards the east, or front sea, that is, as already intimated, the Dead Sea eastward; his hinder part toward the west, or hinder sea, that is, the Mediterranean westward. Thus they were driven in every other direction than that by which they came, namely, south, east, and west. In marking the quarters of the world, the Jews faced the east, so that the west was behind them, the south on their right hand, and the north on their left. We have thus a most vivid picture of the speedy and total destruction of the locusts. After expulsion, no danger was to be apprehended from them, for, blown into the sea or desert, they perished at once and for ever. The terms employed are very graphic; thus, me‛alekem is much more than mikkem would be, and imply that a heavy burden was lifted from upon, or up off the face of a desolated land, and the heart of a distressed people. And his stink shall come up, and his ill savour shall come up, because he hath done great things; margin, magnified to do. The stench emitted from the putrefying bodies of those locusts would be sickening and stifling—sufficient to occasion a pestilence. Many testimonies from travellers and others prove the reality of both circumstances—the ill savour and its pestiferous nature. Several expressions in this verse are applicable enough to an army, as in the last clause, where he is said to do great things, or literally, "magnified to do," that is, magnified himself in his doings; it may, however, apply equally well to the great destruction by the locust-army. There is no doubt the superadded notion of haughtiness along with that of great doings. It really means that, as an instrument of God, they had effected a fearfully violent desolation, and this is assigned as a reason for the total destruction of those locusts.
In these verses the land and beasts and men are addressed respectively. Thus the promise is fully developed. In Joel 2:21 the prophet summons the earth; in Joel 2:22 the beasts of the field; and in Joel 2:23 the sons of Zion; all are called to joy and gladness on account of the great deliverance from destruction which the Lord had wrought for them. They are all called on to rejoice in the great deliverance; the land, personified, is summoned to exult and rejoice for the great things God now promises to do or is doing to it. If the locusts had done great things in destruction, God will do great things in deliverance. The beasts are also personified, and forbidden to be afraid; for whereas they had groaned and cried for want of herbage when the pastures were burnt up, those pastures are now beginning to spring, and the fruit trees yield their strength. The children of Zion are invited to rejoice, not only in the delivered land, or springing pastures, or fruitful figs, or blooming vines, or other trees however useful or ornamental; but, as became them with their superior intelligence, in the Lord their God, as the Father of mercies and the Giver of every good and perfect gift, whether temporal or spiritual. At the same time, their temporal wants would be attended to, and their land fertilized by the suitable and sustaining shower. The prophet individualizes the earth, the beasts of the field, and the sons of Zion.
Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things. The land had suffered severely from the drought connected with the locusts; but is now summoned to joy and gladness. The prophet assigns for this an appropriate reason: the locusts had done great things in damaging it; Jehovah now does great things in their destruction. When the earth clothes itself with verdure, and brings forth its fruits and flowers and various products, it is said, by a bold but beautiful personification, to rejoice and even exult. Thus the Latins said in like manner, Rident arva, ridet ager. Things are now reversed. Instead of mourning, is exultation; instead of mourning and its visible emblem in girding with sadness, there is joy and gladness; instead of the day of the Lord: very great and terrible or fearful, is "Fear not." Semāchi is fem. imper. Qal in pause for the ordinary simchi.
Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field. The dumb animals had groaned in distress for food, but now they too have cause to rejoice, and are here called on to do so; and the suitable cause in their case is also specified. It is as follows: For the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength. He thus specifies the ground of gladness in their case also, pointing to the fresh green of the pastures and the fruit hanging in rich abundance and variety on the trees. The fruits of vines and fig trees are net, it is true, the food of the beasts of the fields; but the revival of vegetation in trees, the higher and larger growths, the chief factor in which is moisture, comprehends the revival of the smaller growths of herbs, grasses, and plants, the proper sustenance of cattle. Kimchi's explanation is that "as the tree bears its fruit in the inhabited part of the world, so in the wilderness the places of pasture grow green." Aben Ezra, who never loses an opportunity of directing attention to contrasts wherever they exist, contrasts "Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field," in this verse with "the beasts of the field cry also unto thee" at the close of the preceding chapter; also "the pastures of the wilderness do spring" with "the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness;" likewise "the tree beareth her fruit" with "all the trees of the field are withered." It has been observed that all plants, even shrubs and trees, spring up at the first as the fresh young juicy green of plants, דֶּשֶׁא; then they develop into ירֶקֶ or חָצִיר, grass: into herb, עֵשֶׂב; and into tree, שָׂרַי עֵץ is not the plural for שָׂדִים, but singular, after the analogy of שָׁמַי (Psalms 96:12). Nasaperi, equivalent to "lift up, bear," is more poetical than asah peri, equivalent to "make fruit;" so in Latin, surgunt fruges. The expression, "yield their strength," puts the cause for the effect; the strength of the tree produces the fruit and centres in it.
Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God. They had keenly felt and deeply bewailed the unparalleled catastrophe which had befallen laud and cattle and inhabitants, and also themselves among the number. The sons of Zion are the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the capital, in which was the national sanctuary for the worship of Jehovah. Not only are the inhabitants of Jerusalem included, but, as the capital often stood for the whole country, all the inhabitants of Judah are comprehended under the "children of Zion." The ground of their gladness and joy in God is: For he hath given you the former rain moderately (margin, a teacher of righteousness, or for righteousness), and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month. Omitting for the present the disputed word hammoreh, we have the great blessing which was so much needed. The blessing bestowed was twofold—negative in the destruction of the locusts and deliverance from their ravages; and positive in the plentiful rainfall, geshem, the great and beneficent fertilizer of the dried-up and desolated land. But this abundant rain is more closely particularized as the early or October rain, moreh, which, falling at the seed-time in autumn, promoted the germination and growth of the seed just sown; and as the latter, or March rain, malqosh, which, bestowed in the spring season a short time before harvest, matured the crops. The geshem, or shower, may be regarded here as the generic name, and of these the two species are the moreh and malqosh, from laqash, to be ripe or late, just explained. The word hammoreh in the early part of the verse is translated
(1) "teacher" in the Chaldee and Vulgate, by Jerome, by Abar-banel among the Hebrew commentators, who refers it to Messiah; among modern commentators by Hofman, referring it to Joel himself, by Hengstenberg, who understands it of the ideal teacher or collective body of messengers from God. Keil also renders, "the teacher for righteousness," and applies the expression to the instructions of Moses, the priests, and the prophets, not excluding Messiah himself. He also understands the prophet to speak of both spiritual and material blessings, giving a fuller exposition of the latter in verses 23-27, and of the former in verses 28-32 and in the last chapter. The two considerations that seem to have most weight with Keil in inclining him to this exposition arc the presence of the article with moreh, and the non-physical sense of litsdaqah; hence Ewald's "rain for righteousness," i.e. a sign from God of their being adopted again into righteousness. But weight-stones and scales have tsedeq attached in the physical sense of correctness, while ethical rightness is only an inference or subordinate notion (see Leviticus 19:36; Psalms 23:3). The translation
(2) of "rain" is, we think, justly entitled to the preference from the context. Among promises of repairing the damage done by the locusts, it would be obviously out of place to introduce the notion of "a teacher." Of the Hebrew expositors, Aben Ezra and Kimchi both understand the word in the sense of rain; the former says, "In my opinion it is the same as yoreh;" and the latter, "Hammoreh is the same as yoreh." So also Calvin, Rosenmuller, Hitzig, and Wunsche. The etymology also is favourable to this view, for both yoreh and moreh are from the verb yorah, to throw (Hiph; cause to throw), throw down as drops, wet, besprinkle, equivalent to זרק, and as the Qal and Hiph. sometimes coincide in meaning, we may safely conclude moreh synonymous with yoreh, the meaning of which is unquestionably "rain," specially ὑετὸς πρώιμος. (a) Rain in right measure, then, we take to be the true meaning; not (b) rain according to righteousness, as though God, in accordance with his righteousness, repented of the evil he thought to do unto them, and, in consequence of their forsaking their sins, sent the fertilizing rains. Again, barishon is rendered by some (a) as if keba-rishon were equivalent to "as in the former time;" thus the LXX; καθὼς ἔμπροσθεν; Vulgate, Sicuti in principio. But we prefer (b) the rendering, "in the first month;" so the Chaldee, "In the month Nisan, or March." The Hebrew commentators explain it in like manner; thus Rashi, "In the first month—in Nisan;" Aben Ezra, "And the meaning of 'in the first' is in the first month;" Kimchi, "The explanation of the rain that is called moreb, he sends it down to you in its season, which is Marchesvan, and he causes to descend to you in like manner the malqosh (the latter rain) in its season in the first month, which is Nisan." The blessing of the rain was thus greatly enhanced by being sent in the right measure and at the suitable season.
In these verses the prophet pictures the blessed effects of the abundant rain on the parched and barren land. Joel 2:24 presents a contrast to Joel 2:10-12 of Joel 1:1-20.; while the promise of corn and wine and oil in Joel 1:19, with which the present is closely connected, is performed. The perfects exhibit the Divine promise as actually accomplished.
(1) The word בּר, from בּרר, to separate, denotes the pure grain separated from the husk or chaff and straw.
(2) שׁוּק is" to run," and in Hiph.," to cause to run" as of fluids, then overflow; and Pilel in Psalms 65:10, shoqeq, "to cause to overflow."
(3) יקב, equivalent to נקב, is a vessel bored or hewn out, then the vat into which the wine trodden out in the wine-press, or the oil trodden out in the oil-press, flows; while גח is the press in which wine or oil, especially the former, is trodden out.
I will restore to you the years.
This denotes either
(1) the greatness and violence of the destruction made by the locusts, or
(2) it implies that, only for the timely interposition of Jehovah in destroying the locusts, the people would have had to sustain the loss of the harvest, not of one year only, but of several—in other words, the disastrous effects of their ravages would have been felt for a number of years; but
(3) not that the locusts invaded the land several successive yours. The absence of the copula before yeleq, and its presence before the last two names, viz. ehasil aud gazam, prove that these three names, being thus co-ordinated, are either epithets or species of 'arbeh: thus, the losses of the years which the locust, or multitudinous one, hath eaten—the licker and the devourer and the biter (or gnawer)—were compensated. Abarbauel maintains these names of the locusts to refer to the four world-powers that one after another desolated Palestine: "For they," he says, "were the army of Jehovah and the messengers of his providence to punish Israel by their means." The effect of the plentiful supply of their wants and of the full satisfaction enjoyed thereby becomes the occasion of devout acknowledgment of God as their Protector and Patron, and of the warmest expressions of gratitude for his goodness, so they praise the Name of the Lord their God, that had dealt wondrously with them; literally, had acted towards them even to the doing of wonders. Then follows the practical conclusion, very poetically expressed, and comprising the assurance of the presence of God among his people, his sole Divinity and sure protection of them, a guarantee of his grace to them at all times, freedom from reproach and shame evermore. Thus closes the promise of temporal or material bless-tugs. "Ye shall recognize," says Kimchi, "that I am in your midst, hearing your cries."
These verses form a chapter (the third) by themselves in the Hebrew text, but in the LXX. and the Authorized Version they conclude Joel 2:1-32. In them the prophet passes on to spiritual blessings.
Joel 2:28, Joel 2:29
And it shall come to pass afterward ('acharēkhen). This intimates the time when the promised blessing is to be bestowed, and must be read in the light of New Testament exposition; for Peter, in quoting the words (Acts 2:17, etc.), varies the prophet's note of time by substituting an explanatory phrase, viz. ἐν ταῖς ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις, "in the last days"—an expression which, as is acknowledged, refers to the days of the Messiah or the last days of the old dispensation. The apostle thus defines more closely the somewhat indefinite expression of the Hebrew. After this specification of the time, he proceeds to state the blessing to be bestowed. I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh. The word shaphak, employed by the prophet to express the outpouring of the Spirit, implies the bestowal of the gift in great abundance, as Calvin clearly pointed out: "For shaphak," he says, "does not mean merely to give in drops, but to pour out in great abundance. But God did net pour out the Holy Spirit so abundantly or copiously under the Law, as he has since the manifestation of Christ." The Spirit was indeed communicated in Old Testament times, but that communication was restricted in two ways in quantity, and in the number of recipients; the former was comparatively scanty and the latter few, whereas the word here applied to its communication implies a rich supply, like a copious rainfall. After the specification of the time, and the mention of the blessing, with its implied plentifulness, comes its wide diffusion, or general distribution—"all flesh," or "all mankind," as the Hebrew expression denotes; and that without regard to age, or sex, or state. And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit. Sons and daughters without distinction of sex; old men and young men without reference to age; servants and handmaids without regard to social position. Thus it is with the Spirit of God as with the Son of God, of whom the apostle says, "There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uucircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all." The blessing of salvation through the Son of God and by the Spirit of God is wide as the world in its offer, and free to all who accept it—without national distinction, for there is neither Jew nor Greek; without social distinction, for there is neither bond nor free; without sexual distinction, for there is neither male nor female; without ceremonial distinction, for there is neither circumcision nor uncircumcision; without intellectual or educational distinction, for the barbarian and even the Scythian, the lowest type of barbarian, are free to share the blessing. The vegam before the "servants" and "handmaids," rendered in the citation by Peter, not as in the LXX. by a simple καὶ, but by καὶ γε, and in the Authorized Version "and also," is an emphatic addition to the previous enumeration, equivalent to "nay more" and implying something extraordinary and unexpected, that not only the weaker sex, but the meanest of both sexes, were to participate in the blessing. "Not a single case," says Keil, "occurs in the whole of the Old Testament of a slave receiving the gift of prophecy." The mode in which spiritual commmunication is
(1) according to some is that of visions to the young, whose fancy is more vigorous; that of dreams to the old, in the decadence of their mental powers; while to the sons and daughters the gift is prophesying. Others more correctly
(2) understand prophecy as the general term for speaking under the Spirit's influence or instructing by Divine inspiration; while the two forms of prophetic revelation are dreams when the mental "faculties are suspended by natural causes," and visions or trances when "suspended by supernatural causes," the communication in either case being supernatural. This prediction began to be fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost.
And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. Along with the wonderful distribution of gifts and graces at the Day of Pentecost, attention is directed to portents of destructive visitation; after a dispensation of mercy follows a dispensation of wrath; mercy and judgment thus succeed each other in the providence of God. The visitation of mercy may, by way of contrast, suggest that of judgment; or the connection of this and the following verses with the preceding may be the plague of the locusts, the mind passing on from that visitation to the visitation at the destruction of Jerusalem, as also to that which shall take place at the judgment of the last day. Our Lord, in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, seems to mingle the portents which were to precede the destruction of Jerusalem with those that shall usher in the judgment-day. There may Be some doubt whether the expressions before us are to Be understood literally or figuratively. In either case coming events were casting their shadows before; and the appearances enumerated, whether taken in a literal or figurative sense, were symbolical of great revolutionary changes. The expressions themselves reflect the miracles of Egypt. Of the wonders on earth which the prophet first mentions, the blood brings to mind the changing of the Nile-water into blood; the fire reminds us of the fire that ran along upon the ground, mingled with the hail; while the smoke carries back our thoughts to the wonderful events of the wilderness and of the encampment at Sinai, when, as Jehovah descended upon the mount, "Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace."
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come. These wonders in the heavens follow the wonders on earth, and these obscurations of the heavenly bodies—the darkening of the sun and the dull blood-like appearance of the moon—were portents of coming judgment. These miraculous phenomena, if literally employed, may refer to those portentous sights which, as the Jewish historian Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus testify, were witnessed, both by besiegers and besieged, during the siege and before the destruction of Jerusalem. But taken symbolically, as is preferable, blood symbolizes bloodshed; fire, the firing of a town in time of war; and pillars of smoke, the clouds of smoke rolling up to heaven from the burning or smouldering ruins of a town or city set on fire by the enemy; while the darkening of the sun and the turning of the moon into a dull blood-red would portend approaching judgment, and a change, political and ecclesiastical, in the existing constitution of things. Here particularly, by reading Joel's prophecy in the light of the New Testament, we shall understand with tolerable clearness the meaning of the symbols of the sun and moon. The symbolic language of Joel's prediction found its fulfilment, at least in part, within less than half a century from the time when Peter spoke. Scarce forty years from that Pentecostal outpouring and the ruling powers, civil and ecclesiastical, of the Jewish nation came to an end. The Jewish Church and Hebrew commonwealth went out in darkness. The moon of the latter began to wane from the first day the Roman power was set up in Palestine, but at the destruction of the capital the light of that moon was extinguished for ever; the sun of the former was long getting obscured by clouds, but at last it underwent a total and final eclipse. But why, it may be asked, are sun and moon thus symbolic of rulers superior and inferior, or of rulers of greater and less importance, or of rulers in Church and state? By the original constitution of these luminaries, as specified in the record of Creation, they were actually appointed to this, and so naturally enough the physical here, as elsewhere, underlies the symbolic, as we read, "God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night." Thus what was commenced when Judaea became a Roman province was completed when Jerusalem was destroyed and the temple burnt by the Roman army under Titus. "The day of the Lord" is an expression very common with the prophets, and always expressive of some severe visitation or special judgment. Thus we read in this same Book of the Prophet Joel, "The day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come." Again in Amos 5:18, "The day of the Lord is darkness, and not light." But other days of judicial visitation were not to be compared with this. The day of Babylon's destruction is called by Isaiah simply "the day of the Lord;" so Jeremiah speaks of the day of the destruction of Pharaoh's army at the Euphrates as "the day of the Lord;" and Joel himself designates the day of Jerusalem's destruction of Nebuchadnezzar as "the day of the Lord." But the day mentioned in the text before us is "that great and notable day of the Lord," and so it was the day of the final destruction and desolation of Jerusalem.
The purposes for which a trumpet was blown and an alarm sounded.
I. THE PARTICULAR PURPOSE ON THIS OCCASION.
II. THE PLACE WHERE THE WARNING WAS GIVEN.
III. THE PRIESTS WHO WERE TO SOUND THE ALARM. We are informed in Numbers 10:8 that it was the "sons of Aaron, the priests," that were to blow with the trumpets, either in sounding the alarm of war, or convening an assembly of the people, or for the journeying of the camps. Similar is the duty of the ministers of religion.
IV. THE PERSONS TO WHOM THE WARNING IS ADDRESSED. They are all the inhabitants of the land without exception, for all more or less add their quota to the national sin, share consequently in the national danger.
V. THE PECULIARITIES OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES SO VIVIDLY PICTURED BY THE PROPHET. While the peculiar circumstances of the visitation which the prophet portrays intensify the approaching disaster, they at the same time emphasize his preceding exhortation. In this picture of the prophet we have
(1) his description of the day of the Lord, and
(2) the destruction that succeeded.
The description represents that day as a day of darkness and, by way of gradation, of gloominess, that is, of still greater darkness; as a day of clouds and of densely dark clouds; as the morning gray, the darkest hour between midnight and dawn, spread upon the mountains. The locust-people that made it so were great in number and great in strength, unequalled in the past and unparalleled in the future, through all the rolling years of many generations. The destruction was terrible in the extreme, as if a devouring fire went before them and a burning flame followed them. The havoc they made reduced a garden to a desert, and Eden itself to a wilderness; in a word, it was unescapable.
The way in which God executes his judgments.
In these verses we are taught many important and solemn lessons in connection with the Divine judgments and their execution.
I. THE AGENTS EMPLOYED.
1. These may appear to us in themselves very insignificant; but when executing his commission and armed with his wrath they are truly terrible. To the eye and to the ear that terror made its appeal; the sight of them was awe-inspiring, the sound of them frightful. Both on the march and while feeding they caused sounds harsh and horrible.
2. The natural effect of their approach was pain and fear. The people to whom they came were affrighted by their appearance, but still more were they alarmed for their property, which they well knew was exposed to havoc and utter destruction. How men should stand in awe of the judgments of God, and especially of sin as that which brings down those judgments! "Stand in awe, and sin not!"
II. THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THEIR MISSION.
1. The ministers of the Divine vengeance do their work speedily. Never did mighty men do their work more speedily, and never did men of war, with all their training and organization, do it more thoroughly. They do their work systematically, each marching according to the appointed plan, while none leaves his proper path or quits his allotted rank. Without either struggling or jostling, they advance directly and determinedly to accomplish the work assigned them. They in consequence do their work surely. Resistance is in vain and escape impossible; it is thus with the agents and instrumentalities which God employs for the purposes of deserved wrath.
2. Should not men, when sent as messengers of his mercy, observe like order and regularity, like system in arrangements and speed in execution? It is thus with the heavenly messengers; for God makes his angels swift as the winds and strong as the fiery flames in bearing God's messages and in ministering to God's saints.
III. THE ALARMS OF MINOR JUDGMENTS. Weak and mean as the instruments of his wrath were individually, God made them by their multitudinous masses a mighty engine for spreading desolation and terror. It needs but a slight touch of his finger to lay men's possessions, or comforts, or enjoyments in the dust.
These verses summon the people
To humiliation for sin, and thanksgiving for mercy.
God, by his prophet, does not forbid the outward sign of sorrow, so customary among Orientals and common among the Jews; he rather insists upon the presence of the thing signified, without which the sign was more a mockery than a reality.
I. THE OCCASION OF THE HUMILIATION. It Was an earnest time with the people of the southern kingdom. Terrible desolation had been made in the land of Judah. An army of locusts had been the agents of Divine vengeance; sin had been the cause; the author of the punishment was God. "The prophet had described at length the coming of God's judgments as a mighty army. But, lest amid the judgments men should (as they often do) forget the Judge, he represents God as commanding this his army, gathering, ordering, marshalling, directing them, giving them the word when and upon whom they should pour themselves. Their presence was a token of this. They should neither anticipate that command nor linger. But as an army awaits the command to move, and then, the word being given, rolls on instantly, so God's judgments await the precise moment of his will, and then fall."
II. THE NATURE OF THE HUMILIATION.
III. THE MOTIVES TO HUMILIATION.
IV. THE METHOD OF THEIR HUMILIATION.
1. A great variety of circumstances is to be attended to.
(1) There is the signal to be given: "Blow the trumpet in Zion."
(2) Serious preparation made for a fast: "Sanctify a fast."
(3) The summoning of a solemn assembly: "Call a solemn assembly."
(4) The convocation of the people: "Gather the people" ('am); and,
(5) when they were thus convened and in consequence came together, they were consecrated into a solemn assembly (qahal): "Sanctify the congregation."
(6) The constituent elements of the assembly embraced the oldest and the youngest, with ages intermediate—elders and sucklings, and even children of tender years; nor could the newly married, who at other times were exempted from war or pressing duties, claim exemption now; nay, on the very day of their bridal, the bridegroom was called forth out of his chamber and the bride out of her closet to join the multitude of mourners, and share in the public humiliation and national sorrow.
2. The services of the occasion were to be conducted in an orderly and becoming manner. Everything connected with the house and service of God requires to be done decently and in good order. Thus, in the passage before us, nothing is left to haphazard; nor did anything remain to be improvised on the spur of the moment, and after the assembly met.
(1) The persons who were to conduct the solemn service were appointed—the priests, the ministers of the Lord;
(2) the place they were to occupy was pointed out—between the porch and the altar;
(3) the part they were to take in the duties of the day was assigned them—weeping for their own sins and the sins of the people;
(4) the prayer they were to pray was prescribed to them.
3. The prayer itself
(1) pleads for sparing mercy re-echoed in the petitions of the Litany, "Remember not, Lord, our offences, nor the offences of our forefathers; neither take thou vengeance of our sins: spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious blood, and be not angry with us for ever." The second petition of the prayer deprecates the prospect of God's heritage becoming a reproach, and being ultimately enslaved by their heathen neighbours through feebleness and destitution which had been occasioned by the famine.
(2) The plea suggested by the prophet to the people is twofold, and forms the ground of each petition. It is "thy people, O Lord; thy heritage." They were still God's people, punished, severely punished, and, it must be added, severely punished for their sins, but now penitent and petitioning for pardon. They were still more; they were God's heritage, his peculiar treasure, segregated from the surrounding nations and set apart for the communication of his revelations, and to be the conservators of his oracles. Nor was there any presumption in reminding God of this; they were only acting as God's remembrancers in relation to both his purpose and his promise. The glory of God as well as the good of his people was imperilled. "Wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?" In this way the heathen used to boast, as we learn from the boastful words of Sennacherib when he asks, "Where are the gods of Hamath and Arphad?" Even such are the words of Jehovah himself when he asks, in relation to the vanities of the heathen, "Where are now their gods, their rock in whom they trusted?"
These verses prove
The efficacy of prayer.
No one who believes in a personal God, no one who believes in a God who rules and governs all, and no one especially who believes in the Bible as the Word of God, can doubt or deny the efficacy of prayer.
I. HERE FOLLOWS IN A SERIES GOD'S REGARD TO HIS PEOPLE AND RESPONSE TO THEIR PRAYERS. He regards their impoverished condition, be repairs their losses, he removes their reproach, and he repels the immediate cause of their desolation.
1. The restoration of amicable relations is promised. The first promise here is of a general nature, and includes God's acceptance of and affection for penitents. He graciously acknowledges his covenant relation to them and special interest in them. Both their persons and their property are owned by him. The people are his people; their land is his land. The land of promise was his in a peculiar sense; but God has respect to the possessions of his people, wherever situated; their concerns and enjoyments are precious in his esteem. The consequence is, the implied avowal of a twofold relationship, marital and paternal. "Thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married;" these words of the Prophet Isaiah distinctly express the former of the two relations referred to, while the feeling of jealousy springs therefrom. Thus, as a husband is jealous of the honour of his wife and of himself, and ready to resent any insult or injury offered to his partner, so the Lord promises to be jealous for his land—that land to which he admits by implication such an endearing and delicate relation. And "as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." Like a tender, compassionate parent, he pities his people in any season or circumstances of distress, and pledges his love and power for their relief.
2. A rich supply of temporal blessings is guaranteed. This would naturally suggest itself as a practical and particular result of the general statement of the dual relationship already avouched.
(1) This supply is very comprehensive; it includes at once all that is requisite fur nourishment, for refreshment, and for ornament-corn, wine, and oil.
(2) It is very satisfactory; for the supply, either from its abundance or the accompanying blessing, is fully adequate to the requirements of the case—they shall be satisfied therewith. Plenty of itself does not always produce satisfaction: the blessing of God is needed to make men content; hence "godliness with contentment is great gain."
(3) It is very comfortable; for it comes in answer to prayer, and thus brings with it a token of God's good pleasure. The promise is not introduced by "The Lord will say," but by "The Lord will answer and say," clearly connecting it with the prayers of his people, and evidencing at the same time his love to and interest in them.
(4) It is very observable; attention is drawn to it by a "Behold." God will have his people to take notice of his hand in the mercies he bestows, and to mark the contrast in their condition which his merciful interposition brings about. The hand that smote them now salves their wounds; they had suffered from distress and want, now they are blessed with plenty.
3. The rolling away of their reproach is an additional blessing. The heathen had exulted over them in the day of their calamity; their reputation had suffered by the visible marks of the Divine displeasure upon them, from which the inference had been either that they had forsaken God, or that he had forgotten them; and that there had been unfaithfulness on his side or on theirs, or on both. Now, however, they have returned to him in penitence, and he has received them in mercy; and thus their reproach is rolled away, and their reputation retrieved.
4. The removal of all cause of fear. The promise of plenty is backed by the assurance that the power which plagued them is doomed to destruction. The invading army that had destroyed so much is now in turn to be dispersed and defeated.
(1) They had made a fruitful land barren and desolate, and now they are to be driven away into a land barren and desolate, there to perish for ever.
(2) They had been the rod in God's hand for the punishment of a sinful people; and now that that rod has done its work, it is broken in pieces and flung away. Nothing is left of those pestilent swarms save the stench of their putrefying carcases; so with those wicked instruments which a wise Providence sometimes employs for the chastisement of his disobedient children, nought shall remain of them except the ill odour of their memory.
(3) The relief is complete. "When an affliction," it has been observed, "has done its work, it shall be removed in mercy, as the locusts of Canaan were from a penitent people, not as the locusts of Egypt were removed in wrath from an impenitent prince, only to make room for another plague." They had done great things to the detriment of God's people, and dealt much mischief to their possessions and property; now God does yet greater things for the benefit of his people, and in the destruction of their enemies.
These verses contain an amplification of the pre ceding promises by way of stronger assurance and greater comfort to his people There is also an application of the same, in which, by a bold but beautiful personification, the laud itself, beasts of the field, as well as the children of Zion, are called to joy and gladness.
I. REJOICINGS ENJOINED.
1. The call to joy is addressed to things animate and inanimate, to animals rational and irrational; while the expression for joyfulness is suitably and sufficiently raised. Negatively, it is the absence of fear; positively, it is gladness and exultation.
2. The contrast is also very expressive. When the plague of locusts was approaching or had actually arrived, the land mourned; now it is called on not only to lay aside fear and divest itself of all apprehension, but to leap for joy and rejoice.
II. REASONS ASSIGNED. In each case the cause of rejoicing is subjoined.
1. First comes the general statement, "For the Lord will do great things;" more correctly, "hath done great things." He had done great things and terrible in chastising his erring children and punishing his enemies; but much greater things and more gracious he did when he repelled the invader and relieved his distressed people. Great things does God do in wrath, greater still in mercy.
"And though his arm be strong to smite,
'Tis stronger still to save."
2. The next reason assigned for rejoicing contains several particulars relating to the pasture-grounds and fruit trees. The pastures had been devoured as by fire; now they spring into new life, and are clothed with fresh young grass. The vine was dried up, the fig tree languished, the pomegranate, palm, and apple tree, yea, all the trees of the field, were withered; now they yield their strength, and are become vigorous and fruitful. When a man's ways please the Lord, his enemies are at peace with him, and the very stones of the field are in league with him; in like manner, when God is at peace with his people and they with him, through mutual reconciliation cemented by the blood of the cross, all the creatures of God are their servants.
3. The third reason assigned is the gift of rain, suitable and seasonable—the former rain and the latter rain, with the necessary results, namely, floors full of wheat, and vats overflowing with wine and oil. Pusey follows those who understand moreh in the sense of "teacher," as the Targum, which renders the clause, "Has restored to you your instructor [or, 'instructors'] in righteousness;" and the Vulgate, "Teacher of righteousness;" the Septuagint, followed by the Syriac and the Arabic, "The foods unto righteousness." His comment is, "It seems most probable that the prophet prefixes to all the other promises that first all-containing promise of the coming of Christ. Such is the wont of the prophets, to go on from past judgments and deliverances to him who is the Centre of all this cycle of God's dispensations, the Son manifest in the flesh Him Joel speaks of as the Subject of rejoicing: 'Exult and joy in the Lord thy God; for he giveth [or, 'will give'] thee the Teacher unto righteousness,' i.e. the result and object of whose coming is righteousness." He further adds, "The early and latter rain, coming respectively at the seed-time and the harvest, represent the beginning and the completion; and so, by the analogy of earthly and spiritual sowing, growth, and ripeness, they represent preventing and perfecting grace; the inspiration of good purposes and the gift of final perseverance, which brings the just to glory consummated; the principles of the doctrine of Christ, and the going on unto perfection."
III. REPARATION FOR YEARS OF LOSS.
1. Sin had been the cause of Israel's calamity; the instruments that brought about the calamity were commissioned by God, and therefore called his great army. Small and insignificant as the individuals composing that army were, by their multitude they became great, and by the Divine commission they became mighty. The loss inflicted was consequently great. It had continued for several successive years, the change in the order of these instruments of destruction implying, according to some, not the order of attack, but the successiveness of the inroads made, and that for year after year.
2. The losses sustained are now to be repaired, such is the graciousness of God's dealings with his people when penitent. Years of plenty are to succeed the years of famine, and the losses of the latter are to be counterbalanced by the abundance of the former. It is no unusual thing with God to restore double, even as he promises, saying, "Even to-day do I declare that I will render double unto thee." Thus he did with Job; the Lord gave the patriarch twice as much as he had before, and blessed the latter end of Job more than the beginning. Men's sins deserve all the chastisement that comes upon them; it is not because of man's merit, but in virtue of God's great goodness, that any compensation whatever is made them.
3. Thus it is with afflictions in general when we have the sanctified use of them. In such a case we are gainers, not losers, by affliction. When we return to him by means of repentance, he returns to us in the way of restitution. He repents him concerning his servants; he makes them glad according to the days wherein he has afflicted them, and the years wherein they have seen evil.
IV. RETURN OF PRAISE TO GOD FOR HIS GOODNESS.
1. God's goodness takes visible shape when he bestows the great abundance of good things promised to his people; that goodness is greatly enhanced when the sufficiency of food and of temporal good things is accompanied with satisfaction. Men sometimes have a sufficiency and eat, but are not satisfied; again they eat, and are satisfied, but forget their Benefactor, and fail to thank him for his bounties.
2. The return which God expects, and man is bound to make, is praise to the Name of the Lord. This return of praise includes several items here clearly expressed or implied. There is
(1) an acknowledgment of the privilege of having the Lord for our God in covenant—a covenant well ordered in all things and sure; there is
(2) an acknowledgment of his providence in so wondrously dealing with us; there must be
(3) an acknowledgment of the performance of his promises, so his people who trust in him have no reason to be ashamed, and are never put to shame; there must be, moreover,
(4) an acknowledgment of his presence in the midst of his people, to provide for, protect, and preserve his people; there must, in addition to all this, be
(5) an acknowledgment of the peculiarity of his relation to us—the Lord our God, and none else, so that we have reason to rejoice, not only in the good things he gives us, but in the good hand that gives them, even the hand of a father who corrects us when we offend, and comforts us when we repent, and who intertwines our good, temporal and spiritual, with his own glory.
The dispensation of the gospel.
The prophet had exhibited the wisdom and mercy of the Divine dispensations—God's pity for penitents, and the happiness of all who seek and serve him. "He will be jealous for them, and have compassion on them; he will plead their cause, avert his judgments, drive away their enemies, answer their prayers, and supply their wants; and the greatness of those things that have been done against them shall only enhance their gratitude for the still greater things that he will do for them." Accordingly, he now passes from temporal benefits to spiritual blessings.
I. THE DISPENSATION OF THE GOSPEL IS A SPIRITUAL DISPENSATION. To a sorely chastened people such temporal mercies as are promised in the preceding verses must have been very delightful, and the great change of their condition consequent on repentance must have been as marvellous as it was merciful. But the prophet, looking away forward into the future, foretells the coming of a far more eventful era—an era marked by the bestowal of far richer and more abundant blessings.
1. The period referred to was to be subsequent to the calamities already endured, and the comforting compensations that followed. Long after the storm of adversity then present would be overpast, and after the state of peace and prosperity that would succeed, there would come a time of unparalleled blessing. The fulfilment of this prophecy began at the Day of Pentecost.
2. The plenitude of blessing. Then the droppings of the Spirit, that had been vouchsafed to patriarchs and prophets and the people of God under the old economy, would give place to a downpouring of the Spirit without stint and without restriction. This outpouring of the Spirit, in his gifts and graces and consolations, would extend to all nationalities, Gentile as well as Jew; and to both sexes, daughters and sons alike; and to all ages, both young and old; and to all classes, bond as well as free, servants and handmaids together. Not to the seed of Abraham, nor to the land of Israel, would the blessing be confined, but all flesh would be permitted to see the glory of the Lord, and the inhabitants of all lands would be privileged to come and worship before him. Peter himself scarcely comprehended the full extent of the blessing until he was specially commissioned to open the door of faith to the Gentiles.
3. Particular instances of the fulfilment present themselves—in the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Gentile Cornelius, the Roman centurion, and his friends; in the prophesying of the four daughters of Philip the evangelist, as in that of Agabus; in the vision of Peter in Joppa, and in that of Cornelius in Caesarea some short space previously, as also in those wonderful visions and revelations vouchsafed to Paul when he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words.
4. Prolongation of the blessing. If we consider the effects produced, we shall find that the blessing did not cease at the Day of Pentecost. By the outpouring of the Spirit, no doubt, apostles and evangelists received such discoveries of Divine things as fully fitted them for writing the New Testament Scriptures, for declaring things secret, distant, and future, for founding the Christian Church, and ordering all things aright therein. These extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were confined to apostolic times, and in part to sub-apostolic times, and perhaps a generation after; but the ordinary operations and influences of the Spirit have never ceased from then till now. The extraordinary manifestations of the Divine will produced by the outpouring of the Spirit were only a partial accomplishment of the promise, and meant as a means for the full accomplishment of the same. Besides, it was not intended that all who receive the Spirit, and thereby learn the mysteries of the gospel and attain to the knowledge of salvation, should assume the power of prophesying, or exercise the function of the gospel ministry; for Paul, speaking of spiritual gifts, says, in relation to persons possessing such gifts, "Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers?" Nor are the revelations vouchsafed something without the Word of God, or beside it, or any way independent of it; for in the most solemn and signal fulfilment of this promise, when the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, Peter all along appeals to Scripture, and directs his audience thereto in order to justify the change wrought on them, and vindicate the doctrines he addressed to them. By "prophesy" and "visions" and "dreams," we may understand the prophet as speaking of "gospel times and mercies, in terms borrowed from the times of the Old Testament; and the meaning is that, as of old, the excellent way and measure of the knowledge of God was by prophecy, vision, and dreams (Numbers 12:6); so, under the New Testament, beside what was extraordinary, all who get the Spirit of God may, for knowing the mysteries of salvation, be compared with these ancient prophets. And as of old, by these ways of manifestation, men attained to the knowledge of the mysteries of God, so should they by the Spirit of God in the use of ordinary means."
5. Perfect fulfilment of the promise. Wonderful as the Pentecostal period was for the outpouring of the Spirit in such power and plenty, and superior in energy and extent as the Divine influences then were to those enjoyed during the ages that had preceded, yet they were but droppings to the full flood of gospel light and gospel holiness that shall bless our earth in the glory of the latter day, when all that "see the light or feel the sun" shall know the Lord, and walk before him in the beauty of holiness. Thus the blessing commenced at Pentecost, continuing ever since, shall be consummated in that day when "the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea."
II. DAYS OF TRIAL FREQUENTLY FOLLOW TIMES OF SPIRITUAL BLESSING. The people had experienced a merciful relief after the plague of locusts or prostration of their enemies; bat they are warned against carnal security, or the vain supposition that all troubles shall be for ever henceforth banished from their borders.
1. Even after the great outpouring of the Spirit in Messianic times, and specially on the Day of Pentecost, there would be great commotions and terrible convulsions. These took place, as we know, before the dreadful day of the destruction of Jerusalem; and similar catastrophes, whether literal or figurative, shall occur before the still greater and more terrible day of the second coming of Christ to judgment. Through all the interval, times of special spiritual blessing hate been in the past, and shall be in the future, followed by severe testing-times; "times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord" shall not exempt us from such; even God's own dear children are not to look for a continuance of halcyon days on earth.
2. Many causes contribute to this. After a time of reformation, or religious revival and refreshing, Satan will seek to sift them like wheat, and stir up all his rage against them. Opposed to the progress of the truth, he will array all the power he possesses and all the agents he can command against the Church. God himself will permit such a winnowing-time as will separate the wheat from the chaff, try the faith, and prove the graces of his people. We never know cur real strength or points of weakness till the day of trial comes. But God will also manifest the greatness of his displeasure against sin by humbling on the one hand those who, during a time of rich spiritual blessing, refuse the offers of his grace and resist his Spirit, and by punishing on the other hand all the enemies, public or secret, of himself and of his people.
3. The coming of Christ to judgment. Whether the wonders in the heaven and in the earth, blood and fire, and pillars of smoke, with eclipses of the sun and moon, be understood literally of the precursors and presages of on-coming calamities, or figuratively of the calamities and catastrophes themselves, the second coming of the Lord at the general judgment, of which his coming to the destruction of Jerusalem was a sort of dim foreshadow, shall abound with comfort to the saint. as it shall be fraught with terror to the sinner. To the one his coming shall be a day greatly desired, to the other it shall be a day of distress and despair; for while he shall come to take vengeance on them that know not God and obey not the gospel of his grace, he will come to be glorified in the saints, and admired in all them that believe.
III. DELIVERANCE FOR THE SERVANTS OF GOD.
1. The persons delivered are
(1) those who call upon the Name of the Lord. These are the worshippers of God, who worship him in private as well as in public, with heart as well as head, and the confession of whose lips echoes the confidence of the heart. "This calling on God supposes knowledge of him, faith in him, desire towards him, dependence on him, and, as an evidence of the sincerity of all this, a conscientious obedience to him; for without that, crying, 'Lord, Lord,' will not stand us in any stead."
(2) They are described as "called of God," "effectually called"—called not only by the common and ordinary call of the gospel, but called specially into fellowship with God, Father, Son, and Spirit. Such are effectually called "from sin to God, from self to Christ, from things below to things above." The apostle explains the first characteristic as pertaining to the Gentiles; the second, some restrict to the Jews. We had better refer both to the saints of God, whether Gentile or Jew.
(3) The persons spoken of in this Scripture are further particularized as persons escaped from destruction, and as a remnant left after some fierce fight or terrible judgment. The expression "remnant," so often used by the prophets, originally referred to those captives who had survived their brethren who had died in exile, or who formed a contrast to the dwellers in Jerusalem; subsequently the expression contained the germ of the. New Testament "election of grace." This remnant is composed, not only of the small number of Jews that believed in Christ at his first coming, but of "the little flock" (Jew and Gentile) to whom God gives the kingdom; the "few that enter in at the strait gate;" the "little city" and few men in it, delivered by "the poor wise man."
2. The place of deliverance. This was Mount Zion and Jerusalem literally, but in a very limited sense, if the reference be to those who escaped from the miseries and calamities of the final and fearful siege of the holy city, as also from its ruin and destruction; such as believed in Christ and were in the city having escaped to Pella, and thus survived the common calamity. It is rather Zion and Jerusalem in the spiritual sense of the Church of Christ where the Deliverer is found, whence salvation proceeds, or rather where, according to the alternative rendering, the delivered, or such as have escaped, are found.
3. The privileges of such are manifold. They have experienced tokens of God's love upon them, teachings of God's Spirit within them, the usefulness of God's Word and ordinances to them; they are favoured with a spiritual frame of soul, and spread the savour of godliness around them.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Sound an alarm!
The trumpet-call was used among the Israelites both in their religious solemnities and in the conduct of war. The direction here given is that a summons should be addressed to the nation, calling upon all classes to give heed to the presence of the Lord, and to learn the lessons taught by his awful judgments. We are thus taught that the silver sound of the gospel trumpet is not the only note that reaches our human race; there is also the loud call, the startling alarm, which is especially intended for sinful and inattentive man.
I. SIN AND FALSE SECURITY ARE OFTEN ASSOCIATED. The tempter not only leads men into sin; he persuades them that sin will have no evil consequences. The voice of conscience is silenced; the solemn assurance of Scripture is disregarded or disbelieved. Men sin without foreboding and without fear.
II. HENCE THE NEED OF A SOLEMN AND FAITHFUL NOTE OF ALARM AND WARNING. Ezekiel was taught that one especial function of the prophet is to give the people warning. The watchman who sees the approach of danger is bound to blow the trumpet, that they may not be surprised and taken unawares. Those who are entrusted with a message from God to their fellow-men are directed, whether men hear or forbear, to deal faithfully with souls.
III. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF GIVING HEED TO THE ALARM RESTS WITH THOSE WHO ARE WARNED. The warning may be disregarded, the penalty may be incurred, the judgment may be experienced. Or, on the other hand, the alarm may not be sounded in vain. Repentance may prove its reality by sincere resolutions and prayers, and a new heart may produce a new life. Then not only does the prophet deliver his soul; the sinner finds acceptance and salvation.—T.
Who can abide it?
It is the day of the Lord to which the prophet here refers; the day when the Lord visits the earth, examines his people, inquires into their conduct, and especially into the manner in which they have dealt with his messengers and their message. Then a test shall be applied to the inmost nature, and to the outward life of men; and it is a serious inquiry, "Who can abide it?"
I. NONE CAN RESIST THE OMNIPOTENCE OF THE DIVINE JUDGE.
II. NONE CAN ELUDE HIS OMNISCIENT SCRUTINY INTO THE HEARTS AND LIVES OF MEN.
III. NONE CAN QUESTION THE PRINCIPLES OF JUSTICE UPON WHICH HE PROCEEDS.
IV. NONE CAN SHOW CONFORMITY TO THE STANDARD OF RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH HE APPLIES.
V. NONE CAN EVADE THE AUTHORITATIVE SENTENCE WHICH HE PRONOUNCES.
APPLICATION. If none can abide the judgment of the future, it will be wise not to seek by repentance and faith reconciliation and acceptance. "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way."—T.
God is not satisfied to utter threatenings and to foretell evil It is truly characteristic of him that he adds words of gracious entreaty, expostulation, and counsel. He would be deserving of our adoring gratitude did he merely express his willingness to receive the returning sinner; but in this passage he deigns to invite and beseech those who have rebelled and who are in danger of perdition, that they convert and repent.
I. WHO ARE THEY WHO ARE THUS ADMONISHED? They are such as have been highly favoured, and have nevertheless disobeyed the Father who has cared for them, rebelled against the King who has been gracious to them. Who amongst men must not be included in this class?
II. TO WHOM ARE THEY INSTRUCTED TO RETURN? "To me," saith the Lord. It is the offended One, who himself condescends to invite transgressors to reverse their steps, to renounce their disobedience, to cleave unto himself. This is a miracle of grace.
III. WHAT KIND OF CONVERSION DOES GOD REQUIRE? In this passage we have as clear a statement as even the New Testament can supply of the spirituality of true religion. God does not ask for verbal, formal submission; he asks for the return of the heart. Here is involved true penitence—heart-sorrow for sin. Here is involved true faith—heart-attachment to God. The heart is emphatically God's, and it is the heart he asks.
IV. WHAT TOKENS OF SINCERITY IN CONVERSION DOES GOD EXPECT? The true conversion is within; but there will be appropriate evidences that sin is loathed and forsaken. For this purpose the tears and mourning, etc; here described, are to be desired by God and presented by man.—T.
Throughout the Scriptures the one indispensable condition of man's forgiveness and of his acceptance with God, which is insisted upon by all inspired writers, is repentance. It is, therefore, of great importance to have right view of this exercise or posture of the soul.
I. TRUE REPENTANCE DOES NOT CONSIST IN ANY EXTERNAL, CEREMONIAL OBSERVANCE. In the East especially it has always been common to practise rites of a symbolical character in connection with the religious life. Sorrow and penitence are expressed by the rending of the garments. Now, it is in accordance with human nature that the sign should be substituted for the thing signified, the outward observance and ceremony for the feeling. It is an evidence of the divinity and spirituality of the religion of the Old Testament that, in this as in other passages, the mere symbol should be disparaged in comparison with the emotion which it represents.
II. TRUE AND ACCEPTABLE REPENTANCE IS SPIRITUAL.
1. Its seat is the heart. A broken and a contrite heart will not be despised by him who cares nothing for rent garments, for sackcloth and ashes, for loud and repeated lamentations.
2. Its essence is turning unto the Lord, i.e. away from sin and away from self, to him against whom the sinner has offended, and by whom alone the sinner can be justified.
III. TRUE REPENTANCE IS PROMPTED BY JUST THOUGHTS OF GOD AS MERCIFUL AND FORGIVING.
1. In disposition God is gracious, merciful, forbearing. If his only principle of government had been the strict retribution which some have attributed to him, there would be no encouragement to the sinner to repent of sins which could never be forgiven.
2. In his treatment of men, God is characterized by great kindness, such as our poor, stricken, clinging hearts especially need and crave for.
3. In regard to threats and promises, God makes himself known as repenting of the evil. The threat of punishment is not idle. But the revelation of mercy, the promise of grace, is far deeper than all threatening. Denunciations of wrath are for the impenitent and unbelieving; but when sinners repent of their sin, God repents of his purpose to destroy.—T.
The hope of reconciliation.
This language is figurative, and may be deemed by some open to the charge of anthropomorphism. Yet it is very simple, very natural, and very expressive. God is represented as a king and warrior, who has been offended by his subjects, and who has come down from his palace at the head of his army, to chastise the rebellious; but who has been met with the language of submission and supplication, and whose wrath is averted, so that it is hoped that, instead of punishing he may. show mercy,.and may return to his palace, leaving behind him some tokens of his favour and forgiveness.
I. WHEN MEN THINK OF THEIR OWN ILL DESERTS, THEY MAY WELL FEAR THE CONSEQUENCES OF GOD'S NOTICE AND ACTION.
II. BUT WHEN THEY THINK OF GOD'S CHARACTER AND PROMISES, THEY MAY WELL CHERISH THE HOPE THAT HE WILL HAVE MERCY UPON THEM.
III. WHEN FAITHFUL AND REPENTANT, MEN MAY LOOK, NOT MERELY FOR THE REMISSION OF JUSTLY THREATENED PENALTIES, BUT FOR THE ENJOYMENT OF UNDESERVED BLESSINGS.
APPLICATION. If we were to think chiefly of our own sins and unworthiness, the utmost that we could do would be to cherish some faint hope that mercy might be extended to us. Those untaught by revelation, if they have any sense of their sinfulness, cannot go beyond this: "Who can tell if he will repent?" But those who are in possession of the glad tidings which are by Jesus Christ will be guilty of distrusting and dishonouring God, if this be their mental attitude. They have the express assurances of "him who cannot lie," and who has promised that the penitent and believing sinner shall be pardoned, and put into the enjoyment of all spiritual blessings. They are not, therefore, at liberty to doubt, but are bound to credit and to act upon the revelation of a faithful and merciful God.—T.
Elders and children.
The occasion is serious. National disaster seems imminent. What shall be done to turn away Divine anger? Let the people be summoned to meet in solemn assembly, and by fasts and prayers let them address themselves to the Divine compassion. And that it may be a truly national and popular act of religion, let no class, no sex, no age, be omitted from the summons, or exempted from the exercises of devotion and intercession. Thus ciders and children are, upon Divine authority, associated in holy services.
I. OLD AND YOUNG ARE ALIKE PARTAKERS OF THE DIVINE BOUNTY, ALIKE OBJECTS OF DIVINE CARE.
II. OLD AND YOUNG ARE ALIKE POSSESSED OF SPIRITUAL CAPACITIES AND FACULTIES. It is sometimes taken for granted that children, because of imperfect knowledge and undeveloped intellect, are incapable of any serious part in the religious exercises of the Church. But intelligence is relative. Is not the "grey barbarian lower than the Christian child"? Is not the full-grown man but a babe when compared with heavenly intelligences? Faith is often stronger and prayer is often more genuine in the child than in the adult.
III. OLD AND YOUNG ARE ALIKE NECESSARY TO THE COMPLETENESS OF SOCIAL LIFE. It has often and justly been said, that a community without children would be scarcely human. Providence has so ordered society that those of all ages should live together in mutual intercourse. And no religion can afford to leave out of sight those who are growing up to be the men and women of the next generation. It would indeed be unwise, even ruinous, to so adapt the language and the thoughts in prayer, praise, or meditation to the capacities of the young, as to estrange the mature and intellectual from the services of the Church. Yet there must be milk for babes, as well as meat for strong men. The admonition of the text should reach the ears especially of Christian ministers, "Gather the children."—T.
The priests of the old covenant occupied a position, relatively to religion and to the Church, very different from that occupied by Christian ministers of any special order. Their office was partly fulfilled and superseded by the ministrations of" the great High Priest of our profession," and partly taken up by the whole body of the faithful, who are "priests unto God."
I. THE PRIESTLY OFFICE. Priests were:
1. Ministers of the Lord, appointed by him to serve in the offices of religion.
2. Representatives of the people, from amongst whom they were selected by Divine wisdom.
3. Mediators between the laity whom they represented, and the Eternal whom they served in his temple.
II. THE PRIESTLY GRIEF. In time of calamity it was the function of the priests to mourn. They were men, and representative men. They were touched with a feeling of the people's infirmities. They bore the burden of the nation on their hearts. Between the porch and the altar, it was their sacred function, clad in dark sackcloth, to lift up their voices and to weep.
III. THE PRIESTLY ENTREATY. The simple and touching language, in which the Hebrew priests appealed on behalf of the nation to the mercy of high Heaven, has passed into the Litany of the Christian Church. The supplication for pity and deliverance is urged by the united appeal of the holy assembly in the words, "Spare us, good Lord!"
IV. THE PRIESTLY PLEA. The text does not urge the necessities and sorrows of the people as a motive for Divine interposition, so much as the reputation, the honour, of the God of Israel. If God's chosen people perish, then Jehovah will no longer be worshipped, and the heathen will triumph over the downfall of the true faith. This lesson we may learn from this plea, that to a rightly judging mind the glory of God himself is the highest, noblest aim that can be sought and striven and prayed for.—T.
Pity and relenting.
The transitions of sentiment with which we meet in the Hebrew prophets are remarkable, but not unaccountable. Threats and promises on God's part, rebellion and penitence on man's part, succeed one another with great rapidity. Yet there is order and method in these changes, which are always dependent upon moral and spiritual relations, and are never arbitrary and capricious.
I. THE OCCASION OF DIVINE RELENTING. The deep-seated cause is to be found in the character, the moral nature, of God himself. He is merciful, and delights in mercy. Yet this attribute can be exercised only upon certain conditions, only towards those in a certain attitude of heart. Penitence: humiliation, contrition, entreaty, on the part of Judah, account for the exercise of compassion on the part of God.
II. DIVINE RELENTING LEADS TO THE REMOVAL OF GRIEVOUS EVILS. The northern army of locusts, and perhaps also a hostile force figured by it, should be driven away, and famine and pestilence averted. The penalties of sin, being intended mainly for the correction of offenders, are not retained when their purpose is accomplished. In the midst of wrath God remembers mercy.
III. DIVINE RELENTING PROVES ITSELF BY AN ABUNDANT BENEFICENCE. The Jews were assured that, as a sign that the storm-cloud of wrath was overpast, they should again enjoy the fruits of the earth—"corn, wine, and oil." Those whom God pardons he blesses too; he takes away the wrath to bestow the loving-kindness; the load of trouble is cast into the sea, and "he loadeth with benefits."—T.
Joel 2:21, Joel 2:22
Joy after sorrow.
In highly figurative language the prophet apostrophizes the very soil of Judah, the very cattle of the field. By poetic imagining he transfers the joy of the people to the objects, inanimate and animate, by which they are surrounded. General mercies awaken general joy.
I. THE FAVOUR OF GOD BANISHES FEAR. If natural calamities have power to excite alarm and foreboding, much more is this the case with the displeasure of the Ruler and Judge of all. Men do indeed adopt various devices to silence the voice of fear, to persuade themselves that all will be well with them. But there is no true remedy for painful foreboding except the assurance of Divine reconciliation and acceptance.
II. THE FAVOUR OF GOD CREATES GLADNESS. When the locusts were swept away, the scourge removed, and when the earth resumed its garb of fertility and uttered its promises of fruitfulness, a universal rejoicing took the place of mourning, distress, and alarm. And in the spiritual realm, when the grace and love of God are realized, it is felt that the blessing of God maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow. And the inspired admonitions are felt to be congenial: "Rejoice in the Lord alway;" "Rejoice evermore."—T.
Showers of blessing.
In Palestine the hopes of the people for an abundant harvest were always connected with the appointed seasons of refreshing and vivifying rain. This is in Scripture an emblem of spiritual effusions enriching and fertilizing the Church of God.
I. SHOWERS OF BLESSING COME FROM ABOVE.
II. SHOWERS OF BLESSING FALL IN THEIR APPOINTED SEASON.
III. SHOWERS OF BLESSING RESPOND TO THE FAITH AND ENTREATIES OF GOD'S HERITAGE.
IV. SHOWERS OF BLESSING CREATE FERTILITY AND ABUNDANCE.
V. SHOWERS OF BLESSING AWAKEN THE VOICE, THE SONG, OF THANKSGIVING AND OF JOY.
APPLICATION. There is nothing arbitrary in the bestowal of spiritual blessing. The dews and rains from heaven are bestowed in accordance with Divine wisdom. And spiritual mercies are assured in response to faith and prayer. And God has said, "Prove me now, and see if I will not open the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing."—T.
The God of Israel.
No doubt the less enlightened among the Jews may have cherished superstitious views regarding Jehovah, and have regarded him as their tutelary Deity, just as neighbouring nations thought of Baal or Ashtoreth. But the devout and intelligent believed both in the universal Lordship of Jehovah, and in his special interest in and care for his chosen nation Israel. Thus we, as Christians, holding the Supreme to be God over all the earth, yet consider him to be in a very special sense the God of his own Church, purchased with the precious blood of his Son.
I. THE EVIDENCE WHICH CONVINCES US THAT THE LORD IS OUR GOD.
1. As in the case of Israel, so in our case, God is known by his delivering mercy. He who saved the Jews from locusts and from armies, delivers us from the bondage of sin and death.
2. And, as Jehovah crowned the national life of Israel with plenty and prosperity, so has he made all provision for our spiritual well-being and happiness, in the gift of his Son and in the dispensation of his Spirit.
II. THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR CONVICTION THAT THE LORD IS OUR GOD. "My people," says the Lord, "shall never be ashamed;" i.e. because:
1. They shall never be disregarded; their prayers shall always be heard with favour.
2. They shall never be disappointed; the expectations which the Lord awakens he will fulfil.
3. They shall never be forsaken; for he says, "I will never leave thee."—T.
Joel 2:28, Joel 2:29
The outpouring of the Spirit.
We have the authority of St. Peter for applying this prediction to the Messianic dispensation. Joel's mind was lifted up by the happy prospect in the immediate future for his countrymen, and, as was so often the case, his prophetic gaze pierced the dense mists of futurity, and he beheld "the wonder that should be."
I. THE PERIOD OF THE GIFT. It is not intended to teach that the bestowal of the Holy Spirit was deferred, and reserved for the Messianic age. Yet no believer in the New Testament can doubt that the Day of Pentecost witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of Divine energy and grace, in itself the herald and the promise of a constant perennial effusion of blessing upon all the Church of the ascended Redeemer.
II. THE NATURE OF THE GIFT. It was an invisible, impalpable grace; its operation took place in spiritual natures. The Spirit of God bestowed those special gifts of inspiration, of faith, of healings, of tongues, which were peculiar to the first age of the Church. The same Spirit conferred the gifts of teaching and administration, which have tended to the edification and increase of the body of Christ. But the choicest and richest of spiritual gifts have ever been those of character and principle, of disposition and habit, which have made the Church the true representative upon earth of its ascended Lord. Of these gifts the chief is love.
III. THE ABUNDANCE OF THE GIFT. The promise is not of scanty drops, but of copious showers. The great Giver delights to give generously, royally, gloriously.
IV. THE RECIPIENTS OF THE GIFTS. The most marvellous part of this magnificent prophecy is the language in which is described the comprehensiveness of the Church of the Lord Jesus.
1. Among these recipients of spiritual grace are men and women. "Your sons and your daughters." In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female.
2. Old and young are alike included among the seers of visions and the dreamers of dreams; for upon every enlightened soul shall stream the light which is not of this world, and which reveals eternal realities.
3. Upon bond and upon free the graces of the Spirit are shed without distinction. Servants and handmaids are participators in the Spirit; for all are free in Christ Jesus.
4. To make this universality explicit, it is expressly said that the outpouring, shall be upon "all flesh," i.e. upon all humanity. Beyond a prospect like this, the vision of inspired prophets could not extend; the grace of the infinite Giver could not be vaster and more comprehensive.—T.
The promise of salvation.
As the preceding passage is claimed by St. Peter in the Acts, so this is claimed by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans, as referring to the dispensation of the Messiah. The declaration of Joel is descriptive of the gospel—the glad tidings of salvation adapted and published to all mankind. Observe—
I. IN WHAT THE DELIVERANCE CONSISTS. Not in exemption or release from temporal calamity or disaster; but in spiritual rescue and emancipation—salvation from sin, its bondage and its penalty.
II. UPON WHAT CONDITION THE DELIVERANCE IS PROFFERED AND PROMISED, Calling upon the Name of the Lord involves:
1. A sense of personal need and danger.
2. A conviction of the power of God to save.
3. Faith in his declared willingness to be the Deliverer of his people.
4. The cry of the heart to God the Saviour.
III. TO WHOM THE PROMISE OF DELIVERANCE IS ADDRESSED. "Whosoever" is a wide, all-embracing term, comprehending not only every class of society, but every nation, and every grade of character. St. Paul himself scarcely went beyond this, when he said that "God is the Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe."—T.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
Joel 2:28, Joel 2:29
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
These words were to have their fulfilment after the purpose expressed in the twenty-third verse had been accomplished. The marginal translation there is the more correct. Joel called upon the children of Zion to rejoice in the Lord, because he was about to send "a Teacher of righteousness." This was he of whom Nicodemus, the ruler of the Jews, said, "We know that thou art a Teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles which thou doest, except God be with him." We must look, therefore, for the fulfilment of the prophecy in our text after the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ. Peter was right in recognizing it in the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Church at Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21). But the baptism of the Spirit is recurrent. The Church has known many a Pentecost. It is within our reach now, and we all sorely need it.
I. THE EFFECTS OF THE EFFUSION OF THE HOLY GHOST may be briefly suggested, so far as they are alluded to in our text. Amongst them may be mentioned the following.
1. Belief in the supernatural. "Visions" and "dreams" were the means of Divine revelation. We read of them in the history of Joseph, Daniel, Ezekiel, and others, mentioned in the Old Testament. Under the new dispensation Peter had visions of angels; Paul saw the angel of the Lord more than once; Stephen beheld Jesus standing at the right hand of God; John gazed on the glories of the New Jerusalem, and rejoiced in visions of his Lord. If such special manifestations are no longer given, spiritual realities around us are not the less confidently believed in by men baptized with the Holy Ghost. What are laughed at by the world as dreams and visions are actual truths and obvious phenomena in Christian experience. Spiritual truths are spiritually discerned.
2. Fearless enunciation of Divine truth. "Prophecy" is used in two senses in Scripture. As the faculty of foretelling future events, it was prevalent in the Christian Church. Agabus, and the daughters of Philip the evangelist, were not alone in their gifts. Even now coming events cast their shadows before on the sensitive souls of believers, whose answered prayers are the beginnings of the Divine purposes. But if we take the phrase in its more ordinary acceptation, there can be no doubt that the baptism of the Spirit gives courage and power for utterance of Divine truth. This the apostles realized. Feeble and trembling before Pentecost, they shook the world by their bold preaching after it.
3. The extension of the covenant. "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh" can only mean the inclusion of the Gentiles in the covenant blessings. And it was the fact that to them also was given the Holy Ghost, which broke down the prejudices of the apostles and led them to the inclusion of these in the Christian Church. God put no difference between Jew and Gentile, nor does he now.
4. The exaltation of the lowliest. The "servants" and the "handmaids," in other words, the male and female slaves, were not to be excluded. God was no respecter of persons. Onesimus, the fugitive slave, was as true a convert as his master, Philemon.
II. THE ATTITUDE OF SOUL NECESSARY TO THE RECEPTION OF THIS BLESSING, This we may learn from a comparison of the passage with the actual experience of the apostles.
1. The Church should feel profoundly convinced of her weakness. As afflictions brought down the Jews, so the departure of their Lord saddened and disheartened the apostles. They had no strength, and they knew it. Therefore they could only tarry in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high. "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted." "My strength is made perfect in weakness."
2. The Church should cherish strong confidence in the power of God. All that puts natural causes in the place of the Divine energy which is in them, weakens this faith. As the earth is dependent on the rains, and "lives because heaven weeps over it," so is the Church dependent on the outpouring of the Spirit from on high. According to our faith so it will be unto us.
3. The Church must bestir herself to believing and importunate prayer. Compare the Lord's parable of the importunate widow. Recall the promise, "Ask, and ye shall receive," etc. Above all, trust to this explicit declaration, "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?'—A.R.
The call of the convicted.
The fulfilment of this prophecy took place on the Day of Pentecost. Then God poured out his Spirit from on high, and the despised disciples were inspired to speak, while multitudes were convinced of their sin against Messiah, and cried not in vain for mercy and salvation. Such results still follow the effusion of the Holy Spirit upon the Church in answer to the prayers of the faithful. We will consider the special effect alluded to in our text, namely, the cry of those convicted of sin.
I. THE CONDITION OF THE CONTRITE. They are in danger, or they would not require to be "delivered." Those who heard the apostles "were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" for they knew that they had sinned against God in the rejection of his Son.
1. They were guilty of sin. Who is not? Even children have evil tendencies which respond to temptation. The heart of a child is like a pool of water which seems perfectly clear, but let it be once stirred, and it is at once beclouded. Sin is a terrible thing. In Scripture it is spoken of as a debt we cannot pay, as a burden we cannot bear, as a thief who robs us, as a leprosy which corrupts us, and as a poison that ends in death. Sin has insulted God and robbed him of his children, and nailed the Lord Jesus Christ to the cross. But however widespread and deadly its influence, "whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord shall be delivered."
2. They were convicted of sin. Unless they had been they would not have called upon God. It is not simply a knowledge that all men are sinners which is required, but a sense of our personal responsibility in regard to sin. There is a great difference between knowing that fire burns, and knowing that we are being burnt.
3. They were convicted by the Holy Spirit. Yet he is called "the Comforter." He is likened to the dove, to the breath which Jesus breathed, to the dew that lights upon the grass, and to the oil of joy. Nevertheless, it is his work to "convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of a judgment to come;" and in doing so he overwhelms sinners with a sense of shame and peril. But for this, there would be no cry and no deliverance. Pain is a necessary stage of cure in such a disease as sin. If a wound has been long neglected, the wise surgeon will take off all the coverings which have been wrapped over it in ignorance, and will give new agony for a time, if only he is able to get rid of the venom. But after that he will bind it up. So must the Holy Spirit wound before he heals. We must have the broken heart before God can bind it up. Conviction of sin shows that God has not given us up.
II. THE CRY OF THE CONTRITE. It has been said that we are not saved by prayer, but we cannot be saved without it. Prayer is the soul going to its refuge, or rather it is the soul laying hold on the hand that draws it into the refuge.
1. Prayer is the ordinance of God. It is as much a law as is the law of gravitation, and is proved by experiment, not by a priori argument as to its probability. True, God is our loving Father; but unless we arise and go to him as the prodigal did, we shall not have the welcome and the kiss, the robe and the music.
2. Prayer implies faith and hope. We must have faith in the character of God—in his "Name," to use the phrase in our text—that is, in what he has made known of himself. For example, he is revealed to us as the Holy One; so that we can only go to him when we are really wishing to forsake sin, to be helped out of it instead of being helped in it. He is omniscient; therefore thoroughness in confession is required, for he knows us so perfectly that we dare not dissemble, nor cloke our sins before him. And he is almighty—well able to give us the pardon and deliverance we need. His "name" is "Jesus," for he shall save his people from their sins. Add to faith in his character faith in his nearness. It is useless to cry to one who is out of hearing. He is a God near, and not far off.
3. Prayer may be a simple call. It is a cry rather than a statement. The Pharisee told God much, but he did not pray. The publican smote upon his breast and cried for mercy; and God heard his prayer, and he went down to his house justified.
III. THE PROMISE TO THE CONTRITE.
1. They shall be delivered:
(1) From the forebodings of doom.
(2) From the terrors of an awakened conscience.
(3) From vain efforts at self-reform.
(4) From the power and from the love of sin.
2. Deliverance will come through faith in the crucified Saviour. To this the Jews were brought on the Day of Pentecost. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,"
3. Deliverance will follow on the cry for mercy. All are encouraged to call upon the Lord—the backslider, the uneducated, the child, the degraded and abandoned. "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth; wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye."—A.R.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
The ministry of alarm.
"Blow ye the trumpet in Zion," etc. Zion was the meeting-place for the people of God, and may be fairly taken as a type of the true Church in all ages. We may take these verses as setting forth one aspect of the Church's ministry, namely, the ministry of alarm.
I. IT HAS TO ANNOUNCE A JUDGMENT THAT IS TERRIBLE. How graphically and appallingly does the prophet set forth the tremendousness of the calamity that was about being inflicted on Judah! It was a day of "darkness and gloominess," a day of "clouds" and of "thick darkness," etc. We have here:
1. The executors of the judgment. Whom did the Almighty Governor of the world now employ to execute his judgments? The magnates of the earth, or the illustrious legions of heaven? No; locusts. He brings them out by millions, and marshals them as his battalions, to fight against sin and crush the sinner. So dense are their crowds, that they darken the sun and conceal the stars. So rapid their movement, and so closely do they jostle together, that their noise is like "the noise of chariots on the top of the mountains." The sunbeam falleth on their glazed wings, so that they appear as a "fire that falleth before them, and behind them as a flame that burneth." They move with such order and force that their appearance is like "horses ' and "horsemen." The meanest insect is God's messenger; the little locust he employs as an officer of his justice.
2. The effects of the judgment. "The land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them as a desolate wilderness." Note the power of combination. These little insects singly were comparatively powerless; in combination they moved with a resistless energy. Unity is strength. This terrible judgment, however, is but a faint shadow of that more terrible judgment that awaits this wicked world, "when the Sou of man shall come in all his glory, with his holy angels," etc. "I saw, and, behold, a great white throne," etc.
II. IT HAD TO ANNOUNCE A JUDGMENT THAT WAS APPROACHING. "The day of the Lord cometh; it is nigh at hand." This terrible army of insects was now in the course of formation, and was gathering together for the fearful work of destruction. The Church now has to give warning of a judgment that is coming. "The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in the which the heavens shall pass away," etc. Yes, it is coming. Its dim rays of dawn are seen on the tops of the distant hills; the terrible sun will break forth in the heavens ere long: it will indeed be "the day of the Lord." The Church's work is to warn every man, to blow the trumpet of alarm, give it a blast that shall startle the thoughtless generation.—D.T.
Joel 2:12, Joel 2:13
"Therefore also now," etc. Observe here three things in relation to soul-reformation.
I. ITS PROCESS. Turning to the Lord, "Turn ye unto the Lord your God." The unregenerate man is an alien from God. Like the prodigal son, he has left his Father's house and gone into the "far country" of carnality and sin. Reform is turning and directing his steps back to God. Soul-reformation is not turning from one doctrine, or Church, or habit to another, but turning to God, going back with all its deepest love to him. But in turning there is deep moral contrition; there is "fasting," and "weeping," and "mourning," and the "rending of the heart." Soul-reformation begins in genuine repentance for past sins. "Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and in thy sight .
II. ITS URGENCY. "Therefore also now, saith the Lord." Yes, now is the time; there is nothing more urgent; everything must make way for this; until this is done, nothing is done properly. Now:
1. Because the work is of the most paramount importance.
2. Because the time for accomplishing it is very short. Whatever other work you adjourn to a future time, for your soul's sake adjourn not this for a single hour.
III. ITS ENCOURAGEMENT. "For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil." The word deprecateth would be better than "repenteth.' The inflicting of sufferings on his creatures is repugnant to his nature. "He desireth not the death of the sinner." What an encouragement it is to the sinner to turn to the Lord, to be assured that he will be welcomed with all the love and tender sympathy of an affectionate father!—D.T.
An urgently demanded meeting.
"Blow the trumpet in Zion," etc. Men are constantly assembling themselves together for one purpose or another—political, commercial, scientific, entertaining. But of all the meetings, none are so urgent as the one indicated in the text.
I. IT IS A MEETING CALLED ON ACCOUNT OF COMMON SIN. All the people of Judah had sinned grievously, and they were now summoned together on that account. No subject is of such urgent importance as this. Sin, this was the root of all the miseries of their country. It behoved them to meet together in order to deliberate how best to tear up this upas, how best to dry up this pestiferous fountain of all their calamities.
II. IT IS A MEETING COMPOSED OF ALL CLASSES. The young and the old were there; the sad and the jubilant; even the bridal pair; the priests and the people. The subject concerned them all; all were vitally interested in it. Sin is no class subject. It concerns the man in imperial purple as well as the man in pauper's rags.
III. IT IS A MEETING FOR HUMILIATION AND PRAYER. "Let the priests and the ministers weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord!" It was not a meeting for debate or discussion, for mere social intercourse and entertainment; but for profound humiliation before God.
CONCLUSION. No meeting in England is more urgently demanded to-day than such a one as this.—D.T.
Interaction of the Divine and human.
"Then will the Lord be jealous," etc. These verses refer to the removal both of the actual calamity under which the nation were suffering, namely, the plague of locusts, and also to the removal of that calamity which was to come upon them by the invasion of a foreign foe, namely, the Assyrians. The latter is evidently referred to in Joel 2:20 : "I will remove far off from you the northern army, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the east sea, and his hinder part toward the utmost sea, and his stink shall come up, and his ill savour shall come up, because he hath done great things." Henderson implies that the passage in Zephaniah 2:13, "He will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like a wilderness," is sufficient to prove that the term "northern" here refers to the Assyrian power. However, for homiletical purposes, it scarcely matters whether the locusts, Assyrians, or any other destructive enemy are referred to. The grand question is—What are the truths contained in the paragraph that are of universal importance and application? The following are clearly deducible.
I. THAT THE MATERIAL CONDITION OF A PEOPLE DEPENDS UPON THE DIVINE OPERATIONS. Two things are referred to in the passage as the works of the Almighty towards the Jewish people at this time.
1. The withdrawal of calamities. "I will remove far off from you the northern army, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate." When terrible calamities come upon a people, such as hosts of destructive insects, or pestilence, famine, or war, who but the Almighty can remove them? Men may and ought to employ means; but futile for ever will be all human efforts without the co-operation of Almighty power. This fact should teach us ever to look to him and him only for deliverance from evil at all times, both material and moral.
2. The bestownent of blessings. "The Lord will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen." The productions of the earth are dependent every moment upon Almighty power. At his bidding the most fertile regions of nature are struck into barrenness, and deserts and wildernesses become fertile and beautiful as Eden. The pseudo-scientist of this age traces the operations of nature to what he calls "laws," a term to cover his ignorance. But true philosophy as well as the Bible teaches that nature is absolutely in God's hands. "He causes the sun to rise and to set." He poureth down the genial showers and sealeth the heavens. A practical recognition of him in all the phenomena of nature is what reason and religion demand. "Every good and perfect gift," etc.
II. THAT THE DIVINE OPERATIONS ARE INFLUENCED BY THE MORAL CONDITION OF THE PEOPLE. We are taught here, that the removal of the calamity and the bestowment of the blessing came upon the people in consequence of the moral humiliation for their sins, described in the preceding verses. The priests and the ministers of the Lord wept between the altar, and said, "Spare thy people, O Lord!" etc. "The porch before the temple was a hundred and twenty cubits high, twenty broad from north to south, and ten from east to west. The altar was that of burnt offering in the court of the priests. Here, with their backs toward the altar, on which they had nothing to offer, and their faces directed towards the residence of the Shechinah, they were to weep, and make supplication on behalf of the people." That the Divine conduct towards us depends upon our conduct towards Heaven, is inexplicable to us although clearly taught in the Word of God. Indeed, consciousness assures us that he is to us what we are to him. It is absurd to suppose that God will alter the laws of nature because of human prayers or human conduct, says the sceptic scientist. But what laws of nature are more manifest, more universal, settled and unalterable than the tendency of human souls to personal and intercessory prayer? From every human heart the world over, there goes up to the great Spirit in some form or other a prayer, either for self or others. Every aspiration is a prayer—"God help me! God help thee!"
"God help him!" "God help them!" Point out to me a human soul where the spirit of these is not being breathed out every day. Scripture abounds with examples too numerous here to write of God apparently altering his conduct on account of man's supplications.
III. THAT THE RIGHT MORAL CONDUCT OF A PEOPLE WILL ENSURE THEM DIVINE BENEDICTIONS. "Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things. Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength. Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month." In these verses there is a beautiful gradation. First, the land which has been destroyed by the enemy is addressed in a prosopopoeia; then the irrational animals which had suffered from the famine; and lastly, the inhabitants themselves. All are called upon to cast off their fears, and rejoice in the happy change which God would effect. Desolation, barrenness, and famine would disappear, and times of prosperity and happiness return. It is too clear for either argument or illustration, that if you change the moral character of any country from ignorance to intelligence, from indolence to industry, from intemperance to self-discipline, from sensualness to spirituality, from enmity to love, that the whole material region in which they live may abound with plentifulness and beauty. Such a change throughout the whole human population to-day will give to all a new heaven and new earth.—D.T.
"And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten," etc. These words refer to a twofold restoration.
I. THE RESTORATION OF LOST MATERIAL MERCIES. "I will restore you the years that the locust hath eaten," etc. That the prophet has here in view the plague of locusts described in Joel 1:1-20; cannot well be doubted. The names, though placed in a different order, are identical with those there specified. "My great army." They are called God's great army, a name still given to them by the Arabs. Though a scourge lasted only one year, yet, as they not only destroyed the whole produce of that year, but also what was laid up in store for future years, the calamity was great. The loss of these God promises to recompense or make good by not only furnishing them with an abundance of temporal enjoyments, but affording them a delightful experience of his presence and favour as their covenant God. This promise is amplified in verses 26, 27. Restoration in God's peculiar work. Who can restore the earth but him? An insect may destroy a giant; but God alone can restore the life of a dying flower. Restoration is God's constant work. From death he brings life to all nature. Spring is the grand annual illustration of it. God restores lost temporal blessings to his people in two ways.
1. By giving back the same in kind, as in the case of Job.
2. By bestowing that which answers the same purpose.
II. THE RESTORATION OF LOST RELIGIOUS PRIVILEGES. What are these?
1. Worship. "And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the Name of the Lord your God, that hath dwelt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed." True worship is one of man's greatest and most original privileges of his being. True worship is supreme love for the supremely good. The loss of this has been man's crime and ruin; the restoration of this is his salvation. When men come to praise the Lord as they ought to, they reach the heaven of their being.
2. Communion. "And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God, and none else." Loving fellowship with the infinite Father is also another privilege which we have lost. The restoration of this is the consummation of blessedness. "In thy presence is fulness of joy." This last restoration is the most urgent and the most glorious one. The restoration of lost material mercies to a man, community, or country, is a Divine work for which gratitude should be cherished and practically exemplified; but the restoration of lost religious privileges, the true worship of God and true fellowship with him, is the transcendent restoration. When this is realized, the world's redemption is completed.—D.T.
The gospel age.
"And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh," etc. Peter quotes this passage, but not with literal accuracy. Divine inspiration secures not uniformity of phraseology, but uniformity in facts and principles. We are authorized in regarding the passage as pointing to the gospel age; or, as Peter says, to the last days. The days of the Messiah are indeed the last days of the world. The passage teaches four things in relation to these last days: this gospel age as connected—
I. WITH AN EXTRAORDINARY EFFUSION OF THE SPIRIT. "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh." Flesh here stands for humanity. Under the gospel dispensation, the influence of the Spirit would be:
1. Universal, not limited to sex. "Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy." Not limited to age. "Your young men shall see visions; your old men shall dream dreams." The redemptive influences of the gospel are like the rolling atmosphere and the shining sun—universal in their aspect.
2. Illuminating. It would bring the light of God's thoughts upon the soul. They "saw visions and dreamed dreams and prophesied." That is, men under its influence would receive and reflect God's eternal truths.
II. WITH PRODIGIOUS REVOLUTIONS. "I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke." These words may perhaps be properly regarded as a highly poetic representation of that revolution in governments, Churches, and all other human institutions which would inevitably follow the working out of the Divine ideas and spiritual influences of these last days (Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 34:4). WhenChristianity enters with all its renovating power the individual soul, what a revolution! What wonders in heaven, what signs on earth, what blood, fire, and vapour of smoke! It is so also when it enters a community; then it shakes the heavens and the earth of social and political life.
III. WITH A TERRIBLE DAY. Peter calls it a notable day. The primary reference in all probability is to the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. It was indeed a terrible day. But there is another terrible day still before us, a day of which the destruction of Jerusalem is but a faint shadow and type—the day of general judgment—the day when the heavens shall pass away with a great noise. What a day will that day be—"day of judgment, day of wonders," etc.!
IV. WITH THE POSSIBILITY OF SALVATION TO ALL. "Whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord shall be delivered;" or, as Peter has it, "shall be saved"—saved from the thraldom, the guilt, the damnation, of sin. "Whosoever"—thank God for this "whosoever"!—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Joel 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany