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Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament
Joel 1




I. The Judgment of God, and the Prophet's Call to Repentance - Joel 1:2-2:17

An unparalleled devastation of the land of Judah by several successive swarms of locusts, which destroyed all the seedlings, all field and garden fruits, all plants and trees, and which was accompanied by scorching heat, induced the prophet to utter a loud lamentation at this unparalleled judgment of God, and an earnest call to all classes of the nation to offer prayer to the Lord in the temple, together with fasting, mourning, and weeping, that He might avert the judgment. In the first chapter, the lamentation has reference chiefly to the ruin of the land (Joel 1:2-20); in the second, the judgment is depicted as a foretype and harbinger of the approaching day of the Lord, which the congregation is to anticipate by a day of public fasting, repentance, and prayer (Joel 2:1-17); so that ch. 1 describes rather the magnitude of the judgment, and ch. 2:1-17 its significance in relation to the covenant nation.

Lamentation over the Devastation of Judah by Locusts and Drought - Joel 1

After an appeal to lay to heart the devastation by swarms of locusts, which has fallen upon the land (Joel 1:2-4), the prophet summons the following to utter lamentation over this calamity: first the drunkards, who are to awake (Joel 1:5-7); then the congregation generally, which is to mourn with penitence (Joel 1:8-12); and then the priests, who are to appoint a service of repentance (Joel 1:13-18). For each of these appeals he gives, as a reason, a further description of the horrible calamity, corresponding to the particular appeal; and finally, he sums up his lamentation in a prayer for the deliverance of the land from destruction (Joel 1:19, Joel 1:20).

Verses 1-4

Joel 1:1 contains the heading to the book, and has already been noticed in the introduction. Joel 1:2. “Hear this, ye old men; and attend, all ye inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing indeed happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers? Joel 1:1. Ye shall tell your sons of it, and your sons their sons, and their sons the next generation. Joel 1:4. The leavings of the gnawer the multiplier ate, and the leavings of the multiplier the licker ate, and the leavings of the licker the devourer ate.” Not only for the purpose of calling the attention of the hearers to his address, but still more to set forth the event of which he is about to speak as something unheard of - a thing that has never happened before, and therefore is a judgment inflicted by God - the prophet commences with the question addressed to the old men, whose memory went the furthest back, and to all the inhabitants of Judah, whether they had ever experienced anything of the kind, or heard of such a thing from their fathers; and with the command to relate it to their children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

(Note: “As he is inquiring concerning the past according to the command of Moses in Deuteronomy 32:7, he asks the old men, who have been taught by long experience, and are accustomed, whenever they see anything unusual, to notice that this is not according to the ordinary course of nature, which they have observed for so many years. And since this existing calamity, caused by the insects named, has lasted longer and pressed more heavily than usual, he admonishes them to carry their memory back to the former days, and see whether anything of the kind ever happened naturally before; and if no example can be found, the prophet's advice is, that they should recognise this as the hand of God from heaven.” - Tarnov.)

“The inhabitants of the land” are the inhabitants of Judah, as it was only with this kingdom that Joel was occupied (cf. Joel 1:14 and Joel 2:1). זאת is the occurrence related in Joel 1:4, which is represented by the question “Has this been in your days?” as a fact just experienced. Yether haggâzâm , the leavings of the gnawer, i.e., whatever the gnawer leaves unconsumed of either vegetables or plants. The four names given to the locusts, viz., gâzâm , 'arbeh , yeleq , and châsil , are not the names applied in natural history to four distinct species, or four different generations of locusts; nor does Joel describe the swarms of two successive years, so that “ gâzâm is the migratory locust, which visits Palestine chiefly in the autumn, 'arbeh the young brood, yeleq the young locust in the last stage of its transformation, or before changing its skin for the fourth time, and châsı̄l the perfect locust after this last change, so that as the brood sprang from the gâzâm , châsı̄l would be equivalent to gâzâm ” (Credner). This explanation is not only at variance with Joel 2:25, where gâzâm stands last, after châsı̄l , but is founded generally merely upon a false interpretation of Nahum 3:15-16 (see the passage) and Jeremiah 51:27, where the adjective sâmâr ( horridus , horrible), appended to yeleq , from sâmâr , to shudder, by no means refers to the rough, horny, wing-sheath of the young locusts, and cannot be sustained from the usage of the language, It is impossible to point out any difference in usage between gâzâm and châsı̄l , or between these two words and 'arbeh . The word gâzâm , from gâzâm , to cut off (in Arabic, Ethiopic, and the Rabb.), occurs only in this passage, in Joel 2:25, and in Amos 4:9, where it is applied to a swarm of flying locusts, which leave the vine, fig-tree, and olive, perfectly bare, as it is well known that all locusts do, when, as in Amos, the vegetables and field fruits have been already destroyed. 'Arbeh , from râbhâh , to be many, is the common name of the locust, and indeed in all probability of the migratory locust, because this always appears in innumerable swarms. Châsı̄l , from châsal , to eat off, designates the locust ( hâ'arbeh ), according to Deuteronomy 28:38, by its habit of eating off the field crops and tree fruits, and is therefore used in 1 Kings 8:37; 2 Chronicles 6:28; Psalms 78:46, as synonymous with hâ'arbeh , and in Isaiah 33:4 in its stead. Yeleq , from yâlaq = lâqaq , to lick, to lick off, occurs in Psalms 105:34 as equivalent to 'arbeh , and in Nahum as synonymous with it; and indeed it there refers expressly to the Egyptian plague of locusts, so that young locusts without wings cannot possibly be thought of. Haggâzâm the gnawer, hayyeleq the licker, hechâsı̄l the devourer, are therefore simply poetical epithets applied to the 'arbeh , which never occur in simple plain prose, but are confined to the loftier (rhetorical and poetical) style. Moreover, the assumption that Joel is speaking of swarms of locusts of two successive years, is neither required by Joel 2:25 (see the comm. on this verse), nor reconcilable with the contents of the verse itself. If the 'arbeh eats what the gâzâm has left, and the yeleq what is left by the 'arbeh , we cannot possibly think of the field and garden fruits of two successive years, because the fruits of the second year are not the leavings of the previous year, but have grown afresh in the year itself.

(Note: Bochart (Hieroz. iii. p. 290, ed. Ros.) has already expressed the same opinion. “If,” he says, “the different species had been assigned to so many different years, the 'arbeh would not be said to have eaten the leavings of the gâzâm , or the yeleq the leavings of the 'arbeh , or the châsı̄l the leavings of the yeleq ; for the productions of this year are not the leavings of last, nor can what will spring up in future be looked upon as the leavings of this. Therefore, whether this plague of locusts was confined to one year, or was repeated for several years, which seems to be the true inference from Joel 2:25, I do not think that the different species of locusts are to be assigned to different years respectively, but that they all entered Judaea in the same year; so that when one swarm departed from a field, another followed, to eat up the leavings of the previous swarm, if there were any; and that this was repeated as many times as was necessary to consume the whole, so that nothing at all should be left to feed either man or beast.”)

The thought is rather this: one swarm of locusts after another has invaded the land, and completely devoured its fruit. The use of several different words, and the division of the locusts into four successive swarms, of which each devours what has been left by its precursor, belong to the rhetorical drapery and individualizing of the thought. The only thing that has any real significance is the number four, as the four kinds of punishment in Jeremiah 15:3, and the four destructive judgments in Ezekiel 14:21, clearly show. The number four, “the stamp of oecumenicity” (Kliefoth), indicates here the spread of the judgment over the whole of Judah in all directions.

Verses 5-7

In order that Judah may discern in this unparalleled calamity a judgment of God, and the warning voice of God calling to repentance, the prophet first of all summons the wine-bibbers to sober themselves, and observe the visitation of God. Joel 1:5. “Awake, ye drunken ones, and weep! and howl, all ye drinkers of wine! at the new wine; for it is cut off from your mouth. Joel 1:6. For a people has come up over my land, a strong one, and innumerable: its teeth are lion's teeth, and it has the bite of a lioness. Joel 1:7. It has made my vine a wilderness, and my fig-tree into sticks. Peeling, it has peeled it off, and cast it away: its shoots have grown white.” הקיץ to awake out of the reeling of intoxication, as in Proverbs 23:35. They are to howl for the new wine, the fresh sweet juice of the grape, because with the destruction of the vines it is taken away and destroyed from their mouth. Joel 1:6 and Joel 1:7 announce through whom. In the expression gōi ‛âlâh (a people has come up) the locusts are represented as a warlike people, because they devastate the land like a hostile army. Gōi furnishes no support to the allegorical view. In Proverbs 30:25-26, not only are the ants described as a people ( ‛âm ), but the locusts also; although it is said of them that they have no king. And ‛âm is synonymous with gōi , which has indeed very frequently the idea of that which is hostile, and even here is used in this sense; though it by no means signifies a heathen nation, but occurs in Zephaniah 2:9 by the side of ‛âm , as an epithet applied to the people of Jehovah (i.e., Israel: see also Genesis 12:2). The weapons of this army consist in its teeth, its “bite,” which grinds in pieces as effectually as the teeth of the lion or the bite of the lioness ( מתלּעות ; see at Job 29:17). The suffix attached to ארצי does not refer to Jehovah, but to the prophet, who speaks in the name of the people, so that it is the land of the people of God. And this also applies to the suffixes in גּפני and תּאנתי in Joel 1:7. In the description of the devastation caused by the army of locusts, the vine and fig-tree are mentioned as the noblest productions of the land, which the Lord has given to His people for their inheritance (see at Hosea 2:14). לקצפה , εἰς κλασμόν , literally, for crushing. The suffix in chăsâphâh refers, no doubt, simply to the vine as the principal object, the fig-tree being mentioned casually in connection with it. Châsaph , to strip, might be understood as referring simply to the leaves of the vine (cf. Psalms 29:9); but what follows shows that the gnawing or eating away of the bark is also included. Hishlı̄kh , to throw away not merely what is uneatable, “that which is not green and contains no sap” (Hitzig), but the vine itself, which the locusts have broken when eating off its leaves and bark. The branches of the vine have become white through the eating off of the bark ( sârı̄gı̄m , Genesis 40:10).

(Note: H. Ludolf, in his Histor. Aethiop. i. c. 13, §16, speaking of the locusts, says: “Neither herbs, nor shrubs, nor trees remain unhurt. Whatever is either grassy or covered with leaves, is injured, as if it had been burnt with fire. Even the bark of trees is nibbled with their teeth, so that the injury is not confined to one year alone.”)

Verses 8-12

The whole nation is to mourn over this devastation. Joel 1:8 . “Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth. Joel 1:9. The meat-offering and the drink-offering are destroyed from the house of Jehovah. The priests, the servant of Jehovah. mourn. Joel 1:10. The field is laid waste, the ground mourns: for the corn is laid waste: the new wine is spoiled, the oil decays. Joel 1:11. Turn pale, ye husbandmen; howl, ye vinedressers, over wheat and barley: for the harvest of the field is perished. Joel 1:12. The vine is spoiled, and the fig-tree faded; the pomegranate, also the palm and the apple tree: all the trees of the field are withered away; yea, joy has expired from the children of men.” In Joel 1:8 Judah is addressed as the congregation of Jehovah. אלי is the imperative of the verb אלה , equivalent to the Syriac 'elā' , to lament. The verb only occurs here. The lamentation of the virgin for the בּעל נעוּריה , i.e., the beloved of your youth, her bridegroom, whom she has lost by death (Isaiah 54:6), is the deepest and bitterest lamentation. With reference to חגרת־שׂק , see Delitzsch on Isaiah 3:24. The occasion of this deep lamentation, according to Joel 1:9, is the destruction of the meat-offering and drink-offering from the house of the Lord, over which the servants of Jehovah mourn. The meat and drink offerings must of necessity cease, because the corn, the new wine, and the oil are destroyed through the devastation of the field and soil. Hokhrath minchâh does not affirm that the offering of the daily morning and evening sacrifice (Exodus 29:38-42) - for it is to this that מנחה ונסך chiefly, if not exclusively, refers - has already ceased; but simply that any further offering is rendered impossible by the failure of meal, wine, and oil. Now Israel could not suffer any greater calamity than the suspension of the daily sacrifice; for this was a practical suspension of the covenant relation - a sign that God had rejected His people. Therefore, even in the last siege of Jerusalem by the Romans, the sacrificial worship was not suspended till it had been brought to the last extremity; and even then it was for the want of sacrificers, and not of the material of sacrifice (Josephus, de bell. Jud. vi. 2, 1). The reason for this anxiety was the devastation of the field and land (Joel 1:10); and this is still further explained by a reference to the devastation and destruction of the fruits of the ground, viz., the corn, i.e., the corn growing in the field, so that the next harvest would be lost, and the new wine and oil, i.e., the vines and olive-trees, so that they could bear no grapes for new wine, and no olives for oil. The verbs in Joel 1:11 are not perfects, but imperatives, as in the fifth verse. הבישׁ has the same meaning as bōsh , as in Jeremiah 2:26; Jeremiah 6:15, etc., to stand ashamed, to turn pale with shame at the disappointment of their hope, and is probably written defectively, without ו , to distinguish it from הובישׁ , the hiphil of יבשׁ , to be parched or dried up (Joel 1:10 and Joel 1:12). The hope of the husbandmen was disappointed through the destruction of the wheat and barley, the most important field crops. The vine-growers had to mourn over the destruction of the vine and the choice fruit-trees (Joel 1:12), such as the fig and pomegranate, and even the date-palm ( gam - tâmâr ), which has neither a fresh green rind nor tender juicy leaves, and therefore is not easily injured by the locusts so as to cause it to dry up; and tappūăch , the apple-tree, and all the trees of the field, i.e., all the rest of the trees, wither. “All trees, whether fruit-bearing or not, are consumed by the devastating locusts” (Jerome). In the concluding clause of Joel 1:12, the last and principal ground assigned for the lamentation is, that joy is taken away and withered from the children of men ( hōbbı̄sh min , constr. praegn. ). כּי introduces a reason here as elsewhere, though not for the clause immediately preceding, but for the הבישׁוּ and הילילוּ in Joel 1:11, the leading thought in both verses; and we may therefore express it by an emphatic yea .

Verse 13-14

The affliction is not removed by mourning and lamentation, but only through repentance and supplication to the Lord, who can turn away all evil. The prophet therefore proceeds to call upon the priests to offer to the Lord penitential supplication day and night in the temple, and to call the elders and all the people to observe a day of fasting, penitence, and prayer; and then offers supplication himself to the Lord to have compassion upon them (Joel 1:19). From the motive assigned for this appeal, we may also see that a terrible drought had been associated with the devastation by the locusts, from which both man and beast had endured the most bitter suffering, and that Joel regarded this terrible calamity as a sign of the coming of the day of the Lord. Joel 1:13. “Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests; howl, ye servants of the altar; come, pass the night in sackcloth, ye servants of my God: for the meat-offering and drink-offering are withdrawn from the house of your God. Joel 1:14. Sanctify a fast, call out an assembly, assemble the elders, all ye inhabitants of the land, at the house of Jehovah your God, and cry to Jehovah.” From what follows we must supply bassaqqı̄m (with sackcloth) to chigrū (gird yourselves). Gird yourselves with mourning apparel, i.e., put it on (see Joel 1:8). In this they are to pass the night, to offer supplication day and night, or incessantly, standing between the altar and the porch (Joel 2:17). “Servants of my God,” i.e., of the God whose prophet I am, and from whom I can promise you a hearing. The reason assigned for this appeal is the same as for the lamentation in Joel 1:9. But it is not the priests only who are to pray incessantly to the Lord; the elders and all the people are to do the same. קדּשׁ צום , to sanctify a fast, i.e., to appoint a holy fast, a divine service of prayer connected with fasting. To this end the priests are to call an ‛ătsârâh , i.e., a meeting of the congregation for religious worship. ‛Atsârâh , or ‛ătsereth , πανήγυρις , is synonymous with מקרא קודשׁ in Leviticus 23:36 (see the exposition of that passage). In what follows, כּל־ישׁבי ה is attached ἀσυνδέτως to זקנים ; and the latter is not a vocative, but an accusative of the object. On the other hand, בּית יהוה is an accus. loci , and dependent upon אספוּ . זעק , to cry, used of loud and importunate prayer. It is only by this that destruction can still be averted.

Verse 15

“Alas for the day! for the day of Jehovah is near, and it comes like violence from the Almighty.” This verse does not contain words which the priests are to speak, so that we should have to supply לאמר , like the Syriac and others, but words of the prophet himself, with which he justifies the appeal in Joel 1:13 and Joel 1:14. ליּום is the time of the judgment, which has fallen upon the land and people through the devastation by the locusts. This “day” is the beginning of the approaching day of Jehovah, which will come like a devastation from the Almighty. Yōm Y e hōvâh is the great day of judgment upon all ungodly powers, when God, as the almighty ruler of the world, brings down and destroys everything that has exalted itself against Him; thus making the history of the world, through His rule over all creatures in heaven and earth, into a continuous judgment, which will conclude at the end of this course of the world with a great and universal act of judgment, through which everything that has been brought to eternity by the stream of time unjudged and unadjusted, will be judged and adjusted once for all, to bring to an end the whole development of the world in accordance with its divine appointment, and perfect the kingdom of God by the annihilation of all its foes. (Compare the magnificent description of this day of the Lord in Isaiah 2:12-21.) And accordingly this particular judgment - through which Jehovah on the one hand chastises His people for their sins, and on the other hand destroys the enemies of His kingdom - forms one element of the day of Jehovah; and each of these separate judgment is a coming of that day, and a sign of His drawing near. This day Joel saw in the judgment that came upon Judah in his time, k e shōd misshaddai , lit., like a devastation from the Almighty, - a play upon the words (since shōd and shaddai both come from shâdad ), which Rückert renders, though somewhat too freely, by wie ein Graussen vom grossen Gott . כ is the so-called כ veritatis , expressing a comparison between the individual and its genus or its idea. On the relation between this verse and Isaiah 13:6, see the Introduction.

Verses 16-20

“Is not the food destroyed before our eyes, joy and exulting from the house of our God? Joel 1:17. The grains have mouldered under their clods, the storehouses are desolate, the barns have fallen down; because the corn is destroyed. Joel 1:18. How the cattle groan! the herds of oxen are bewildered, for no pasture was left for them; even the flocks of sheep suffer.” As a proof that the day of the Lord is coming like a devastation from the Almighty, the prophet points in Joel 1:16 to the fact that the food is taken away before their eyes, and therewith all joy and exulting from the house of God. “The food of the sinners perishes before their eyes, since the crops they looked for are snatched away from their hands, and the locust anticipates the reaper” (Jerome). אכל , food as the means of sustenance; according to Joel 1:19, corn, new wine, and oil. The joy is thereby taken from the house of Jehovah, inasmuch as, when the crops are destroyed, neither first-fruits nor thank-offerings can be brought to the sanctuary to be eaten there at joyful meals (Deuteronomy 12:6-7; Deuteronomy 16:10-11). And the calamity became all the more lamentable, from the fact that, in consequence of a terrible drought, the seed perished in the earth, and consequently the prospect of a crop the following year entirely disappeared. The prophet refers to this in Joel 1:17, which has been rendered in extremely different ways by the lxx, Chald., and Vulg., on account of the ̔απ. λεγ. עבשׁוּ , פּרדות , and מגרפות (compare Pococke, ad h. l. ). עבשׁ signifies to moulder away, or, as the injury was caused by dryness and heat, to dry up; it is used here of grains of corn which lose their germinating power, from the Arabic ‛bs , to become dry or withered, and the Chaldee עפשׁ , to get mouldy. P e rudōth , in Syriac, grains of corn sowed broadcast, probably from pârad , to scatter about. Megrâphōth , according to Ab. Esr., clods of earth (compare Arab. jurf , gleba terrai ), from gâraph , to wash away (Judges 5:21) a detached piece of earth. If the seed-corn loses its germinating power beneath the clod, no corn-harvest can be looked for. The storehouses ( 'ōtsârōth ; cf. 2 Chronicles 32:27) moulder away, and the barns ( mamm e gurâh with dag. dirim. = m e gūrâh in Haggai 2:19) fall, tumble to pieces, because being useless they are not kept in proper condition. The drought also deprives the cattle of their pasture, so that the herds of oxen and flocks of sheep groan and suffer with the rest from the calamity. בּוּך , niphal , to be bewildered with fear. 'Ashēm , to expiate, to suffer the consequences of men's sin.

The fact, that even irrational creatures suffer along with men, impels the prophet to pray for help to the Lord, who helps both man and beast (Psalms 36:7). Joel 1:19. “To Thee, O Jehovah, do I cry: for fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and flame has consumed all the trees of the field. Joel 1:20. Even the beasts of the field cry unto Thee; for the water-brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness.” Fire and flame are the terms used by the prophet to denote the burning heat of the drought, which consumes the meadows, and even scorches up the trees. This is very obvious from the drying up of the water-brooks (in Joel 1:20). For Joel 1:20 , compare Jeremiah 14:5-6. In Jeremiah 14:20 the address is rhetorically rounded off by the repetition of ואשׁ אכלה וגו from Jeremiah 14:19.


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The Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.

Bibliography Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Joel 1:4". 1854-1889.

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