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Blow The Trumpet
General James Green, Dec. 5, 2011
JOEL 1:1-2:27 DESCRIBES A LOCUST PLAGUE AND DROUGHT, calls the people to repentance, and promises the removal of the locusts and the restoration of fertility. Many nations, past and present, have seen what locusts can do. They cause a lot of destruction to the greenery of the earth.
As Joel tells us, these insects can literally cause famine in the land. This was and is a form and type of God's judgment. Since food for animals and humans can be destroyed, starvation sets in.
God uses the locusts for the sole purpose of “repentance”. The priests were exhorted to summon the people of Judah. According to the political and religious conditions indicated, the prophet Joel delivered his message around 400 BC. Joel was called a “temple-prophet” (1:13; 2:17).
Verse 2 speaks of “a day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness,…” Since the time of the prophet Amos (5:18), “darkness” had been a symbol of the destructive aspect of the day of the LORD’S judgment. The plague of locusts in Egypt is said to have darkened the land (see Ex. 10:15). America has seen this plague in times past too. Locusts sometimes are called “black flood”.
The resemblance of the locust with warfare implements happens since its head resembles a miniature horse. The German name for locust is ”Heupferd”. Parallelism favors war horses (see RSV) rather than horsemen (KJV). Verse 4 tells us that “the appearance of them is as the appearance of horses; and as horsemen, so shall they run.” The speed and orderly advance of a locust army makes this an apt simile, as some scholars tell us. Much could be written about this but let me get to my main point—God's judgment!
The Bible plainly tells us and is replete with scriptures, that God uses the elements, the earth, animals, fowls, water creatures, insects, and men etc. to be His destroying weapon—when needed.
We cannot take Joel 2 as a figure of speech, but literal. For nations have suffered at the hands of the Almighty. Unlike other prophets, Joel does not mention any particular sin, like high places, or of the idolatry which the pre-exilic prophets condemn. But he does warn the people to repent and return unto the LORD. Obviously they had provoked God's wrath, for He sent the locust army to destroy the land.
There are several interpretations of the locusts. Of course they have been interpreted as literally, in the present, allegorically, of historical invasions, apocalyptically, of supernatural creatures of the end time, or as a combination of the literal and one of the other views. (see J. A. Thompson, “Joel: Locusts in the Light of Near Eastern Parallels”, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, XIV (1955), pgs. 52-55).
On the margin of the Gk. “Codex Marchalianus” (Q) of the 6th century the words for locust in 2:25 are identified with the Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and the Greeks. Also similar but varied interpretations of the plague as an allegory of historical human invasions are given by the Jewish Targum, patristic commentators, and some modern expositors. Other scholars hold that the locust army was not real but types of the future catastrophe of the “Day of the LORD”. But 1:16, “before our eyes” does not speak of a futuristic interpretation. I personally don’t know. But what I do know is that GOD USES WHATEVER MEANS HE CHOOSES TO FULFILL HIS PLANS. We can count on that.
Joel, like other prophets, describes nature with accuracy, but he also interprets natural processes as the working out of God's moral purposes. It is common for Biblical writers to use the “natural” manifestation of the “supernatural”—the “visible” to describe the “invisible”. No doubt about it, animate and inanimate nature are the instruments of—and share in— man’s judgments and also his blessings.
The “Day of the LORD” was Joel’s most common term for the time of judgment (1:15; 2:1,11, 31; 3:14). So also we have this same term in the N.T. era, 2 Cor. 1:14 and Heb. 10:25. There is THE DAY of the LORD yet to come, but history has seen many “days of the LORD”. The N.T. accounts of the Last Judgment are based on these same principles and even borrow some of Joel’s imagery (see Rev. 14:14-20).
Verse 2 seems to indicate that the LORD’S army was men “…a great people and a strong: there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations.”
We can see why scholars are divided on this subject. Was the army locusts or was it men or was it both? Also verse 7 states, “They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war, and they shall march everyone on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks:” verse 8 continues, “Neither shall one thrust another; they shall walk every one in his path; and when they fall upon the sword, they shall not be wounded.” Verse 9 stated, “They shall run to and fro in the city: they shall climb upon the houses: they shall enter in at the windows like a thief.” And verse 11 tells us, “And the LORD shall utter His voice (Word) before His army: 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?”
From the above verses one can see why there are the literal, allegorical, historical, and apocalyptic interpretations. Whatever the case may be, the invading army, commanded by God against His very own people and their land and city, is not figurative, but literal, in the sense that it was not just a mere vision. Under the fact of an enemy’s army, Joel writes of a cloud of locusts, which in his time fell upon Judea, and caused great desolation. This with the caterpillars, and the drought, brought a terrible famine. But with the prayers of the people, I guess, after sufficient repentance, God drove the invaders away…the curse was succeeded by a blessing and fertility. But after this the prophet foretold the “day of the LORD”, and the vengeance He was to execute in the valley of Jezreel.
What I get from Joel is that Judah had grown backslid in many ways, God sent the plague to WAKE them up, they repented and God restored the land. But in other Biblical cases and times their sins demanded a total break-up of their nation and imprisonment.
Joel 2 makes a good preaching sermon; whether God is commanding locusts or men, the point is: under His direct command-ship they run, climb, march, do not fight among themselves, walk in their own, not another’s path, and they withstand the sword themselves. I believe that in the “last days” God will have a mighty army such as this!...to execute His vengeance upon this world.
One Bible scholar states concerning vss.14-20 of chapter 1— “Applicable as Joel’s thought of judgment may be to social evils, it is not obvious to the modern reader how it applies to a natural calamity. Had the prophet only taken the plague of locusts as a kind of metaphor to describe God's judgment, or even as a reminder of God's overruling power, the difficulty would disappear. But it is evident that he regarded the plague not only as a foretaste of God's great day of wrath, but as an act of God sent to bring the nations to repentance.” I agree.
Verse 6 of chapter 2 states, “Before their face the people shall be much pained: all faces shall gather blackness.” The invading army literally causes TERROR (terrorism!). We find the mention of this in Isaiah 13:8, “and they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth: they shall be amazed at one another; their faces shall be as flames.” Here we have a prophecy against Babylon (the same Babylon whom God previously used as His Army and weapon against His own people being taken over—they became God's enemy here, not His army!), the prophecy that foretells its destruction by the Medes and Persians. Read verses 1-22. Compare the two prophecies. The Septuagint translates it “every face is like a scorched pot”. Others translate using the presumed etymology (Heb. Boil, heat) and suggest, “every face gathers heat, becomes flushed”. “This approach may furnish another point of contact with Isa. 13:8, where the result of the appearance of the divine army is that faces are aflame.” Others may suggest an etymology from the root (Heb. “brightness”) so that “gather brightness, recall brightness” (see cpt. 2:10; 2:31; 3:15) is understood as “become pale”. (T. E. McCorniskey, The Minor Prophets, 1992).
Whatever the case may be, God's invading army, His destroying weapon, was TERRORISM! Friends, God sent this nation a “terrifying” wake-up call with 9/11/2001. It matters not if the U.S. Gov. knew about it beforehand (as now seems to be the case), or if it was simply an attack by militant Muslims. God allowed it for a warning. But as we can see, that warning DID NOT CAUSE AMERICA TO REPENT. Oh, yes, it did scare the pink pampers off some, but as a whole, that judgment was NOT HEEDED. Well, EXPECT SOMETHING FAR WORSE TO COME!! 911 was only a warning, a sign to draw attention to the fact that there is a God who will not stop great calamities.
Another judgment God sent shortly thereafter was against 9 countries and killed over 160,000, and this cannot be overlooked as just an “accident” in nature. Nature is not neutral, but nature with the Biblical view represents natural disasters as the interventions of God.
You see, the focal point of ALL our problems in the Biblical sense is human SIN. SIN calls down the wrath of God. Agreed, some disasters can be that of human carelessness and greed. But beyond this, it remains true, at all times, that sinful men are justly susceptible to the vengeance of natural forces, simply because we have plunged ourselves into a fallen world. Thusly, the apparent vagaries of nature actually are signs pointing to God's moral order. So it is with human forces. History attests to this fact, lurid facts of war, crime, disease, storm, accidents, famine etc.. Morbid and inhumane things have transpired upon this earth.
“…and nothing shall escape them.” (v.3) or “there is no escape” also introduces another prominent Biblical theme, the remnant motif. The O.T. tells us of various natural disasters or military actions that threaten the survival of God's elect. The “remnant” is that group that comes out of God's divine judgment and becomes the nucleus of a renewed covenanted people in whom the nation’s hopes are focused.
I suppose the most common response to theophany—God's manifestations—is FEAR. FEAR will cripple you, even kill you. Biblical descriptions of a theophany commonly have an auditory component. The fact that such noise is made by the locusts (v.5) facilitates Joel’s description of the appearance of the divine army; theophanies in the Bible, as already said, have an auditory component. Fire is, of course, a theophany—it is heard and also seen. God's voice is also associated with thunder and lightning.
Zion’s assailant is not nature per se, but the LORD of nature. A personal wrathful will is behind the disaster. Remember what Jesus said (Luke 13:4,5) in reference to a disaster with which His contemporaries were familiar? “Or those 18, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” (the tower in Siloam was a part of the fortifications of Jerusalem).
The whole conversation 13:1-5 centered around disasters that overwhelm individuals. Like the repentance that was called for in Joel 1 and 2, to avert destruction at the day of judgment, so Jesus tells his questioning audience, “There were present at that season some that told Him of the Galileans (His home), whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering, said unto them, suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things?” Verse 3 He says, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” And He repeats another similar story in 4 and 5.
Pilate killed some Galileans, thinking they were insurrectionists. In these cases, the Bible tells of tragic events, not because of gross sins committed, but Jesus interpreted the fate as a warning to His hearers to heed the call to repentance before it was too late. You see, calamities are no respecters of persons. Even God's directed and executed calamities affect both guilty and non-guilty at times. I’m sure when the Romans, in 70 A.D., took Jerusalem, the hundreds of thousands that perished, some were not as guilty as others for sinfulness, nevertheless, they perished just the same. 70 A.D. WAS a terrible judgment upon Israel.
In the case of Israel, it had the mission to take God to the whole world, but failed, and crucified their Messiah. Rome, used as God's army, laid waste that heritage of God—but later, God laid Rome waste. Rome, though herself guilty of every kind of sin and of brute force, would be a scourge in the hand of God. So it is today. I’m afraid the USA will be laid waste, sooner or later, because of her sins. We had better pray that we will be counted worthy to be part of His remnant. Amen.
[Study material has been adapted from its original sources.]