The Grounds For Seeing Chapter 1 As Referring To Real Locusts And Chapter 2 As Referring To An Invading Army.
Clearly the arguments above support the first part of this position, and the second part is based on the kind of language used in chapter 2. This would be a fairly strong case if all that was in mind was a visit by flying locusts, but descriptions such as Dr Thomson's (see above) of the creeping army of young wingless locusts helps to vividly explain that language. Indeed as we shall see, it brings chapter 2 alive. On the other hand, once the metaphorical idea of an army is removed, the remainder of the language clearly refers to the activities of insects as witnessed by Joel himself and vividly portrayed.
The Grounds For Seeing Both Chapter s As Referring To Human Armies.
This view demands a leap of the imagination from what is presented in chapter 1 to the idea of human armies, and is usually held by those who interpret Joel in accordance with their own pre-conceived notions. Apart from the use of the word ‘nation', which can be explained otherwise (compare its use in Zephaniah 2:14 where it means different species of animals in their groupings, and the reference to different species of creatures as a ‘people' in Proverbs 30:25-27), there are really no grounds in chapter 1 for considering that it speaks of a human army, and it is noteworthy that the devastations described all adequately apply to insects like locusts, while nothing of what we would see as characteristic of humans (killing, rape, use of the sword, taking captives, etc.), is found anywhere in the narrative (of either chapter 1 or chapter 2). Note how all through it is only natural things that are affected, together with the provision of meal and wine for Temple offerings, with not a word said of any other effects. If Joel wanted us to think that he had locusts in mind he has certainly made a good job of it.
The March Of The Young Locust/Grasshopperss (Joel 2:4-11).
Joel then describes the onward ‘march' of the young locusts in their mass movement made up of sheer numbers, advancing like a huge ‘army' covering many miles of territory, a living converging mass, and he does so in picturesque terms. He likens them in appearance to horses, a likeness related to the head of the locusts and often noted by observers, and likens the noise that they made as they moved forward to the rumbling of chariot wheels, and the crackling the fires that burned up stubble (in this case before its time), seeing them as moving forward ‘in battle array' as a strong people, whom nothing could turn back. Meanwhile people turn pale at their advance, and are filled with anguish, while the locusts themselves move inevitably forward as irresistible as mighty men, climbing up walls rather than going round them (or breaking them down), with each marching forward on his way. There is no breaking of ranks and no jostling as they pour forward in their huge numbers like a rolling mass, and they burst through every ‘weapon' set up to prevent their advance, whether it be fire, or flails, or feet, or whatever. Nothing holds them back.
Though multitudes die, the remainder just carry on over them. They leap up walls, climb up into houses and scurry through windows, while the earth and the heavens (in other words the whole creation) tremble before them because they are YHWH's messengers. Meanwhile as a result of the swarms of flying locusts the sun is darkened and the moon's shining is blotted out, while visibility of the stars is lost. And the question then is ‘Who leads this people who have no king?' And the answer is, ‘It is YHWH Himself, Who has brought them as a judgment on His people, because it is the latest great and terrible day of YHWH'.
Analysis of Joel 2:4-11.
a The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses, and as horsemen, so do they run, like the noise of chariots on the tops of the mountains do they leap, like the noise of a flame of fire which devours the stubble, as a strong people set in battle array (Joel 2:4-5).
b At their presence the peoples are in anguish, all faces have become pale (Joel 2:6).
c They run like mighty men, they climb the wall like men of war, and they march every one on his ways, and they do not break their ranks (Joel 2:7).
d Nor does one jostle another, they march every one in his path, and they burst through the weapons, and do not break off (Joel 2:8).
c They leap on the city, they run on the wall, they climb up into the houses, they enter in at the windows like a thief (Joel 2:9).
b The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble, the sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining (Joel 2:10).
a And YHWH utters his voice before his army, for his camp is very great, for he is strong who executes his word, for the day of YHWH is great and very terrible, and who can abide it? (Joel 2:11).
In ‘a' the advancing ‘army' is described in all its terribleness, a strong ‘people' set in battle array and in the parallel we learn that it is YHWH's army, and that He too is terrible and strong. In ‘b' the people are in anguish and all faces become pale, and in the parallel earth and heaven tremble, and the lights of heaven become dark. In ‘c' we have a detailed description of their forward movement, and in the parallel we have the same. Centrally in ‘d' their invincibility is emphasised.
The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses,
And as horsemen, so do they run.
Like the noise of chariots on the tops of the mountains do they leap,
Like the noise of a flame of fire which devours the stubble,
As a strong people set in battle array.
It is made clear here that they are not horses and chariots, any more than they are like flames of fire, but merely in one way or another give the impression of the same. Note the reference to ‘leaping', and compare Joel 2:9 which was typical of the movement of a small locust (grasshopper).
Locusts are compared with horses elsewhere. In Jeremiah 51:27 the horses are to come up ‘like rough locusts', while in Job 39:19-20 they are seen as ‘leaping like a locust', and certainly the heads of locusts do remind us of tiny armoured horses, which is why the Italian word for locust means "little horse," and the German word means "hay horse", confirming that they share the same impression Thus the description of the locusts here as ‘having the appearance of horses' and as ‘leaping on the tops of the mountains' is in accord with general opinion. The reference to chariot noise and the crackling of fires burning up the stubble is reminiscent of the clicking noise that grasshoppers make with their legs, while the description of them as a ‘strong people' has in mind the inexorable way in which they progress, with nothing holding them back.
At their presence the peoples are in anguish,
All faces have become pale.
Joel was striving here to get over the impression of the awfulness of the judgment that God was bringing on His people, and it is a feature of the movements of small locusts in vast, heaving masses that they bring anguish and even fear to men, as they see the awesome nature of their advance, consider the consequences of that advance, and after struggling to deal with the menace, find the situation hopeless. Dr Thomson saw the sight as so fearsome that he admitted that he could not get it out of his thoughts and his dreams for some time afterwards, and he was a man used to strange and awesome sights.
‘All faces have become pale.' The fear of what was coming could be seen on the faces of the watchers. This could be rendered ‘they gather blackness'. Compare the darkening of sun and moon in Joel 2:10. The reference to ‘peoples' may suggest that other nations around were also affected.
‘They run like mighty men,
They climb the wall like men of war,
And they march every one on his ways,
and they do not break their ranks.
Nor does one jostle another,
They march every one in his path,
And they burst through the weapons,
And do not break off.'
The scurrying huge mass of leaping grasshoppers are here likened to the eager advance of mighty men into battle, as like men of war they ascend the walls and continue marching on in their ways. The mass never breaks up as they move inexorably forward, every one on its path, and they surmount any obstacle put in their way by mass suicide, with the dead grasshoppers providing a bridge for the living. They ‘burst through the weapons and do not break off (or alternatively ‘fall').
An alternative translation to ‘weapons' is ‘water-courses'. This may suggest that even water does not prevent their advance, or that they used water tunnels as a means of access to the city (e.g. the tunnel of Siloam).
If we use our imaginations we can see the people of Jerusalem looking over its walls at the massive phalanx of young locust/grasshoppers advancing on the city, leaping and prancing like a great host of tiny horsemen, and making the noise of many chariots. The young locusts did not, of course, have the city as their goal. They were just advancing in a straight line and the city happened to be in their way (it was YHWH Who was directing their advance - Joel 2:11). But there was no stopping them and no obstacle hindered them. They did not turn aside for anything, nor did they hesitate, they just climbed over whatever lay before them, city walls, houses, palaces, and the lot. This is now eloquently described.
‘They leap on the city,
They run on the wall,
They climb up into the houses,
They enter in at the windows like a thief.'
Once in the city they move everywhere in search of food. They leap on the city, they run up the wall, they climb up into the houses and they enter into windows ‘like a thief', a description hardly applicable to soldiers. But it is a typical picture of insects getting everywhere with no means of preventing them. Dr Thomson describes similar behaviour in his town, ‘when the head of the mighty column came in contact with the palace of the Emeer --- they did not take the trouble to wheel round the corners but climbed the wall like men of war and marched over the top of it; so when they reached the house of Dr Van Dyck, in spite of all his efforts to prevent it, a living stream rolled right over his roof'. Compare also the words of Moses of the plague of locusts in his day, ‘they will cover the face of the earth that one shall not be able to see the earth, --- and your houses will be filled, and the houses of all your servants, and the houses of all the Egyptians' (Exodus 10:5-6).
‘The earth quakes before them,
The heavens tremble,
The sun and the moon are darkened,
And the stars withdraw their shining.'
The reason that the earth quakes before them and the heavens tremble is because they are instruments of YHWH's judgment (compare how in Haggai 2:21 God speaks to His people in terms of shaking the heavens and the earth through the activities of Zerubbabel and Joshua the High Priest. Whenever God works in His mighty power the heavens and the earth are seen as trembling). The whole of creation is watching in anticipation at what YHWH is doing. And it may well be that there was a huge storm, or even an earthquake, or both, but it is not really required by the wording.
And the consequence will be that the sun, moon and stars will cease to shine. This last idea may well have come to Joel from the way in which light had been blocked out by the huge swarms of flying locusts, something which would be repeated when these young locusts being described grew their wings and flew. Such an effect on the heavens would make a great impression on the people. The same descriptions were used of human invasions when the smoke from burning fields and cities blotted out the sun (e.g. Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 13:13). It is how men speak when they face their greatest catastrophes. But it is not limited to ‘the end times'. It may well be that it was Joel's description that was taken up and expanded on by the other prophets.
‘And YHWH utters his voice before his army,
For his camp is very great,
For he is strong who executes his word,
For the day of YHWH is great and very terrible,
And who can abide it?'
And the reason why the heavens and the earth would shake was because YHWH was marching before His army (compare Psalms 148:8 for the idea of YHWH commanding creation to do His will) and uttering His cries of judgment (or commands to His army of young locusts/grasshoppers), while His followers were ‘very great', for they were beyond human counting, and in carrying out His word they were invulnerable, as they pierced into every part of life. Their strength lay in their numbers. As men saw the locust/grasshoppers covering the whole ground and getting into their homes, with their voracious appetites consuming everything that was remotely edible, they would indeed see in it ‘the great and terrible day of YHWH', as He expressed His judgment against them for their wrongdoing. It must have been a time of great horror (it would have appeared as though locusts would be arriving for ever). And like all ‘days of YHWH' it would be almost beyond bearing. Furthermore it would be a reminder to them of the great and terrible Day of YHWH yet to come.
‘His camp is very great.' We can compare here how we might say, ‘the whole camp went out to meet him'. The camp here indicates an ‘army', and such an army had never been seen before in such huge numbers..
YHWH's Appeal To The People To Repent And Turn To Him (Joel 2:12-14).
This is probably to be seen as all in the words of YHWH in spite of the change to the third person half way through and the question ‘who knows?' at the end. Such a change in person is a regular feature of YHWH's appeals to His people, while the ‘who knows? ‘ is in order to get the people thinking and to test out their faith. On the other hand some see Joel 2:12-13 a as in the words of YHWH, and Joel 2:13-14 as in the words of Hosea.
Analysis of Joel 2:12-14).
a “Yet even now,” says YHWH, “turn you to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning” (Joel 2:12).
b And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn to YHWH your God (Joel 2:13 a).
c For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in covenant love (Joel 2:13 b)
b And repents him of the evil (Joel 2:13 c).
a Who knows whether he will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, even a meal-offering and a drink-offering, to YHWH your God? (Joel 2:14).
Note that in ‘a' YHWH calls on them to turn to Him with fasting, weeping and mourning, and in the parallel the hope is that He will turn to them and repent, and provide them with a blessing. In ‘b' they are called on to repent in their hearts, and in the parallel YHWH is declared to have repented Himself of the evil things that He has brought on them. Central in ‘c' is the declaration of God's character and being.
‘ “Yet even now,” says YHWH,
“Turn you to me with all your heart,
And with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning,
And rend your heart, and not your garments,
And turn to YHWH your God,
For he is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, and abundant in covenant love,
And repents him of the evil.” '
We now come to the purpose of YHWH's severe judgment. It was in order to call priests and people to repentance. As in all such cases His covenant with them lies at the heart of the problem. It was because they had failed to observe YHWH's covenant requirements that they were being called to account, and facing one of the curses attached to that covenant. But now they were to turn to YHWH with all their hearts ‘even now'. And they were to do so with fasting, and weeping and mourning because their own sinfulness and obduracy were the root cause of what had happened. In words spoken by Hosea they were to ‘break up their fallow ground'. This is an indication that what has been described previously was something that had occurred in Joel's day.
And they could do this in the hope that YHWH would hear and would intervene as they ‘rent their hearts' rather than their clothing. In other words their repentance was to be genuine and not ritualistic. The ‘rending of the heart' required true contrition of heart (compare Psalms 51:17; Ezekiel 36:26; Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4), and it was among such people that God on High promised to dwell (Isaiah 57:15). And with their hearts (their whole inner being) rent they were to turn to ‘YHWH your God'. He was still their God and waiting for them to repent.
And they could thus turn to God because of what He is. ‘He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in covenant love, and repents Him of the evil.' The terms are all covenant terms used previously for example in Exodus 20:6; Exodus 34:6, reminding them of His readiness to receive them once they truly turn to Him. Exodus 34:6 may well have been the source of his thoughts.
‘And repents Him of the evil.' This does not mean that God is to be seen as having sinned and in need of repentance. Rather it indicates His unhappiness at what He has had to do in bringing ‘evil things' (like locusts) on them and promises that He will have a ‘change of heart' once they truly respond to Him. But the idea is not that He is righting something that He has done wrong, but that once they have repented it will make it possible for Him to do what He has always wanted to do, bless them under the covenant. It is their sin that prevents Him ‘repenting', not His own. Compare 2 Samuel 24:16 where the case was very similar.
‘Who knows whether he will not turn and repent,
And leave a blessing behind him,
Even a meal-offering and a drink-offering,
To YHWH your God?'
The hope is then posited that if they do repent and turn to God, YHWH will repent of His judgment on them and turn to them. And the consequence of this would be that He ‘left a blessing behind Him' when He returned to Heaven having called off His judgment. And that blessing would be in the form of a part of the land having been spared from the hordes of locusts, so that meal-offerings and drink-offerings would again be offered to ‘YHWH your God', to Whom they have turned (Joel 2:13). They would once more have acknowledged His overlordship in the covenant.
Joel Calls The Priests And People To Repentance In The Hope That YHWH Would Turn Away His Judgment (Joel 2:12-17).
The call to repentance divides into two sections, the first an appeal to the people by YHWH for them to turn to Him from their sin, and the second a call by Joel to bring the whole people together to cry to YHWH for mercy.
The Call Goes Out For The Whole Of Judah To Gather Together For A Time Of National Repentance In Order To Remedy The Situation In The Light Of God's Call To Them (Joel 2:15-17).
Joel then gives his instruction to the priesthood to have a time of national mourning for sin because of what has happened, and because of YHWH's call to them which he has brought. They are to blow the summoning ram's horn on the Temple mount, they are to set apart time for a fast, they are to call all the people of Judah to a solemn assembly, they are to gather the people, and then once they have assembled they are to sanctify them (either by sacrifices, or by washing (possibly in ‘water for purification') and abstinence from sexual activity), and this is to include both the old men and the children (none are to be exempted for any reason whatever. For even breast fed babies with their nursing mothers, and the bridegroom and bride in the midst of their marriage celebrations, are to assemble. No reason for absence is to be accepted.
Then the priests and Temple servants are to weep between the porch and the altar, in the very place where sacrifices are offered and where the wine of the wine-offerings would be poured out, facing the entrance to the sanctuary, and are to call on YHWH to spare His people, and not let them be overcome by an enemy so that, as YHWH's heritage, they come under reproach and are ashamed. And the main reason for this is in order to justify God, lest conquering nations say, ‘where is their God?'
It is apparent from this that Joel saw in the warning of the locust plagues an indication that, unless they repented, YHWH would move on to the further curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 which included invasion and subjection to an enemy.
‘Blow the ram's horn in Zion,
Sanctify a fast,
Call a solemn assembly,
Gather the people,
Sanctify the assembly,
Assemble the old men,
Gather the children,
And those who suck the breasts,
Let the bridegroom go forth from his chamber,
And the bride out of her closet.'
The rapid fire instructions are an indication that what he is speaking of must be done at speed. There was to be no delay. The locusts were possessing the land. The blowing of the ram's horn in Zion, either as an alarm call, or as a call to a feast, is the first item on the agenda. It was a call to a solemn fast. This call is a repetition of the one in Joel 1:14, or possibly a further one because the situation has got more severe. It may parallel the one in Joel 2:1 although that may rather have been an alarm signal in view of the approaching hordes of young locust/grasshoppers.
The ‘sanctifying of a fast' indicated the solemn setting aside of a time for an emergency approach to YHWH in fasting and prayer. They were then to give the official summons to a solemn assembly (the gathering together, usually of the menfolk, to a special gathering in Jerusalem), but in this case it was to be a gathering of everyone, male or female, young or old. The assembly was then to be sanctified. There were a number of ways of doing this, one of which was by washing their clothing (Exodus 19:10; Exodus 19:14) and abstaining from sexual activity (Exodus 19:15). This was as a symbol of their cleansing of their lives and rightly attuning their minds to meet with God.
Instructions were then given that everyone must be involved. They were to assemble the old men (who might under certain circumstances have been excused) and the children, and even the smallest infants with their nursing mothers. Furthermore even marriage celebrations were to provide no exception. Usually being involved in a marriage feast exempted those present from certain normal strict requirements of the Law (e.g. those related to making merry; compare also Deuteronomy 20:7; Deuteronomy 24:5), but in this case it was not to be allowed to provide an exception. Even the bridegroom and bride must attend. This demonstrated the extremely serious nature of what was happening. The whole covenant community was to be involved, for all were in one way or another tainted by the sin and disobedience of the nation.
‘Let the priests, the ministers of YHWH, weep between the porch and the altar,
And let them say, Spare your people, O YHWH,
And do not give your heritage to reproach,
That the nations should rule over them,
Why should they say among the peoples,
“Where is their God?” '
Then the priests, the servants of YHWH, were to stand between the porch and the altar facing the door of the sanctuary in which YHWH was seen as enthroned on the Ark of the Covenant, and weeping over the sins of Israel, were to officially call on Him to spare His people, so that His people should not suffer the reproach of having their enemies ruling over them. (This would suggest that these statements at least were made prior to the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian invasions, otherwise they were meaningless. It therefore confirms an early date for Joel). The position facing the door of the sanctuary, no doubt with representatives of the people behind them, would indicate that the priests were making their plea as representatives of the people, not as representatives of YHWH.
Note how Joel's concern was for the honour of YHWH, in line with that of most of the prophets. He recognised that Judah were God's inheritance, and was concerned lest the question be asked among the peoples who knew of this, ‘where is their God?' The nations would expect Judah's God to intervene on their behalf regardless of their sinfulness. Their view would be that if the sacrifices were maintained then God was bound to act. They had no understanding of the requirements of the covenant. So Israel which was intended to be an example and witness to the nations would have become a witness for the prosecution. For the astonishment of ‘they' compare Jeremiah 19:8; Leviticus 26:32; Deuteronomy 28:37, which it will be noted is also connected with a judgment of locusts. For the question, ‘where is their God?' compare Exodus 32:11-12; Micah 7:10; Psalms 42:10; Psalms 79:10; Psalms 115:2. For ‘the people of your heritage' compare 1 Kings 8:51; Deuteronomy 4:20; Deuteronomy 32:9. See also Exodus 19:5-6.
Having Accepted His People's Repentance YHWH Promises To Deliver Them from The Plagues Of Locusts By Casting The Locusts Into The Seas On Both Sides Of The Land And That He Will Then Restore The Fruitfulness of Their Land (Joel 2:18-27).
After the plagues came the deliverance, presumably because the people repented in accordance with Joel's instructions (Joel 2:15-17). As a consequence of their repentance YHWH was ‘jealous' for His land. He one again recognised it as His own and determined to free it from all adversity, and to make it fruitful once again. He promised that He would cause ‘the northern menace' to be removed far off and to be driven into the wilderness, into the Dead Sea to the east and the Great Sea (the Mediterranean) to the west, where they would rot, and called on the land and the wild animals to be afraid no longer concerning the lack of vegetation. And He called on the land and the people to be glad and rejoice because the rains would come in due season and the land would once again flourish resulting in more than making up for what had been lost. No more would they suffer shame among the nations because they were seen as the people whose God could not save them from the extreme locust devastation, and the consequence would be that they will know that YHWH is in the midst of them, and that there is no other God like Him.
Analysis of Joel 2:18-27.
a Then was YHWH jealous for his land, and had pity on his people (Joel 2:18).
b And YHWH answered and said to his people, “Behold, I will send you grain, and new wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied with it, and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations (Joel 2:19).
c But I will remove far off from you the northern (army, menace), and will drive it into a land barren and desolate, its forepart into the eastern sea, and its hinder part into the western sea, and its stench will come up, and its ill savour will come up, because it has done great things (Joel 2:20).
d Do not be afraid, O land, be glad and rejoice, for YHWH has done great things (Joel 2:21).
e Do not be afraid, you beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree bears its fruit, the fig-tree and the vine yield their strength (Joel 2:22).
d Be glad then, you children of Zion, and rejoice in YHWH your God, for he gives you the former rain in just measure, and he causes to come down for you the rain, the former rain and the latter rain in the first month, and the floors will be full of wheat, and the vats will overflow with new wine and oil (Joel 2:23-24).
c And I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten, the young (hopping) locust, and the infant (devouring) locust, and the adult (swarming) locust, My great army which I sent among you (Joel 2:25)
b And you will eat in plenty and be satisfied, and will praise the name of YHWH your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you, and My people will never be put to shame (Joel 2:26).
a And you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am YHWH your God, and there is none else, and my people will never be put to shame (Joel 2:27).
Note that in ‘a' YHWH was jealous for His land and had pity on His people, and in the parallel they will know that He is in their midst, and that He is their God and the only God, while His people will never be put to shame. In ‘b' YHWH will make their land fruitful again, and in the parallel they will eat in plenty and be satisfied. In ‘c' He will remove from their midst the invading ‘army' of locusts, and in the parallel He will restore the years of fruitfulness which the locusts have destroyed, that great ‘army' that He had sent among them. In ‘d' the land is to be glad and rejoice because YHWH has done great things, and in the parallel the children of Zion are to be glad and rejoice because He will give the necessary rains, making the land fruitful. Centrally in ‘e' the beasts of the field are to be unafraid because the pastures of the wilderness will flourish, and the trees will bear their fruit.
‘Then was YHWH jealous for his land,
And had pity on his people.
That Chapter s 1 & 2 refer to a past experience comes out here in that YHWH now acted to deliver His land and His people. He was ‘jealous' for the land (compare how a good father will be ‘jealous' for his family, wanting to ensure that they enjoy the very best). That is, He was determined to rid it of all that marred and spoiled it, because it was His land and His inheritance (see Joel 2:17) and He was responsible for its upkeep and wanted to ensure the very best for it. Furthermore He had compassion on His people. Note the distinction. The people needed compassion because while they were in rebellion He could not be ‘jealous' over them. Once, however, they had turned to Him again it was different. And as a result both would be able to be glad and rejoice at what He was going to do.
‘And YHWH answered and said to his people,
Behold, I will send you grain, and new wine, and oil,
And you will be satisfied with it,
And I will no more make you a reproach among the nations,
He promised that he would once again send them grain, new wine and oil, the three staple products of the land, and he would do it to such an extent that they would be satisfied with it. And in doing so He would remove the reproach that they were experiencing among the nations, as their neighbours declared that their God had been unable to deliver them from the extreme plagues of locusts (see their cry in Joel 2:17, and the Judean appeal for their reproach to be dealt with)., They would no longer suffer under such reproach when their neighbours saw what God had done in removing the locusts and providing such bountiful harvest.
But I will remove far off from you the northern (army or menace),
And will drive it into a land barren and desolate,
Its forepart into the eastern sea,
And its hinder part into the western sea,
And its stench will come up, and its ill savour will come up,
Because it has done great things.'
For He would remove from them the menace that had come from ‘the north'. This need only indicate that the major hatching out of the young locust/grasshoppers had occurred to the north of Jerusalem so that they had approached Jerusalem from the north, or it could signify that they had been blown in from the Syrian desert to the north. Alternatively it may be that the north, from which any major unanticipated enemy came (they had been dealing with their neighbours and Egypt for centuries and saw them as a local problem) was seen as a symbol of all that was bad and unanticipated, so that ‘northern menace' indicated substantial interference from unknown external sources. There may even be the suggestion that the locust plagues were seen as coming from ‘the mountains of the gods' in the north (Isaiah 14:13).
And God promised that He would drive the locusts out of the land into the desolate wilderness (the biter bit), partly into the Dead Sea and the desert beyond, and partly into the Great Sea, and that they would die there so that, as their bodies decayed, a great stench would come up. The stench of locusts who had drowned and been thrown up rotting on shore was proverbial. And this would occur to them because they had done ‘great things', i.e. had totally devastated the land, especially to the north of Jerusalem. They had caused as much devastation to the vegetation as an invading and ruthless enemy.
‘Do not be afraid, O land, be glad and rejoice,
For YHWH has done great things.'
In consequence the land need no longer be afraid of any further such activity. It could be glad and rejoice because YHWH had also done ‘great things', but in His case for the benefit of the land. ‘O land' may not only signify the land itself, but also the people of the land.
‘Do not be afraid, you beasts of the field,
For the pastures of the wilderness do spring forth,
For the tree bears its fruit,
The fig-tree and the vine yield their strength.'
It is possibly significant that while the wild animals (or the domesticated animals) are told that they need no longer be afraid of a future absence of their food supply, they are not told to be glad and rejoice. It is the people who worship and rejoice. The animals just receive what God gives, even though they are symbolically addressed as though they could understand. The prophetic message was in fact really to the people. Note how this is a reversal of Joel 1:10; Joel 1:12; Joel 1:18-20. In Joel 1:18-20 the pastures of the wilderness are emphasised.
Elsewhere in Scripture the wild animals along with the whole of creation are also depicted as praising God and giving Him glory (e.g. Psalms 148:10; Revelation 5:13, and symbolically in the cherubim/living creatures with their fourfold manifestation of man, lion, eagle and ox), but then it is, of course, a use of anthropomorphism, for animals do not worship.
The wild animals (or domesticated animals) are promised that in the very wilderness areas where they dwell, which has been devastated equally by the young locusts, the vegetation will ‘spring forth' (a verb only used elsewhere in Genesis 1:11), the trees will bear their fruit, and the fig tree and vine will ‘yield their strength', although this last will mainly benefit men, which is why the children of Zion are also especially to be glad and rejoice.
‘Be glad then, you children of Zion,
And rejoice in YHWH your God,
For he gives you the former rain in just measure (or ‘in righteousness'),
And he causes to come down for you the rain,
The former rain and the latter rain,
In the first month.'
The ‘children of Zion', who can now be called this because they have been restored, are also to be glad and rejoice, both because of the promised fruitfulness of Joel 2:22, and because YHWH has promised to them that the rains will come abundantly in due season in the right amounts (in just measure). The ‘former rain' in October/November would soften up the ground and prepare it for sowing, the latter rain in March/April would ensure the full growth of the harvest (the ‘first month' of Abib or Nisan occurring around this time). Both these rains are a symbol of the Holy Spirit in Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:1-5; Isaiah 55:10-13. This is not therefore just a promise of fruitful lands, but of all the spiritual blessing that goes with God blessing His people (see Joel 2:28).
‘In just measure (or ‘in righteousness').' The idea may be that the rains would come in the ‘right' amounts, or that they would come because of the restoration of covenant righteousness resulting from their repentance and turning to YHWH.
‘And the floors will be full of wheat,
And the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.
The result of the rains coming in abundance at the proper time will be a huge grain harvest, so that the barns will once again be full of wheat, and the flourishing of vines and olives so that the vats will overflow with wine and olive oil (contrast Joel 1:10).
‘And I will restore to you the years that the locust (swarming locust) has eaten,
The young locust (hopping locust), and the infant locust (destroying locust), and the adult locust (gnawing locust),
My great army which I sent among you.
And you will eat in plenty and be satisfied,
And will praise the name of YHWH your God,
Who has dealt wondrously with you,
And my people will never be put to shame.'
Their harvests are to be so plentiful that all that has been lost will be restored, all that has been eaten by the different types of locust. Note the phrase ‘the years that the locusts have eaten'. They had not only destroyed what was on the land, but also what had been stored from past years, although some see the plagues as having continued over a number of years. These words should be a great encouragement as we grow older, for they remind us that He can make up for the failures of past years.
YHWH, however, fully acknowledges His responsibility for the locust plagues. They were His great army which He had sent among them. But now that all has been put right between them, the people will once again have abundance of food. They will eat in plenty and be satisfied. And in consequence they will praise the Name of YHWH their God, the One Who will have dealt so wondrously with them.
And they will no more be subjected to shame before their neighbours. All Israel's neighbours were aware of the great claims that Israel/Judah made concerning their invisible God, and the plagues that had come upon them would undoubtedly have resulted in great shame because their boasts appeared top have been unfulfilled. What the neighbours failed to recognise was that Judah's God, unlike their own gods, was a covenant God Whose covenant included both blessings and cursings. Thus their view had been that His failure was simply due to His inability to do anything.
Note the emphasis (in God's words) on the fact that the damage was done by the locusts already outlined in Joel 1:4. It is as though God wanted to emphasise that this was a real locust invasion, just in case anyone would think otherwise.
‘And you will know that I am in the midst of Israel,
And that I am YHWH your God, and there is none else,
And my people will never be put to shame.'
And the final result of what has happened will be that Judah/Israel will know that YHWH is among them, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill, and that He is their God and that there is no other god. Thus to look anywhere else than to Him would be foolish. And they could be assured that while they responded to Him and His covenant, they would never be put to shame, because God would never fail them. The repetition of ‘my people will never be put to shame' brings out how deeply Joel felt that shame that had been brought on God's Name because the judgment had been necessary, even if it gave the wrong impression to outsiders.
Note the emphasis on YOUR God and MY people. Because they had repented and returned to Him full covenant relations had been restored.
The Promise Of Great Spiritual Blessing Yet To Be ‘Poured Out' And Portents Of Judgment To Come (Joel 2:28-32).
And as a result of their restoration to Him through repentance and their turning to Him, He promised that once they had seen the fulfilment of these promises they would at some stage see the fulfilment of greater promises. For at some time in the future He would pour out on them His own Spirit (compare Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:1-5), with the result that all God's people, both young and old, master and servant, male and female, would become prophets. ‘All flesh' does not signify ‘everyone', whether in Israel or the world, but rather signifies people of all classes and levels so that no one will necessarily be excluded on account of status, as the words that follow make clear
And also at some time there will be apocalyptic signs, so that just as the skies and the heavenly lights had been darkened by the locusts (Joel 2:10), so will it then be darkened by God's judgments on the world. The heavens and the earth would both contain portents of what He was about to do. On the earth blood (which it will be noted was singularly lacking from the judgment of the locusts), and fire, and pillars of smoke, a clear indication of warfare, violence and destruction of both earthly property and cities, and in the heavens the sun ‘turning into darkness' (which could be caused by pillars of smoke, volcanic action, or great storm clouds), and the moon turning red like ‘blood', (a phenomenon well known in Palestine when there were eclipses, and which could also be caused by a polluted atmosphere). And these would all be a warning of the coming of the final great and terrible Day of YHWH, of which the plagues of locusts had been a foretaste.
And in that day whoever calls on the Name of YHWH (as one who is a regular true worshipper of YHWH, one Who is called by YHWH) will be saved. Note that those who will be saved are only a remnant of those who face the final judgments, those whom YHWH calls, and this includes some who will escape in mount Zion and in Jerusalem, all this in accordance with the word of YHWH, for it will result from His word bringing about His will (compare Isaiah 55:10-13).
Analysis of Joel 2:28-32.
· And it will come about afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions, and also on the servants and on the handmaids, in those days will I pour out my Spirit (Joel 2:28-29).
· And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke, the sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of YHWH comes (Joel 2:30-31).
· And it will come about that whoever will call on the name of YHWH will be delivered, for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape, as YHWH has said, and among the remnant those whom YHWH calls (Joel 2:32).
Note that in ‘a' it will come about that the Spirit of YHWH will be poured out on all levels of people so that they become prophets and discerners of His ways, and in the parallel it will come about that all who reveal themselves as His by ‘calling on the Name of YHWH' (a phrase signifying offering Him true worship) will be delivered as a result of the call of YHWH. Centrally in ‘b' judgments will come upon the world as portrayed by portents in both earth and heaven.
‘And it will come about afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
And your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions,
And also on the servants and on the handmaids,
In those days will I pour out my Spirit.'
There is probably here a reminder of when YHWH poured out His Spirit (spoken of to Moses as ‘your spirit', that is the spirit of prophecy, wisdom and leadership given to him by YHWH) on the seventy elders in the wilderness (Numbers 11). This expectancy of the pouring out of the Spirit on God's people was clearly current in the 8th century BC. Compare Isaiah 32:15. Both Joel and Isaiah 44:1-5 see it as very much poured out on people in order to make them responsive towards YHWH. The purpose of the promise was as an assurance that one day all YHWH's people would be endued with the Spirit and would experience spiritual gifts, because one thing was finally certain, and that is that YHWH would work among His people in full restoration.
‘Pour out.' The word is regularly used of God pouring out his wrath, and indicates giving in full measure, but in this case of Himself. They are to receive YHWH's own Spirit. It is used in Amos 5:8; Amos 9:10 of the pouring out of the rain, and in view of Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:1-5; Isaiah 55:10-13 must surely also suggest that the coming of the Spirit is to be seen as like spiritual rain falling on His people to cause them to become fruitful.
‘On all flesh.' That this is limited to God's people is emphasised by the reference to YOUR sons and Your daughters, but the point is that within God's people it will not be limited to anyone. All levels and genders of society will receive the Spirit. The idea that fleshly man was to receive the Spirit of YHWH is a breaking down in the difference between man and God. Previously man has enjoyed ‘the breath of God' (Genesis 2:7). Now he is to be imbued with His Spirit. This is God's future intention for His people.
‘And your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.' The idea is to indicate that all will enjoy prophetic gifts (compare Numbers 12:6), not in order to delegate the gifts to some. It was recognised that prophets would have dreams and visions, and the servants and handmaids were not excluded. it is wrong to overemphasise the ecstatic nature of what will happen. God is not promising strange phenomena, but revelation and truth.
‘Afterwards' (after His current restitution of the land) is a vague time reference and gives no indication of when this will take place. The giving of the Spirit would be anticipated after the Babylonian exile (Ezekiel 36:24-27) and was promised in part to Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4:7), and to John the Baptist (Luke 1:15-17). It was fulfilled when the Coming One was ‘drenched with the Holy Spirit' (compare John 3:24) as the One Who was the representative of the true Israel and would then drench others (Matthew 3:11 and parallels; John 1:30-33). There can be no doubt that it was partially fulfilled on the Apostles during Jesus' earthly ministry (inferred from Luke 11:13, and from Matthew 12:38 and the success of the Apostles in doing so), was sealed in the Upper Room (John 20:22), and became a wider gift to the whole church at Pentecost (Acts 2), when ‘all flesh' prophesied, which was thus the true fulfilment of Joel's prophecy as Peter observed. And the Holy Spirit now possesses the true church not ‘as well as Israel', but because they are the true Israel, that is the congregation of the true Israel established by Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18; Matthew 21:43), the true Vine (John 15:1-6), the ‘Israel of God (Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 Peter 2:9).
It will be noted that Joel does not directly link this pouring out of the Spirit directly to the portents which he then refers to. They will certainly follow it, but at no stated interval, and it is unquestionable that those portents have themselves been manifested at different times in history as a reminder that the great and terrible day of YHWH is coming. Indeed Peter saw them as partly fulfilled in the darkening of the sun while Jesus was dying, and the reddening of the moon which no doubt accompanied it, due to the strange weather conditions (the moon appears as blood red in Palestine on many occasions).
‘And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth,
Blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke,
The sun will be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the great and terrible day of YHWH comes.'
The loose connection with the previous verse (‘and') gives no indication of time span. The real point that is being made is that the Spirit will be poured out, to be followed at some stage by portents of God's final judgments. In other words God's people will be well prepared before it comes. This promise results from the new renewal of the covenant resulting from the effects of the locus invasion. But there is also a warning here that the people must not think that all would go smoothly from then on. Mankind was such, and even His people were such, that judgments, and then final judgment, were inevitable. Thus the future would hold, both in the short term and the long term, times of blood and violence and destruction. It was in the nature of man. And in the same way the heavens would give their portents, portents which have been observed through the ages (see e.g. Isaiah 9:18; Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 34:4 etc. We cannot just lump all these into ‘the end times'. They occurred in history). The smoke and explosions of war, or of violent expulsions from volcanoes, or strange weather effects, have all resulted in a darkened sun and a blood coloured moon at different times. And men have always seen in these strange events portents of what is to come. All this would happen time and again as a reminder of the coming terrible Day of YHWH.
The pouring out of the Spirit of YHWH on His people would introduce a new creative situation whereby His people would become God-possessed, patently both flesh and Spirit, thus enhancing the old creation, it is therefore significant that this new act of creation should be seen as followed by portents and signs which are a reminder of God's judgments on Egypt and His subsequent revelation of Himself to Israel (Exodus 7:17; Exodus 9:24; Exodus 10:21-22; compare Exodus 19:18). It was a reminder that in redeeming those whom He has created for Himself God must bring His judgments on the world.
All this will occur ‘before the great and terrible day of YHWH'. Like the plague of locusts that had just devastated Judah, it would all be a reminder of the coming Day of YHWH. But it would not itself be the Day of YHWH. Joel only knew that the world faced tumult before the end. He had no conception of how much tumult. As empire has rolled on after empire, and as the world faced has catastrophic situations, these ‘signs' have been seen again and again. They express the tumult of the world and the catastrophic nature of events that occur, rather than being a specific sign of ‘the end times'.
‘And it will come about that whoever will call on the name of YHWH will be delivered,
For in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape,
As YHWH has said,
And among the remnant those whom YHWH calls.'
But in the face of all this the true people of YHWH would have nothing to fear. All who truly ‘call on the Name of YHWH' will be saved. To ‘call on the Name of YHWH' is to truly worship Him (see Genesis 4:26; Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:4;, compare 1 Kings 18:24; 1 Chronicles 16:8; Psalms 105:1; Psalms 116:13; Psalms 116:17; Zephaniah 3:9; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13), and this is speaking of true believers who respond to Him and intend to continually walk with Him. They will enjoy final deliverance.
But however bad things become YHWH will ensure the survival of His people. This is expressed in terms of survival in mount Zion and in Jerusalem, for they were in those days the centre of the worship of YHWH. And among them will be those whom God will call, the holy seed (Isaiah 6:13). The early believers and the new Israel were themselves first established in mount Zion and Jerusalem (Acts 1-12), where the pouring out of the Holy Spirit took place (Acts 2), resulting in the believing remnant of Israel, who were called by God and thus ‘called on the Lord' (Acts 2:21). Then as a result of the coming of Jesus and His resurrection mount Zion and Jerusalem were seen as transferred to Heaven (Galatians 4:22-31; Hebrews 12:22-23; Revelation 14:1; Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:10).
‘As YHWH has said.' What YHWH says will inevitably come about, for His word goes forth to accomplish it (Isaiah 55:10-13).
That Peter saw a level of fulfilment of Joel 2:28 ff. in what happened at Pentecost is undeniable, simply because he himself defined it in those terms. But it is often questioned whether Peter saw Joel 2:28 as actually speaking of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In other words the question is, when he said, ‘this is that --', did he mean precisely that.
Of course, regardless of what Peter did mean what is described here in Joel cannot be limited to Pentecost. At the least it also required for its fulfilment the continuing work of the Spirit that followed Pentecost. But the argument is that all that was simply a reflection of Joel 2:28 which awaits its fulfilment in the future. Now to those who insist on applying the whole of Joel to ‘the end days' for dogmatic reasons the answer is cut and dried. Joel was talking about something that would happen to the Jews in the end days, and all that Peter was doing was say something like, ‘this is the kind of thing that Joel was talking about'.
One main argument advanced is that Peter gave the whole quotation, and it is claimed that he himself would have recognised that the so-called apocalyptic signs were not fulfilled. But that must be open to question. For Peter himself was aware that the sun had been darkened when Jesus was being crucified, and he lived in a time when blood and fire and pillars of smoke had regularly been experienced in Palestine. The Roman occupation was not always a happy one, and people like Theudas and Judas the Galilean (Acts 5:36-37) were just two of those who had felt the full force of their might, resulting in blood, and fire and pillars of smoke as people died and houses were burned, something that was thrown into new light by the crucifixion of Jesus. Thus Peter might well have felt that Joel's words had been fulfilled.
Acts 2:16 ff. is also cited by Peter as connecting with ‘the last days'. This may have been because he was citing a different text from the MT, or was himself quoting loosely. But what this certainly shows is that Peter did consider that what had happened had happened in ‘the last days'. And that is not too surprising for the early Christians did see what was happening as occurring within the last days, for they saw the last days as having begun with Christ's resurrection and exaltation as the Lord of glory. This is apparent from a number of New Testament citations. Peter himself in his letters declared that what the prophets had revealed had been for his own day (1 Peter 1:12), and that Jesus ‘was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake' (1 Peter 1:20), and he claimed that ‘ the end of all things is at hand ' (1 Peter 4:7). Paul also spoke of something being ‘for our admonition, on whom the end of the ages has come' (1 Corinthians 10:11). Whilst the writer to the Hebrews declared that God had ‘ in these last days spoken to us by the Son' (Hebrews 1:2), and that Jesus Christ ‘has once for all appeared at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself' (Hebrews 9:26). It is quite clear from this that the early church saw themselves as being in ‘the last days' and ‘at the end of the age'. They were not to know that those last days would last for over two thousand years. This being so it is difficult to believe that Peter was expecting a further outpouring of the Holy Spirit which would be unique. In our view it is clear that Peter did see Joel's prophecy being fulfilled in his day.
This is not to deny that the Holy Spirit has continued to be manifest in special ways at certain times, and that it may well be that at some stage such a work of the Holy Spirit will take place in Jerusalem turning many Jews to their true Messiah, but it is to deny that that is required by what Joel says. What we must insist on is that Joel's words were fulfilled in the coming of Jesus and, through Him, of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and in what followed.
End of note.