In our study, we will look at how God can use a natural disaster to get the attention of His people and to communicate spiritual truth to them. This is a historical look at a plague of locusts that happened but it is also a prophetic look at the coming disaster upon the earth.
The word of the Lord that came to Joel son of Pethuel.
We are introduced to the prophet Joel and his name means "Jehovah is God". Jehovah comes from the Hebrew "ha-wah" which means "he causes to become" and it describes how God is the Creator of all things. He was sent by God to give this message to the southern kingdom of Judah after a plague of locusts had devastated the land.
Hear this, you elders; listen, all who live in the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your forefathers?
Joel begins by asking if they have ever heard of anything like this plague happening before. They should have heard of a similar thing from when their ancestors were delivered from Egypt (see Exodus 10). Just as God had used locusts to be a sign to Pharaoh, He used them again to get Israel's attention. They are also going to be used in the last days as we see in Revelation 9.
Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.
In Exodus 10, the Israelites were given the same instruction to tell their children of that plague. It is a reminder for us, as parents, that it is our job to tell our children about the things of God. It has always been and always will be the responsibility of the parent (see Proverbs 22:6).
What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten.
We see that this plague of locusts that has struck the land consisted of four separate bands or groups of locusts. Throughout the Bible the number four is associated with trials and this is another case of that.
Wake up, you drunkards, and weep! Wail, all you drinkers of wine, for it has been snatched from your lips.
The locusts destroyed the grapevines and so their will be no more wine. It seems that many times God has to allow bad things to happen to wake us up. That is what He has done with this terrible locust plague and it is what He still does today with many other types of natural disasters.
A nation has invaded my land, powerful and without number; it has the teeth of a lion, the fangs of a lioness. It has laid waste my vines and ruined my fig trees. It has stripped off their bark and thrown it away, leaving their branches white.
The lion is the king of the beasts and the female lion is actually bigger and more ferocious than the male. God describes the severity of this plague and the fact that the locusts have even eaten the bark off of all the fig trees. When the bark is removed from a tree, it can quickly get disease and die.
Mourn like a virgin in sackcloth grieving for the husband of her youth.
The people are told to mourn in sackcloth which was a rough fabric made out of goat's hair from black goats. It was used throughout the Bible as a symbol of mourning and repentance. When a young lady is engaged to be married there is the excitement of a life planned together with the man she will marry. The people are told to mourn like that young lady would when she loses her husband and those hopes and plans are ruined.
Grain offerings and drink offerings are cut off from the house of the Lord. The priests are in mourning, those who minister before the Lord.
Because of the locusts, there is no grain or grapevines left and therefore nothing to offer God at the temple. The priests are in mourning because they see that, without the offerings, the people are stuck with their sin. We can rejoice in the fact that Jesus was the perfect offering and so we are not required to present these offerings.
The fields are ruined, the ground is dried up, the grain is destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails.
The grains are gone as well as the grapes and the olives for oil. The ground even mourns ("is dried up") as it suffers the effects from the sin of the people.
Despair, you farmers, wail, you vine growers; grieve for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field is destroyed.
The locusts affected everyone and they are called to mourn. This is usually how it is with many people as they normally are focused more on earthly material things than on the things of God. Therefore, when it is necessary to get their attention, the things that they are focused on are struck such as here with the farmers.
The vine is dried up and the fig tree is withered; the pomegranate, the palm, and the apple tree - all the trees of the field - are dried up. Surely the joy of mankind is withered away.
Joel continues by explaining that all of the fruit trees have been destroyed and no longer bear any fruit to be harvested. They forgot that God was the one that caused the trees to bear fruit and now their hope is gone. If we remember that God is our provider and we trust in him, then we will never lose our hope or joy even in the difficult times.
Put on sackcloth, O priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God.
Joel calls the priests to repent as sackcloth was a symbol of repentance and mourning. He started with the call to the priests because they were the leaders and they should lead by example. They are to mourn because God has kept them from presenting offerings and, without those offerings, the people could not have a right relationship with God. Just like in Joel's time, God is calling those that lead His people to lead by example.
Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.
Joel then tells the priests to declare a holy fast and to hold a sacred assembly. A sacred assembly was a day where work was not allowed and all of the people were to meet together at the temple. This was a call for all of the people to go without food or drink and for them to get together to pray.
Alas for that day! For the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty.
Joel tells the people that even as bad as the locusts were that is not as bad as it gets. Worse is yet to come for those who do not repent as on the day of the Lord the destruction will be from El Shaddai. The name Almighty (El Shaddai) refers to the fact that God created everything and owns everything.
Has not the food been cut off before our very eyes - joy and gladness from the house of our God? The seeds are shriveled beneath the clods. The storehouses are in ruins, the granaries have been broken down, for the grain has dried up.
Joel begins to survey the damage once again and he starts with the crops of the field. Man plants the seed but only God can make it grow and so man's efforts here lie "shriveled beneath the clods". Not only were the people without food but they also did not have the offerings that were required for the temple.
How the cattle moan! The herds mill about because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep are suffering.
The livestock were affected as well and are suffering because they have no food. This is a reminder that man's sin has consequences for everything on the earth just as it did with Adam and Eve.
To you, O Lord, I call, for fire has devoured the open pastures and flames have burned up all the trees of the field.
When you are beaten down, look up. That is what Joel does here as he has surveyed the damage to the land and came to the conclusion that only God can help. If that's what it takes to get you to repentance then God just may allow "damage" in your life. But, when you call out, He will be there to answer.
Even the wild animals pant for you; the streams of water have dried up and fire has devoured the open pastures.
The sin of man affects all of the earth as even the plants and the animals have suffered because of our disobedience. But, there is coming a day when sin will be removed and there will be a new heaven and new earth without the effects of sin. Oh! What a glorious day!