Joel 1

1 Joel was the son of Pethuel, but other than that, nothing is known of this prophet. The name Joel appears several times in the Old Testament, but they do not seem to be references to this man. His name means "Yahweh is God." His writing indicates thorough knowledge of the temple, priests, and rituals, but he does not identify himself as having a position in the religious order. There is disagreement about where Joel may have come from, some think he was a native of Jerusalem while tradition indicates he was from Bethoran. The date of this writing is unknown since there are no internal references to kings, and no date indicating references externally. However, the text does reference Israel's primary enemies before the Exile to Babylon. Many point out that the type of government described here fits in well with the reign of Joash, when priests and elders had command. However, others argue that the prophecies seem to illustrate the impending Babylonian invasion, even though they are not mentioned by name. Some point to the lack of mention of Israel as in indicator that the northern kingdom had already been taken into exile. However, the prophecy also implies that Joel's generation would be forgiven, which does not fit will with this idea. Still others feel that a date after the Exile fits the details given in this book, such as the relationship between the Jews and the Greeks, but others have noted problems with these ideas as well. There are also similarities between Joel and Amos, but it is difficult to say if one borrowed from the other. Ancient historians place Joel as a contemporary of Hosea. In short, there are varying views on the dating of this book, and each position has its strong and weak points. Thus, dating is uncertain. While the identification of the man and his times is obscure, he makes it very clear in this opening verse that he is speaking the words of God.
2 Joel begins by appealing to all the inhabitants of Judah, and specifically the elders, to consider the terrible event that was about to happen to them. Commentators disagree whether "elders" refers to leaders or old men (although it was usually the case that the old men were leaders), but these would have known the history of the nation very well. Would there be a disaster as severe as the one about to befall them in their historical recollection? The implied response is no.
3 This historical event would be one they would not forget, and Joel encourages them to tell the future generations about it. Obviously, the positive part of this is that they would survive the ordeal, but it would be important to remember it and act accordingly to prevent its happening again.
4 Joel then reveals that the subject of his prophecy is a four-fold plague of locusts. The King James Version names four different creatures, but most scholars believe that this verse refers to four types of locusts. There are at least 80 varieties of locusts, and there are nine words for locusts in Hebrew, four of which are used in this verse. Others think this verse might be referring to only one species of locusts, but at different times in its life cycle.

Each wave of these devouring insects would have its own mode of operation, indicating that in every conceivable way, the agriculture, and thus the economy, would be completely wiped out. Where the Egyptian plague of locusts was quite terrible, this would likely exceed that calamity (Exo 10:14 - possibly indicating that there would never be a plague of locusts like that again in Egypt, but not necessarily Judah).

5 The plague will be so bad that there will be no fruit to make wine from. The vineyards would likely be bear for years, depleting any reserves. Drunkards would no longer have any alcohol to drown their sorrows in. Joel calls on them to weep now, for they will certainly weep when their drink is not readily available.

Perhaps the attempt to wake the drunkards is a mocking picture of Joel attempting to get the people to realize that God's wrath is coming against them. Drunkards are not known to be either easily aroused or rational.

6 The locusts are likened to a nation of people invading the land. There are several accounts of modern locust swarms, some covering over a thousand square miles. These accounts tell of the sun being blackened out when they took flight and the ground being covered so that nothing but the insects could be seen. These insects can be surprisingly strong, and their jaws can gnaw though wood without much difficulty.

Some take this as a double prophecy, perhaps foretelling of the four-fold invasion of the Chaldeans, or four major invading forces, or four kings. However, there is no indication that any specific human invasion is being referred to.

7 Just as locust strip the bark off trees, so they would to the land of Judah, figuratively represented as the vine and fig tree. The devastation would be severe, and would take years to recover from.
8 The nation as a whole is most likely the subject of this simile. They would mourn as a newlywed woman who had lost her husband. The word used here for "virgin" can also mean "young woman." However, either might be applied to the illustration given since, in traditional Jewish courtship, the marriage is not consummated until the end of a long, legally binding engagement period. Such a woman would traditionally wear sackcloth, which would symbolize the mourning of her soul by the affliction of her flesh with the uncomfortable garment.

Certainly Judah would mourn over the devastation of their land, but the next verse also gives the impression that the people will feel the anguish of spiritual separation from God. Throughout the Scriptures, the imagery of bridegroom and bride is often applied to the relationship between God and His people. During times of judgment, God allowed His people to sever their covenant relationship with Him. Once they realize what they have done, exacerbated by the physical ruin that often accompanies such judgments, the people mourn and repent, which prepares them for a reestablishment of their relationship with God.

9 Even God's temple would be affected. Because all the crops would be gone, there would be nothing for people to tithe with. Priests would mourn for two reasons. First, they depended on the tithes for their livelihoods, and second, these offerings were used in the temple services. They would neither have food to eat or be able to perform their duties in God's house.
10 Again, Joel emphasizes the extent of the devastation. The locusts will eat up even the wild fields, leaving animals with no food. The three mainstays of Jewish life and tradition, wheat, wine, and oil, would be depleted by this plague.
11 The farmers would despair over not being able to grow anything despite their best efforts. Even the regions famous for their bountiful wheat and barley harvests would not produce in the fields destroyed by the locusts. The vinedressers would likewise cry out bitterly because of their livelihood being taken away. The next verse indicates that the vines would dry up, indicating that they would die in the wake of the locusts' destruction.
12 The trees would suffer as well. The region was well know for its figs, pomegranates, dates, apples (translation uncertain), and other fruits, but after the locusts ate everything, there would be no harvests. Because of all this, there would be no reason for anyone to rejoice. Economic and emotional devastation would abound.
13 Building on verse 9, Joel reiterates that the people will have no offerings to set before God. This would cause great emotional distress among the priests. They will go about in sackcloth day and night showing their grief and perhaps penitence outwardly both symbolically and with loud lamenting.
14 The priests would recognize that this was an event was a consequence of the poor spiritual condition of the nation. In an effort to save Judah from the spiritual and physical plight they were in, they would call a solemn assembly for everyone to come and turn back to God, seeking His mercy and forgiveness. The older men were generally the leaders, and would serve as examples for the people. It was to be a consecrated meeting, that is, one focused on God. During this meeting, the people would abstain from food, work, and most importantly give up their sinful habits. As with sackcloth, fasting was a symbol of mourning and repentance. The other solemn assemblies mentioned in the Scriptures were generally celebrations, though some had times of repentance (Lev. 23:36, Num. 29:35, Deut. 16:8, 2 Chr 7:9, Neh 8:18). However, there would be no joy in this gathering.
15 Having understood what was about to happen, the prophet himself cries out in despair. Joel uses the phrase "Day of the Lord" here. In the proper sense, this refers to the final judgment, but is used here and in other prophecies to give emphasis to the severity of God's wrath that Judah was about to endure. This plague could be seen as a small picture of what take place on a worldwide scale during the end times. In the last phrase, Joel uses a play on words in Hebrew to stress the point that the "Almighty" will bring this "mighty destruction."
16 Joel then appears to talk about the aftermath of the locust plague in the present tense. The following verses would lead us to believe that the plague of locusts would possibly be followed by a drought. They would have problems growing food, and the harvest feasts at God's temple would not be happy occasions. The impending locus plague would bring unbelievable devastation, but it would only be the beginning of an increasingly desperate situation.
17 It seems that there would not be enough rainfall at that time to cause seeds in the ground to germinate. All the surplus grain from previous years would be used up and the empty barns had been torn down.
18 The word for groan mans to be exhausted from toil. The animals would suffer, first from losing all the plants they ate to the locusts, and then from the lack of regrowth. The cattle could roam freely, but not find anything to eat. The sheep, better able to live under poorer conditions and guided by shepherds, would suffer starvation.
19 Joel is so filled with anguish about these foretold events that he cries out to God. When all other hope is gone, God is there.

It is unclear from the context whether Joel is referring to the plague of locusts being like a fire or if he is foretelling a literal fire. Since it sounds like a drought would follow the plague of locusts, it would not be surprising if lightening-sparked wildfires consumed any dry stubble remaining from the locusts and whatever happened to grow after the plague. The result would be the utter barrenness of the pastures without trees and plants.

20 The wild animals would also suffer because of the sins of the people. Because humans are in the earth and have dominion over it, nature shares in the punishments God sends against us. In this case, the animals would seemingly "pant" for (lit. "long for") God when their water and food sources were gone. This is probably meant as a contrast between "dumb" animals that instinctively know they depend on God for all things, and "intelligent" people, who tend to forget He exists.