Joel 2

1 Joel calls for the blowing of the trumpet (sopar) to warn the inhabitants of the impending "invasion." Generally, priests were the ones to blow the trumpets, but a watchman also would do so if he saw the advancing army. All the people of Jerusalem and Judah would be affected. They would tremble in fear because they would be caught unprepared and unable to fight an "army" like this swarm of locusts. They would know that there was nowhere to go and hide, nor would there be any way to save their crops and stored grain. It would be "the Day of the Lord" - a day of severe judgment that would affect them all.
2 Just as the sun rises to spread light on the earth, this swarm of locusts would alight and cover the land with darkness. Many have witnessed locust swarms over the years, usually describing them as cloud-like when they are in motion. Some of the hordes are so large and thick that they hide the sun in the same way a large rain cloud would. Individually, locusts may seem rather weak, but when banded together, they become an irresistible army, unhindered by many things that human armies would consider obstacles, like geography, food, and self-preservation.

This particular plague was to be the largest and most destructive in history. Although Exo 10:14 says the same thing, one of these may be referring to the largest in its region rather than globally. Depending on how this verse is translated, it may indicate that there will be a bigger plague after many generations. This possibly could be referring to the first woe of Rev 9:1-12 where a great cloud of locusts would cover the earth, torturing people instead of eating the vegetation.

3 Joel compares the locusts to a wildfire. Even lush areas would look like a desert after the plague. No area would escape this hungry swarm. Several, more contemporary, writers have noted that after a swarm of locusts pass, the area appears as if it had been burned.
4 The head of the locusts is often described as horse-like in appearance. This is particularly apt in this instance because the swarm is being compared to an invading army. In those days, the best-equipped armies had numerous horses and chariots.
5 It is the beating of the locusts' wings as they fly that sounds like chariots might sound as an ancient army rushed into battle. The sound is also likened to the noise of a wildfire as it engulfs a mountain. Other writers have compared the sound to loud rushing water. While mountains are generally considered a refuge from an invading foe, these insects would reach the peaks and ravage them as well.
6 When people heard the sound and saw the great brown clouds of insects coming, they would know that destruction was upon them. In their dread, they would "writhe in anguish," knowing that the land was doomed. Their faces would drain of blood and become pale as they lost all hope of escaping.
7 The next three verses emphasize the locusts' relentless advancement. Given their focused quest for food, lack of any fear, and great mobility, they cannot be deterred or hindered by anything that comes in their path. They are like an army of mighty men who do not break ranks, and can easily scale walls.
8 Despite their great numbers, the insects do not crowd one another. The last phrase seems to have different nuances depending on who is doing the translating. The literal translation is something like "when they fall by the sword, they are not cut off." This probably refers to the inability of humans to defeat or even deflect an advancing swarm with weapons. There are many recorded events where people have dug water trenches, built bonfires, or fired gun in the path of an oncoming horde, only to have it break through these defenses. Even though a great number of the insects can be killed, there are such overwhelming numbers that they simply continue over the bodies of those that died.
9 The locusts would rush into Jerusalem and get into every nook and cranny. Since they would cover all the surfaces of a house, they would inevitably find entranceways inside. Their houses were designed to encourage fresh air to flow in, so there would be plenty of unobstructed openings for the insects to fly and crawl into. Thus, no stored provisions would be safe. The people would have no way to avoid the loathsome swarm from invading their food, living spaces, and bedrooms. One modern account records that home invasions have been so bad that people inside had trouble eating food and talking without insects flying into their mouths.
10 These expressions give this event a magnitude of cosmic proportions. Such wording is used to describe other disastrous judgments throughout Scripture, for example, Nahum 1:5-6 concerning Nineveh and Rev 6:12-14 describing one of the final judgments of God. Certainly, this is poetic, since locusts do not have the power to shake the earth and heavens, nor do they generally fly at night to obscure the moon and starts. However, for those enduring the terror of the plague, it would seem like the end of the world. There are certain things people tend to take for granted, like the stability of the ground and the consistency of the daily cycles in the sky, but during the locusts swarm, all security would seem lost.
11 Joel makes it perfectly clear that this will happen at God's command and direction. It is interesting to note that when God speaks to people, we often ignore or disobey Him, but when He speaks to other creatures, they obey without fail. The point of irony is that God made us to have a relationship with Him, but because of sin and free will, most people choose not to love or listen to Him. This verse can also be taken as and example of strength in numbers, or how God can make the weak strong.

Individual insects are harmless, but when massed together they become strong and very destructive. When God sends punishment against a nation, it is an awesome spectacle. If no one would be able to oppose a relatively small, localized plague like these locusts, who will be able to stand up against God on Judgment Day?

12 Yet, while this calamity was imminent, there was still time to appease God. This is not like pagan attempts to avoid or limit a disaster through sacrifices meant to "pay off" the gods. Instead, God wants people to have a loving relationship with Him, the way He designed them to. At this point, if the people turned to God, they would do so with great mourning when they realized how the sins in their lives have separated them from God, each other, and likely harmed themselves and others. Fasting was a symbol of mourning and repentance. The tearing of garments mentioned in the next verse was a symbol of sudden and intense grief. However, God is not interested in the mere symbolic gestures. He wants people to be brokenhearted because of their severed relationship with Him.
13 After reading the many chapters in the Bible about God's judgments against people, it might seem surprising to some that God's primary characteristics are grace, compassion, patience, and love. Unfortunately, humans have a tendency to make harmful choices and remain spiritually out of touch. God uses many approaches to encourage people to relate to Him and each other as He designed us to, but other times He must punishing wrongdoers with the intention of deterring others from doing the same things. The kind of national punishment described in this book is undoubtedly a last resort. He does not enjoy bringing harm against people, and would relent if the people would return to Him.
14 This is not to say that God is predictable, but there should be reason to hope that when people have a good relationship with Him, they will escape the worst punishments. The Bible is replete with examples of people who sinned, but were pardoned and not required to undergo the prescribed physical punishment. However, even if one still endures a penalty, the Bible does reassure us that all believers will not be punished with eternal separation from God, which would be the worst consequence of all in the long run. In this case, Joel is offering hope that if the people repented and God decided not to discipline them, Judah would have sufficient means to worship God in the way the Jews were required, specifically with the agricultural offerings listed here.
15 Where verse 2:1 speaks about blowing the trumpet as an alarm, here the trumpet is used for its other main purpose - to gather the people of Judah to the temple for a religious observance. Specifically, this was to be a somber gathering where people showed grief over their sins by fasting.

It is not clear whether this assembly was to be called before or after the plague struck. Verse 25 seems to indicate that the plague would indeed happen. Therefore, it is more likely that despite Joel's pleas, Judah did not repent until the plague struck. It would only be in the midst of the calamity that they would realize that God does exists, He spoke through Joel, and He expected them to follow Him.

16 The assembly was to contain everyone, even the children and babies. No one was exempt, even if they had just been married and were on their honeymoon (Deu 24:5). It was not to be a time of celebration or joy for anyone. The elders, who were in general considered leaders, were specifically mentioned as needing to attend. They were to lead by example. All would be affected, young and old, so everyone needed to share in the ceremony to ask God for mercy.
17 The priests were to pray on behalf of Judah publicly before the Temple. They were to weep, showing anguish on behalf of their nation, which had separated itself from God. Their requests were to be two-fold. First, they were to plead for mercy; that God would spare them from the plague of locusts that Joel had prophesied about. Second, they were to ask God not to make Judah seem lower in the eyes of the Gentile nations. The most distinguishing thing about Israel/Judah was that they were the people of God, the recipients of His Law and Covenant, and the stewards of His Temple. If this calamity were to proceed, outsiders would ridicule them and ask where their God was. They would wonder how the God of the Universe would allow His chosen people to suffer such a disaster. Would not the Gentile nations incorrectly conclude that God had no real power? Thus, the priests were praying not only for their own lives, but for the reputation of their nation, and, in a way, God's name as well.
Note that there is disagreement about how part of this verse is to be translated. The Hebrew word, mashal, is translated as "rule over" in KJV and some other versions, while NASB, NIV, among others translate it in the sense of a taunt or proverb. The former use this to interpret the invasion of locusts as being symbolic for an actual invasion of Gentiles. The latter leaves the possibility open, but lends itself to what seems to be the most natural meaning of the book as a whole. In either case, it is clear that Judah would be humiliated in the eyes of the Gentiles if this prophecy were to be fulfilled.
18 When Judah as a whole remembered their dependence on God, He would take pity on their helpless state. He would enthusiastically respond to the call to honor Himself through the welfare of the land He gave to His chosen people.
19 God would answer the prayers of His people. He would restore the ruined land and make it bountiful. Their prosperity would garner respect from the other nations rather than scorn.

God uses the phrase "never again" here, but it does not necessarily mean it is unconditional. Most of the prosperity promises given to Israel were conditional on their continued faithfulness to God and the Law. Some have thought that this might be a description of the eternal state of God's people after Judgment Day, but it is not clear if this is what Joel intended.

20 There is disagreement about the interpretation of this verse. Some commentators write that locusts would invade Judah from the north, which has known areas of locusts. Others insist that there are no sources for locusts in the north, and they could only come from the south, thus indicating that these northern invaders are humans, not locusts. The latter are divided about what human population might be represented, some Assyria, others Gog, in reference to the End Times (Ezek 39). If this is the meaning, then the overthrow of the invading northern army is a blessing besides a reprieve from the locust plague. Now if the former is true, then it pictures the plague of locusts coming from the north only to be driven by God, most likely via the wind, into the Mediterranean on the west, the Dead Sea to the east, and desert either to the south or east. There are many eyewitness accounts of locusts swarms being driven into bodies of water only to have their dead bodies wash up on shore in great heaps causing a terrible stench as their bodies putrefy. So, while this verse might be figurative for a human army, a literal approach would make it clearly an illustration of what will happen to the locusts when the people of Judah would repent and turn to God.

There are also differences in how the last phrase is interpreted. Some translators use it in reference to the swarm of locusts having "done great things," possibly in connection with verse 2:11. However, other translators view it as praise to God, who, by destroying the locusts, will have done a great thing among the many others He had already accomplished.

21 The land is charged not to fear once the disaster would be reversed. The fear that prevailed in verse 1 would be replaced with rejoicing and gladness. They would all agree that God had done great things.
22 Animals, here personified, need not fear either. Once Judah repented, the rains would come, the pasture would become green again, and the trees and vines would all bear fruit. Then the beasts of the field would no longer suffer the punishment that was to be inflicted upon the people.
23 The people living in Jerusalem, the sons of Zion, would also be glad. Having submitted to their Lord and God, He would give them rain at the proper times, both in autumn and spring. The early rains happened in September and October when seeds are planted, while the latter rains happened in March and April before the crops come to maturity.

Part of this verse is literally translated "He has given you the teacher for righteousness." Most consider this an idiom for the early rains. The idea is that they would receive blessings that were to further their righteousness, especially through their increased faith in and obedience to God. However, others see this as a prophecy about the coming of the Christ. Jesus, then, the Teacher of Righteousness, would bring spiritual restoration to Judah, besides the physical restoration described in the rest of this section.

24 Whereas in chapter 1, the grain was depleted and the vines withered up, afterwards there would be an abundance of wheat, wine, and oil.
25 The people had stored up food so that they could survive for a few years if the crops did not happen to do well, but the locusts would eat their entire surplus up. The locusts would also damage trees and vines so that the effects would be evident during subsequent seasons. Some have suggested that this verse indicates that there would be swarms of locusts in successive years.

After the punishment was over, there would be so much produce that their storehouses would be quickly filled again. The term God uses here is a legal one, as if He felt obligated to restore what was lost. Certainly, God's love for Judah combined with His promises to them would compel Him to shower blessings on them when they returned to Him.

26 Many who have never known or forgotten times of need underestimate or deny their dependency on God. Judah would experience a plague and famine followed by rich harvests, recognize it as God's wondrous work, and thus have reasons to praise Him. In this abundance, they would eat and be satisfied. This would become known to the surrounding nations, and their honor would be perpetuated as long and they remained obedient to God.
27 Their reversal of misfortune would be evidence that God was working among them. His control over nature would be evidence that He was God, and the magnitude of the work along with the fulfilled prophecies would be proof that He is the one and only God. There would be no shame in that acknowledgement, and God promises again to protect the reputation of His people.
28 "After this" refers to the events already presented in this book, which include, depending on one's interpretation, the plague of locusts, invaders from the north, the restoration of Judah, and the coming of the Teacher of Righteousness. Peter proclaimed the initial fulfillment of this prophecy in Acts 2:14-21, after Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension. Before Pentecost, the gifts of the Holy Spirit were almost exclusively manifested among Israelites and Jews. After this, God began indwelling all who would believe in Him with His Spirit. The phrase "all flesh" probably does not mean all individuals, but more likely, representatives from every people group (Rev 5:9-10). Thus, the Spirit would be given regardless of nationality or bloodline. He would also be given regardless of age or gender. Even youth would be able to prophecy, which means speaking for God by teaching, exhortations, oracles, etc. God would reveal Himself to men both in dreams and visions, as God saw fit. If there is significance to why old men might be more likely to have inspired dreams while the younger men would see visions, it is not stated anywhere in Scripture.
29 During this time of spiritual blessings, God would not discriminate based on one's rank or class in society. Jesus' earthly ministry appealing to the poor and oppressed because of this, and it still does today. God's classification scheme is very different from that of humans. Those who are servants have higher status in His kingdom, while those who are served that tend to garner more respect in the earthly realm (Mat 23:11, Luke 9:48).
30 While God's people will experience the blessings He offers, His enemies will be terrified on Judgment Day. This verse invokes memories of the plagues sent down on Egypt when Israel was delivered from there. Water was turned to blood and fire fell from heaven. The columns of smoke probably indicate destroyed cities (e.g., Judg 20:40). Less likely, but possibly, this could suggest that the pillar of cloud and fire that accompanied Israel out of captivity may appear again to protect His people and confound their enemies (Exo 13:21-22 14:19-20, Exo 40:34-35, Exo 20:18). The wonders God will perform before the Last Day will be even more dreadful because of their global nature. Versions of this verse are repeated frequently in the New Testament as signs of the Last Day.

Some have suggested that blood, fire, and smoke refer to large battles on the earth. However, since the verse indicates that God would be invoking these as "wonders," it seems less likely that they are merely the results of wars.

31 The fire and smoke would undoubtedly darken the sky and cause the moon to have a red color, but it is likely that God will supernaturally affect the sun and moon beyond these natural phenomena. Exo 10:22-23 and Mat 27:45 are examples of where God supernaturally cut off the light from the sun.

Joel again reminds his readers that this would immediately precede the Day of the Lord, calling it a great and awesome day. Since it is the day when the whole world will be held accountable for its separation from God and the eternal designation to either heaven or hell for every person will be pronounced, it will indeed be either indescribably joyful or terrifying to each individual who ever lived.

32 On the Day of the Lord, those who call on His Name, Jehovah, which is to recognize that He Is, trust Him, depend on Him, and worship Him as who He has revealed Himself to be, will be delivered. This deliverance is both spiritual and physical. Spiritually, believers will not suffer eternal separation from God because He has graciously forgiven us through the sacrificial death of Jesus. Because we are born with a sinful nature, separated from God, we would be doomed to such an end if God had not allowed the Christ to take this punishment for us to satisfy His justice. Physically, the faithful will be delivered from death, being resurrected as Jesus was. God has promised this, and it will happen.

This verse speaks specifically to those Jews who manage to survive the Tribulation, which are the few years of extreme trials that precede Judgment Day. It is not exactly clear what is meant by "escape" for them. It could refer to the a few believers managing to survive in Jerusalem right up to the Last Day, despite the terrible hardships. They will certainly benefit spiritually and physically as described above. It may be possible that those believers who survive the Tribulation will have a physical translation from their mortal to immortal bodies similar to the general resurrection that Paul mentions in 1 Cor 15:51-52. In this way, they would "escape" experiencing physical death.

Peter uses this verse in Acts 2:21 to indicate salvation for the Jews, and Paul uses it in reference to Gentiles as well (Rom 10:13). In both cases, they are not speaking of the precise fulfillment of this verse, but rather its general application.