J O E L.
This chapter is the description of a lamentable devastation made of the country of Judah by locusts and caterpillars. Some think that the prophet speaks of it as a thing to come and gives warning of it beforehand, as usually the prophets did of judgments coming. Others think that it was now present, and that his business was to affect the people with it and awaken them by it to repentance. I. It is spoken of as a judgment which there was no precedent of in former ages, ver. 1-7. II. All sorts of people sharing in the calamity are called upon to lament it, ver. 8-13. III. They are directed to look up to God in their lamentations, and to humble themselves before him, ver. 14-20.
B. C. 720.
1 The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel. 2 Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers? 3 Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation. 4 That which the palmer-worm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the canker-worm eaten; and that which the canker-worm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten. 5 Awake, ye drunkards, and weep; and howl, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the new wine; for it is cut off from your mouth. 6 For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek teeth of a great lion. 7 He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white.
It is a foolish fancy which some of the Jews have, that this Joel the prophet was the same with that Joel who was the son of Samuel (1 Sam. viii. 2); yet one of their rabbin very gravely undertakes to show why Samuel is here called Pethuel. This Joel was long after that. He here speaks of a sad and sore judgment which was now brought, or to be brought, upon Judah, for their sins. Observe,
I. The greatness of the judgment, expressed here in two things:–
1. It was such as could not be paralleled in the ages that were past, in history, or in the memory of any living, v. 2. The old men are appealed to, who could remember what had happened long ago; nay, and all the inhabitants of the land are called on to testify, if they could any of them remember the like. Let them go further than any man’s memory, and prepare themselves for the search of their fathers (Job viii. 8), and they would not find an account of the like in any record. Note, Those that outdo their predecessors in sin may justly expect to fall under greater and sorer judgments than any of their predecessors knew.
2. It was such as would not be forgotten in the ages to come (v. 3): “Tell you your children of it; let them know what dismal tokens of the wrath of God you have been under, that they make take warning, and may learn obedience by the things which you have suffered, for it is designed for warning to them also. Yea, let your children tell their children, and their children another generation; let them tell it not only as a strange thing, which may serve for matter of talk” (as such uncommon accidents are records in our almanacs–It is so long since the plague, and fire–so long since the great frost, and the great wind), “but let them tell it to teach their children to stand in awe of God and of his judgments, and to tremble before him.” Note, We ought to transmit to posterity the memorial of God’s judgments as well as of his mercies.
II. The judgment itself; it is an invasion of the country of Judea by a great army. Many interpreters both ancient and modern understand it of armies of men, the forces of the Assyrians, which, under Sennacherib, took all the defenced cities of Judah, and then, no doubt, made havoc of the country and destroyed the products of it: nay, some make the four sorts of animals here names (v. 4) to signify the four monarchies which, in their turns, were oppressive to the people of the Jews, one destroying what had escaped the fury of the other. Many of the Jewish expositors think it is a parabolic expression of the coming of enemies, and their multitude, to lay all waste. So the Chaldee paraphrast mentions these animals (v. 4); but afterwards (ch. ii. 25) puts instead of them, Nations, peoples, tongues, languages, potentates, and revenging kingdoms. But it seems much rather to be understood literally of armies of insects coming upon the land and eating up the fruits of it. Locusts were one of the plagues of Egypt. Of them it is said, There never were any like them, nor should be (Exod. x. 14), none such as those in Egypt, none such as these in Judah–none like those locusts for bigness, none like these for multitude and the mischief they did. The plague of locusts in Egypt lasted but for a few days; this seems to have continued for four years successively (as some think), because here are four sorts of insects mentioned (v. 4), one destroying what the other left; but others think they came all in one year. We are not told, in the history of the Old Testament, when this happened, but we are sure that no word of God fell to the ground; and, though a devastation by these insects is primarily intended here, yet it is expressed in such a language as is very applicable to the destruction of the country by a foreign enemy invading it, because, if the people were not humbled and reformed by that less judgment which devoured the land, God would send this greater upon them, which would devour the inhabitants; and by the description of that they are bidden to take it for a warning. If this nation of worms do not subdue them, another nation shall come to ruin them. Observe,
1. What these animals are that are sent against them–locusts and caterpillars, palmer-worms and canker-worms, v. 4. We cannot now describe how these differed one from another; they were all little insects, any one of them despicable, and which a man might easily crush with his foot or with his finger; but when they came in vast swarms, or shoals, they were very formidable and ate up all before them. Note, God is Lord of hosts, has all creatures at his command, and, when he pleases, can humble and mortify a proud and rebellious people by the weakest and most contemptible creatures. Man is said to be a worm; and by this it appears that he is less than a worm, for, when God pleases, worms are too hard for him, plunder his country, eat up that for which he laboured, destroy the forage, and cut off the subsistence of a potent nation. The weaker the instrument is that God employs the more is his power magnified.
2. What fury and force they came with. They are here called a nation (v. 6), because they are embodied, and act by consent, and as it were with a common design; for, though the locusts have no king, yet they go forth all of them by bands (Prov. xxx. 27), and it is there mentioned as an instance of their wisdom. It is prudence for those that are weak severally to unite and act jointly. They are strong, for they are without number. The small dust of the balance is light, and easily blown away, but a heap of dust is weighty; so a worm can do little (yet one worm served to destroy Jonah’s gourd), but numbers of them can do wonders. They are said to have teeth of a lion, of a great lion, because of the great and terrible execution they do. Note, Locusts become as lions when they come armed with a divine commission. We read of the locusts out of the bottomless pit, that their teeth were as the teeth of lions, Rev. ix. 8. 3. What mischief they do. They eat up all before them (v. 4); what one leaves the other devours; they destroy not only the grass and corn, but the trees (v. 7): The vine is laid waste. There vermin eat the leaves which should be a shelter to the fruit while it ripens, and so that also perishes and comes to nothing. They eat the very bark of the fig-tree, and so kill it. Thus the fig-tree does not blossom, nor is there fruit in the vine.
III. A call to the drunkards to lament this judgment (v. 5): Awake and weep, all you drinkers of wine. This intimates,
1. That they should suffer very sensibly by this calamity. It should touch them in a tender part; the new wine which they loved so well should be cut off from their mouth. Note, It is just with God to take away those comforts which are abused to luxury and excess, to recover the corn and wine which are prepared for Baal, which are made the food and fuel of a base lust. And to them judgments of that kind are most grievous. The more men place their happiness in the gratification of sense the more pressing temporal afflictions are upon them. The drinkers of water need not to care when the vine was laid waste; they could live as well without it as they had done; it was no trouble to the Nazarites. But the drinkers of wine will weep and howl. The more delights we make necessary to our satisfaction the more we expose ourselves to trouble and disappointment.
2. It intimates that they had been very senseless and stupid under the former tokens of God’s displeasure; and therefore they are here called to awake and weep. Those that will not be roused out of their security by the word of God shall be roused by his rod; those that will not be startled by judgments at a distance shall be themselves arrested by them; and when they are going to partake of the forbidden fruit a prohibition of another nature shall come between the cup and the lip, and cut off the wine from their mouth.
– Matthew Henry Commentary