In this chapter we have, I. A further description of that terrible desolation which should be made in the land of Judah by the locusts and caterpillars, ver. 1-11. II. A serious call to the people, when they are under this sore judgment, to return and repent, to fast and pray, and to seek unto God for mercy, with directions how to do this aright, ver. 12-17. III. A promise that, upon their repentance, God would remove the judgment, would repair the breaches made upon them by it, and restore unto them plenty of all good things, ver. 18-27. IV. A prediction of the setting up of the kingdom of the Messiah in the world, by the pouring out of the Spirit in the latter days, ver. 28-32. Thus the beginning of this chapter is made terrible with the tokens of God’s wrath, but the latter end of it made comfortable with the assurances of his favour, and it is in the way of repentance that this blessed change is made; so that, though it is only the last paragraph of the chapter that points directly at gospel-times, yet the whole may be improved as a type and figure, representing the curses of the law invading men for their sins, and the comforts of the gospel flowing in to them upon their repentance.
B. C. 720.
1 Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand; 2 A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations. 3 A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them. 4 The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses; and as horsemen, so shall they run. 5 Like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains shall they leap, like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble, as a strong people set in battle array. 6 Before their face the people shall be much pained: all faces shall gather blackness. 7 They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; and they shall march every one on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks: 8 Neither shall one thrust another; they shall walk every one in his path: and when they fall upon the sword, they shall not be wounded. 9 They shall run to and fro in the city; they shall run upon the wall, they shall climb up upon the houses; they shall enter in at the windows like a thief. 10 The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining: 11 And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?
Here we have God contending with his own professing people for their sins and executing upon them the judgment written in the law (Deut. xxviii. 42), The fruit of thy land shall the locust consume, which was one of those diseases of Egypt that God would bring upon them, v. 60.
I. Here is the war proclaimed (v. 1): Blow the trumpet in Zion, either to call the invading army together, and then the trumpet sounds a charge, or rather to give notice to Judah and Jerusalem of the approach of the judgment, that they might prepare to meet their God in the way of his judgments and might endeavor by prayers and tears, the church’s best artillery, to put by the stroke. It was the priests’ business to sound the trumpet (Num. x. 8), both as an appeal to God in the day of their distress and a summons to the people to come together to seek his face. Note, It is the work of ministers to give warning from the word of God of the fatal consequences of sin, and to reveal his wrath from heaven against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. And though it is not the privilege of Zion and Jerusalem to be exempted from the judgments of God, if they provoke him, yet it is their privilege to be warned of them, that they might make their peace with him. Even in the holy mountain the alarm must be sounded, and then it sounds most dreadful, Amos iii. 2. Now, shall a trumpet be blown in the city, in the holy city, and the people not be afraid? Surely they will. Amos iii. 6. Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; they shall be made to tremble by the judgment itself; let them therefore tremble at the alarm of it.
II. Here is a general idea given of the day of battle, which cometh, which is nigh at hand, and there is no avoiding it. It is the day of the Lord, the day of his judgment, in which he will both manifest and magnify himself. It is a day of darkness and gloominess (v. 2), literally so, the swarms of locusts and caterpillars being so large and so thick as to darken the sky (Exod. x. 15), or rather figuratively; it will be a melancholy time, a time of grievous affliction. And it will come as the morning spread upon the mountains; the darkness of this day will come as suddenly as the morning light, as irresistibly, will spread as far, and grow upon them as the morning light.
III. Here is the army drawn up in array (v. 2): They are a great people, and a strong. Any one sees the vast numbers that there shall be of locusts and caterpillars, destroying the land, will say (as we are all apt to be most affected with what is present), “Surely, never was the like before, nor ever will be the like again.” Note, Extraordinary judgments are rare things, and seldom happen, which is an instance of God’s patience. When God had drowned the world once he promised never to do it again. The army is here describe to be,
1. Very bold and daring: They are as horses, as war-horses, that rush into the battle and are not affrighted (Job xxxix. 22); and as horsemen, carried on with martial fire and fury, so they shall run, v. 4. Some of the ancients have observed that the head of a locust is very like, in shape, to the head of a horse.
2. Very loud and noisy–like the noise of chariots, of many chariots, when driven furiously over rough ground, on the tops of the mountains, v. 5. Hence is borrowed part of the description of the locusts which St. John saw rise out of the bottomless pit. Rev. ix. 7, 9, The shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared to the battle; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots, of many horses running to the battle. Historians tell us that the noise made by swarms of locusts in those countries that are infested with them has sometimes been heard six miles off. The noise is likewise compared to that of a roaring fire; it is like the noise of a flame that devours the stubble, which noise is the more terrible because that which it is the indication of is devouring. Note, When God’s judgments are abroad they make a great noise; and it is necessary for the awakening of a secure and stupid world that they should do so.
(3.) They are very regular, and keep ranks in their march; though numerous and greedy of spoil, yet they are as a strong people set in battle array (v. 5): They shall march every one on his ways, straight forward, as if they had been trained up by the discipline of war to keep their post and observe their right-hand man. They shall not break their ranks, nor one thrust another, v. 7, 8. Their number and swiftness shall breed no confusion. See how God can make creatures to act by rule that have no reason to act by, when he designs to serve his own purposes by them. And see how necessary it is that those who are employed in any service for God should observe order, and keep ranks, should diligently go on in their own work and stand in one another’s way.
4. They are very swift; they run like horsemen (v. 4), run like mighty men (v. 7); they run to and fro in the city, and run upon the wall, v. 9. When God sends forth his command on earth his word runs very swiftly, Ps. cxlvii. 15. Angels have wings, and so have locusts, when God makes use of them.
IV. Here is the terrible execution done by this formidable army,
1. In the country, v. 3. View the army in the front, and you will see a fire devouring before them; they consume all as if they breathed fire. View it in the rear, and you will see those that come behind as furious as the foremost: Behind them a flame burns. When they are gone, then it will appear what destruction they have made. Look upon the fields that they have not yet invaded, and they are as the garden of Eden, pleasant to the eye, and full of good fruits; they are the pride and glory of the country. But look upon the fields that they have eaten up and they are as a desolate wilderness; one would not think that these had ever been like the former, and yet so they were perhaps but the day before, or that those should ever be made like these, and yet so they shall be perhaps by to-morrow night; yea, and nothing shall escape them than can possibly be made food for them. Let none be proud of the beauty of their grounds any more than of their bodies, for God can soon change the face of both.
2. In the city. They shall climb the wall (v. 7), they shall run upon the houses, and enter in at the windows like a thief (v. 9); when Egypt was plagued with locusts, they filled Pharaoh’s houses and the houses of his servants, Exod. x. 5, 6. The locusts out of the bottomless pit, Satan’s emissaries, and missionaries of the man of sin, do as these locusts. God’s judgments too, when they come with commission, cannot be kept out with bars and bolts; they will find or force their way.
V. The impressions that should hereby be made upon the people. They shall find it to no purpose to make opposition. These enemies are invulnerable and therefore irresistible: When they fall upon the sword they shall not be wounded, v. 8. And those that cannot be hurt cannot be stopped; and therefore before their faces the people shall be much pained (v. 6), as the merchants are in pain for their trading ships when they hear they are just in the mouth of a squadron of the enemies. “One is in pain for his field, another for his vineyard, and all faces gather blackness,” which denotes the utmost consternation imaginable. Men in fear look pale, but men in despair look black; the whiteness of a sudden fright, when it is settled, turns into blackness. What is the matter of our pride and pleasure God can soon make the matter of our pain. The terror that the country should be in is described (v. 10) by figurative expressions: The earth shall quake and the heavens tremble; even the hearts that seemed undaunted, so firm that nothing would frighten them, as immovable as heaven or earth, shall be seized with astonishment. Or when the inhabitants of the land are made to quake it seems to them as if all about them trembled too. Through the prevalency of their fear, or for want of the supports of life which they used to have, their eye shall wax dim and their sight fail them, so that to them the sun and moon shall seem to be dark, and the stars to withdraw their shining. Note, When God frowns upon men the lights of heaven will be small joy to them; for man, by rebelling against his Creator, has forfeited the benefit of all the creatures. But, though this is to be understood figuratively, there is a day coming when it will be accomplished in the letter, when the heavens shall be rolled together like a scroll, and the earth, and all the works that are therein, shall be burnt up. Particular judgments should awaken us to think of the general judgment.
VI. We are here directed to look up both him who is the commander-in-chief of this formidable army, and that is God himself, v. 11. It is his army; it is his camp. He raised it; he gives it commission; he utters his voice before it, as the general gives orders to his army what to do and makes a speech to animate the soldiers; it is the Lord that gives the word of command to all these animals, which they exactly observe. Some think that with this cloud of locusts God sent terrible thunder, for that is called, The voice of the Lord, and was another of the plagues of Egypt, and this made the heavens and the earth tremble. It is the day of the Lord (as it was called, v. 1), for in this war we are sure he carries the day; it must needs be his, for his camp is great and numerous. Those whom he makes war upon he can, as here, overpower with numbers; and whoever he employs to execute his word, as the minister of his justice, is sure to be made strong and par negotio–equal to what he undertakes; whom God gives commission to he girds with strength for the executing of that commission. And this makes the great day of the Lord very terrible to all those who in that day are to be made the monuments of his justice; for who can abide it? None can escape the arrests of God’s wrath, can make head against the force of it, or bear up under the weight of it, 1 Sam. vi. 20; Ps. lxxvi. 7.
– Matthew Henry Commentary