Bible Studies in the Book of Joel

Joel Chapter 1: Locusts, destruction, near and far.

 

By I Gordon

 

Introduction

Have you read the book of Joel lately? It is a small book of only 3 chapters but it certainly packs a powerful punch! It is generally recognised that the prophet Joel was the first to speak of ‘the day of the Lord’[1]. We’ll get onto what that means as we go through the study but let me just add here that as the first mention in scripture of that ‘day’, Joel gives startling insight into a time that could well happen in our lifetime. There are a lot of prophetic revelations in this book so it is worth reading, thinking, and studying. But I don’t want to limit this study just to the prophetic. I also want to add a ‘personal/practical’ thought when appropriate. And possibly even sometimes when not so appropriate! Let’s begin.   

 

‘Well, you should have seen what it was like in my day...’

 

Joel 1:1-3 the word of the LORD that came to Joel son of Pethuel.  (2)  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?  (3)  Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation. 

 

Who was Joel? Basically we do not know much about him. His name means ‘Jehovah is God ‘ and we find out here that he was the son of Pethuel - which only really leads to the next question so, who was Pethuel?’ In short, scholars don’t have any further concrete information on the prophet or his father but it doesn’t matter as the book of Joel is not about ‘Joel’ himself. It is about the wonderful God-given revelation contained in his book. (Please see the following footnote for information concerning the date and times in which Joel ministered).[2]

 

Now the book doesn’t dilly-dally... It gets into it right from the get-go. We see a question posed to the elders of Israel right from the start which is ‘Has anything like this happened ever before?’ You see, Joel was going to describe an event that was totally unique. Normally if an event is described then the fathers or grandfathers could chime in with ‘well, Sonny, yes it seems bad but let me tell you what it was like in my day...’ But that wasn’t happening here for the event that Joel was about to describe had no historical comparison. But it was one that should be taught to the children and then their children so that all future generations would remember it.

 

Prophetic Application:

Straight away this passage should remind us of a future coming day of tribulation that will also be unique. Daniel spoke of it and said ‘At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.’ (Dan 12:1). The prophet Jeremiah spoke of it saying ‘How awful that day will be! None will be like it. It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it.’ (Jer. 30:7) The Lord Jesus spoke of this same time period at the end of the age saying For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now-- and never to be equaled again.’ (Matt 24:21).

 

Personal/Practical Application:    

While the church won’t experience the wrath of God, that is not to say that the days leading up to it are going to be easy either. So how is your walk with the Lord? Speaking of the end times, the Lord Jesus said because of the increase of wickedness, the love[3] of most will grow cold.’ (Matt 24:12) Has your love of the Lord waned? If so, how could that be reversed? If we are honest then we would need to admit that it can (and does) happen to all of us. It specifically happened to a very notable church in the first century. Here is what Jesus said to them:

Rev 2:4-5 yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

 

So here is the answer as to how apathy and a forsaken first love can be reversed: Repent and do the things you did at first. So let me ask you – What were the things that you did at first (after getting saved when your relationship with Jesus was young and new)? Do you still do them or has something waned? What would need to change in your life to again do the ‘first things’?  

 

Total devastation coming...

 

Joel 1:4 what the gnawing locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten; and what the swarming locust has left, the creeping locust has eaten; and what the creeping locust has left, the stripping locust has eaten. (NASB)

 

Here is the unprecedented event that Joel said was coming: There would be four phases of locusts that would totally devastate the land of Israel.[4] These were literal locusts and as we shall see, all aspects of society would be affected by this plague. But here is an interesting thing; as you move on in the book of Joel, it becomes clear that these literal plagues of locusts are a type[5] of a future devastation that would come upon both Israel and the world.

 

Prophetic Application: So what could these locusts be illustrating in Bible prophecy? The four phases of locust devastation upon the land of Israel also speaks of the four world empires that would dominate Israel during the ‘times of the gentiles’. These are of course Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome.[6] It is also interesting that Revelation speaks of four phases of devastation that will come upon the earth in the last days with the breaking of the seal judgments and the releasing of the ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse’. (Rev 6:1-8). The devastation left in the wake of these four horsemen is immense! Speaking of the last of the horsemen alone, we read:

 

Rev 6:8 I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.

 

The required response of the people

 

Joel 1:5-12  Wake up, you drunkards, and weep! Wail, all you drinkers of wine; wail because of the new wine, for it has been snatched from your lips.  (6)  A nation has invaded my land, powerful and without number; it has the teeth of a lion, the fangs of a lioness.  (7)  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. (8)  Mourn like a virgin in sackcloth grieving for the husband of her youth.  (9)  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.  (10)  The fields are ruined, the ground is dried up; the grain is destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails.  (11)  Despair, you farmers, wail, you vine growers; grieve for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field is destroyed.  (12)  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. 

 

The prophet Joel doesn’t sugar coat what he saw but tells it as it is. All areas of society will be affected by the devastation caused by the locust invasion. The grieving in Judah will be great. All parts of their harvest will be destroyed. The drunkards are told to wake up and weep. The entire nation, including the priests, is told to mourn. Nothing has been left in the aftermath of the locusts. The fields, the ground, the grain, the new wine, the wheat and barley, the vine and all the fruiting trees... all destroyed. Due to the destruction and coming famine, the passage ends with the grim reality of ‘surely the joy of mankind is withered away.’  

Prophetic Application: I mentioned earlier about the future ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse’. The third horsemen riding a black horse brings similar famine.

 

Rev 6:5-6 When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, "Come." I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand.  (6)  And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, "A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine."

 

The pair of scales in his hand denotes the need to measure and ration the food. A ‘denarius’ was the normal wage for a day’s work and a quart of wheat was what was need to sustain one person for a day. Hence, famine will be associated with the coming day of the Lord where a person will work all day just to have enough to buy food for one person for that one day alone. Notice also that it does say not to damage the oil and wine which could be indicating that there will still be the luxuries available to the rich. Though we shouldn’t think that the rich and mighty will be exempt from the seal judgments for we see in the 6th seal that ‘the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb’ (Rev 6:15-16)    

 

Personal/Practical Application: Would your faith still be strong if your current prosperity was taken away from you? It is a valid question because it could easily happen in this unpredictable world. Large parts of the world have been ‘printing money’ to cope with the financial crises that began in 2008. Some predict that this will in itself produce an even greater ‘financial bubble’ that will one day crash. Many countries in the world are currently experiencing war and devastation. So how strong is your foundation? Does your joy consist in the ‘things’ that you have or is it founded in a deeper reality due to your relationship with the living God? You will also note that the call that goes out in Joel is to ‘awake!’ We need to be alert and sober concerning the times in which we live! It is easy to fall asleep when prosperity abounds. We need to be careful in the last days as Jesus said: ‘Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.  (35)  For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.  (36) Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man." (Luke 21:34-36)

 

Times when God becomes popular… (For a while)

 

Joel 1:13-14  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.  (14)  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. 

 

Here we see Joel speaking firstly to the priests of Israel to come before God in humility and repentance[7]. They are then to call an assembly with not only the elders but all who live in the land so they will come to the house of the Lord and cry out to God[8]. This does happen during difficult times but it is still a sad fact that for many within our society it literally takes some type of disaster before they are ready or willing to seek God.[9] 

 

Prophetic Application: This will happen again in the last days for both Israel and the nations. It is good to remember that the purpose of the coming tribulation is not just to judge sinners (though that is part of it – Isa 13:11-12) but also to bring about a tremendous salvation from all tribes and nations (as seen in the great multitude of people that no one could count coming out of the Great Tribulation in Revelation 7:9-17). The coming tribulation at the end of this age will push all those who currently sit on the fence, one way or the other – either towards the Lord or towards the Antichrist. A choice will have to be made!

 

The day of the Lord

 

Joel 1:15-20  Alas for that day! For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty.  (16)  Has not the food been cut off before our very eyes-- joy and gladness from the house of our God?  (17)  The seeds are shriveled beneath the clods. The storehouses are in ruins, the granaries have been broken down, for the grain has dried up.  (18)  How the cattle moan! The herds mill about because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep are suffering.  (19)  To you, O LORD, I call, for fire has devoured the open pastures and flames have burned up all the trees of the field.  (20)  Even the wild animals pant for you; the streams of water have dried up and fire has devoured the open pastures.

 

Here we see again that this locust invasion is pointing to something greater – the future Day of the Lord. From this passage alone we see that it will dramatically affect people, herds and flocks, pastures, trees, streams, seeds and harvests. Joel was the first prophet to use this term so it is important to see how it is defined. Joel uses the phrase 5 times (1:15, 2:1, 2:11, 2:31, and 3:14). Some descriptions include:
Destruction from the Almighty’ (Joel 1:15)

A day of darkness and gloom’ (Joel 2:2)

‘The day of The Lord is great and very awesome. Who can endure it?’ (Joel 2:11)

 

In a general sense, the ‘Day of the Lord’ can be defined as ‘God’s special interventions into the course of world events to judge His enemies, accomplish His purpose for history, and thereby demonstrate who He is—the sovereign God of the universe[10]. There have been specific instances of this in the past. Two examples would be God’s use of Assyria to judge Israel in the 700’s BC (Amos 5:18-20) and His use of Babylon to judge Judah in 600’s and 500’s BC (Ezek 7:19, 13:5). But the final and ultimate fulfillment of the ‘Day of the Lord’ still awaits the end of this age where God has set aside a 7 year period in which He will judge this world. We’ll talk more about this period of time as we move into Joel chapter 2.

 

Personal / Practical Application: It is useful to remember that the church is NOT appointed to this coming time of God’s wrath upon the earth. (1 Thess. 1:10, 5:9). The Day of the Lord is a day of darkness as we have seen above. But, as Paul says ‘You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.’ (1 Thess. 5:5) So we will not experience this time of wrath and darkness but as sons of the day and sons of the light, we should be careful to live as such as we see this time of darkness approaching. Paul uses this fact to motivate the Christians of his day saying:

 

1Th 5:8-9 but since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.  (9)  For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

The age in which we currently live is not ‘the day of the Lord’. It is the ‘day of salvation’ (2 Cor. 6:2). But we can use the signs of the coming darkness in our evangelism to help lead those from the darkness and into the light.[11]

 

Conclusion

 

Joel prophesied about a coming day that would bring devastation to Israel through a locust invasion. All areas on society would be affected by this unique event. It would be a time that had no comparisons in Judah’s history. As bad as that sounds, it was however only a glimpse of a coming future period that will play out in the last days. It is this future ‘day of the Lord’ that Joel goes on to describe in some detail in chapters two and three and it is that we will be examining in the next two studies. 

 
 

Bible Studies in the Joel Series


Book of Joel Bible Study Chapter 1 - Locusts, destruction, near and far
Book of Joel Bible Study Chapter 2 - The Day of the Lord
Book of Joel Bible Study Chapter 3 - The judgement of the nations

Related Studies

Book of Habakkuk Bible Study Chapter 1 - God is moving and judgment is coming
Book of Habakkuk Bible Study Chapter 2 - The five woes against society
Book of Habakkuk Bible Study Chapter 3 - The coming deliverer
 




[1] The Believers Bible Commentary quotes Montague S. Mills who writes:

"Joel was probably the first of the so called writing prophets; so this book provides a valuable insight into the history of prophecy, particularly as it furnishes a framework for the end times which is faithfully followed by all subsequent Scripture. God started a new work with the writing of Joel that of preparing the human race for the end of this temporal era, and thus gave an outline of His total plan. Later prophets, including even our Lord, would only flesh out this outline, but in keeping with the divine nature of true Scripture, never found it necessary to deviate from this, the initial revelation."

 

[2] For some information concerning the date and times, the Believers Bible Commentary states:

‘Dates as varied as the tenth century to the fifth century B.C. have been suggested. Joel's position in the "Book of the Twelve," as the Jews call the Minor Prophets, indicates that Jewish tradition considered Joel to be an early book. Its style fits the earlier classical period better than the post-exilic era of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The fact that no king is mentioned may be due to the book having been written when Jehoiada the high priest was regent (in the boyhood years of Joash, who reigned between 835–796 B.C.). Also, Judah's enemies are the Phoenicians and Philistines (Joe 3:4) as well as the Egyptians and Edomites (Joel3:19), not her later foes—the Syrians, Assyrians, and Babylonians… If we accept the early date, Joel spoke to the nation of Judah from the reign of Joash to that of Ahaz. This would make him the earliest of the writing prophets.’

 

David Guzik writes:
The prophet Joel spoke to the southern kingdom of Judah, and makes no reference to the northern kingdom of Israel.  It's hard to pin down his exact time, because he doesn't mention any other kings or prophets. Many scholars date the book of Joel to 835 b.c.... 835 b.c. was a time of turmoil and transition in Judah, at the end of the reign of the Queen Mother Athaliah and the beginning of the reign of King Joash. Athaliah seized power at the sudden death in battle of her son Ahaziah, who only reigned one year (2Ki 8:26, 2K 11:1). Athaliah killed all her son's heirs, except for one who was hidden in the temple and escaped - one-year-old Josiah (2Ki 1:3). Her six-year reign of terror ended in 835 B.C. when the High Priest Jehoiada overthrew Athaliah and set the seven-year-old Josiah on the throne (2Ki 1:4-21). During her six years as queen over Judah, Athaliah reigned wickedly. She was the granddaughter of a wicked king of Israel - making her the daughter or niece to Ahab, one of Israel's worst kings (2Ki 8:26). Athaliah raised her son Ahaziah to reign in the wicked pattern of Ahab, and even brought in Ahab's counsellors to advise him (2Ch 22:2-4). When Ahaziah was killed in battle and she seized power, and set her other sons to do evil, even desecrating the temple and its sacred things (2Ch 24:7). If we are accurate in thinking that Joel prophesied in 835 B.C. then the judgment he described came toward the end of the six-year reign of ungodliness under Queen Athaliah. No wonder God brought a heavy hand on Judah!

 

 

 

[3] It should be noted that this doesn’t mean that people won’t have love in the last days. No, no, no! They will still love. In a separate passage speaking of the last days it specifically mentions the love of people at this time, multiple times. So that’s good aye? Let me quote the verse and highlight the abundant love that people will have then:

 

2Ti 3:1-5 but mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  (2)  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  (3)  without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,  (4)  treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God--  (5)  having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

 

[4] To explain how devastating this came to be, David Guzik writes: ‘In 1915 a devastating plague of locusts covered what is modern-day Israel and Syria. The first swarms came in March, in clouds so thick they blocked out the sun. The female locusts immediately began to lay eggs, 100 at a time. Witnesses say that in one square yard, there were as many as 65,000 to 75,000 eggs. In a few weeks they hatched, and the young locusts resembled large ants. They couldn't fly yet, and got along by hopping. They marched along 400 to 600 feet a day, devouring every speck of vegetation along the way. After two more stages of molting they became adults who could fly - and the devastation continued.’

 

[5] And it can have more than one repeated fulfilment before an ultimate final fulfilment. There is a Jewish method of interpreting the Bible called ‘Midrash’ by which they would look for repeated patterns of an event to help illuminate its truth. These repeated patterns would be played out over history before an ultimate fulfilment. For more information on this have a read here: http://www.moriel.org/articles/sermons/midrash.htm  The locust devastation in Joel can be viewed in this way. The same pattern can be seen in multiple events but its ultimate fulfilment awaits the final battle when Jesus returns as we shall see!  

 

[6] Arno Gaebelein in ‘The Annotated Bible’ writes concerning this: ‘But these literal locusts, which fell literally upon the land and destroyed in a short time all vegetation, are symbolic of other agencies which were to be used later in Israel’s history to bring judgment upon the land and the people. They are typical of Gentile armies, as stated in the second chapter, where the Lord calls them “My great army.” Here is unquestionably a prophetic forecast as to the future of the land. From Daniel’s prophecy we learn twice that four world powers should subjugate Israel and prey upon the land: Babylonia, Medo-Persia, Greco-Macedonia and Rome. Zechariah, also, in one of his night visions, beheld four horns, and these four horns scattered Judah and Jerusalem. We see, therefore, in the locusts, first, the literal locusts which destroyed everything in vegetation at the time Joel lived, and these locusts are symbolical of future judgments executed upon the land and the nations by the prophetically announced world powers. At the close of the “times of the Gentiles,” during which Jerusalem is trodden down, the final invasion of the land takes place; it is this which is described in the second chapter.

[7] You might recall that at the dedication of the temple, Solomon prayed (even mentioning locusts) saying:

1Ki 8:37-39 ‘when famine or plague comes to the land, or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when an enemy besieges them in any of their cities, whatever disaster or disease may come, and when a prayer or plea is made by any of your people Israel--each one aware of the afflictions of his own heart, and spreading out his hands toward this temple--   then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act; deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of all men.’

 

And how did God respond to this?
2Ch 7:12-14 the LORD appeared to him at night and said: "I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

 

God ALWAYS listens to a repentant heart but will oppose a proud willful person or nation. 

 

[8] Can you imagine the current leader of your nation declaring that the nation needs to repent before God and seek Him because they have become too self-sufficient and proud? Would your leader proclaim that the nation should have a national day of humiliation, fasting and prayer because of its pride? Can you see your leader doing that? I recently came across this speech by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. As you read his great address you can’t help notice how times have changed! Here is a portion of the declaration and the full script can be found here: http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/fast.htm 

 

“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behoves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

 

[9] My mother was a small child living in England during WWII. The churches were packed! Nearly everyone would go to church and call on God’s mercy and protection during this time. After 9/11, the churches in the US saw a dramatic increase in their numbers as people again sought God. But oh the human heart that is so quick to forget its maker!

[10] This definition is taken from Dr Renald Showers excellent book ‘Maranatha – Our Lord, Come!’ I have benefited greatly from this book and will probably quote it quite extensively in this study especially concerning ‘the Day of the Lord’. If you are interested in the rapture and Bible prophecy then I would definitely recommend this book.

 

[11] A useful resource to help you do this (which I have mentioned before) is ‘The Daniel Project’. I have used this with non-Christians and I have not yet had anyone come back with a negative reaction. It has helped open discussions concerning the Lord, the state of the world and salvation. Check it out here: http://www.thedanielprojectmovie.com/