The Day of the Lord
Joel 1:1-20: The Insect Plague
Introduction to the “Big Five”
In Southern Africa, hunters call the elephant, lion, cape buffalo, rhinoceros and leopard the “Big Five,” as they are the five most dangerous and difficult animals to hunt on foot.
I have named this series on Prophecy the “Big Five,” because the five prophetic writings of Joel, Daniel, Matthew 24, 2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation are together, the five most important in scripture. They not only set the foundation for the understanding of end times prophecy, but when seen together give a wonderful overview of end times prophecy. The five sets of prophecy match the five animals very well:
- The book of Joel is the Cape Buffalo of the group, as a massive buffalo herd stampeding over the land matches the description of Joel’s swarm of locusts, which prophetically point to an army’s devastation march over Israel.
- The Book of Daniel is represented by the rhinoceros, by the prominence of its horn – a symbol of power, strength and authority in scripture, which has a key role in Daniel’s writings.
- The Matthew 24 prophecy is given by Jesus Himself, the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
- 2 Thessalonian 2, like the leopard, is the smallest of the “Big Five,” but also like the leopard it punches well above is weight group, containing extremely important prophecies.
- The “Elephant in the room” is the book of Revelation, the book in the Bible that everyone knows is there, the most dominant prophetic presence, yet few try to read and understand John’s writings.
So, this series will cover these five, very important prophetic writings in the order given above. The “Big Five”, not only cover end times prophecy in detail, but as they overlap, they give great depth to the understanding of Biblical prophecy as well.
Introduction to Joel
The author of the book was the Prophet Joel (Yahweh is God), little is known of him except what is revealed in the book itself – that he was a prophet to the people of Judah and focused a lot on the city of Jerusalem. Joel made several comments on the priests and the temple, indicating a familiarity with the centre of worship in Judah (Joel 1:13–14; 2:14, 17), so most likely he came from Judah and lived in Jerusalem, but as to what his profession was, no one knows. It would be a mistake to identify him as one of the priests because of his familiarity with them, as he does not include himself when mentioning them.
The date of his writing the book is difficult to discern as he does not give any dates, and there is no mention of kings. Scholars believe that the book was written sometime between 835-756 BC, as there is a compelling argument for dating the writing of the book of Joel to a time just after Judah’s only ruling queen, Athaliah (835 BC). Upon her death, she left only her young son, Joash to rule, but because Joash was too young to rule, the priest Jehoida ruled in his place until he came of age. So, if Joel prophesied during this caretaking period, it would make sense that he mentioned no official king. The book of Joel also makes ample mention of nations, such as Phoenicia, Philistia, Egypt, and Edom, that were prominent in the late ninth century BC. All of this points to a date of approximately 835 BC or soon after, making Joel one of the earliest writing prophets, as well as a contemporary of the prophet Elisha.
The theme of Joel is “the Day of the Lord”, and the book gives some of the most striking and specific details in all of scripture regarding “that day”. The phrase “the Day of the Lord,” has reference to the direct intervention by God in the affairs of man.
The prophecy of Joel must be must be seen from the point of Hebraic “Midrash,” specifically “Peshet” and “Pesher” interpretation. The “Peshet” interpretation, is the plain straight forward meaning of the text, the warning of a coming plague of locusts. The “Pesher” interpretation looks at the deeper hidden meaning of the text, which is the warning of the Babylonian army, who will exceed the locust invasion in their destructive march across the Land of Israel. The prophet Joel points to an even deeper revelation, in that the Babylonian army is a pointer to the even greater end times army that comes against Israel during “the Day of the Lord.”
So, the book of Joel has a theme that has a threefold warning for Israel:
- The locust swarm that will devastate the land, was brought on the nation of Israel as a judgement from God, because of the nation’s rebellion against Him.
- The warning of a forthcoming, even greater judgement by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian hordes
- Then finally the Great Tribulation period, which has the Gentile armies of the world gather in the valley of Megiddo.
All three judgements fit under the general description of “the Day of the Lord,” as in each case God is bringing judgement against Israel, and thus involves the direct intervention by God in the affairs of man. However, the true “Day of the Lord,” will be the end time judgment that commences after the rapture with the start of the seven years of Tribulation.
- Day of the Lord (Yom Yahweh): the direct intervention by God in the affairs of man.
- Repentance: That the community would cry out to God in true repentance, and so avoid the impending destruction by the locusts.
- The Lord in their midst: That the people of Israel recognise that God is prominent in the midst of His people, and is a covenant keeping God.
- The promise of the future outpouring of the Holy Spirit: The last theme connects the previous two points. The Holy Spirit outpouring will convict the individual of sin and lead to repentance, and the presence of God will be with His people.
“1 The word of the Lord that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel: An Invasion of Locusts 2 Hear this, you elders; give ear, all inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers? 3 Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children to another generation. 4 What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten. 5 Awake, you drunkards, and weep, and wail, all you drinkers of wine, because of the sweet wine, for it is cut off from your mouth. 6 For a nation has come up against my land, powerful and beyond number; its teeth are lions’ teeth, and it has the fangs of a lioness. 7 It has laid waste my vine and splintered my fig tree; it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down; their branches are made white. 8 Lament like a virgin wearing sackcloth for the bridegroom of her youth. 9 The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of the Lord. The priests mourn, the ministers of the Lord. 10 The fields are destroyed, the ground mourns, because the grain is destroyed, the wine dries up, the oil languishes. 11 Be ashamed, O tillers of the soil; wail, O vinedressers, for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field has perished. 12 The vine dries up; the fig tree languishes. Pomegranate, palm, and apple, all the trees of the field are dried up, and gladness dries up from the children of man. 13 Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests; wail, O ministers of the altar. Go in, pass the night in sackcloth, O ministers of my God! Because grain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God. 14 Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord. 15 Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes. 16 Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God? 17 The seed shrivels under the clods; the storehouses are desolate; the granaries are torn down because the grain has dried up. 18 How the beasts groan! The herds of cattle are perplexed because there is no pasture for them; even the flocks of sheep suffer. 19 To you, O Lord, I call. For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and flame has burned all the trees of the field. 20 Even the beasts of the field pant for you because the water brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness.
- Describes an actual locust infestation.
- Describes an actual locust infestation functioning as a prophetic forerunner.
- Describes a military attack in the terms the metaphor of a locust invasion.
An Invasion of Locusts
“…An Invasion of Locusts. Hear this, you elders; give ear, all inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers? Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children to another generation. What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten” (Joel 1-4).
Insect plagues are common in the Middle East, so the news of a plague of locusts, although of some concern, would be no great surprise to the inhabitants of Judah. This is why Joel starts by shouting out “Hear,” to all in Judah, he wants their attention, for what he has to tell them about the coming plague, is greater than any previous generation has experienced. Although there are over eighty species of locust Joel only mentions four, that will make up the swarm that covers the land.
The locusts are graphically pictured by Joel, as an immense army swarming over the land. Which is a good metaphor to use, as the insects perform very much like an army from those times. They move in a regular order, camping in fields at night, and moving on each morning, driven by the prevailing winds. Just as the armies of the day, the locusts devastate the food supplies of the local farms, which provide the fuel to drive the massive war machine relentlessly on to the next conquest – nothing can stop them. Each successive wave of locusts devouring and consuming everything in their path, until they leave a barren swathe of destruction. The locust swarms have been known to number in the billions, covering 16 kilometres in length, 10 kilometres in width, and to cover distance that would equal flying from Harare in Zimbabwe, to Cape Town in South Africa.
The locusts are symbolic of those invading nations who will come upon Judah, destroying the land as recorded in verses six and seven.
Joel Targets Five Groups
Joel’s message of the Locust plague was directed to five groups residing in the land of Judah:
“Awake, you drunkards, and weep, and wail, all you drinkers of wine, because of the sweet wine, for it is cut off from your mouth” (Joel 1:5).
The first group is drunkards, who are called by Joel to wake from their alcoholic desensitisation, to witness the destruction that will occur to their precious vineyards, and so eliminate their source of alcohol. God angered at the drunken debauchery of the people, strikes at the source of their problem. The symbolism also extends to the awakening of the nation from its sinful detachment from God, which has clouded the mind and dulled the morals, desensitising them from what is right and what is wrong. Like a drunked feeling the effects of the excesses of the night before, the nation was to wake up, to weep and mourn for their immense spiritual loss. There would be no “regmaker” (right maker) tot to alleviate the consequences of living to the excess.
“Lament like a virgin wearing sackcloth for the bridegroom of her youth” (Joel 1:8).
Joel then directed his prophecy to the whole nation, who is depicted as a virgin who loses her husband on her wedding night, and must exchange her wedding finery for coarse, skin chaffing sackcloth, to mourn her loss. The nation of Israel exempted young men from military service for two years after their wedding. The reason being, that for a bride to lose her husband early in their marriage, was as one of the greatest losses a person could experience in the Jewish culture. Here, Joel depicts the depth of the tragedy by stating that it occurred on the very night of the bride’s wedding. Joel is encouraging the people of Judah to emulate the city of Nineveh, after the prophecy of destruction by Jonah, they were to mourn their sin in sackcloth and ashes, repenting of their rebellion.
“Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests; wail, O ministers of the altar. Go in, pass the night in sackcloth, O ministers of my God! Because grain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God” (Joel 1:13).
The third call for mourning by Joel was for the priests and ministers because, “the grain offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of the Lord”. The devastation by the locusts meant that the priests would not be able to perform the Temple duties, of grain and drink offerings. Also, the Levites were the only tribe not to be allocated land when Israel moved into the promised land, being allocated cities within the 12 tribes. They were therefore dependant on the ministry of the Temple for provisions, with the devastation of the plague of locusts there would be no grain, or new wine offerings for them to rely upon.
“Be ashamed, O tillers of the soil; wail, O vinedressers, for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field has perished” (Joel 1:11).
The fourth group of mourners were the farmers, who would be distraught (ashamed), at the sight of the destruction of their fields, their strength would be drained from them, they would be utterly devastated. The wheat and barley they depended upon for their livelihood, would have disappeared under a seething mass of locusts.
“The vine dries up; the fig tree languishes. Pomegranate, palm, and apple, all the trees of the field are dried up, and gladness dries up from the children of man” (Joel 1:12).
The last group, are the vinedressers, who weep and wail at the devastation the plague has brought on their crops. In Biblical Israel, trees equalled food – olive tree, fig trees, fruit trees, almond trees, pomegranate trees and vines. Not only is there the loss of the crop because the trees have been stripped bare, but also the labourers would not be able to earn a living in the fields – there was nothing to harvest.
Joel uses words such as “cut off” (v. 9), “destroyed” (v. 10), “perished” (v. 11), “dried up” and “languishes” (v. 12), to express the complete and utter devastation that the locust swarms will cause. This was going to be more than a poor harvest, this was going to be a complete desolation of the land. However, the solution to the problem was recorded in verse 13:
“Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests; wail, O ministers of the altar. Go in, pass the night in sackcloth, O ministers of my God!”
The spiritual leaders were required to bring an offering of true repentance before the Lord. They were to dress themselves in sackcloth as a symbol of their true sorrow for their sin, they were then required to spend the night in deep repentant prays, crying out to God for forgiveness. They were to be an example to the people and lead the nation in a solemn assembly.
The city of Nineveh was an excellent example of the success of this method. The Ninevites were idol worshippers, and a brutal people who ruled with an iron fist over the people they conquered. Yet, because they dressed in sackcloth, repented of their sin, and heeded Johan’s warning, God spared them.
Day of the Lord
“Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes” (Joel 1:15).
The phrase “Day of the Lord” is used four times in Joel (1:15; 2:11; 2:31; 3:14) and as was recorded in the introduction, means – the direct intervention by God in the affairs of man. However, a more detailed definition of the phrase requires us to recognize that the day has two sides to its nature – dark and light. Sometimes one side is prominent, sometimes the other. If “the Day of the Lord” is ultimately a demonstration of God’s sovereign rule, we would expect to see both wrath and blessing during “That Day”.
“The Day of the Lord” is clearly characterized by a pouring out of divine wrath on God’s enemies (Joel 3:9-16; Amos 5:18-20; Zech. 14:1-3). Imagery of natural disaster, devastating military conquest, and supernatural calamity is connected to “Day of the Lord” references.
On the other hand, the day is also characterized by a pouring out of divine blessing upon God’s people (Isa 4:2-6; 30:26; Hos. 2:18-23; Amos 9:11-15; Mic 4:6-8; Zeph. 2:7; Zech. 14:6-9). Thus, while divine judgment is certainly a prominent theme in the “Day of the Lord”, it is only part of the picture.
As was discussed in the introduction, The Peshet is a local judgement that God would bring against the people of Judah though a plague of locusts. Then, the Pesher, is a future day of judgement, when armies, not locusts, would swarm across the land. The plague of Joel’s day is therefore merely a prototype of a far greater “Day of the Lord” that is still in the future. The end times “Day of the Lord,” will cover the time period from the rapture of the Church, through the Tribulation and the Millennial Kingdom to the Great White Throne Judgement.
There is much confusion in the interpretation of the various “days” referred to in scripture, which causes problems with the definition of “the Day of the Lord”, so clarification is required:
Man’s day: This phrase is used in reference to “man’s judgement,” and refers to the time from Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden up to the moment of the rapture. Paul uses it in 1 Corinthians 4:3 when he writes: “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judge of you, or of man’s judgement…” The “man’s judgement,” Paul mentions is “man’s day”, when men have control over human government.
The Day of Christ: This phrase is used six times in scripture (1 Cor. 1:8; 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16). The “Day of Christ” is fulfilled in scripture, when Jesus returns to the clouds in the sky above the earth, and calls His Bride to be with Him for eternity (1 Thess. 4:13-18). The “Day of Christ” is commonly called “the rapture”.
The Day of God: This phrase is mentioned in 2 Peter 3:12, and refers to the time when God cleanses the earth with fire and the creation of the New Heaven and the New Earth. Peter mentions the heavens passing away, the elements melting, the earth being renovated by fire, in the establishment of a new heaven and new earth. The “Day of God” therefore, is the time that God restores the earth and all who dwell on the earth to an eternal state.
The Day of the Lord: Invasion Predicted
- The distinction of the four “days” and the above table is taken from David Levy, The Day of The Lord, The friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. Inc. Bellmawr, New Jersey 08099, 1987. P17.
Drought in the Land (16-20)
“Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God? 17 The seed shrivels under the clods; the storehouses are desolate; the granaries are torn down because the grain has dried up. 18 How the beasts groan! The herds of cattle are perplexed because there is no pasture for them; even the flocks of sheep suffer. 19 To you, O Lord, I call. For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and flame has burned all the trees of the field. 20 Even the beasts of the field pant for you because the water brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness.” (Joel 16-19).
The judgement on Judah, pronounced by Joel, affected every aspect of the nation. Verse 16 records that the food supply would be consumed by the locusts, right before their very eyes. In verse 17 Joel warns that because of the total devastation caused by the locusts and the drought, the granaries normally full with plump seeds of grain, would be torn down because they were empty and had fallen into disrepair. The next two verses reveal how the drought will leave the river beds dry and the unrelenting heat from the sun will scorch the pastures and the trees. The sin of man affects creation, the plants and animals suffer along with the people of Judah, the livestock “groan” as they face a slow torturous death, suffering day after day of burning heat with no food or water. The fall of Adam affected all of creation, Paul writes, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). Only at the return of Jesus to establish His Kingdom will creation be delivered.
The tragedy of Joel’s warning was that the plague of locusts was merely a shadow of the reality that was to come upon the nation of Judah. The nation could suffer through the devastation of the plague and recover, but the judgement that was coming would be far worse. The nation of Judah would lose everything, Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed, plus they would be removed from their land. They would live in a strange land, estranged from the Lord, no longer able to participate in their covenant relationship with Him on the Temple Mount.
The Church needs to pay careful attention to the message of Joel. God is, as He did with Judah, going to hold all of mankind to account. Just as Joel warned of the judgement coming upon Judah, so too must the Church warn of the time of tribulation coming upon the world. Why is the Church so silent on this matter of such great significance for mankind? Satan, through replacement theology, has muddied the waters of prophecy, churches no longer teach prophecy as it is too controversial!
Also, God has continually warned of the Churches’ compromising with the world. Jesus is not going to return for a contaminated bride, she must therefore go through a time of cleansing before He returns. There has to be a line drawn in the sand, that distinguishes the true Church of God, from Satan’s counterfeit bride, the apostate church (2 Thess. 2:3).