The word of the LORD that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lament like a virgin wearing sackcloth
for the bridegroom of her youth.
The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off
from the house of the LORD.
The priests mourn,
the ministers of the LORD.
The fields are destroyed,
the ground mourns,
because the grain is destroyed,
the wine dries up,
the oil languishes.
Be ashamed, O tillers of the soil;
wail, O vinedressers,
for the wheat and the barley,
because the harvest of the field has perished.
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.
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.
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.
Alas for the day!
For the day of the LORD is near,
and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.
Is not the food cut off
before our eyes,
joy and gladness
from the house of our God?
The seed shrivels under the clods;
the storehouses are desolate;
the granaries are torn down
because the grain has dried up.
How the beasts groan!
The herds of cattle are perplexed
because there is no pasture for them;
even the flocks of sheep suffer.
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.
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 1 ESV)
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
Deliver me, O LORD, from evil men;
preserve me from violent men,
who plan evil things in their heart
and stir up wars continually.
They make their tongue sharp as a serpent's,
and under their lips is the venom of asps. Selah
Guard me, O LORD, from the hands of the wicked;
preserve me from violent men,
who have planned to trip up my feet.
The arrogant have hidden a trap for me,
and with cords they have spread a net;
beside the way they have set snares for me. Selah
I say to the LORD, You are my God;
give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy, O LORD!
O LORD, my Lord, the strength of my salvation,
you have covered my head in the day of battle.
Grant not, O LORD, the desires of the wicked;
do not further their evil plot, or they will be exalted! Selah
As for the head of those who surround me,
let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them!
Let burning coals fall upon them!
Let them be cast into fire,
into miry pits, no more to rise!
Let not the slanderer be established in the land;
let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!
I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted,
and will execute justice for the needy.
Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name;
the upright shall dwell in your presence.
(Psalm 140 ESV)
A Psalm of David.
O LORD, I call upon you; hasten to me!
Give ear to my voice when I call to you!
Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!
Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth;
keep watch over the door of my lips!
Do not let my heart incline to any evil,
to busy myself with wicked deeds
in company with men who work iniquity,
and let me not eat of their delicacies!
Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness;
let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head;
let my head not refuse it.
Yet my prayer is continually against their evil deeds.
When their judges are thrown over the cliff,
then they shall hear my words, for they are pleasant.
As when one plows and breaks up the earth,
so shall our bones be scattered at the mouth of Sheol.
But my eyes are toward you, O GOD, my Lord;
in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless!
Keep me from the trap that they have laid for me
and from the snares of evildoers!
Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
while I pass by safely.
(Psalm 141 ESV)
For the Love of God
THE PROPHECY OF JOEL IS anomalous on several grounds. Most canonical Old Testament prophecies are introduced by prophets who identify the period of their ministry with reference to the reigns of kings (e.g., Hosea 1:1). Joel does nothing of the kind. Nor do we have any idea who his father Pethuel is. Estimates of the date of composition of the book vary from the ninth century B.C. to the second century B.C. Clearly the temple is in operation (e.g., 1:13), but it is uncertain whether this is the first temple (built in Solomon’s reign) or the temple built after the exile.
In some ways this open-endedness is an advantage. While we lose the specificity that characterizes much Old Testament prophetic writing, we gain in a kind of timeless feel that perhaps makes application easier. Almost certainly what precipitated the crisis was a plague of locusts (though some think of the locusts as symbols for a mighty army). That experience has become the template the prophet uses to call the people to repentance in the light of judgment both past and portending. It is also the background for some of the most stirring prophecies of the future, fulfilled in the coming of the Gospel, found in all of the Old Testament canon (see especially tomorrow’s meditation).
The locust plague pictured in Joel 1 is a phenomenon well known in some parts of the world today. Once locusts have swarmed, they are almost impossible to stop. Really terrible plagues of locusts were recognized for what they were: the judgment of God. That is why Solomon in his prayer at the dedication of the temple includes the possibility that God would chasten his people with locusts — and he prescribes what to do about it (1 Kings 8:37). Joel is doing it. He invites the priests especially (“you who minister before the altar,” 1:13) to put on sackcloth, mourn, and declare a holy fast, calling a sacred assembly, summoning the elders to the temple to cry out to the Lord (1:13-14). Joel himself ends the chapter with the cry, “To you, O LORD, I call” (1:19).
This is a good place to reflect for a moment on how we should think about disasters. We should not adopt the stance of fatalists. If we can stop locusts today (satellites can sometimes spot incipient swarms that are then stopped by trucks with pesticides), then we should do so — in exactly the same way that we should try to stop war, plague, AIDS, famine, and other disasters. But in a theistic world where God is sovereign, we must also hear the summoning judgment of God calling his image-bearers to renounce sin’s selfism and cry to him for mercy.