Friday, December 6, 2019

Joel 1: Nature in Uproar

"What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten" (Joel 1:4).

We don’t know when Joel prophesied. Because it seems that Isaiah quoted Joel, many conservative expositors believe Joel was one of the earliest prophets; but perhaps it was Joel who quoted Isaiah. When Joel referred to Judah and Jerusalem several times, we assume that his prophecy was directed primarily toward Judah, the southern kingdom.

This world is God’s world, and when men sin against Him, God summons the world to rise up against mankind. Beginning with the Garden of Eden, thorns and thistles have been multiplied against sinners. Joel uniquely focused on this theme by describing a horrendous locust plague that had devastated the land. Several kinds of locusts invaded the land in succession. Then followed by a drought, the land became so dry that great fires spread all over the countryside (Joel 1).

The most pointed aspect of this devastation, said Joel, is that it prevented the people from offering sacrifices to God. The locusts ate the grain of the cereal offering and the grapes of the drink offering. Cattle and sheep died in great numbers (Joel 1:9, 13, 18). Thus the people were cut off from the privilege of worshipping God in the manner He had prescribed.

Joel instructed the people to tell their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren about this devastating invasion because it was a foreshadowing of another invasion to come. Joel 2 describes God’s coming to judge the land in the future. On that occasion, He will bring in another locust army to punish the people for their sins. Many commentators believe that the locust imagery of Joel 2 is a symbolic prediction of the Assyrians and Babylonians who would be brought by God to destroy northern Israel and southern Judah respectively. (Joel 2:20 hints that a human army is what the passage really predicts.)

Whether the locusts in Joel 2 are literal or figurative (or both), one thing is clear from the message of Joel. It is summarized by a line from Francis Thompson’s famous poem "The Hound of Heaven." In that poem, the Divine Pursuer tells the fleeing sinner, “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.” If we do not obey God, even His world will rise up against us.

Ours is a culture focused almost exclusively on the present. We too often fail to learn the lessons of the past. Perhaps the greater problem, however, is our failure to prepare future generations for the world they will inherit. Joel knew the importance of teaching future generations about past lessons. Make that your goal, to remind your children of God’s judgments and His blessings in the past that they might be prepared for the future.