Coming soon, swarming invaders
God’s message to Joel1The LORD gave this message to Joel,who was the son of Pethuel.
Bad news ahead2
Listen to me you leaders of the land.
Citizens, you need to listen, too.
Something new is going to happen.
You’ve not seen anything like this.
Neither have your ancestors.
Your children will tell their children.
And their children will pass it on.
4Whatever crops the cutting locusts leave,
Swarming locusts will shred.
Whatever they leave, hopping locusts will enjoy,
And whatever they leave, destroying locusts will finish.
5Wake up you drunks.
Wake up to cry your eyes out.
Your wine supply has dried up.
That smooth, sweet wine is gone.
6An enemy nation has invaded my country.
Their army is strong,
With too many soldiers to count.
They can tear you up like teeth of a lion,
Like fangs of a mean momma lioness.
7Their army destroyed my vineyards.
They killed my fig trees,
Stripping the bark and throwing it away.
Branches are white and dying.
Go ahead and cry8
Cry like a virgin with a dead fiancé.
Dead before they had a chance to get married.
Grain is gone, and grain offerings with them.
Wine is gone, and the drink offerings, too.
Priests weep for that lost tradition.
Ministers cry at the end of an era.
10Fields lay empty.
Lonely ground mourns.
Grain is pillaged.
Olive oil jars dry as bone.
11It’s time for farmers to feel the pain.
Sob, if you work in the vineyards.
Cry over wheat and barley,
For crops in the fields are ruined.
Fig trees droop.
Fruit is dried up, dead, and gone:
Pomegranate, palm figs, apple.
Joy of the people has dried up, too.
Time to dress in sackcloth13
Priests, it’s time to mourn and dress in sackcloth.
It’s crying time, you ministers at the sacrificial altar.
Spend the night in sackcloth, ministers of God.
You’ll get no offerings of grain and wine.
Call a meeting.
Assemble your citizens and their leaders.
Meet at the LORD’s House
And cry out for help.
15Sorry to say, the Day of the LORD is almost here.
Sorry to say, it’ll be the LORD’s Day of Destruction.
16There’s no more food.
We can see that with our own eyes.
And there’s no more happiness
In worship at the House of our God.
17Seeds have died
Under dried clods of dirt.
Granaries lay empty,
Barns busted to ruins.
There’s no grain to store, anyhow.
18Hungry cattle groan.
Herds wander, confused.
They can’t find a pasture to graze.
Flocks of sheep stand and stare
At fields of nothing to eat.
19LORD, I’m asking for your help.
This devastation is a consuming fire.
Pastures have burned in the flames.
Trees have disappeared from the countryside.
20Even the animals cry out to you.
For rivers and streams now run dry
And grazing fields are gone
All the way to the badland deserts.
It’s uncertain when and where to place Joel into history. Many scholars seem to prefer a century long after the Assyrian invasion and destruction of 722 BC and the Babylonian devastation of Jerusalem and the nation of Judah in 586 BC. They place the writer deep into Persian times, in the 400s-300s BC. Other students of the Bible place him much earlier, when the Jewish nations of Israel and Judah still had kings.
Joel doesn’t identify what land he’s talking about. It could be the southern Jewish nation of Judah, since he mentions its capital city of Jerusalem half a dozen times, starting in 2:32. But he also mentions the northern Jewish nation of Israel (2:27; 3:16). But this could be a generic reference to all Jewish people everywhere.
There are four kinds of locusts here. Some Bible scholars say they represent different animals, such as the caterpillar, as the cutting locust. Others suggest the four types of locusts represent different stages in a locust’s life, such as the nymph as the hopping locusts, since nymph’s do hop. Still others say the four kinds of locusts represent the four major empires that fed on Israel: Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome. Whatever theory may be right, this isn’t a lesson about locusts. It’s about Joel’s land being destroyed by invaders.
Sackcloth is a rough fabric like burlap feed sacks. It was made from goat hair and camel hair. Farmers and their customers used those sacks to store grain. People in Bible times dressed in rough clothes as an expression of mourning or sadness. Our version in the Western world is to wear stylish clothes and makeup. We often dress in black clothes or an armband. But nothing raggy.
Priests got most of the grain and wine offerings as part of their salary. They could use it or trade it for other goods or services. Priests also got parts of most other offerings and sacrifices (Leviticus 7). Burnt offerings were the exception. That entire animal was burned on the altar.
Bible writers talk about a “day of the LORD” or “on that day” or “day of visitation” or “there’s a time coming.” It’s a day that can go in one of two directions. It can be a good day—a day God comes to save his people. It’s something to look forward to. Some scholars trace the idea back to what happened when God came to Egypt and with 10 plagues, he freed the Israelites. But it can also be a fearful day to people at odds with God. To them, it is Judgment Day. But to people on good terms with God, his arrival for Judgment Day or any other reason is welcome. The prophet Joel describes it in graphic terms as a terrible day when invaders destroy sinful Jerusalem (Joel 1:15; 2:11). Obadiah uses the phrase that way as well. But to God’s people, the “day” is the day of salvation (Joel 2:32).
The writer might not mean a literal fire. It might be a symbol of God’s punishment. Sometimes God himself is described in the glowing terms of fire, for better or worse. For worse, God says, “I’m blazing with anger. This fire will burn to the bottom of the grave. Crops will die, seared to nothing, Mountain foothills consumed in flames” (Deuteronomy 32:22).
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