THE DAY OF THE LORD: Invading Plague A Bible Study on The Book of Joel Part TwoJoel 2:1-11
Like the keen-eyed Ezekiel, Joel was a watchman over the nation of Judah, The word of warning burned within him as a Jeremiah ready to come forth in prophetic proclamation concerning God’s wrath. Feeling the winds of judgment on the horizon, in pungent prophetic tones, Joel steps up his impassionate plea: “Blow the trumpet in Zion (v. 1.)
THE ALARM SOUNDED
Upon the wails of Jerusalem stood the aiert sentry, always watchful, with trumpet (shofar) in hand, ready to sound the alarm of impending danger. But here the warning is to be sounded from a different platform. The message witi be heralded from “Zion,” the “holy mountain” (v, 1), which has reference to Mount Moriah, where Solomon’s Temple stood. The priest (v. 15), not the soldier, was to blow the shofar — and not as a military alert, but to gather Judah for individual and national repentance (vv. 12-17) — for the Temple was the abode of God’s presence, the place to beseech Him in prayer and fasting, in the hope that He would divert the judgment.
The effect of blowing a shofar from Zion would strike fear in the people causing the whole land to “tremble” (v. 1). “Is a horn blown in a city without the people being scared?” (Amos 3:6) said Amos. Like an air raid siren, with the blowing of the shofar comes the warning, “for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is near at hand” (v. 1). The word cometh literally means has come. Although the judgment is still future, in God’s eyes it has already taken place.
Why did “the day of the Lord” strike terror in the Judean? Because it is a day filled with “darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness” (v. 2) . These words express the character of this day on which God judges. The darkness is compared to that of the morning spread upon the mountains” (v. 2). Some believe this is speaking of the somber yellow light from the yellow wings of the locusts being reflected off the mountains. But the metaphor is saying, as the dawn suddenly covers a large area on the mountaintop, so shall this plague of locusts suddenly darken the whole earth. In chapter one, Joel described the locust swarm as being so dense that it blotted out the light of day. Such was the case during the locust plague in Egypt (Ex. 10:15).
Joel, speaking hyperbolically, expresses the awesomeness and complete devastation which takes place when God pours out judgment on Judah: “… there hath not been ever the like, neither shail be any more after it, even to the years of many generations” (v. 2).
Naturally, this is not the severest destruction to come upon the land. During the great Tribulation, God will pour out a holocaust on the whole world. Daniel spoke of that day: “. . . and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time . ..” (Dan. 12:1).
Jesus predicted that the great Tribulation would be the worst holocaust ever known to man.
“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Mt. 24:21).
Think of a period in human history, and this time of judgment shall be worse! One might say, what about the time of Noah’s flood when all flesh outside of the ark perished? True, all flesh outside of the ark died, but the vegetation survived, the earth was not completely destroyed. The great Tribulation will be greater in its effect on all of creation, especially in the duration of pain and suffering man will undergo. In fact, Jesus said, “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened [cut off]” (Mt, 24:22). Jesus is saying, if the Tribulation went any longer than seven years, nothing would live — man, animal, or vegetation.
THE ARMY’S STRENGTH
The locust plague descended on Judah like a massive, well-equipped cavalry, moving toward a single objective, that of destruction. First, the locusts look like horses (v. 4). In fact, the Italian word for locust is cavalette (little horse), and the Germans use the word heapforde (hay horse) in referring to them. This is not new, for Theodoret said centuries ago, “If any one should examine accurately the head of a locust, he will find it exceedingly like that of a horse.”
Second, they not only resemble horses, but horsemen (v. 4) in their swiftness, as they rush to devour with devastating judgment. There is an old Arab saying that declares, “In the locust, slight as it is, there is the nature of ten of the larger animals — the face of a horse, the eyes of an elephant, the neck of a bull, the horns of a deer, the chest of a lion, the belly of a scorpion, the wings of an eagle, the thighs of a camel, the feet of an ostrich, the tail of a serpent.” Some might call this an oriental exaggeration, but ask those who have suffered from the devastating power of the locust, and you wilt see the truth of this picture.1
Third, the sound of their movement is expressed in two ways. The sound of their springing and leaping is like that of a two-wheeled war chariot rambling over the rocky Judean mountains. Their feeding pierces the air like the crackling of a burning bush or dried stubble (v. 5).
Fourth, they come dressed in “battle array” (v. 5) leaving the impression of a military horde outfitted for battle, with helmet and flexible mail covering.
Fifth, Joel quickens the pulse of his expression as he describes the onslaught of this army of locusts. He says, “They shall run like mighty men” (v. 7); that is, they come like a corps of commandos, in high morale, charging their enemy with vigor and valor. They come like men of war (v. 7). No wall is too impregnable, no obstacle will deter their advance, only victory is anticipated as they press on to the prize before them. They come relentlessly in irresistible order, “they shall walk every one in his path” (v. 8), and “they shall not break their ranks” (v. 7). They are not deterred from their objective, neither do they straggle along, but move with impelling instinct as one massive body which has the appearance of being directed by an organized leader, but they have none (Prov. 30:27).
With parade-ground precision, in steady advance, do they come. The city of Jerusalem is theirs in which to “run to and fro” (v. 9) at will. Nothing escapes them! They scale walls, cling to houses, ground, clothes, food, and people; all is covered by them.
Sixth, there is no force that can stay their progression, for “when they fall upon the sword [lit. among the darts], they shall not be wounded (v. 8). Man has used every known means to stop them, but to no avail, One writer expressed it this way, ‘”Their number was astounding; the whole face of the mountain was black with them. On they came like a living deluge. We dug trenches, and kindled fires, and beat and burned to death heaps upon heaps, but the effort was utterly useless. Wave after wave roiled up the mountainside, and poured over rocks, watls, ditches, and hedges, those behind covering up and bridging over the masses already killed. After a long and fatiguing contest, I descended the mountain to examine the depth of the column, but I could not see to the end of it.”2
To those who faced and fought the locust plague in Judah, it would seem like a living hell on earth. But this is a vivid type of a more vicious locust plague which will descend on the whole earth during the great Tribulation. In that day, the fifth trumpet of judgment will be blown (Rev. 9:1) and with it is opened the bottomless pit, out of which emerges smoke so dense that it darkens the atmosphere, blotting out the light of day (Rev. 9:2). Coming out of this black pit of hell is a swarm of locusts (Rev. 9:3) which almost defies description. Their look is horrifying! They come forth “like horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were, as it were, crowns like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. And they had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions. And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle. And they had tails like scorpions . . .” (Rev. 9:7-10).
Are these real locusts? No, since they do not feed on grass or any green thing, but sting men like scorpions for five months — those who are without the seal of God in their foreheads (Rev. 9:4).
Then who are they? They are demonic spirits which take on this strange body, so vile and wretched that they have been chained in the bottomless pit for centuries (Jude 6), so vile and wicked that they could not be allowed freedom to roam the earth. Their king is none other than Satan himself, who is called Abaddon in Hebrew, and Apollyon in Greek (Rev. 9:11), meaning the destroyer.
The locusts will use their tails to sting all unsaved people on earth for five months (Rev. 9:3, 5, 10). The sting will be so painful in its agony and duration that people will try to commit suicide in order to be relieved of their torment. For people to seek death shows the severity of their torment, but death will flee from them (Rev. 9:6). Here is a picture of the final hell that awaits them in eternity! Men will be tormented without relief, desiring to die, only to find their suffering to be eternal.
Notice, this horrible locust plague, as well as the sixth trumpet Judgment (Rev. 9:13-20), does not bring repentance! In fact, mankind becomes more vile, manifesting his wickedness without restraint. He will be given over to a reprobate mind which expresses itself in the worship of demons, idolatry, murders, sorceries, fornication and theft (Rev. 9:20-21). Earth will be a living hell!
THE AWESOMENESS CITED
The land of Judah was lush and green like the garden of Eden (v. 3) before the plague. But after the locusts passed through the !and, it was “a desolate wilderness” (v. 3). Not one blade of green foliage could be seen, In fact, it looked like a land devoured by fire (v. 3).
What happened to Judah will be worldwide during the Tribulation. The lush green portions of the earth will become a desolate wilderness. In the first part of the Tribulation, war will have its impact upon the land preventing the production of enough food to feed the masses of humanity. The result can only be death by famine (Rev. 6:3-8). As the Tribulation progresses, more of the earth will be destroyed. The first trumpet judgment will be devastating, leaving one-third of the earth’s vegetation in total destruction (Rev. 8:7).
The horde of locusts affected Heaven as well as the earth. Joel says, “. . . the heavens shall tremble; the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining” (v. 10).
Naturally, the locusts, even though vast in number, cannot affect the Heaven and earth as described above, but the terror of this devastating judgment strikes such fear in the people that it seems as if the earth quakes under their power; the heavens tremble with the sound of their flying; and the sun, moon, and stars are darkened by their vast number which blot out the light.
Even though Joel is using figurative hyperboles to express the horrible terror of this locust plague, there is a prophetic parallel that will take place in the Tribulation. During the Tribulation there will be three great earthquakes (Rev. 6:12; 11:13, 16:18-19) which will affect the heavens (Mt. 24:29; Rev. 12-14).
With the swarm of locusts descending upon Judah, Joel records the reaction of the people as “’pained; all faces shall gather blackness” (v. 6). The people are struck with terror at the sight of the locusts, inner pain grips them, they turn pale and tremble, knowing the awesome destruction which awaits them. But not so in the Tribulation! With the final judgment being poured out on man, the testimony of John is that men blasphemed God because of the plague” (Rev. 16:21).
THE ARMIES OF THE SAVIOR
The locust plague, although literal, is illustrative of a futuristic judgment which is to come on Israel. God has spoken, but His people turned a deaf ear to the warning; now He speaks to their enemies.
Joel gives a threefold description of the terror God’s instruments manifest toward His people. First, “his camp is very great” (v. 11); the armies God uses to chasten His people are massive. Second, “for he is strong who executeth his word” (v.11); the massive armies move as one force, like a locust plague, to do the bidding of God’s command. Third, “for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible, and who can abide it?” (v. 11). Implicit in the question is the answer — no one, unless the Lord shows mercy!
Who is this “army” (v. 11) of the Lord? It will be both the Assyrians and Babylonians described as the “northern army” (v. 20). First were the Assyrians, who uprooted the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. carrying them off into captivity (2 Ki. 17:1-41). They brought in Gentiles to replace the Israelites, who married the poorer people left in the land. This resulted in a corrupt religious system which was a mixture of Judaism and paganism. The group became known as Samaritans, who later persecuted the Jews coming back from the Babylonian captivity.
Second was the collapse of the southern kingdom of Judah during the Babylonian captivity of 586 B. C. Nebuchadnezzar reduced Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple to rubble (2 Ki. 25:1-30). Judah was taken back to Babylon for the seventy year captivity prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer. 25:11).
A still greater fulfillment of this horrible day of the Lord is yet to be seen during the great Tribulation. At that time the nations of the world will again converge on Israel (Zech. 14:2) with a horrible campaign of battles ensuing called “the battle of that great day of God Almighty” (Rev. 16:14). But the verdict of this war will not be the total destruction of Israel, for the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations who have come up to do battle (Zech. 14:3), destroying them with the word of His mouth (Rev. 19:15).
Seeing the destruction left by the Babylonians, Jeremiah cried, “It is because of the Lord’s mercies [loving-kindness] that we are not consumed…” (Lam. 3:22). Who can “abide the day of the Lord?” asked Joel. Only those who have experienced the LOVING-KINDNESS of the Lord.
- Mariano DiGangi, The Book of Joel, Baker Book House. Grand Rapids, 1970, p. 31.
- E. B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1950, Vol. I, p. 177.