THE DAY OF THE LORD Part OneJoel 1:1-20
The twentieth century man can sit comfortably in his home and watch the devastation which war leaves in its wake – via television documentaries. He watches masses of humanity slaughtered and made refugees, buildings leveled, land denuded of its life, and a ghostly gray haze hovering over the ravaged area – an awesome sight indeed! Hours are spent by retired soldiers swapping stories of war-torn countries in which they have served.
Joel is not swapping war stories with the elders of Judah. Nor is he speaking about a nation destroyed by the ravages of war, but in a sense something worse! He is prophetically sounding out a message from God (v. 1) concerning an awesome plague which is about to totally devastate Judah.
DECLARATION OF THE LORD (vv. 1-3)
Insect plagues were nothing new to the Middle East, and it was no less so in Judah. Joel prefaced his prophecy with a question to the inhabitants of Judah. “Hear this . . . Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?” (v. 2). Have you known such a swarm of locusts?
The elders and inhabitants of Judah were well versed in the past. Stories of plagues, calamities, and wars were rehearsed over and over from generation to generation – with every detail memorized. Very vivid in the Israeli mind were the plagues which centuries before descended on the Egyptians. Yet, nothing of this dimension, duration, or destruction had been known to the elders.
Thus, Joel says, “Hear” (v. 2), to both elder and inhabitant. Open your ears, hear every word, compare the stories of your forefathers; for l will tell you of a devastation more awesome than you can imagine.
Moses had instructed Israel to rehearse the works of God to their children (Dt. 4:9; 6:6-7) for two reasons: first, so they might remember the goodness and mercy of God toward them in times of their disobedience; second, to remind them that God will judge sin if they become disobedient (Lev. 26; Dt. 28). “Tell ye your children of it . . . and their children another generation” (v. 3), says Joel, in order that they might learn to be obedient to the Lord.
DESTRUCTION BY THE LOCUSTS (vv. 4, 6-7)
The locusts are pictured as a huge army swarming upon the land (v. 6). Their teeth are compared to those of a lion. Like the lion, locusts have a strong bite and great power, grinding their food, completely destroying whatever they eat. The palmerworm gnaws off or shears away; the locust swarms in mass, destroying everything in its path; the cankerworm licks off; and the caterpillar devours or consumes by stripping away (v. 4). They have stripped both grapevine and fig tree clean, even eating the bark until the branch stood white in its nakedness (v. 7).
Those in the Middle East call locusts “the army of God.” As an army, they march in a regular order, camp in the field at night, and in the morning rise with the sun, dry their wings, and fly in the direction of the wind (Prov. 30:27; Nah. 3:16-17). They number in the billions (Jer. 46:23), covering an area up to ten miles in length and five miles wide, and have been known to fly seventeen hours at a time, covering over fifteen hundred miles. Their vast number can blot out the sun bringing a temporary darkness over the earth (Joel 2:2, 10; Ex. 10:15). Nothing stops them – not ditch, fire, wall, door, or window (Joel 2:7-9). Their appetite is never satisfied; they devour all the vegetation in their path (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, pp. 61-62).
DISCOURAGING LAMENT (vv. 5, 8-14)
The message of the plague is directed to five groups in Judah. First, God calls the drunkard to awaken from his stupefying intoxication to see the destruction coming upon the land. “Awake, . . . weep; and wail, all ye drinkers of wine,” (v. 5) says Joel. They are called to lament the cutting off of their source of wine. The quick and best cure for alcoholism is to remove the source of the drink – this God did!
Alcoholism is a downfall to any nation. In the United States it is the number one drug problem and the number three health problem. There are 18 million alcoholics and problem drinkers in the country today. Each year drinkers are involved in one million traffic accidents resulting in 28,000 deaths and 500,000 injuries. Over fifty-five percent of all highway deaths are alcohol related. Alcohol is a contributing factor in thirty-one percent of all homicides, thirty-six percent of all suicides, thirty-one percent of non-auto accidents, and seventy-five percent of all crimes. Alcohol costs the American economy over 25.3 billion dollars annually. In 1974, only one in eight families was being affected by alcohol; today it is one in four (The Pioneer, Good News Publication).
The drunkard, awakening from his stupor, is a picture of Israel awakening from her stupefaction of sin. Sin, like alcohol, dulls the senses, binds the individual under its control, insensates to what is right and wrong, and completely dominates the life of the individual. Like the drunkard, Israel is to awaken, weep, and wail over their spiritual loss.
Second, He speaks to the nation as a whole. Israel is to “Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth” (v. 8). She is pictured as a virgin who has just consummated her marriage, and on that very day loses her husband through death. This is the most tragic and bitter mourning one could experience.
With every joy put away, Israel, like a virgin bereaved of her husband, is to drape herself in sackcloth. She is to wear the formless, coarse, black goat’s hair garment next to her skin, wailing out over her condition as the coarse garment chafes at her body. In this manner Israel would show contrition of heart and sorrow of soul for her sin against God.
Third was the mourning of priests and ministers (v. 9). Why? because the loss of “grain . . . new wine . . . [and] oil” (v. 10) made the grain and drink offerings impossible (v. 9). Thus, their livelihood was cut off since they depended upon the ministry of the Temple for their provision.
Fourth, the farmer stood ashamed after losing everything (v. 11). “Ashamed” means that they turned pale when seeing how the locusts had stripped their fields clean, for they depended upon the wheat and barley for their livelihood. With destruction of their crops, desolation of the land, God’s disfavor, and no access to the Temple services, the farmer must have felt destitute.
Fifth, the vinedressers “wailed” (v. 11) over their loss when the grapevine dried up and the fig tree languished. But other trees suffered as well. The pomegranate, palm (not subject to injury), and apple trees were destroyed as well. Even the mighty trees of the forest succumbed to the locusts and withered.
With the withering of the tree came the withering of Israel’s joy (v. 12). Whenever the vintage and harvest were poor or destroyed, the people of Judah were unable to rejoice (Isa. 16:10), But this was more than a poor harvest! Joel expresses the complete devastation with such words as “cut off” (v. 9), “wasted” and “languisheth” (v. 10), “perished” (v. 11), “dried up” and “withered” (v. 12).
The spiritual leaders were required to bring the offering of true repentance. First, they were to put on sackcloth as a symbol of the inward sorrow felt because of their sin (v. 13). Second, they were to lie in sackcloth all night, wailing in prayer, because of their sin and the loss of Temple offerings (v. 13).
The priests, as representatives of elders and people, were to gather them together in a solemn assembly for the purpose of fasting and crying unto the Lord over their sin (v. 14). The proclamation of a fast and solemn assembly was commonplace in Israel and the surrounding nations during a time of distress or impending disaster. Nineveh is a good example of a brutal people, an idolatrous nation, who called a fast, put on sackcloth, repented of their sin, and turned back to God (Jon. 3:5). God spared them for one hundred years from total destruction.
A number of years ago the Ninety-Third Congress of the United States called for a national day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer. The people were to humble themselves before their Creator, acknowledge dependence upon Him, and repent of their individual and national sins. Little real turning to God resulted from this proclamation, as evidenced by the conditions existing today in this country. But repentance must be forthcoming if God is to withhold His hand of judgment. The nation of Nineveh is a clear example of a people who heeded the warning from God and were spared. But the nation who closes its ears to the prophetic pronouncement will eventually suffer God’s judgment.
DAY OF THE LORD (v. 15)
Joel describes this awesome day as the day of the Lord (Jehovah). The phrase day of the Lord is used some five times in Joel (1:15; 2:1; 2:11; 2:31; 3:14). Although it has reference to the local judgment God is bringing on Judah through this plague, it speaks of a future day when God intervenes in judgment upon the world. For example, Joel 2:31 must be speaking of a future day of judgment, because the sun was not darkened, nor the moon turned into blood during Joel’s day. Again, Joel 3:14 does not speak of Joel’s day but a future day of judgment upon the enemies of Israel. The plague in Joel’s day was a prototype of an awesome day of the Lord yet future.
To understand what is meant by the day of the Lord, one must understand the difference between man’s day and the Lord’s day. There are four key days mentioned in Scripture. First is man’s day. This phrase is used in 1 Corinthians 4:3 in reference to “man’s judgment.” Paul says, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment . . .” This “man’s judgment” is literally man’s day, having reference to the day which now is, when men have control over human government.
Second is the day of Christ mentioned six times in Scripture (1 Cor. 1:8; 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16). It refers to the time when Christ comes to rapture the Church (1 Th. 4:13-18) out of the earth, taking Christians to be with Him (Jn. 14:1-3) forever.
Third is the day of the Lord which speaks of a dark gloomy day (2:1) – a time of judgment. The
day of the Lord refers to the direct intervention of God in the affairs of man after the Rapture of the Church. It covers the Tribulation (Rev. 6-19), Millennial Kingdom (Rev. 20:1-10), and the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). It is not only a time of judgment on the wicked, but a time of great blessing for the redeemed of Israel and the Church.
Fourth is the day of God mentioned in 2 Peter 3:12 which has reference to the heavens passing away, the elements melting, the earth being renovated by fire, and the establishment of a new heaven and earth, ushering in the eternal state.
The words “destruction from the Almighty” (Heb. Shod and Shaddai) [v. 15] come from the Hebrew word “Shadad.” It is a play on words showing the comparison between the individual (God) who causes the destruction and the literal destruction (Keil and Delitzsch, Minor Prophets, Vol. I, p. 187).
DROUGHT ON THE LAND (vv. 16-20)
The judgment upon Judah affected every aspect of the land. First, their food supply was destroyed right before their eyes as the locusts reaped it for themselves (v. 16). Second, the prospect for future food was nonexistent because of the total destruction from the locusts and the drought which would ensue (v. 17). The seed was rotten under its clod because the drought and hot sun destroyed the shoots the moment they appeared. Thus, the garners, with nothing to harvest, allowed the barns to lay in disrepair. Third, the blazing sun burned up the pastures, scorched the trees, and dried up the rivers (vv. 18-19).
Without pasture and water, the beasts would not survive for long. The animal world suffered because of man’s sin and cried out for deliverance (v. 18). Paul tells us “that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Rom. 8:22), waiting for the day when it will be delivered (Rom. 8:19, 21; Isa. 65:25). Adam’s sin affected all of creation, because it was under his domain, but at Christ’s Second Coming creation will be delivered.
There was a greater calamity suffered by Judah than that which the locusts would do! A nation might well be able to stand a destructive force which rips their land in pieces, if they have the joy and comfort of the Lord. But a people who have been cut off from their God have little hope.
Judah had little hope! The “joy and gladness” which they had known at the house of the Lord had been removed (v. 16). This was only a foretaste of the future despair Judah would face when God brought complete judgment on her (Isa. 1-5; Lam. 2), for Judah was to lose everything: land, city, and Temple; but worst of all, the blessings and comfort they had known in their covenant relationship with God.
Lessons are to be learned from Judah’s experience. Christians living in the United States enjoy unprecedented peace, prosperity, and plenty as no other nation on the earth. One should not take these blessings lightly. But this nation is on a destructive course! In fact, someone has stated that if God does not judge America, He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah. In a moment of time God could remove His hand of blessing, judgment could fall, and loss ensue as it did in Judah.
Annie Walker, an eighteen-year-old girl, saw the urgency of the hour in 1854. After reading John 9:4, she quickly penned the well-known hymn, “Work for the Night is Coming.” The night of this world is soon approaching. Christian friend, be like an Ezekiel whom God set as a watchman in his day: hear the Word of God, and warn the people to turn back to God (Ezek. 33)!