The prophecy of Joel is rather short, but it still forms a precious portion of the words of prophecy in the Scriptures; for there is one particular passage in the Book which speaks prophetically of Gospel-days! It was interpreted by an Apostle as having a peculiar reference to the open descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, after the ascension of the Lord Jesus.
Joel’s prophecy opens in a very striking manner. “Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land!” These are the Lord’s words, and so they demand man’s attention. All ranks and orders are called upon to regard the man of God’s prophetic commission – both young men and maidens, and old men and children – for the subject is one that cannot be equaled. Even the drunkards are called upon to listen to it, for the awfulness of the judgment that is coming upon the land is so great that it is enough to awaken them into soberness.
Not even the most elderly among the people could remember such calamities as were about to take place. Armies of locusts and other insects were coming upon the land, to eat up all the fruits of it (verse 4). We are not told in Old Testament history when this happened, but we are sure that no word of God fell to the ground; and although a physical devastation by these insects is primarily intended here, the words are expressed in language that is also very applicable to the destruction of the country by a fierce foreign enemy invading it – perhaps Assyria or Babylon (verse 6). If the people were not humbled and reformed by that lesser judgment of locusts which devoured the land, God would send this greater scourge upon them to devour its inhabitants. Thus we see that this was written to be a serious warning. Our God is the Lord of hosts, and He has every creature at His command. When He pleases, He can humble and mortify a proud and rebellious person or nation – even by the means of what we consider to be the weakest and most contemptible creatures.
But although the plague of destructive locusts represented the judgment of the Lord upon a guilty land, it is a blessing to see how He pleads with His people, and how He gently shows them the cause for which He thus deals with them in correction (verses 8-13). It is just and righteous for Him to take away the comforts and blessings which are wasted and abused for luxurious excess; and the more people place their happiness in the gratifications of their carnal senses, the more severe shall be the temporal afflictions which are sent upon them. Sooner or later, all persons who labor only for the meat that perishes will be ashamed of their labor. Those who only find their happiness in the use of earthly products and in the delights of sensual pleasures shall lose their joy when they are deprived of those things, or disturbed in their enjoyment of them. But for those whose joy is spiritual, that joy flourishes more than ever during such times! Can we see here what perishing, uncertain things our earthly comforts are? Can we see how we need to live in continual dependence upon God and His Providence? Can we see what ruinous work sin makes? It brings very sore judgments. But how blessed are the awakening judgments of God, when they are sent to rouse His people from their spiritual slumber, and when they call the heart home to Christ and His salvation!
In verses 14-20, we find that the sorrow of the people is turned into repentance and humiliation before God. The grievous afflictions and distresses that they were under (which are described in this portion of the chapter) prompted them to return to the Lord in solemn humility. With all the marks of sorrow and shame, sin must be confessed and bewailed! And it is good when a special day is appointed and set aside for this purpose – a day in which people lay aside their common employments, and abstain from food and drink, so that they may more closely attend upon the Lord’s services. When everyone has added to the national guilt, it is only fitting that all should share in the national calamity; and therefore, everyone must also join in the national repentance. When joy and gladness are cut off from God’s house, when serious Godliness decays, and when love waxes cold – then it is time to cry unto the Lord! No matter what may become of the persons, churches, and nations that persist in ungodliness, believers will find the comfort of acceptance with God, while the wicked shall be burned up with His indignation.
But in verses 19 and 20, the blessedness of the Gospel comes in to our relief! For under the conviction of sin, and with an understanding of our total inability to help ourselves, the Gospel leads us to Jesus. Surely it should be clear to us that this entire chapter – which is full of descriptions of sin and words of sorrow – loudly proclaims the necessity of salvation in Christ alone! The prophet opens with sorrow, which is the effect of sin; but he closes the chapter with the only relief and remedy for it. When a soul is convinced of sin, and feels the awful consequence of it; there is nothing that can give consolation to such a wounded spirit, except the blood of Jesus. “O Lord, to thee do I cry!” – that is the language of every heart that is taught by the Holy Spirit. And the cry that is thus awakened by grace is sure to be answered in mercy!
Lord, we thank You that the locusts of the earth serve as Your chastening rod, in order to put a cry of repentance in every heart of Your redeemed ones. We beseech You to convict our souls of sin, and to help us find relief and consolation in the blood and perfect righteousness of Jesus! Amen.
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