Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Aug 29 2019 - Joel 1 – Locusts and a call to repentance

Unlike some other prophetic books, Joel does not tell us when he ministered by giving the name of any of the kings of Judah. As a result, scholars differ widely over the dating of the book. But none of that changes the relevance of its message. Joel contains verses which were quoted by the Apostle Peter to explain what was happening on the day of Pentecost: he has a message for us today.

Joel describes a plague of locusts. As you probably know, locusts can strip an area of all its green vegetation in a matter of days. This was one of the plagues God visited on Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to free the Israelites from slavery. Now Joel describes a plague of these hungry insects invading the land where his people live (vv.2-4). He paints a vivid picture of the effects of this plague on the inhabitants of the land. They will wail in anguish because they have no grapes and are unable to make wine. The olive harvest has failed and there is no more olive oil. Pomegranate and other fruit trees are dry and bare. The fields have been laid waste and crops destroyed leading to despair among the farmers. "Surely the people’s joy is withered away" (v.12).

Joel may have been describing a literal plague of locusts, sent by God as a judgment on his rebellious people. But in verse 6 he says, "A nation has invaded my land, a mighty army without number; it has the teeth of a lion, the fangs of a lioness." His description of the locust swarms and the devastation they cause may be a metaphor for the invasion of the land first by the Assyrians and later by the Babylonians. This too was God's judgment upon his rebellious people. John, in Revelation chapter 9 paints a similar picture of a plague of locusts ravaging the earth (9:1-11). His description of the locusts seems to be an elaboration of Joel's prophecy:

The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle… their teeth were like lions’ teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle… They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer). (Revelation 9:7-11)

The plague described in Revelation brings judgment on all humankind. But those upon whom it was sent did not "repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts" (Revelation 9:21).

Joel calls God's people to lament and to turn to the Lord. He urges them to, "cry out to the Lord…     For the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty" (Joel 1:14-15). The present destruction is but a prelude to a more serious day of judgment which will surely come if they do not repent. He then sets them an example by his own appeal to the Lord (vv. 19-20).

Jesus also used disasters as warnings of a greater judgment to come. He was once asked about "Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices" (Luke 13:1). Why did God allow this to happen? Jesus answers them with a more difficult case. What about eighteen men who had been killed when a tower collapsed on them in Siloam? Jesus asks, "do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish" (Luke 13:4-5). Present disasters are a warning that there is a great day of judgment to come and that we need to repent of our sin and rebellion and be reconciled with God.

Living God, help us to understand the relevance of each part of your word to our own daily lives. We bless you that we need not fear the great Day of Judgment to come since Jesus has died for us, is risen for us and intercedes for us in heaven. Help us continually to turn to you and call upon your name for mercy upon ourselves and upon the world in which we live. May many cry out to you and come to trust in the Lord Jesus that they too may be saved from the wrath to come.

Peter Misselbrook