The book of Joel tells of a great plague of insects which came upon the land of Judah as a judgment from God against sin. In the law, God had promised material prosperity to His people for obedience, and adversity for disobedience. The period described in the opening prophecy was one of famine and suffering because an enormous hoard of insects had eaten much of the vegetation. The distress in Judah because of this judgment is seen as a foreshadowing of greater distress in a coming day of greater judgment. That yet future period is described as “the day of Jehovah”. This phrase may be considered as the theme of the book. “The day of Jehovah” is the time of God’s judgment upon the earth in connection with the second coming of Christ. A simple, basic outline of the book is as follows:
I. The Fearful Blight: a plague of insects and “the day of the Lord”(1:1-2:27)
II. The Faithful Blessing: judgment and restoration in the last days (2:28-3:21)
Man has always seemed to be on the winning side in this world. He prospers, gains, and is almost unchallenged by God. In the midst of the temporary triumph of evil in Judah, 28 long centuries ago, God speaks during the usurpation of Athaliah. As this woman of wickedness seizes the throne of Judah, a lone voice is raised: Joel the prophet. The prophecies of God’s oracle Joel are so foundational to the entire prophetic Panorama that to understand them is to start to comprehend the whole of God’s plan for the Ages. Truly the Day of the Lord, portrayed in this short prophetic oracle’s revelation through God’s Spirit, is a day that is to be heeded. God clearly demonstrate the need of repentance and the physical disaster that must follow moral disintegration.
Three times God uses Locusts as a vehicle of judgment. Each is a plague of horrible proportions.
1. In Exodus 10:4, 12-14 and 19, Moses unleashes an 8th plague -locusts that HORRIBLY DEVOUR .
2. In Joel 1 and 2 God sends a plague of locusts that HORRIBLY DESTROY.
3. In Revelation 9:3 and 7, the 5th trumpet sounds the release of HORRIBLE DEMONIC HORDES like locusts from the Abyss
Today, few readers of the Book of Joel are likely to experience a locust plague, because with current eradication methods, a locust swarm in modem Israel is indeed a rare phenomenon. In ancient times, however, the land of Israel was frequently subject to invasions by the desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria. In 1915 a journalist in Jerusalem, John D. Whiting, standing in almost the same place Joel stood more than 2,000 years before, witnessed a similar event.
“Sudden darkening of the bright sunshine … clouds… so dense as to apppear quite black…. In an inconceivably short time every leaf is consumed, leaving bare and barked twigs only … It seemed as if the entire surface of the ground moved, producing a most curious effect upon one’s vision and causing dizziness…. Up and up the city walls and the castle they climbed to their very heights ….
“The only vegetables and fruits now available came from the Jaffa gardens … they were so rare that none but the richest could pay the price at which they sold…. Olive oil in this land has been used as fuel for lighting sacred lamps. Because of the locusts, lamps never before dim, hanging in Christian churches in front of icons and altars, are daily being extinguished, just as the sacrifices of Judah’s Temple were unwillingly suspended after the locust devastation described by Joel.”
And finally, from the same reporter:
“With the annihilation of the grape crop … drinks have doubled in price; so that it is unnecessary with Joel to say, ‘Awake, ye drunkards, and weep; and howl, all ye drinkers of wine’ Joel 1:51, because they are already doing it.”‘
A locust plague [ Exodus 10:1-20] described: The locust is perhaps nature’s most awesome example of the collective destructive power of a species. An adult locust weighs a maximum of two grams, and yet its combined destructive force can leave thousands of people in famine for years. The locust plagues were very much feared in ancient Egypt. So much so that the peasants were in the habit of praying to the locust god. [Satan likes to keep superstitious peoples enslaved to his demonic hordes evil powers.] No one who has ever seen the locust at work accuses the Bible of hyperbole. In 1926 and 1927, small swarms of the African migratory locusts were spotted in an area 50 by 120 miles on the plains of the river Niger near Timbuktu. The next year swarms invaded Senegal and Sierra Leone. By 1930 the whole of west Africa was flailing away at the pests with everything movable. But the locusts didn’t seem to notice; swarms reached Khartoum, more than 2,000 miles to the east of Timbuktu, then turned south, spreading across Ethiopia, Kenya, the Belgian Congo, and in 1932, striking into the lush farm land of Angola and Rhodesia. Before the plague finally sputtered out fourteen years after it began, it affected five-million square miles of Africa, an area nearly double the size of the United States. A locust is capable of eating its own weight daily. One square mile of a swarm will normally contain from 100,000,000 to 200,000,000 of the creatures. It is unusual, however, for such plagues to occupy an area of only one square mile. Swarms covering more than 400 square miles have been recorded.
An interview with a Locust The mature biblical desert locust has a wingspan of about 4 inches, and a body length of about 3 inches. Locusts look like large grasshoppers and are, in almost all respects, morphologically the same.
The desert locust migrates back and forth, around North Africa and the Near East. (Israel is the northernmost extension of the locusts’ range.) During one day a locust swarm may travel as many as 60 miles, and the locusts may ultimately joumey ten times that distance. One swarm can blanket the sky up to an attitude of 5,000 feet (nearly a mile) for some tens of square miles.
When a swarm forms, wind patterns play an important role in determining where the locusts migrate. Locust swarms are generally guided by winds that converge on low pressure areas. Precisely within low pressure areas, rain tends to fall, preparing the moist soil and abundant vegetation that will lead to productive egg laying and the beginning of still another cycle of locusts: hatching, creeping, hopping, marching and, finally, aerial swarming and migration.
In the winter or early spring, the swarm may land in a field of grain. A swarm can contain over a billion creatures that, all together, can weigh more than three million pounds. The locusts lay their eggs, perhaps 80 viable eggs to a pod. Incubation takes about two weeks if the soil is sufficiently moist. Their gestation complete, hungry hatchlings emerge from the soil. Known as hoppers, the hatchlings look somewhat like ants or tiny roaches. The hopper molts several times over a period of about a month, shedding its skin and growing bigger with each molt.
Now fully developed, the hopper joins his colleagues to form gregarious marching bands up to ten miles wide and ten miles long. The marching bands move forward at a slow cadence, perhaps no more than 250 feet per hour, and may travel no farther than 15 miles from their staging area. But within their path the hoppers may consume virtually every tender blade of grass or legume. The extraordinary appearance of this marching band with its mass of tiny pullulating bodies can be unnerving, to say the least. In the words of Joel, “Before them earth trembles, Heaven shakes . . .” (Joel 2:10). The marching bands are oblivious to obstacles: “They rush up the wall, they dash about in the city; They climb into the houses, They enter like thieves by way of the windows” (Joel 2:9).
The Scriptures are entomologically accurate! Joel uses four different Hebrew words to describe the insects that invade the land: yelek hasil gazam and arbeh. Not having firsthand knowledge of the desert locust, translators have come up with a variety of English words reflecting their understanding of what Joel and the people of Israel knew so well. The 17th-century King James Version of the Bible translates the four Hebrew words as “cankerworm,” “caterpillar,” “palmerworm” and “locust,” apparently picturing four different insects. The 1979 New King James Version, reflecting modem entomological knowledge, translates the Hebrew as: “crawling locust,” “consuming locust,” “chewing locust” and “swarming locust. The possible meanings of the roots of the Hebrew terms for the locust help to decipher what Joel was describing.
1. Yelek is connected to the Hebrew “to lick up” and corresponds to the tiny hopper stage, when the locust can eat only tender ground vegetation.
2. Hasilhas the Hebrew meaning of “near completion.” During the hasil stage the locust completes the destruction of the tender vegetation as it grows bigger and develops broader dietary preferences.
3. Gazam means to prune or clip branches of a tree. At the gazam stage the hopper molts and acquires short wings. At this stage the gazam is large enough to attack tree branches with its powerful mandibles.
4. The term Arbeh is close to the Hebrew word for multiplication, and that is exactly what the arbeh attempts to do. The arbeh is the mature locust, the egg-laying female.’
These four stages of the locust life cycle are represented in Joel’s lament: “. . . what the gazam has left the arbeh eats, what the yelek has left the hasil eats” (Joel 1:4).
LESSONS FROM JOEL
I. GOD SEEKS REPENTANCE (ch. 1) Repentance always refers to a “turn about”. As someone once said, “God whispers to us in our joys, but shouts to us in our sorrows”. The Lord wants to use disasters and tragedies to refocus our hearts upon Him. So often the scientific explanation neatly blinds the eyes of people to God’s hand behind the scenes! In the Scriptures repentance and forgiveness are always tightly bound together. If we repent we will be forgiven. And if we won’t repent we can’t be forgiven.! Joel is commissioned to declare the lesson needing to be learned from the locust plague.
A. A nation of locusts has destroyed Israel’s harvest (1:11) and left a desolate wilderness behind (2:3). This event concerns everyone from the drunkards to the priests (1:5,9) and everything from seeds to sheep (1:17-18).
1. Food, oil and vines fail (1:5,10,16)
2. Field and grain are ruined (1:10,17,19)
3. Grain offerings are cut off (1:9)
4. Water brooks are dried up (1:20)
5. Storehouses are desolate (1:17)
6. Barns are torn down (1:17)
7. READ: Joshua 6:20-21; *Luke 13:1-5;Lamentations 5:15-17; Rom 6:23
8. What is happening in the world today that reminds you of the final day of the Lord?
9. REFLECT on God’s JUDGMENT of mankind.
B. The devastation is so great and awesome (1:11) that all the creation is effected emotionally.
1. The land mourns (1:10)
2. Rejoicing dries up (1:12)
3. Gladness and joy are cut off (1:16)
4. Beasts groan (1:18)
5. Cattle and sheep suffer (1:18)
6. READ: Isaiah 6:5; Matt 23:37-39; *Matt 9:36-38;John 3:16; Matt 15:32
7. How does the current state of world events effect your emotions?
8. Should the focus of your prayers change as the world nears its end?
9. REFLECT on God’s incredible LOVE for you.
C. Joel challenged Israel to repent and move close to the Lord. “Yet even now, declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping, and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness, and relenting of evil. (2:12-13)
1. READ: *Hosea 5:15; 6:6; Matt 11:28-30; 1 John 2:25-3:9; 3 John 1:4
2. Is there anything preventing you from drawing closer to the Lord? If there is,, what is it and what are you going to do about it?
3. REFLECT on God’s desire to be CLOSE to you.
II. GOD GIVES REVELATION (ch. 2)
A. Prediction of Pentecost (28-32) Luke records this was a fulfillment of part of the promised outpouring of the spirit. Peter preached using this text to show God’s commencement of His program was Pentecost. Joel saw eternal principles in the temporal processes.
B. Before the final great and awesome day of the Lord (2:31) the Spirit will be poured out (2:28-29).
1. All mankind receives the Spirit (2:28)
2. Prophesy, dreams and visions occur (2:28)
3. Male and female receive the Spirit (2:29)
4. READ: John 14:16-17 John 16:5-15 *Acts 2:1-211 Cor 12:1-11,18
5. Has the Holy Spirit been poured into your life? When? How do you know? Can you prove it?
6. REFLECT on the POWER of the Holy Spirit.
C. Promise through Christ (32) Salvation by responding to self inability and divine ability. Grace precedes faith so deliverance is preceded by a call. Present fulfillment in the times of trouble Israel would face. Ultimate fulfillment in latter days.
D. Because the Lord is zealous and merciful to His own (2:18) He will restore the land. This will result in rejoicing (2:23), gladness (2:23) and praising the name of the Lord (2:26).
1. Remove the locusts (2:20)
2. Send grain, new wine and oil (2:18,24)
3. Pastures and trees restored (2:22)
4. Give back the early and latter rains (2:23)
5. Beasts and land will have no more fear (2:22)
6. READ:*Psalm 111; Hosea 2:14-23; Eph 5:18-21;Col 3:16-17.
7. How do you celebrate God’s majesty?
8. REFLECT on God’s amazing G-R-A-C-E.
III. GOD PLANS RESTORATION (ch. 3)
A. Portrait of universal judgment (1-17) Moral declension; Physical disaster.
1. The final day of the Lord is coming soon!
a) The day is from the Lord (2:30)
b) Earth will quake and heavens tremble (2:16) Sun and moon grow dark (2:31; 3:15)
c) Stars lose their brightness (3:15)
d) Must call on the Lord to be saved (2:32; 3:16) Multitudes in the valley of decision (3:14)
2. The day of the Lord brings with it an incredible judgment (3:2).
a) Gather all the nations (3:2)
b) Return recompense on their own heads (3:7)
c) The Lord will judge (3:12)
d) “Then you will know that I am God.” (3:17)
e) Blessings to the righteous (3:18)
f) Destruction to the wicked (3:19)
B. Picture of eternal age (18-21) Millennial blessing following the judgment of the Day of the Lord. The land freed from wickedness is again blessed of God.
 Moody Monthly, May, 1965.
 National Geographic, December, 1915, pp. 511-550.
 Davis, Moses and the Gods of Egypt, pp. 128-130.
 Bible Review, 8/90, pp. 33-39.