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Saturday, September 23rd, 2023
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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Bible Commentaries
Joel 1

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.

The word of the Lord that came to Joel. He records nothing of himself except his divine commission. He desired to live as before God, and to be known among men only as the voice which gave utterance to the word of the Lord that came to him. He would have us to receive his word as not his own, but the word of Yahweh which shall not pass away (Matthew 24:35).

Joel - meaning, Yahweh is God.

Son of Pethuel - to distinguish Joel the prophet, from others of the name. Persons of eminence also were noted by adding the father's name.

Verses 2-3

Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?

Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land ... Tell ye your children of it. A spirited introduction, calling attention.

Old men - the best judges in questions concerning the past (Deuteronomy 32:7; Job 32:7, "Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom"). The people of the East, when books were scarce, and ages before the use of printing, handed down from generation to generation the traditions of the past, by the help of memory alone.

Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers? - i:e., Hath any so grievous a calamity as this ever been before? No such plague of locusts had been since the ones in Egypt. Exodus 10:14 ("Before them there was no such locusts, neither after them shall be such") is not at variance with this verse, which refers to Judea, in which Joel says there had been no such devastation before. But probably Joel, by inspiration, uses language which in its full meaning applies, not to the locusts seem in vision, but to the coming human invaders, the northern army, of which the locusts were but the representatives (Joel 2:20). "This" (Hath this been in your days?) refers not to some devastation of locusts which the inhabitants of the land then saw, but to that awful and unparalleled calamity which Joel is now proceeding to announce to them. A mere plague of locusts was an ordinary visitation for sin; but the peculiarity of this coming judgment is, that plague was to succeed plague, each more desolating than its predecessor.

Verse 3. Tell ye your children - in order that they may be admonished by the severity of the punishments to fear

Verse 3. Tell ye your children - in order that they may be admonished by the severity of the punishments to fear God (Psalms 78:6-8: cf. Exodus 13:8; Joshua 4:6-7).

Verse 4

That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten.

That which the palmer-worm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the canker-worm eaten; and that which the canker-worm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten. This verse states the subject on which he afterward expands. Four species of locusts, rather than four altogether different insects, are meant (cf. Leviticus 11:22). Literally-

(1) the gnawing locust;

(2) the swarming locust;

(3) the licking locust;

(4) the consuming locust;

-forming a climax to the most destructive kind. The last is often three inches long, and the two antennae each an inch long. The two hinder of its six feet are larger than the rest, adapting it for leading.

Some distinguish the four as four different stages of the locust: The first "kind" is that of the locust, hagaazaam (H1501), having just emerged from the egg in spring, and without wings. The second, haa'arbeh (H697), is when, at the end of spring, still in their first skin, they put forth little ones without legs or wings. The third, hayaaleq (H3218), when, after their third casting of the old skin, they get small wings, which enable them to leap the better, but not to fly: being not able to go away until their wings are matured, they devour all before them-grass, shrubs, and bark of trees. This Hebrew word is translated "rough caterpillars" (Jeremiah 51:27). The fourth kind, hechaaciyl (H2625), the matured winged locust, translated "the canker-worm" (see note, Nahum 3:16).

In Joel 2:25 they are enumerated in the reverse order, where the restoration of the devastations caused by them is promised. The rhythmical form of the sentence implies a proverbial saying (cf. 1 Kings 19:17). Joel foretells what could only come to pass by miracle-namely, that four sorts of locust should come in succession, the later destroying what the former left. In the order of nature different sorts of locust do not succeed one another. At most two stages of the same insect ravage the same region in successive years-namely, when the female insect deposits its eggs in the region ravaged one year, and then in the spring of the second year another brood issues forth and destroys the produce more fatally than the parent locusts had done the previous year.

Pusey objects to the theory of four different stages of locust being described, that there are but two (not four) stages in which its ravages are distinct-the unwinged and winged state. Nor do they, in the order of their development, destroy what they left in their former stages. From the time they begin to move they march right onward, creeping and jumping, never stopping. When the locust becomes winged, it flies away to ravage other countries. So far from destroying what, in its former condition it left, its ravages in that country are at an end. 'Arbeh (H697) is the generic name of the most common winged locust, and therefore not likely to be made here the name of the unwinged stage of one species of locust.

Palpably, then, four different kinds of locust were seen in vision by Joel, doing what never occurs in nature-namely, in succession attacking Judah and Jerusalem.

(1) They advance from the north, whereas locusts would ordinarily make their inroad from their birthplace in the south, the Arabian desert. Evidently, thus, they symbolize the northern army of Assyrian and Babylonian invaders (Joel 2:20).

(2) The prayer, Joel 2:17, "Give not thine heritage to reproach, that the pagan should rule over them," refers to other than mere insect invaders.

(3) The army is spoken of as provoking the Lord's jealousy, by "doing great things" (Joel 2:18; Joel 2:20), which can only refer to intelligent agents.

(4) The darkening of the sun, moon, and stars (Joel 2:10), and the quaking of the earth, can only refer to revolutions of kingdoms, through the wrath of God (Isaiah 13:10). Locusts could not take a city, as this symbolical army is represented doing (Joel 2:10). Locusts ravage fields, not cities.

(5) The scourge is spoken of as unparalleled in any age, which must apply to something worse than a plague of locusts. It is, moreover, called "the day of the Lord," in which Judah should become captive, and its land divided (Joel 1:15; Joel 3:1-2).

The Hebrews make the first species refer to Assyria and Babylon, the second species to Medo-Persia, the third to Graeco-Macedonia and Antiochus Epiphanes, the fourth to the Romans. Though the primary reference be to literal locusts, the Holy Spirit doubtless had in view the four successive empires which assailed Judea, each worse than its predecessor, Rome being the climax.

Verse 5

Awake, ye drunkards, and weep; and howl, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the new wine; for it is cut off from your mouth.

Awake, ye drunkards - out of your ordinary state of drunken stupor, to realize the cutting off from you of your favourite drink.

And howl - even the drunkards (from a Hebrew root [ sheekaar (H7941)], any strong drink) shall be forced to "howl," though usually laughing in the midst of the greatest national calamities, so palpably and universally shall the calamity affect all.

Wine ... new wine - new or fresh wine, in Hebrew [ `aaciyc (H6071)], is the unfermented, and therefore unintoxicating, sweet juice extracted by pressure from grapes or other fruit, as pomegranates (Song of Solomon 8:2, "Spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate"). Wine [ tiyrowsh (H8492)] is the produce of the grape alone, and is intoxicating (see note, Joel 1:10).

Verse 6

For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek teeth of a great lion.

For a nation - applied to the locusts, rather than "people" (Proverbs 30:25-26), to mark not only their numbers, but also their savage hostility; and also to prepare the mind of the hearer for the transition to the figurative locusts in Joel 2:1-32 - namely, the "nation" or Gentile foe [ gowy (H1471)] coming against Judea (cf. Joel 2:2, "a great people and a strong").

Is come up upon my land - i:e., Yahweh's; which never would have been so devastated were I not pleased to inflict punishment (Joel 2:18; Isaiah 14:25; Jeremiah 16:18; Ezekiel 36:5; Ezekiel 38:16).

Strong as irresistibly sweeping away before its compact body the fruits of man's industry.

Without number - so Judges 6:5; Judges 7:12, the Midianites are said to be "like grasshoppers (or locusts) for multitude." So also the Babylonians (Jeremiah 46:23), and the Assyrians (Nahum 3:15).

Whose teeth are the teeth of a lion - i:e., the locusts are as destructive as a lion; there is no vegetation that can resist their bite (cf. Revelation 9:8, which is derived from Joel here, and applies the image to invaders far worse than insects). Pliny says 'they gnaw even the doors of houses.' Their two jaws are armed with saw-like teeth like the eye teeth of the lion and lioness.

Verse 7

He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white.

He hath ... barked my fig tree. Bochart, with the Septuagint and Syriac, translates from an Arabic root, 'hath broken'-namely, the topmost shoots, which locusts most feed on. Calvin supports the English version.

My vine ... my fig tree - being in "my land" - i:e., Yahweh's (Joel 1:6). As to the vine-abounding nature of ancient My vine ... my fig tree - being in "my land" - i:e., Yahweh's (Joel 1:6). As to the vine-abounding nature of ancient Palestine, see Numbers 13:23-24, "the grapes of Eshcol."

He hath made it clean bare, and cast it away - down to the ground.

The branches thereof are made white - both from the bark being stripped off (Genesis 30:37), and from the branches drying up through the trunk, both bark and wood being eaten up below by the locusts.

Verse 8

Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth.

Lament - O "my land" (Joel 1:6; Isaiah 24:4).

Like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband. A virgin betrothed was regarded as married (Deuteronomy 22:23; Matthew 1:19). The Hebrew [ ba`al (H1167)] for "husband" is lord or possessor, the husband being considered the master of the wife in the East.

Of her youth - when the affections are strongest, and when sorrow at bereavement is consequently keenest. Suggesting the thought of what Zion's grief ought to be for her separation from Yahweh, the betrothed husband of her early days, (Jeremiah 2:2, "I remember ... the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals;" Ezekiel 16:8; Hosea 2:7, "My first husband;" cf. Proverbs 2:17; Jeremiah 3:4, "Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me ... thou art the guide of my youth?")

Verse 9

The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the LORD; the priests, the LORD's ministers, mourn.

The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the Lord. The greatest sorrow to the mind of a religious Jew, and what ought to impress the whole nation with a sense of God's displeasure, is the cessation of the usual temple worship.

Meat offering - Hebrew, minchaah (H4503); "meat" not in the English sense 'flesh,' but the unbloody offering made of flour, oil, and frankincense. Since it and the drink offering or libation poured out accompanied every sacrificial flesh offering, the latter is included, though not specified, as being also "cut off," owing to there being no food left for man or beast.

The priests, the Lord's ministers, mourn - not for their own loss of sacrificial perquisites (Numbers 18:8-15), but The priests, the Lord's ministers, mourn - not for their own loss of sacrificial perquisites (Numbers 18:8-15), but because they can no longer offer the appointed offerings to Yahweh, to whom they minister.

Verse 10

The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted: the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth.

The field is wasted, the land mourneth - differing in that "field" [ saadeh (H7704)] means the open unenclosed country; "land," the rich RED soil [ 'ªdaamaah (H127), from a root, 'aadam (H119), to be red] fit for cultivation. Thus, 'a man of the field,' in Hebrew, is a hunter; a man of the ground or land, an agriculturist (Genesis 25:27). Field and land are here personified.

The new wine, [ tiyrowsh (H8492)] - from a Hebrew root [ yaarash (H3423)] implying that it takes possession of the brain, so that a man is not master of himself. So the Arabic term is from a root to hold captive. It is already fermented, and so intoxicating, unlike the sweet fresh wine, in Joel 1:5, called also "new wine," though a different Hebrew word [ `aaciyc (H6071)]. It and "the oil" stand for the vine and the olive tree, from which the "wine" and "oil" are obtained (Joel 1:12).

Is dried up - not "ashamed," as margin, as is proved by the parallelism to "languisheth" - i:e., the oil-olive tree droopeth.

Verse 11

Be ye ashamed, O ye husbandmen; howl, O ye vinedressers, for the wheat and for the barley; because the harvest of the field is perished.

Be ye ashamed - i:e., Ye shall have the shame of disappointment on account of the failure of "the wheat" and "barley" "harvest."

Howl, O ye vine-dressers - the semicolon should follow, as it is the "farmers" who are to be "ashamed" "for the wheat," etc. The cause of the "vine-dressers" being called to "howl" does not come until Joel 1:12, "The vine is dried up."

Verse 12

The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men.

The pomegranate tree - a tree straight in the stem, growing 20 feet high: the fruit is of the size of an orange, with blood-red coloured pulp.

The palm tree. The dates of Palestine were famous. The palm is the symbol of Judea on coins under the Roman emperor Vespasian. It often grows a hundred feet high.

And the apple tree. The Hebrew [ tapuwach (H8598)] is generic, including the orange, lemon, and pear tree.

Joy is withered away - such as is felt in the harvest and the vintage (Psalms 4:7; Isaiah 9:3).

Verse 13

Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests: howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meat offering and the drink offering is withholden from the house of your God.

Gird yourselves - namely, with sackcloth; as in Isaiah 32:11, the ellipsis is supplied (cf. Jeremiah 4:8).

Lament, ye priests - as it is your duty to set the example to others; also as the guilt was greater, and a greater scandal was occasioned, by your sin, to the cause of God.

Come. The Septuagint, 'enter' the house of God (cf. Joel 1:14).

Lie all night in sackcloth - so Ahab (1 Kings 21:27).

Ye ministers of my God - (1 Corinthians 9:13). Joel claims authority for his doctrine. It is in God's name and by His mission I speak to you.

Verse 14

Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the LORD your God, and cry unto the LORD, Sanctify ye a fast - appoint a solemn fast.

Call a solemn assembly, [ `ªtsaaraah (H6116)] - literally, a day of restraint or cessation from work, so that all, young and old, might give themselves to supplication (Joel 2:15-16; 1 Samuel 7:5-6; as in the fast which Jehoshaphat proclaimed, "All Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children," 2 Chronicles 20:3-13).

Elders. The opposition to "children" (Joel 2:16, "Assemble the elders, gather the children") requires age to be intended, though probably elders in office are included. Being the people's leaders in guilt, they ought to be their leaders also in repentance.

Verse 15

Alas for the day! for the day of the LORD is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.

The day of the Lord is at hand - (Joel 2:1; Joel 2:11) i:e., the day of His anger (Isaiah 13:9; Obadiah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:7; Zephaniah 1:15). Isaiah (see the Hebrew) has copied word for word this phrase from Joel here: literally, 'Near is the Day of the Lord, like destruction from the Almighty shall it come.' In the original there is an alliteration, uwkshod (H7701) mi-Shaday (H7706), 'like a mighty destruction from the Almighty.' Herein we see the unity of the whole body of prophecy, each succeeding prophet giving inspired sanction to what preceded him. It will be a foretaste of the coming day of the Lord, as Judge of all men, whence it receives the same name. Here the transition begins from the plague of locusts to the worse calamities (Joel 2:1-32) - namely, invading armies about to come on Judea, of which the locusts were the prelude.

As a destruction from the Almighty - literally, 'as might (i:e., mighty destruction) from the Almighty' [ shod (H7701), Shaday (H7706)].

Verse 16

Is not the meat cut off before our eyes, yea, joy and gladness from the house of our God?

Is not the meat cut off before our eyes, yea, joy and gladness from the house of our God? - (cf. Joel 1:9, "The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of our God," and the latter part of Joel 1:12, "Joy is withered away from the sons of men."

Joy - which prevailed at the annual feasts, as also in the ordinary sacrificial offerings, which the offerers ate of before the Lord with gladness and thanksgivings (Deuteronomy 12:6-7; Deuteronomy 12:12; Deuteronomy 16:11; Deuteronomy 16:14-15).

Verse 17

The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered.

The seed is rotten - "is dried up," 'vanishes away,' from an Arabic root (Maurer). "Seed" - literally, grains. The drought causes the seeds to lose all their vitality and moisture.

The garners - granaries; generally underground, and divided into separate receptacles for the different kinds of grain.

Verse 18

How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate.

The herds of cattle are perplexed - implying the restless gestures of the dumb beasts in their inability to find food. There is a tacit contrast between the sense of the brute creation and the insensibility of the people.

Yea, the flocks of sheep - even the sheep, which are content with less rich pasturage, cannot find food.

Are made desolate - literally, suffer punishment [ ne'ªshaamuw (H816)]. The innocent brute shares the punishment of guilty man. Thus "all the first-born of cattle" were smitten with the same stroke that smote the first-born of man among the Egyptians (Exodus 12:29; Jonah 3:7; Jonah 4:11).

Verse 19

O LORD, to thee will I cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field.

O Lord, to thee will I cry. Joel here interposes. Since this people is insensible to shame or fear, and will not hear, I will leave them and address myself directly to thee (cf. Isaiah 15:5, "My heart shall cry out for Moab;" Jeremiah 23:9). The fire - i:e., the parching heat.

Hath devoured the pastures - `grassy places' [ nª'owt (H4999)], from a Hebrew root 'to be pleasant' [ naawaah (H5115)]. Such places would be selected for 'habitations.' But the English version rendering is better than margin.

Verse 20

The beasts of the field cry also unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness.

The beasts of the field cry also unto thee - i:e., look up to heaven with heads lifted up, as if their only expectation was from God in the general famine (Job 38:41; Psalms 104:21; Psalms 145:15; Psalms 147:9; cf. Psalms 42:1). They tacitly reprove the deadness of the Jews for not even now invoking God.


(1) The word that the prophets spake came not by the will of man, but was "the word of the Lord" sent unto them through the Holy Spirit. Like Joel, they merge their own individuality in their heavenly commission. By this, rather than by their personal history, they desire to be known and remembered among men.

(2) Formerly it was the remembrance of the wonders performed by God in behalf of his people that had been handed down from father to son and from son to grandson. But now, through the sins of Israel and Judah, it is a message of unparalleled woe that the prophet of God has to announce for transmission from generation to generation. The remembrance of God's loving-kindnesses ought to have preserved the people in continued faithfulness and grateful love toward Him. But since grace and love had failed to affect them, awful judgments are announced, that at least these might move them in alarm to flee to God as their only refuge from the wrath to come. It is well if even the terrors of the law and the fear of hell can rouse sinners to seriousness and self-examination, so as to ask, tremblingly, What must I do to be saved?

(3) God has infinite resources at His command for the punishment of transgressors. He can make a small insect like the locust mighty for the prostration of man's pride, power, and even life itself. But the four kinds of locusts here described, injurious as they are, were but symbols of destroyers infinitely worse-the four world-empires, Assyria, Babylon, Macedonia, and Rome-which in succession, each worse than its predecessor, laid waste the Holy Land. Under the fourth and last of these there is yet the Antichrist in his worst manifestation to appear, as the final scourge of both the literal and the spiritual Israel.

(4) The judgments of God are mutually united as the links of a chain, each link drawing on the other; and yet so arranged that at each successive stage time and space are allowed for the averting of the succeeding judgment by repentance. When the sinner will not be moved by one judgment, then another and a worse succeeds; and so on until the last fatal stroke descends, and the hardened transgressor, like Pharaoh at the Red Sea, is given over to hopeless perdition.

(5) The effect of sin is to numb the conscience, intoxicate the imagination, and cast the soul into a kind of drunken sleep or stupor. It is to such, who are drunkards spiritually, having drunk of "the wine of the fornication" of the apostate Church, that the call is here addressed in its ulterior sense, "Awake and weep," lest, if ye repent not, ye should have to "drink of the wine of the wrath of God, poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation" (Revelation 14:8; Revelation 14:10). At the same time, those literally drunkards especially need to "awake:" if no other consideration will rouse them, at least this is well calculated to do so-namely, that soon the materials of their carnal indulgence will forever be taken from them. God, in just retribution, takes away the gifts which are abused to intemperance and excess (Joel 1:5).

(6) The God of Israel did not spare even His own land (Joel 1:6), upon which He had promised that His "eyes should always be, from the beginning even unto the end of the year" (Deuteronomy 11:12), when His people apostatized to sin. The laying waste of the vine and the barking of the fig tree by the locusts (Joel 1:7) are a symbol of the desolation caused to the Church by sin, and the judgments which are its consequences. The Lord of the vineyard has transferred it from the Jews to our Judaeo-Gentile Christian Church. Let us beware lest by unfaithfulness we incur still more awful judgments. Let every careless professor hear betimes the voice of Scripture, "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Ephesians 5:14).

(7) Judah, by apostasy, lost "the husband of her youth" (Joel 1:8). So the outward Church, when she is unfaithful to her Lord, and the individual professor who gives his heart to the world instead of to Christ, lose the favour and the eternal protection which are to be enj oyed only in communion with our Divine Head and Saviour. At such times we should lament and pine after the return of our Lord. All spiritual "joy is withered away" (Joel 1:12), when "the meat offering and the drink offering" of the spiritual services of the sanctuary are "cut off from the house of the Lord" (Joel 1:9). Little as many prize holy ordinances now, a time shall come when thousands will wish they might have again the opportunities of prayer and praise, and of hearing the message of salvation, which they have now, but shall wish in vain. "The days will come," saith Christ, "when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it" (Luke 17:22).

(8) The "ministers of God" (Joel 1:13) should be foremost, by example as well as by precept, in leading back the people to God. The "elders" should use the influence which age and gray hairs give, to induce all to call upon God while yet there is time (Joel 1:14). The more that we unite in prayer, the greater weight has prayer with God. As Tertullian ('De Oratione,' sec. 29: 320) says, 'Prayer overcometh God;' especially the joint prayer of His covenant-people; because He Himself has willed it that they should thus take heaven with holy violence. While we pray reverently, we mast not pray lifelessly, but "cry" as those who are in earnest (Joel 1:14). "Fasting," too, is to some a means of subjecting the flesh to the spirit, and of promoting devotion. But it must be a sanctified fast, in which we seek not to glory in self-mortification, but to cultivate a humble, chastened, and loving spirit. It is not an universal rule for Christians; and it seems suited best for special occasions of spiritual mourning and humiliation before God, as here in Joel; and should be accompanied with almsgiving and increased prayer.

(9) Our present days are the days allotted to man, but the day of coming judgment is peculiarly "the day of the Lord" (Joel 1:15). Its nearness, and the "mighty destruction from the Almighty" which it brings with it to the lost, should urge sinners to immediate repentance. The very "beasts of the field," that virtually, though unconsciously (Joel 1:20), cry to the God who compassionates His suffering creatures from the highest to the lowest, should move man, amidst far higher wants and dangers, to look up to Him who alone can help him. In every trial let our resolve be like that of Joel, whatever others do, "O Lord, to thee will I cry." For the Lord alone is "a very present help in trouble" (Psalms 46:1).

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Joel 1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/joel-1.html. 1871-8.
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