6.52 Joel -- Invasion of Locusts

Whereas other prophets warned Israel about foreign invaders, the first two chapters of Joel are concerned primarily with a plague of locusts!   What an odd subject for divine instruction. Joel referred to a devastating invasion of locusts, perhaps intensified by a drought, if terms like "dried up" and "withered" (Joel 1:10-12) are to be taken literally.  The prosperity and complacency of Judah will be wiped away at a single stroke, not by another nation but through what we would today call a natural disaster.  Joel marveled at the devastation wrought by the locusts:

          "Has anything like this every happened in your days or in the days of your forefathers?  Tell it to your children,..." (Joel 1:2-3). 

For Joel, this was not a natural disaster, but a divine visitation, a wake-up call to a nation of drunkards (Joel 1:5).  Joel also spoke of "bloodguilt" (Joel 3:21), which points to something more than drunkenness.

The locusts were like cavalry, chariots, "a mighty army" (Joel 2:4-11Joel 2:25):

           They charge like warriors; they scale walls like soldiers (Joel 2:7).

           Or even, it seemed like

           "A nation has invaded my land, powerful and without number" (Joel 1:6). 

 

           This has caused some commentators to treat his words as allegorical:  Joel was really speaking about an imminent military threat.  Still, the agricultural references are frequent enough to give credence to a literal interpretation.

But Joel does get a lot of end-time mileage out of these insects:  he uses them as a prelude to his announcement of God's last judgment:

          The Lord thunders at the head of his army;
                  his forces are beyond number,
                  and mighty are those who obey his command.
          The day of the Lord is great;
                  it is dreadful.
           Who can endure it? (Joel 2:11)

Locusts are "killing machines" and they have a Biblical history; they constituted one of the plagues in Egypt (Ex 10), and appear again as an end-time scourge (Rev 9).   In Joel, the army of locusts was led by the Lord Himself.  It came from the north (Joel 2:20), like Assyria and Babylonia.  Israel’s judgment was a warning to others:

         At the sight of them, nations are in anguish;
                  every face turns pale (Joel 2:6).

The prophet called upon Israel to repent, in fasting and prayer, with weeping and mourning (Joel 1:13-14Joel 2:12). 

         "Rend your heart and not your garments" (Joel 2:13). 

Israel needed to offer national repentance, to gather in "sacred assembly" at the Temple (Joel 2:15-16).  For then God would "take pity on His people" (Joel 2:18).  He would intervene on their behalf:

         "I will drive the northern army far from you,
                 pushing it into a parched and barren land,
                 with its front columns going into the eastern sea
                and those in the rear into the western sea.
          And its stench will go up;
                its smell will rise" (Joel 2:20).