Joel Chapter 1: The Coming Destruction

Sep 23rd, 2009 | By | Category: Joel, Psalm 83 and Gog & Magog, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

The Book of Joel Chapter 1

Joel 1:1 The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.

The name Joel signifies “Jehovah is God” or, in a very authoritative sense based on the contents of this book, “Jehovah, the Mighty God.” The mighty judgments that are suggested will manifest that God is Jehovah. As a whole, the Book of Joel pertains to the last days of the present age, with a partial fulfillment in the past as a type.

Comment: Pethuel means “God delivers.”

Joel 1:2 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?

Joel 1:3 Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.

Joel particularly instructed the older men to pay attention to what he was about to say, starting with a question, “Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?” The older men were to search their memories, looking back into their earliest experiences and even the experiences of their predecessors. Moreover, the old men and all inhabitants of the land were to tell their children, their grandchildren, and their great grandchildren—going forward three generations.

Joel was saying, “Pay attention, especially you older men, in searching your memories and statements handed down to you through your parents and grandparents. Has there been anything like what I am about to tell you?”

Joel 1:4 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 caterpillar eaten.

Comment: The Revised Standard shows that verse 4 is referring to all stages of the locust. “What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.”

Reply: Laying waste all vegetation pictures total destruction. The locust is very destructive in its various stages of transformation. The four stages include cutting, swarming, hopping, and destroying. In this particular plague, the locust was resident in the same area for all of its stages.

Stated another way, the locust plague was simultaneous in that all four insect groups ate immediately, one after the other. When they were done, nothing was left.

Normally, as each stage of locust development takes place, the insects move to another area to cause destruction; that is, the different stages of development do not all take place in the same area. However, here a fourfold destruction occurred. A locust plague denudes the normal green material, but with all four stages occurring in the same place, Joel was describing something unprecedented.

This plague was unusual in that all four varieties of locust were together. Hence, as a prophecy, the plague pictured a confederate army with individual, separate, vicious qualities. What  damage one group would not do, the others accomplished. The complete devastation resulted in the people being taken captive and the land being left desolate.

Joel 1:5 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.

Why did the prophet say, “Awake, ye drunkards”? Joel performed the duty of a watchman in his day. He was addressing those in Israel who were asleep and should have been more alert.  In addition to being intoxicated and not watching, the people were in a stupefied condition and had difficulty reasoning in a rational fashion.

“Howl, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the new wine; for it is cut off from your mouth.”

What was the “new wine”? Probably the Revised Standard is a little more accurate with the term “sweet wine” instead of “new wine,” for sweet wine induces sleepiness.

From the natural standpoint of a person who liked wine, the supply would run out, and there would be no replenishing of that which he enjoyed. The new crop, the new wine, would be cut off, and there was no more to be harvested. Those who were partaking of this wine were drunk and unaware that conditions would radically change.

From the spiritual standpoint, those who have been imbibing the false wine (doctrine) of Christendom are intoxicated and asleep. The “drunkards” need to wake up and realize what is happening, but because they fail to watch and sound an alarm, they will sleep through the doctrines of demons in the coming church-state hour of power. However, a time will come for shock and renewal. The old wine will wear off, and a new experience will come upon them—a radical change for which they are ill prepared.

Joel 1:6 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.

“A nation is come up upon my land … whose teeth are the teeth of a lion.” In the spiritual sense at the end of the age, this “nation … strong, and without number” will be the Lord’s Great Army (Joel 2:11). In Belshazzar’s feast, the princes and the lords were drunk with wine while the city was being surrounded. They were unaware of the impending destruction, the immediacy of a radical change.

From a natural standpoint, we cannot pin down a specific year when Joel gave this prophecy, which applied to the whole land of Israel. For the ten tribes, the strong “nation” was Assyria, and for the two tribes, it would be Babylon. The Book of Joel was written before the 606 BC experience, when King Nebuchadnezzar came down and destroyed Judah and Benjamin, but the question is how much before? Probably it was written around 800 BC, either shortly before or just after the captivity of the ten tribes and the despoliation of the land by Assyria.

Q: Was Joel referring to a literal plague that had occurred back there?

A: Yes, he was drawing a lesson from that which was unique, saying it was a sign. To the Jews as a people, a sign or omen was very significant, and the Lord dealt with Israel along this line. The only problem was that the people did not draw the appropriate lesson. Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas” (Matt. 12:39). To ask for a sign was not necessarily a wrong principle. The problem was that the people were not in the proper heart condition for them to be amenable to the sign.

Joel was saying, “In searching your memory, you will realize that a plague like this has never  occurred before. It will happen again but not in the way you would anticipate.” A conqueror would lay waste the land. Thus the natural experience of the locust plague the Jews witnessed back there had its counterpart in the army that would come down.

From the spiritual standpoint, the locust plague is a sign of the end of the age. The implication is that natural calamities will occur. Hunger will be a great factor in the Time of Trouble, and money will be meaningless, for silver and gold will not purchase anything and cannot be eaten. The very basic elements of nature—food and water—are essential. While back there the locust plague remaining resident in the area with its four waves of affliction was a most unusual sign, it would be followed by something even more drastic in another way. Accordingly, in the great Time of Trouble in the near future, there will be famine and hunger, and the people will curse their god and their king (Isa. 8:21). However, the unfavorable condition will be a prelude to something even more striking, namely, God’s deliverance of the Holy Remnant of Israel from Jacob’s Trouble—a favorable condition.

The strong nation would have “the teeth of a lion, and … the cheek teeth of a great lion.”

Spiritually, Satan is the lion, and in the natural picture, King Nebuchadnezzar was called “the lion … come up from his thicket” (Jer. 4:7). A lion uses its “cheek teeth” to crush the prey, and the other teeth masticate the food for digestion. In other words, the coming violence and the completeness of the destruction would be very notable.

Joel 1:7 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.

In one stage of development of the locust, even the bark of trees is consumed, the reason being that no other greenery is available. Notice the use of past and present tense, yet this was a prophecy of the future. Joel was referring to the conquest of Judah. The ten tribes may already have been taken captive, so from the natural standpoint, the future prophecy applied to King Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Judah, when the entire land, both the northern and the southern kingdoms, was left desolate. When the ten tribes were taken into captivity, their land was temporarily desolated, then it was occupied by the Samaritans, and finally the land was completely desolated by Nebuchadnezzar. As devastating as the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom was, there was a slight recovery, and then Nebuchadnezzar laid waste the entire land of Israel.

In verses 6 and 7, the phrases “my land,” “my vine,” and “my fig tree” help to focus on the historic past of 606 BC, which was future from Joel’s perspective. In other words, Joel was predicting a future calamity along natural lines that did not occur in his day but took place in 606 BC with Nebuchadnezzar. Proof that this first chapter is not speaking of Jacob’s Trouble is the fact the land will not be completely wasted at that time, nor will all crops be destroyed. Yes, the trouble will be devastating, but vegetation will not be despoiled. Jacob’s Trouble will be warfare, whereas Joel was telling here about the aftereffects of King Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest. In fact, the land was so denuded that he left some Jews there as vinedressers lest it become fallow and sterile for a hundred years. However, Gedaliah was subsequently slain, and the remaining vinedressers fled to Egypt, leaving the land desolate for 70 years. Not only from a prophetic standpoint did the land have to rest for 70 years, but also it took 70 years for the land to recover from the devastated circumstance.

From another perspective, the four stages of the development of the locust could be considered (1) the Assyrian desolation of the ten tribes, (2) the 606 BC destruction by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, (3) the destruction in AD 69-70 by the Romans, and (4) the defeat under Hadrian in AD 135, followed by the Diaspora. These applications were upon the same people and land, Israel, but not at the same time. In AD 135, the commandment was given that if any Jew came within sight of Jerusalem, even from a mountain, the inhabitants could kill him. Instead of lasting 70 years, the Diaspora continued for about 1,800 years, during which time the land was relatively desolate.

Verse 7 gives the reason why the locust plague does not refer to Jacob’s Trouble: “He hath laid my vine waste, and … he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white.” Even though nine out of ten Jews in Israel will be put to death in Jacob’s Trouble, the land will not be affected, relatively speaking.

It is true that much of the burden of the Book of Joel pertains to Gog and Magog and Jacob’s Trouble but not here in the beginning. First, a historical background is given as a basis for what will be described later in much detail.

Joel 1:8 Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth.

Succeeding verses are still related to the wasting of the land. In saying, “Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth,” Joel was showing that as punishment, Israel would experience a separation from God, an estrangement. In other books of the Old Testament, as here, Jehovah was likened to Israel’s “husband” from a national or collective standpoint. Israel was figuratively married to Jehovah.

Joel 1:9 The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the LORD; the priests, the LORD’S ministers, mourn.

Notice that there would be no more services in the Temple, “the house of the LORD.” The captivity of the northern kingdom did not affect Judah, for the Temple was still intact, but when the king of Babylon came down, both the city of Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed. As a result, no more services could be performed for 70 years. The priests (Jehovah’s ministers) who were taken to Babylon mourned in captivity, where their special privileges of service were cut off.

Joel 1:10 The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted: the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth.

Again a picture of destruction is given. If the four stages of development of the locust are considered as previously suggested—namely, that they picture the Assyrian captivity of the ten tribes, the Babylonian captivity in 606 BC, the destruction of AD 69-70, and the trouble under Hadrian in AD 135—verse 10 shows punitive judgment. The Israelites were being corrected.

The spiritual application of punitive judgment is to Christendom. Judgments have occurred as warnings down through the Gospel Age, but the final judgment is yet future. For example, “Babylon hath been a golden cup in the LORD’S hand…. We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed” (Jer. 51:7,9). A strong judgment was the death of the beast in the past. Thus at one time, Papacy was negated, and eventually it will be destroyed forever. Notice that there is no hope of recovery in this picture here in Joel. Both nominal natural Israel and nominal spiritual Israel have received warnings and judgments.

Q: Is the thought that Joel was speaking of the Lord’s Great Army going down to destroy Christendom rather than Israel?

A: Yes. God said through the Prophet Jeremiah, “Though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee” (Jer. 30:11). Thus God will not make a full end of Israel. Although Jacob’s Trouble will be an experience unprecedented for severity, the Holy Remnant will be saved out of it. Joel was showing God’s displeasure with the fact that the people as a whole were disobedient.

Zerubbabel’s Temple, which was refurbished in the days of Herod, was destroyed in AD 69-70. From that date up until the present day, there has been no Temple in Jerusalem.

Q: If verse 4 is given the application of four long-separated time periods of trouble coming on natural Israel or nominal spiritual Israel, how would we harmonize verse 2, which says, “Have you ever heard of anything like this in the past?”

A: Verse 2 is speaking of a natural calamity where the palmerworm, locust, cankerworm, and caterpillar caused great destruction. God was asking, “Have you old men ever seen such a thing in the past?” The natural destruction was the prototype from which lessons are drawn about nominal natural Israel and nominal spiritual Israel. The four literal stages that constituted the locust plague came at one time, and it is unique that four judgments have come upon the same people and land. The four stages of the locust devoured all greenery including the bark of trees, forcing the Israelites to eat and survive off food they had in storage. Joel drew lessons from that natural incident, which occurred in one year, saying the king of Babylon would come down and lay waste the whole land. Moreover, the Temple services would be discontinued.

Q: Then was Joel speaking of Jacob’s Trouble?

A: No. The land will be quickly revived after Jacob’s Trouble.

It is rather unusual that nothing is mentioned here about the people, just the crop devastation and the land being laid bare. Of course, the Jews did not realize that the land would be so bare and that any survivors would be taken to another place. “The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted: the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth.” Verses 11 and 12 then discuss the grains and other types of food. In other words, everything pertaining to food and the things that make for a pleasant life and human comfort would be destroyed.

The same will be true of the destruction of Christendom. We do not emphasize the physical violence—just that Christendom will be a wasted desolation. From the negative standpoint, we cannot take the natural application to Jacob’s Trouble because in that situation, the land will not be affected in this drastic fashion.

Joel 1:11 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.

Joel 1:12 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.

Verses 11 and 12 discuss the food joys, comforts, and necessities of life. When the locust-plague experience literally came on the nation in one year, the people probably had a very difficult time because all crops were destroyed. The people would have lived on rations before the next harvest. Thus the recovery time was a little more than a year. However, the plague typified a more lasting destruction because when the king of Babylon came down, the recovery required 70 years. In the Diaspora, the length of time for the recovery process to begin was 1,800 years. These verses are all negative.

Joel 1:13 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.

In review, the preceding verses pertain to a literal plague that came upon Israel at the time of Joel, in which the four stages of the development of the locust each did a damaging work in consuming all greenery of the land. It was unusual that all four stages took place in the one spot, for almost invariably locusts travel from one place to another, going from south to north.

The four stages had such a damaging influence that all verdure was destroyed, leaving no fruit or crops behind and causing the Israelites to depend on whatever food was in storage.

Verse 13 tells that the priests and ministers of the altar were in mourning because so little food was left in the land. With the people having only enough for their bare sustenance, they could not bring meal offerings, tithes, etc., to the Temple, and the services were adversely affected. The experience should have been viewed as a punishment or judgment from God, who allowed such conditions to exist. When the people did not have enough food to bring offerings according to God’s will and commandments, something was obviously wrong, and the wrong lay with the people.

Joel 1:14 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.

A call was made for a great assembly of the people, including all levels of leadership, to fast, pray, repent, and listen to what the Lord had to say under this circumstance.

Joel 1:15 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” refers to Christendom; it will be “a destruction from the Almighty.” To the contrary, when Gog and Magog come down, God will not destroy Israel but will save it (specifically, the Holy Remnant). The picture is complicated, requiring the refining of Scripture to see the distinction between Christendom and Israel at the end of the age.

Comment: In support of the premise that this is a picture of Christendom, the hordes of Gog and Magog will be going down to Israel because food will be plentiful, not scarce.

Reply: Yes, they will go to the land that has gotten “cattle and goods” (Ezek. 38:12).

A backdrop was being established for a lesson of the future at the end of the Gospel Age. The  lesson is based upon things that happened in the Prophet Joel’s day, or about 800 BC. Of the Minor Prophets, the Book of Joel is more or less in sequence, starting with Hosea, Joel, and Amos, all three of whom were relatively contemporary.

The next several verses list various adverse effects on the nation. The third chapter of Joel pertains almost entirely to the end of the age, being clearly prophetic. The second chapter is sort of a mixed situation. This first chapter is based on the literal plague that had befallen the land, which Joel said was like a judgment from God and a prelude to some terrible things to happen. It bemoaned the circumstances that prevailed at the time Joel spoke to the people.

Joel 1:16 Is not the meat cut off before our eyes, yea, joy and gladness from the house of our God?

In this period of mourning in Joel’s day, the lack of sufficient produce to offer to the Lord affected the Temple services, which became times of sadness. Instead they should have been joyous occasions like going to a convention and fellowshipping with brethren. Under the Law, when the Israelites went to the Temple for special feast days, they were to consume the greater portion of whatever offerings they brought. Thus everyone was affected back there.

Joel 1:17 The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered.

Joel 1:18 How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate.

Joel 1:19 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.

Joel 1:20 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.

These conditions existed in Joel’s day as a result of the terrible locust plague on the nation. He was setting the stage for the need for repentance—for an explanation of what was wrong and  how to rectify it. In the next chapter, Joel began to draw certain lessons to help the people understand some of the things that had befallen them.

Not only was there a locust plague, but also it seemed as if all nature was against the Israelites. Everything was contrary. A drought had accompanied the locust plague, causing the “beasts of the field” (domesticated animals) to cry, the “rivers of waters” to dry up, and fire to devour the “pastures of the wilderness.” Such was the situation, or setting, of the first chapter. Imagine hearing the beasts lowing and crying for food and water! For the people, food and water had to be strictly rationed, and a great deal of labor was exerted just to get the meager food.

Today we get a slight idea of those conditions when people have to spend all day at the market just to get a loaf of bread. A person’s whole life is changed so that he is not working his normal hours and getting his normal pay. Daily living and habits are radically altered when everything is geared for survival.

As stated earlier, Joel was giving a backdrop, a picture, of what will happen at the end of the Gospel Age. In addition, there was a lesson for the Israelites in the prophet’s day. First, the ten tribes were carried away captive to a foreign land, and eventually King Nebuchadnezzar took away the two tribes. In AD 69-70 and again in AD 135, terrible holocausts occurred, and there will be one more holocaust at the end of this age, in the great day of God’s wrath, still future.

The backdrop given here is working up to the third chapter, which describes detailed war. In other words, conditions will be similar at the end of this age. For the education of the world of mankind to be effective, the people first have to be humbled; they have to get down on their knees and look up to God for survival.

Comment: In the Revised Standard, verse 17 starts with, “The seed shrivels under the clods,” indicating a drought.

Reply: Yes, there was a double calamity. Not only did the locust plague devastate the nation of Israel, but also the God of nature seemed to be bringing judgment.

Notice how Joel put himself in the picture with the pronouns “our” and “I.” “Is not the meat cut off before our eyes, yea, joy and gladness from the house of our God?” (verse 16). “O LORD, to thee will I cry” (verse 19). While Joel was talking to the people, he was also experiencing the existing conditions. God laid it upon the prophet’s heart to advise the people, the priesthood, and the elders to congregate at the Temple to have a fast and bring the matter to the Lord for relief. “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” (verse 14). Joel was giving a call to repentance.

Comment: The emphasis seems to be on food and water, the necessities of life.

Reply: Yes, the rivers had dried up, and all the grain products and fruit—everything green— had been affected.


1992 Study with Frank Shallieu

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