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My Commentary On Joel

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An Invasion Of Locusts (ch. 1:1-12)  

There is some difference of opinion whether the events of this chapter are a literal historical event or a pictorial prophetic illustration of coming judgment on Israel.  One's viewpoint partially depends on when one thinks Joel penned this prophecy, and, as I've said, that is highly debatable.  

Many scholars suggest that these events are both historic and prophetic, meaning, that there was a literal infestation of locust in Israeli history which prophetically speaking, symbolizes a future event. This kind of prophetic history is very possible for there are other places in the Bible where a historical event predicts the future, or, has a secondary prophetic meaning.        

Antiochus Epiphanies was a Greek polytheistic king who ruled from 175 BC to 164 BC.  During his rule he attacked Jerusalem as predicted in Daniel 11:31.  His attack is one historical event that has future prophetic significance in two or possibly three ways.  Daniel 11:31 predicts what we call the abomination of desolation.  Antiochus and his armies invaded Jerusalem as I've said and desecrated the Jewish temple by offering a pig as a sacrificial offering to Zeus.  That was a real historical event. It was clearly an abomination of desolation that Daniel predicted.  Jesus, in Matthew 24:15, spoke of Daniel 11:31 as a future prophetic event which has one or two fulfillments, depending on your prophetic positioning.  The attack on Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Roman army could be seen as an abomination of desolation on the temple.  Most people believe it was and might well be what Jesus had in mind when he spoke these words.  That being said, the context of Jesus' statement, as Prophetic Futurists suggest, tells us that this abomination of desolation will take place at the end of this age by the anti-Christ during the  tribulation period that ends this age.  Therefore, Daniel 11:31 has two or three fulfillments.   

Another thing to consider when thinking of these invading locust is that many Bible teachers view them as invading armies that attack Israel.  I think you can see this when we read the rest of Joel's book.  The invading armies might be several invasions on Israel over the centuries.  They might well speak of 4 specific invasions, but which ones, would again depend on when you think Joel penned this book. They also might be 4 different advances of enemy armies on Israel at the end of this age.  Many prophetic scenarios have been brought forth for our consideration.      

Another way to say it is that this invasion of locust might well be pictorial prophecy.  That is picture language that might not be a historic event but has prophetic dramatization of a future event.  That is how I am leaning at the moment.        

To sum up what you are about to read in chapter 1, some believe the locust invasion was a literal invasion.  Some think it was not a literal invasion but picture language to describe an invasion of Israel's enemies, either back in Joel's day or a day yet to come.  Whatever the case, I see that much in this book concerns the end of the age in which we live.  Joel called it the Day of the Lord. 

You will see that there are 4 specific locusts seen in chapter 1.  In some versions of the Bible they appear as different types of insects, but, from the Hebrew text, they are 4 different stages in the life's development of a locust.         

Verse 1 opens with the words "the Word of the Lord that came to Joel."  God spoke certain words to Joel that were prophetic. The Word of the Lord does not necessarily have to be prophetic, as in foretelling the future.  Godís Word can take the form of instruction, encouragement, or an admonishment.  It might just be that all these various forms of the Word of the Lord are seen in the book of Joel.

In verse 2 we see that Joel is addressing his words to the elders of Israel first and then to the general public of Israel. This is often the case in any prophetic warning because the elders of Israel, and also the elders of the church, have responsibility for leading and caring for Godís people.  

For the most part, one can consider Old Testament Jewish elders as being more civic leaders than religious leaders.  The priests were the religious leaders.

Because of the nature of the old Hebrew language some Bible teachers and translators suggest that Joel is not addressing elders but older men.  We see the same difficulty in 1 Peter 5:5.  1 Peter 1:1 speaks of church elders, church leaders, but, verse 5 may speak of older men or elders.  Some versions of both Joel and 1 Peter translate the original word as "elders" while others translate it as "older men."        

Joel asks this question.  "Has anything ever happened like this before?"  The obvious answer would be "no."  This event has never happened on this scale before, or depending on your view, something like what Joel is picturing has never happened before.

So, what Joel will speak to, was it a real event or is this a prophetic pictorial illustration?  I can't say for sure, but it might well be a real event that took place in Israeli history, but, with prophetic significance.  Whatever the case, I do believe this invasion of locust has great prophetic significance.  It is a pictorial prophecy of the period of time that ends this age.  

It would not surprise me if the 144,000 Jewish men we see in Revelation 7 who Prophetic Futurists see as 144,000 evangelists will preach from the book of Joel.  I also think that the 2 witnesses would preach from the book of Joel as well as the other Old Testament prophetic writings.      

No matter how you interpret the events of this chapter, in verse 3 Joel wants Israelis to pass these words on to their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, and so on down the line. These words must have significance beyond the people to whom Joel is now speaking. The events of this chapter, and the whole book, may be directed to Israel, but there are lots for New Testament Christians to learn from this book as well.  Many principles directed towards the Jews in Joelís account can easily be applied to Christians and the church today.  

One of the major themes of the Old Testament as seen especially in the Law of Moses is to teach our children the ways of God.  Part of this teaching is instructive.  Other parts are remembering what the Lord has done for us in the past.  The word "remember" is an important Old Testament word.  When there is no remembrance of the way God has helped us in the past, there is no reason why our children will be faithful to God.  Passing one's faith from generation to the next seems a difficult thing for us to do.  Some people believe it is a waist of time to speak of past events, whether in history or in one's life.  I don't see it that way.  They are meant to be instructive and a means of encouragement.     

There appears to be 4 types of locust that cause devastation in this chapter according to verse 4.  They are, the locust, the great locust, the young locust, and the other locusts (NIV).  It is said that there are more than 24,000 different types of locust. The female doesnít need a mail to produce children and they can live up to 7 years.  It has also been discovered that if one hormone is changed in the locust, they become extremely aggressive.

Locust in the Bible, especially in prophetic books, are commonly associated with demonic activity, thus whether this attack was literal in Joelís day or prophetic symbolism, it is most likely that this attack is demonically motivated, which will certainly be the case with many events in the last days of this age.  

If you read Revelation 9 you will see another locust army and in that case it is clearly demonic, with the devil himself as its leader.  The Revelation 9 attack appears to me to be modern warfare, not an attack of insects known as locusts.

We should also know that locust attacks are common in the Middle East, and that includes modern times. 

In verse 5 Joel tells the drunkards to wake up to the fact that they have been invaded and their wine bottles will soon be empty because the locusts have totally destroyed the grape vines.  To me this suggests a culture that has lost its focus on the Lord.  They are totally caught up in their own affairs, whether it is drinking, eating, or any other humanistic activity that captivated them. The call to these people is to wake up, mourn over what has happened, and come to their senses. Israel over the centuries often has turned from their God and has been caught up in their own affairs, so this could easily be speaking of the time of Joel, yet it can also be prophetic of Israel at the end of this age.  The church has the same wandering tendency too and therefore needs to hear these words as well.

I'm reminded that Jesus told us that as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be at the end of this age.  People will marry, they'll work, they'll simply be caught up in life without seeing the signs of the end of this age.  That sure is the situation today.  So many people are so busy with life that they do not see what is happening around them.  This age will end, and it will be one big surprise for them. 

Our western world today is caught up with self preservation, hedonistic excesses, and more.  It is missing out on the real and important issues of life.  For this reason, our culture is missing out on the life God has for it.  In many respects the western world church is following the ways of the world.  We're caught up in present things that have little relevance to eternal issues.       

Verse 5 also states that the wine "has been snatched from the lips" of the drunkards.  The word "snatched" in my opinion hints of a sudden surprise.  Without any warning, the wine is suddenly ripped from the hands of the drinker. 

If you conclude that there are many things in society that make us drunk, such as materialism as I've stated, all these things will be snatched from both our culture and Israel in the last days.  That which intoxicates us will suddenly be taken from us, and if we are without Jesus, we will feel very empty.  More than that, we will be devastated.  No wonder people will wail and mourn in the last days.      

We should stress the point that these drunkards are Jews, the people of God.  They are not pagan Gentiles.  They are Jews who are intoxicated with their pagan surroundings.  So here is the question for our church today.  Is the church, or any part of the church, intoxicated by the world around it?  I think it is. 

In verse 6 Joel might be giving us a clue of what this locust invasion is all about.  He says that "a nation has invaded my land."  Remember, the word "my" refers to God, because Joel is repeating the words that God gives him. The land that God gave to Israel, that it had a hard time keeping, was once again being invaded, as it has been several times over the centuries, and which it will be in the final 7 years of this age.  It is important to know that the peace of properly God gave Israel is just as much for God as it is for the people of Israel.  We will see this more clearly later.  In the final analysis, the land belongs to God.  The Jews are only tenants, responsible for its care.   

Some suggest, because of the word "nation," that this verse does suggest that the invading locust represents an attacking nation.  Prophetically speaking, I think that is exactly what is meant here, and, the attacking will come at the end of this age as we will see.  There might have been prophetic fulfillment of an attacking nation in Old Testament times, but, in the context of the Day of the Lord, which this seems to be set in, as we will see, tells me that there is an end of age attack on Israel referenced here.        

In verses 7 and 8 we see this nation, or nation of locust, is powerful, like a lion.  It strips the fig tree of its bark and the vines of its grapes.  This invasion has totally desolated the agriculture of the land of Israel.  This type of thing is often seen when God judges a nation, and this is what the invasion of locust is all about.  When thinking of this invading nation at the end of this age, this desolation might well be the result of atomic warfare.     

Note the word "lion" in this verse.  It reminds me of 1 Peter 5:8 where the devil is seen as a roaring lion prowling around seeking whom he may devour.  God often uses the devil as a means to judge a nation or a civilization.  As a matter of fact, the anti-Christ is only a tool in the hand of God to accomplish His will in closing out the age in which we live.    

The word "lion" might also be significant when it comes to the Empire of Babylon that sacked Jerusalem and the Jews in 586 BC.  Babylon's symbol was the lion.  Therefore, this locust attack, according to some, might hint at the Babylonian attack on Israel in 586 BC.  If this is the case, and it might be, I strongly believe this prophecy has a double fulfillment, both in 586 BC and at the end of this age.          

The vine and the fig tree often have symbolic significance in prophecy.  Many Bible scholars, especially Prophetic Futurists, believe that the vine represents Israel , while the fig tree represents Jerusalem.  We, thus, might take these prophetic illusions of the vine and the fig tree to mean that both Israel and Jerusalem have been invaded by a nation, or at least a nation of locust, much more powerful than themselves. This has been the case in times past, and it will be the case at the end of this age, but it will be much worse, thus, what Joel said at the beginning.  "Has anyone ever seen something like this before?"

God says, "Mourn like a virgin" in verse 8.  Once again He is speaking first to the elders, and then to Israel as a whole.  To me this is a call for Israel to repent. Obviously it is individuals that repent, but I believe that the nation of Israel as a whole has an obligation to repent. We see this in Danielís prayer of intercession for his nation.  There needs to be mass repentance in Israel, and that is what the final 7 year tribulation period is all about.  If you read Zechariah 12 and 14 you will learn much about Israel in these last 7 years.  One thing you will learn is that Israel finally does repent.  Their repentance is seen in the weeping and mourning as if they have lost an only child as stated by Zechariah.  

In the book of Revelation you will see 144,000 Jews from each tribe of Israel.  It's my thinking that these Jewish prophets will preach from the prophetic books of the Old Testament like Joel.  They will call Israel to repentance as we see here in Joel, which will produce the greatest revival in human history as we will see in the next chapter of Joel. 

If you read the book of Hosea you will note that God views Himself as Israel's husband, but Israel has committed adultery by uniting with pagans.  Jewish courtship in Old Testament days went like this.  In modern terms, a couple would get engaged.  This engagement was actually a commitment of marriage, although it was not consummated at that time.  A period of time would transpire until the marriage feast when the couple would consummate their marriage, but, before that day came, and unlike modern culture, the couple was considered married.  If you read Hosea chapter 2 you will see that God divorces Israel in this intermediate stage.  He would have the legal right to do so because the Law of Moses permitted divorce on the grounds of adultery in Deuteronomy 24:1 through 4.  That being said, if you read the rest of Hosea you will note that God eventually remarries Israel, something the Law of Moses did not permit.  I say all of this because of the use of the word "virgin" in verse 8         

In many parts of the church today there needs to be a massive repentance as well.  Certain areas of the church need to mourn before the Lord and seek His face.  The church has lost much ground because of its worldliness.  Many parts of the Evangelical church don't even speak on repentance any more let alone actually repenting, and we do have many things to repent of.   

Israel was to grieve "for the husband of her youth" as stated in verse 8.  I believe this is a reference to their God who they have forsaken.  In the time of Israel's youth, they were in one sense married to their God as I've said, but theyíve long since left Him.  It would be like Mary leaving Joseph after learning of her pregnancy and running off with another man.      

If you read Malachi 2 you will note that Israeli men left the wives of their youth to marry pagan women.  God was very upset over this.  These marriages and other alliances with pagans was seen by God as spiritual adultery.  In one sense of the word God considered Israel His wife and when Israel embraced paganism, that meant Israel left its husband.        

In verse 9 we see that the activities of the temple, such as the offerings have been cut off.  The priest should mourn because of this. Temple worship has been lost for which all Israel should be ashamed of.  This is surely what Israel is going through today.  

You might wonder how this verse speaks prophetically to end time Israel when there is no temple in Jerusalem and where it should be is the Islamic Dome of the Rock.  Well, many Prophetic Futurists believe that the Jews will rebuild their temple, and will do so beside the Dome of the Rock. Some suggest this will be undertaken because of a covenant brought forth by the anti-Christ and signed onto by Jerusalem.  Many Bible teachers struggle over this idea because they see no more Biblical meaning in a rebuilt temple in our age.  That being said, I don't think people are suggesting that this rebuilt temple is God's idea.  If there is to be a rebuilt temple, you can imagine that sacrifices will take place and thus the fulfillment of this verse.        

True New Testament worship with the aid of the Holy Spirit has been lost as well in many parts of the church today.  This is an issue that needs to be addressed in the modern church.  This is something we need to repent of.

Verses 10 and 11 speak of total agricultural devastation.  This locust invasion, no matter how you interpret it, totally destroys the land, the land by the way, that God loves and will make sure Jews get in the end.   

I have alluded to this earlier, but when thinking of this devastation as an end time scenario, to me, this looks very much like ruins from atomic warfare.     

In verse 11 Joel speaks of the Barley and wheat crop being destroyed.  Barley and wheat were not harvested at the same time.  Barley was harvested around the Feast of Passover, March to April, while the wheat was harvested around the Feast of Pentecost, about 50 days later.  I say this to suggest that this infestation took place over a period of time.  It was not a one time single event.  It was continuous for a while.  

This section ends in verse 12 with these words.  "Surely the joy of mankind (older versions of the NIV) has withered away."  The newer versions of the NIV do not use the word "mankind."  They use the word "peoples" instead.  This is due to the new emphasis to make the Bible genderless wherever possible.  The Hebrew text translates the words "people's" or "mankind's" from the Hebrew words "ben adam," which simply mean "sons of man."  I personally would have not used the words "people's" or "mankind's."  I would use the words "sons of men" because it is more accurate to the original text. 

At this point we need to ask to whom does the words "sons of men" or "people's" apply?  Do these words apply to Jews or to all mankind; to all sons of men?  First of all, the text is speaking about the Jews in their land.  The joyless people would have to be them, but, since this situation will affect the whole world as we read in Revelation and elsewhere, mankind in general throughout the world will be joyless.  The scenario we see here, although a regional event has major world wide implications.          

Many lives will lost during the Great Tribulation that I believe this passage speaks of.  It will be in the midst of this devastation, a devastation that has never been seen, that the remaining Jews who have survived the Great Tribulation will fall on their knees in repentance before the Lord Jesus Christ, their Messiah, thus fulfilling the word of the Lord through Paul when he said "all Israel will be saved" (Romans 11:26).         

I know the tragedy of this section applies to Israel, but it is also a clear picture of world events at the end of this age.  In this section we've seen all sorts of disasters, from agricultural, to economic, to physical emotional stress, and just general chaos.  This is a clear picture of the world at the end of this age.  I would suggest that we all take heed to what is being said in the book of Joel.     

Something else to think about as we end this section is that the devastation we see, especially in the last couple of verses is material devastation.  It's agricultural and economic.  If affects the nation.  It is not spiritual because Israelis are already spiritually dead.  When we see the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy in the 7 year tribulation, the Lord will have to destroy the nation of Israel 's nationalism.  He will destroy its agriculture and its economy and He will do so in order to bring Israel to its knees in repentance.  Then, once Israel's spiritual life has been restored, their nationhood will be ultimately restored.  At this time in history, we should realize that Israel has not yet been restored as prophecy states.      

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