Joel 2:17
Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare your people, O LORD, and give not your heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: why should they say among the people, Where is their God?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(17) That the heathen should rule over them.—All mention of the locusts is dropped. The lesser calamity is swallowed up in the apprehension of the greater.

Joel 2:17. Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar — The priests, being in a peculiar sense the Lord’s servants, are here required to take the lead in this sacred work of penitence, and to stand weeping and praying between the porch and the altar; that is, in the open court, just before the porch of the temple built by Solomon, (see 1 Kings 6:3,) and the altar of burnt-offerings. This was called the priests’ court, and was the place where the greatest part of those, whose course it was, gave their attendance. Hereupon this is mentioned as the most proper place for the priests to stand in, while they addressed their prayers and intercessions to God in behalf of the people; because here they could best be seen and heard by all the assembly, and here they had before offered the sacrifices proper for such an occasion. And let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord — It was usual to prescribe certain forms of prayer or praise to the priests, in their public ministrations: see Hosea 14:2; 1 Chronicles 16:36. Such was this here mentioned, wherein they beseech God to deliver his people, not for any merit of theirs, but for his own glory, lest the heathen round about them should take occasion to blaspheme his name, as if he were not able to protect his worshippers. That the heathen should rule over them — This translation of the Hebrew verb שׁמל, favours their interpretation, who understand by the army, at the beginning of the chapter, an invading human enemy. But if expounded of a plague of locusts, still this translation, as Archbishop Newcome justly observes, may be supported, because, when the people were distressed by the locusts, they would be an easier prey to their enemies. But, to make a proverb of them, or to use a by-word against them, as the margin reads, is the more natural translation: for to have their country destroyed by locusts would naturally make them the subject of their enemies’ scorn and derision, as if they were forsaken by the God whom they worshipped; and the Hebrew verb above mentioned is indifferently taken in either sense.2:15-27 The priests and rulers are to appoint a solemn fast. The sinner's supplication is, Spare us, good Lord. God is ready to succour his people; and he waits to be gracious. They prayed that God would spare them, and he answered them. His promises are real answers to the prayers of faith; with him saying and doing are not two things. Some understand these promises figuratively, as pointing to gospel grace, and as fulfilled in the abundant comforts treasured up for believers in the covenant of grace.Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar - The porch in this, Solomon's temple, was in fact a tower, in front of the holy of holies, of the same breadth with the temple, namely, 20 cubits, and its depth half its breadth, namely, 10 cubits 1 Kings 6:3, and its height 120 cubits, the whole "overlaid within with pure gold" 2 Chronicles 3:4. The brass altar for burnt-offerings stood in front of it 2 Chronicles 8:12. The altar was of brass, twenty cubits square; and so, equal in breadth to the temple itself, and ten cubits high 2 Chronicles 4:1. The space then between the porch and the altar was enclosed on those two sides 2 Chronicles 7:7; it became an inner part of the court of the priests. Through it the priests or the high priest passed, whenever they went to sprinkle the blood, typifying the atonement, before the veil of the tabernacle, or for any other office of the tabernacle. It seems to have been a place of prayer for the priests. It is spoken of as an aggravation of the sins of those 25 idolatrous priests, that here, where they ought to worship God, they turned their backs toward the Temple of the Lord, to worship the sun Ezekiel 8:16. Here, in the exercise of his office, Zechariah was standing 2 Chronicles 24:20-21; Matthew 23:35, when the Spirit of God came upon him and he rebuked the people and they stoned him. Here the priests, with their faces toward the holy of holies and the temple which He had filled with His Glory, were to weep. Tears are a gift of God. In holier times, so did the priests weep at the holy eucharist in thought of the Passion and Precious Death of our Lord Jesus, which we then plead to God, that they bore with them, as part of their dress, linen wherewith to dry their tears .

And let them say - A form of prayer is provided for them. From this the words, "spare us good Lord, spare thy people," enter into the litanies of the Christian Church.

And give not thine heritage to reproach - The enmity of the pagan against the Jews was an enmity against God. God had avouched them as His people and His property. Their land was an heritage from God. God, in that He had separated them from the pagan, and revealed Himself to them, had made them His special heritage. Moses Exodus 32:12; Numbers 14:13-16; Deuteronomy 9:28, Deuteronomy 9:9, then Joshua Jos 7:9, the Psalmists Psalm 74; Psalm 79:1-13; 115, plead with God, that His own power or will to save His people would be called in question, if he should destroy them, or give them up. God, on the other hand, tells them, that not for any deserts of theirs, but for His own Name's sake, He delivered them, lest the Pagan should be the more confirmed in their errors as to Himself Ezekiel 20:5; Ezekiel 36:21-23. It is part of true penitence to plead to God to pardon us, not for anything in ourselves, (for we have nothing of our own but our sins) but because we are the work of His hands, created in His image, the prince of the Blood of Jesus, called by His Name.

That the pagan should rule over them - This, and not the rendering in the margin, use a byword against them, is the uniform meaning of the Hebrew phrase. It is not to be supposed that the prophet Joel would use it in a sense contrary to the uniform usage of all the writers before him. Nor is there any instance of any other usage of the idiom in any later writer . "The enigma which was closed," says Jerome, "is now opened. For who that people is, manifold and strong, described above under the name of the "palmerworm, the locust, the canker-worm" and "the catterpillar," is now explained more clearly, "lest the pagan rule over them." For the heritage of the Lord is given to reproach, when they serve their enemies, and the nations say, "Where is their God," whom they boasted to be their Sovereign and their Protector?" Such is the reproach ever made against God's people, when He does not visibly protect them, which the Psalmist says was as a sword in his bones (Psalm 42:3, Psalm 42:10; add Psalm 79:10; Psalm 115:2 : Micah 7:16); his tears were his meat day and night while they said it. The Chief priests and scribes and elders fulfilled a prophecy by venturing so to blaspheme our Lord, "He trusted in God; let Him, deliver Him now, if He will have Him" (Matthew 27:43, from Psalm 22:8).

17. between the porch and … altar—the porch of Solomon's temple on the east (1Ki 6:3); the altar of burnt offerings in the court of the priests, before the porch (2Ch 8:12; compare Eze 8:16; Mt 23:35). The suppliants thus were to stand with their backs to the altar on which they had nothing to offer, their faces towards the place of the Shekinah presence.

heathen should rule over them—This shows that not locusts, but human foes, are intended. The Margin translation, "use a byword against them," is not supported by the Hebrew.

wherefore should they say … Where is their God?—that is, do not for thine own honor's sake, let the heathen sneer at the God of Israel, as unable to save His people (Ps 79:10; 115:2).

Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep, see Joel 1:13.

Between the porch; that stately porch built by Solomon, 1 Kings 6 3 Eze 40:48,49.

And the altar; not of incense, for that was in the holy place; but the great brazen altar, or altar of burnt-offering, which stood at some distance from this porch; and here the priests are commanded to stand, fasting and praying, whence they might be heard and seen by the people in the next court, in which the people were wont to pray.

Let them say, with loud voice, and with louder heart and affection; after this manner let them pray and intercede with God.

Spare: this includes confession of sin, acknowledging God’s justice, laying themselves at the foot of God for mercy, and imploring of mercy; Though we have sinned and deserve severe wrath, yet spare, deal not with us as we deserve.

Thy people: this includes all they can plead from the covenant of God with them, his grace, promise, faithfulness, &c.; We are thy peculiar people, thou art our God, therefore spare, &c.

Give not; thou only canst expose us to famine and servitude, and both will come upon us if thou first give us up to these predooming locusts, they will consume all, and if thou after give us up to those nations which as locusts are innumerable and irresistible. O give us not up to them.

Thine heritage; chosen, redeemed, possessed through many ages by thee. O Lord, even since we came out of Egypt thou hast owned us for thine heritage: though whilst we were impenitent, and sinned high against thee, we deserved to be cast off; now we return, repent, and pray, be gracious to us, and continue to own and bless thine heritage; since thou canst make it fruitful and beautiful, command it to excel in both; cultivate, fence, and watch over it, it is thine-heritage.

To reproach; it is a reproach to any land that it starves or eats up the inhabitants thereof, Numbers 13:32 Ezekiel 36:30; and famine, though by locusts, will be a reproach to this thine heritage; it will be greater reproach to be slaves to the nations signified by the locusts; therefore of mercy deliver us from both one and the other.

The heathen; whether Assyrians, or Chaldeans, or Babylonians.

Rule over them; conquer first, and then enslave thy people; or, as the word will bear, take them up for a taunt and proverb, when they shall know that they leave their own land as too barren a place to maintain them, or seek their bread at a dear rate in heathen lands.

Wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God? nay, these barbarous people will not so much consider our sins, or justify our God, but they will reproach God, our God, the great God, as if unable to maintain us. O spare for thine own glory’s sake, never let them as Psalm 115:2 deride thee our God. Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar,.... Not the altar of incense which stood in the holy place; but the altar of burnt offering, where the priests used to stand and do service; but now having nothing to do of that kind, they are called upon to weep and pray between that and the porch of the temple; where they might be seen and heard by the people in the outward court which the porch led into: this is thought by some to be the same situation with that between the temple and the altar, Matthew 23:35;

and let them say, spare thy people, O Lord; they are directed to plead, not in a way of justice, but mercy; that though it might be just with God to destroy these people, who were called by his name; yet it is entreated that he would not, but in mercy spare them, and not cut them off in his sore displeasure, which the present judgment threatened them with: there seems to be an argument for mercy suggested, in the relation these people stood in to God, they are "thy people", whom thou hast chosen, and who are called by thy name; though this was also an aggravation of their sin; and the same may be observed in what follows:

and give not thine heritage to reproach: the people whom he had chosen for his inheritance, and the land of Canaan he had given to them for an inheritance; both which would be given to reproach if such a famine should ensue that they must be obliged to go into other countries for food:

that the Heathen should rule over them; as they would, should they be forced to leave their own country, and settle in theirs for the sake of food: or "to be a proverb", or "byword, among the Heathen", as Jarchi. This clause Jerom thinks opens the mystery, and explains who are meant by the mighty nation under the name of locusts, the enemies of the Jews; though this does not necessarily follow, take the words in either sense, as explained: it seems indeed very likely, that though the locusts may be understood literally, yet may be considered as an emblem of the Assyrian or Chaldean army, as we have all along observed; and, as the same ancient writer observes, when we read of the locusts, we should think of the Chaldeans, in which thought we may be confirmed by this clause:

wherefore should they say among the people, where is their God? they boast of as their Creator and Benefactor, their Protector and Defender, that gave them a land flowing with milk and honey, and abounding with all blessings? what is become of that? and where is he now? which the Gentiles would say in a reproaching blaspheming way, should they be reduced to famine by the locusts, or fall into the hands of their enemies; than which kind of reproach and blasphemy there is nothing more cutting to religious minds: see Psalm 42:10; and this, as well as the former is used as an argument with God for mercy. The Targum is,

"where are they that are redeemed by the Word of your God?''

Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
17. weep] in grief and contrition: cf. Jdg 2:4; and on Joel 2:12.

between the porch and the altar] between the porch on the E. end of the Temple (1 Kings 6:3), and the great altar of burnt-offering in front of it (1 Kings 8:64; 2 Chronicles 8:12) in the ‘inner court’ (1 Kings 6:36), also called ‘the court of the priests,’ in contradistinction to the ‘great court’ (ib.) outside, into which alone the laity were admitted. The same expression occurs in Ezekiel 8:16. The priests are pictured as engaged there in supplication, with their faces (unlike those of the idolaters in Ezekiel 8:16) turned towards the sanctuary.

give not thine inheritance to reproach] cf. Ezekiel 22:4; Ezekiel 36:30 (“the reproach of famine among the nations”); Psalm 44:13; Psalm 79:4; Psalm 89:41. The fact of Judah’s being Jehovah’s people and inheritance, is made the basis of the appeal, as Deuteronomy 9:26; Deuteronomy 9:29.

that the nations should rule over them] This translation is perfectly legitimate grammatically; but in the context there has been no mention of Judah being dominated by foreign nations, but only of the country having been devastated by locusts and drought; hence the rendering make proverbs of (i.e. use their name as a by-word) is more probable (cf. R.V. marg.); comp. Jeremiah 24:9 (“to be a reproach and a proverb … in all places whither I shall drive them”), Psalm 44:13 a, 14a. The country suffering as it did, the heathen would be tempted to mock Israel, to declare that they were abandoned by their God, and that He lacked either the power or the will to save them. Comp. Exodus 32:12; Numbers 14:13-16; Deuteronomy 9:28.

wherefore should they say among the peoples, Where is their God?] Such is the taunt which the peoples of the earth would address to them, when they saw their distress. Comp. Micah 7:10; Psalm 42:10; Psalm 79:10; Psalm 115:2,—in Psalm 79:10, as here, a motive for God’s intervention.

With the general picture of the nation, small and great alike, assembled as suppliants in the Temple, with the priests leading their devotions, comp. Jdt 4:9-15.In the first strophe (Hosea 7:1-7) the exposure of the moral depravity of Israel is continued. Hosea 7:1. "When I heal Israel, the iniquity of Ephraim, reveals itself, and the wickedness of Samaria: for they practise deceit; and the thief cometh, the troop of robbers plundereth without. Hosea 7:2. And they say not in their heart, I should remember all their wickedness. Now their deeds have surrounded them, they have occurred before my face. Hosea 7:3. They delight the king with their wickedness, and princes with their lies." As the dangerous nature of a wound is often first brought out by the attempt to heal it, so was the corruption of Israel only brought truly to light by the effort to stem it. The first hemistich of Hosea 7:1 is not to be referred to the future, nor is the healing to be understood as signifying punishment, as Hitzig supposes; but the allusion is to the attempts made by God to put a stop to the corruption, partly by the preaching of repentance and the reproofs of the prophets, and partly by chastisements designed to promote reformation. The words contain no threatening of punishment, but a picture of the moral corruption that had become incurable. Here again Ephraim is not the particular tribe, but is synonymous with Israel, the people or kingdom of the ten tribes; and Samaria is especially mentioned in connection with it, as the capital and principal seat of the corruption of morals, just as Judah and Jerusalem are frequently classed together by the prophets. The lamentation concerning the incurability of the kingdom is followed by an explanatory notice of the sins and crimes that are openly committed. Sheqer, lying, i.e., deception both in word and deed towards God and man, theft and highway robbery and not fear of the vengeance of God. "Accedit ad haec facinora securitas eorum ineffabilis" (Marck). They do not consider that God will remember their evil deeds, and punish them; they are surrounded by them on all sides, and perform them without shame or fear before the face of God Himself. These sins delight both king and prince. To such a depth have even the rulers of the nation, who ought to practise justice and righteousness, fallen, that they not only fail to punish the sins, but take pleasure in their being committed.
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