Joel 2:3
A fire devours before them; and behind them a flame burns: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yes, and nothing shall escape them.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(3) Before them . . . behind them.—As with the locusts, so with the invading hosts of enemies: the country is found a paradise, and left a desert.

Joel 2:3. A fire devoureth before them, &c. — They consume like a general conflagration. “They destroy the ground,” says Sir Hans Sloane, (Natural History of Jamaica, 1:29,) “not only for the time, but burn trees for two years after.” “Wheresoever they feed, says Ludolphus, (History of Ethiopia, lib. 1. c. 13,) “their leavings seem, as it were, parched with fire.” Pliny bears the same testimony, 11:29, Multa contactu adurentes, “Burning things up by the touch.” The land is as the garden of Eden before them, &c. — The land of Judea, so famous for its fertility and pleasantness, shall be turned into a desolate wilderness by the ravages they will make. The garden of Eden is a proverbial expression for a place of pleasure and fruitfulness, in which sense we commonly use the word paradise. And nothing shall escape them — Namely, which the ground produces. “After devouring the herbage,” says Adanson, as above, “with the fruits and the leaves of the trees, they attacked even the buds and very bark. They did not so much as spare the reeds with which the huts were thatched.” Thus also Ludolphus: “Sometimes they enter the very bark of trees, and then the spring itself cannot repair the damage.” “Omnia morsu erodentes, et fores quoque tectorum,” says Pliny, 11:20. “Consuming all things, even the doors of the houses.” In the Philosophical Transactions, No. 112, A.D. 1686, we have an account of the locusts in Languedoc, being about an inch in length, of a gray colour. “The earth,” it is observed, “in some places, was covered four inches thick with them, in the morning, before the heat of the sun was considerable; but as soon as it began to grow hot they took wing, and fell upon the corn, eating up both leaf and ear; and that with such expedition, by reason of their number, that in three hours they would devour a whole field, after which they again took wing, and their swarms were so thick, that they covered the sun like a cloud, and were whole hours in passing. After having eaten up the corn, they fell upon the vines, the pulse, the willows, and even the hemp, notwithstanding its great bitterness; after this these insects died, and stunk very much.”2:1-14 The priests were to alarm the people with the near approach of the Divine judgments. It is the work of ministers to warn of the fatal consequences of sin, and to reveal the wrath from heaven against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. The striking description which follows, shows what would attend the devastations of locusts, but may also describe the effects from the ravaging of the land by the Chaldeans. If the alarm of temporal judgments is given to offending nations, how much more should sinners be warned to seek deliverance from the wrath to come! Our business therefore on earth must especially be, to secure an interest in our Lord Jesus Christ; and we should seek to be weaned from objects which will soon be torn from all who now make idols of them. There must be outward expressions of sorrow and shame, fasting, weeping, and mourning; tears for trouble must be turned into tears for the sin that caused it. But rending the garments would be vain, except their hearts were rent by abasement and self-abhorrence; by sorrow for their sins, and separation from them. There is no question but that if we truly repent of our sins, God will forgive them; but whether he will remove affliction is not promised, yet the probability of it should encourage us to repent.A fire devoureth before them ... - Travelers, of different nations and characters, and in different lands, some unacquainted with the Bible words, have agreed to describe under this image the ravages of locusts. : "They scorch many things with their touch." : "Whatever of herb or leaf they gnaw, is, as it were, scorched by fire." : "Wherever they come, the ground seems burned, as it were with fire." : "Wherever they pass, they burn and spoil everything, and that irremediably." : "I have myself observed that the places where they had browsed were as scorched, as if the fire had passed there." : "They covered a square mile so completely, that it appeared, at a little distance, to have been burned and strewn over with brown ashes. Not a shrub, nor a blade of grass was visible." : "A few months afterward, a much larger army alighted and gave the whole country the appearance of having been burned." "Wherever they settled, it looks as if fire had devoured and burnt up everything." : "It is better to have to do with the Tartars, than with these little destructive animals; you would think that fire follows their track," are the descriptions of their ravages in Italy, Aethiopia, the Levant, India, South Africa. The locust, itself the image of God's judgments, is described as an enemy, invading, as they say, "with fire and sword," "breathing fire," wasting all, as he advances, and leaving behind him the blackness of ashes, and burning villages. : "Whatsoever he seizeth on, he shall consume as a devouring flame and shall leave nothing whole behind him."

The land is as the garden of Eden before them - In outward beauty the land was like that Paradise of God, where He placed our first parents; as were Sodom and Gomorrah, before God overthrew them Genesis 13:10. It was like a garden enclosed and protected from all inroad of evil. They sinned, and like our first parents forfeited its bliss. "A fruitful land God maketh barren, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein" Psalm 107:34. Ezekiel fortells the removal of the punishment, in connection with the Gospel promise of "a new heart and a new spirit. They shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden" Ezekiel 36:26, Ezekiel 36:35.

And behind them a desolate wilderness - The desolation caused by the locust is even more inconceivable to us, than their numbers. We have seen fields blighted; we have known of crops, of most moment to man's support, devoured; and in one year we heard of terrific famine, as its result. We do not readily set before our eyes a whole tract, embracing in extent several of our counties, in which not the one or other crop was smitten, but every green thing was gone. Yet such was the scourge of locusts, the image of other and worse scourges in the treasure-house of God's displeasure. A Syrian writer relates , "1004 a.d., a large swarm of locusts appeared in the land of Mosul and Bagdad, and it was very grievous in Shiraz. It left no herb nor even leaf on the trees, and even gnawed the pieces of linen which the fullers were bleaching; of each piece the fuller gave a scrap to its owner: and time was a famine, and a cor (about two quarters) of wheat was sold in Bagdad for 120 gold dinars (about 54 British pounds):" and again , "when it (the locust of 784 a.d.,) had consumed the whole tract of Edessa and Sarug, it passed to the west and for three years after this heavy chastisement there was a famine in the land." : "We traveled five days through lands wholly despoiled; and for the canes of maize, as large as the largest canes used to prop vines, it cannot be said how they were broken and trampled, as if donkeys had trampled them; and all this from the locusts. The wheat, barley, tafos , were as if they had never been sown; the trees without a single leaf; the tender wood all eaten; there was no memory of herb of any sort. If we had not been advised to take mules laden with harley and provisions for ourselves, we should have perished of hunger, we and our mules. This land was all covered with locusts without wings, and they said that they were the seed of those who had all gone, who had destroyed the land." : "Everywhere, where their legions march, verdure disappears from the country, like a curtain which is folded up; trees and plants stripped of leaves, and reduced to their branches and stalks, substitute, in the twinkling of an eye, the dreary spectacle of winter for the rich scenes of spring." "Happily this plague is not very often repeated, for there is none which brings so surely famine and the diseases which follow it." : "Desolation and famine mark their progress; all the expectations of the farmer vanish; his fields, which the rising sun beheld covered with luxuriance, are before evening a desert; the produce of his garden and orchard are alike destroyed, for where these destructive swarms alight, not a leaf is left upon the trees, a blade of grass in the pastures, nor an ear of corn in the field." : "In 1654 a great multitude of locusts came from the northwest to the Islands Tayyovvan and Formosa, which consumed all that grew in the fields, so that above eight thousand men perished by famine." : "They come sometimes in such prodigious swarms, that they darken the sky as they pass by and devour all in those parts where they settle, so that the inhabitants are often obliged to change their habitations for want of sustenance, as it has happened frequently in China and the Isle of Tajowak." : "The lands, ravaged throughout the west, produced no harvest. The year 1780 was still more wretched. A dry winter produced a new race of locusts which ravaged what had escaped the inclemency of the season. The farmer reaped not what he had sown, and was reduced to have neither nourishment, seed, nor cattle. The people experienced all the horrors of famine. You might see them wandering over the country to devour the roots; and, seeking in the bowels of the earth for means to lengthen their days, perhaps they rather abridged them. A countless number died of misery and bad nourishment. I have seen countrymen on the roads and in the streets dead of starvation, whom others were laying across asses, to go bury them. fathers sold their children. A husband, in concert with his wife, went to marry her in some other province as if she were his sister, and went to redeem her, when better off. I have seen women and children run after the camels, seek in their dung for some grain of indigested barley and devour it with avidity."

Yea, and nothing shall escape them - Or (which the words also include) "none shall escape him," literally, "and also there shall be no escaping as to him or from him." The word , being used elsewhere of the persons who escape, suggests, in itself, that we should not linger by the type of the locusts only, but think of enemies more terrible, who destroy not harvests only, but people, bodies or souls also. Yet the picture of devastation is complete. No creature of God so destroys the whole face of nature, as does the locust. A traveler in the Crimea uses unconsciously the words of the prophet; ; "On whatever spot they fall, the whole vegetable produce disappears. Nothing escapes them, from the leaves of the forest to the herbs on the plain. Fields, vineyards, gardens, pastures, everything is laid waste; and sometimes the only appearance left is a disgusting superficies caused by their putrefying bodies, the stench of which is sufficient to breed a pestilence." Another in South Africa says , "When they make their appearance, not a single field of grain remains unconsumed by them. This year the whole of the Sneuwberg will not, I suppose, produce a single bushel." : "They had (for a space 80 or 90 miles in length) devoured every green herb and every blade of grass; and had it not been for the reeds on which our cattle entirely subsisted while we skirted the banks of the river, the journey must have been discontinued, at least in the line that had been proposed." : "Not a shrub nor blade of grass was visible." The rapidity with which they complete the destruction is also observed. : "In two hours, they destroyed all the herbs around Rama."

All this which is a strong, but true, image of the locusts is a shadow of God's other judgments. It is often said of God, "A fire goeth before Him and burneth up His enemies on every side" Psalm 97:3. "The Lord will come with fire; by fire will the Lord plead with all flesh" Isaiah 66:15-16. This is said of the Judgment Day, as in Paul, "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8. That awful lurid stream of fire shall burn up "the earth and all the works that are therein" 2 Peter 3:10. All this whole circuit of the globe shall be enveloped in one burning deluge of fire; all gold and jewels, gardens, fields, pictures, books, "the cloud-capt towers and gorgeous palaces, shall dissolve, and leave not a rack behind." The good shall be removed beyond its reach, for they shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

But all which is in the earth and those who are of the earth shall be swept away by it. It shall go before the army of the Lord, the Angels whom "the Son of man shall send forth, to gather out of His kingdom all things that shall offend and them that do iniquity. It shall burn after them" Matthew 13:41. For it shall burn on during the Day of Judgment until it have consumed all for which it is sent. "The land will be a garden of Eden before it." For they will, our Lord says, be eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building, marrying and giving in marriage Luke 17:27-28, Luke 17:30; the world will be "glorifying itself and living deliciously," full of riches and delights, when it "shall be utterly burned with fire," and "in one hour so great riches shall come to nought" Revelation 18:7-8, Revelation 18:17. "And after it a desolate wilderness," for there shall be none left. "And none shall escape." For our Lord says, "they shall gather all things that offend; the angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire" Matthew 13:41, Matthew 13:49-50.

3. before … behind—that is, on every side (1Ch 19:10).

fire … flame—destruction … desolation (Isa 10:17).

as … Eden … wilderness—conversely (Isa 51:3; Eze 36:35).

A fire, either the heat of the sun more vehement than usual, or the locusts, or Chaldeans and Babylonians resembled by locusts, as fire, shall devour, utterly consume and eat up,

before them; that people, Joel 2:2.

Behind them a flame burneth; what is left behind them is as burnt with a flame; all that the locusts leave behind them is as that which the flame hath scorched, dried, and turned into charcoal; or, all the Chaldeans and Babylonians leave behind them is (as customary with the barbarous invaders) set on fire, and what they cannot bat or carry away they destroy with fire.

The land is as the garden of Eden before them; it is every where most fruitful and pleasant, a land where they have not yet come. This is expressed in that proverbial speech,

as the garden of Eden: see Isaiah 51:3 Ezekiel 36:35.

And behind them a desolate wilderness; but wherever these locusts, or the armies they signify, come, all is turned into a most desolate wilderness. Nothing shall escape; nothing that was for beauty and pleasure, nor any thing for necessity and support of life. A fire devoureth before them, and behind them aflame burneth,.... This is not to be understood of the heat of the sun, or of the great drought that went before and continued after the locusts; but of them themselves, which were like a consuming fire; wherever they came, they devoured all green grass, herbs, and leaves of trees, as fire does stubble; they sucked out the juice and moisture of everything they came at, and what they left behind shrivelled up and withered away, as if it had been scorched with a flame of fire: and so the Assyrians and Chaldeans, they were an emblem of, destroyed all they met with, by fire and sword; cut up the corn and herbage for forage; and what they could not dispense with they set fire to, and left it burning. Sanctius thinks this refers to fire, which the Chaldeans worshipped as God, and carried before their armies as a sacred and military sign; but this seems not likely:

the land is as the garden of Eden before them; abounding with fields and vineyards, set with fruitful trees, planted with all manner of pleasant plants, and all kind of corn growing upon it, and even resembling a paradise:

and behind them a desolate wilderness; all green grass eaten up, the corn of the field devoured, the vines and olives destroyed, the leaves and fruit of them quite gone, and the trees themselves barked; so that there was just the same difference between this country before the calamities described came upon it, and what it was after, as between the garden of Eden, or a paradise, and the most desolate wilderness; such ravages were made by the locusts, and by those they resembled:

yea, and nothing shall escape them; no herb: plant, or tree, could escape the locusts; nor any city, town, or village, nor scarce any particular person, could escape the Chaldean army; but was either killed with the sword, or carried captive, or brought into subjection. The Targum interprets it of no deliverance to the ungodly.

A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of {d} Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them.

(d) The enemy destroyed our plentiful country, wherever he went.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
3. A fire devoureth before them, &c.] A hyperbolical description of the destructive march of a swarm of locusts: the country which they have passed over is left as bare as if it had been wasted by fire; and the prophet accordingly imagines poetically a fire as preceding and following them on their course. Many travellers have used the same comparison: one says, for instance, “Wherever they come, the ground seems burned, as it were with fire.” Another, “They covered a square mile so completely, that it appeared, at a little distance, to have been burned and strewed over with brown ashes.” And a third, “Wherever they settled, it looked as if fire had devoured and burnt up everything.” Palestine was invaded by locusts in 1865; from June 13 to 15 they poured into Nazareth: “the trees,” an eye-witness wrote, “are as barren as in England in winter, but it looks as if the country had been burnt by fire” (Eccles. Gazette, 1865, p. 55).

as the garden of Eden] like a park (LXX. here, as in Gen., παράδεισος), richly watered, and well stocked with majestic trees (Genesis 2:8-10): the comparison, as Ezekiel 36:35 (of the restored land of Israel) “this land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden”: similarly the garden of Jehovah, Genesis 13:10, Isaiah 51:3 (in the parallel clause, Eden); cp. also the trees of Eden, Ezekiel 31:9; Ezekiel 31:16; Ezekiel 31:18.

and behind them a desolate wilderness] The destruction wrought by locusts is such as to be hardly imaginable by those who have not witnessed it: see the next note; and cf. Exodus 10:15.

shall escape them] escapeth them. Present tenses, in English, represent the scene, as pictured by Joel, most vividly; and are best throughout to Joel 2:11 (cf. R.V.). The fact noted by the prophet is literally true, as almost every observer testifies. “On whatever spot they fall, the whole vegetable produce disappears. Nothing escapes them, from the leaves on the forest to the herbs on the plain” (Clarke, Travels, I. 428 f.). “They had [for a space of 80–90 miles in length] devoured every green herb, and every herb of grass.” “Not a shrub nor blade of grass was visible” (Barrow, S. Africa, pp. 242, 257).Verse 3. - A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth.

(1) The fire was the extreme drought preceding them; and the flame refers to the devastation of the locusts, for the places laid waste by them presented the appearance of being burnt with fire, the locusts consuming not only the grain and grass, but the very roots.

(2) Or it may refer to the locusts themselves; their destructive power being as though fire spread along before them. and flame swept the ground behind them.

(3) Or the fire may have been literally such, the people, in self-de fence, kindling it to stop, or turn aside, or drive away the advance of the locust-army.

(4) Keil explains this burning heat, heightened into devouring flames of fire, as accompaniments of the Divine Being "as he comes to judgment at the head of his army," like the balls of fire which attended his manifestation in Egypt, and the thunder and lightning amid which he descended at Sinai. The land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness. This reference by the first of the prophets to the first book of the Bible is noteworthy. The country before them, with its fertile fields and valuable vineyards, its fruit trees, and pleasant plants, and various cereals resembled a paradise. As they proceeded the corn was consumed, fruit trees and forest trees alike stripped of leaves and left barked and bare, the grass and verdure withered; so that after them nothing was to be seen but a desolate wilderness. Yea, and nothing shall escape them.

(1) That is, either nothing shall escape the locusts; or

(2) Keil contends that the meaning is that "even that which escaped did not remain to it," and refers lo to the land. The two kingdoms could not defend themselves against this chastisement by the help of any earthly power. Hosea 5:13. "And Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah his abscess; and Ephraim went to Asshur, and sent to king Jareb (striver): but he cannot cure you, nor drive the abscess away from you." By the imperfects, with Vav rel., ויּלך, ויּרא, the attempts of Ephraim and Judah to save themselves from destruction are represented as the consequence of the coming of God to punish, referred to in Hosea 5:12. Inasmuch as this is to be seen, so far as the historical fulfilment is concerned, not in the present, but in the past and future, the attempts to obtain a cure for the injuries also belong to the present (? past) and future. Mâzōr does not mean a bandage or the cure of injuries (Ges., Dietr.), but is derived from זוּר, to squeeze out (see Del. on Isaiah 1:6), and signifies literally that which is pressed out, i.e., a festering wound, an abscess. It has this meaning not only here, but also in Jeremiah 30:13, from which the meaning bandage has been derived. On the figure employed, viz., the disease of the body politic, see Delitzsch on Isaiah 1:5-6. That this disease is not to be sought for specially in anarchy and civil war (Hitzig), is evident from the simple fact, that Judah, which was saved from these evils, is described as being just as sick as Ephraim. The real disease of the two kingdoms was apostasy from the Lord, or idolatry with its train of moral corruption, injustice, crimes, and vices of every kind, which destroyed the vital energy and vital marrow of the two kingdoms, and generated civil war and anarchy in the kingdom of Israel. Ephraim sought for help from the Assyrians, viz., from king Jareb, but without obtaining it. The name Jareb, i.e., warrior, which occurs here and at Hosea 10:6, is an epithet formed by the prophet himself, and applied to the king of Assyria, not of Egypt, as Theodoret supposes. The omission of the article from מלך may be explained from the fact that Jârēbh is, strictly speaking, an appellative, as in למוּאל מלך in Proverbs 31:1. We must not supply Yehūdâh as the subject to vayyishlach. The omission of any reference to Judah in the second half of the verse, may be accounted for from the fact that the prophecy had primarily and principally to do with Ephraim, and that Judah was only cursorily mentioned. The ἅπ. λεγ. יגהה from גּהה, in Syriac to by shy, to flee, is used with min in the tropical sense of removing or driving away.
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