Gird yourselves, and lament, you priests: howl, you ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth…
The prophet now directs his message to the priests of Judah, and intimates that the calamity which had befallen their nation had a deep moral significance to which they should give earnest heed, and which should awaken them to immediate activity.
I. THAT IN TIMES OF NATIONAL CALAMITY THE MINISTERIAL OFFICE BECOMES OF THE HIGHEST IMPORTANCE. It is evident that Joel regarded the office of the priest as of the highest importance in these times of dread calamity. He had called the drunkards from their slumber, but they could do nothing to avert the immediate danger. He had made known to the husbandmen the extent of their loss, but they could not render much aid in the terrible crisis; but now he turns to the priests, and urges upon them the duty of initiating and guiding the nation to a reformed life. He knew that they would be more likely than any other class of men to help him in this arduous work. And why?
1. Because the ministerial office wields a great social influence, and is therefore competent to initiate moral reformation.
2. Because the ministerial office is supposed to seek the general good of men, and will therefore be credited with lofty motive in seeking moral reformation.
3. Because the ministerial office touches the springs of the inner life of a nation, and can therefore infuse healing remedy.
II. THAT IN TIME OF NATIONAL CALAMITY THE MINISTERIAL OFFICE SHOULD BE REPENTANT IN ITS INMOST SOUL. "Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests: howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God."
1. Then the ministerial office should be characterised by quick energy. The priests of Judah were to gird themselves. They were to hasten at once to the duty required by the circumstances of the nation and by the retribution of God. This was no time for indifference or sloth; their best energies were required.
2. Then the ministerial office should be characterised by deep sorrow. The priests of Judah were to lament and put on tokens of deep grief; they were to robe themselves in sackcloth. Their outward attire was to be indicative of their inward feeling of repentance before God.
3. Then the ministerial office should be characterised by untiring watchfulness. The priests of Judah were to lie all night in sackcloth and give themselves to prayer; their tears of repentance were not to be wiped away by the gentle hand of sleep.
4. Then the ministerial office should be characterised by true humility. We can readily imagine that the priests of Judah would experience a sense of humiliation as they gazed upon the neglected temple worship, and they would bow in abasement before the Lord of the temple.
III. THAT IN TIMES OF NATIONAL CALAMITY THE MINISTERIAL OFFICE MUST ENDEAVOUR TO AWAKEN THE PEOPLE TO THE INITIAL ACTS OF REFORMATION. "Sanctify ye a fast," etc.
1. They proclaim a fast. The priests of Judah were to proclaim a fast, and they were also to sanctify it. A mere abstinence from food is of little service before God unless it be accompanied by those thoughts and devotions of the soul which alone can hallow it.
2. They call an assembly. The prophet commands that all the nation should be called and gathered into the temple, that public prayer might be added to private abstinence. It appears that fasting was always connected with a solemn convocation; the confession and humiliation of men must be unanimous and open. Humiliation for sin must not be confined to secrecy and solitude, but must be made in the great congregation, that the law which has been openly broken may be openly honoured, and that the ways of God may be justified before men.
3. They urge to supplication. The putting on of sackcloth by the priests, the abstaining from food by the people, the coming into the temple, would avail nothing unless it all were joined with earnest supplication; hence the assembled worshippers are urged to cry unto the Lord.Lessons: —
1. That the ministerial office should exert its best energy to prevent moral apostasy in the nation.
2. That in times of such apostasy it must give an example of true repentance.
3. That in such times it should initiate the necessary worship in order to avert the Divine displeasure.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.
WEB: Put on sackcloth and mourn, you priests! Wail, you ministers of the altar. Come, lie all night in sackcloth, you ministers of my God, for the meal offering and the drink offering are withheld from your God's house.