This is the word of the LORD that came to Joel son of Pethuel:
I. THE PREPARATION WHICH JOEL RECEIVED FOR WORK is described in the single phrase, "The word of the Lord came to Joel." This was the one fact necessary to authenticate his message. If God was speaking through him, then - whoever he might be - the world was bound to listen to him; his word was a declaration from the Unseen. There is now a general forgetfulness of the possibility of such revelation. It is accepted by some as an axiom that the God who created the world and set it going cannot interfere further with his own handiwork; that if he exists at all, he lives at an infinite remove from mundane affairs, as did the god of Epicurus. If we speak of works done which cannot at present be accounted for by the laws we have deduced from observed ordinary phenomena, and urge that men have had glimpses of an outlying sphere of energy which surrounds what is visible, we are regarded as credulous enthusiasts. But in an earlier age there were men whom scientists would be the first to condemn, who, having never seen a comet blazing in the sky, nor heard of such a phenomenon, would have laughed to scorn its possibility. Yet the world now not only believes in the existence of comets, but has found out the law of their return, and has assigned them their own places in the planetary system with which once they appeared to have nothing in common. Is it not possible that the same process will take place in regard to what we now call supernatural? There are psychical phenomena still awaiting explanation which have convinced us that we have influence over each other, apart from physical contact; and if one human spirit can affect another, surely it is not incredible that the Father of spirits was able to touch the springs of thought and feeling in those ancient prophets. Indeed, this was not peculiar to them; it is an experience of to-day among the devout and prayerful, who obey the command of their Lord, "What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light."
II. THE OBSCURITY OF WORK with which Joel was content. His was the spirit of John the Baptist, who was willing to remain only the "voice" of God. The world little thinks how much it owes to its silent workers in literature, in politics, and in religion. Many are living in quiet homes, or in poor lodgings, whose names are never heard, whose duties are not suspected, who by their pens are leading the nation in ways of righteousness. God's most faithful servants are sometimes personally obscure. Some are patiently plodding away at monotonous work, and bear in the spirit of their Master many an injustice and cruel slight. Others in business stretch out the helping hand to weaker brethren who, but for such timely aid, would sink in a vortex of ruin. And ministering angels still venture into haunts of vice to seek and to save those who are lost. The Father who seeth in secret will hereafter bestow some of the highest places in his kingdom on those who all their life long have been without honour or applause.
III. THE INFLUENCE OF JOEL'S WORK it would not be easy to over-estimate. Several of the later prophets were indebted to him for suggestive thoughts and phrases. Peter quotes his prophecy about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; and John, in his Book of the Revelation, makes use of his image of the locusts. It is thus that God builds the temple of truth. We see its stately proportions and exclaim, "Behold what manner of stones and what buildings are here!" but how often we forget the quarries from which the stones were dug. and the workmen who did the first rough work of shaping them for the Master's use! It is not so with God. We often admire the hero who, in advocacy of the truth, compels the world to listen; but the germs of his character may be traced to the nurture of a gentle mother, whose character and teaching, with God's blessing, made her son what he is. He is the living witness of the issues flowing from her obscure work.
IV. THE COURAGE AND HOPEFULNESS which Joel showed in his work. All was dark around him, and he knew things would be darker still before the sunshine came. He was living in a kingdom which, after the revolt of the ten tribes, was about equal in area to the county of Suffolk, and even with the addition of the district belonging to Benjamin was not so large as Yorkshire. Yet he boldly looks forward to a time when that kingdom would be the centre of light to the world. We talk of the "materialism of the old dispensation;" but here is faith in spiritual force which may put us all to shame. We ought not to be unduly discouraged by statistics which compare the numbers of Christians with the numbers of heathens. We should reflect that on the side of Christ are the leading nations of the world - not those falling into decay, but those which are planting the future empires which will rule the future. Yet, with all our thankfulness for this, our confidence must be not in it, but in him who can and will work through these peoples till all the kingdoms of the world become the kingdoms of our God. - A.R.
The word of the Lord that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.
(Isaac Williams, B. D.)
1. He was a successful prophet. He accomplished s remarkable moral revolution. He bowed the hearts of his contemporaries as the heart of one man; he drew them to the altar of God! and united them in a great national fast and supplication. The prophet is raised up to do his work. He is to live, to speak, to die if necessary; to rouse the conscience, and, as far as he can, to persuade the world of the truth of his message. He is to do his errand, — he is not to be talked of. And what are we compared with the work which we have to do? The joy of the true prophet is like that of the Baptist. He (the Lord and Master) must increase. What matter if I decrease, or be forgotten? Where the spirit of self-suppression is, there is power. No dim or uncertain thought mars the concentration of purpose. Feebler or more selfish natures dread to lose self. The date in which Joel lived is not necessary to be known in order to understand the direction and drift of his ministry. The spiritual value of many things is independent of chronology.
2. What was his message? He teaches spiritual principles, not for an age but for all time.(1) He is a prophet of rebuke and repentance. He so influences the people that they gather to a great day of humiliation. A grievous calamity spoke with the prophet's words. The calamity was awful, and unparalleled in its severity. It was the utter desolation of the land by locusts. Joy ceases among the people as they gaze at their desolated land, and contemplate the famine that must follow. The prophet gave guidance to people's thoughts and pointed the significance of the calamity. Mere trouble does not melt the heart or subdue the will, but startling troubles which come to disturb the monotony of indolently expected prosperity are nevertheless messengers of the Lord. The day of calamity, rightly understood, is a day of the Lord. This calamity breaks up two of the accustomed orders of life. The gifts of nature's order — the harvest of corn and wine — are snatched away. The usages of religious order are suspended. There being no gifts, the daily sacrifice ceases. To the people no two things could be more dread-inspiring. The twofold bond which bound the people to their God, and God to the people, seemed to them to be broken. The order of nature and the order of worship were both upset. All order is witness of another order, the order of righteousness. If there be a bond between the Lord and the people, that bond must be of the highest and most enduring order. It must be a bond in the order of the moral life. The suspension of the accustomed order of things may be the witness to the existence of the highest order — the righteous order in which the righteous God rules. So this calamity is indeed the day of the Lord. It calls man to repair the bond which is more precious than the bond of benefits or material gifts and sacrifices. It bids the people to look at the broken links of that golden chain which is righteousness, purity, faith. The prophet exercises his function of rebuke. And this power it is hard for ministers to retain. Rebuke of men's sins so easily enlists the assistance of our personal feelings. When once this unholy alliance is permitted we assail men rather than men's vices. Will the prophet give us hints as to the principles which would enable us to maintain this power in purity and efficiency, and enable us to discharge this duty with impartial fairness? Notice the large sympathy of the prophet. He has the completest power of identifying himself with the sorrows and troubles of the land and people. He is one with them; their sorrow is his sorrow. Here is one condition of the capacity of rebuke. It has often been said that we can only help men by putting ourselves in their place. Want of tenderness almost certainly involves want of tact; and want of tact renders us ineffective in reproof and in persuasion. Along with sympathy there must be a spirit which is profoundly convinced of the reality of the Divine rule. No man is or can be a prophet to whom the kingdom of God is not the most real thing in the universe. Repentance must be deep and natural. It must be the hatred of the moral evil that hinders them. It must be the awakening of the spirit to the gulf which small and unobserved sins may make between them and God. The vainglorious spirit which so often follows in the wake of earnest and victory seeking desires, robs away the protections which humility affords. What is needed is repentance for the whole spiritual tone — repentance which implies a recognition of the claim of God upon our whole spirit; repentance for the deviations from true and inward righteousness — repentance for the dulness and downwardness of our spirits. Joel does not mention specific sins. What then do we all need? We need the strong and vivid conviction of the reality of the kingdom of righteousness to make true our efforts for good. We need spirits which are united in sympathy with the Spirit of Him who sent us, for are we not fellow-workers with Him? Quick in tenderness, firm in righteousness, and with spirits possessed of the consciousness of God, we may attempt our work.
(Joseph Parker, D. D.)
I. THAT THE WORD OF GOD TO A SINFUL NATION IS COMMUNICATED THROUGH THE INSTRUMENTALITY OF ONE MAN. "The Word of the Lord that came to Joel." Here we learn that it is the ordinary way of God to communicate with the race through human instrumentality. The Divine Being did not present Himself to the wicked people of Judah and threaten woe; they could not have endured the brightness of His presence; they would have fled from before the majesty of His voice. He did not send an angel to convey His message; an angel would not have gained the confidence required. And so it is the way of God to speak by man to men, that He may dim His infinite glory by wrapping it in human vesture, and thus adapt it to human vision; but the word thus spoken is none the less Divine, and none the less worthy of regard. Christ was incarnate that He might utter the unfathomable Word of God, and that Word is still prolonged by human lips.
1. This one man was Divinely selected. The prophet Joel was selected by God to convey the message of woe and the need of repentance to the people of Judah. But who was Joel? Was he a man of social reputation, of advanced scholarship, of eminent talent? We know not. Nothing of his history is written; simply the name of his father is given. He was anxious to be known only as the servant of God. And we find that God often chooses modest agencies, unknown to fame, to speak His Word to mankind; He uses the foolish things of the world to confound the mighty. Thus the word uttered derives emphasis from the absence of human greatness in the speaker. Fame is not a condition of ministerial success. A man must be chosen by God before he has any right to preach the Word to the nations.
2. This one man was greatly honoured. The Word of the Lord which came to Joel imparted to him the highest dignity. It honoured him by coming to his soul, even as the presence of a king confers renown upon those who are favoured therewith. He was the chosen of God out of a vast nation, and was entrusted with prophetic communications. New abilities were awakened within him, and his life, which had hitherto been solitary and of little influence, was to become the centre of a nation's life. Manhood can have no greater honour conferred upon it than to be sent with the Word of God to men.
3. This one man was supremely trusted. Joel was entrusted with a great position. He was selected as one man out of a vast people to receive and make known the Word of the Lord. This might have led him to assume false claims and empty titles; he might have been tempted to use the moral authority thus given to him for secular ends. A minister holds his unique position in society as a sacred trust, and betrays it if he uses it for any other purpose than the moral welfare of those around him. Joel was also entrusted with a valuable deposit, even with the Word of the Lord. This he was not to conceal, but to declare. This he was not to adulterate, but to defend. This he was bravely to announce to a sinful people, unawed by numbers or results.
4. This one man was arduously worked. To Joel was committed the task of effecting a moral reformation in the national life of Judah. He stood almost alone with a great work to accomplish, lie had to proclaim great calamities to which few would listen. And the true minister has arduous work before him; he has oft, single-handed, to contend with a degenerate crowd; he has to preach great doctrines rejected and despised; he cannot guarantee success.
II. THAT THE DIVINE WORD TO A SINFUL NATION REQUIRES THE EARNEST ATTENTION OF ALL CLASSES OF INDIVIDUALS (vers. 2, 3).
1. It should awaken the attention of the aged. The old men in the land of Judah were to listen to the prediction of Joel, and say whether anything so calamitous had ever occurred before. They could remember the past, and hence were competent to speak concerning it. Attention to the truth is the first condition of a renewed and sober life; even old men, who ought to be wiser, are sometimes heedless concerning it, and need to be reminded of its importance.
2. It should awaken the attention of the general multitude. All the inhabitants of the land of Judah were called upon to hear the message of Joel. It not only concerned the wise, but also the ignorant; not only the rulers, but those under them. It would not be the fault of the prophet if any did not feel the importance of his communication. The common multitude arc not generally observant of the judgments of God occurring around them, they need some one to unveil their inner and solemn meaning.
3. It should awaken the attention of remote posterity. The calamity predicted by Joel was to be handed down to a remote posterity. Not only are the memories of Divine mercy to be preserved, but also of Divine judgment, that they may in future deter from evil. Children must be instructed in the historical revelation which God has made concerning Himself, that they may see the wisdom of piety demonstrated in the facts of life. We should ever remember that the ages are mysteriously linked together, and that we are transmitting moral influences and instruction which the future must inherit. Let us heed the teaching of the past.
III. THAT THE DIVINE WORD TO A SINFUL NATION SOMETIMES HAS REFERENCE TO THE MOST AWFUL CALAMITIES (ver. 4).
1. It was a calamity occasioned by a wondrous increase of useful creatures. God can turn the existing arrangements of the universe into an army of eternal justice. He has no need to create new agencies to rebuke sin; there are myriads awaiting His command. Locusts will execute His judgments. The Divine resource of retribution is beyond human imagination.
2. It was a calamity which employed the weakest agencies to execute its purpose. God's weak things are strong enough to work mischief to the wicked. Man is soon smitten down by little creatures.
3. It was a calamity which for continuous destruction was unequalled in the national history. One agency of ruin was succeeded by another, until the effect of the whole was utter desolation of resource and joy. Lessons —
1. That men must give themselves to the work which God appoints them.
2. That men should heed the Word of the Lord before the hour of retribution comes.
3. That sin is sure to be followed by the most awful calamities.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Homilist.We learn from this passage —
I. THAT THIS CALAMITY WAS DIVINELY REVEALED AT FIRST TO THE MIND OF ONE MAN. "The Word of the Lord that came to Joel the son of Pethuel." No one knew at first what a sad calamity was coming on the country but Jehovah Himself. No sage, seer, or priest knew anything of it. Such a fact as this suggests —
1. The distinguishing faculty of man. Of all the creatures on earth, man alone can receive communications from heaven. We know not how the Word came unto him. The great Father of Spirits has many ways of striking His thoughts into the souls of His children. Souls are ever accessible to Him.
2. The manifest sovereignty of God. Why did He select Joel more than any other man?
II. That this calamity was UNPRECEDENTED IN HISTORY. "Hear ye this, ye old men," etc. Observe —
1. That no Divine judgments have been so great as to preclude the possibility of greater. The penal resources of the righteous Judge are unbounded. Great as your afflictions have been, they can be greater.
2. That the greater the sins of a people, the greater the judgments to be expected. It is probable that Judah's sins were greater at this time than they had ever been before, and that, consequently, severer penalties were to come. Take care, sinner, in every sin you commit you are treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath.
III. That this calamity was so TREMENDOUS AS TO COMMAND THE ATTENTION OF ALL GENERATIONS, "Tell ye your children," etc.
1. Because it shows that God rules the world. It is not controlled by chance or necessity.
2. Because it shows that God takes cognisance of the world's sin, and abhors it.
IV. THIS CALAMITY WAS INFLICTED BY THE MOST INSIGNIFICANT OF GOD'S CREATURES. There is no authority for the opinion that the creatures here mentioned were symbols of hostile armies. Locusts are mentioned in their different stages and species. So to punish sinners God needs no thunderbolts. He can kill a man with a moth.
Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land —1. When men become incorrigible, and sin ripens to a height, then the Lord will reprove and plead against it by judgments, and not by His Word only; for whereas the method of other prophets is, first, to reprove sin, then to threaten for it, and then to subjoin exhortations to repentance with encouragements and promises; this prophet doth at first point out their sin and guilt, as to be read in visible judgments,
2. Famine is one of the rods whereby the Lord pleads against the Church for her sin, and strips her of abused mercies, and of temptations to wantonness and rebellion.
3. God can, when He pleaseth, arm very mean and contemptible creatures to execute His judgments, and particularly, to deprive men of the fruits of the ground; for here He sends out "the palmer-worm, the locust, the canker-worm, and the caterpillar," and they eat up all.
4. As God hath still one scourge after another with which to plague a sinful and incorrigible people, who will not repent, but think to escape with the plagues that have come on them. So it speaks sad things when one calamity stints not the controversy, but He pursueth still one judgment after another, and with breach upon breach, for so it is here, what one left another did eat up.
5. Albeit the Lord in every age be testifying His displeasure against sin, yet at some times, and when sin is come to a great height, He may make one age a remarkable spectacle of justice, and bring judgments on them, the like of which have not been seen in many generations; for such was His dealing with this generation, their fathers, past memory of man, had not seen the like, nor should the like be seen for many generations to come.
That which the palmer-worm hath left hath the locust oatenstages in the growth of the same insect, meaning the unwinged, the partially winged, the full-winged locust, and that changing in colour? Such is the view of Ewald, and he says that these four stages are well marked. There are insuperable difficulties in this theory. For if four successive stages had been intended in Joel 1:4, why is the order confused and altered in Joel 2:25, where the arbeh is put first, and the gazam last? This is inexplicable if, as Credner thought, the gazam in Joel 1:4 meant the mother-swarm, and the arbeh, yeleg, and chasil, its three metamorphoses. In point of fact, there are only two broadly marked changes in the development of the locust — from larva to pupa — and from pupa to the full-grown insect. In hot climates the creature can use its wings in about three weeks. It seems certain that the prophet is in no sense writing as a natural historian. The use of the four terms is only due to poetry and rhetoric, just as the Psalmist, in Psalm 78:46; Psalm 105:34, freely employs the words chasil and jeleg as interchangeable with the word arbeh, which used in the Pentateuch to describe "the Egyptian" plague.
(Dean Farrar, D. D.)
(Joseph Parker, D. D.)
I. ITS FOES. Nature reveals life in its myriad lower forms begirt by foes. In our own physical life, the foreign fact becomes a near experience. Intellectual life has its foes. That spiritual life should have its foes is therefore no anomaly.
II. THEIR SUCCESSION. In a garden, you save the plants from their first enemies only to find that later foes attack them. There are successive foes for every stage of the spiritual life.
III. THEIR CONNECTION. The foes of the text were of one kind. They were several species of locusts, or several forms of the same species. So sin in one form is often followed by its fellows or its progeny, each working a wider ruin. We see pleasure-seeking followed by a breed of worthless traits; speculation followed by falsehood and dishonour; worldly yielding followed by neglect in prayer; compromise followed by compliance; doubt followed by intellectual pride; ignorance followed by fanaticism; covetousness by pharisaism; selfish success by indolence. What is the lesson? Beware of the coming into the field of your spiritual life of any sin. It will draw others after it. It will itself be metamorphosed into something worse.
(G. H. Morgan, Ph. D.)
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