For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2002 James Melough

1:1.  “The word of the Lord came to Joel the son of Pethuel.”

Joel means Jehovah is God; and Pethuel, be ye persuaded of God: be ye enlarged of God, the meanings of the two names combining to emphasize the imperative of hearing and obeying God’s Word.  Obedience brings enlargement and blessing; disobedience, judgment.

1:2.  “Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land.  Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?”

A recent plague of locusts had been the worst ever known apparently, but what Joel was about to announce was the coming of a judgment far more stupendous, of which that of the locusts was but a foreshadowing.

1:3.  “Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.”

So terrible had been the devastation wrought by the locusts, that succeeding generations would rehearse its details with awe to their children.

1:4.  “That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten.”

The NEB translates this verse, “What the locust has left the swarm eats, what the swarm has left the hopper (hopping, not flying locust) eats, and what the hopper has left the grub eats.” It is the vivid description of utter devastation.

Some view this as being descriptive of four phases of the locust’s development; others, that it is of succeeding swarms, each new one devouring what may have been left by its predecessors.

It seems that (1) Joel is referring to a literal recent multi-stage plague of locusts by which the land had been devastated, and (2) under the figure of such a plague, he is describing a future invasion of the land by a literal vast army or armies of men which will leave utter desolation in their wake. 

That the reference may also be to the malignant activity of demons is very strongly suggested by Re 9:1-11 which describes the release, in the Tribulation, of myriads of demons which are described as locusts.  There can be little doubt that the reference is to the impending terrible Tribulation judgments, but not excluding the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, the oppression of Israel by Antiochus, and the Diaspora of AD 70, which are themselves foreshadowings of the worldwide devastation that will occur in the Tribulation, all of these being but types of the ultimate destruction in view: that which will bring the dissolution of the present heavens and earth after the end of the Millennium, and thus conclude the Day of the Lord, the long period which will begin after the rapture of the Church and end with the above mentioned passing away of the present heavens and earth.

1:5.  “Awake, ye drunkards, and weep: and howl, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the new wine; for it is cut off from your mouth.”

It seems clear that the language here is metaphoric, for the effects of any of these judgments would not be limited merely to drunkards.  Since therefore wine is one of the scriptural symbols of joy, it seems that “drunkards” is a synonym for a pleasure-crazed people.  It is, in fact, a very fitting description of today’s world.  This is to be understood as declaring that all joy will be taken away as a result of the terrible nature of the foretold judgments that are coming, not only upon Israel, but upon the whole earth.

1:6.  “For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek teeth of a great lion (lioness).”

This may be the metaphorical description of the locust swarms that had devastated the land, but if, as is generally believed, Joel prophesied between 900 and 800 BC, the reference may be also to the future devastation of the land in 772 BC by Assyria, or to Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, or Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, but everything in this prophecy points to the Tribulation judgments, of which Palestine will be the vortex, and which will themselves be but miniatures of those that will bring the total dissolution of the present heavens and earth after the Millennium.

1:7.  “He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white.”

In Scripture Israel is represented by three trees: (1) the vine represents her as she was in the past: a vine which the Lord brought out of Egypt, and planted in Palestine; (2) a fig tree, which represents her as she has been during this whole Church age, cursed, withered, and dead, but since the restoration of Jewish autonomy in 1948, beginning to bud again, the assurance of her ultimate restoration and blessing; and (3) an olive tree, which represents her as she will be in the Millennium, restored and blessed, and made a blessing to all the nations of earth.

The vine laid waste seems to refer to what has happened to Israel in the past at the hand of Assyria, Babylon, and Rome; and in the dead fig tree, her branches white and bare, we are given a picture of her as she has been in the years between the Diaspora of AD 70 and the restoration of her autonomy in 1948.  (The usual translation of “barked” as “splintered” is incorrect.  Barking consists of removing the bark in a complete circle, or of cutting it in a complete circle, either procedure eventually killing the tree).

The fig tree made clean bare, and cast away, its branches made white, is a fitting picture of Israel as she has been for almost the past two thousand years.  To all appearances she has been dead, but in 1948 the live buds began to appear again on the fig tree as God began to bring her back to the land promised to Abraham long ago.  In the Millennium she will be in that land as the olive tree, enjoying His blessing, and being herself a blessing to others, as God always intended her to be.

It is significant therefore that in the verse we are considering the olive tree isn’t mentioned because it represents obedient, believing Israel in the Millennium, and for her, as for every believer, there will be no destructive judgment, for it seems reasonable to conclude that she will be raptured to heaven before the destruction of the present heavens and earth after the Millennium, just as the Church will be raptured to heaven before the Tribulation judgments destroy the present evil world order.  Apart from such a rapture, it is difficult to see how millennial believers could escape the final post-millennial judgment that will destroy the present heavens and earth with fire.

1:8.  “Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth.”

This is addressed to the nation as a corporate body, for in La 1:15 Israel is referred to as, “... the virgin, the daughter of Judah,” and in Isa 23:12 as the “virgin the daughter of Zion.”

Sackcloth is associated with mourning and death, and the figure here is of Israel’s suffering and sorrow in the Tribulation, as bitter as that of a virgin lamenting the loss of the espoused husband she had never been permitted to marry.  That marriage could have taken place two thousand years ago but for Israel’s obstinate refusal to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as her Savior Messiah.

1:9.  “The meat (meal) offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the Lord; the priests, the Lord’s ministers, mourn.”

Again, the reference may be to the havoc wrought by the locusts, or to conditions following the Assyrian and Babylon captivities, and Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and continuing to the present, but there are indications that the ultimate reference is to what will be in the Tribulation, for Scripture makes it clear that in that era there will be again a temple in Jerusalem, in which priests will officiate in the presentation of the prescribed Levitical offerings, etc. 

But Scripture also makes it clear that at the mid point of the Tribulation the Roman beast emperor will change the Divine order by directing that all worship be offered to him, thus causing “the priests, the Lord’s ministers, (to) mourn,” the mourning priests being those of the priesthood who will have come to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.  It is far more likely that it will be this activity of the Beast, rather than literal famine, that will cause the offerings to cease, for it is to be remembered, that with the exception of the meal offering proper, the meal and drink offerings were almost invariably adjuncts of the other offerings, no great quantity of either being required.

There is very little to support the contention that the offerings will cease for lack of meal and wine, even though there will be famine in the Tribulation. 

1:10.  “The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted: the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth.”

Again, all of this might well describe conditions resulting from the locust invasion, or those that followed the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, and the Roman in AD 70, but as discussed already, there can be little question that Joel is speaking of judgments still future, i.e., those of the Tribulation era.

The field is a biblical symbol of the world, so that the wasted (spoiled, ruined) field points to the whole world brought to ruin through the Tribulation judgments.  The land is used figuratively in Scripture of the land of Canaan, so that the mourning land speaks symbolically of the sorrow Israel will experience in the Tribulation, that time of devastation being described as “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” as recorded in Jer 30:7, “Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it.”

“... the corn is wasted,” speaks undoubtedly of famine, but beyond literal famine lies the truth that there will also be a dearth of spiritual corn, the written Word, for the Beast’s fierce persecution of Tribulation age believers will limit greatly the availability of that spiritual food.

Since wine is a biblical symbol of joy; and “new wine,” of the spiritual joy that accompanies salvation, the drying up of the new wine is the symbolic announcement of the fact that the Beast’s deadly persecution of believers will to a great extent offset that spiritual joy.

“... the oil languisheth (droops, mourns, is sick, is feeble)” speaks of the suffering and death that will be experienced by all who are born of the Spirit in the Tribulation, for oil is a biblical symbol of the Holy Spirit.

1:11.  “Be ye ashamed (confounded, dismayed, appalled), O ye husbandmen (farmers); howl, O ye vinedressers, for the wheat and for the barley; because the harvest of the field is perished.”

This may have been the result of the locust invasion, but it was also the result of the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Roman invasions of Palestine; and is also the description of conditions world wide in the coming Tribulation, when there will be worldwide famine; and since wheat is the most valuable grain, and barley the least valuable (being the food of animals and of the poor), the lesson is that rich and poor alike will suffer the effects of the famine, though obviously, as in every famine, the effect on the rich will be far less than on the poor.

1:12.  “The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men.”

Literally this may refer to scarcity of what these trees produce, i.e., grapes, figs, pomegranates, dates, and apples, because of the locusts, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Romans, but this doesn’t preclude a spiritual application also.

As already discussed the vine portrays Israel as she was in the past; and the fig, as she is during this present age.  Blue ornamental pomegranates alternated with golden bells on the hem of the high priest’s robe, so that the pomegranate speaks clearly of testimony.  In Ca 7:7 the palm tree is a figure of the Church, and in Ps 92:12 is associated with righteousness.  The apple tree is used in Ca 2:3 as a figure of Christ, while trees in general are the biblical figures of men.  It seems clear therefore that there is also a spiritual truth being declared in the mention of all these trees, but I regret being unable to see what that truth might be, nor can I see the connection between their withering and the withering away of joy from among men, though certainly the general statement is of conditions so terrible that there will be no cause for joy in the hearts of men, but on the contrary as declared in Re 9:6 “In those days (the Tribulation era) shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.”

1:13.  “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 (meal) offering and the drink offering is withholden from the house of your God.”

In the Tribulation the Temple worship will have been reestablished, but Re 13 reveals that at the mid point of that seven-year era the Roman Beast emperor will stop the worship of God and compel all to worship him as God, death being the penalty for disobedience.  This seems to be what Joel is speaking about here in verse 13.

It is to be remembered, however, that there have been other occassions when Israel’s worship was stopped, as for example at the time of the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, again in the days of Antiochus, and yet again in AD 70, so that while in the context of the book of Joel the ultimate application is to the Tribulation era, these others were surely also in the mind of God when He indited the prophet’s message.  It is clear, in fact, that the prophecies yet to be fulfilled have had partial germinal fulfillments in the past.

Since night is used frequently in Scripture as a symbol of spiritual darkness, the command to the priests and other Levites to “lie all night in sackcloth” may have reference to the fact that the latter half of the Tribulation era will be a spiritual night time: a time of terrible spiritual darkness.  Sackcloth, a biblical symbol of mourning and death, further enhances the picture of universal suffering.

1:14.  “Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord.”

Fasting, which was for the OT age only, and is not for believers of this Church age, signified repentance, for it spoke symbolically of refusal to gratify the lusts of the flesh.  Whatever reference this may have had to the past, the primary application here appears to be to the Tribulation era, when, as in every time of need, the resort of God’s people is to confess their sins, repent, and unite in seeking His aid.

1:15.  “Alas for the day! for the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.”

As discussed already, the day of the Lord is that long period of time beginning with the rapture of the Church and extending to the dissolution of the present heavens and earth after the end of the Millennium.

Relative to the prophet’s assertion that “the day of the Lord is at hand,” he was speaking as the amanuensis of God, of Whom it is written, “that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day,” 2 Pe 3:8.

Its being “a destruction from the Almighty” is the reminder that all past judgments have been but dress rehearsals both for the Tribulation judgments, and for that final awful act of Divine judgment recorded in 2 Pe 3:10, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”

1:16.  “Is not the meat cut off before our eyes, yea, joy and gladness from the house of our God?”

While certainly this applies to the destruction wrought by the locust plague, the description applies also to events connected with the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, and to the siege of Jerusalem preceding its destruction in AD 70, these judgments, as already noted, being themselves precursors both of the terrible Tribulation era destruction, and of the final dissolution of the present heavens and earth.

1:17.  “The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners (granaries) are laid desolate, the barns are broken down;”

It seems that in addition to the devastation caused by the locust plague, drought had also laid its withering grip on the land, so that the sown seed never matured, thus adding to the general misery; and while there have been terrible such times in the past, all of them will be as nothing compared with those that will devastate the Tribulation age earth.  This same judgment is depicted in Re 6:5-6 under the figure of a black horse whose rider holds a pair of balances in his hand, the figure being of famine and the resultant careful rationing of food.

1:18.  “For the corn is withered.  How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate.”

This depicts the effects of the famine on domestic animals.  Many of them were also dying of hunger thus further depleting man’s food supply in the form of meat, milk, butter, cheese, eggs, etc. And so will it be again in the Tribulation.

1:19.  “O Lord, to thee will I cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field.”

“O Lord, to thee will I cry.”  This speaks of repentance, and should remind us that the first purpose of God’s judgments is to produce confession and repentance so that He can pour out blessing, destruction coming only when men refuse to repent.  And again, while the reference may be to the results of the locusts and of the drought, the ultimate application is to Tribulation conditions, further details of those judgments being given in Re 16:8-9, “And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire.  And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory.”

Some faint idea of the character of this judgment will be apprehended by those who have experienced a heat wave in which temperatures have gone from ten to twenty degrees over a hundred. Such periods are usually of short duration here in America, but even a few such days reduce lawns to parched crispness, and kill other vegetation, even trees.  It is virtually impossible to imagine the conditions that would result from even higher temperatures prolonged for weeks or months.  With everything reduced to tinder dryness a spark would ignite a conflagration.  The wildfires that consume hundreds of thousands of acres of American forests every summer furnish a faint idea of the devastation that will result from the judgment mentioned in this verse.

1:20.  “The beasts of the field cry unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness.”

The destruction and famine will not be confined to crops and domestic animals: the heat and drought will bring suffering and death into the habitat of wild creatures also.

What a terrible harvest is yet to result from man’s evil sowing!

[Joel 2]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough