Summary: Joel's prophecy causes some confusion for interpreters because it seems, and is, a description of two very different events. Very different, yes, but very related, also. See for yourself.
2. History and Prophecy. The book of Joel
There are two portions of Scripture that I believe need our further scrutiny on the subject of locusts. Actually the subject is Bible prophecy, a favorite of mine for sure. The first portion is the prophecy of Joel. I quote here from a former blog of mine, which I entitled “apostolic misinterpretations.”
“I believe the Lord has made it clear to me often that I am never to come against something He may be doing. That's pretty dangerous. So my task today is to work under the umbrella of Ephesus, that church that exposed people who said they were apostles, but were not.
“I tell you the truth, I do not know who is and is not. Not by name. But I do have serious questions about teachings that are floating around in the name of "apostles" and their many followers.
“Take Joel 2, for example. The ‘end time army’ of the Lord, they call it. Their view is more than off base. It's scary. Take a few minutes to read the chapter. Ask for enlightenment from the Spirit. See if you come up with, on your own, the idea that Joel is talking about a bunch of super-believers at the end of history.
“A better exercise is to keep your finger in Joel 2, then flip over to Revelation 9. There to your wondering eyes will appear a near carbon copy of Joel. Not copied, though. Given by the same Spirit to Joel and John, a preview of a horrendous throng of something that will one day invade this earth as a part of God's judgment on sin.
“These ‘things’ are associated with the scorching of the earth with fire for miles in every direction. They have wings. They cause incredible pain. The sky is darkened. The closest thing Earth has seen that is like them is the swarming of actual physical locusts in the part of the earth where Joel prophesied. Actually, the swarming had already occurred, and Joel therefore had a context in which to describe the end-time ‘locusts’.”
Let’s do a little more digging in Joel and Revelation… I’ll be asking John Macarthur, via his commentary on the Bible, to come along for some extra guidance. No direct quotes, but an occasional fact from history that John has dug out for us will be mentioned on the way.
The prophet Joel heard from God in the late 800’s B.C. This makes him one of the earlier prophets, and his message was directed to Israel, the northern Kingdom that had early and often fallen into idolatry. Phoenicia to the north and Philistia to the south had been making attacks on Israel, always a part of God’s judgment, namely His lack of protection, when a nation goes afoul of His ways, as Israel certainly had. America could learn from Israel, if she would…
Not only human enemies, but also natural ones, but equally guided by the Spirit of God, had befallen the Israelites. Drought, and locusts. It is this disaster of swarming locusts, which had devoured all the green from the land, that serves as a backdrop to his message. He could tell them what had already happened, literal truth about locust destruction, but could then see into the future, as only God can see, and predict future disasters that looked uncannily similar.
This back and forth from present catastrophe to future catastrophe is what makes the prophecy of Joel very difficult to understand in places. Is he talking about 9th century BC Israel, or the coming day of the Lord? Not always clear, and sometimes intertwined, that is the way of the prophet. He speaks what God puts into his ear, and we must have the ear of that same Spirit of God to understand the message.
That being said, there still is no justification for allowing our imaginations to run wild. Prophecy cannot mean just anything we want it to mean. There is a truth to be discovered. A literal actual truth.
Macarthur believes, and I think it a sufficiently valid belief, that chapter one is about Joel’s day of the Lord, his present situation. Chapter two begins a transition from that day to the final day, and by the time we get to chapter three, we are in the final day of the Lord exclusively. This then serves as a springboard to the locust prophecy in Revelation, which we will visit later.
Prophecies given more than once need to be heeded. God truly wants His people to know about these locusts. There is a generation that will face them.
Let’s go more closely into Joel, then. You will need a Bible from this point on. Open to the prophecy of Joel, and read each verse before you read my commentary.